Archive for September, 2007

Chaplin (1992)

“Chaplin” (1992)

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More cinema, less data…

The IMDb trivia for Attenborough states regarding his cinematic thinking states that: “Philosophies include believing in content as opposed to style and sincerity rather than intelligence.”

Sometimes these things work in his films, but the fact is that in art, sincerity is almost always obtained through intelligence, and honesty has little to do with truth. Chaplin knew it, so none of his films are “true” in a strict sense of the word, but all of them are above all honest. This why, all and all, i don’t quite enjoyed this film: because it failed to reach the “content” of Chaplin’s work. Attenborough is, nevertheless, very competent, and so is his camera work, many times quite interesting (though in these concerns, as well as editing, watch his bright A bridge too far), and that very aspect makes this partially worth the time.

“-what do we do? -We smile”

For me, Chaplin is one of the synonyms for emotion in cinema. Films become part of people’s lives. Many get into those lives bended by context, which means, the ones people had the opportunity (good or bad luck) to watch. Chaplin got into my life quite early and, for a long time, i never understood exactly what he did, i don’t remember in my childhood watching a full film of his, but many excerpts are part of my visual memories (chaplin for children). Growing up and understanding how all the drama, all the emotion (beyond the “funny”) exists in his cinema was a true revelation to me and a gate into cinema as an art. the “clown effect”, the tramp always smiling is always capable of showing the beautiful and the horrible, the dark and the shiny, dark in what it shows, shiny in what it comes to provoke. This is humanism in cinema, in my personal thoughts. From what I know, Chaplin is at the top of those who (tried to) master this.

In the particular film, emotion is left to the end; which is nevertheless fully made after cinema paradiso. But its strenght is there because it simply displays Chaplin’s films. The most successful option here, to my view, would have been to bring out “content” instead of “facts”. So, back to the citation from IMDb’s trivia, what i find here is a different notion of “content” (different than my own) which, for Attenborough, ended up as a collection (that i would call a little bit dull) of facts, making cinema secondary. In the movie Chaplin says “if you want to know me, watch my movies”. That would be the key

Nevertheless, Downey Jr is very very strong here and his physical acting is truly remarkable.

Meanwhile, as a biographical movie”, my personal choice still goes to the very recent and relatively unknown “life and death of Peter Sellers” for it reaches much more into the soul of the artist.

My evaluation: 2/5 overall a failure, even though it’s not bad to watch (mainly due to Downey’s Jr acting and some camera work)

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Mary Reilly (1996)

“Mary Reilly” (1996)

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Malkovich, Jekyll and Hyde

This film makes me uncomfortable. I suppose that would be its purpose. But the thing is: at time distance i usually get a good impression of it, and my memory retains good opinion regarding it. But while i watch it, and i’ve done it a few times, i don’t find reasons to match my remembrances of previous viewings. I thought about it and i think it all comes down to one element, which is Malkovich. Julia Roberts is useless, she’s an ornament, the girl who is there to get scared and perform the “walk in the dark facing her own fears and beating them” role. OK with it. Not so OK when she is supposed to provide our Hyde with a background and lend him her fears and bad memories, she fails completely and that’s a weak point. Frears direction is correct, he understands pace and how to build a film respecting the mood of the script. Everything OK.

Than we have Malkovich. He has a way of performing which many times gives the sensation that he is not performing at all, as if he was always being him. This is a false sensation and, in most cases, i think this works as a positive aspect of his performances. Somehow it provides him with a sensation of several layers, that of the character he performs, himself and the way he understands that character, almost as if he was always making personal annotations on what he feels about his characters (strangely this vanishes in his performances for Oliveira’s films, but that’s another story). Here in this film this aspect works out differently. On the one hand he doesn’t establish the radical opposition between Jekyll and Hyde that one might need to watch. On the other hand this brings out the inner connection between the two, and the observation that anyone contains Jekyll and Hyde, and the establishment of ones personality is the resolution of that inner conflict. This very conflict is the one that Malkovich carries into his performance (actor versus character comparable to Jekyll versus Hyde). This is probably what confuses me and probably the most interesting element to observe in the film.

My evaluation: 3/5, solid work, weak points but interesting element, as referred.

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Girl with a Pearl earring (2003)

“Girl with a pearl earring” (2003)

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Hyper-realism and light

Light as a cloth: The window was opened and the light got in. It covered surfaces, it covered someone. With Vermeer, it’s all about pointing out personalities through shadows and soul-defining surfaces. The dutch XVII’s century produced Vermeer and Rembrandt. Both changed the meaning of light in composition and content and wrote a fundamental chapter in visual construction (composition). But while with Rembrandt we have light as a focus, which dominates and drives the other elements, whose personality and meaning are shaped and bended to that light the painter chooses, with Vermeer we have other situation: light as a cloth, tranquil, blissful light, the one that comes through glass on a sunny yet clouded morning. Usually he always uses the same kind of light, and allows it to uncover what there is to uncover in the model (“you looked into my soul”). The final result is like a photograph of a character, below the surface (like the dark camera which “shows” the painting). This is a very fascinating theme, and in what concerns cinema it is, to my view, at once very hard to work out and very fascinating. This is because cinema is primarily, to this moment, about image, and this theme is so about image that makes it cinematic to the core. So, forget stories, forget conventional narrative, to do this, one will have to do it visually. And ask light for a help. This is where Eduardo Serra comes in. It’s not common for me to agree with the majority of the opinions on which are the highest points in the careers of people, but here i do believe all about this film had the perfect measures of Serra’s work. And he delivers it. All cast and crew (obviously this is exaggerating) is here to provide Serra with something to photograph. And he performs Vermeer so well… Photography is the strongest presence of Vermeer in this film, his light is a character. It doesn’t really “exist”, but it’s so physical here. So this would be hyper realism in cinema; Truer than truth. Firth would be apparently a miscast, but he stands alright here and Johanson here is all about face, lips, hair and look. That’s how she fits.

My evaluation: 4/5 A very good film about painting which actually is coherent with the art it depicts.

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Nick of time (1995)

“Nick of Time” (1995)

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space and time

I like this particular project, i like Badham a lot, generally speaking. He is usually able to build his films world around very contained environments, both in time and in space. Even in Saturday Night Fever this device was visible, in a subtle way: there we had a film that was about an era, a certain youth, in a certain portion of the world we can talk about time and space container in a pop culture sense. WarGames was also about this, chasing time was the excuse to increase tension, and build cinematically the suspense mood. Here we have the same premises as in WarGames, a guy has to do something in a short amount of time, otherwise something terrible will happen. The terrible thing to happen and the action he must fulfill are all located around the same city block, so all the development will move around that.

Here Badham has a stronger element, comparing to WarGames: he has Depp. We’re looking at one of the best current actors, here in a time where he was (even) more than today a risk taker. He tried many things, here is another one. Just looking at Depp is reason enough to watch this. He is one of the few actors who can carry alone the hole audience to make believable what might be questionable, and deepen his performance with the over layering of inner questions, here mostly associated with whether he should complete his “mission” or try to abort it: his daughter vs doing “the right thing”. It’s rather repetitive material, but the question with Depp (and great actors) is never on What but on How.

I could not stop wondering what De Palma could have done here. 3 years after this one, he directed his very personal Snake Eyes, one of his essays on cinematic eye behavior/movement. There, De Palma’s cinematic sensibility was collecting the fruits of his careers experiments in moving camera and eye work, but all the rest was so lame, acting, even some scriptwriting (all the writing that wasn’t under de Palma’s preoccupations) that the experience lost something. That same improved script with Depp could have thrown it yet to another level. Pity Anyway, John Badham is competent enough to make this worthwhile, and he can move around. Walken is (as usual) over the top, he is the tough “smart with words” guy, has usually good recognition from the audiences, but he is not what i enjoy. Nevertheless overall this is a good experience. Try it if you haven’t yet.

My evaluation: 4/5

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North by Northwest (1959)

“North by Northwest” (1959)

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James “Hitch/Grant” Bond

I think it’s fantastic the attitude some artists have towards their activity. I speak about those who, in a lifetime of creation go after several objectives, several different ideas, many times undefined and blurred in the beginning, and when they are able to focus them with precision, and create important stuff from there, they move along to explore new ideas leaving a lot of other artists taking their conclusions about what has happened. Hitchcock suffered influences, obviously, but what he allowed to happen after him place him among the most memorable inventors in the history of cinema. So, Hitchcock was influent through several of his works:

. Rope – and following it the very notable “Dial M for Murder” and the absolute masterpiece “Rear Window”; this was where he exploited to maximum potential his camera eye, so influent in years to come, i really love this phase

. Vertigo – the work where Hitch reflects on the role the actor can have and the over layering of roles (role inside role, actor inside the actor, and the way the observer deals with it) as well as the way a set can influence an action or a mood just by existing

. North by Northwest – the first James Bond movie, Hitch and Grant are the parents of the character in cinema, it’s interesting how, years later, Hitch would use Connery, the first entitled Bond actor, in his late “Marnie”.

I am a fan of James Bond, he was part of my childhood and adolescence, and he still has a place in my imagination, however, from a cinematic point of view, this last “revolution” is, to me, the less interesting. Nevertheless, what a great film this is. Hitchcock introduced here with a cinematic quality never seen before it the chase movie theme, where every next day is undefined in location and actions, where sexual issues always show up embedded in a beautiful woman with uncertain objectives (That Hitch’s blond!). Cary Grant was already the first Bond before Fleming created the character so, in a way, this film is probably the first Hitch did in which what really matters is style. The story is filled with problems and incoherences, doesn’t make sense in many points… but that happens to 90% of the movies (specially action ones). Herrmann achieves here one of his most subtle and good soundtracks for Hitchcock, and everything has an irresistible good taste, even if filled with “Hitchcockian” clichés (the iconic place for the important action moment, in this case Rushmore, Hitch showing up at the beginning, the blond woman…)

Many times, loving a director’s work or not has to do with personal issues, in that sense, i really love the work of Hitchcock, but apart from that, all the enormous merits he ad ought to be recognized and, to my point of view, this is one of his (in this case not so brilliant) achievements.

My evaluation: 4/5 its watchability has to do, i suppose, with its pace and rhythm

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Le Mari de la coiffeuse (1990)

“Le Mari de la coiffeuse” (the hairdresser’s husband, free translation)

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Intimacy and a love scene

Intimacy is what this is all about. The love scene has nothing to do with sex, though is part of it. The moment when Mathilde throws herself off the bridge, the whole sequence, from the lovemaking on a chair to her sudden escape in the middle of the storm is so apparently casual that becomes incredibly heart breaking. It has a place in my memories as one of the strongest scenes i’ve seen.

This film pictures spontaneity, though it uses completely unrealistic plots, scenes, dialogs, situations, etc. How is that made? Through the mind. What happens is spontaneous not in real life, but in our, each one’s imaginations. Asking a woman to marry us, making love with her while she washes somebody’s hair, those are fantasies, emphasized by the Indian spontaneous dances, and the completely darkness shed over our male character’s past.

The french are really good in this kind of every day life comedic dramas, which apparently are naturalistic but rationally are unrealistic (this kind of film making is in the origin of the phenomena Amélie Poulain). I suppose these films will hold themselves based on three fundamental elements:

. female seductive characters (Audrey Tatou was seductive for the innocent side, Anna Galiena is for the mysterious side, i personally prefer Galiena)

. cinematic capacity to deal with abstraction in plot elements, abstraction in character’s definitions and apparently absurd elements (this motivates imagination in filming scenes in new ways, french new wave was good in this, these post directors like Leconte learned the lesson i think)

. an image conferring unity to remember after you’ve seen the picture (here it has to do with light, the inner set and hair, which unites all the scenes) The light here is once more the fruit of Serra’s magnificent work. His approach has all to do with this cinematic mood; i had praised his work in Blood Diamond, i reaffirm my admiration here; he really can adapt to the circumstances, be himself and solve the problems without being excessively noticed.

My evaluation: 4/5 This is french equivalent to “la teta i la lluna” (which would happen 4 years later) and i recommend its viewing.

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The Fountainhead (1949)

“The fountainhead” (1949)

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Architecture (and Cinema) on the surface

This was a terrible disappointment, not a good experience at all, quite on the contrary. Being an architecture student, almost graduated, i naturally related to the theme in a more close way than the usual viewer.

Apparently this Howard Roark was vaguely inspired in American master Frank Lloyd Wright. In the first way, Wright was not as radical towards his time’s current architecture like those days Europeans (say Le Corbusier, Van der Rohe, Loos or even Taut). He was a genius on his own, but his work, though fantastic, is today dated and even than more attached to tradition than that of the names i referred and his most bold (formaly speaking i mean) buildings came towards the second half of his career already in a different cultural environment. So probably the portrait of Cooper’s character may be a reflex of the rise in the American (super) ego, as a consequence of the recent “victory” in second world war (this arrogance would hit its peak in the beginning of the nineties, but this is a side note).

Cinema and Architecture:

Anyway, what really upsets me here is that this film can be charged exactly with the same faults appointed to Roark’s detractors. I didn’t read the book, apparently it represented a mark in its time American youth, about individuality and creation spirit. I can’t talk about its author’s understanding of what architecture (not only in the last 100 years) is about. But i can justify that the people involved in this film know nothing about it: What modern architects did was separate the architecture from the decorative and sculptural notions in which romantic creators were emerged. These architects understood that architecture was first of all about space, about movement, about the forth dimension, and neglected the idea of submitting buildings exclusively to its sculptural interest. That first scene in which Roark shows his skyscraper and gets it ruined by the neoclassical elements together with the other scene in which Roark himself draws a neoclassical facade provoking Wynand are proof that the modernism was not at all understood by who conceived this project, and that they saw it merely as a “style” to be used in the same level as “neogothic” “neclassic” “neo whatever”… This is conceiving architecture by surfaces, eventually volumes, not space, not how you live the space. “Straight” lines and pure volumes are nothing if not followed by deeper notions. And it is unforgivable that this wasn’t considered specially 9 years after Welles made Citizen Kane and introduced (some) notions of how to understand a space through a camera. Welles should have done this. He would have made architecture a theme (Hitchcock just 1 year before signed his brilliant space exploration of Rope)

Lloyd Wright fully understood what space was about, not this folks, not Roark. He is himself a romantic character, filled with melodramatic feelings, longing for his lost love, lost woman, he has precisely the personality of those who in the XIX century chose to revive all the past and styles Roark is supposed to be fighting here.

Also the idea of “genius”, of creator is i would say dangerous here. Architecture departs from other arts precisely in the point that it has a social responsibility, social impact and so, simultaneously the biggest drama and glory of an architect is to be able to make coexist his personal convictions with the necessities of an audience (client) and thus create true art (architectural art, not sculpture, not decoration) that successfully marries individual conceptions with collective needs.

My evaluation: 1/5, one of my latest great disappointments, i was really looking forward to watch this… unless you are specially interested in architecture (and so might get some historical interest for when some key expressions of modern architecture showed up) stay away from this. You may be damaged if you don’t know enough of the subject.

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