A River Called Titas – Hyperlink Cinema

Thoughts On: A River Called Titas (Titash Ekti Nadir Naam, 1973)

This is the Bangladeshi film of the series, made by Ritwik Ghatak.

 A River Called Titas

A River Called Titas is a masterfully shot film with an abundance of poetic imagery and narrative beats to match. In such, this film explores fate, romance, maternity and loneliness through the village people living on the banks of the Titas river in Bangladesh with strong touches of profundity. Though it has many moving parts, this narrative is centred on a girl who is gifted (by her father) to a fisherman from another village. As he takes her down the river and toward his village, their boat is ambushed as they sleep and the girl is kidnapped. She manages to fight her captors off and jump in the river, but is separated from her husband, who she knows nothing of – not even his name – and washes ashore in another village where she is taken in. And it’s from here that the narrative starts to unfold in an unconventional manner.

Before getting into this, I have to say that I have a very loose grip of this film. This is because of the unconventional structuring of the screenplay, but also because of the often awkward direction and editing. There is no better scene through which to see this that the one in which the girl of this story is kidnapped. Ghatak, the director, does very well at impressionistically telling this story, putting us in the characters’ heads, at points. But, he often struggles in sustaining a strong sense of the space in which his action unfolds – leaving you spatially lost. When this is combined with clunky character decisions – like staring at the space that your wife has just disappeared from instead of trying to do something – this narrative becomes pretty incomprehensible and difficult to follow. However, looking at the scene at hand a little closer, you can try to make sense of things through understanding that time is fractured and sparsely interlinked within this film. So, maybe the girl had been kidnapped hours before her husband wakes and this was inter-cut with his waking. But, there is no cinematic cue through which is this understood – leaving it pretty incomprehensible nonetheless.

What this suggests is that maybe it’d be best to re-watch this film. However, I would being lying if I said I look forward to doing this soon as it was quite the struggle.

Despite these flaws, A River Called Titas is a very intriguing incite into a form of storytelling that is, surprisingly so, quite new in cinema. This is a class of film referred to as ‘hyperlink cinema’. Hyperlink cinema is a term coined by the writer Alissa Quart, and it defines a class of films that have a multitude of characters meet over a plot with many flash-backs and flash-forwards. In short, think Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Altman’s Nashville, PTA’s Magnolia or Iñárritu’s Amores Perros. These movies are structured a bit like Wikipedia; whilst you may get a lot of information on one page, to fully understand a subject, you’ll often have to click through to other pages and assemble the knowledge into a solid narrative.

So, whilst there are numerous films that play with time in flash-backs and flash-forwards throughout cinematic history – one of the most famous examples of course being Citizen Kane – it wasn’t until Satyajit Ray in 1962 made his film, Kanchenjungha, that the hyperlink film genre is said to have started. This is because Kanchenjungha features multiple story lines from individual characters that almost serendipitously, or fatally, come together whilst films like Citizen Kane have the multiple story lines in time, but, all of which are clearly bound to one central figure – a Charles Foster Kane.

A River Called Titas is a significant film because it is considered the second hyperlink film to have ever been made – and only a couple of years before Altman’s Nashville. What this says about Ghatak’s film is that it was quite ahead of its time. To understand why, you’d only have to consider the term ‘hyperlink cinema’. This is an idea born in the digital age – and a vast majority of so-called hyperlink films have been made from the late 90s onward. This is an incredibly interesting phenomena when we consider the likeness of the hyperlink film to a book. If books pre-date cinema, then why did it take so long for films that somewhat resemble them structurally to surface?

When we look to films like A River Called Titas, it’s quite clear that they have been adapted from a book – or mean to mimic their structure (as Tarantino did with Pulp Fiction). In such, books handle time differently to films; films are often linear, start to finish, whilst books much more freely move through a timeline. The reason why there is this divide between the book and film may come down to the language of both forms. In short, it’s a lot more jarring for an audience and difficult for a filmmaker to track the unconventional movement through time in a film than it is an author and reader of a book. This is because books are told through a narrative voice – often an omnipotent perception that is external to the action of the narrative. Cinema has a much harder time achieving this tone and aesthetic. If we look to films such as Enter The Void…

… we see an example of a film that uses its camera in a completely alienated fashion; it is omnipotent and only observes action, rarely immerses itself in it. In my opinion, this distance makes Enter The Void a near-impossible film to watch as it’s so unengaging. Books can manage to have this distance from the action, whilst films usually can’t, because the distance from action in a novel is often felt as a closeness to the narrative voice – the narrator. Without some sense of closeness, a narrative becomes static and unimmersive – we’re no longer being told a story, rather, we are staring at a world in a screen or on a page. And whilst many filmmakers lean on this observational aesthetic where an audience brings a lot to the film, storytelling is traditionally and commonly an active process. If you take the ‘telling’ out of ‘storytelling’, then stories often fall flat because they come off as mere happenings or facts.

This seems to be why cinema has historically distanced itself from a book structure and has only mimicked it loosely – films needs to engage us in action and in the present moment through cinematic language. For many decades, this has left filmmakers relying on linear storytelling or playing with obviously placed flash-backs and flash-forwards – look to the formal make-up of any classical Hollywood film and you’ll have a strong example of this in use.

Using this idea, we can then make an assumption on why hyperlink cinema bloomed so late. As some have suggested, this form of cinema was born out of a yearning in audiences for new forms of storytelling. In such, it is suggested that we know the plot-line of, say, a gangster film, so well that it’d be possible for a filmmaker to play with this structure and still keep an audience in the know – hence hyperlink cinema grows from the 90s onward. But, whilst this would explain a film like Pulp Fiction, I don’t think it’s a completely satisfying answer.

Hyperlink cinema seems to have been born from an open space for new forms of storytelling, but also incentivised through the changing way in which people take in information. This then brings us back to the fact that the idea of ‘hyperlink cinema’ was born in the digital age – the name even in reference to a phenomena of the internet. What this term and the vast majority of hyperlink films coming out in the post-internet and home computer days suggests is that these films reflect the changing way in which people learn and receive ‘stories’. In such, just like the internet has an enormous amount of information, maybe too much, that we often take in by jumping back and forward between sources whilst watching videos, listening to music, podcasts and so on, this is how films can be structured. The digital age has then made it clear to filmmakers (who are also immersed in this age) that common people are used to non-linear stories and bringing that information together – all thanks to things like Google and Wikipedia.

What hyperlink films have then done is somewhat mimic the form of a book whilst keeping a closeness to story through a character-centric movement through space and time as well as take advantage of shifting cultures; the changing manner in which we’re used to being fed information. When we look to films like Nashville and A River Called Titas, we are then seeing experimental forms of storytelling precursing the normalisation of this new form of cinema, in large part, by the evolving world.

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Monsters, Inc. – Parenting

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Monsters, Inc. – Parenting

Thoughts On: Monsters, Inc. (2001)

The top-ranking scare factory worker in the monster world lets a child loose.

Monsters Inc

Monsters Inc. is one of Pixar’s most touching and heartfelt films thanks to its brilliant exploration of, in a certain sense, parent-child relationships. A significant movie in regard to technological CG innovation, Monsters Inc. has aged slightly, but is still an impressive work in regard to its modelling, world building and, in particular, textures (look to the fur of Sully). Beyond this, the voice performances are excellent, the narrative – despite a few major plot holes in the third act – is well crafted and paced, and the humour is perfectly balanced with moments of genuine drama, leaving this film with a heavy emotional punch.

However, I’ve always questioned how the emotional side of this narrative fits in with the world building and general premise. In such, I’ve wondered why there is such a strong, yet ambiguous, link between the monster world and themes of parenting.

To begin analysing this, we’d have to take a cue from the opening…

Our movement into this narrative is a movement through the doors of a closet, into the imagination of a child who believes there are monsters within. What this shot says is that we are going to be told a story about a child’s perspective. Moreover, we are going to be a story about why a child thinks there are monsters in their closet and how to approach this as a parent.

Let’s not jump too far ahead though. The first thing we are told when we move into this world of monsters is all about its corporate industry- in short…

… Monsters Inc. This is a very strange thing to be told if you step back and think about it. If you were to build a world around monsters, would it not be a creepy one filled with smoke, shadows, darkness and fright? Instead of this, Pixar have given us a heavily corporate world that somewhat resembles our own – which begins to suggest that Monsters Inc. means to comment on the real world as one inhabited by working parents. But, with that said, what has this got to do with the idea that this is a film that indulges a child’s perspective? Why would a child think of a monster world in their closet as a corporate one?

The answer lies in the fact that monsters and parents – especially fathers – are heavily linked in this narrative. By looking at the fuel of this corporate economy, we get further incite into this idea.

Children’s screams serve as the energy of this world – a sinister idea that, when turned on its head, makes a lot more sense.

By the end of the narrative, the monster world essentially learns that a child’s laughter can fuel their economy. This idea implies that an economy is essentially run for children; parents’ reason for going to work is their children and family – this is their fuel. A child’s laughter, their happiness, fuelling an economy is a rather romantic and sentimental idea, but, as is framed, is a coherent one. It suggests that parents go to work because they have a good home life and aim to sustain it. So, with that said, when we return to the beginning of the film…

… we can see that Monsters Inc. is a critique of the capitalist world and its effect on parents – all from a child’s perspective. However, to fully understand this critique, we have to take a step back from this narrative and back to the start of the essay.

Why do children think that there are monsters in their closet? If you asked a psychologist in the 50s…

… they’d likely refer to a behaviourist school of thought. Behaviourism, as founded by John B. Watson, is an approach to psychology that assumes that people can be, and are primarily, conditioned by their environment. So, in regard to the question, “Why do children think that there are monsters in their closet?”, the answer they’d likely give is that they have been conditioned to think this by their parents. In such, their parents are either too affectionate, leaving the children afraid of being alone, or these kids have been made to fear getting out of bed – maybe by parents telling them that monsters will come and get them if they do.

This psychological school of thought would imply two solutions to children fearing monsters in their closet. The first would not really be a solution, instead, it would suggest that children should, to a certain extent, be conditioned if they are to stay in bed, meaning, fear, the ‘monster in the closet’ lie, is a good thing. The second solution that would aim to eradicate that fear would be to leave children in the dark and let them get used to it – possibly by weaning them away from night lights.

If we were to put ourselves in the shoes of a child subjected to this treatment, we would associate night time with fear and loneliness – of our parents neglecting us. In such, this fear of monsters would, in a certain sense, be a fear of our parents’ neglect. Why would they do this? So they can condition us to grow up and be like them, to get a job and work in the corporate world?

Considering again the idea that economies are fuelled…

… by children, a child being subjected to this nightly routine would also think (indulging the metaphor of the narrative) that the world of adults is run by their own fear. Instead of going to work for us, our happiness and well-being, parents would be going to work to fund this neglect and fear – all for the sake of us growing up.

However, in the monster world, this approach to ‘running the economy’, isn’t working very well. Children aren’t so easily scared anymore. What this metaphorically translates to is, left at home without their parents, they have grown immune to parental authority – their fear tactics and conditioning. As in Poltergeist…

… it is then said that children being raised by their T.V sets is not really the best thing. What this narrative then asserts is that children shouldn’t be neglected and maybe shouldn’t be raised with fear-based authority. In turn, this makes a call for a reconsideration of the question, why do children think that there are monsters in their closet?

Is it that parents are monsters and that they are over-protective of, or controlling in a fear-based manner, their children? Maybe, but, this is probably not the entire case wrapped. Behaviourism doesn’t really explain why children think that there are actual monsters in their closet. Why not rats? Why not clowns? Why not vampires? Kids are scared of those too. Why must it be animal-esque things with claws, tentacles, bright eyes and sharp teeth?

Evolutionary psychology would suggest that we are afraid of things in the dark with these features, because these are attributes of animals that would attack us in times before cities when we were hunter-gatherers. The claws, eyes and teeth are hawks, big cats or bears – the tentacles water-based predators. The reason why children report seeing hints of these creatures when they are alone at night, but not necessarily when they have someone in the room with them…

… is because humans historically slept in groups. What this means is that children see monsters in their closet because they are afraid of being alone and unprotected at the most dangerous of times – a reaction that their genes reinforced. To combat this, children need to not feel neglected in their sleep and not be made to fear what may reside in the darkness. In short, the monsters, if they do exist, shouldn’t be seen to be dangerous or scary.

This metaphor translates to Monsters Inc. both directly and subtextually. Directly, Monsters Inc. is about replacing that fear, which shouldn’t be used to raise a child, with joy – laughter.

And subtextually, Monsters Inc. is about developing better bonds with a child. More specifically, Monsters Inc. can be seen as a tale in which a father figure brings his daughter to work and in turn learns to see his work life as one fuelled by her joy. Greater complexity is added to this when we consider Randall’s role. As a monster with powers of invisibility…

… it seems that Randall, if seen as a parent, has a tendency to disappear from a child’s life. Now, if you consider the theory that Randall is Andy’s monster – as the wallpaper implies – he begins to reveal a little bit more about his character. If Andy is scared at night, haunted by this figure of a neglectful parent, then it’s clear his father has not only left his family, but that this hugely impacts his childhood – which adds greater poignancy to the themes of family in Toy Story.

However, returning to the point, as well as Randall being a neglectful figure, he is hyper-competitive in his work of scaring children. Both of these sides come together through his invention…

This not only allows him to accumulate more scream energy, but it takes the monster out of the process – an extreme outcome of the metaphor of letting T.V raise children; now, they’re not even being conditioned by neglectful parents.

So, it’s this that Sully and Mike are metaphorically fighting against in their quest to look after Boo. They are not only learning to better look after a child, with care and attention, but are actively redefining what it means to work for your family – your child.

When we now step back out of the door leading us into this universe, it’s clear that there is a strong commentary on us, who are now standing in a child’s bedroom. So, I’ll end by turning to you. What are your thoughts on Monsters Inc. and all we’ve covered today?

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Her Man – The Pre-Code Days

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Her Man – The Pre-Code Days

Thoughts On: Her Man (1930)

A prostitute falls in love with a sailor.

Her Man is a fine picture that, as it develops, crescendos into a pre-code masterpiece. Despite its sometimes clunky acting and simple plot, Her Man builds its characters incredibly well and immerses you in a seedy world spectacularly with brilliant direction, fluid and expressive camera work – even long shots that are, considering its time, about as impressive as those in A Touch Of Evil and Goodfellas. Wrapping this all off is, again, considering its time, one of the greatest action sequences ever put to film. What Her Man then stands as a monolithic example of is the short-lived days of the pre-code Hollywood era, an era that shatters all preconceptions of old Hollywood and implies a kind of alternate universe that we can only mourn.

The term “pre-code”, as most will know, simply refers to the 7 year period between the introduction of sound into Hollywood as well as the initial proposals for a production code – all in in 1927 – and the enforcement of these MPPC (Motion Picture Production Code) censorship guidelines in mid 1934. “Pre-code” then refers to pictures that were made with a certain degree of freedom; pictures that could be much more sexual, outspoken and violent than even the darkest of the noirs produced in the 40s. We see this in Her Man through the direct implication of prostitution, the constant inebriation, the mixing of ethnicities and cultures (also censored in the code era) and, of course, the huge amount of, sometimes brutal, sometimes fatal, violence that the camera rarely shies away from.

To understand where this code comes from, however, it’s best to consider a wider idea of film history in the silent era. In turn, it’s best to start way back in the 1880s and look at a figure we’ve covered quite extensively on the blog: Eadweard Muybridge. As one of the first ‘filmmakers’ (it is questionable if he was actually making films), he made movies that looked like this…

  

Often shooting his human subjects semi-nude or completely nude, Muybridge can be seen as an archetype of power in cinema. Whilst some may argue that he abused the power afforded with a ‘control’ of space and time (that which a motion picture camera represents), it seems very apparent that motion pictures serve peoples’ interests and curiosities. This is exactly why some of the first films ever made would be for scientific purposes, for the satisfaction of some shade of voyeurism or even to allow people to marvel at themselves. We see the scientific incentive through figures such as Janssen and Étienne-Jules Marey…

… the voyeuristic (the sexual and the violent) through people such as Muybridge and Edison (his manufacturing company)…

  

… and the self-obsessed through the Lumières as well as Mitchell and Kenyon…

What some of these early films demonstrate is cinema’s capacity for what would later be deemed by the MPPC to be lurid, distasteful, immoral or down-right wrong. This is a subject we have explored in some depth when we briefly looked at the history of Austrian cinema; their first major production company being one called Saturn-Film, which solely produced erotica from 1906-10…

Considering the world of silent cinema only then gives you greater incite into the idea that cinema is design around a human recognition of godly power – our ability to capture and manipulate space and time through cameras. What this inevitably, and obviously, leads to is people capturing and projecting sexuality, violence and other controversial pockets of human imagination.

However, when you look through human history, there has always been a counter to freedom and power – often in the form of religion and/or government. In such, whenever organisations attempt to control people, there is almost always some form of censorship and restriction on natural inclinations – whether they be sexual, scientific or violent. This regulation and restriction can sometimes be a good thing, I don’t think we want to bring gladiators back into the colosseums in place of MMA, but censorship often exists in some place on the opposite end of the spectrum. This is what we saw develop over the early decades of cinema.

One of the first films ever to be censored was Georges Méliès’, The Dreyfus Affair in 1899. Because this series of shorts depicted the infamously controversial case of Alfred Dreyfus, who was accused of treason, it was banned in France. Other controversial films around this period would have of course been The Kiss by Edison’s manufacturing company. But, in America, the first major act of censorship came in 1915 with an infamous court case: Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio. In the simplest terms, this court case was about cinema as a medium of free speech and the supreme court ultimately denied films this right to be protected by the First Amendment as they were seen to be mere spectacles – not art.

Keeping things brief, the government never had to then police films directly following this case, instead, the film industry agreed to self-censor. And so, over the next decade or so, standards and production codes were put in place and began to be enforced. It was then in 1922 that the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) was set up, and it was their job to control, aid and regulate the outputs of studios as well as distributors and cinemas. They came under increasing pressure throughout the 20s by religious groups demanding they better control the content of films and so, in 1930, the first set of Production Codes where officially drawn up.

It wasn’t until 1934, however, that these codes were strongly regulated by the newly formed Production Code Administration. And it’s from this point on that the MPPDA’s codes, often referred to as the Hays Code as he was the leader of the MPPDA at the time, were rigidly enforced. This code was initially made up of the famous “don’ts” and “be carefuls” which were primarily proposed in 1927. A few dont’s are as follows…

– Pointed profanity – by either title or lip – this includes the words “God,” “Lord,” “Jesus,” “Christ” (unless they be used reverently in connection with proper religious ceremonies), “hell,” “damn,” “Gawd,” and every other profane and vulgar expression however it may be spelled

– Any licentious or suggestive nudity – in fact or in silhouette

– Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races)

– Ridicule of the clergy

And a few be carefuls are…

– The use of firearms

– Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc. (having in mind the effect which a too-detailed description of these may have upon the moron)

– Brutality and possible gruesomeness

– The sale of women, or of a woman selling her virtue

– Rape or attempted rape

– Man and woman in bed together

– Deliberate seduction of girls;

Because these guidelines, as written up in 1927, where not properly enforced until 1934, we have the outline of the pre-code era. So, whilst the films in this period were not entirely free and explicit – there are no examples (that I know of) of blood, guts, stabbings, penetration and full nudity in Hollywood movies – pre-code pictures were very clearly liberated from these rules. This era is then one of two highly liberated periods of American cinema – the second being in the late 60s with The Golden Age of Porn. So, just as you may question what the modern world would look like if porn films weren’t banned for profanity in the early 70s, instead, considered free speech and/or art, you may also question what the world would look like if pre-code Hollywood was allowed to evolve freely.

This is ultimately what our film for today best represents. When you watch Her Man, with its controversial subject matter and tremendous fight scene, you can’t help but wonder what would be in the cinemas over 85 years later if this was allowed to become the norm. And it’s this thought that I’ll leave you with. Have you seen Her Man? And what do you think the world would look like if the pre-code era lasted through Hollywood’s Golden Age?

 

 

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End Of The Week Shorts #9

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Monsters, Inc. – Parenting

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Shorts #9

Today’s Shorts: Come And See (1985), Lonesome (1928), Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962), Ritual In Transfigured Time (1946), Ensemble For Somnambulists (1951), Kevin Hart: I’m A Grown Little Man (2009), Aries Spears: Comedy Blueprint (2016), Shark Tale (2004), Duel (1971)

A masterpiece. One of the most visceral and impactful war films I have ever seen.

Come And See is a surreal blend of impressionism and carnage set during WWII that follows a young man who attempts to join resistance fighters and repel the Germans who are invading Byelorussian (Belarusan) villages. There is no strong sense of a plot within this film, instead, a fractured narrative stitched together through poetic cinematic language and silenced, yet devastatingly poignant, characterisation. This heightens the associative tone, drawing your senses into this story entirely as you’re helplessly subjected to a raw exploration of the most torturous and dire of human struggles.

Come And See is ultimately an undeniable opus of masterful cinematic storytelling that is a little tough to get through, but overwhelmingly worthwhile.

Lonesome is a simple romance that is devastatingly powerful. It follows two lonely city dwellers who stumble across each other at a fair and fall in love.

Reminiscent of both Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans and The Crowd, Lonesome captures the undeniable beauty, ingenuity and poignancy of late narrative silent films. This is, however, tainted by a handful of talkie scenes that cause the tone of the romance to drastically change – and not for the good. These scenes are only very small moments though and so don’t have a major impact on the wider narrative. In turn, Lonesome is then a great study into the difference between pure cinema and a theatrical cinema of the early talkie period – one that showcases a lost form of cinema at its best.

All in all, this is probably a new personal favourite that I can’t refrain from recommending.

Made by French New Wave auteur Agnès Varda, Cléo From 5 to 7 is a subtle romance about superstition, fear and a pursuit of happiness. In such, this is a poignant narrative, wondrously directed and performed with the illusion of being in near-real-time.

What struck me most about Cléo From 5 to 7 was the intimate character study of our main character, Cléo, one that aphoristically, yet without sentimentality or pretence, explores her existential reaction to the news that she may have cancer. This film is then a brilliant feature from the Nouvelle Vague that is much more akin to the films of Truffaut rather than Godard thanks to this focus on content that supersedes a play with form.

All in all, Cléo From 5 to 7 is a brilliantly constructed film by a great auteur that I thoroughly enjoyed and will certainly be seeing again.

Ritual In Transfigured Time is an abstract short narrative film by Maya Deren that follows a dancer in three separate spaces; a room where she winds yarn, a party where everybody breezes past one another and a garden of sorts where she is pursued by a male dancer. Throughout these three spaces, we move through fluid shifts between normal motion and slow motion (that is simply stunning) as an extroverted and an introverted figure follows our protagonist.

This loose narrative then seem to be focused on both the roles our protagonist has to play in society as well as her perception of such processes in respect to time. And through this character study of sorts, the overriding idea that bleeds from the screen is a yearning for abstraction and an escape from societal rituals in space and time.

It is then through highly experimental form and content that Deren dexterously puts to screen sensations of entrapment and freedom, leaving this film a mightily impressive one.

Ensemble For Somnambulists is an unofficially published film of Maya Deren’s that was shot as a test or practice for a later film – which is formally very similar – The Very Eye Of Night

This is then a completely mesmerising short that uses negative photography to project dancers moving about in a dark void – all edited together to give this ambiguous space a strong sense of rhythmic and fluid cohesion.

The most compelling element of Ensemble For Somnambulists, however, is the formal link between the opening, lights shining in darkness, and the rest of the narrative: humans shining in the darkness. This poetic juxtaposition speaks volumes about a lot of Deren’s work, which is often imbued with a sense of motion equal to a dance. This then says that there is something attractive and striking, to Deren’s eye, about the moving human form on celluloid; something worth capturing – something she certainly does in purely astounding ways, time and time again.

Truly phenomenal. In my opinion, this is the special that makes it obvious why Kevin Hart is the most successful stand-up comedian ever. With I’m A Grown Little Man, Hart transcends simple notions of stage presence, essentially assuming a position much like Andrew Dice Clay did whereby he’s clearly acting out a character, but in a subtly complex way so that it blends into his personality to the point that it’s not clear where the divide resides. The level at which Hart manages to do this can be recognised once you consider the fact he’s done this routine hundreds, maybe thousands, of times. However, he still laughs with the crowd. We can confidently assume that he doesn’t find his own jokes funny, especially after doing them so many times. But, he blends this into his character so that we believe that he’s telling these jokes in the moment and for the first time, as if there’s not hundreds of hours of work behind each of these bits.

With that layered onto the insanely hilarious quality of bits like the “ostrich” one, it’s impossible to dispute that Hart is one of the greatest comedians to go near a mic.

A solid hour that captures most of what Spears does best. It holds back on the impressions, especially of rappers, but it felt like he played them through in previous specials, so no complaints from me. That said, he does keep in tact his Hollywood 80s action star impressions – his Sly bit being brilliant in this set

Spears’ interaction with the audience is also pretty spectacular. However, his patterns of ‘improvisational’ comedy seemed repetitive and pre-planned to a certain extent. Nonetheless, some of the best content came from a play with the crowd with some hilarious call-backs.

Beyond this, many dirty-comic cornerstones, everything from relationships to personal anxieties, are hit incredibly well, leaving this Comedy Blueprint hour a great piece of R-rated entertainment.

A cliched story told very well.

With great characters and some clever world building, Shark Tale is an easy watch and a lot of fun. The animation hasn’t aged too well, especially in regard to textures and details, but is still pretty good – the wider shots of the ocean in particular. (Finding Nemo undoubtedly outshines this technically though).

One of the things that makes this film so fun is certainly the directorial approach that mixes well with the lively script and great soundtrack.All of these elements come together to tell a tale of lies, immaturity, growth and finding oneself that we’ve all seen a trillion times – though, only a few in the ocean with shark slaying fish.

Well directed by Spielberg – though, that’s certainly not a surprise – Duel is an exercise in capturing the most energy and excitement from a basic plot through cinematic language. And in regard to the direction, Duel is a somewhat successful experiment. However, the screenplay is not so great.

The premise is too simple and the story stretched too far. In fact, Duel is one of the most infuriating films I’ve seen in a long while, one that attempts to create suspense, but only manages to bloat out the simple story with dumb character decisions, artificial plot beats and ambiguous nonsense. This is somewhat justified as Duel is seemingly supposed o be a commentary on apprehension, fear, confrontation and “Manning” up (and I’m sure the pun is to be intended). But, I didn’t enjoy this movie at all; I could appreciate its formal design (the camera work, cinematography and editing) but was never invested in the story – certainly not the characters.

 

 

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Mother Of George – Simple Stories vs. Boring Stories

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Her Man – The Pre-Code Days

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Mother Of George – Simple Stories vs. Boring Stories

Quick Thoughts: Mother Of George (2013)

A newlywed couple struggle to conceive a child.

Mother Of George

Technically brilliant, Mother Of George is masterfully directed with precise and expressive cinematic language, framing and mise en scene, moreover, a great use of shallow focus, lighting and colour – all of which is supported by a powerful lead performance.

This narrative explores the anxieties and pressures of paternity, maternity and fertility in Nigerian culture, following a couple who cannot conceive – in all probability, due to the husband. Refusing to go to the doctor, he leaves his wife pressurised by her in-laws until she’s talked into conceiving with his brother. This is a paradigm depicted in other films, such as The Patience Stone, leaving Mother Of George another depiction of pride and the dehumanising aspects of traditions that rigidly demand conformity to societal standards and expectations of family.

Though this is a poignant topic that is impressively projected through a highly cinematic story, Mother Of George does suffer from pacing issues, leaving it a slow and sometimes arduous watch.

What this film is then a demonstration of is the line between simple storytelling and uninteresting storytelling. As we discussed with Paterson, a brilliant example of a realist film with a very thin plot, “story” is simply an idea of information. The best stories are judged by the quality, not necessarily the quantity, of the information they provide. When we look to Mother Of George, we have a film that has a good amount of compelling information about culture and tradition. However, there is a lack of commentary or depth added to this information, leaving it sparsely distributed through a story that has too much of a focus on aesthetics rather than “story”.

With that said, I’d happily concede that Mother Of George sits on the positive side of this divide between simple stories and boring stories (rather than on the boring side – as I’ve implied). This is of course because the themes explored throughout this narrative will be subjectively perceived. So it’s then at this point that I’ll end by asking, have you see this movie? What are your thoughts?

 

 

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L’Atalante – Unspectacularity

Thoughts On: L’Atalante (1934)

Newly wed to a boat skipper, a small-town girl travels down the river Seine with his small crew.


Seen from a distance and without context, L’Atalante is a simple film that poignantly explores young love. It has flawed technical attributes in regard to sound design and the edit, but is nonetheless captivating and impressive. However, when we begin to consider the films from the early talkie period of the 30s, we can begin to see why this film is often regarded as one of the greatest pictures ever made.

Awash with Hollywood classics such as Frankenstein, Scarface, The Adventures Of Robin Hood, Ninotchka, Bringing Up Baby, Swing Time, King Kong, The Invisible Man and Duck Soup, the 30s are overflowing with timeless stories from all genres. And this is what helped established Hollywood’s Golden Age; there was a rich period of fantastical storytelling that only grew in its capacity for wish-fulfilment and spectacle as we moved into the 40s and 50s. A significant aspect of this growth was of course the studio system which, in certain senses, transformed Hollywood into a vast manufacturing factory. And as the metaphor suggests, the productions of the studio system where subject to standards – formal, aesthetic and story-wise – which leaves the 30s as a time in which films weren’t very distinct from one another. In short, there was no Kubrick, no Scorsese, no Wes Anderson, no unique auteur which hugely differentiated themselves from main stream in a lasting manner.

This lack of style and individuality in 30s filmmaking was challenged only by a few – and Vigo was one of these. Often, regarded in the same capacity as Dreyer and Renoir, Vigo developed a unique style that shattered standards of continuity, mise en scene and structure; a style which is most evident in his one and only feature, L’Atalante. With a powerful use of leading lines and negative space, Vigo constructed this film with Boris Kaufman in spite of many restrictions and troubles. In such, a large reason why there is such a powerful use of the voidal sky and water throughout this film was because of weather; Vigo couldn’t shoot the ground because it started to snow in later parts of production. This leaves Vigo’s style to be one defined by realism as, despite shooting some interior scenes within a studio, he endeavoured to capture the real world in an unspectacular fashion – just as he had in his previous shorts (À Propos De Nice in particular). Vigo even  shot certain sequences in a documentary-esque fashion in the tail end of production when he was running out of money and under pressure from the studio.

And on the note of restrictions and troubles, Vigo ran into a lot of difficulty getting this film made – but even more in post production. He initially wanted to work on an original story, but, considering his lack of previous successes and abundance of controversy, his producer give him a banal script that somewhat resembled L’Atalante. After re-writing and shooting the script with monetary pressures, Vigo’s initial cuts where disregarded by the studio and chopped down due to unsatisfied distributors at Gaumont. Over the years, L’Atalante has in fact been through numerous re-edits – up until as recently as 2001.

The reason for the initial studio interference comes down to Vigo’s health; he simply wasn’t able to fight for his film. A detail that we haven’t mentioned so far in our look at the films of Vigo is that he had tuberculosis – in all probability, because of his impoverished life. Throughout his work on his films, especially L’Atalant which was shot over many months and often outside in the winter, Vigo had health issues. After a rough cut had been constructed he had to take a break due to a fever he had developed, and so took a holiday then returned to Paris with his family. It’s here however, where he remained bedridden, unable to work on a final cut of his film, until he died later in the year.

It is often speculated that, as much as Vigo’s father influenced him and his career, so did his struggle with tuberculosis. When we look back to his exploration of poverty and the upper classes in À Propos De Nice, it’s evident that Vigo is making a film that seemingly comes from every facet of his life with strands of anarchy, socialist/Marxist critique and with sympathy for the average person. And this same flow of creativity exists in L’Atalante; we see this through the depiction of the cats and the terrible living conditions of our characters, knowing that Vigo was far from wealthy and that his father often had many stray cats in their home when he was a boy. Again, we could make a comparison to Chaplin, but it’s also very clear that Vigo’s style and the uniqueness of this film comes directly from the pressure of all kinds that he faced.

So, with Vigo’s backstory at hand, the simple romance captured by L’Atalante elevates it into a much more poignant and genuine piece of work. In such, Vigo had evolved over his short career, transitioning from an outspoken and highly critical montage to a poetic-realist romance that is essentially about loyalty and trust, themes developed from a purely mundane and unspectacular perspective.

This is seemingly what defines Vigo as one of the most significant figures of the early talkie period. He swam against the tide with unspectacular films and an unspectacular career that were nonetheless unique, innovative and true of his character. This is exactly what we saw reprised and capitalised on during the French New Wave with Vigo and his films being an incredible influence of the auteurs of the time. It was then the likes of Godard, Varda and Truffaut that continued on Vigo’s play with form, editing, continuity and camera work; his approach to social critique and his application of realism that stemmed from his own life and personality. So, as much as we have to appreciate the New Wave films of the late 50s and 60s, in turn, its influence on New Hollywood and beyond, we also have to consider Vigo, an auteur developing a shade of modern cinema a quarter of a decade beforehand.

This Series Is Dedicated To

Sammara

 

 

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Zéro De Conduite – Timeless Frustration

Thoughts On: Zéro De Conduite (Zero For Conduct, 1933)

A controversial depiction of repressive school systems and rebellion.

Zéro De Conduite, or Zero For Conduct, is a semi-autobiographical film that draws from Jean Vigo’s experience in boarding school as a young child, and it uses a somewhat abstract narrative to project a comedic, surreal and child-like story of a rebellious uprising against boarding school teachers as lead by four students.

Made for 200,000 francs and with non-professional actors, this film can be seen as a precursor to the Italian Neorealist movement of the post-war era. Unfortunately, Zero For Conduct does suffer from a few problems due to budgetary constraints – the main problem concerning the sound design. This leaves a tension between a silent film and a talkie tone/aesthetic whilst reducing some of the abstract elements of the narrative to incoherent sequences. And this detail is not helped by the sometimes awkward edit that is scattered and lacking of clarity – a flaw that Vigo had to suffer so that he could keep the run time down. An example of this incoherence would be the ‘magic trick’ with a ball in the classroom. This sequence lacks a strong sense of character motivation, a motif that leaks through the entirety of the script, which is initially jarring, but begins to make sense as the style of the narrative becomes clearer.

It is then once the story settles and it becomes clear that this is a surreal film that its many moving parts begin to make a lot more sense. In such, the realism merging with surrealism presented by the conflict between the story’s structure and production establishes Zero For Conduct as a unique film for its time that, as with all of Vigo’s films, served as a medium for social commentary.

It is clear that Vigo designed this narrative to contain these elements of spectacle and realism through his reference to Chaplin with an imitation of The Tramp that one of the more lenient school masters performs. Much like Chaplin, Vigo draws upon an incredibly difficult childhood and funnels it into his narratives. A good point of comparison that can be made between Vigo and Chaplin would then be through Chaplin’s The Kid.

In the penultimate sequence of The Kid, Chaplin jumps into a surreal dream world in which he dies, goes to a heavenly version of reality, causes trouble as a promiscuous angel and then is shot by the police. We see a similar approach to narrative in the final sequence of Zero For Conduct where, following a lecture from the headmaster, there is a hard cut to the following night where all the children destroy their room. This is the most mesmerising sequence and makes about as much narrative sense as Chaplin’s dream sequence – though it has to be said that Chaplin structures his surreal sequence into the narrative with a much stronger projection of linear sense.

Underlying both the dream sequence and pillow fight sequence is a poetic evocation of impressionism, an approach to story which captures a subjective perception, one that has basis in reality and in turn comments on it. In such, the sequence from The Kid uses The Tramp’s paternal miseries to explore the hopes of an impoverished parent whilst the pillow fight from Zero For Conduct captures the frustrated dreams of suppressed and controlled young boys.

What is significant about Zero For Conduct alone is that it manages to apply this narrative concept to the entire form of a film instead of reserving it for a dream sequence that is easily swallowed and glanced past as ‘just a dream’. We see this through the camera movement and the edit; scenes like the penultimate lecture in the classroom with the panning, observational camera and the fractured jump into the next sequence. And, as implied, there is a strong sense of impressionism within this film; it ties a realist sensibility into the surreal sequences by capturing the perspective of a child and the likeness of memory (memories which we can assume belong to Vigo). This is what makes Zero For Conduct such a lasting and unique film; it captured an approach to story that not only played with the form of cinema, but used this in an effective and culturally impactful manner.

The latter idea is pretty undeniable when we consider the fact that Zero For Conduct was banned in France after shocking many audiences and offending split critics. The reason why this film was banned comes down to its ludicrous depiction of rebellion and clear commentary on societal paradigms involving a ruling minority oppressing and controlling a powerless majority. And it’s this sentiment, this frustration, that is the strongest element of this narrative. The fact that it got under the skin of so many certainly seems to validate the directness and poignancy of the narrative. And adding to the cultural significance of this film is certainly its influence on the New Wave auteur, François Truffaut, in his film The 400 Blows – which not only carries the same core emotion of frustration in a young boy, but directly references Zero For Conduct in its classroom sequences.

In conclusion, whilst Zero For Conduct is a dated film with a few faults, it manages to capture a unique aesthetic, structure and approach to story that projects timeless themes and in turn allows this movie to be, in many respects, transcendent nonetheless.

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