Category Archives: Progenitors

Progenitors: Lancelot du Lac

lancelot01Referring to Guy Ritchie’s rather trivial take on the Matter of Britain, here are the three most interesting filmed versions of the tale.

 Shorn of obvious spectacle, and indeed stripped of affect or emotion, leaving a wiry, skeletal husk of human action divested of emotional concern on the part of the participants, Lancelot du Lac is much more than an honest” version of a much-told tale. Rather, Robert Bresson’s film is a rejoinder to decades of cinematic portals to the past and to the hubristic cinematic compulsion to re-equate us with a world – to think film can be our guide to a past world – that predates us not only physically but mentally by centuries. In Lancelot du Lac, the Matter of Britain is a gaseous state, hot air to be specific, a nationalist myth preaching dictums of achievement, predestination, and divine right filtered through masculine action.  Bresson has no compunction about dipping all those dreams in a joyless and uncompromising acid that shears away decades of cinematic myth-making and requests that we think of his own film more as a pantomime from the present rather than a literal glimpse of the past Continue reading

Advertisements

Progenitors: Wait Until Dark

large_20weaq6ylvqkycyr1slwzrpda0qEveryone else is making the comparison to Don’t Breathe; I might as well state the obvious and throw my lot in. 

Fresh off of kick-starting the Bond franchise with Dr. No and ultimately sharing custody of the epitome of ‘60s cool with Guy Hamilton, the other important Bond director of the era, director Terrence Young uses Wait Until Dark to curdle his ‘60s action-thriller rave-ups into a creepy, unmooring cavern of unmitigated menace. Retreating from pop-art-etched culture-chic to acid-laced domestic nightmare, Wait Until Dark is British invasion as slimy invasion of domesticity. Young discovered America in this, his first film across the pond, and let’s just say it’s hardly a kind appraisal. Continue reading

Progenitors: Swamp Thing

swamp-thing-1982-artJustice League Dark sounds kind of cool, I don’t know. Unlike any of those other DC movies, it has a for-real talented director with things like a track-record scheduled to direct it all of the sudden. Let’s look at the somewhat sketchy cinematic history of characters in that particular DC Comics franchise.

A pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Wes Craven’s bid for the big time, Swamp Thing is a reminder that some tales are as old as time. It goes a little like this: a small-time cinematic crook, stealing our attentions with unholy little anti-pleasers like the wonderful The Hills Have Eyes (Craven’s best film), is conscripted by Hollywood. And the results are a quagmire of stifled filmmaking, timid poetics, and oddly carefree glimmers of wonderment and innocence that suggest a more kitschy, amused director in Craven’s case just waiting to break out from the Big Time, corporate sanding-down of the material. The film is trampled by Craven’s inability to let loose, but in the rare moments where Swamp Thing emboldens him to not only pay homage to but stir the weirdness of his predecessors and inspirations, the film is amusing enough. Continue reading

Progenitors: Constantine

constantine-02-di-e1448859560532Justice League Dark sounds kind of cool, I don’t know. Unlike any of those other DC movies, it has a for-real talented director with things like a track-record scheduled to direct it all of the sudden. Let’s look at the somewhat sketchy cinematic history of characters in that particular DC Comics franchise.  

Perhaps emboldened by the success of The Matrix sequels, Constantine is a slightly freaky portmanteau of the expected, exhausted post-Matrix spiritual solemnity (read: Jesus allegory) and a more enticing brand of carnival food amusement. The balance, somewhat lugubrious faux-meditation on fate and destiny and who cares, on one hand, and the spark of a film limned with B-movie playthings on the other, is ultimately too mangled by the former for the film to appropriately circle around adjectives like “fun” or “inspired”. But, hey, at least it’s more willing to doodle in the margins than either of The Matrix sequels. And, sometimes, even their predecessor. Continue reading

Progenitors: Mary Poppins

mary-poppinsWith yet another live-action update of a Disney classic searching for a port in the storm this past weekend, I wanted to take the opportunity to review the beginning of the Disney live-action project. Not the for-real beginning proper, mind you, but the first time a live-action Disney film meant much more than a paycheck. 

Disney Studios’ live-action film division was more or less a fifteen year old bastard child in 1964, a comic sans rebuttal to the commercial floundering of the company’s proud, boldface animated films. It’s no secret that most of the earliest Disney animations, perpetually misfiring box office affairs that typically left the company in a state of near implosion, were pet projects of Mr. Disney himself, much to the chagrin of his inner cold-hearted capitalist. His inner child and his cutthroat businessman seemed at odds, and, in the ‘50s, the carefree, easy-to-produce live-action films essentially slid into the role occupied in the ‘40s by the animated package films: cheapies meant to tide the company over while Walt ushered out all the money as quickly as it went in, perpetually striving to finance whatever his latest personal fascination was. Continue reading

Progenitors: Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

chicken-run-2000-3-g-640x509With The Little Prince on Netflix these days and Kubo and the Two Strings out soon enough, stop motion is making a comeback. You know what that means.

Chicken Run

If  we’re on the subject of stop motion, especially pre-Laika stop motion, the little hamlet company of Aardman Animations, bearing all that classic British handcraft and roguish charm, is really the go-to golden child. Chicken Run, their earliest feature-length film and their first dalliance with Hollywood, doesn’t forsake their homebrewed British scruffiness and the plasticine but soul-bearing charm. A cauldron of whimsy and old fashioned cinematic know-how, Chicken Run is a lovingly makeshift ode to the long forgotten wonder of genre that faded from the cinematic present long ago. Continue reading

Progenitors: Fantastic Planet and The Nightmare Before Christmas

film_820_fantasticplanet_originalWith The Little Prince on Netflix these days and Kubo and the Two Strings out soon enough, stop motion is making a comeback. You know what that means.

Fantastic Planet

Despite the proliferation of 3D stop motion animated features in the past two decades, the scorchingly alien Fantastic Planet is even more otherworldly today than it was in 1973. Perhaps the vocal reticence in society to accept the artistic value of 2D animation (seen as primitive) only advances the skepticism for stop motion into today’s computer animation world, but the idea of a cut-out style 2D paper-craft animated feature these days feels like heresy. Like an outgrowth of another planet of animation history, Fantastic Planet feels almost sentient in its discrepancy from the status quo, defiant in its proudly primitive nature, and spellbinding in its sincere swelling of emotion out of the most observational of aesthetics. Continue reading