Archive for February, 2008

Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980)

“Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón” (1980)

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in the beginning…

i suspected i would get something like this before i saw it. I was interested in understanding the roots of Almodóvar as a filmmaker, how he started developing his kind of visual storytelling, which is so unique today. At the same time i wanted to understand and feel some of the pulse of the underground spirit in Madrid of those days. Both these issues are personal. I wanted to understand how one can use a force of available young (and inexperienced) talents and give a faithful expression of a certain moment in time and space. I also wanted (and still want) to get to “first works” by directors i admire, so i can understand how they used their technical and budget limitations to pursue ideas they were after. This is not Almodovar’s first film, but it is the oldest to which one can have access in legal (and i suppose illegal) market.

I think this is a failure. Not because it’s technically and formally (very) flawed. I actually enjoyed watching all the flaws passing in front of my eyes, i think some times a project can work out stronger if its amateur/inexperience face shows. This is that case. Anyway, i think this is a failure because it is a film where Almodovar is not yet capable of turning his soap operish stories into something intelligent from a visual narrative point of view. The story here is not more or less poor than in many other successful Almodovar features. But here he couldn’t find a device that can with intelligent turn the experience into something purely visual, the way he does in his best works. So, i tried to see the positive side of this. The film proves to me how intelligent Almodovar is, for the paths he pursued after this adventure, intelligent in what concerns storytelling, and visual narrative and how he always searches for new ways to fold his stories and deliver them to us as visual products.

Actually, we have hints here. In between the scenes, the girls suggest the production of a film about their own lives. That film would depict precisely the events we get on screen. I decided to understand (i think this is a matter of choosing which interpretation you want to give) that i was watching the film they were discussing, as if the story was in fact things from the real world that actually happened, and i was watching women representing those lives. But there’s an important statement, Carmen Maura’s character warns that for those girls to interpret their own lives, they have to perform. They have to act, in order to be themselves. Intelligent. Almodovar would go on depicting women who act, many times act like themselves, other times they act like actresses (“Todo sobre mi madre” was all about this). This possible film within a film, and the denouncing that we may be watching a film depicting characters who represent themselves was to me a hint to layered storytelling, and narrative invention. Almodovar’s career to me has everything to do with that.

“La movida” is here. In a moment i’m willing, and trying, to move into creating something in the visual world of images (call it cinema if you want), i really care about understanding how in this moment of Spanish pop culture so many talented people were able to come out, and produce important work. I’ll search for other visual proof and important documents from this time, i’ll try to understand how this and other films were possible. This is a bad film which i envy. I which i could one day gather such a crew.

My opinion: 2/5

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Byt (1968)

“Byt” (1968)

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Codified cinema

this was my first contact with Svankmajer. And what a strong impression i got! He is ‘labeled’ with the surrealist movement, and is frequently attached to the other surrealist names in cinema. In this film alone, i don’t check any of what might be called surrealism, except for some aesthetic choices, and some physics of the world within i will explain. That is because surrealism had always to do with seeking to deliver through art states of consciousness which are beyond self-awareness. Dreams, for instance. Things which we can’t control, which are not material, we can’t touch, which happen in undefined time (in shape and duration). None of that is here. This has, of course, a veiled political speech between the lines. We have a character which is told where to go, he follows arrows which lead to wherever someone wants. He is given everything, but he can’t taste anything. He is taken to doors, but he is not allowed to open them. He is given food, but than he has a dog to eat it. This takes place entirely inside an apartment. Of course this is (or could be) the direct metaphor to the Soviet Union, the iron curtain, all those elements which motivated many filmmakers and artists to create art that could express desperation and in satisfaction without alerting censors. That’s not surrealist (believing now in some of the ideologies used than might be surrealistic, this is not). But this is, instead, a fantastic experiment. I don’t know much about Czech animation, or Czech cinema, but i’m willing to explore it. I saw a short, a while ago, ‘Prílepek’, it was a very good experience from someone who learned a lot from this Czech reference. So i’m sensing a continuity that i care about exploring, so i’ll be looking for more of these works.

What we have here (and that is more close we can get to the surrealism mood here) is a world which defines its own rules. I mean physical rules. It’s a world were the material behaviour of materials and objects is not the same as in our real world. It is possible for a man to place an arm across a wall, or a wood bed to completely disintegrate as if it was eaten up. That is what takes us to another dimension, and the frantic pace and editing also. The stop-motion is remarkable, and the technical level really very high here.

My opinion: 4/5 don’t miss it.

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Ace in the Hole (1951)

“Ace in the Hole” (1951)

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Abutres

“i don’t make things happen, i just write about them”

*** This comment may contain spoilers ***

This is the film Wilder directed after Sunset Boulevard. This is an important thing to state. He was by than, i feel, immersed in several issues, some concerning his in satisfaction regarding life and cinema industry in America, and others concerning his exploitation towards noir and its narrative possibilities. My opinion is that Wilder took the original conception of noir to its limits with Sunset Boulevard. So in a away, he ended noir with that film. This one was sort of a reprise, a bonus track, a last breath of the primitive conception of noir.

The narrative core here is about writing, as with Sunset Boulevard. We have several entities which are responsible for “writing” visually what we see, and fight along the story for being in charge of the facts:

.the ‘seven vultures’, the natives belief. they are responsible, at least we suspect, for the imprisoning of a man, which will motivate the whole ‘circus’ (or was it pure coincidence? fate?)

.Kirk Douglas’ character, himself responsible for the report of the whole event, during a good part of the film. He is something of a god as he writes (and invents) everything we get to see. this is interesting because we don’t have Douglas as our noir ‘detective’, someone who is as blind about the events and what’s behind them as we usually do in noir constructions. We assume he manipulates everything, even though we suspect he will loose control

.The crowd. The circus Douglas called for self-promotion will take over, as a multi-headed monster (or a no-head monster); Douglas allows for this to happen, nevertheless e he lost (emotional) control as he moved along;

These three elements alone make our construction. This becomes noir as Douglas becomes victim and not god, and we get to question who is in fact controlling the whole thing. Was it in fact a ‘curse’ of the Indians, was it something we might call fate (Douglas was running from city to city until ending up in that town with an Indian tomb!). This is not good or influential as the masterpiece Wilder produced the previous year, but it is a good piece. The fact that the detective here becomes a writer and aims at controlling the whole thing hints that those behind this project were aiming at breaking noir and taking it to another level. This wasn’t it, it’s not an important film, it was even a commercial failure. But it was a good try.

My opinion: 4/5

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Tekon kinkurîto (2006)

“Tekon kinkurîto” (2006)

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I saw two films here. One i cared about, and another one that made me bore.

the city:

there are strong visual ideas behind the good Japanese animations. This is a feature that has two sources, according to my interpretation: one is very notion of image int art and Japanese culture. Japanese art produces now and for many centuries before images which are as complex as pleasant, they have abstract concepts, but they are visceral in the way they touch the viewer. So, art in Japan (when really good, and really Japanese) has this double component, of being highly intellectual and highly attached to the public it hits, no matter where that public comes from. That’s why it’s been relatively easy the process of turning Japanese culture into an universal matter (at least the ‘image'(s) of the Japanese culture). The thing that amazes me is how quite different Japanese creators from different areas and different forms of expression tend to be highly coherent between them, even if not directly related. The other source comes from a certain form of expression which, once, cinema explored. i’m talking about expressionism, and the direct influence that the German films from the 20’ had in so many creations afterwards. Metropolis might be the most visible face of this influence, but films like Der Golem have today still a strong impact. This film is basically a product of these two (main) influences. We have a city, which is magnificent, coloured but dark (and, as the two main characters, ‘black’ and ‘white’). This city is worth exploring. It’s powerful, and it’s visual. It’s visual in a false two dimensional perspective. That’s because the images are more based in texture, color, and framing, than on 3d distances, point of view or perspective. So it has more of Metropolis than of Blade Runner. But it is false because the Japanese are very strong in reducing the means without loosing content. Which is to say, the deepness is all there, even though the image is apparently flat. So, this is a city worth visiting, and, no doubt, the strongest point in this film.

storyline:

this was, on the other hand, quite disappointing. It made me bored to follow the threads here. Black and White, the film revolves around the connection between them, and we have some other lines to follow around. The old moral gangster, his almost-sun who is forced to kill him, and the superior forces (those who live on the sphere above everything. The concept was quite simple, a kind of ying-yang (as in fact is shown along the story in the shirt of our Black), trying to understand how opposites get attracted (and repulsed) and how the bounding between those opposites creates a ‘perfect’ relation. But there was too much noise. The kind of ‘noisy silence’, ‘dark coloured’ city we had, is totally gone in what concerns narrative devices and storyline. There is only one point of interest, because it’s visual and worked with the possibilities of the medium. The visions of White, which he draws, become often animations, with a totally different expression from the rest, allowing us to take it as something really drawn by hand. Those were powerful moments. But the rest wasn’t pleasing or interesting to follow, and in the final minutes, the whole thing falls apart, precisely when the city is gone of our site, and the whole graphic expression changes into something that doesn’t fit.

My opinion: 3/5, check it for the city…

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Get Carter (2000)

“Get Carter” (2000)

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not action

I actually liked this one. It has an interesting visual construction, which has to do, i think, with coherent photography and specially editing. It’s visual storytelling in the sense that, the plot, though thin and relatively uninteresting is fully told visually. No devices including those common excessive dialogues used to overcome the lack of visual devices. As a positive thing here i see the global artistic coherence, in boards built almost as a mosaic.

But this is very hated project. Why? i have a theory. The public enjoys Stallone because he performs 9 out of 10 times the typical American hero. Such as his other fellow colleagues like Seagall, Van Damme, Schwarzenegger (these two were American imports). More recently, this part is probably being played by Vin Diesel. So Stallone earned his recognition among fans of franchised heroes such as Rambo or Balboa. Those characters don’t show too much here. It’s still a typical “kill everybody” revenge plot, but very softened by the way things were visually put together. So the problem (for the success of the film) in my opinion was: starring Stallone, the film was immediately calling for fans of those kinds of commercial productions, aimed at beating up the audiences with tales of heroism, revenge, physical action and higher old fashioned moral (the American ego calls it “american values”). Here we have none of that. Instead we have relatively intelligent and sensitive cinematic visual construction. But the audiences prepared for those experiments probably didn’t feel the need to watch this one. I suppose that was the thing here.

So, i think this is worth taking a look, it’s relatively interesting int the way it edits in coherence with the plot, it is all made in a highly visual way. In fact, we come to find out the “truth” of the facts in the plot through a film inside the film. We watch that film, together with Stallone, so once more, through a device planned to choose image as the medium.

My opinion: 3/5 a mildly interesting cinematic experiment.

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Macao (1952)

“Macao” (1952)

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Grey, not noir

This time my intuition failed. I usually predict somethings about the films i’m about to see based on pure preconceptions, somethings i got from previews viewings of films from the producers/actors/directors i’m about to watch, the title of the film (it usually suggests a lot to me just to know the title) or pure intuition. This was this last case.

What we have here is a noir made in the beginning of a decade of interesting aspects for American cinema: it was not experimental as the 30′ (which were exploring the possibilities of a renewed medium, which had gained the possibilities of synchronized sound/image) nor as established in a genre and a sense of style as the 40′. So, in a way, it was rather undefined. But films like this one tell me that it was no longer a period for noir as the 40′ (and to that matter, John Huston) defined it. The Maltese falcon changed (or maybe summarized) some conventions and introduced new possibilities in film narrative devices, and that legacy went on to be developed and still has new steps being taken today. But that style, the very appreciated hats, detectives, shadow/light which were the more visible face (and to many viewers incorrectly regarded as the essence of noir) don’t work here anymore. I’m still trying to find a film noir post Sunset Boulevard that really works. This is not it.

Start with Macao. It was in theory a good city to place a story of this kind. Even if the reality described in the introduction of the film is probably a tremendous exaggeration (and invention) over what really happened in Macao those days, that is an exaggeration one is willing to accept, for cinematic richness. A side complaint is the portrayal of the Portuguese policeman. The fat moustache corrupt guy is a preconception i suppose many Europeans had (some may still have it today) regarding the Portuguese. I don’t know the ideas American had on this, but this stylizations upsets today, but probably in 20 years from now there preconceptions we see on today’s films that will be noted. Anyway, i get in many many American films with more than 30 years a lot of situations like this (the Japanese from Breakfast at Tiffany’s comes to my mind right now). Anyway Macao starts as a promise in the voice off, but ends as a dull slightly oriental slightly generic studio set, with no great interest beyond what was described of it.

Behind this there was the controlling and charismatic (rich) H.Hughes. He was probably very controlling regarding his productions (he was himself someone who had got into the delicate work of directing). He places two of his fetishes here: Mitchum and Russell. So, we had Hughes, wanting to create a classic noir picture. In order to do that he calls a competent (more than competent) director, who precisely been able to bring out some very competent work in placing stories in strange exotic sceneries; Hughes, knowing that, searches a typical noir scenario, not fresh, not interesting (or at least not interestingly explored). The plot is not even near anything interesting from the previous decade. Is there any doubt somewhere in the plot? What don’t we know? Don’t we know who is controlling the story? Is there any ambiguity regarding any character? Grahame was the woman in the story who might have brought some ambiguity regarding the “god” in the story, the puppeteer controlling actions on the viewers back, but is totally misused. The scene with Mitchum and Russell in the boat too much near the beginning throws away any ambiguity or game there might occur between both. Mitchum is just about walking around in white suit, portraying his “americanhood”. Russell might have been seductive and mysterious to Hughes eyes, but here she was an ordinary woman, fully out passed by Grahame in the much less scenes where she performed. Russell had better moments in films.

So this is nostalgic, i had interesting in watching it, but it didn’t live up to my expectations.

My opinion: 2/5

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Tout va bien (1972)

“Tout va bien” (1972)

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structural sketch

Godard always makes me think. I’m never indifferent to what he does, with a few exceptions. But many times the excitement about a film by Godard comes in the days after i saw it. This is one of those cases.

The setup is simple, he is working on the structural (re)invention of his own films. He probably was by than arrogant enough to believe he was working on the reinvention of the whole cinema (remember the “jean luc cinema godard” signature of Bande a part?). Well there are conclusions which came to affect other works by many other authors, but not always. I think this one is important as a milestone for Godard, in the great picture of his work and it is important to watch on the historical context of cinema than. Many things were happening in the beginning of the seventies, and the main issue was perhaps to clarify the meaning of cinema and its links to real life, the main question the nouvelle vague had raised but never satisfactory answered to that moment. So there are a few works from this period i think should be checked for they show different approaches from different contexts to a similar issue. Think about “F for fake” by Welles, “The conversation” by Coppola, “La nuit américaine” by Truffaut, a few years before Antonioni’s Blow up. In the root of all this projects (and some others) is, to my view, this cinematic concern of understanding whether cinema represents life, stages life, or is pure fiction which may influence life. This is probably the least interesting answer of the works i mentioned, but it is still worth a look.

The reason why i think this is less rewarding than the films i mentioned above is because Godard, at this point, tended to ruin partially his films by dulling the viewer with his childish half baked conceptions of political ideologies. So he doesn’t focus so much on cinema as he does on politics. I like to believe that even than he had the notion of the lack of deepness in the ideas he depicts, but chose to understand that posture as a motivator of certain aesthetics conceptions. So, regarding cinema:

The film is in itself a rough structure, which contains several rough structures inside. The result is that we are able to check the mechanics of all the issues we watch: film, politics, and personal relations. Of these three, the only one that matters is the issue film-making. All is denounced so, in the beginning, we have a shot in which someone signs checks to pay film-related services (photography, film, script, etc) followed by an off dialog translating a stylization of the beginning of the film making process. Than we get a beautiful hole sequence inside a factory. We see the factory as a section, so we are able to simultaneously get what happens in every division of it (this structural denouncement was to be used in different context by von Trier, with Dogville). Even before we are allowed to understand we are watching a set, never for a moment one believes to be watching a real location (the colors are those of the french flag). The performances by the workers are also ostensibly stagy, so one doesn’t suspect we are watching real life being captured. So, fiction is announced. Like Truffaut in “la nuit américaine”, Godard finally assumes that film has a kind of dynamics which has not that much to do with life, and the role of cinema is not to capture life, but to create a life of its own, which has roots in real world, but has its own inner laws.

Than Godard ruins partially the experience. He assumes the political speech. He places still on the factory context several workers (actors performing workers, good to remember) unleashing terribly boring monologues (at least from by point of view, i’m not a May 68′ guy, older folks please comment on this) concerning their rights and their complaints. He places the actors talking directly to the camera, assuming once more there is a filming being made. Later he even assumes we can make our own film, when he puts Montand talking side by side with a camera pointing at us.

The third and clearly least worked out issue is the personal relation between Fonda and Montand. It is also told caring for the structure of the thing. So everything is stylish, cliché, but it is supposed to be like that. We end the film with possibilities on how their relation ends.

This is a cinematic sketch, like the demo of a film. I like that attitude, i like the aspect of “unfinished” project, roughness, provisional look of the film. It’s as if we were part of the process. And indeed we are.

Oh and there is a shot, that alone makes this worth watching. The relatively famous shot on a supermarket. We have the camera moving for about 15 minutes over a straight line, we watch the normal life of a supermarket, stuff happening, a staged “ideological” fight. Just that. The camera comes and go, the line it follows is parallel to the line of register boxes which register the clients shopping. We see the things at the level of the registers box workers. It’s just beautiful. It’s cinema, maybe not the cinema of truth, but true cinema. Really.

My opinion: 4/5

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