Sunday, 23 September 2012

August/September Films

Punchdrunk LovePaul Thomas Anderson – Apart from the much mentioned fact that this has to be Adam Sandler’s finest ever performance (and by ‘finest ever’ it could by extension be suggested his only fine performance – depending on how you rate the merits of Mr. Sandler’s industrious output of consistently awful comedy), Punch Drunk Love is an acutely observed, bizarre, memorable and uncomfortable study of love and neurosis. Providing the straight-faced flipside to Happy Gilmore’s pantomime of angry lunacy, here Adam Sandler portrays a man of reclusive social anxiety, under which simmers the repressed rage of years of confused and frustrated emotion. The percussive soundtrack brilliantly evokes an uncomfortable and oppressive momentum with which to accompany this nervous energy. The script is entertaining, lacing black humour and wit throughout with a distinct and sensitive communication of character. It maintains an original sense of dark, occasionally, absurdist comedy shot through with Anderson’s eye for unhinged details (the unexplained arrival of a ‘harmonium’ and the fixation with ‘pudding coupons’) and moments of stylized visual experimentation (the blurring of colours that, in a painterly haze of oscillation, seem to herald some sort of scene segway or change … unexpected but somehow paradoxically perfectly appropriate – elevating the narrative above literalism to a sense of more transcendental significance). An amazing film made all the more remarkable through characterful and skilled directing and an amazing central performance. 9/10

Saturday Night Fever – Oh John Travolta…Oh Tony Manero! How you strut (paint can swinging at your side, as you leave that crummy day job), with the open collar shirt, a cocky grin, tight trousers and the discotech helium of the BeeGees bouncing a bubblegum soundtrack of chipmunk grooves…it sure is a fun start to the film. But Saturday Night Fever develops into a much more ambivalent and curious film than its celebration of disco might suggest.

There is often the quivering and unresolved tension of a latent homosexuality in Travolta’s performance: whenever on the brink of heterosexual sex he seems to either avoid it or the narrative significantly removes its possibility, dance meanwhile becomes the chosen expression of release and the only moment (in swooning artifice) when he kisses a woman. There is also the painful scene in which we witness a girl’s repeated rape in the backseat of a car (unsurprising no Beegees soundtrack here), Tony remains staring forward, as uncomfortable as the audience, but maintains coldly detached – finally turn around to scold her verbally for claiming it was what she wanted. Although issues of sexuality (and also racial discrimination) cast an uncertain influence over the film’s semantics – ultimately there is a lot of dancing. No two ways about it, unsurprisingly Travolta’s compotent disco gyration reigns supreme. Not being a lover of dance, disco music, or Travolta (I find his cold watery blue eyes, when combined with his sexualized dance prowess, makes for mildly disconcerting viewing…I mean, dammit the man can dance. And he does…again and again with many a Beegees track), the film couldn’t help but be pervasively uninteresting…but it does have a curious charm: whether in the cheap lighting of extended dance scenes that erupt without warning, whether in the male grooming Travolta indulges in front of his mirror and beside the towering poster of Bruce Lee, or whether through the unexpected grit of a film in which New York is both surprisingly dangerous and downbeat, this disco epic does have summat about it. 6/10

The Evil DeadSam Raimi – A bunch of college kids go to a cabin and, on finding a ‘book of the dead’ and a creepy old tape player, accidently summon evil spirits. Isolated in the deceptively expansive (on the inside) cabin they are possessed, turning one by one into hilariously cheap incarnations of the undead. 

 What makes this an enduring cult classic (I imagine) is the plucky relish and confidence with which Sam Raimi, and the cult worshipped Bruce Campbell, tackle the genre in this DIY labour of love. Yes: it is clearly cheap. Yes: it is clearly very tongue in – mutilated - cheek. And yes, the acting is god-awful.  But, for a genre that survives through the undying obsession of its fans, the palpable enthusiasm throughout The Evil Dead is what both endears the film and elevates it beyond its, frankly ridiculous and inept nature, to a celebratory glory of laughable horror. 

All the flaws, traditions and structure of horror cliché are enjoyably emulated and mocked by the young cast and filmmakers (all around the age of 20 when the film was made). Whether this includes rushing into dangerous situations without need, while simultaneously further destroying any shred of realism through a hysterical monologue (who is she talking to? She is on her own! Etc), or whether in the age-old horror convention of an obligatory boob shot – the comedy horror is consistent, silly and admirably clumsy. Listening to Bruce Cambell’s film commentary provides the perfect companion, there is no confusion over whether we should laugh or not as he relates the importance of his ‘method acting’- after we have witnessed a glorious example of ‘amdram’ incompetence. 

There are also a couple of interesting sidenotes (known, I’m sure, back to front by forum frequenting, ardent cult fans)- for example: Raimi used a recorded sample from Orson Welle’s classic The Third Man, to provide diegetic noises of atmospheric wind. The film also ends with a brilliant plasticine animated demise; skulls rot and bodies explode – all via the painstaking, frame-by-frame technique of animation. A fittingly DIY end to this budget banquet of continuity errors, tubes of spurting blood, hammy acting and cheerfully executed lo-fi horror comedy. Without a surplus of sophistication, atmosphere or funding, and without the burden of a well-written script or carefully considered plot – this is instead, unbridled, unashamed and technically terrible- and therein lies its enduring strength. It’s fun. Oh yeh, and there is also a scene in which a girl is raped by a tree…naturally. So, with its crown of arboreal violation, The Evil Dead was bound for cult success! 8/10

L’avventuraMichel Antonioni – Championed as a historical classic of cinema, L’avventura is a film that shrugs off expectations and takes its time. By that last phrase, ‘takes its time’, I don’t mean to suggest that this is a glacial, slow cinema slab of long takes and protracted metaphysical silences (akin to Tarkovsky), instead characters are given space and time to measure out the themes and development of the film at a more realistic pace. The film begins with the disappearance of a girl, who has recently expressed her dissatisfaction in the current relationship she endures with. What seems to set the film up for a ‘lost person’ thriller of illicit romance and suspense instead inaugurates a meditation on relationships and the politics of  human character (and there I was thinking after some suspense, private eye capers and maybe a chase scene ‘he’d get the gal’…confounded Antonioni how you deny my simple needs!). The film offers perhaps the most eloquent and sophisticated way to articulate ‘men are bastards’ without ever condescending to obvious or glaring gender discussion. The ending memorably also constructs a beautifully staged and heartbreaking demonstration of male vulnerability. 8/10

Evil Dead 2Sam Raimi – Not exactly a mind numbing progression: more cabin, more Bruce Cambell and more evil spirits. It is, in general, a more frenzied remake of the first, simply with a couple of minor plot alterations that allow for more Bruce-based action. There is a moment in which multiple inanimate objects in the cabin are animated into feverish grips of laughter, from the snarled grin of a deer-head hunting trophy to the nodding exaggeration of a giggle-fit, enacted by an extendable lamp. This hysteria of oddly animated laughter could be said to summarize the film in general: manic, unrelenting and stupid. This time round Raimi trusts in the success of the previous film and wastes no time establishing plot or introductory stabs at atmosphere (i.e. smoke machines and dry ice), it instead launches into a rushed onslaught of evil spirit fighting, while placing a sweaty, red-corn flour soaked, catch phrase attempting, heroic shotgun wielding and chiseled chin parading Bruce more prominently at the film’s centre. 6.8/10

The Night of the HunterCharles Laughton – Draped in film noir shadows and featuring an unnerving performance from the villainous preacher Robert Mitchum, it’s not hard to see why the American Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.  often considered a classic. A man of the Church, driven to kill by a lust for money and a natural ability to deceive, Robert Mitchum’s character displays a sinister charisma in a role that (when the film was released) would have carried far more shock than it does now. However, half way through the film, its near gothic creepiness suffers a drastic shift in tone; a noble pillar of maternity and Christianity is provided to balance the aberration of Mitchum’s bad preacher and, with much heavy handed moralizing, this annoying mother goose character re establishes the worth of Christian values. It feels like a discordant conclusion grafted onto an eerie and chilling film. The latter half of the film nervously attempts to reaffirm Christianity with a didactic air of propaganda, propaganda that the first half of the film had ironically so powerfully undermined. The artistic equivalent of making a genuinely interesting statement, only to verbally reverse for fear of seeming a tad too subversive. This more commercial softening of the first half’s singular vision, in which it all goes a bit Sound of Music with happy children being happily welcomed into a happy foster home, unfortunately undoes the unsettling and superior first half. However, it can’t be denied that the film produces a genuinely arresting and sublimely unsettling sequence involving the dead mother: seated in her drowned car at the bottom of the lake (with what is disturbingly referred to as a ‘second smile’ in her neck), her hair waving in ghostly streams, only to be later rowed over by her fleeing children – unaware that they are floating on the watery tomb of their mother. An iconic and serenely haunting sequence. 7.5/10

FargoCoen Brothers – Great fun, black comedy. Although a classic and earlier Coen Brothers film, having seen some of their others ( Burn After Reading, O Brother Where Art Thou, Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, A Serious Man) it was immediately recognizable ( crazy capers spin out from errors of chance and ill fated criminal plots) and probably suffered somewhat from being seen after a lot of their others. Buscemi provided his non specifically ‘funny looking’ facial features and hard to place likeability, while Peter Stormare is terrific as the generally mute, sleazy, disreputable and sinister lookin’ fella. Addded to which, William H. Macey plays the central downtrodden everyman with the same brilliance he imbued his role with in Boogie Nights, with scattered hints of the tragic or repressed potential of his ‘grown-up child prodigy’ in the epic Magnolia. 7/10

Eastern Promises – David Cronenberg – A consistently compelling portrayal of a criminal Russian contingent in London; a world of unforgiving rites, black trade and killing in which (like true cinematic Mafia communities) the family reigns supreme. The story takes shape around a midwife (Naomi Watts) who, after delivering the child of a teenage prostitute (who herself dies in labour), translates the girl’s diary and begins to uncover the covert violence and horror that resides behind the legitimacy of a London restaurant.

Viggo Mortensen acts icy criminal efficiency with unnerving aplomb, his restrained and unmoved demeanor hinting at a vast wealth of frightening experience and equally frightening capabilities. Also, a pretty impressively vile turn from Vincent Cassel as the son of the established Mob father-encapsulating a repulsive amalgam of embitterment, neglect and the twisted rage of his own evident impotence (be it sexual or authoritative).  Cronenberg’s portrayal of a complex male relationship, simmering with the jealousy and unrequited homosexuality of Cassel’s character and the unreadable power of Mortensen, is a fascinating and dramatic triumph. The hard Russian exterior provides Cronenberg with a characteristic conveniantly akin to his own developed cinematic expression of cold or detached emotional expression (most recently magnified in the stylized confinement of Cosmopolis).
There is one particularly climactic scene (outside the bounds of character development) that takes place in the steamed tile interior of a Public bath-house: a naked Viggo manges to (convincingly) survive a knife wielding attack from two gang members, the visceral and unrelenting violence (not celebratory horror gore- instead very real, unsensationalised, but nonetheless punishing physical savagery) of the scene works incredibly well as a shocking and admittedly very exciting sequence.7/10

Dead Ringers David Cronenberg - Without a doubt, by far the best Cronenberg film I have seen! Frighteningly (and, you’d imagine/hope, loosely) based on the true story of Stewart and Cyril Marcus. The film tells of identical twins that become pioneering gynecologists. Through an unhealthy and unnerving sibling relationship and spiraling drug addiction they gradually drive each other into the delusions and danger of a mutually infectious madness. The story was also the basis for Peter Greenaway’s film A Zed & Two Noughts (1985), an earlier adaptation than Croneneberg’s 1988 film.
Granted, if I had known the unlikely premise for this film before watching, I may have been less keen to embark on a casual Friday night viewing session. Gynecology, madness, death, mutant women, and psychosis matched with unsettling themes of sex, incest, maternity and a disturbingly intense vision of love, hardly constitute ‘casual viewing’. Interestingly, for a film of such potent and horrific factors it is deceptively restrained on actual, seen body horror. The only real moment of ‘gore’ or unsettling physical imagery is witnessed in a dream sequence that reveals the nightmarishly flesh mutating exaggeration of ‘Siamese’.

The unforgettable power of the film’s central, divided, performance delivers one of the most unnerving and genuinely committed screen performances I have ever seen. Jeremy Irons plays both brothers, managing to lend each character a wealth of believable depth and nuance, which subsequently manages to persuasively immerse the viewer in what could so easily have been an absurd and laughable narrative. Instead, with the aid of this jaw dropping performance, Cronenberg crafts a meditation upon deeply human fears and desires through a wince inducing drama of medical madness, probing intimacy and perhaps the best executed realization of Cronenberg’s characteristic struggle between mind and body imaginable. Dead Ringers is an inspiringly unique horror that gathers an accumulative force far beyond any genre tropes. 9.5/10

Before Sunrise -  Richard Linklater – An American man (‘Jesse’-Ethan Hawke) meets a French student  (‘Celine’ – Julie Delpy) on a train and the two impulsively spend a day and evening together rather than allowing their coincidental meeting to disappear as spontaneously as it arrived. It is a situation that most of us, at some point, have encountered. However, unlike the film, such moments most commonly arise and disappear as idle daydreams, only to be later lingered over with wistful ‘what ifs?’ and the yearning nostalgia of missed opportunity. The film is essentially one long conversation between the two frank and excitable romantics. It unashamedly follows the same uncompromising existentialism and honesty that the anonymity of strangers, mixed with flirtatious enigma, can so often forgive without doubt or reproach. No knowledge of their separate lives before that meeting, no expectations of what their characters should or shouldn’t say: it is a liberating coincidence that Jesse is determined to capitalize upon-while Celine, in broad strokes of open minded European contemplation-is willing to entertain. The script is fantastic, relatable and humourous – recalling the wit and verbose nature of Linklater’s less narrative film Slacker. However, there are moments when the unbroken flow of cozy existentialism and soul baring become irritating and exhausting. It is often in moments of silence (awkward moves to kiss in a recording sound booth, or simply sitting in the early hours in a dilapidated alley) that the relationship becomes genuinely moving. As a brave exercise in uncompromising script, and with an original flare for dialogue over narrative, the film is an engaging and individual portrayal of romance and the excitement of what could be. 7/10

Anna Karenina – Joe Wright – Having not read the Tolstoy I had no undying loyalty to the text or preconceived fidelity to character portrayal. Hence I was fine with Kiera Knightly as the eponymous, adulterous and entertaining lead. I know others had reservations, but I think, honestly, she did a pretty dam good job. The combination of her increasingly iconic looks (the boyish, somewhat skeletal and yet beguiling seduction…all intense brown eyes and pouting provocation) and equally increasing acting ability, Kiera Knightly made for a great and beautiful lead. The bold adaptation presents the whole saga as if seen upon the stage. Lavish set designs, scene changes and behind-the-scene tracking shots, constitute a brave and extravagant imagining of this epic tale of social reputation, love and lust. The whole drama is acted and filmed with a meticulous and dance-like choreography, calling to mind Baz Luhrmann. It is a startling, beautiful and thought provoking production. 7/10

The Girl who Played with Fire/ The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s NestDaniel Alfredson – These two films, still featuring the same actors that starred in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Alfredson instead of the original Nials Arden Oplev, provide a disappointing reminder of how enjoyable the first film was. Granted, the central traumas of murder, violent rape, and corrupt family feuds, may be slightly outside of the brackets of ‘enjoyable’. It was the fusion of two intriguing characters (Blomkvist and Salander) with latent chemistry and implied histories, with a dark and spiraling mystery at the story’s heart that made The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo such a compelling and (relatively) original success. Any relative originality has long since been eclipsed by the influx (both televisual and cinematic) of Scandinavian thrillers, crime and all round wintry grit. This cannot be held against the Stieg Larsson trilogy but, in the absence of narrative depth external to Salander’s backstory, does highlight some limitations. I have grouped these two together as they both essentially orientate around Salander’s harrowing baggage: her family, her traumas, and the labored pursuit of justice for the infinite male evil that abounds.

 It is undeniable that Noomi Rapace inhabits the character of Lisbeth Salander with conviction and authenticity; unfortunately I found my patience with her as a protagonist start to wane as character development is confined to a series of repetitive flashbacks. That, and the deeply unrewarding spectacle of her mute solemnity. A disgruntled Goth smoking in silence and unimaginatively resigned to an expressionless sulk erodes the film’s capacity for any extensive or engaging emotional portrayal. The trial at the end also lacks cinematic suspense, tension or surprise, as, by then, we know exactly who is who and what atrocities have occurred. Therefore the sequence plays out like a predictable poker game, all the cards held irritatingly close (considering we already know each hand) and thus becoming a tedious waiting game. The elements of Salander’s backstory: her father’s true involvement and criminal status, the pantomime mutant sibling and the perverted doctor who kept her strapped to her asylum bed for a year, are all unveiled with the weary finesse of ticking boxes. Nothing more than the minimal signifiers of character, arranged in flat-pack transparency and delivered with suitably flat inevitability, are offered. The father is reduced to an under explained template of selfish misanthropy, meanwhile his ‘frankenstein’s monster’ sidekick (Salander’s brother) has little more than a grunt for character detail , and then, to place the exhausted and under nourished cherry on this disappointing character cake…we have the doctor. We learn, primarily through annoyingly flashy flash backs that yes, yes indeed, he is a bad man. The sort of man that the Weetos Professor might have been if he was abused as a child and given an ill advised career in mental health care. He is a puerile construct of ‘evil masculinity’. Not only does he abuse his authority, with literal bondage to reinforce the oppression of women - and have the token manicured facial hair of a clinical psychopath – but in a final, uninspired flourish – he is also, naturally, a paedophile, and one with a conveniently riddled laptop. At which point, the heroic bedroom hackers – Cue: Gollum eyes matched with the reclusive baggy black T-shirt - per chance of metal band referencing origin-  subterranean connections, pot noodle slurping, sweaty/greasy, dark bedroom dwelling, defiant, real-deal, dweebish messiah – the new age punk starts revolutions online and is always one click away from an establishment crushing algorithm - do what they do best…Hack. Every single one of these characters appears rushed and pale imitations of what they could have been. I have not read the books, so I have no idea whether it feels that irritating and anticlimactic in the original text…my guess is, probably not. As a result these last films remain watchable on account of the excitement stirred by the first installment. By the end of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, I felt cheated, bored and altogether dissatisfied. Shame, really. Plus, considering Rapace seemed so perfect for Salander and was utilized with appropriate impact in the first film, these two feel comparatively misled: her abilities as an actress-and the potential of her character - becomes an asset that is damagingly neglected. 5/10

Paper MoonPeter Bogdanovich – Made in 1973, this film creates a characterful world of parched black and white desolation…in which unlikely companions hit the road! The film is set in 1936 and brilliantly evokes the parched and stretching struggle that was the American depression, with echoes of Steinbeck terrain. An orphaned young girl, with dungaree wearing tomboy features, teams up with a con man that may, or may not be, her father. Tatum O’Neil plays Addie, while her real life father, Ryan O’Neil, plays the con man (Moses Pray). Perhaps the most astounding strength of the film is Tatum O’Neil’s disarmingly convincing and maturely developed character portrayal. Playing a girl of nine and managing to be far more than simply ‘cute’, or superficially comic, is precisely what distinguishes her performance. Paper Moon conjures an entertaining partnership between Moses Pray and Addie, one that provides laughs - though never blunders into embarrassing, farcical or cringe inducing cheese, and additionally has moments of poignancy and moving pathos. The film looks great as well, with clear black and white contrasts and some shots of American landscape that, in their barren and vast geography, stage a Depression-era expressionism. On their capers we encounter a visual palette of shadows, and open sunlit expanse; skeletal trees and wild grassy hillsides; miles of open roads and deserted vistas, and even the carnival-esque bustle of a fairground. 7/10

The Reader  - Stephen Daldry – Based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink, in which a 15-year-old boy named Michael, falls in love and has affair with Hanna, an older woman. They meet in the 1950s and, unbeknownst to him, Hanna had in fact been a guard in Aushwitz. This dark revelation occurs when later, as a law student, Michael attends a trial in which Hanna is being prosecuted for war crimes. The first 40 minutes or so establishes their sexual relationship; Michael visits Hanna and, at her request, will often read to her, after which he is, perversely almost rewarded with sex.  It is an exposing and naturalistic affair, Hanna’s illiteracy and Michael’s sexual inexperience rendering them both strangely vulnerable. There is a lot of nudity that, rather than ever feeling erotically charged or particularly sensual, appears instead a physical and uncompromising honesty, expressive of the unornamented, and at times, uncomfortable, intimacy.  The latter half of the film revolves around the trial and the later, grown up Michael (played by Ralph Fiennes). He reflects on their relationship, while sending her tapes (as he has now realized she cant read) that recreate (via home recordings) his recitals of classic literature. The difficulty and tragedy arises when he hears the history of Hanna’s involvement in the holocaust, which twists the memory of their relationship into a far darker, queasy entanglement. In retrospect their intimacy becomes unnervingly redolent of her interaction with those in the camp. We are told she asked prisoners to read to her, often very close to when they had to be mechanically ‘dispatched’. The unsettling ambivalence of Hanna’s character derives from whether her unaffected and cold honesty is a symptom of her tragic simplicity, as perhaps indicated through illiteracy, or the evidence of her detached inhumanity.

This is where a review of the film becomes a sensitive and incredibly difficult task. There is no denying that Daldry’s film is competently polished; its visuals are controlled and the performances (particularly Kate Winslet) are brave and successful. However, like the inability to decipher Hanna’s understanding of the holocaust, it becomes similarly hard to ascertain the film’s position. On writing the novel, Schlink reflects:

‘I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna's crime and to condemn it. But it was too terrible for that. When I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned. When I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding. But even as I wanted to understand Hanna, failing to understand her meant betraying her all over again. I could not resolve this. I wanted to pose myself both tasks—understanding and condemnation. But it was impossible to do both.'

I feel this best elucidates the precarious and disturbing core to Michael – and the film’s – contemplation. Despite Hanna’s part in a monstrous slaughter, we have the memories of a relationship and of her naked but often inscrutable nature. Putting the metaphorical emphasis of her illiteracy aside (central to a parable of war guilt and repression – how to express/understand and represent the inexpressible; the ‘nothing’ that comes from the camps), we are left with the pain of a memory haunted by an absent and inexpressible horror. Michael’s passion, and indeed love, for Hanna, cannot be erased or forgotten – but equally, as the film progresses and her life continues, what are we to make of that memory? Was their affair a sinister repetition of her cold exploitation of the walking dead? Was she using stories and literature to escape, voiced in sick exploitation, from the mouths of those who had no escape? Or was their affair a connection that shouldn’t be divorced from his original memory, and in fact her disturbing role in the holocaust is a disturbing example of the individual lost and blinded in the magnitude of a historical trauma. Can anyone be expected to understand or communicate anything, given the scale of atrocity?

Also, through the framing of the courtroom and the discourse of legality we are invited to question, along with the other students, the gulf between a legitimate ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and the ethical ‘good and ‘evil’. It is a situation in which the terms of legality are shown as incompatible with a satisfactory morality; ill equipped to approach the tension between individual and ideology, choice and orders, a crime od state and an atrocity of blame, the reality of free will, the reality of comprehending – the possibility of comprehending. As a holocaust survivor informs Michael: ‘If you want understanding or meaning go to literature or art, don’t go the camps, from the camps there is nothing’ (approximate quote). It is the inability to securely balance understanding and condemnation that makes this film so troubling…and inspired much conversation and sleep-depriving thought after watching.

Despite gaining awards, and the wide recognition of Winslett’s devastating performance, critics seem often polarized by this film. Peter Bradshaw provides a particularly vehement one star assassination of its worth, while Mark Kermode (pretty reductively) bring exploitation flicks into the question. Kermode recalls the pornographic tradition of  The Night Porter and Salon Kitty. I would argue this to be a needlessly dismissive interpretation that, in a reflexive and conservative response to the sight of nipples and sexual content, allows this detail to eclipse the narrative’s complexity. The inclusion of sex and nudity in the film does not have to categorically infer an exploitation impulse, smothered in production value, expense and famous names. It is an inclusion that makes the film far closer to its uncomfortably real and troubling consideration, that of human passion, memory, and relationships. It is the horror that generations of the uninvolved, and memories ignorant of circumstance or apparently unrelated, cannot escape the infection of the holocaust. How are we to understand such deeply human experiences in light of such a jarringly inhumane atrocity?

Barring the unsatisfactory last shot, which seems to fall into unnecessary summarizing territory, I believe the film to be a powerful, strange and uncomfortable experience. I entirely understand the critical reaction that immediately suspects and condemns any film, so clearly furnished with money and corporative sheen, of its intentions. Alarm bells of exploitation, aestheticized tragedy and misrepresentative, manipulative cinematic calamity, are, of course, ringing with apprehension. But I feel it would be wrong to securely fall on either side of praise or damnation as the film, whether rightly or wrongly, does exude the same painful uncertainty that tortures its own narrative. 7/10

Friday, 21 September 2012

Adrienne Rich, from 'Twenty-One Love Poems'


Wherever in this city, screens flicker
with pornography, with science-fiction vampires
victimized hirelings bending to the lash,
we also have to walk . . . if simply as we walk
through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties
of our own neighborhoods.
We need to grasp our lives inseperable
from those rancid dreams, that blurt of metal, those disgraces,
and the red begonia perilously flashing
from a tenement still six stories high,
or the long-legged young girls playing ball
in the junior highschool playground.
No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.

-'I', from Twenty-One Love Poems, by Adrienne Rich

Val Telberg - Fire in the Snow (The City No. 3) 1948

Monday, 17 September 2012

A Mollusc Poem and a Worthwhile Cautionary Epigraph

Notes (for a lecture)

'Academic humour is to humour what military intelligence is to intelligence' 

- David Bordwell

You are just a mole
Bumbling in the twilight
Of distraction.

And then, from the burrow,
That cozy darkened exile,
You are placed before a crowd.

Spectators bristle with attentive
Pads and pens for notes;
They want your worms.

You are asked to bring
The new worms forward,
From the soil of your search.

They want reasons, argument
And justification for the nature
Of your feeding habit.

What value does this have?
This jewel, this acorn,
This worm of yours?

You were only ever eating
Worms, face down in the dirt.
It was fun.

Now they are baying
For an answer:
Present yon grubby palms.