Moonlight – Impact

Quick Thoughts: Moonlight

Three chapters of a man’s life following his struggle to find his place in the world as a child, teen and adult.

Moonlight

Moonlight is a concentrated, subdued drama, one that takes its subject matter seriously and projects it in a sometimes captivating manner. It is thus a film that will inevitably continue to be granted much critical acclaim. However, like 2015’s Spotlight or Carol, this film will probably fade into obscurity pretty fast. Who’s to know if it’ll make a later resurgence, but I don’t see that happening. This comes down to the design of this movie as one centred on heavy subjects, such as identity and sexuality, but also one without much thematic resonance. This is a subjective point of criticism as I’m sure this film will resonate with people differently, but, personally, I was never really moved by Little/Chiron /Black as a character and so never developed much empathy or interest in him. This comes down to the film’s structure. The first chapter does an excellent job of introducing characters as well as themes of childhood and being different as a kid. This is done through ambiguity, us never really being explicitly told the details of characters lives, rather being left to figure them out for ourselves. And it’s this ambiguity written into the narrative that melds perfectly with the camera work which is often handheld with a very shallow focus. This brings us very close to characters, blurring the background, giving a personal tone to this movie and a sense of entrapment. All of this assists the structuring of the first chapter as there is a tension built through which we truly understand Little’s internal conflicts. The opening chapter then does a great job of introducing the story and setting up the audience to fall into Chiron’s story. However, this is only sustained partially through the second chapter. It’s at this point where Chiron’s internal conflicts are somewhat externalised with him having to confront bullies and engage in relationships. This isn’t handled well, however. There is no depth or swelling tension in this second sequence, in such, the antagonists are forgettable and the stakes aren’t very engaging. When we then move into the third and final chapter the first two chapters are seriously devalued and turned into mere character exposition or back story. This is because there is no real follow up or compelling build of character across all three chapters – especially for the peripheral figures. The majority of antagonists just fall away, as does Chiron’s father figure and friends, Chiron’s mother is simply checked in on and Black himself (a.k.a Chiron and Little) really hasn’t become much. And it’s the adult version of our protagonist which is the least interesting. There is a constant focus on his internal conflicts, his inner emotions, but this is projected, through cinematic language and the script, in a very bland manner, making the personal tone and sense of entrapment generated by the camera work restricting and very grating which emotionally distances us from the narrative and disengages us. The last chapter of Moonlight is thus very tiresome, leaving us with a final sequence that is incredibly underwhelming and a lasting sense that this is a pointless film. All subjects raised are ultimately given very little exploration and the character work is far too tame for true emotional resonance. In such, there wasn’t much nuance or detail to Chiron that made him more than a figure on the screen and words on a page, nor was there much punch, impact or intricacy given to the projection of thematic points in this film beyond a bits of colour symbolism.

All in all, Moonlight is a film with a facade that presents itself as important, but, beyond the skin of beautiful cinematography and some great acting, the belying story is one with weakly presented themes that leaves the overall film a flat experience. If we make a quick comparison to Blue Is The Warmest Colour, which has similar themes of identity and sexuality, we see a film that has a much better control of character and so projects emotional themes of isolation, romance, growth and self-discovery in a much more poignant manner. This is simply what Moonlight lacks. So, whilst you can’t say this is, at all, a bad film, it really isn’t one worth revisits. However, this is just my reading, what are your thoughts?

 

 

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Island Of Flowers – Freedom

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Moonlight/Pulp Fiction/Wild Tales – Abandoning The 3 Act Structure

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Island Of Flowers – Freedom

Thoughts On: Island Of Flowers

A short montage tracking the movement of tomatoes through society.

Island Of Flowers

Island Of Flowers is a brilliant short that utilises mechanical explanations of society of such a simple nature that we come to perceive them as absurd. This intentionally creates a dissonance within the audience, one that has them see the consequences of their easy lifestyle reflected by a distant impoverished part of the world such as the Isle Of Flowers in Brazil, Porto Alegre’s landfill. It is on this island that poor families live off the scraps of food that are thrown away by those like us in countries like the U.S and England – that is, the scraps that aren’t given to pigs first. This allows a question of our society to be raised, a moral one that critiques materialism and unsustainable lifestyles. Beyond this emotional critique, however, lies an ever more intricate question of freedom. The last words of this short demonstrate this perfectly:

Freedom is a word that the human dream feeds on that no one can explain or fail to understand.

This closing statement does two things. It firstly explains our emotional reaction to seeing children eat the food we throw away that isn’t deemed good enough to be eaten by pigs. We, who live comfortable lives where we may pick up tomatoes or pork from the supermarket for the simple exchange of money, have a sense of levity and a lack of a continual struggle. This sense or feeling is what we would probably call freedom. However, this is an undefined feeling within us. In such, we subconsciously know just what freedom is and so can’t fail to understand it despite often not being able to articulate it. However, in being made to see our freedom through poor families eating garbage, we cling to this freedom with empathy and a tremendous sense of frailty – one easily transformed into a feeling of guilt and a yearning for change. The second thing the above statement does, however, is explain why we live in a world of such inequality.

As is picked up on many times beforehand, what puts people at the bottom of such a sprawling hierarchy is money and owners. Pigs have owners, just like children do in the form of parents, and so we look after them. We being the metaphorical children of countries are also looked after. Just as we are arbitrarily born from certain birth canals and are at the whim of the person owning it, this also seems to be true in respect to birth place. The only way to transcend (somewhat) this paradigm of not having an owner or someone to look after you is to have money. Money is a tangible representation of social exchange and, as the film points out, is a refined quantification of exchanging food. We’d exchange food for simple reasons – it keeps us alive and so we want it. However, because it is basically impossible to quantify how many chickens may be exchanged for something like a blue whale, we turn to money to streamline the system. In such, we see money as an extension of people exchanging life points. Just as eating food keeps your body alive, by proxy, so does money and an economy. By not being part of this exchange of keeping people alive, by not being part of a functional economy, you have no money and so are of little worth. Moreover, by having no owner, someone to arbitrarily, unconditionally care for you, you are of even less worth. This is what has children eat after pigs in this world, and it’s all to do with owners and money being the components of freedom.

Owners and money are terms that simple mean ‘bodies or entities that keep us alive’. (Note, by owner, the film, nor do I, mean to connote slavery or being owned as a person-turned-object – instead, it is ideas of ownership as linked to either having land or things as well as pets or children that we love that are implied). What then being owned or having money essentially means is that you are apart of a system that keeps other alive. This system is reliant on people playing their parts – on one person keeping another alive through money or ownership (unconditionally looking after them or providing material things). However, the latter, specifically, unconditionally looking after someone, is an element to life that is difficult to afford to many. In such, we usually preserve this for our children alone – we sometimes extend this to charity. Nonetheless, it is money and ownership that equate to freedom as they allow us to live without physical friction or hindrance. This simply means that it’s relatively easy, relative to the children eating garbage, to live a life where you pick up pork and tomatoes from a supermarket with your money because you rarely worry about bad things happening. Society thus solves so many of our problems, like sourcing and retaining food, allowing us to slot into this perfect clockwork and spin our little lives to their end freely, comfortably, effortlessly.

Island Of Flowers, whist a critique this, understands this to be the state of things – and such is the source of its ingenious design and precise stab of poignancy. Through this point-point demonstration, Island Of Flowers points out something that may be misconstrued to be a paradox. Because we exist in our perfect clockwork society with freedom, it seems to be a paradox that some suffer at the hands of it (two metaphors mixed, I know, but they fit nonetheless). The reason why some see this to be a paradox has been explained through our subconscious understanding of freedom. When our clockwork is questioned, we feel fragile as we are made to comprehend the arbitrary nature of life and so feel a great sense of precariousness in the world. It then seems to be a disingenuous non-sequitur to show gratitude for our own freedom by wishing it on others. This is because we often see this expression to be a false gesture and a passing emotion. This is understandable, however, as, through this film, through cinema, the human conception of our clockwork society is extended. By seeing children on an island in Brazil, we are made to see them as human – something made explicit by this short with the repetition of opposable thumbs and an advanced telencephalon. Through seeing Japanese, Jews, Brazilians and so on as simply human we see them as valid candidates for being apart of our clockwork. This is the truth belying the sometimes nonsensical reflex of empathy. It’s understanding this that you can see the genuine nature of those so easy to sneer at and dismiss – those that preach unconditional love, universal equality and so on.

Beyond understanding others and understanding the mechanics of the world, there is an overwhelming sense of futility belying this essay and this film alike. By seeing the world as a stark system, it is hard to see things changing. In such, it seems to be apart of human nature to both help others and put people in hierarchy. This all seems to be a consequence of our inherently self-centric nature. In such, it is our inherent imperative to want to continue our lives and existence. This human disposition is reflected by society, leaving it to struggle with capitalist and socialist philosophies. The crux of all of this, however, is a kind of freedom we have not touched on yet. When we consider poverty, hunger and inequality, we consider a physical freedom – one that keeps you from hunger, pain, danger and disease. When we consider the dissonance and intellectual pain we may face when recognising the nature of the world, those who suffer, the widespread struggles and the word’s apparent futility, we are considering an emotional freedom. To be emotionally free of stress, trauma and friction is what drives empathy, is what makes us feel sorry for the people eating our garbage. This leaves us with a nasty turn, however. To want to solve another’s suffering, to relinquish them and grant them physical freedom, is a mere plot to give yourself emotional freedom – all so you can stop thinking about another person’s problems.

This is the genuine essence of human self-centricity. We problem solve our own and and others’ issues away for freedom of the emotional and the physical sort. This is what validates an idea such as ‘all people are the same’. Yes, you can quantifiable disprove this, and, no, we don’t really want everyone to be perfectly equal. However, there is an acceptable plane we wish we could all exist in, through a reflex appeal to freedom, where everyone is just ok – all so we can shed the weight of another’s pain – all for our own freedom.

This is what adds weight to the idea that ‘freedom is a word that the human dream feeds on’. It’s not just that people want freedom selfishly or want freedom in others as a means of virtue signalling or projecting a false empathy or a fabricated humanity, instead, people want a universal freedom so they themselves can be free. It thus seems that we are all connected in a vast collective clockwork – all because we, by perceiving someone, immediately introduce them into a perceptual understanding of that clockwork called humanity. And because we are all connected in this clockwork system, we need there to be a universal emotional and physical freedom so that we too may truly be free.

In such, we see a pragmatic reason for solving world issues; it seems to be in-built into our nature as a society. Nonetheless, we cannot forget that control, the fantasy; control the fantasy. Because definitive control over reality is the ultimate human fantasy, one that would afford you complete freedom at a whim, one that is also impossible to attain, people may only appeal to imagination, an internal fantasy, to seek control in their life (for the most part). This means that we can blind ourselves to reality as to feel a personal sense of freedom in spite of any and all actuality. You see this realised when you turn away from depressing TV ads asking for you charity to save starving children. When you turn away, you stop feeling bad – you forget the starving children and do not let them impeach your fantasy. A paradox then arises when you consider this film as tantamount to one of those ads and a piece of projected imagination and fantasy (from both the audience’s perspective and the filmmaker’s). This film as a projection of fantasy perfectly explains why it is so easy to turn away from and forget about the children eating garbage – after all, control, the fantasy; control the fantasy. Because of this reality, we find ourselves an escape to a pragmatic reason for helping everyone on Earth be completely equal. It thus becomes apparent that there is a perpetual argument to be had between someone not wanting to help starving people and someone saying that they should help. More poignantly, there is a perpetual debate held in many people’s heads as they contemplate their position in life. Do they help the world? Do they make it better? Should they? Do they really care to?

It’s around about now that you should be feeling that futility again. My point in jumping between optimism and pessimism though has not really been to discuss poverty and world issues – I’m not here to solve any problems of that magnitude. Instead, what has hopefully been conveyed to you is the malleability of the human perception. We can so easily escape taking responsibility and doing anything once we have a taste of freedom and levity. This isn’t a critique of you and I don’t mean to speak down on this reflex, merely make it obvious for the sake of truly demonstrating what freedom is.

Freedom is a feeling. Feelings can be conjured in many ways, and we inherently know how to cheat the bodily system to get those good feelings from time to time. (That said, we aren’t always so good at it). Nonetheless, cheating the system is all about receding into a dream space, an intangible spatial fantasy whereby our minds may interact with reality in a capacity that allows us to feel free. In such, we can either tell ourselves that everything is ok and go on with our day, or, tweak reality to give us that feeling. The reason why this reflex seems to exist is that we can also tweak reality and so tell ourselves to see problems or to feel bad. This brings us to the core of what it means to be human. Within the dream spaces we construct that allow us to seek freedom, exists positive and negative existential forces that have us fight for balance – to have freedom and to let ourselves feel free, to tweak our reality and then be happy with it. This leads us towards resolution…

We do not want to be free. If we were built to unconditionally feel free, then we wouldn’t have emotions. We would be numb to the world and be perfectly happy not knowing we’re alive or apart of reality. However, the catch 22 of consciously existing in reality seems to be this existential yin and yang. Just as the universe has physical laws of equal and opposite forces that facilitate a contained exchange of events that is known as our physical reality, it seems that so do we. Humans seem to contain an internalised friction that perpetually keeps them a conscious part of reality; a cog spinning in the works with a mind of its own. This is why we fight for freedom, but will never really attain it. Like perfection, freedom thus seems to be a concept designed to never be grasped or fully achieved. This is why, when I remind you that this is an essay on a film about poverty, you get that sinking feeling of futility and guilt in your chest.

We are machines driven by the fantasy of freedom. Such seems to be the irrevocable nature of us and our reality. Perpetual and momentous futility thus seems to be the essence of our existence – a loop we can’t escape. But, don’t worry too much, despite my saying this, you’ll soon feel fine. Soon after that you’ll feel bad though. And on will go your reflexive search for friction – which around about leaves everything outside of a fantastical conjuring of purpose pointless.

So, whilst I go tell myself there was a point to writing this essay, I’ll leave you to get on with your day (or keep reading my more of my pointless words). Either way, good luck…

 

 

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Boogie Nights – Vulnerability

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Boogie Nights – Vulnerability

Thoughts On: Boogie Nights

A story chronicling the roller-coaster career of Dirk Diggler.

Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights is one of the most bizarrely beautiful films ever made. Through astounding character work, we’re forced into an absurd narrative and made to see the intricate and personal details of an otherwise lurid and vulgar world. This, coupled with the great rhythm of the editing and the soundtrack, truly sweeps you along the almost 160 minute long narrative with pure ease. This seems to be the case with many of Anderson’s films – most notably There Will Be Blood, Punk-Drunk Love and Magnolia. It’s character that lies at the core of these movies which breathes energy into the somewhat flat plots in a mesmerising manner. Though I see the depth and purpose belying Anderson’s other recent films, The Master and Inherent Vice, I never felt the emotional weight of these films like I have Boogie Nights or Magnolia. This seems to be because of the internalisation of all character work in figures such as Freddy Quell and Doc Sportello, an approach that demands more work from the audience than that used to project characters like Daniel Plainview, Barry Egan or, of course, Dirk Diggler. It’s because of this externalising approach to character that Boogie Nights is such an effortlessly expressive movie with characters you can’t help by empathise with or be fascinated by.

Beyond this, Boogie Nights is of course an expansion on an earlier short of Anderson’s called, The Dirk Diggler Story. This was a mockumentary that established some of the bases for Dirk’s character as seen in Boogie Nights, but also deviated quite a bit from the later feature. In The Dirk Diggler Story, Reed is not only a jacked, hulk of a man, someone who doesn’t look much like John C. Reilly, but is also Dirk’s gay lover. This exposes a part of his career where he made many homosexual and bisexual movies. This part of Dirk’s character in the original short was motivated by his original inspiration, John Holmes, who is amongst the most famous and prolific of porn stars from the ‘Golden Age of Porn’. This was a 15 year period after the 60s (pretty much portrayed by Boogie Nights) where pornographic films gained huge momentum, critically and financially. It all started with our old friend, Andy Warhol, with his film Blue Movie in 1969 – this was the first film depicting pornographic sequences that was given a wide theatrical release in America. This gave the industry huge momentum and ended up changing laws as well as perspectives on pornographic film, but, was all ended with the advent of video. As is depicted in Boogie Nights, video let porn be viewed privately at home, which tore it away from the public eye, out of the theatres, and hugely devalued it due to a massive downgrade in quality and a surge of amateur movies. If it weren’t for video, we could possibly be living in a hugely different world where blockbuster pornos and pornographic cinematic universes rule the box office. Nonetheless, with this period around the 70s came John Holmes, who, like Dirk, had a huge hog. Holmes also made homosexual porn movies, which explains Dirk’s and Reed’s relationship in Anderson’s mockumentary that preceded Boogie Nights by just over 10 years. Whilst we don’t see this aspect of Holmes in the Dirk Diggler of Boogie Nights we do, however, see aspects of him that weren’t in the mockumentary. This comes near the end and the with the drug deal gone wrong. This is a reference to an infamous unsolved murder case, The Wonderland Murders, which involved John Holmes and, though he was never imprisoned, had him arrested many times.

Other differences between the mockumentary and Boogie Nights pertain to Diggler’s death, the tone of the narrative (which was overtly tragic in The Dirk Diggler Story) and general quality. Whilst the short is an interesting watch after seeing Boogie Nights, it is, comparatively, a poor film due to acting, editing, direction and general plotting. What the 30 minute short thus fails to do is really pull us into Diggler’s world like Boogie Nights does and so accentuates all that really works about it. The crux of this, for me, is certainly thematic. It’s through themes of inadequacy, failure and shame in Boogie Nights that characters are really allowed to project the emotive beats of the plot. Moreover, through theme, Anderson creates a masterful atmosphere and tone. Never is there a moment where the film becomes vulgar, tacky or superficial. The only sequences that possibly point towards this are the porn shoots. They aren’t glamorised or exploited for shock value however. They’re used to show the internal highs and lows of characters. To understand this, you only need to consider how these scenes are shot. Whilst we see breasts, ass cheeks and nipples, there are never any explicit shots of genitalia – not until the end. This visually says to the audience that the attraction of this story is not the pornographic elements or the fact that you might see some dick go into pussy. Instead, the purpose and attraction of the narrative is the people and characters beneath the skin. We then only get to see Diggler’s huge piece in the last shot of the movie as this is Anderson’s way of showing us what we maybe came for, but once we’ve understood who Dirk is by sitting through the previous 2 hours and a half. What this does is spin the tables on the John Holmes elements of his character. The first inclination when hearing someone, such as John Holmes, has a huge penis is to Google it – as you may have already done, or at least thought to. What this implies is that people are easily drawn to novelty, and Boogie Nights expands upon this by suggesting that we are also quickly dismissive or protective of it. This is done with a cinematic exploration of curiosity and vulnerability.

With curiosity often comes a great deal of other emotions. That is to say, when we’re feeling adventurous, we can also feel paranoid, on-edge, excited, scared, thrilled, brave, boisterous… it goes on. This is because we’re committing to confront the unknown when we’re curious. This emotional network of curiosity is true of many inquisitive ventures whether they be sexual, violent, intellectual, personal, impersonal, introspective, observatory or anything else. The reason for this should be transparent; we must be emotionally lumbered-up and agile when anything is possible, which means when we’re curious we also need other emotions of positive and negative extremes at hand as to protect ourselves. Anderson exploits this perfectly with Boogie Nights. We go into the film expecting a calamitous explosion of bodily fluids, but are instead eased into what is essentially a teen drama turned into a somewhat historical drama, all inside the world of porn. As we stumble into the narrative, intellectually and emotionally open to the world we’re about to be thrust in, we express a curious vulnerability. I find this to be true even when I re-watch the film. Whilst I know what is going to happen, I’m still jumping into a thematically rare film. To get into the mind set of watching the movie, you then need to sink into a curious and warm part of your mind – one that makes you recoil at the idea of watching the film with someone like your grandmother. And in such, we see the vulnerability we expose when stepping into films that aren’t PG and delve into lurid or mature subjects. Understanding this, Anderson takes advantage of our emotional vulnerability and hits it with a whole bunch of character work and themes we are used to seeing in other everyday, safer narratives. To do this, Anderson establishes the idea of home, responsibility, parenthood and failure in the opening of Boogie Nights. With Dirk being kicked out of his home, we’re truly made to feel his weakness and fear. Even though you could stand back and laugh at this sequence, if you tune into the tone of the movie, you’ll see Dirk’s ridiculous face as he fights back tears and shouts at his mum, and you see something genuine that really hits you in the chest. It’s this sequence that is probably my favourite of the movie because it is so melodramatic and absurd, but in an almost realist manner, one that is undeniably poignant. Second to this sequence, however, Dirk’s first porn shoot is certainly an effective one. All his anxieties are exposed as well as the essence of Amber as an estranged mother with a serious emotional hole in her personage. Moreover, the ingenious portrayal of the shooting cameras as characters who observe in this sequence is awe-inspiring.

All of this comes together to discuss emotional attachments, both between people in general and an audience watching a film. There is a great weakness exposed in us all when we pursue the unknown. For Dirk, it’s stepping onto the porn set and trying to use the only gift that was ever given to him – his schlong. It’s here where he confronts his mother’s insults that say he’s a loser who will never amount to anything. Also throughout the film, Amber’s worth is questioned as a mother. Through pornography she may provide some kind of pleasure to people in a way that comes natural to her. We also see this yearning in Scotty who is enamoured by anyone and just wants to impress them – simply look to the car sequence where he tries to kiss Dirk to get what I mean. Moreover, we see this emotional need to be wanted in Rollergirl and even Jack. All of these people are just trying to find a place in the world where they can develop emotional bonds with people, bonds that are genuine, that allow them to be themselves, project their worth, bonds that support their ludicrous, sometimes vapid, sometimes stupid, nature. I believe this is what we, as an audience, recognise when we watch this film. Though there is so much to be questioned, morally, about the drugs, the sex, the violence and the insipid lifestyles, we can always see the uncovering of people’s true dispositions when these thematic elements are brought up scene-to-scene. When you combine this idea with our curious vulnerability going into the film, you see the true emotional depth of the last sequence where (almost) everyone gets what they want and find their place in the world. There is a happy ending because, despite the world around them and all that may come in their futures, our major characters have established some weird family. And weakness is an acceptable feature of a person with a group, a family, around them as they have people at hand who will  support them and help if and when they fuck up. Such is the crux of the narrative; we are put into a cinematic milieu whereby we can latch onto characters and understand their plights. This allows for true empathy and heralds Boogie Nights as one of the most significant films in this technical sense, because of its capacity to draw such empathy from the audience in an unconventional manner.

All in all, Boogie Nights is a film that demonstrates the preciousness of vulnerability in life and in the cinema. Without vulnerability, weakness, fear and anxiety, a myriad of other emotions are watered down and made insignificant. Moreover, our need for emotional ties becomes all the more lax, leaving relationships bland. It’s with vulnerability, exposed and recognised, that people truly connect and establish such strong bonds. And such is the strange beauty portrayed by Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

 

 

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Ghost – How To Turn The Stupid Into The Ingenious

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Island Of Flowers – Freedom

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Ghost – How To Turn The Stupid Into The Ingenious

Quick Thoughts: Ghost (1990)

A ‘psychic’ and the recently murdered Sam, now a ghost, must work together to save his girlfriend.

Ghost

Ghost is of course an iconic romance, one that is easily sunk into and enjoyed as a simple piece of entertainment. Whilst the performances aren’t perfect and the general plot of the movie runs a thin line between romance and cheese, the relationship between characters holds up for the vast majority of the film which serves as the emotional anchor-point for the audience. There’s always been something that has bothered me about Ghost though. Sam’s major arc and conflicts are centralised on him being able to transcend the ghost dimension and effect the real world. This means he needs to learn how to kick a can so that he may fight for his girlfriend, such and so on. However, as he learns to kick the can, he’s stood on the floor. Moreover, as he falls walks through walls, trips through people and fails to pick shit up, he sits on chairs, runs around, gets on trains and so on. How does this happen? He should be falling through the floor, through the Earth until he’s out the other side and floating in space. You may be arguing that this is a really frivolous point to pick up on, one that probably applies to a whole swath of movies with ghosts in them, but, this boundary between the physical and metaphysical is an incredibly significant part of Ghost – as I mentioned, it’s inextricably linked to Sam’s character arc. This would leave you to assume that the screenwriter, director–anyone, would pick up on this. But, seemingly not.

The reason I pick up on this is to make a larger point on plot holes in general. The writer, Bruce Joel Rubin, could have just had Sam float like many ghosts do. Instead, he allowed gravitational and electromagnetic laws apply to him, laws that keep him on the ground and the ground a solid surface. However, Sam manages to have these forces turned back on and applied to him by getting angry, by channelling his emotions. This implies a metaphor, that Sam’s character arc is centralised on realising the weight of emotional bonds. This is linked to the beginning and his murder as it’s established beforehand that he can’t say that he loves Molly nor convince her of his true feelings. In such, his major point of growth is on having a greater control of his emotions, their projection as well as their reception. By him overcoming the ghost dimension he is thus proving to Molly that he loves her, genuinely wanted to be with her and other gooey things. In fact, what would make more sense is for the narrative to be entirely centred on Molly’s psyche. This would imply that Sam is a projection of her imagination and him overcoming his emotional problems is her overcoming coming to terms with his death by understanding that he always loved her – and other gooey things. However, this subtext, though it is there, isn’t so strong in this film. I believe it could have been strengthened with Rubin truly considering the laws of Sam as a ghost. This means delving into the physical laws of gravity and electromagnetism, maybe explaining how he’s transcending these laws in the weird way he is as a means of articulating his character arc. I won’t delve into the specifics of how this may be done as I’d end up writing you a whole film here, but suffice to say that by focusing on his ‘training’, Rubin would be able to more intricately explore Sam and Molly’s relationship rather than injecting extra characters and contrived plot points of murder and deceit.

I ultimately can see this producing a much more intimate film, one that capitalises on the best aspects of this movie – the relationship between Sam and Molly, yes this bit…

(P.S This scene is so effective because of the blatant sexual innuendo – in case you hadn’t noticed (yes, Unchained Melody is a great song too)). Coming back to conclusions, by paying greater attention to the rules of your film, the semantics, metaphors, physics, such and so on, you expose holes which you may creatively fill to possibly better the film. A great aspect to Ghost is then left open to you: how would you fix the ghost walking on the floor paradox?

 

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Dog Eat Dog – Digital Noir

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Boogie Nights – Vulnerability

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Dog Eat Dog – Digital Noir

Thoughts On: Dog Eat Dog

An eccentric trio of ex-cons try to turn their lives around with a high-stake kidnapping and ransom job.

Dog Eat Dog

Dog Eat Dog is not a great film. However, it’s a hard film to criticise as many of its poorer elements are bound to the story in a manner which is self-justifying. In such, the manic shifts in character, insane plot points, ridiculous sequences and overall nonsense come together to produce a perfectly constructed car crash. This makes the film, to a large extent, polarising. However, I don’t think this is an exceptional film, nor a particularly bad one. I can completely understand someone not caring for this movie’s eccentricities and so hating it. In the same respect, I can see someone loving this film for its mad-cap nature. I lean towards embracing the eccentricity, but certainly don’t find an astounding amount of worth in it. The reason I like this film, however, comes down to Paul Schrader’s direction and general design. He has a great control of form with this film and manipulates it to really project characters – Mad Dog especially. (Diesel on the other hand, whilst a key character, is a rather weak one). This control of form produces a few intriguing moments that imbue the film with the right tone, one of flippancy and disregard, which does pull you into the narrative. However, there is a greater, clearly intentional, depth to this design – and this is what I want to talk about today. To do this, we’ll be delving into spoilers, so, despite this film not being particularly new, you’ve been warned.

From the nihilistic ending to the broken anti-heroes to the violence to the sex to Troy’s constant references to Bogart and Hollywood golden age period movies, this is a film with roots and interest in the classic noirs…

      

We’ve touched on film noir quite a lot on the blog, and when its brought up, I usually don’t have much that’s positive to say. In short, I think the style of noirs are undeniably revolutionary and a quality that makes them deserving of their status. However, I’ve never liked the narrative approach of noirs. They’re mostly stiff, bland, plot-centric and ultimately dull to me. Nonetheless, film noir is an incredibly influential genre or class of cinema. We see this best with the reprisal of the form in neo-noir movies…

      

From the 60s with films like Le Samouraï, made by French auteurs inspired by directors of the previous decades, to today with movies such as The Nice Guys, the noir has remained relevant. This seems to be down to its timeless nature and capacity to be cool, dark, gritty and aphoristic. These elements attract largely disenfranchised demographics. As would be very apparent by doing a quick search on films made beyond the 80s, the majority of big blockbuster movies have changed their sights from the family and adults, to teens and the family. This means, from Star Wars through John Hughes, a large bulk of Spielberg and to The Marvel Cinematic Universe, many movies haven’t really considered more mature audiences. Neo-noir, as well as a few other genres, is an escape from this and has been for many decades. This seems to cite its popularity and the perceived significance of films that fall into this neo-noir category. However, beyond theme and a mature nature, the term neo-noir is a strange one.

This is simply because film noir (dark film) refers to the aesthetic of the pictures and how that motivates tone and character.

With the loss of black and white cinematography, the neo-noir is a struggling class of film as it simply lack the atmosphere of films such as The Third Man or Laura or Sunset Boulevard. This has convoluted the term neo-noir, allowing it to branch into the crime drama, the mob movie, anything that has a detective or is highly stylised in a dark fashion.

However, I think this is acceptable for two reasons. The first is that film noir isn’t a strict movement in cinema and so the films that ‘classify’ as such weren’t design to be called noir. As a result, there is an incredibly diverse swath of films that can be called film noir. It only makes sense that this be true for neo-noir also. Moreover, and coming to our second accepting reason, neo implies new, which in turn implies change. A great example of the change you may see in neo-noirs is certainly Blade Runner. This is a mesh of science fiction, philosophy, crime drama and noir, and it certainly benefits from this. And without transcending the term noir or neo-noir, Blade Runner is a great movie. This is then what truly defines neo-noir in the broadest sense.

However, despite my acceptance of neo-noir as a term and class of film, it still has flaws. This comes down to aesthetic influencing tone. This is a criticism that varies across films. If you look to Sin City and Blade Runner…

… it’d be very hard to argue that these films do not adhere to the noir aesthetic despite, with Blade Runner, colour cinematography. But, when you look to the likes of Pulp Fiction, Drive or Fargo, alleged neo-noirs…

… it becomes slightly harder to argue the case for these films being solid noirs. As I said before, I think it makes sense to embrace them as such, but I think the noir has nonetheless changed to a point where it need not associate itself so closely to the classics.

This is what brings us back to Dog Eat Dog. With this film Paul Schrader demonstrates an acute understanding that he is constructing a movie that isn’t film noir despite being inspired by pictures that fit the label. We see this in the design of the narrative and the overall aesthetic…

As touched on, this narrative is pretty insane, but it maintains a nihilism and pessimism – something that links it to the noir in the most obvious sense. It’s with aesthetic, however, that we see a film that is very nearly noir, but so immersed in self-styling that it is hard to call it as such. The urge here would be to slap the film with the label ‘neo-noir’ and be done with it, but I think we can push a step further and call this style of film Digital Noir.

This term simply distinguishes the kind of cinematographic approach you take with a digital camera vs celluloid or black and white film. Without getting too technical, film noir used low-key lighting…

This produced high contrast imagery where blacks where truly pitch and highlights would accentuate this, chiseling shadows to features and backgrounds. You don’t really see this high contrast and play with shadows when colour comes into the picture…

This is simply because a wider spectrum of light (one that isn’t just black or white, but containing a plethora of colours) cannot be polarised or starkly juxtaposed as easily. You can understand this by looking at the light spectrum:

There is a gradual shift in colour which blends well together here. The only way to produce great contrast with colours is to appeal to brightness, saturation and complementary couplings…

This approach to your colour pallet will, however, dictate or be dictated by the tone of a movie. A good example of this would be The Grand Budapest Hotel. This is a highly energetic and flippant film and its set design as well as general aesthetic fit this. If you applied this high contrast cinematography to the noir, it certainly wouldn’t fit its tone. This is why directors and cinematographers approach the design of colour noirs very carefully. To be traditionally noir, the play with light has to be high contrast, but the use of colour cannot brighten the picture and change its tone. Because there’s difficulty in this approach and the crucial element of a frame is story, you often see an aesthetic that is dark, sombre and serious rather than high contrast in neo-noirs…

What we are then seeing is colour force the neo-noir to be warmer, smoother and mono-chromatic. This is something managed well in films such as Le Samouraï and Blade Runner. But, when we come to the likes of Memento, apart from theme, its only really the cuts to black and white that say to the audience that these films are neo-noir.

However, with Dog Eat Dog we see a poignant statement of aesthetic that adheres to the classic noir style on the set, but laces over this great digital cinematography…

What is so distinguished about this film’s aesthetic is the way we see colour used as a projection of light. What I mean to suggest with this is that colour doesn’t paint the frame, like you may say it does here…

Much rather, colour imbues the frame with light and so illuminates the set. When you look to the shot of Blade Runner above and this shot in Le Samouraï again…

… you see colour dictating tone. It’s a blue or grey that is splashed over the frame giving it that sombre aesthetic to match the dark narrative. However, with Dog Eat Dog, particularly the end sequence…

… you see colour splice into shadow like it did in the classical noirs…

The fog really helps this sequence achieve this, but what Schrader has done here is really work the noir into digital cinematography in a highly stylised and notable manner. In such, with Dog Eat Dog, we are seeing the current aesthetic of many films…

… reworked in a fashion that suits the feel of a noir, rather than the plain aesthetic. This is an interesting aspects of Dog Eat Dog as it is so intrinsically linked to its narrative.

Dog Eat Dog really meanders and swerves with its narrative noirisms. This means it doesn’t just add extra genres to the classical noir like Blade Runner may, but tonally turns the formula on its elbow. We see this in the convolution of the gangster element given to noirs in their neo-incarnations with films such as Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects and Millers Crossing. Not only are the gangsters in this picture disorganised nit-wits, but they break the skin of anti-hero to delve into pure evil. The subtle implications that they may change throughout the narrative are also laughable – justifiably so with the ending. In such, we see an evolution of the gangster picture from the likes of Public Enemy and Scarface hurtle past The Godfather and Goodfellas and into absurdity in Dog Eat Dog. The ultra-violence and chemical anarchy in this film mixing with the clear references to noir then perfectly articulate how far this film is from Out Of The Past and Double Indemnity or even Le Samouraï, Blade Runner and Pulp Fiction.

All of this brings us back to the term digital noir. This is because the aesthetic derived from this tonal insanity lends to a modern digital style, one that is bright, vibrant and very Spring Breakers-esque…

This suggests that, in this day and age, to produce an atmosphere of luridity, sexuality, violence, threat and existential loss, filmmakers will quickly turn to a saturated neon and vividly luminescent aesthetic…

What we are then seeing is the films that have a noir-esque thematic tone to them embodying a digitally noir aesthetic also. The reflection on the term ‘digital noir’ really opens it up to the existential essence of the classic noir. Just as Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, The Sweet Smell Of Success, ect. where supposedly meant to reflect the conflicted zeitgeist of the post-war period, you may argue that the many films depicted, Drive, Irreversible, Pan’s Labyrith and maybe even Dog Eat Dog, do the same thing for our current times. They reflect the violence, horror and explicitness of the world as we know it today. Dog Eat Dog even makes subtle hints at this throughout the narrative with its pop-culture references. In such, digital noir seems to be, artistically, somewhat similar to the films of the 30s and 40s. And such is its power as a term. It implies a class of cinema that suits the current era, but is still linked to the classical noir in aesthetic, theme, mood and artistic premise.

But, there must be a huge however placed over this entire subject. This is all because we’re dealing with a huge swath of films in an on-going period of cinema. To start labelling films digital noirs now would be redundant. Moreover, there may be a plethora of other classifications you may place onto all of these films. I thus stress a frailty to this term digital noir. I think it has irrefutable weight in respect to Dog Eat Dog, but it may still be argued that its just a mad-cap neo-noir. In the end, I leave this idea of digital noir as a novel identification of a light trend in modern cinema. What are you thoughts on the subject?

 

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L’argent – The Social Butterfly Effect

Quick Thoughts: L’argent (Money, 1983)

Counterfeit money exchanges hands with devastating knock-on effects.

L'Argent

Bresson’s L’argent is a powerful social commentary with an implied cataclysmic scope. The crux of this film lies in a simple idea of a social butterfly effect; one person’s actions to another leading onto actions of equal turn elsewhere, creating a chain of intensifying actions and events between a vast self-perpetuating network of people. There are many films that utilise this concept, films such as American Beauty, Magnolia, Nashville, Pulp Fiction and Amores Perros–to name a few. However, with L’Argent, Bresson builds a narrative that is more than an entanglement of plots populated by a large cast to convey this concept. Symbolism is his pivotal means of implying a complex connection throughout society; money, a tangible means of tracking cause and effect amongst people. Through this symbol the essence of many characters are revealed. From the shop owners to the thieves to Norbert to Yvon to his many victims, it is money that serves as the catalysing element of their personage being uncovered. With many characters (the shop owners and the thieves), money reveals an inconsiderate nature, one that would see others suffer in place of themselves. With Norbert, we see a character who understands the power money has under the guise of a social butterfly effect – which is why he tries to reverse his wrongs. With Yvon, we see a man who is blindly riding the current of a powerful chain of events, a ride that reveals him to be no better, arguably much worse, than those who inadvertently victimised him. All of these characters are the foundations of Bresson’s commentary on responsibility. Through them he shows the calamity that may snowball when people do not take responsibility for their actions. This all builds towards an incredibly frightening perspective of society, one that unveils its absurdity, arbitrary nature and chaos. In such, the film poignantly demonstrates how the seemingly banal, a father not giving his son a little bit more money, can lead to death and the utter destruction of many lives. But, this revelation of truth is not the singular purpose of this narrative. If Bresson were to leave the film on such a statement the narrative would be pointlessly nihilistic as it’d demonstrate the nature of the world, but not contextualise it, not reveal the complete truth. In not doing this, Bresson provides solace and truth through one of his final characters: the old woman. She elevates the film into a tragedy and condemnation on those who fail to take responsibility in life in spite of a social butterfly effect. This is because she is a woman who takes the weight of her small world on her shoulders. She extends this humanity to Yvon, hoping to be the wall that stops his terrible descent, that controls the social butterfly effect. She is thus the tragic hero of this narrative. Her death is Bresson’s pivotal commentary. Through her, he shows that acts of responsibility, clarity and humanism are the pillars of society, the means by which we may disengage from and deal with its natural chaos.

Through and through, L’argent is a question to the viewer, a question of your focus and where you see the crux of this film’s commentary. Is it the initial act of the father and/or son and the snowball effect they cause that you are effected by most? Is Yvon who you sympathise with most and wish better for? Or, is it primarily through the old woman which you see a melancholic beauty, one masked with tragedy, in this narrative? Whilst my answer should be evident, what is yours? What’s more, and what is probably most pivotal, what does that say about you, society and people in general?

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Aladdin – Fantasy & Truth

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Aladdin – Fantasy & Truth

Thoughts On: Aladdin

A young thief and a jaded princess fall for one another, but their only hope of remaining together seems to lie in the hands of an all-powerful genie.

Aladdin

Adventurous, exciting and highly immersive, Aladdin is an undeniably strong Disney classic. A huge factor of this is of course its projection of imagination and fantasy, primarily through the Genie, meeting the simple, yet timeless narrative of romance put under the stress of class, power and stature. An intriguing element of Aladdin, however, is the manner in which Disney have interpreted this archetypal story. As many will know, Aladdin is a tale found in the book, One Thousand and One Nights (also known as the Arabian Nights). This is a compilation of folk tales from the Islamic Golden Age (8th to 13th century), told by Sultana Scheherazade to her insane and homicidal husband as a means of entertainment and to keep herself alive. Her husband, ruler of the Persian empire, once had an unfaithful wife. Not taking too kindly to this, he decided he’d take a new wife, who had to be a virgin, every single day and behead the one he took the day previous – all so that no woman could ever cheat on him again. Such explains his insanity and Sultana Scheherazade’s dire need to distract her husband. It’s the vast swath of stories she tells him have been interpreted countless times. Notable examples are its first translation to English during the early 1700s…

Its symphonic interpretation by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in the late 1800s…

Film adaptations in the 1920s and 40s…

  

And of course animated adaptations, which brings us to Disney…

  

With this set of stories being known worldwide, interpreted, recounted and told a plethora times, Disney faced something of a creative challenge in the early 90s. How where they to justify the telling of a story told a million times already? The answer…

… MC Hammer. Believe it or not, I’m not joking. The animators where, in part, inspired by the hip hop artist (who hit the pinnacle of his fame with You Can’t Touch This in 1990). They applied this…

… to this…

… which isn’t as insane as it sounds. We see MC Hammer in the design of Aladdin (check out the trousers) but also in the way he moves – a great example of this would be the opening depicted above. There’s great fluidity and style in this sequence down to most intricate detail, movement that isn’t exactly ‘Hammer Time’, but certainly energetic, smooth and boisterous in a similar respect. This reference to popular culture, however, is what distinguishes the 90s Disney adaptation of these stories centuries old from all that has come before. Whilst this may sound disastrous on paper, a classical tale turned hip, Disney have managed this in an intriguing and almost mind-blowing manner. This comes down to something best picked up on by David Foster Wallace…

Wallace was, of course, a key figure around the late 80s and 90s with the release of his highly acclaimed books, one who famously critiqued postmodernism, saying, ‘The problem is, I think, postmodernism has, to a large extent, run its course’. In such, he critiqued the art and entertainment world’s tendency to be self-referential, calloused and pessimistic without a point, without being genuine, sincere or trying to add anything to the world. A great video on this topic I highly recommend can be found here. This is such a relevant subject in connection with Aladdin as this is a film that balances postmodernity with with modernist, traditionally romantic and idealist, ideas. In such, Aladdin manages to not only be contemporary, manages to push bounds, do something absurd and exciting (something like draw inspiration from MC Hammer) but also makes a clear stride to genuinely put something of worth into the world through a sincere narrative message. And this is what I want to talk about today.

Aladdin is a film that essentially juggles the two concepts of fantasy and truth, both in its form and content. It then asks of its characters what they want in the world, but then, how will they attain and preserve that; it gives Aladdin his lamp, in turn a chance to meet Jasmine, but then tasks him to fall for her in a truthful and sustainable manner. Simultaneously, however, Aladdin is an absurd cartoon, one imbued with magic, sorcerers, genies and wishes – one that still conveys a touching and romantic tale though. The latter point on form is what I want to tackle first before delving into narrative as this has been a point of criticism for some.

The Genie referencing a plethora of American icons and modern tropes, to some, makes no sense. This is because it doesn’t adhere to the context of the film, that which is linked way back to the folk tales in One Thousand And One Nights. However, I completely disagree with this criticism for two key reasons. The first is one you may already infer; this is not an original story, instead, one that has been told many, many, many, times in a myriad of ways. For Disney to approach this story in a strictly context-based way would mature the film in an unneeded capacity, one that wouldn’t separate it much from all that has preceded it. Moreover, the design of this movie was heavily influenced by 15-18th century Iranian/Persian architecture – as can be seen in the backgrounds.

In such, we see a baseline appeal to context in the design of this movie that is painted over with style and character. The second reason why I support Disney’s outlandish interpretation of this narrative is linked to said style and character and is all about fantasy in animation. As I’ve touched on many times in The Disney Series alone, animation has the capacity to transcend cinema, to push it into new areas, with its ability to literally construct its own realities. Animation can, given the chance, do anything and we see this throughout Aladdin…

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

There are hundreds of moments you may pull out of Aladdin and call ridiculous. However, each and every one of these moments also falls into sequences and scenes which are undeniably ingenious and spectacularly animated. The reason why comes down to the animators’ ability to construct their own cinematic rules – something we zoomed in on with Sword In The Stone. What all of these moments then represent is the animators’ capacity to project their own world, to immerse you in the fantasy of storytelling. This is so crucial because it adheres to a philosophy of cinema that is comprehensibly surreal and impressionistic. This means that the form of this film finds creative ways to convey simple, sometimes complex, points in ways we immediately understand. With images like these…

… we are seeing non-sequiturs and abstract imagery projecting character and story. The magic carpet is a great example of this. Though the carpet is little more than an object, we grow to understand it as a friend to Aladdin and The Genie, a hero and a person unto itself. This is a common phenomena in animation. However, when we turn to The Genie we see this same principal at play, but in a manner that’s very clearly larger than life and running at a thousand miles per hour.

The Genie, through Robin Williams and his animators, captures the essence of what animation can do in respect to fantasy meeting character. The Genie pushes cartoonisms to absurd degrees whilst remaining a personality, a character, in a coherent story. This is why projections of out-of-context references fit perfectly into his this film. It’s not just about a rule of ‘anything goes’, but a rule of ‘anything going as long as the audience follows along and it supports story’. In such, all the absurdity in this film almost becomes its purpose and main draw. Further than this, it produces a form that is inextricably linked to content and subtext, our next subject.

By diving into the narrative of Aladdin, we’ll be able to see how concepts of fantasy and truth work against each other to produce a poignant tale. The crucial element this film sets up is an idea of ‘The Diamond In The Rough’. What this essentially describes is a person that is both worthy to fetch the lamp from The Cave Of Wonders…

… and do so without taking any forbidden treasure.

The subtext of this is a very simply question of a person’s patience and intellect. In short, do they have the foresight and self-control to see the worth in a lamp and understand that it is an awful lot more valuable that any surrounding treasures? After all, if you had the lamp, you could wish for 10 times the amount of treasure in the cave. If you do not have the patience and intellect to understand this, the implication made is that, with the lamp, you will do yourself and others more harm than good.

Aladdin being the diamond in the rough then means that he has the qualities to safely and deservedly be granted three wishes by The Genie. The reason why he is deserving is explained with his predicament…

Aladdin, with big dreams of owning a palace, only really wants to live a better life, to not have to steal food and scratch a living. He thus sees worth in himself, a mere street rat, where nobody else does. This surrounds him with a humility that ultimately grounds his character and rationalises his thoughts. What we are then seeing here is the lamp as a symbol of fantasy, of Aladdin’s hopes and dreams coming true. The rest of the narrative is then a test to see if he can retain the humility he demonstrates before being given the lamp. His core conflict in this respect is of course Jasmine…

But, before we continue with Aladdin’s character arc, we must explore Jasmine’s. The Princess’ core conflict is anti-parallel, but connected nonetheless, to Aladdin’s. Whilst Aladdin has freedom, he has to fight for a living, and whilst Jasmine lives a life of luxury, she is confined to her palace. This leaves them both trapped…

And that’s what brings them together. They both search for a life where they can be both free and comfortable, where they can live a good life externally and internally. This seems to be the dream of every person; to not just be successful or powerful, to not just be happy and free, but to be fulfilled, to have all of these elements (to a certain degree). This is the crux of what Aladdin and Jasmine’s relationship and joint character arc represents.

Moving back to Aladdin, however, we know there is conflict between himself and this ultimate fulfillment. He and Jasmine have this fantasy of true happiness, but no way to attain it. However, this is where the genie comes in.

As touched on, he is Aladdin’s chance to prove his worth as a person, to prove that he is deserving of having his fantasies realised. To prove this, all Aladdin has to do is be a truthful person. Whilst this seems like an over-simplification, it’s completely true. Aladdin’s struggle is to not change as a character. He was a near-perfect hero in the beginning of the narrative. Whilst he stole, he done so with purpose and would happily share his fought-for fortunes…

Moreover, he was genuine with all who he met, Jasmine included.

Aladdin only needs to sustain this humanity whilst his context changes and his material dreams come true…

In such, Aladdin only needs to keep his promise to The Genie of setting him free and be genuine with the princess. Whilst he struggles with this and their are hitches along the way, this is ultimately what Aladdin achieves.

The commentary of this narrative is then on an idea of true fulfillment. As the saying goes, life isn’t about just living, it’s about how you live. There are two levels to how we live, there’s setting and then there’s self, there’s where we live and how we live in that space. Throughout Aladdin there is a simple call for people to sustain and elevate both, to find success and to remain sincere, to capture fantasy whilst retaining truth.

The true crux of Aladdin, however, is how this narrative message is weaved into the design of the film. We see a powerful projection of fantasy throughout the movie, one that excites, draws the eye, makes everything fun. But, there is also character and a genuine nature given to this narrative that provides it emotional weight and true substance. Through form and context, Aladdin is then a truly spectacular film.

 

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