Archive for January, 2010

Material for procrastination

January 31, 2010

This article from the NY Times, about the video artist/film director Steve McQueen, is well worth five minutes of your precious time. McQueen’s 2008 directorial debut, “Hunger,” is excellent, though it’s also decidedly raw and thoroughly (and necessarily) unpleasant; in fact, you might recall that I included it on my “favorite 50 films of the 00s” list a few weeks back. The Criterion Collection is releasing what promises to be a very nice DVD of “Hunger” on February 16th, so I highly recommend checking that out once it drops.

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Will you love me even if I go crazy?

January 29, 2010

I thought it worth relating to you, dear reader, that the most recent film by Philippe Garrel, 2008’s “Frontier of Dawn,” is now available for rental on DVD over at Four Star Video Heaven. I highly recommend it, though I do so cautiously.

Garrel is nothing if not a difficult figure: There are few directors whose work hits me harder, yet I can’t in good faith recommend masterpieces like “Elle a passé tant d’heures sous les sunlights…” because it’s quite obvious that they’re just not films for everyone, nor are they films for every mood. The difficulty in grasping Garrel also resides in the way that he strikes more or less the same chord with each film, and yet the movies seldom resemble one another. The formal play of “Elle a passé tant d’heures…” is a far-cry from the bifurcated grown-man blues of “The Birth of Love,” just as the lovers’ limbo in “I No Longer Hear the Guitar” is very different from the tug-of-war between life and art in “Emergency Kisses.” Each film leaves roughly the same stain, though in an altogether singular manner. But Garrel consistently nails it, and each film is as devastating and warm and involving as the one that preceded it. As much as I appreciate the far-outness of the first phase of Garrel’s career (the Zanzibar films and whatnot), I’m glad that he elected to translate his life—or rather, his solitude—faithfully into a series of wonderful movies.

It’d be a mistake to assume that “Frontier of Dawn” picks up where Garrel’s last film, 2005’s “Regular Lovers,” left off. May ’68 is now 40 years old and exists only beneath the fingernails of his characters, whereas in “Regular Lovers” it was a elegiac cloud that followed them everywhere they went, even into their most private spaces. Though the political manifests itself here and there in “Frontier of Dawn” (sometimes for comic effect), Garrel is much more concerned with finding and capturing the fragile type of love that he wrestled with in his work from the late 80s and early 90s.

The first hour of the film is a kind of nod to “I No Longer Hear the Guitar,” though Carole (Laura Smet) is just as similar to Brigitte Sy’s character in “Emergency Kisses” as she is to Johanna ter Steege’s take on Nico. Smet’s performance is especially gutsy because Garrel has her constantly flirt with tortured obviousness, yet she successively manages to keep Carole believable and wired to explode. Garrel’s son Louis basically plays the sort of character that Philippe would’ve played himself if he weren’t 61; Louis’ performance is much subtler, much less caricaturish and much more cleverly played than what he brought to François in “Regular Lovers”—in other words, it struck me as being a much more mature performance, but I guess 3 years’ll do that to ya.

William Lubtchansky’s images are, as always, overwhelmingly rich; the dialogue—partly written by frequent Garrel collaborator Marc Cholodenko—is perfectly prepared and cooked and utterly resonant; and the pacing is an agonized crawl, a bottle shattering in slow-motion, the sun refusing to rise after a sleepless night. At 61, Garrel seems to have any number of films left in him. Let’s hope he continues to inch closer and closer to his own essence.

As promised

January 29, 2010

In today’s edition of the Daily Cardinal: my column, in which I discuss the four flicks that constitute WUD Film’s “Mini-Foreign Film Festival.” Never let it be said that writing about Jean Cocteau isn’t fun. I reckon I’m personally overdue to see “The Blue Angel” again, so who knows, you just might spot my ugly mug somewhere within the first few rows before the lights go down at 7 on Saturday. Anyhoo, this is a really exciting weekend for the Madison cinephile; one can only hope that said excitement remains constant for the rest of the semester.

If you’re expecting to read my column tomorrow morning…

January 27, 2010

… don’t. It got bumped to Friday. Chill. We’ll do something else instead. I’ll think of something. Trust me.

Reasons to visit Milwaukee

January 27, 2010

Madison readers, cover your eyes: UW-Milwaukee’s Union Theatre kicks off its excellent Spring program this Friday with Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist,” which, as you may recall, I’ve written about at length both on here and in the Daily Cardinal. “Antichrist” will screen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so you’ll get plenty of chances to catch it. As the Union Theatre’s website notes, this will mark the film’s “Milwaukee premiere.” I’m a bit skeptical, however, about the website’s claim that “Antichrist” is “for mature audiences only”; after all, a certain kind of philosophical immaturity is an essential component of von Trier’s cinematic sensibility. Then again, the film does contain those parts, so perhaps it really would be best to leave the kids at home.

Anyway, I recommend paying a visit to the Union Theatre’s website for a peek at what it’s got coming up these next few months. If I were a Milwaukee-based cinephile, I’d be especially ecstatic about getting the opportunity to see the following: the new 35mm print of “Diva” (screens on 2/4); Andrew Bujalski’s “Beeswax” (screening the weekend of 2/19); Chris Fuller’s “Loren Cass” (also screening the weekend of 2/19; UW-Madison’s own J.J. Murphy makes the film sound bleak and terribly interesting); Roy Andersson’s “You, the Living” (screening the weekend of 2/26); Susan Sontag’s 1974 documentary “Promised Lands” (screens on 3/2 and 3/3); Corneliu Porumboiu’s “Police, Adjective” (screening the weekend of 3/5); Truffaut’s “Small Change” (screening the weekend of 4/2); Zhao Dayong’s “Ghost Town” (also screening the weekend of 4/2); and Ulrich Seidl’s “Import/Export” (screening the weekend of 4/9).

Painful viewing

January 27, 2010

Sometimes the measure of a film’s effectiveness is the degree to which it hurts its viewer, that is to say, the amount of pain—psychological or visceral—it inflicts upon her. After all, only suckers think that works of art are objects designed and produced to arouse pleasure on the part of the spectator.

If the above is true, then Ronald Bronstein’s “Frownland” (2007) is about as blissfully excruciating a movie as you’ll ever see. It isn’t frustrating like, say, Larry David is frustrating; it’s much closer to having rock-laden sand kicked in your face repeatedly for 107 minutes. But, as they say, therein lies the point: “Frownland”‘s portrayal of a small network of individuals who each embody the grotesque in uniquely cringe-inducing ways is one of the more affecting cinematic experiences I’ve had in a good long while. Bronstein presents the flesh as a nerve-ridden pincushion, the intellect as a machine for manufacturing fashionably right-sounding pseudo-wisdom (when it’s functioning smoothly, that is) and the city as a gargantuan, claustrophobic, candlelit asylum. Not a pretty picture, but it’s got truth oozing from its pores.

When my viewing of “Frownland” ended last night, my curious (and probably disturbed) roommate asked me “What the hell were you just watching?” I replied with something to the effect of “Oh, some movie. One minute, I need to get it out of our apartment.” And with that I rushed out to return it to Four Star Video Heaven (where it just recently arrived on DVD). In its absence, my apartment became a considerably more pleasant environment.

So yeah, I’d be very interested in revisiting it sometime—just not sometime soon.

Here’s a trailer for the film… with French subtitles, of course.

(Visual) Quotes…, 1/27

January 27, 2010

Actual writing forthcoming, I swear.

From Chantal Akerman’s “News from Home” (1977).

(Visual) Quotes…, 1/26

January 26, 2010

From Chantal Akerman’s astonishing “Je tu il elle” (1975). If you don’t yet own the Akerman Eclipse set, you probably need to.

Even when it seems there’s nothing going on

January 25, 2010

I must admit, I was surprised to find that the New Yorker’s David Denby had many of the same thoughts as I did while watching and digesting the wonderful “Police, Adjective” (which will hopefully arrive in Madison soon after it gets finished receiving majorly positive reviews in all the major U.S. cities). I was surprised because, while I like Denby fine as a writer, he almost never puts forward ideas that strike me as being worth grappling with. However, if any recent movie is capable of summoning one’s inner Heidegger, it’s “Police, Adjective,” and Denby takes the bait, waxing on the relationship between time and cinema:

The movie has a doggedly faithful relationship to time. In a lecture given in 1924, “The Concept of Time,” Heidegger, searching for a definition, said that time has no body but is merely a medium in which events take place. Cinema commandeers this neutral quality as brutally as it can, substituting dramatic time for real time. Most directors fill shots with information, and then edit them into briefer and briefer segments, jumping restlessly forward or backward, or cutting between, say, a criminal and a cop and their simultaneous actions. Porumboiu goes in another direction: he wants us to experience the duration of ordinary events. Andy Warhol, with his five-hour movie of a man sleeping and his eight-hour movie of the Empire State Building, was the high and low comic of duration. Great directors like Robert Bresson and Chantal Akerman have mounted extended sequences in which the unbroken duration of an event becomes its meaning. They are the dramatic poets of real time, and Porumboiu is among their number.

Hmm… I’ll concede the affinities between “Police, Adjective” and some films by Akerman (whose new Eclipse set is tremendous, by the way); but Bresson? Am I missing something here? Bresson’s is a cinema of juxtaposition, of sounds multiplying images, of materiality; it isn’t really a cinema of duration (i.e. he uses very few if any long takes). This is the same misconception, I think, that leads folks to lump Bresson with Dreyer and Mizoguchi and Tarkovsky and the like. Bresson’s poetry emerges from the combination of fragments, not from their temporal elongation. There’s a lot to like about “Police, Adjective”—but Bressonian it ain’t.

If anything, the sequence in which Cristi and his partner wait to meet with their captain echoes the metaphysics of Dreyer’s “Ordet”: even in silence and dramatic stasis, there’s still a ton going on.

(Visual) Quotes…, 1/25

January 25, 2010

The previously promised “Juliet Berto in ‘Out 1′” post.

From, like I said, “Out 1” (1971).