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 →
John Sturges, mostly famous for his two later rugged process-driven films, The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, drew out a mostly forgotten niche of manly not-quite-action films. They weren’t really violent, but they had the soul of action entertainment in their braggadocio and mechanics-first brand of raspy storytelling. His two most famous films are given at least the repute of minor-classics, but he is not particularly associated with them. He was a man who worked with groups of talented actors, and they often dwarfed him in the final analysis, not because he was appreciably under-skilled, but because he always subsumed his skill to the mechanics of the narrative, and we as a society tend to focus on actors and narrative at the expense of directors. He didn’t have a truly unique style, so to speak, but he was an ultra-competent director, and arguably the ultra-competent director. And his competence never tipped over into out-right genius quite like it did in Bad Day at Black Rock. Continue reading →
Othello should not exist. Not William Shakespeare’s venerable play, one of the great tone poems to dueling egos and wanton desire filtered not through hero and villain but split personalities tearing each other apart until neither can have what they want. But Orson Welles’ Othello, a work of ramshackle, stitched-together genius if ever humankind has produced one. It isn’t Welles’ greatest film, but it is likely the surest explanation of his unmatched gall, of his unending sweat, and of the limits, or lack thereof, of his genius.
Of course Welles the poster-boy wunderkind of Hollywood splendor, given full control over the powers that be to unleash his vision on the world, could release a masterpiece. Citizen Kane, Welles’ first film, and the first of many to serve as parables of his own brilliance and folly, was practically bred to be a work of unparalleled craft. It was almost an ordained masterpiece from its very inception; Welles had the hounds of Hollywood at his feet. An achievement, sure. But with Othello, he unfolded a masterpiece in piece-meal fashion, without anyone’s help, desperately working to clot the blood of a film barely stapled together with odds and ends over years of stilted, stuttery production. Nothing more could showcase the singular auteurism, the singular genius, and the singular madness of Orson Welles. This filmis his ultimate statement of “my way or the highway” determination. Continue reading →
In 1945, Billy Wilder was still becoming himself, but he wasn’t a Hollywood newbie. The Lost Weekend, would win him two Academy Awards for writing and for directing (he would win again for writing in 1950 for Sunset Boulevard and become the first person to win separate Oscars for writing, directing, and producing in the same year with 1960’s The Apartment). It would firmly plant him in the big leagues of Hollywood, but the picture was made on the back of his supremely successful hard-boiled exercise in nihilism, Double Indemnity, from the year before. In this light, had it not been for Double Indemnity, it would be easy to claim that The Lost Weekend just wasn’t quite there yet, or that it was still the product of a director and a writer identifying their place in Hollywood. But then, Double Indemnity burns with Wilder’s patented fiery brand of ice, and The Lost Weekend is merely a sharp noir in full-on potboiler mode. Good Wilder, surely, but not Wilder at his best. Continue reading →
Now, for “Film Favorites”, two of the most beautiful experiments in color ever made: Akira Kurosawa’s Ran and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes.
Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, they say, but seldom has a film been so accidentally beautiful as Akira Kurosawa’s final epic of the cinema. Nearing his ’80s, the ever-productive Kurosawa could no longer see across the great distances required to aim a camera at the monumental swaths of chaos and order he wished to assemble and unleash in front of the camera. Functionally, in essence, he couldn’t direct the film he wanted to, but that didn’t stop him, nor did it hamstring him.
This week’s pair of Midnight Screenings will return us to the far-flung past of 2006 and 2007, a more innocent time in film history …
It is quite possible that Richard Linklater is the only currently functioning director who really could have directed A Scanner Darkly in the fidgety, twitching tone it so desperately begged for, and thus it is a little bit of magic that he managed to acquire the film at all. Firstly, this is because Linklater, the homegrown Texan with an eye for slacker culture and the distance imparted by time and memory, strips away the science fiction trappings from Phillip K. Dick’s story and renders it all the more pressingly intimate in doing so, without ever sacrificing the essence of the novel about drug abuse and melancholic social anomie. Which is itself important; so many science fiction films rationalize themselves by claiming they are necessarily informing us about the weight of a current world crisis, but as many other Dick adaptations show us, they frequently devolve into glorified techie action flicks. The science becomes a diaphanous masquerade, a meager attempt by a film to convince its audience of its intelligence when it offers nothing but pyrotechnics and quasi-futurism. Linklater doesn’t need a trip to the future; he creates a piercingly grounded tale about trips of a different variety. Continue reading →