Earth Of People/Beginning/We/Seasons Of The Year/End – The Cine-Poem

Thoughts On: Earth Of People (1966), Beginning (1967), We (1968), Seasons Of The Year (1975), End (1992)

A look at a selection of films by Artavazd Peleshyan (also spelt Peleshian) that will be our Armenian representatives of the the world cinema series.

    

Artavazd Peleshyan is one of the most interesting, though lesser known, Soviet directors who produced films from 1964-93. He worked solely in the short film medium, producing films that ranged from around 10 minutes to 45 mins – all of which brought together documentary and experimental film forms and aesthetics. The way to then describe Peleshyan’s work would involve an implication of a poetic cinema – however, this is a detail we will return to.

A film that acts as a good introduction to Peleshyan’s style would be his second short, Earth Of People. In this film you can see the influence other Soviet directors, such as Eisenstein and Vertov, had on Peleshyan. We see Vertov in his work with his focus on machinery and movement, one that creates a city symphony of sorts – which Verov is, almost inarguably, the master of. Moreover, there is an Eisensteinian sensibility within Earth Of People that is best recognised by the approach to montage.

Unlike the vast majority of Peleshyan’s other works, Earth of People has an approach to montage with the strongest sense of collision. In such, the juxtaposition of imagery, the actual cut, is very distinct in this short. And this is something that Eisenstein focused on with a linear application of imagery that would produce a thesis, antithesis and then a synthesis that Peleshyan actively, and quite clearly, moved away from in his later work.

Earth Of People also acts an establishment of many of Peleshyan’s reoccurring themes, those being human achievement and perseverance as well as destruction – both in nature and of human constructs. What is missing from Earth Of People, however, is Peleshyan’s interest in history.

A short film that utilises a blend of archival footage, Beginning is Artavazd Peleshyan’s third film that explores the Russian October Revolution of 1917. During the latter half of the First World War, Russia was near collapse, and this saw the resignation of the Tsar representatives of the time and the rise of the Bolsheviks, a faction of the Marxist Social Democratic Labour Party that was founded and greatly influenced by Lenin. This rise was catalysed by a period of revolt by the common people calling for reform in huge numbers who were supported by the army which later snowballed into revolution.

In exploring this period of Russia, Peleshyan demonstrates both his interest in history, but also the power of people – which is often represented in his works through the crowd and the individual. What formally distinguishes this short from many of his other works, however, is the unique edit which emphasised a manipulation of time and space with freeze frames and flipped imagery – all of which were supported by Peleshyan’s idiosyncratic sound design (which only features music and sound effects – very rarely dialogue).

But, my personal favourite film of Peleshyan’s is his 1969 short, We. This sees the many elements of his earlier films come together as one of the best examples of his approach to montage. In such, We is a depiction of Armenian history that beautifully depicts an atmosphere or shade of a culture through images of both people, land and the meeting of the two.

What Peleshyan’s We does best is break down the linear montage seen in his earliest films as well as capture a formal mise en scene that is very clearly Peleshyan’s own. In such, Peleshyan not only distinguishes his work from the structuring of Eisenstein’s films, but also the aesthetic of Vertov’s. The end result of this is a powerful experiment in cinema’s ability to project a sense or tone, to capture the feeling a director means to convey.

What all of Peleshyan’s work ultimately builds towards is one of the most poetic forms of montage. That is to say that the juxtaposition of imagery hasn’t got so much to do with meaning or a synthesis of a thesis and antithesis. Instead, Peleshyan’s films are almost a canvas that is stretched through time, and one of the best examples of this would be one of his most renowned films, Seasons Of The Year. Like We, Seasons Of The Year brings together all of the formal elements of Peleshyan’s style with some of his most striking imagery and scenarios, but does so in the most abstract manner. This approach emphasises the idea that his work is a canvas; that his narratives aren’t really constructed shot-by-shot, instead they are displayed shot-by-shot, but only truly work when seen in total.

This is the unique genius of Peleshyan’s work as it manipulates the temporal element of cinema into obscurity. In such, when we consider the vast majority of other narrative films, we understand/remember them thanks to their plot and the manner in which the shots and scenes are related to one another through time. With Peleshyan’s poetic films, the order and time element of the narrative isn’t so important as it is only through absorbing all of the images given that the substance of any which of them is revealed.

And so, what we see through the films of Artavazd Peleshyan is one of the most eloquent demonstrations of the cine-poem. Like an essay, Peleshyan’s films build toward a point. However, unlike an essay, there is very little fractional meaning within. That is to say that an essay is made up of many small points that build into a larger one – and this is what Peleshyan’s films lack. The cine-poem, as represented by the films of Peleshyan, are then holistic applications of imagery that instil an emotional and sensory concept of meaning in a viewer.

An expressive example of a holistic approach to montage, one that is focused on tone and atmosphere instead of small points building towards a larger meaning, would be one of the latest films of Peleshyan’s, End. In observing passengers on a train who eventually fall asleep as it seemingly moves through a tunnel, Peleshyan plays with a cliched idea of a journey through life that ends in death. However, as cliched as this metaphor is, it doesn’t appear as such within End – and such cites the strange power of Peleshyan’s work. There is a sensory meaning that overrides everything about his narratives, and so, to put them in words is a disservice to them.

Whilst this is something you could say about many films, that words could not capture what the film does, there are few other filmmakers who use such a phenomena like Peleshyan does. And so, it’s by looking at his body of work that you are given one of the most poignant definitions of the cine-poem; these are films that defy other mediums of communication and are entirely sensory.

To end, as always, I turn to you. Have you seen any of Peleshyan’s films? What are your thoughts on them and poetic films in general?

 

 

 

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Daisies – Rebellion

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Daisies – Rebellion

Quick Thoughts: Daisies (1966)

A pair of Czech women decide to, like the world around them, be bad.

Daisies

Daisies is a 1966 film made by Věra Chytilová that is considered one of the most significant features of the Czech New Wave. The subject matter of this film is primarily social standards as it subtextually critiques the communist authoritarianism that oppressed the Czech people around this era. In following two young women, Marie and Marie, who seek to find meaning in life by rebelling against norms, Daisies then speaks up against strict social standards, violence and hierarchy – particularly from a feminist view point – and has a form to support this. In such, Daisies breaks all logical forms of narrative storytelling with fractured spaces that seem to be without time, a meandering plot and experimental cacophonous editing that serves as a form of intellectual montage.

The aspect of this narrative that was most prominent to me was the depiction of rebellion as an act of liberating joy. We see this throughout the narrative with the two Maries living at a whim, completely oblivious to social conducts as they use men as a form of entertainment and a source of food – which they are always consuming. This insatiable hunger, both literally and metaphorically, seems to imply a starved life in both of these figures, one that fuels their almost anarchistic tirade through life.

With this as the crux of the narrative, Daisies is an articulate exploration of what drives rebellion in an everyday, psychological sense. And for this, I can appreciate this film as one within the Czech New Wave. But, that said, this film, its narrative and characters, didn’t resonate with me very well. Whilst the near-nihilism is understandable and well-established, it had an overriding tone of obnoxiousness and a lack of genuity that I simply didn’t enjoy.

So, to conclude, Daisies is a strong film within its own rights, but unfortunately one I didn’t care much for. However, I’ll leave things with you. Have you seen this film? What are your thoughts?

 

 

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The Last Laugh – Social Facade

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The Last Laugh – Social Facade

Thoughts On: The Last laugh (1924)

The story of a elderly doorman being demoted.

The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh is a simple masterpiece by one of the greatest silent film directors, F.W. Murnau. It follows the doorman of a prestigious hotel who is growing elderly and so is demoted by upper management to a washroom attendant. The Last Laugh is then a film focused on social facade as it explores the paradigm of respect. We see this through the pride that our protagonist has in his high ranking job, one symbolised by a lavish work coat. And this seems to permeate through to the area he lives in and the people he meets. In such, he is a well respected man, but, all of this is entirely forgotten after he loses his position as a doorman.

In an incredible impressionistic sequence, the doorman slinks home after being demoted and stealing his coat back, gets drunk at a party and attempts to use his stolen coat to conceal his demotion from all of those around him. However, with his wife coming to his workplace at midday, he is quickly found out – and the secret doesn’t stay with his wife. The truth is overheard as the wife comes back home and spreads throughout the housing block. Returning home, the doorman is then met by a wall of ridicule and is soon rejected by his family.

It’s here where we see the tables turned on the doorman that we have the commentary on social facade articulated. The doorman, now seen to have been lying all along, never had the true respect of those around him. Instead of appreciating him as a person, they enjoyed the spectacle of his success. In such, his neighbours, friends and even his family, were drawn to an intangible channel of social exchange. They saw his success as the entity they interacted with instead of the man that greeted them every morning and helped look out for them and their children. The crux of this commentary lies in the self-reflective title card that proceeds the doorman returning to the washroom as to escape his neighbourhood and sleep. The card reads:

Here the story should really end, for, in real life, the forlorn old man would have little to look forward to but death. The author took pity on him and has provided a quite improbable epilogue.

By explaining the huge tonal jump into the positive conclusion – which we will discuss further momentarily – the paradigm of social exchange and expectation depicted is said to be the reality of the world. In such, it is said that people are often far too easily drawn to the power or social status a person represents as opposed to their actions or genuine self. This then means that the doorman’s neighbours never appreciated his gestures, the daily greetings and pleasantries, instead, the fact that they could associate themselves with a symbol of prestigiousness. By choosing to see him as a liar, an old man that was probably never the doorman to a famous hotel, they choose to entirely disregard his actions, labelling them as meaningless. Moreover, by ridiculing the doorman and never giving him a chance to explain himself, the neighbours seem to find a way of disrespecting him that they hold onto tighter than they did the initial respect.

These themes of respect and social exchange are also explored in Murnau’s Sunrise. Through this later narrative, Murnau expands on the idea of a social paradigm that is quickly polarised into an ‘Us vs. Them’ dichotomy. In such, he affirms the preciousness of deep-rooted relationships that are based on more than a respect of power and social status; relationships based a person’s actions over a long period – an idea encapsulated by the concept of memories within a relationship.

Whilst we see the conflicts of such an idea presented later on in a relationship within Sunrise, during the epilogue of The Last Laugh Murnau, explores the young roots of such a paradigm. This is done by depicting the doorman’s lasting generosity as he visits the hotel he used to work at as a serendipitous millionaire. The core of this sequence lies in the manner that the doorman sees right through the uniforms people wear and straight to their actions. In short, he sees himself and the physical struggle in others and chooses to define and interact with them accordingly.

What adds poignancy to this epilogue is the fact that it is acknowledged to be fanciful. The decision to include this untruthful ending probably had a lot to do with the terrible economic state that Germany was in during the mid 20s. In such, the happy ending acted as a form of wish fulfilment for those attending the cinema as a means of escapism. Nonetheless, this epilogue remains powerful outside of this context thanks to the acknowledgement of its contrivance. Through the self-reflexive card, the reality of a world where the doorman would probably have never risen above the melancholic climax becomes ever more impactful. And by depicting his sustained genuity as a rich man, we are left with a poignant affirmation of the importance of walking in another’s shoes and seeing past their uniform.

 

 

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Every Year In Film #7 – Human Figure In Motion

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Every Year In Film #7 – Human Figure In Motion

Thoughts On: Human Figure In Motion (1884)

Studies of the human frame as it advances through various movements.

In the previous post, we concluded a brief look at Eadweard Muybridge’s life as one of the first ‘filmmakers’. There are, however, many questions and details we left out of his career – a few of which we’ll pick up on today by looking at some of his most famous works from The Human Figure In Motion.

      

As mentioned previously, Human Figure In Motion is a huge collection of Muybridge’s original works containing over 4700 pictures. These would all be displayed in the famous grid pattern that was first seen with Muybridge’s initial experiments…

… and were all shot during his time at the University of Pennsylvania as scientific works examining the, as the title suggest, human figure in motion. This is why you see the grid backgrounds in all of these pictures – they are ways of measuring the movement. However, this is an idea we will return to. One of the first things we must confront when looking at the works within this book is that they are not cinema as we know it. Cinema, as it has evolved, holds a singular perspective captured by one camera. Muybridge, as with his first experiment, is still using multiple cameras that take high speed photographs tripped via an electronic system. However, if we put aside that technical distinction, there is a very interesting link between Muybridge’s work in the mid 1880s and a film that came out over 100 years later…

The Matrix is of course famous for its use of bullet time – as depicted. But. how original was this ‘innovation’?

  

As you can see by looking closely at the second image, there is a dolly effect achieved thanks to the fact that Muybridge is using multiple cameras set up next to one another. This is clearly not very different from Neo’s bullet dodge – practically or aesthetically. You’ll see exactly why by looking behind the scenes of this very sequence:

Like The Wachowskis, Muybridge would have set up multiple cameras around his figures, capturing a form of bullet time without the massive production values and digital after effects.

However, there is a much deeper connection between The Matrix and Muybridge’s work that pertains to the conflict between science and entertainment. When watching The Matrix, it wouldn’t come to mind that the Wachowskis are studying movement and the human body. And the same can be said for some of Muybridge’s work. So, like The Matrix, many scenes within Human Figure In Motion can be deemed entertainment – artistic or otherwise.

Particular examples that have been critiqued as to pull into question Muybridge’s standing as a scientist are images like those depicting, for instance, women smoking. There is very little that can be gained from measuring the movement of someone as they smoke. After all, what data is being collected? The movement of an elbow? The motion of lips? The grip of fingers?

This is a pretty significant detail to realise when looking at Muybridge’s work. He never captures close ups of limbs and joints as you might if you were actually quantitatively studying motion and the human figure. Instead, Muybridge shot everything in a wide shot almost as an artistic study of human form. After all, there is a strong sense of eroticism in images such as women leisurely smoking, strutting wearing only thin a piece of fabric on her shoulders, or even kissing…

And of course, almost everyone had to be partially or entirely nude – for some reason. So, whilst I wouldn’t critique Muybridge for studying the human figure in such a way, it is quite clear that this isn’t very scientific and probably shouldn’t be framed as such – despite the grid backgrounds. That said, this work wasn’t entirely pornographic either as Muybridge would capture a vast array of figures, from little children, to teens, to grown women and men. He even shot himself quite frequently…

Nonetheless, and however perverted or unscientific you chose to label this work, the fact that Muybridge was doing something incredibly significant is undeniable. What is so special about Muybridge was the fact that he furthered humanity’s ability to control time. After all, he not only pioneered high speed photography, giving artists and scientists alike the ability to take pictures with short exposures, but he allowed people to photograph ‘verbs, not nouns’ – as to quote Rebecca Solnit in the BBC documentary ‘The Weird World of Eadweard Muybridge’.

There is a deep profundity found in the notion that humans can freeze and control time – and all for the sake of serving their own curiosity and/or pleasure impulses. In fact, this almost re-frames Muybridge’s work as some science-fictional endeavour to steal the powers of nature, to suspend its laws, as to voyeuristically perceive the world how he wishes. The mark that Muybridge’s work then seemingly leaves on the history of cinema is a philosophy of discovery and power. In such, from the instant that pictures really began to move, there began a tradition of self-reflection that, in certain sense, deviously defies nature. We see this too when we look at the first ‘film’ we covered in the Every Year series, The Passage Of Venus.

This film used cinema for science and, in turn, an exploration of curiosity. Muybridge adds further complexity to this idea of cinema’s purpose. He not only used it to become rich and famous, to arguably engage in scientific study, but also to indulge other inner motives. Whether you call these inner motives fantasies or ego-centrism, this is what cinema has remained to be. It serves those who assume the title ‘artist’, ‘director’, ‘writer’ or ‘actor’ as to tell stories about themselves for their own personal gain and the benefit of those interested in their self-reflection/self-projection.

Ultimately, all that can be re-iterated about Muybridge’s work is its title, Human Figure In Motion, knowing that this doesn’t just have to refer to the models captured, but also those who conduct and direct that motion. In such, Muybridge is arguably always the human figure that is the focus of his motion capture, leaving his works the earliest version of the auteur theory.

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Zoo – Humanity?

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Zoo – Humanity?

Thoughts On: Zoo (2007)

An examination and exploration of ‘people who love animals’.

Zoo

After recently watching Elegy, a cinematic poem about horses and people (which will be featured in the next End Of The Week Shorts), I decided to go down the rabbit hole of films like this and ended up at Zoo. This film is essentially about zoophilia and bestiality; the difference between the two being that zoophilia is just a sexual attraction whilst bestiality is the act. The focus of Zoo is then the infamous case of “Mr. Hands”, who, in 2005, sustained fatal injuries from having anal sex with a horse which he later died from.

Before jumping into the hugely controversial and challenging material of the film, we’ll quickly discuss form. This is mainly a poetic-expository documentary with a lot of dramatic reenactments. In such, whilst there is a lot of V.O explaining the events and happenings around the subject matter, the reenactments provide imagery below this that is often quite abstract – which plays into the edit that means to build a complex, associative and questioning narrative. All of these elements were surprisingly effective in constructing a debate for the majority of this run time, juxtaposing the opinions of media outlets, law officials and, centrally so, many of those involved in the case. As we will go onto discuss, this isn’t an unbiased film, however. Moving towards the conclusion, it becomes very clear that this documentary means to have you see this case in a somewhat sympathetic and positive light. Staying with form for a moment more, the manner in which this was built toward works pretty well thanks to the strong edit, leaving the documentary as an undeniably effective one with a rather intriguing premise to draw you in and a narrative to keep you there.

Ok, to start delving into the content of this documentary, we’ll come back to the bias. As said, Zoo builds towards a question to the audience that is framed somewhat in favour of zoophilia. Another interpretation of this end would be that it simply means to shine a sympathetic and understanding light on the case of Mr. Hands – which, according to some in the documentary, was unjustly sensationalised by the media at the time. My opinion on this is that I don’t mind a documentary having a bias as long as it doesn’t lie or leave out important facts. In regard to Zoo trying to push this understanding perspective of zoophilia and bestiality, I wouldn’t say that it’s entirely unethical – especially considering the fact that the Mr. Hands video was leaked onto the internet, becoming a gross-out horror challenged video that, unfortunately, yes, I’ve seen. In contrast to the video of Mr. Hands’ fatal injury, Zoo is certainly a more just portrayal of the case which allows the people involved to give their side of things and begin to explain elements of who they are and why they do what they do.

And with this film as a voice for the zoophiles involved, it becomes ever more challenging and intriguing. They all, of course, don’t see what they do to be bad. This was bolstered by the laws of Washington which saw bestiality as legal from 1976 up until 2006, a year after Mr. Hands had died and those involved weren’t incarcerated. The defence given by these zoophiles in the documentary is that they (paraphrasing) loved the animals and are engaging in something that comes naturally. It is, however, very clear that they all knew that what they were doing was far from morally acceptable. With them nonetheless forming groups over the internet as to gather in little societies, it makes sense that they knowingly engage in this taboo. Again paraphrasing, they say that they can be themselves, free from the hierarchy, class and social standards when together and when engaging in sexual intercourse with animals. Moreover, they describe the act of bestiality to be an extension of the connection they have with their animals, one that provides them comfort and solace that people don’t seem to be able to give them. In such, the act of sexual intercourse becomes this moment of connection where there seems to be a plane of communication accessed by both animal and human.

It’s this detail that was the most articulate detail of the documentary as it demonstrated the social disconnect that resides within these zoophiles. Whilst some may have children and have had partners in the past, there is a very stark need within these people to distance themselves from humanity. And this seems to be a paradigm that is expressed in many aspects of society. This paradigm can be defined to be a question of human evolution – and there seems to be two major paths here. The first path that society seems to want to take is one towards technological integration and evolution – the end result being a world full of A.I and computer programs injected somehow into our own species. The second path that society questions taking seems to be one towards simpler times where we lived in dependent communities and close to nature. What we can see to be the end goal of both of these paths is the simplification of living. Moreover, both of these paths also seem to take us further away from an idea of humanity that could be best represented when you look out of the window. Thus, with computer technology being integrated into our species, we become something else. The question is: is this something else electric sheep or Gods? And with humans living closer to nature it seems we’d become more like a more primordial version of ourselves. The question here is: enlightened humans or a herd of peaceful sheep?

What can thus be deduced from progressive ideas that claim to make human existence more peaceful, enjoyable and simple is that there is a clear element of dehumanisation that, in certain senses, brings us closer to animals and the way they inhabit the Earth. The link this shares with the subject matter of Zoo is that these zoophiles are very clearly also trying to transcend a present idea of humanity for the sake of their own enjoyment and comfort; the ultimate goal to be closer to animals. What this says about humans in general is not that we all are zoophiles, rather, that we all have an urge to escape the reality of being a person. And you can see infinite examples of this throughout society with people believing in Gods, religions, spiritual beings and innumerable abstract and escapist concepts. It is then not very surprising that religion finds its way into this narrative not only as a way of contesting the idea of zoophilia, but also, as asserted by faithful zoophiles, affirming it. In fact, you also have politics functioning in a very similar way throughout this narrative, and in such, we are seeing belief systems that put us on the route towards the future coming into conflict.

The almost absurd conclusion that we can then take away from this narrative is that bestiality is direct path towards understanding both belief and the future of humanity. This is because we live in a state where archetypes of thinking that consider the future (religion, science, politics) are all concerned with post-human concepts. In such, with elements of religion there is a tension between reality and a spiritual realm where you may walk with God, free from the confines of humanity and the Earth. With certain branches science, there seems to be a conflict based on human evolution, technology and how humans will move on from their current state. And with certain elements of politics, there is an explicit focus on both individual orientations and freedoms (in terms of identity politics), but also societal orientations; how we should function in respect to one another, the environment, technology, such and so on.

Through all of these veins, you can see running, as mentioned, a will to transcend humanity and connect with something, in varying degrees, entirely different from ourselves. And what the zoophiles make somewhat clear through this documentary is that this will comes from a yearning in all people for a simpler and more enjoyable life. So, whilst we may not all be zoophiles, maybe we’d consider ourselves proponents of a communistic free love, a universally tolerable society, or, God-fearing believers; lovers of a deity, or even just a guy willing to screw a robot sex doll if the chance comes one day.

What I am then trying to tease out of this documentary is a paradigm that seems to be prevalent in most people; a fixation on fantasy and escapism through belief systems. Though we may use moral judgement and laws to disagree with one another, there seems to remain this conflict between routes away from humanity. So, what we can suppose to be a question that needs to be asked after we make our moral judgements on bestiality is: what do you believe and how does that seem to progress a post-human ideal? And from this point it seems that we reveal the crux of all of this debate: what is ‘human’ and how should that be monitored/controlled – if at all? Should our thresholds cut off at murder as we say that it is inhuman to kill another person? Should our thresholds cut off at having sex with animals? How about murdering animals?

Zoo seems to inadvertently engage these questions by citing the argument, through officials, that bestiality should be illegal because animals cannot consent to sex. However, does an animal not consent when they mount a person, or, are we manipulating their unconscious reflexes? If they aren’t conscious enough to make such a decision, how can we then consider that this is abuse? It would take a human cognitive functioning to interpret sex as abuse in this respect (especially considering that the animals are not putting up a fight). So, by treating the animal in such a way, you are extending to it human traits. Is this right if you have just said that it is not human enough to have sex with a person? Moreover, animals probably don’t want to die, we still kill them. Antithetical to this is the notion that animals do want to procreate – or at least have the sensation of it. People like Mr. Hands provide this. Is this wrong?

What this confounding debate thus seems to expose is the strange grounds you can find yourself on when questioning the humanity of people and animals. And what’s even more interesting about this documentary is that it doesn’t engage the idea that bestiality doesn’t make scientific sense and that it is pretty unhygienic. This seems like sound arguments against bestiality – well, until you consider the idea that scat fetishes aren’t illegal. Nonetheless, there is a prominent trend throughout the documentary to directly engage a question of humanity beyond conceptualisation in a world where you can often only engage in conceptual and moral debate.

So, the question I then want to leave you with is: what is humanity in your eyes, where are its boundaries, and how can you justify this?

 

 

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End Of The Week Shorts #6.2

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End Of The Week Shorts #6.2

Today’s shorts: The Red Balloon (1956), Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974), Spacy (1981), Landscape Suicide (1987), Bio-Dome (1996), Get Out (2017), At Sea (2007)

The Red Balloon is one of the most beautiful films about childhood ever made. It follows a young boy who finds a magical balloon that, I suppose, befriends and then chooses to follow him everywhere.

The poignancy of this short is embedded in the image of the balloon – which for some reason holds something quite special within it. As a symbol of childhood a balloon seems to signify intermittent joy and levity that everyone knows will soon burst or float away. And in such, it seems a good measure for getting to know a young boy. Most will fight over a balloon, try to pop, batter or destroy it. But, a few will look after and cherish it. And it’s this paradigm that this narrative explores, one that holds so much power because of its emotionally raw and simple depiction of human bonds that we could easily see mapped out onto many different contexts.

Ali: Fear Eats The Soul is a film by the prolific New German Cinema auteur, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. It follows a 60-year-old German and a 20-year-old Moroccan in a relationship, exploring themes of racism, discrimination, alienation and hostility. Though this isn’t a unique subject to tackle, Fassbinder does well in his assessment of the idea that close relationships are born and thrive on understanding.

However, beyond this there’s not much more of merit about this film. Both the acting and the script have a horrific rhythm to them, and we are constantly held at a distance, both directorially and through the script, from each and every character. I could see the argument that this distance allows a more realist commentary to be formulated, but, this simply disengaged me. What’s more, there is no tremendous profundity to be found in this narrative. With a better incite into the characters provided, this narrative would have been far more immersive, giving the final message much more impact.

All in all, this is an ok film, but not much more.

An exploration of ‘mise en abyme’, Spacy is an experimental film by Takashi Itoh that has us move through space (a gym), perpetually, moving through pictures within picture within pictures. As opposed to mise en scène (placing on the stage), mise en abyme (placed into the abyss) sees the formal blocking of a cinematic space reduced from a three dimensional ‘sculpture in time’ into a pseudo-four dimensional sculpture through time.

With the subtext of self-exploration at the core of this ‘narrative’, realising the formal links to a sculpture through time, Itoh then commentates on cinema’s capacity to transcend a human understanding of time and space and relay that back to an audience. This becomes a much more accessible idea when you realise that this experiment exposes the formal subtext of many films that move through space in a inhuman manner – of which you can find a plethora of examples.

The final focus in Spacy then seems to be on a camera’s perspective and how this relates to an audience being fed its perception. Interesting food for thought in my view.

The only thing of note about this film are the script and the performances. As a re-enactment of court transcripts from two cases of murder, both the director and actors come together to produce what I would unquestionably assume to be real confessions and testimonies if I didn’t know otherwise.

However, inserted in between these re-enactments are lengthy looks at landscapes and other mundane details about small towns. As the title suggests, this could have been inserted as to question the kind of environment that produced the murderers we are, in a certain way, presented. However, the length at which we’re made to consider this is pretty absurd, and eventually I completely lost interest in the experimental imagery and started to fast-forward. Maybe I should have given this more of a chance, but there really wasn’t much substance to be found in this narrative at all.

If anyone thinks we that live in chaotic times and that nothing makes sense nowadays… maybe watch 1996’s Bio-Dome knowing that this movie almost definitely wouldn’t be made today.

Bio-Dome is a terrible movie that’d take thousands upon thousands of words to review and properly get across this point. But… I love this movie. I grew up with this nonsense alongside movies like Bill And Ted as well as California Man. There’s no excuses and there is no shame; I almost cry with laughter as practically each and every unfunny joke hits its mark stupendously well. And I’m not even laughing at this movie, rather, with it. Why…

I’m going to have to do a bit of soul searching before committing to an answer. Nonetheless, it is what it is: a personal favourite.

Get Out is a strong movie with quite a few faults. Whilst the acting throughout is pretty good, the characterisation in the script is so-so and the direction leaves much to be desired. In such, there is no sense of atmosphere, nor cinematic language that communicates the horrors of the given scenario. Moreover, all of the best imagery found through direction is tantamount to a trope or cliche, leaving the film without a strong sense of style or articulation. So, in respect to the narrative, Get Out was quite a let down.

However, the subtext of this movie was somewhat redeeming; a commentary not just on racism and discrimination as many have framed this film to be, instead, an exploration of an encroaching and unneeded focus on said themes that seems especially prevalent in the modern day.

So, all in all, Get Out was an ok watch, but ultimately a mediocre film I don’t see myself seeking out and viewing again.

At Sea. The most entertaining aspect of this film was constructing my own soundtrack – one that certainly didn’t match the narrative. Beyond this, I’m getting tired of experimental filmmakers asking me to sit back and muse over their static, stretched-out imagery. Whilst, yes, this film has many bold and powerful shots and a somewhat interesting topic (a ship sailing off before being beached), forcing us to view this all in silence is very pretentious. In fact, it just comes off as lazy – and to the point that I wasn’t really bothered to engage with the narrative.

As a cinematic symphony, At Sea sits in the same realm as films like Man With A Movie Camera and Koyaanisqatsi. However, unlike both of these films, At Sea has no sense of rhythm or pace, nor does it assume a particularly interesting perspective. In such, we are made to see mundane shots of sea, sky, beaches, docks and men working – all of which begin to lose their power as we are exposed to the same old observer’s perspective. I would have loved to have had a proper sound track, more interesting shot types and to see Hutton give character to this scenario – either by better depicting the people within, or more intricately documenting the ship itself (its processes and little details) instead of putting us on or around it to observe everything from a distance. This ultimately would have better represented the ideas that may lie beneath narrative.

All in all, not really worth the trouble. But, I do have to say that I don’t regret watching this film. So, take from that what you will.

 

 

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End Of The Week Shorts #6.1

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End Of The Week Shorts #6.1

Today’s Shorts: Doctor Dolittle (1998), World Of Tomorrow (2015), The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (1964), Blow Out (1981), Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (1975), Vernon, Florida (1981), L’Âge D’Or (1930), The Only Son (1936)

I remember watching this movie as a kid and being amused by it. Having re-watched it after many years… yeesh. With one or two funny moments and a few touches of Murphy’s charisma (however watered down) this film isn’t unbearable, but, undeniably poor nonetheless.

We all know this kind of movie, it’s the one with a star or two, a high concept and a bunch of family-friendly elements – here we have an array of talking animals (a subject that I don’t even have a single care to delve into). Moreover, this is a remake. So, written all over this is ‘plain money grab’. And this rings through the performances, the direction, the writing – everything. Clearly no one making this film cared that much, or had the talent to hide that fact.

Ultimately, there’s not much you can say about this kind of film. I simply wish I hadn’t re-visited it.

With some nice voice performances and some brilliant visuals, World Of Tomorrow is an endearing short. The sci-fi concepts layered onto this imbue the charming tone with immense ingenuity, and the philosophical notions, another layer of complexity. As a whole, World Of Tomorrow is then intricately profound in a subtle way as it explores concepts of time in relation to humanity and its associated tools.

But, I’m ultimately left with little to say about this short that isn’t spoiler ridden – and delving into spoilers doesn’t seem necessary with such an expressive short – so do yourself a favour and check out Hertzfeldt’s World Of Tomorrow.

A classical bittersweet romance about time, patience, young love, loss and compromise, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a fine picture. But, whilst I appreciate the film, I didn’t enjoy the story much as there is far too much of a focus on the character of Geneviève as played by Catherine Deneuve – who, to put it lightly, isn’t a very compelling figure. In fact, with her as a central figure, this narrative spirals into depressive (somewhat realistic) dead-ends that, despite giving much weight and poignancy to the overall narrative message, simply aren’t very compelling.

And on the note of this being a musical, all I have to say is that this the kind that has singing throughout – as in, every word of dialogue is sung – which will of course deter many people. Whilst I didn’t particularly enjoy this as it didn’t give the narrative a particularly musical quality, instead a pseudo-rhythmic tone, it grows on you and eventually distinguishes itself as a style unto itself.

In the end, whilst this is a little bit of a hard story to swallow with a few formal downfalls, it certainly has a lot my respect.

Before anything… the end… wow. Immensely powerful. If you need a reason to watch this movie, there it is.

If you still need persuasion, look no further than De Palma’s masterful direction. A New Hollywood giant that is somewhat overshadowed by the likes of Scorsese and Coppola, De Palma directs the fuck out of this movie – and there’s no other ways you can say that. The camera work and mise en scène are tremendously conceived and managed, bringing out the absolute best in this already stellar script with beautiful cinematic language. The only elements of this film that you may critique are, somewhat ironically, bits of the sound design; the sound track is a little jarring. Added to this, whilst Travolta is superb, Nancy Allen… ehhh… not so much.

Nonetheless, Blow Out is phenomenal film seemingly constructed by cinematic masterminds.

I’ve seen this film twice now, and still aren’t very impressed. Whilst it certainly ranks way up there as one of the most graphic and disturbing movies you’ll ever see, it’s not that clever in my opinion. Moreover, whilst Pasolini’s mise en scène is often pretty strong, there is a tremendous sense of restriction an inarticulation about the camera work. With technical flaws such as a lack of focus and with pretty bland aesthetics, Salò is then imbued with a simple sense of distaste and frustration – as opposed to a concise and fluent critique of fascism and other political tangents. This reduces the brutal depictions of rape and torture of all kinds to witless exploitation that’s simply not very engaging.

I suppose the only redeeming element of this film is that fact that it does commit to going pretty far with its morbid themes and does contain the bemused and petty terrifying gaze of Aldo Valletti as The President. Beyond this, I doubt I’ll be giving Salò another chance any time soon.

Uhhhh… ???

There’s not much you can say about this documentary. It is nothing more than random scenes with random figures from Vernon, Florida. But, I have to say it was almost transportive; you are entirely sucked into this small town and just talked at by truly eccentric characters – one completely obsessed with turkey hunting, another transfixed by a creek, a priest that can’t stop rambling about the word ‘therefore’ in the bible, an old guy with a turtle and a possum… it goes on. If you were then to define this documentary as anything, it is a lasting voice to anonymity.

And if this sounds even slightly interesting to you, certainly check this out as it is quite an experience to say the least.

I tried and failed to keep up with this one.

Though it is visually inspiring and narratively immersive, I can’t and won’t say anything more than I need to watch L’Age D’Or a few more times.

A flawless film by one of the greatest directors of all time, The Only Son is Ozu’s first talkie and a poignant exploration of familial bonds (as with all of Ozu’s films) under the guise of success.

With a uniquely constructed mise en scène, The Only Son encapsulates Ozu’s minimalist style perfectly, drawing you into the narrative where you’re kept by the masterful edit. And so, with brilliant pacing, there is no sense of a run-time as you watch this film; you’re simply enthralled by the realist and minute character conflicts captured by this impeccable script. This all comes together to produce a touching depiction of incredibly moving and subtle themes concerned with becoming a good person, honouring those who sacrifice so much for you, and simply giving something back in life.

Words can’t then do this narrative much justice, so make sure you watch The Only Son if you haven’t yet seen it.

 

 

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End Of The Week Shorts #6.2

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