Tag Archives: that cinematography though

Un-Cannes-y Valley: The Set-Up

You couldn’t find a more idiosyncratic director in classic Hollywood than Robert Wise. Sweaty potboilers, abstracted populist science fiction, howling horror, atomic age message pictures, and gilded, gloriously melodramatic maxi-packed musicals. All bubbled under his domain. Plus, he contributed the insurmountably essential, firecracker editing for no less a picture than Citizen Kane back when he was still in his pre-directing days. He was something of the ultimate Hollywood jack of all trades, and it is true that he wasn’t the greatest master of any single genre. But he was more than a shadow passing through genres as a director-for-hire. He put his personal stamp on every film he ever touched, and he never gave a picture less than 100% of his charisma. Continue reading

Film Favorites: Ran

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.

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Film Favorites: The Red Shoes

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. 

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the champions of feverish color and quintessentially British cinema, probably never found a subject more perfectly attuned to their signature style than The Red Shoes. A tale of upcoming ballet star Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) studying under the dictatorial, monomaniacal Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), torn between Lermontov’s demands and her true love for his composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring), The Red Shoes is the pinnacle of their fixation on obsession and oppression as they intertwine and tangle to the point where flying into the sun is indistinguishable from crashing and burning. Under their vision, art and the pursuit of art become an Icarus act, and it is only fitting that the two men seemed primed and driven to obsessively push the limits of color cinema until they too would burn brightly before falling into the sun. Continue reading

Review: Mr. Turner

Mike Leigh has always been a perfectly sound visualist, a sterling and occasionally stoic bard who let his characters do the talking, but whose films breathed the life of simple human activity more harmoniously than arguably any living director. But never before has his style been so in tune with the substance of his work. His films by and large are social realist works of character and social milieu, and Mr. Turner retains this noble essence, but it remains his most non-naturalist film. Which couldn’t be more fitting for what is obviously a work about the shuddering shadows and brimming light rays of early 19th century painting as much as it is a grounded study of a man who felt so much for that art he sacrificed everything else in his life. It isn’t a given yet – Mr. Turner is still young in the world and will need time to mill about and settle still – but if it isn’t Leigh’s best film, it is his most fascinating, and of all his films, it has the most to whisper to us about cinema. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: Sunshine

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 was only natural that Danny Boyle would direct a science fiction film, and probably no less a given that he would render hard science fiction through his peculiar and particular brand of frothy-icy, sensory style-as-substance. By 2007, he had taken on horror and family cinema, as well as the venerable mid-’90s drug-trip cottage genre, and arguably no genre breeds more fertile ground for a natural visualist than science fiction. Recasting the writer of his own 28 Days Later for a similarly mercurial screenplay, Boyle’s film follows a collection of American and Japanese astronauts in the near future on a quest to drop a payload of nuclear devices into the Sun, which is dying and presumably taking Earth along with it. The narrative twists to a point, but Sunshine is more an experiment in color and space as an avenue for human psychology than a narrative proper. Which is exactly the sort of science fiction that has been sent out into the wild and left waywardly wandering for the past several decades of cinema, and exactly why Boyle’s triumphant take on that mood of the genre is so refreshing. Continue reading

Film Favorites: Stalker

Update 2018: Such an old, out-of-date review from my youth, and so little time to re-review. But after watching Stalker again, I’m still floored by its meditations on apocalyptic time, and the way it seems to persist with the weight of eternity and the pressure of stillness yet still evoke a diaphanous, ever-fluctuating quality. The film visualizes experiences that temporarily illuminate before us and yet constantly seem to be shuddering apart before our eyes.

It’s Tarkovsky, so Stalker is tinged with a dose of the Burkean sublime, but never before or since did his quest for transcendence seem so embattled, so threatened, so clearly aware that achieving sublimity isn’t a linear motion toward another realm of physical being but to another way of thinking, another form of consciousness aimed not at stringing together life narratively – looking for the accruals, the goals, the definitives – but toward noticing the fluctuating states of being around you. The sublime, in Tarkovsky’s framing then, is a poetically doomed project, where one reaches new temporary truths only to confront how partial, provisional, and ephemeral they are. Obviously rebuking Soviet modernity’s mechanical modernities and reconnecting Russia to a long-lost mysticism, Tarkovsky’s film has much in common with earlier Russian radicals, reanimating their spirit much as his closest American contemporary, Malick, rekindled the currents of Emerson and Whitman. Both filmmakers resist definitives in their search for cosmic connection, observing nature with a spectral fluidity that moves from the majestic to the terrifying but always remembers the friction in the moment, treating each image not as a statement but a constantly-perusing question, a verb, an unresolved mosaic. His films are about finding a world elsewhere and living with the knowledge that this elsewhere is forever unfinished.

So many sci-fi films from the late ’70s play with eldritch horrors and far-flung futures but never truly explore their capacity for touching the unknown. In this morass, Tarkovsky’s Stalker is uniquely in touch, not only with the cosmic implications of its claims to visualize new truths but the fallibility of those implications, the sense in which the sort of unmediated truth another film might seek is hopelessly static and abstract. Comparatively, while Stalker may seem abstract on the surface, it attunes, rather singularly, not only to the desire for transcendence but the ground-level rhythms of searching, stumbling, falling, and getting back up necessary not only to get there, but to realize that these rhythms of failure are the cadences of humanity, that transcendence is not a fixed state or a destination but a path forward. Continue reading

Film Favorites: Werckmeister Harmonies

Béla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies opens with an ebullient, maddening, playful, oblique, and altogether disconcerting cinematic treatise on chaos and order in the modern age: a group of men in a bar tentatively organized into a disassembled, flat-footed ballet that approximates with gusto and drunken flair the orbiting of the planets around the sun. It is a fully alive, alert gesture of cinematic visualization, and a humble one; for the maddening questions Tarr is known to cryptically tackle, he lays his meditation bare in this opening scene. The universe, he wants us to know, may be fundamentally chaotic, may be fundamentally ordered, he doesn’t know, and he wants to find out. Continue reading