27 décembre 2006

The Family Stone

This week I seem to keep stumbling across Hollywood movies that have a surprising elegance of story and form. The first of these - and the biggest surprise thus far - was catching The Family Stone. Based on the trailer, I had expected the trite condescension of the 'nutty family' holiday movie. I was pleasantly surprised instead to watch an affecting family drama with finely drawn characters and a number of concurrent (sub)plotlines. The film holds its audience in high esteem, delivering information subtly. And while I wouldn't classify this as a "great" film, it was one of the better non-blockbuster films I've seen out of Hollywood in some time. In many ways it felt more like an accessibly artful Sundance movie than like the goofy family comedy I expected... It's hard to talk about the things that made it seem real and artful without giving away the surprising intelligence in the film, but let me just say that (with one scene of exception) the film is not just smarter than I expected, but smarter than most of it's peers - 'Sundance' films included. Characters don't adhere to the Hollywood shorthand of falling in love on sight, nor is there an unsympathetic character - though they're all flawed, and human. The final scene around the Christmas tree is very nearly perfect. Kudos to Thomas Bezucha for his excellent film. Recommended viewing for those who think Hollywood's been missing something for a while now. I guess I'll have to see Big Eden, now, too.

06 novembre 2006


Since I'm so late in posting, and it's been addressed so eloquently at notcoming, I will only discuss my favorite segment: “Hoichi the Earless.”

First I'll quote from notcoming: “"Hoichi the Earless” opens with a stunning recreation of the famous battle in the Straits of Shimonoseki which in 1185 decided the conflict between the Heike (Tara) and Genji (Minamoto) clans. Kobayashi uses traditional song and painting and his own stylised sets — brilliant reds and oranges over a patently artifical “sea” — in an aesthetic tour-de-force, whose intensity the rest of the story never quite attains again."

While I marginally agree with the "never quite attains again," there are other moments that nearly achieve the same stately beauty. The foregrounding of the biwa-played score goes a long way in this regard, punctuating the dramatic tone of the piece with its percussive energy (though the biwa is a string instrument). But musical strength (and its accompanying narrative of the battle) is only the first of four things that make "Hoichi" the most affecting segment. The second is the use of color vis a vis composition in the segment (best exemplified by the opening sequence). Visual motifs of bright, highly saturated primary colors catch the eye with a flair not found in the other segments. The opening is strongest, of course, but the continued use of these colors in the costumes of Hoichi's audience - combined with their raised, arclike patten and the background of stone and mists - add a stately grandeur to the nightly performances. Once the opening battle is realized, the use of color and composition does indeed fall off. Instead, we viewers are more narratively entwined by the discrepancy between what we know and what Hoichi knows. Hoichi's blindness makes it easy for the ghostly forces to seem human, and our battle prologue makes it clear to us from the start that they are ghosts. Hoichi doesn't know this, so our understanding of the dramatic tension separates us from Hoichi but imbues his story with real drama. All of his performances are thus suspenseful in that we know there's another shoe to drop, even if it's not clear by what mechanism this might occur. The final amplifying factor in "Hoichi" is the use of ritual to create suspense. When a spell is written on the young monk's skin to keep him safe from the ghostly realm, the minutely detailed attention paid to his body creates further anticipation of the events to come while not advancing the plot. The same strategy of delayed event-action takes place as the samurai ghost circles the nearly-invisible Hoichi, looking for a near-invisible monk. Again we know what's in play more than the characters do, but here it's the samurai ghost who lacks knowledge (and sight). The moment when all of the characters gain the same knowledge as the audience is this tension's resolution - which makes good on the segment's title. While its true that none of this has the visceral power of the segment's opening battle, it nonetheless is the strongest of the 4 component pieces of Kwaidan, precisely because it in vests its energy in suspense rather than suddenly realized horror.

30 octobre 2006


I really should have posted about Kwaidan by now
to say nothing of Herzog's Nosferatu
or my recent 1st-time viewing (on DVD) of Reservoir Dogs.
and I'll have things to say about Aguirre after Tuesday night
but for now:

The script to Mohsen Makhmbalaf's Nobat e Asheghi (Time of Love a/k/a Love's Turn)

You can stream the full version of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's epic 410-minute documentary Hitler: A Film From Germany at his website.

I've been working on a Top 100 films list for a while, and it is no easy task (especially since I'm trying to rank them in order). Recently I've been distracted by my 100 Greatest Moments in Cinema list, which is also in progress but less far along. But Josh and Teresa at JLT/JLT have posted their Top 100 films list. My list will probably be as extracanonical but by the looks of it won't share much with theirs... I'm putting the over/under at 12 films in common.

24 octobre 2006

Gish x 2

I made it to see both Griffith's Hearts of the World (1918) and Victor Sjöström's (credited as Seastrom) The Scarlet Letter (1926) at BAM on Saturday. The live musical scores were fantastic, as were the films.

Hearts of the World is prime Griffith, a dramatic love story / war film with Lilian Gish as the daughter of one of two American families who live in adjacent houses in a French village on the eve of World War I. She falls for the American next door, who enlists in the French army to defend his adopted country. The story cuts between the trenches and the town, which the Germans have occupied after a successful offensive. Griffith adds to his filmic separation of space by tinting different spaces in different colors. [I can only assume these tints were based on the filmmaker's instructions; I can't think of why such a dramatic tool would be added to a print, but I also can't speak to the origin of the print.] These spaces are not defined simply geographically, but emotionally as well. Trench scenes are given a metallic blue; the village is presented largely in sepia until, in the battle-scarred last reel (I think) it's given a deep blood red that would make Argento jealous. Gish gets some seriously adorable closeups as during the courtship, and it's fascinating to see the lust inspired by a stocking-covered ankle revealed beneath a skirt's hem.

The Scarlet Letter is a faithful adaptation of Hawthorne's classic American fable of sin and purity. (Faithful = no appended happy ending, no shots of Demi Moore washing herself). Sjöström's direction is elegantly simple, while doing good service to the experience of "community" in Puritan New England. Gish is again luminous; here the lust is more obvious than revealed ankles. When Dimmesdale stumbles across her doing her washing, Hester tries to hide her being-washed undergarments, but Dimmesdale persists.. She holds them behind her back, where it's revealed what they are - directly over the parts they're supposed to cover. It's scandalously erotic for 1926. So is the rest of the scene, where Dimmesdale and Hester walk in the woods, only to disappear behind a bush. It's meaning is no secret.

Both films were excellent. My only qualm about Hearts of the World is the overreliance on the battle chronology. Griffith invests too much energy in telling the attack-counterattack-countercounterattack details of the battle scenes. I'd like to specially thank Donald Sosin and his wife Joanna Seaton for the excellent scoring. Donald's piano score for Hearts of the World felt confident and loose enough to be improvised, referencing at least 3 national anthems and keeping pace for all 2 1/2 hours. The score for The Scarlet Letter was a more orchestral work, for synthesizer and voice, which was nice but lacked the fluid majesty of his piano score to accompany the Griffith.

Other highlights were running into friends at the second film, which was actually packed. Not bad for a silent movie on a Saturday.

Also, the girl who sold me my tickets was gorgeous. I mean, gorgeous.

Notes on Kwaidan coming tomorrow... or at least, sometime this week.

19 octobre 2006

Enjoy the Silents

BAM on Saturday has a Lillian Gish double feature (!)
Hearts of the World (D.W. Griffith - 1918) at 4PM
The Scarlet Letter (Victor Sjöström - 1926) at 8 PM.

and on Sunday:
Germinal (Albert Capellani -1913) 4pm
The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna (Die Wunderbare Lüge der Nina Petrowna) (Hanns Schwarz - 1929)

Friday is a program of short films (7 PM), some mix of lost and archival, but I don't know which ones.

Friday has potential, I might see Wonderful Lies on Sunday, but Saturday is the spot.

14 octobre 2006

Goodbye Pontecorvo

The great Gillo Pontecorvo died Thursday night in Rome.

Pontecorvo is best known for the revolutionary vérité of his masterwork: Battle of Algiers.


The Peter Matthews essay "Bombs and Boomerangs" is available on the Criterion Collection website.

Here's an interview that Pontecorvo gave in 2004 to the World Socialist Web Site.

Here's a great piece by Amy Taubin on his follow up to Battle of Algiers, the Marlon Brando-starring anti-colonialist epic Burn!

What really thrills about Battle of Algiers after all of these years is not that you feel in the midst of events; that's been done too much since to feel freshly radical. Battle's amplified intensity comes from being in the midst of events. As people riot in the street, the world is changing and we are party to it. This is not the distanced "historical" perspective of a film about the past; this is Saadi Yacef's book (and life) surrounding us. It's not spectatorship but intimacy here; Pontecorvo's camera gives up showing in favor of participation. This goes for both sides of the fight - we're as intimate with the general giving a press conference as we are with the young woman cutting her hair to slip past security checkpoints. This is radical, because filmmakers mostly align themselves with the watchers. In that press conference, the reporters are adversaries, or decorations; they remind us that there is a France back home watching what we do and deciding between leaving Algeria, or accepting the consequences of our actions there. It's no wonder that Pontecorvo and the Pentagon agree that Battle of Algiers correlates strongly with our experience in Iraq.

24 septembre 2006

réalisé sans aucun trucage ni accéléré

which usually translates to "made without special effects or fast motion"
but in this case means "completely and totally insane"

this film has been an underground classic since it premiered in 1976. It's a 9-minute high-speed race through Paris, shot in one uninterrupted forward-facing shot. made with no permits, no streets blocked off, many red lights ignored, a few one way streets driven up the wrong way, and a some pedestrian and automotive near-misses, this is Claude Lelouch's finest hour (yes, that Claude Lelouch). he was arrested after the first screening. he claimed he had hired a Formula 1 driver for the film, but would never release the name of the driver. the audio on the film is of a Ferrari engine, and based on the soundtrack fans have speculated that the car was a Ferrari 275GTB. rumors abound that he's hitting speeds of 140 MPH on the residential streets of Paris. I can't say whether this was intended as an art-film attack on the synthetic Hollywood action of, say, Bullitt, but it comes off as one. enjoy Claude Lelouch's "C'était Un Rendezvous":

Now that you've seen it you should know: Claude himself was the driver. The car was his Mercedes. He probably never went faster than 85 or 90 mph. but... WOW.

If YouTube's not enough for you, please go buy the dvd:

Record Book

"Franz had read about an American who'd done the Louvre in nine minutes 45 seconds. They'd do better...
Arthur, Franz and Odile beat Jimmy Johnson by two seconds."

Fastest visits to the Louvre:

1. Isabelle, Theo, Matthew (France, USA - 1968) 9:28
2. Arthur, Franz and Odile (France - 1964) 9:43
3. Jimmy Johnson (USA - unknown; prior to 1964) 9:45

I'll be in Paris starting (next) Saturday. Activity partners?


This is about dialogue.

This is about images,






This is about film.