Tag Archives: landscape-of-the-mind

American New Wave: McCabe and Mrs. Miller (AKA: Yes, yes I did two Altman films in two weeks. Deal with it. He deserves it.)

hero_eb19991114reviews08911140301arEdited and Updated 2016

Released only one year after Robert Altman’s first masterpiece, MASH, this sly, revisionist Western is the rare film whose intentions and affect are captured fully in its opening credits.  Fore-grounded, we have an image of a decrepit, hunched over, and phony looking enigma of a man riding slowly into an equally decrepit and hunched-over town. It is nothing short of a stunningly snarky and caustic wry mockery of the Western archetype hero riding into town to save the day. Only he isn’t there to “save the day” here. He, McCabe (Warren Beatty), simply wants to make a name for himself, and he does so by running a brothel, but only once he’s saved by a woman who initially couldn’t care less about him, the down-to-earth Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie) who somehow manages to maintain an unreachable magisterial mystery about her. And that’s the film in a nutshell: decrepit, deadened, and down-trodden yet still somehow attaining a sort of energetic sense of positively alert human feeling. In this sense, it is the quintessential New Wave film. Continue reading

National Cinemas: Aguirre, the Wrath of God

This being the first review for the month of September during the “National Cinemas” project, and thus the first review in a month-long exploration of German cinema. It seemed only appropriate to go with the best film by Germany’s greatest living filmmaker.  

Edited early 2016

When someone coined the term “Location, location, location”, I don’t think they had Herzog’s films in mind. Yet it’s an apt description for his filmmaking sensibility.  As depicted by Herzog, location is a mindscape of pure emotional resonance. He spoke vividly, and still does, about the “ecstatic truth” of the movies, the idea that reality or logic matter not when a film speaks to the rawest emotions of human-kind. And in the Amazon, a place of wonder and desperation where civilization ends and the essences of humanity and the world play out with little mercy, Herzog found his ultimate test-case. Fascinated by it, he decided to do what any great madman would: make a film about it. Continue reading

Wild Wild Best: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Edited

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a difficult film to review. Usually this means one of two things: the film was mediocre and I find myself struggling to say something substantive about it, or I’m fascinated by it but I have not yet figured out how to unlock its mysteries. Usually the latter means I will love the film for its confounding, maddening tension and hate it for the same reason, at least until I see it again. Neither of those is the case for Andrew Dominik’s second film. I know exactly what I think of this film, and it is far from mediocre. The issue with this review is quite simple: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was all-but made for me. And gushing over something does not a review make, so I must try to formulate my jumping up and down into something coherent. Here we go.

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National Cinemas: Don’t Look Now

Edited  – March 2016

A phantom haunts Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 phantasmagoria Don’t Look Now, but the ghost is not so much situationally incorporeal as intrinsically incomplete, a lingering devastation wrought by the remnants of the past latching onto the psyche of the present. The psyche tellingly belongs not only to main characters John and Laura Baxter, who lose a child to a lagoon in the opening scene and trip to Venice to let off some steam, but to the film itself. This is because theme is sublimated into the higher realm of form in Roeg’s post-Bava sensory saboteur, a work that lithely reorients our conception of cinematic editing as it construes a complete and utter subjectivity out of discordant, hostile cutting mechanics. Horror is found not in the presence of a wraith from beyond the grave, but in the lasting haunt of the past’s icy grip on the canvas of the human mind. Ghouls and zombies do not need to rise from the Earth when they persist in the heart. Ultimately, Don’t Look Now is a master-class in “psychic entropy”, dismantling the very ligatures of cinema and blinkered assumptions of a rational, fully-knowable world order. Its vision of new knowledge is radically self-splintering, suggesting that a path to truth compromises our very foundational assumptions about time, space, and rational order. Don’t Look Now offers a form of sensory and mental awakening that is ultimately emotionally and physically catastrophic.

Don’t Look Now is a truly unnerving, dissociative film, not only taking its time waiting and watching while the horror latches on but disassembling raw notions of cinematic time altogether. It’s a masterpiece, an indelible marriage of content and form: a shattered, disordered formalist work of abject horror matched to an empathetic study of two humans wracked with nervous discomposure. The extraordinary friction of the editing, sound, and visuals radiates a toxic gloom that tethers the throes of the characters’ mental disarray to a filmic style that tears and frays itself into a shambles. In other words, it’s an internally divided film that explores two characters who exist as fragmented parts of an impossible-to-reconstitute whole. Continue reading

National Cinemas: Lawrence of Arabia

David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia should be the easiest film in the world to review. It is “the” epic, which is to say the most epic film perhaps ever made and the “best” epic film ever made. Or so they say. In fact, it is an epic, grand in scale, filled with lofty ambitions and shots of people of different-hued skin staring at each other as if to ponder the mysteries of the world. But it is also much more than that, and perhaps one of the most deceptive films ever produced. I suppose, as a monstrously-budgeted film with no relative unknowns in the lead roles, no romance, little action, and an implicitly homosexual main character, someone was worried about its commercial prospects in the moment, and they granted Lean the freedom to have his film express, breathe, prod, poke, and reach out in every which way that films of this nature weren’t really supposed to do. After all, if it didn’t have anything on the surface, except of course its “grandness” to appeal to audiences, it had to have something in its bones that would only be revealed once audiences were experiencing the film and having it happen to them – something that would gain critical attention for long-lasting appeal, if not immediate commercial success. That something turned out to be Lean making it one of the best films ever made. Continue reading

Film Favorites: Vampyr and Viridiana

Update 2018: Uhhh these early reviews from my youth burn my eyes so. Vampyr is too sublime a film for the quality of review below to do it any kind of justice, yet there is never enough time to revisit even such a foundational film in writing. (I mean, it is only the banner image of my website!) Of course, part of the reason that I don’t have time to fully explain the film is that a work like Vampyr so capably resists any definition or sedimentation. All these years later, my favorite thing about it remains that, despite its heavily imagistic texture, Dreyer’s conjuration seems to resist imaging, to thrive primarily below the perceptual barrier, like a shadowy outline or impression discarded on an abandoned wall.

Dreyer’s work is quite pragmatic in this sense; its images burn into our brain not with the tendentious force of a grand theory but with a worrisome in-definition, a sense in which the images aren’t solidified enough to “represent” anything. They dislocate us with their refusal to additively mount-up as most films do. Instead, they seem to unfurl outwards without emanating from any perceived essence or center, not even a portal to hell. Thoroughly estranging in its refusal to declare, the only thing Vampyr mounts are moments of severe uncertainty, curiosity, active deconfiguration, ultimately effusing a bewildering refusal to illustrate certainty to us, a prophetic inclination to decline revelation.  Instead of subterranean tunneling toward essence, Dreyer’s films hover over unstable, constantly fluctuating foundations, in this particular case witnessing space as a diaphanous flutter while remaining thoroughly removed from it.

In this sense, the film’s modality is truly singular, resistant to any definitive statements. Despite frequent comparisons to German Expressionism, the film’s contours actually incline quite a ways away from that estimable Weimar tradition. Absent in Dreyer’s phantasm are any of expressionism’s aspirations to manifest the latent, to tear apart the exterior surfaces of the world and extract the psychological interior beneath. Vampyr holds no psychological pretensions, no suggestion of access to the furthest reaches of the human mind. Perhaps because psychology can so easily tilt from modernistic advance guard of the mind to rote regurgitation of heavily prescribed, obviously underlined meaning emboldened in cinematic boldface, carefully keyed to “tell us” what the characters are thinking and feeling, Vampyr’s resistance to the sublime actualization of crystalline imagery is all the more intoxicating today. Its meaning seems not locked in a time and a place, to have been actualized on the screen in the film’s present, but to come from some far gone past, or some alternate plane, and whisper into our future.

To the extent that this is frightening, it is quite a different psychic turmoil than Weimar Expressionism usually offers. If Expressionism tortures us with the realization that our psychological selves will never be as complacent and composed, as whole, as they seem on the surface, Vampyr terrorizes us with a more spectral appreciation of a more fundamental indefinite(ness), one which cannot be reconciled by “telling” us what psychologically dwells beneath that surface. Dreyer’s later films advance this question further, but already in Vampyr, his films seem not sculpted for accessible meaning, but rather divined, even necromanced, from another system of meaning entirely. A system, in this case, where characters are not so much inlaid with psychological architecture – the work of the film being to unpack this architecture as the “core” of the person – but iconographic. They are figures in the wider montage of an artist.

So if Vampyr’s images rhyme with the rest of the world, they are nonetheless all their own, allowed to freely resonate and reverberate on their own terms and at their own frequencies as a portrait of a specific imaginative location. Without any fashionable post-modern opacity, Vampyr lurches about alarmingly at a sinister, slothlike tempo, struggling to represent the seemingly unrepresentable, to visualize a seemingly occult knowledge that seems to be obscuring itself as it comes into being. Not because the film is trying to confuse us, but because it seems to have tapped into a genuinely uncomfortable, unsupportable base, to encrypt a truly ephemeral sense of ontological decomposition, to truly and unabashedly ponder cinema’s fundamental aspirations toward knowledge and truth.  Continue reading

Film Favorites: M

Edited late-2015

In Berlin, presumably in either the 1920s or early 1930s, panic has stricken the city. The cause?  A child murderer, revealed to be Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre), who prays on children by buying them balloons, candy, and other things they might enjoy, has quietly rolled over the city from above to torment it and cause a wave of paranoia. The effects are immediate and perpetual, causing Berlin’s residents to remain cautious of everyone whom they see talking with a child in the street, even if the particulars of their conversation consists only of telling the young child the time. His effect, thus, is prismatic – he causes everyone to turn on each other, so that his physical presence almost becomes a moot point when the idea of him looms large over the city. Continue reading