With Carol regalvanizing Todd Haynes’ career in a layer of cinematic majesty, let us take a look back upon his initial breakthrough into the mainstream.
It does not require a degree in cinema studies to divine that Safe’s luxuriantly alienating mise en scene is as formidable and potent as that of any film in director Todd Haynes’ career, and arguably any film of the 1990s. Historians of the medium are no doubt aware that the 1990s were a golden age of independent cinema in the rabble-rousing, improvisational John Cassavetes milieu, but no familiarity with the decade at large is necessary, or even preferred, to bask in Haynes’ stringent, exacting evocation of social space as domineering predator and community as unstable fallacy. Continue reading
The flash-in-the-pan style of John Cassevetes’ devoutly rough-hewn social renegade Shadows belies its grandfatherly status as the giant upon which American independent cinema stands to this day. As freewheeling and robust as the film is, and as fringe-worthy as its style might seem, it’s perhaps ironic that the film has established its own tradition of dissonance and reckless anti-cinema in the hearts and minds of American beats and would-be enfant terribles for over fifty years past its initial release. Temptation begs to reduce it to has-been status, as if the film’s meaning was lost in its release and time has deluded its tempestuous critique of social norms and filmic image construction, as though its status as the head of a new order diminishes its rejection of the old order. Continue reading
Releasing films at a mile-a-minute in the ’70s, Robert Altman was more aged than his New Hollywood contemporaries, but certainly no less rambunctious. If anything, his age only fulfilled a craving desire to destabilize the industry even further, a goal Altman set about predominantly, although not exclusively, by inverting the classical Hollywood genres of his youth. His best film, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, is a lyrical, impressionistic Western stripped of individualism that relies on dream imagery, like many Westerns, but not to reiterate the American Dream, as so many Westerns of the past had done. Instead, Altman interrogates a counter-myth where opium-caked red dreams are necessarily, and often falsely, clouded refuges from the cold blue expanse of an outside realm that humans never really conquered, but simply hid from. His next genre deconstruction was something of a follow-up, but one that met with a much different fate. While people who didn’t fully understand McCabe still fell in love with its poetry, 1973’s The Long Goodbye, a noir grabbed by the neck and set down in a time period antithetical to itself, only produced befuddlement when it didn’t instigate outright hatred. Continue reading
Over twenty years into Michael Haneke’s career, a film like Goodnight Mommy isn’t going to impress anyone with its originality or its formal invention. At this point, formally chilly works comprised primarily, even exclusively, of bleached-white, modernist domestic spaces as barren of life as a morgue are the de facto Austrian exports to the world, at least cinematically speaking. Although Goodnight Mommy wasn’t directed by Haneke, it sometimes feels like his attempt at Hour of the Wolf, utilizing his giveth-and-taketh (and taketh, and taketh) style much like Bergman did in that venerable motion picture for an outright horror show. Let know one say that directors Veronika Frenz and Severin Fiala do not know their trade well. When they are bounded from perusing their more idiosyncratic gestures, maybe they know the rules of their trade a little too well in the end. Continue reading
Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch’s wry, dust-caked lament for the ways of the past and withering put-down of the post-modern romantics who would lament with him is probably the quintessential Jarmusch film, which is different from being the best. Part of the film’s revelatory reality is simply a divine meeting of subject and author: Jarmusch’s characters have always occupied a state somewhere between cadaverous moan and death-enclosed howl even in their nominal life, so Jarmusch has made a several-decade career out of opening an unstated portal between the live and the dead anyway. The literal, manifest “death” in Only Lovers Left Alive (yes, it’s a vampire film) falls right into place, you might say, and Jarmusch’s sly, detached wit and fatal-loined aesthetic luxuriance follow like zombies to a fresh brain. Or hipsters to a Robert Johnson record. Continue reading
Guy Maddin, gone too long? With The Forbidden Room, a mind-boggling witch’s brew of cinematic primeval swill, psychotropic kitsch, mental dicombobulation, the kitchen sink and the bathtub too, Maddin intends to show us where he’s been. The simplest answer is down the rabbit hole of forgotten cinematic, recklessly compiled in research halls, forlorn still images, and in the dankest depths of cinematic archival libraries. Hard at work reconstructing (and most deconstructing) a series of early lost films from scratch, Maddin has released The Forbidden Room, a love letter to the out-of-the-way cinema that haunts modern digital filmmaking sheen like a phantom-like specter. Love is a plaything in Maddin’s world through, and the ostensibly archaic concoction bubbles and burns into cinematic liquid as Maddin’s love of cinema flies far away from mere recreation and into a psychotic opium-laced crosshatch of memory, trauma, and the collapsing back alleys of the human mind. No more pastiche, The Forbidden Room is a living, breathing, fighting, joking performance art piece, rejiggering the past and transforming it from waxworks show into a cinematic scalpel cutting into the human mind. Continue reading
Aesthetic marvels abound in Miguel Gomes’ sensory, illusive Tabu, but never for their own sake. Bifurcated with lush, lustrous 35mm urban grotto and diaphanous, hazy 16mm, Tabu risks mere formalist plaything, but its application of cinematic styles both forgotten and remembered encircles a precarious vision of memory and fiction constructed through filmmaking. An absurd prologue about a conquistador melancholically lost amidst his own colonization in Africa envisions the man jumping into a pond to emerge a crocodile at an impasse. The crocodile seemingly doesn’t act at all; it simply lurks, possibly plots, and ultimately sadly and silently confronts the memories of forlorn glory and past victory. The crocodile is a metaphor for something, possibly the dying, decaying memory of colonialist Africa, rendered agent when the crocodile helps the second half of the film – an illicit, dreamlike haunt of a Lynchian melodrama set in a post-colonial dreamland – unfold. Continue reading