Update late 2018: Watching the film again, its vaguely exoticizing view of Brazilian culture is a more important discussion point than I let on in my original review, but as is its frequently scintillating signifying on Greek drama, its navigation of the Afro-diasporic tradition of updating and reconfiguring the Western canon in ways which both appreciate and assess the immanence of European thought by exploring how applicable Western narratives may or may not be to non-European cultures. Plus, it’s intoxicating cinema.
signifies both on the tradition of carnivalesque inversion of the world in the Carribean and … culture and on social mimicry to … and subvert white forms of …, including conjuring the spirit of classical tragedy and … to …
certainly a question for debate, whether … is merely essentializing, or whether, as many Negritude philosophers have debated for decades, there is a way to think-through what were once considered, in an Orientalist manner, “gifts” of … “bestowed” by the non-white world, in a way which takes seriously their critique of Western rationality and ascetic … – their denial of play, rhythm, etc – without …
Black Orpheus opens with a gesture that is both instantly transfixing and entirely pragmatic. A close-up in static of a classical Greek marble bas relief presented with stately respect and disquiet, and then a cataclysm of percussive instrumentation and flamboyant color from a Brazilian festival bursting through the image, almost blowing it up as we are pulled right into the vivaciousness of Brazilian culture and everyday life. It is an instantly lovable, provocative jab at the regal historicism of European art lulled into submission by the weight of relying on the past. It is a pop-art statement to the fire and enticing chaos of Brazilian life. An instant announcement that this film is not going to be your classical Orpheus myth, deriving instead from another artistic and cultural tradition entirely, one brimming with life and present-day presentational zest and movement. Continue reading →
It is hard to imagine a better version of Jacques Cousteau’s The Silent World, and that is a troubling fact. Lit with a fluorescent technicolor expressiveness, this non-narrative documentary of undersea images is like a peek through the looking glass of another world, exactly the magical, alien world of whimsy and majesty that Cousteau dedicated his life to and dared to see in his dreams. With the soon-to-be seminal Louis Malle (who would direct through the French New Wave and then hop on over to Hollywood) by his side, The Silent World is a visuals-first extravaganza of lush, hysterical colors and evocative silences. All these years later, it is also, perhaps unintentionally, a showpiece for the arrogance of mankind, and the terror of humanity at its egotistical worst. Continue reading →
Has the cinema ever known the pleasures of a greater humanist than Jacques Tati? Charlie Chaplin, who Tati is generally compared to, comes to mind, but Chaplin at his best could draw fangs. His post-silent productions are nasty-minded masterpieces, works of barely-hidden discontent more than whimsical discovery. Tati could poke fun with the best of them, but never ruefully, and anger may not have been a word he knew. Certainly, it wasn’t a word he wanted to room with, or even walk in the same neighborhood as. Chaplin could love his audience or laugh at them, and he sold both as well as any filmmaker ever did. Tati was never not laughing, but always with us, never at us, and his laughs were laughs of love.
His second full-length feature film, 1953’s Mr Hulot’s Holiday, was the introduction of his most famous character, the divining rod for all of Tati’s interests, passions, needs, and impulses: Mr Hulot, played by Tati himself in a titanic display of physical comedy matched in all of cinema only by Chaplin and Keaton (which is to say, it hasn’t been matched since this film’s release in 1953, except by Tati’s further experiments with the character). The film is virtually plotless: Hulot, a middle-aged, graying man, vacations in a lightly fantastical seaside cottage town, wanders around town, and causes mild havoc. And we smile. The story of Tati is the story of the smile. Continue reading →
Poor The Congress. Too unapologetic to be bad, too bad to work without apology. One’s appreciation for The Congress requires a certain leap of faith, a certain acceptance of failure. It is a questionable movie, and if it was less questionable, it might just be much less worthwhile than it is in its current, unfinished state. It is a fearless attempt to develop a new cinematic lexicon for understanding stardom and the very idea of sense filtered through the human eye, and because it is so lost in its own head, it can probably never function as a normal, fully adjusted, wake-up-and-go-to-work movie. Rather than a finished film proper, it an altogether rarer, and more useful sight: a filmmaker lost in their own eternally young interpretation of the world, tempting their own mind to figure out what that world actually consists of and developing a heretofore unseen cinematic visual prism within which to decipher that world. Continue reading →
A white woman and a black nation are the subjects of Claire Denis’ exotic, lush White Material, a sort of harrowing The Tree of Life with meditation on the nature of god replaced with a careful deliberation on colonial identity. Denis has spent the better part of two decades dissecting the aftereffects of colonial rule with a careful mixture of composed authenticity and poetically floating clarity, rejecting the lo-fi approach of many modern indie filmmakers for a more confrontational form of bile-spewing visual splendor. White Material may be her most harrowing film ever, and its cryptic meditation on the nature of identity in a continent where identity is defined primarily by ownership reminds that the after-effects of colonialism still loom large over African conflict, and they may not only effect native Africans anymore. Even though the whites who still live in Africa may deny it, the chickens are finally coming home to roost. Continue reading →
First, a pre-review: An inherent bias precedes the Pop! feature here, a bias toward American film. There are a variety of reasons for this. The first, honestly, is that part and parcel with the feature is the idea that American pop was a curious beast during this particular decade, and that the evolutions in pop filmmaking are perhaps the only meaningful ones found in that decade of American film. Drama was a wasteland, and the Europeans and the Japanese were doing wonders with experimental cinema during the decade. As for the Americans, absurdism and non-narrative surrealism, and the larger experimentation with film form and storytelling that permeated from those world trends, were diluted into popular genre cinema for playful mass entertainment (mass entertainment being what America does best, after all). Continue reading →
The Wages ofFear, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s famed French-Italian white-knuckle thriller was and is almost incomparable as an exercise in hair-raising. It is so well edited, choreographed, acted, and composed that one almost wishes to reduce it to the level of thriller alone (not that, with this skill, it would be “reducing” per-se). Yet Clouzot was not, nor was he ever, simply content to thrill. His scabrous films simply used the conventions of thriller cinema to chill to the bone, to indict and valuate, to scare, to hope, and to leave nothing in their wake. His 1953 work is absolutely one of the most thrilling films ever released, yet this does the texture of the piece a disservice. If it is Hitchcockian, and Hitch is the director Clouzot is almost always compared to, then it evokes Hitch on all his levels, not simply thrilling but tacitly provoking and confronting society’s very base construction and the nastier aspects of the human condition under a thin membrane of sharply composed set pieces. Continue reading →