Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Recap

12 Features
The Seventh Seal (Bergman)
Through a Glass Darkly (Bergman)
Winter Light (Bergman)
The Silence (Bergman)
Invictus (Eastwood)
C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (Willmott)
Blast of Silence (Baron)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (Curtiz)
Halloween 2 (Zombie)
The Big Lebowski (Coen)
Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino)
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Juran)

8 Shorts
Early to Bet (McKimson)
Daring Daylight Burglary (Mottershaw)
Attack on a China Mission (Williamson)
The Big Swallow (Williamson)
Stop Thief! (Williamson)
Fire! (Williamson)
An Interesting Story (Williamson)
Nation's Pride (Roth)

7 Television Episodes
Dr. Who - The Daleks Series

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ending January

The Adventures of Robin Hood has become one of my daughters' favorite films.  From start to finish, the film promises adventure and delightfully delivers it in every sequence.  Absolutely essential viewing!

The Big Lebowski is such a rich film, offering inexhaustible treasures to all who will submit to its reordering of the world according to His High Dudeness.  I was prompted to rewatch it at home because I saw part of a TV edit version while at work.  I watched in fascination at the censorship that cleaned up some of the language.  "This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!" is one of the funniest dubs I've ever heard.

Halloween 2 is a disappointment, if only because I had my expectations raised a bit.  The way that family and dreams/visions are presented is slightly interesting, but the film is nothing more than another slasher genre picture, giving fans all of the obvious/expected kills they crave.  I confess that I'm not the target audience.  I don't like slasher films and see little worth in them.  I haven't seen any other Halloween film, either originals or remake.  This is also the first Zombie film I've ever submitted myself to.  If this is Zombie at his best, I feel fine continuing to ignore all of his previous output.

Inglourious Basterds is just as good at home on DVD.  I've spent the money now to rent it.  I'm waffling on whether or not to buy a copy.  Maybe when Hollywood Video starts selling copies for $5 a year from now.  

The entire short film Nation's Pride, included on the disc, is worth watching.  It's a lot funnier than I thought it would be.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is a movie that I loved when I was younger.  Now, my daughters have seen it and have become exposed to the genius of Harryhausen.  The look of awe and wonder on Annie's face at the beginning of the film when the cyclops first appears was enough to make a father proud. Millie is fast becoming a more sophisticated viewer.  I especially love when she'll point at a frame and let me know that she loves the composition of the shot (though she doesn't use those words).  She'll also often comment on when she thinks the music is especially appropriate.   Susie is way too impressed by all of the gushy romance, but I don't mind too much if she builds up expectations for impossibly chivalrous gentleman.  Little Pip still just squawks through movies.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Conversations 2010 #3

Conversations 2010 #3

Brandon, I'm trying to figure out what sort of fundraiser I need to plan to get you money for a new computer.  I hope you get one soon.  I'm glad that you seem to have found a way to post more often.  I hope you don't get "called into the office."

I'm only throwing this out there, but maybe Tara is not watching many films with you because you're watching Halloween 2 and The White Ribbon and others like those.  :)

I enjoyed the Lifeboat snd Saboteur reviews.  Two "minor" Hitchcock pictures that I've been meaning to check out for a while now.

I couldn't agree more with the Tarantino/Godard bit.  From the very beginning, Tarantino has been aping Godard (quite publicly- his production company is named A Band Apart for crying out loud) and reaping great benefits from it. The reason this works is because Tarantino is always very much his own man even when he shamelessly steals from his heroes.  Just like Godard kept trying to make a Hawks film and discovered that he couldn't make anything other than a Godard film.  

As far as Truffaut goes, I have to stay shamedly silent.

The Trouble With Harry is really great.  I watched it a few years ago with my friend Spike.  At the time, I hadn't even heard of it.  Now, I think it's essential Hitchcock.  Any Hitchcock film has a better sense of humor than 99% of what's typically billed as comedy.  When Hitchcock does a "pure" comedy (Harry, Mr. and Mrs. Smith), there's not much better in the world.

Jason, I saw Valley of Gwangi way back in Houghton days when I was back home staying with my parents.  I think it was shown on AMC, but maybe I even found a VHS copy somewhere or maybe we had gotten TCM at that point.  I can't remember.  I do remember marvelling at the special effects and being surprised by the story, just as you were.  Good stuff.  Also, I'm glad you made it to the Dryden.  

Your Fairbanks post reminded me that I had made a resolution this year to watch one silent feature every week this year.  So far, I'm failing miserably at this goal.  But, I have watched a handul of silent shorts.

From the 19 aughts...

5 directed by James Williamson:
Attack on a China Mission is a forgettable one-shotter.
The Big Swallow is a big gimmick/magic trick (a man swallowing the camera that is filming him) that absolutely works.
Stop Thief! is an early three-shot chase film that may have established the pattern for every chase to follow it.  It also holds up favorably against all of those subsequent chases.
Fire! may be interesting historically for its early complex editing and for inspiring countless other fireman movies, but it's otherwise uninteresting.
An Interesting Story follows a guy too absorbed in the book he's reading to care about safety.  The steamroller scene shocked me into fits of laughter because I really wasn't expecting it.

1 directed by Frank Mottershaw:
Daring Daylight Burglary builds on some of the ideas that Williamson had helped pioneer and populize and then pretty nearly perfects them.  There's a shot of the burglar and a cop wrestling on a rooftop in which the cop gets thrown off the side of the building.  I can't quite explain why, but I love this shot.  I think that it's because few directors today would hold that shot on the rooftop after the cop is thrown off.  Somehow, staying with the burglar for a few seconds longer makes the cop's fall all the more real than if we had been immediately given a cut to a shot of the body falling or hitting the ground.

  You might be a Yankee if... laughed often at the alternate history documentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America.

I'm not going to write a lot about C.S.A.  Except to say that I really liked it.  And that I would rank it as one of the best science fiction films of the last decade.  Seriously.

There is a long and boring debate in SF circles as to whether or not Alternate History (AH) properly belongs as a sub-genre of SF or if it belongs somewhere else completely.  I'm firmly in the former camp.  If SF is loosely defined as what may be based on what is, AH can be seen as what may have been based on what was.

C.S.A. is particularly illuminating in that it clearly sheds light on how far we have yet to progress in undoing the toxic effects of chattel slavery in this country.  

And tying C.S.A. back to silent film, the blackface Licoln in a Griffith parody/homage is absolutely hilarious.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Segmenting hate.

Lose yourself in the Christmas spirit with the rest of the suckers.

I just re-watched Blast of Silence.  Instead of gushing about how brilliant it is, I decided to practice my segmentation skills.  You'll find the results below.  Caution: spoilers. 

"Dividing a film into sequences in order to analyze its form is usually called segmentation.  It is usually not difficult to do, though most often we do it intuitively...  In segmenting any film, an outline format or a linear diagram may help you visualize formal relations (beginnings and endings, parallels, patterns of development, etc.)."
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, from Film Art: An Introduction  

Blast of Silence

Remembering out of the black silence you were born in pain
1. Train Tunnel/Birth Canal
2. Arrival in NYC
   a. Train Station
   b. Taxi
   c. Hotel
3. A Waiting Job
   a. Ferry Ride - The Contract
   b. Observing the Target's Routine
   c. Business With Ralphie
   d. The Target's Morning Rounds
   e. The Christmas Spirit
4. Alone at Dinner
   a. Face Out of the Past
   b. There Was a Girl
5. Christmas Eve Party
   a. Dancing With Lori
   b. Peanut Pushing Contest
   c. Dancing With Lori
6. Watching Target Leave Church
7. Lori's Apartment
   a. Meal/Conversation
   b. Rough Love
   c. Apologies 
8. Tailing the Target
   a. Shacked Up With a Dame
   b. Following Target and Dame
9. The Night Club
   a. Ralphie is There
   b. The Target's Birthday
   c. Bathroom Talk With Ralphie
   d. Torrid Town Montage
10. Eliminating Ralphie
   a. The Streets
   b. Murder at Ralphie's Apartment
   c. Hotel
   d. Reading the News
11. First Phone Call
   a. I Want Out
   b. Walking the Pier
12. Second Phone Call
   a. Lori is Busy
   b. Obtaining Gun on Pier
13. The Love Nest
   a. Outside
   b. Inside
   c. Above
14. Hotel
   a. Preparations
   b. An Orphanage
15. Lori's Apartment - Another Man
16. The Love Nest
   a. The Hit
   b. Escape
   c. Gun Disposal
17. Set-up
   a. Phone Call
   b. Drive
   c. On the Waterfront
18. Death/End Credits 
Back in the cold black silence


Saturday, January 23, 2010


The last time I spoke with my friend Joel, he told me how much he and his wife were enjoying the new run of Dr. Who.  Abby and I had watched the first couple of seasons, but we gave up on it mostly because I lost interest.  I liked it, but just let it go.

So... A couple of years after we started and stopped watching, I've decided to revisit Dr. Who, this time starting at the very beginning.  The 1st Doctor - William Hartnell.  Because of the way Netflix presented the discs, I accidentally received the second series (series= a single story arc; distinct from a season) instead of the very first one.  It was a seven episode story introducing to us for the first time one of the Doctor's greatest enemies, the Daleks.  

Relatively long takes, interesting pans and arrangements of figures in the frame, an incredible art design, lots of close-ups of anxious young Susan; I really enjoyed the simple visual delights offered here.

The Thales (sp?) are pretty boring.  The Daleks are as utterly and completely fascinating as they are ridiculous.  

There are a few painfully bad and/or cheesy moments, but most of it holds up really well, not only as good television, but as decent science fiction.

I'm really interested to see how the Doctor is developed as a character as different actors take over.  At first, I thought Hartnell's original take was really silly, but I quickly grew to love his performance.  Now I'm reluctant to see anyone take his place even as I know it must happen.

I don't know if I'll continue this interest in Dr. Who immediately, but I'll keep watching as I can.

I may cancel my Netflix subscription soon!

I really feel the need to watch all of the DVDs that I own.  I've spent way too much money on DVDs that are doing nothing more than sitting on a shelf and I just can't justify the expense of Netflix when I have so many unwatched DVDs at home.  I'm really trying to get through this much too large collection this year.  Not to mention the binder full of recorded TCM broadcasts from my mother that I've barely watched.

Then, I'm hoping to have a great purge and get my collection down to the handful of films that mean the most to me.  Someone please remind me in December that I wrote this back in January.  I hope I can get this done.  We'll see. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Guest Post - Stephen Jones

Owen Zone
​This week was spring vacation from college.  I spent it in Owen Zone.  I am three quarters of the way through Last Call, and watched Stalker three times plus going from stone to stone for a fourth watch.
​The title is Stalker, not Zone.  To stalk means “to pursue quarry of prey stealthily”; a stalker is one who does that.  I began with worries for this assignment because I could think of only a total human beast stalking men but mostly women for sexual or murderous purposes.  This negative connotation doesn’t leave me, however, as I am told that the word stalker goes back to the Old English word, bestealcian, meaning to steal.  Note the few minor letter changes to get bestial.   Nevertheless, a true stalker was once noble and skillful and went after the necessary prey to feed himself and his family and tribe.  A stealthy, skillful quest on behalf of the nurturing of others into believing. I think that’s what Tarkovsky has in mind.  
Tarkovsky isn’t showing us a stalker but rather Stalker.  This guy is Stalker.  Stalker is so much his essence that, when Professor tries to take it from him he cries out, saying that taking others to the Zone—stealthily—“my happiness, my freedom, my self-respect are all here.”  “Here” doesn’t mean the Zone here; it means what he’s doing—stalking for others’ believing, as well as his own.  Who he is and what he is doing is what he means by “here”.  Stalker is Christ-like; he sacrifices for others; he dies over and over for others as he risks his life to lead parties into the Zone and then dies again, risking his soul, when he can see only his own failure as a result of the venture.  Stalker is a good guy.
​A problem he has is that he’s stalking hope and, since hope is in God’s hands, Stalker doesn’t know what he’s doing or have any measure of it.  All of his critics are right about his ignorance; how can we know ourselves as social animals when no one else does?  In fact, in his own eyes, he destroys people when he takes them into the Zone. He won’t take his wife because he’s afraid, and he says to her, that “it won’t work with you either”.  Once I met a man who found it easier to believe Jesus if he didn’t get baptized.  Getting baptized was too stark a test of his trust in Jesus.
Stalker’s life works, in Tarkovsky’s mind at least.  The one offspring—his daughter, Monkey—is in color, not sepia, by the end and especially after his latest journey.  She reads about the height of admiration as a friend’s eyes “when they are downcast” and when they reflect (“through the eyelash”) “a somber, dull cast of desire”.  Whoa!  I think, If that phrase doesn’t express the ambivalence of hope!  
At the beginning when it is said that Monkey is the victim of the Zone my sadness of knowing she’s crippled and mute, and therefore, probably, “victim,” doesn’t foreshadow the reality that Monkey’s plight is like our being victims of Christ.  Stalker’s daughter is truly the good fruit of his obesssion.  The last scene of the film shows Monkey moving drinking glasses across the table with her mind as distinct from a passing train merely jiggling them.  As the film fades to the end (or did Tarkovsky mean darkness comes or something like that?) Monkey’s totally clear and open face looks down the table watching the last glass actually fall over the edge without breaking on the floor.  Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” plays in the background.
​I am a Christian and see this movie with believing eyes.  So the movie is also about faith.  At the outset Professor and Writer have none.  They wrestle the world with their own understanding always getting in the way.  Writer despairs as the world he writes for is writing him.  Gently, Stalker weans him of the securities he thinks he must take with him into the Zone—cigarettes, booze, and a woman—and, in spite of his jabber to the contrary, there may be a ray of hope in knowing he has five dogs and Stalker’s wife thinking he must love them.  Professor must retain his knapsack because it contains the bomb with which he will blow up the Zone.  Lots happens at “the threshold”—during the “most important moment”—but the key activity, Stalker attempting to wrestle the bomb from Professor, fails.  With the assistance of Writer, Professor retains the bomb and then wanders around with unexpressed thoughts as Stalker, literally, saves Writer from falling into an abyss.  The color of the Zone shifts back to the sepia of the Stalker’s hometown but not before Professor disassembles the bomb and throws all its parts into water.  Twenty kilotons is twice the power of Enola Gay—not enough to take care of the world but more than enough for the mysterious territory of the Zone.  In these men something of Stalker has been contagious, though Stalker does know that and, if he did, he would stop stalking.  
​At first I thought the film was about redemption.  Easter is coming, and I’d just seen Gran Torino.  Then I thought that Stalker, unlike Jesus or Clint Eastwood, doesn’t know what he’s doing.  He lies in despair bitter over the knuckleheaded Professor and Writer and bemoaning the futility of his own, inexorable ventures.  He has no sense of the magnificence of what he is doing.  He sees only failure, and I guess that’s what you get when you’re stalking hope.  I was reminded of the anguished lament of Oscar Schindler at the end of Schindler’s List.  There’s a nice riddle going around about saving one starfish in thousands and realizing, and happy about, the well-being of that one particular starfish.  Schindler had a greater obsession and so did Stalker.  
An issue of futility applies to faith as well as hope.  Faith and hope have no meaning without a touch of futility.  Furthermore, you’ve got a chance of having faith only when you don’t think you do and you certainly see no evidence of the fruit of your faith—in this case, saved people through stalking hope.  Self-consciousness has disappeared and so has the self.  Stalker wouldn’t know that but he is that.  If he did know, his worldly consciousness would wake up and his faith would sleep.  That’s what it means, as he says, to be “like me, desperate and tormented”.  Stalker had the good sense to know that the people he guided would have to be “like me”.  That’s probably another reason why he couldn’t take is wife.  Because of whom Stalker is, his wife writhes on the floor in exquisite agony when he leaves home for another trip to the Zone.  Nevertheless, by the end of the film she is once again peacefully nervous as she tells us, trembling cigarette in hand, that in no way has she ever regretted marrying Stalker.  I believe her.
​So now I’m on Owen’s list.  Now I’m in the Owen Zone.  I don’t get it any more than Stalker’s wife did or Stalker or maybe even Owen and maybe even Tarkovsky—or it wouldn’t be art and life—but I don’t regret it either.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Conversations 2010 #2

Conversations 2010 #2

Jason, we're mostly agreeing with each other about Bergman. 

I think you're right that Bergman leaves a lot of room for the audience to maneuver around in (project their own ideas if you prefer).  This is one of his greatest strengths, that his films are simultaneously so intensely personal and so open to others to inhabit.   

I don't know why, but I did not use the word "hope" in regards to any of the Bergman films I've seen so far.  I think hopelessness may be Bergman's greatest failure.  In The Seventh Seal, you rightly point out that Bergman is wrestling with his faith.  I'd argue that he still has Hope at this point in his career.  Because he still has some faith.  In the entire trilogy, but specifically in The Silence, Bergman becomes faithless.  He gives up on Hope.  In doing so, he loses the wrestling match.  Because he's convinced that he has already lost.  

Hope continues to exist in Bergman's universe, but without faith (the substance of things hoped for) Bergman's hope is clearly shown (by him to him) again and again to be in vain.

Through a Glass Darkly ends in confusion and pathetic platitudes.  Winter Light ends with a man unable to follow his convictions, speaking hollow words with a hollow heart.  The hope in Through a Glass Darkly is that these characters will continue to genuinely care about one another even if they never find ways to express it.  The hope in Winter Light is present in the pastor's insistence on performing the liturgy to an empty house.  The show must go on.

The Silence is again the most complex of the films.  It is easy to see everything end in despair, but you're right to point out that Bergman identifies with the boy.  There is some slim shred of hope for the boy in the end.  He retains his innocence and gentleness in a world in which everything else is shattered.  He may not be able to read words in a foreign language, but he cherishes them anyway.  

I do think that any hint of hope present is a false hope, based on Bergman's embracing the twin towers of existentialism, that man is the measure of all things and man is meaningless.

Back to perspective, I saw something of worth in The Silence precisely because of its bleak assessment of the human condition.  This is exactly what I'd expect a world stripped of faith and hope to look like.  Bergman gives us a cinematic world in which he has finally rid himself of his monster god.  If faith is so bad, you'd think this freedom from god would be portrayed as exhilarating.  We'd get sunshine and rainbows.  Maybe we'd get Bruno.  Bergman is too honest with himself to do that.  We don't get sunshine and rainbows.  We get doom and gloom.  As a Christian, I can only assert that I think Bergman gets things absolutely right here about how he gets them totally wrong. 

In this committment to misery apart from faith, I have to argue that Bergman remains fundamentally Christian in his worldview, the leading spokesman of God's negative imprint.  He never does (at least not at this point in his career; I'm not as aware of his post-60s work) escape the worldview that he was shaped in.

I've got four more Bergman films in my collection yet to watch before my Bergman mini-marathon is complete.  Hour of the Wolf, Shame, The Serpent's Egg, and Saraband.  I've seen the first two before.  The second two will be new to me.

I'm going to take a break from Bergman for a couple of weeks, but then I'll get back to these four.

In a few days I'm going to post the first of what I hope will become a semi-regular feature here: non-cinephile friend guest posts.  The first post will be my pastor's Stalker essay that I mentioned a while ago.  After that, I'm hoping to get something written by a great artist.  I hope you don't mind too much, Brandon, that I'm loaning him your copy of F For Fake when he gets back from California in a couple of weeks.  I know he'll take good care of it and I really think that he'll appreciate it.  I'll get it back to you eventually!  

I'm also going to get a fiery Nascar-loving preacher's appreciation of Weir's Fearless and maybe Tarantino's Basterds if I buy a copy.  After that, I'm not so sure, but I'm already thinking of others and will hopefully get an all-star lineup together to offer up some different perspectives on different films.

Finally, the other day I let my girls watch some cartoons.  I was mostly getting ready for work while they watched, but I did sit down with them to see a short that I had never seen before.  It's called Early to Bet, directed by Bob McKimson and written by Warren Foster.  I loved it.  The premise is simple, the urge to gamble depicted as a literal gambling bug, a small insect that goes around biting poor suckers on the ear and causing them to make a wager just one more time.  The cat and dog gin rummy bit is great, but the opening of guys sitting around at a table betting on which mug of beer a fly would land on is inspired.  I'm really not sure if I'll see anything better all year.  

Speaking of gambling, I'm going to up the ante this year here on the blog and commit to writing even about every short that I see (which will be mostly WB cartoons) and every television show that I watch (I'm currently in the middle of an early Dr. Who series).  I haven't given up on Breaking Bad.  I misplaced the disc that had all the Season 1 episodes on it.  I'll probably also start watching Lost Season 6 soon, but I'm tempted to just wait until the season is over and watch it all at once.

I watched about an hour and a half of the Golden Globes the other night.  That was stupid.  

I will not write about scraps of television that I'm forced to endure here and there at work unless I watch something in its entirety.  I'm also not going to write about the every once in a while when I'll turn on Conan or Charlie Rose for 15 to 30 minutes when I get home from work and bravely surf the digital broadcast wasteland.

Unrelated to anything that came above, I really want to see Crazy Heart.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Words in a foreign language

So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.
-G.K. Chesterton

I'm deliberately starting these Bergman posts with Chesterton quotes; specifically because I just finished reading Orthodoxy; generally because Chesterton's cosmic levity is precisely the antidote to the gravity of Bergman's terrestrial deafness.

Outside of The Seventh Seal, Winter Light is the most explicitly religious of any Bergman film I've seen, centering as it does on a pastor's crisis of faith.  There is a key moment when the pastor confesses that when his thoughts about god were stripped bare, he understood that his god was a comforting fatherly version of himself.  Confronted by his own spiritual nakedness, the pastor comes to the realization that God is a monster.  This is an important realization, understanding, as Lewis put it for children, that Aslan is not a tame lion.

It is obvious, but nonetheless extremely important that the pastor spends much of the film physically located in the shadow of Jesus.

Winter Light is as much about love and communication as Through a Glass Darkly.  How do we live with compassion in a junkyard of idiotic trivialities?  

The unbearable "Silence of God" is the heart of the matter and Winter Light is the heart of Bergman's trilogy.  There is one scene that is more important than all others.  A deacon or church caretaker of sorts (most definitely a sincere believer) speaks with the pastor about the Gospel Passion narratives.  Through this dialogue, it becomes clear that Bergman is aware that God Himself hanging on a cross experienced the Silence of God, suffering with humanity in all things, including Bergman's very specific affliction.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.  The whole earth is full of His glory.

The Silence is the most complex film of the Trilogy.  Stripped of all faith, Bergman shows us Hell.  

Here, Bergman's exploration of the curse of Babel is complete, to the point at which one character seeks solace in the fact that the stranger she has just had sex with cannot understand a word she says.  Communication has broken down to the extent that the impossibility of communication is a relief when faced with the alternative of actually coming to terms with the Otherness of one another.

The flip side of that is that the most beautiful moment in the film is when two characters who speak different languages do bridge the gap through a shared awareness of the heavenly music of Bach.  Even the two fighting sisters make peace for the time that Bach is on the radio.

There's so much more that deserves to be written about.  The train, the dwarves, carnality and arid intellectualism, Johan and the hotel waiter, the tanks...

I'm feeling too lazy to do any of it justice.  

I will briefly mention that the sound design is excellent.  The Silence is anything but silent.  Ticks and drones, radio and talk, all serve to drown out that thunderous silence.

"These three films deal with reduction.  Through a Glass Darkly--conquered certainty.  Winter Light--penetrated certainty.  The Silence--God's silence--the negative imprint.  Therefore, they constitute a trilogy." -Ingmar Bergman

I do think that it's a shame that many think that Bergman successfully shed his religious "baggage" with The Silence so that he could move forward in his examination of human psychology without God.  Bergman does go on to explore human pyschology without God.  He never does shed his baggage.    

Bergman may have abandoned the Faith completely (though I don't think so; like the pastor he cannot escape the shadow of Jesus), but The Silence screams its "negative imprint."  Paradoxically, through the absence of God in this film and all that that entails, we're made all the more aware of our need for Pentecost's reversal of Babel and the reconciliation of all things in the work of Jesus.  We may not be able to believe this or live like this, but the need is clear.  

Maybe I'm misinterpreting all three films.  I'm pretty sure that Bergman was never really clear about his own motivations and what was in his heart.  I'd like to read his autobiography eventually.  Regardless, I know that I don't know.  My own heart is veiled and my vision is cloudy.  Forgive me for being bold in declaring anything about Bergman when I fail to understand anything about myself.  Like Bergman, I have to at least attempt to communicate something, even if all I'm communicating is how difficult communication can be.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Conversations 2010 #1

Conversations 2010 #1

Brandon, I agree with you about the importance of listening to non-cinephile perspectives.  I must have missed Hudson's resolution.  I need to go back and find that post.  I've been trying to get my friend Matt (are you "scanning" this Matt?) to join in on the film blogging fun.  He's definitely a non-cinephile, but I trust his values and opinions in other matters.  The fact that I trust his opinion in other matters is precisely why I want to hear what he thinks about films he's watching.  I feel confident that he'd join me in condemning Transformers 2.  I don't know how he would react to La Moustache or The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.  But I want to know.  

More importantly, he enjoys all sorts of silly musicals and I'd love to know specifically why.  I'm aware that my own aversion to musicals is primarily a peculiar personal bias, not a hard and fast rule that the genre has nothing to offer.

On that same note of listening to non-cinephile perspectives, I'd rather listen to my friend Scott talk all night about Lonesome Dove (which I still haven't seen) than read and listen to so much of what passes as critical discourse.

The White Ribbon, 35 Rhums, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Box, Up in the Air, and probably still more to come.  You've been busy!

I really regret not seeing The Box while it was out.  I remained optimistic about it despite the poor critical reception.  The one night that I could have definitely gone to see it, I took Abby to see A Serious Man instead (because I wanted her to see it and I wanted to see it a second time).  I never doubted Kelly but, then again, I still haven't seen Southland Tales.

I'm hoping to see Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans at the Cinemapolis soon.  I've never seen any Herzog film on the big screen.  I don't know why this one shouldn't be the first.

35 Rhums is playing at Cornell this Spring semester.  The new schedule is up at

I might get to see it.  I might just end up relying on you giving me a DVD data disc with all of these AVIs on it.

Finally, if you haven't already, then go now and check out my friend Jason's new film blog, read it regularly, and give him some encouragement!

Jason, I am happy.  Thank you.  

In response to your ESA post, I think that you read my Japon and Wrestler posts from early last year.  I've pretty much said what I have to say there.  I don't think that it is "uptight" to insist that ESAs have a proper place and that in front of a camera is never it.  In fact, I insist just that and I've rarely been described as uptight.  There's a reason that you have ESAs with your wife in your bedroom and not in my bedroom.  And yes, I'm getting a kick out of using the acronym ESA.

So why do I ever submit myself to viewing ESAs?  Maybe I'm inconsistent or hypocritical.  I think that it's more complicated than that.  In order to engage with the world, it has become necessary to a certain extent.  I can't walk into a grocery store without seeing magazines devoted to exploring new wild and wooly ways to engage in ESAs with strangers.  More importantly, I can't care about film, film history, and film culture without at least to a limited extent being exposed to filmed ESAs. 

I prefer not to be exposed to ESAs and that is one minor reason among many that I prefer so much of Code era cinema to what is being made today.  I would also argue that some of these Code films have a charged sexuality and eroticism that is just not possible with the all-out bare naked ESA.  The filmed ESA, by its nature, has no respect for Mystery.  It is the laziest and least beautiful way of conveying information about sexuality.

That said, I feel like bringing up The Limits of Control.  It is interesting to me to see Jarmusch play with the Idea of The Nude and introduce a chaste hero (at least while he's working!) as a sort of response to the popular action hero that everyone thinks is so damned cool.  Jarmusch is interacting with the entire history of nude representation in art in the midst of what is essentially a mystery/crime sub-genre, the lone gunman on assignment tale, a type of story (especially in the pulps that inspired many films) that is notorious for its use of ESAs.        

So, to begin to finish my rambling answer, what about a film like Shortbus?  I have no interest and would never watch it.  Unless... Yes, there are exceptions.  If I met someone and I came to value his opinion and he told me that Shortbus is his favorite film of all time, I'd consider watching it.  

Also, directors matter.  Twelve or so years ago, I watched Boogie Nights because I was so impressed with Hard Eight and Magnolia.  I wanted to know Anderson better.  I don't ever care to see it again, but after falling hard for There Will Be Blood, I may be first in line for tickets if Anderson felt that his next project needs to be Boogie Nights 2.  I don't know.

Similarly, I wanted to make it to Brandon's Antichrist party, but missed it.  I don't know that I care enough about Von Trier to ever seek this film out on my own in the future, but I had been willing, rightly or wrongly, to submit mysel to its tortures then.  

Somewhat related, there was an interesting post recently on The House Next Door exploring the intersection between pornography and Cronenberg's film Crash.  Check it out.

Eric Rohmer died yesterday.  His Astrea and Celadon is one of the greatest films I've ever seen, a truly great end to a master career.  The exquisite use of an (admittedly not too explicit) ESA at the end is perhaps the best argument I can think of in favor of a possible proper use.  I'm hoping to tackle his moral tales later this year.

I'll continue to think about it and maybe give a longer or at least fuller answer some time in the future.  Then again, maybe not.

I'm glad that you checked out a couple of Holmes films.  Since watching it, Dressed to Kill has only risen in my estimation.  I really like it.

As far as your list of movies watched in December, I only have one question.  I don't know exactly where you live now, but I'm guessing that it is relatively close to the Eastman House.  Why aren't you taking advantage of this amazing cinema in your backyard?

I haven't been in much of a movie chasing mood recently.  My  mid-December funk has carried over into the new year.  I should have a post coming soon about two Bergman features, Winter Light and The Silence.  I've watched the former already but I want to watch the latter (probably early next week) before I write anything.

My job did allow me to make it out to the cinema in 2010 and the first film I saw was Invictus.  I even got paid overtime to go.

I remember when Changeling came out, there seemed to be a lot of conversations around White Elephant art.  After seeing Changeling and reading Farber, I can only say that critics can be stupid.  I don't think that Eastwood has ever made a thing that qualifies as White Elephant art (keeping in mind that I've only seen a tiny portion of his films).  After Invictus, I'm even more impressed at how Eastwood selects stories that matter to him, leaves the scripts alone, and then tells the story instinctively as best he can.  There's a sense in which Eastwood's films are carefully constructed according to classic Hollywood principles, but there is also a more immediate sense of Things being thrown out there, stuffed full of Eastwood's interests, and held together by Eastwood's passion alone.  In Invictus, there are weird editing choices, songs that shouldn't be there, non-professional actors who scream non-professional actor, and all manner of triteness.  Eastwood makes it work.  

I liked Invictus.  I probably liked it even more because I was almost forced to go see Old Dogs instead.  That was a close one.  

Happy 2010.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Out of Love

The mere questioner has knocked his head against the limits of human thought; and cracked it.
-G.K. Chesterton

I love The Seventh Seal. I don't watch it as often as I should.

It has somewhat unfairly developed a reputation as a dour, serious film that tackles the big questions that we don't like to think about. Even the Criterion box cover with Death on the front invites the general public to just walk away.

Which is too bad. Because The Seventh Seal has everything that I'm looking for in a spectacular summer blockbuster.

We've got: bawdy songs and spiritual songs, dancing and flagellation, action and contemplation, romantic comedy and existential trembling.

The Seventh Seal is a generous film. Even at its most serious moments, there is a gentle humour just below the surface. We are not passive spectators. Bergman invites us to share in the narrative and invest ourselves in these characters and their struggles, occasionally winkingly reminding us that it's all fiction.

No one should be afraid of Bergman or The Seventh Seal. Fire up the corn popper and settle in for a good time.

Minor Spoiler: This viewing, I noticed for the first time how important Jof's visions are. If we join in believing that he sees Death later in the film (and we have all along accepted Death's presence as real so we must grant the same liberty to him) then I think we're forced to also accept that he earlier had a genuine vision/encounter with Virgin and Child.

Only the holy fool has simple eyes to see. The practical result of this is that Virgin and Child are at least as real as Death. Bergman tips his hat, barely but clearly, in favor of faith.

The knight simultaneously does not believe and believes with his whole heart. But he cannot see. Or rather sees only partially; Through a glass darkly.

Lord, I believe; Help thou mine unbelief.

Early last year or late the year before, I was driving to work and listening to a magazine compilation CD for probably the 20th time. This time, I really heard one specific song for the first time. Devendra Banhart's cover of Antony's Fistful of Love. It made me cry. I played the song again. It made me cry again.

Something snapped in my mind and I heard the song as if it were being performed by a "praise and worship" band at the chapel at Houghton. I don't know if anyone else on earth would have had that thought, but it came naturally to me. I hate "praise and worship" music. I hated most Houghton chapel services. But, that's because they were never as earthy or painful as Fistful of Love.

There may be something sacriligeous or blasphemous about how I'm interpreting a song which on the surface seems to be about an abusive relationship. Maybe. I can't change how I heard the song.

God shows His love to His covenant people by beating the hell out of them. That's the message of the Prophets, more or less, no?

I thought of Fistful of Love while watching Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly.

"I was lying in my bed last night staring
At a ceiling full of stars
When it suddenly hit me
I just have to let you know how I feel
We live together in a photograph of time
I look into your eyes
And the seas open up to me
I tell you I love you
And I always will
And I know you can't tell me
I know you can't tell me
So I'm left to pick up
The hints, the little symbols of your devotion
So I'm left to pick up
The hints, the little symbols of your devotion
And I feel your fists
And I know it's out of love
And I feel the whip
And I know it's out of love
And I feel your burning eyes burning holes
Straight through my heart
It's out of love"

There's no 1:1 correspondence between song and film, but there is the connection of the strained communication of love.

My favorite moment is early in the film when, after dinner, Karin's father goes into the house with the pretence of grabbing his tobacco. Once inside, he sobs under the weight of his failures. Later, he speaks of love as something light, but here he is overwhelmed by its heaviness.

There's another more (in)famous scene in which Karin encounters god or a demon or a spark of miswired brain chemistry. This scene is more terrifying than anything I saw in my horror explorations last year. But here also the subject is love.

Each of the characters speak of love and/or enact love. Yet that love more often than not fails to hit its mark. There's a love breakdown. The film is "about" many things- mental illness, the presence/absence of God, identity and family dynamics; through it all, its cinematic seams are stuffed with love. The really painful kind that is so hard to give and harder to receive.

I could spend the rest of the year thinking and writing about Through a Glass Darkly. Maybe I should, but I won't.

Instead, I'll move on to the next film and the one after that. For better or for worse, I'll keep on moving on,

But I won't forget. I hope I won't forget.


Monday, January 4, 2010


Jason, Flixster sucks. I used it for a while, then quit when I tried logging movies and Flixster didn't have the movies I was watching in its database. This happened several times with older and foreign films and especially short films.

Also, I just checked Flixster and your profile page shows that you have 0 ratings and 0 reviews. Somehow, what you're doing through Facebook isn't showing up on Flixster itself. So I can't even subscribe to any feed through Flixster. I rarely ever check Facebook (usually only after someone has sent me a message that way) so I honestly didn't even know that you were still commenting on movies at all over there. There's no way for me to keep up with what you're watching/writing unless I have a feed to subscribe to or unless you're emailing me content. My main Internet source is through my iPod Touch. I either pick up a wireless signal where I'm working or I stop somewhere quickly before work and download email and/or feed subscriptions and then read them offline. I don't have time to leisurely check Facebook every 20 minutes because I don't have an Internet connection at home anymore. All of this not to berate you for not doing what is most convenient to me, but to explain why I haven't commented on any of your Flixster posts. I just haven't seen them. If you were posting to a blog instead of to Facebook, I can guarantee that I'd read everything you write. Instead, I'm missing out. And I really mean that. I'm missing out because I really would like to be reading what you're writing (and I didn't know that you already were consistently logging and writing).


Brandon, in the new year I'm hoping to watch all of my personal DVD collection. I'm currently making my way through the 7 or so Bergman films that I have. I'll make it to Dante before the year is over (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins, Gremlins 2 are what I own). I'm really looking forward to it. I saw Gremlins 2 in the theatre when I was a kid. It really needs to be seen in the theatre. It is one of the best and most favorite moviegoing experiences of my life.