Shorts #14

Today’s shorts: La Chinoise (1967), Los Olvidados (1950), Killer Of Sheep (1978), Harvey (1950), Dracula (1930), Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016), Repo Man (1984), Nosferatu (1922), Mothlight (1963), Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

I’m not smart enough, nor do I know enough about politics and history, to keep up with this film. So, whether this be a genuine critical response, or an expression of ignorance, I didn’t like this movie.

La Chinoise, or The Chinese, is a barrage of endless political commentary and pure Godardian filmmaking rife with rule breaking which produces a unique kind of cinema that, though it is striking, is very tiring and largely little more than an expression of experimentation, not really a lasting form of film, nor something I’d like to see again (certainly not mimicked to produce other original films). And I think that is the biggest downfall of many of Godard’s films; they are unique, but you wouldn’t want to see a genre of films flourish from them, leaving them, in certain senses, throw-away experiments and a mere distraction from traditional, evolving forms of narrative cinema.

The more I reluctantly burrow into Godard’s filmography, the more averse I become to his filmmaking. Maybe one day I’ll find something of his I like.

Los Olvidados (a.k.a The Young And The Damned) is considered a Latin American masterpiece, understandably so, and is a devastating social tragedy. It is a parable about the cyclical nature of poverty, one that is attached to all people in a hierarchical society who do not assume both responsibility and patience. But, in constructing such a poignant tale, Buñuel never really uses direct social commentary, rather, he documents a narrative that is supposed to be viewed as truth (though it is obviously construed based on true events) which we cannot help but invest in and ruminate upon.

The blend and balance of realism, surrealism, symbolism, character and plot in this narrative is then perfect, leaving this film a true mark of a master. If you haven’t seen this film, certainly give it a go.

Killer Of Sheep is simple, yet brilliant. It loosely follows a struggling husband, depicting both his daily challenges as well as those belonging to (sometimes stemming from) the network characters that surround and are connected to him in his working-class town. Without having a strong sense of a plot, or even much of a narrative focus, Killer Of Sheep is then an ingenious piece of realism that blends documentary and fiction incredibly well.

Beautifully shot with such a tremendous sense of life and verisimilitude, this is ultimately a great movie, subtle, muted and perfectly reserved.

I’ve only seen this film two times, so I don’t think I’ve got the subtext fully figured out, but Harvey is seemingly partly a critique of psychological institutions, partly a commentary on the callousness of the average individual and partly a romanticisation of a drunkard.

However, what I am certain of is this film’s uncanny sense of heart and warmth, its brilliant writing and the tremendous performance of Jimmy Stewart. This all comes together to produce a strange tale primarily about acceptance and kindness – a simple idea executed perfectly. And in such, Harvey is one of the purest Hollywood classics you’ll ever be able to find as it is irrefutably a narrative trapped in a bygone era, one that captures its greatest elements as a form of family entertainment astoundingly.

All in all, Harvey is a perfect movie that I seriously couldn’t understand anyone disliking.

Dracula is an obvious and lasting classic. It is an incredibly striking film with terrific mise en scene, lighting and, most of all, set-design. This then brings to life the stage-play, from which this was very clearly adapted from, quite well – though, there are many lost opportunities in which a cinematic approach could have stepped in (transformations in particular). The direction is ok, but it seems Browning made this film to be a blend of a silent film and a stage play, and his use of montage makes this obvious, so, again, this doesn’t feel like a very cinematic film and so suffers somewhat from that.

Beyond this, I unfortunately didn’t have a good time with Dracula. I wish I had seen the version with the added score as the sound design in the original is incredibly lacking, leaving a voidal and static atmosphere to imbue the narrative with a very awkward tone. I am, however, interested in seeing this film again as the use of archetypal characters really drew me into the story – one which think has a bit more to it below its surface.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a fun and quirky on-the-run adventure movie. It is full of playful direction and brilliant writing, but sometimes the structure and the edit fail to control the movie’s comedic contrast of realism and fantasy which leaves a few sequences silly – and not in a good way. Moreover, whilst the direction is playful and does provide some small bits of ingenuous (though never entirely original) design, it sometimes looses focus, reducing some of the cinematic language to pretty bland spectacle that most YouTubers with drones and Final Cut pro will squeeze out of their Macs.

The most surprising element of this narrative were the two central performances which, though they weren’t technically perfect, were a brilliant match for this idiosyncratic narrative. So, whilst this is a bit dumb and ill-designed at some points, Hunt For The Wilderpeople was a good watch and just one of those movies you’re kind of glad exists.

Repo Man is a surreal and absurd, even anarchistic, look at a nihilistic 80s America. In such, it confronts themes of governmental conspiracy, religion, crime and capitalism in a shifting culture with alienating and dizzying sensibilities.

I haven’t got a full grip on all that Repo Man explores, but one things is sure on this first watch; this is a witty and incredibly daring film that builds its insane world pretty well. The only weak element of this film is then its final act which, though it is supposed to devolve into absurdity, is edited in a manner that doesn’t emphasise the now obvious surreal undertones of the first two acts, instead, makes them silly. However, it could be argued that this is justified and intentional. Nonetheless, this was jarring – and not in the best of ways.

Beyond this, Repo Man was quite fun and a technically competent movie. Highly recommended.

Nosferatu is an aesthetic masterpiece of silent cinema, and there’s no question of that, thanks to Murnau’s application of German Expressionism which imbues this narrative with such a rich and sable atmosphere, one that drips with sinister darkness and malevolent shadows.

The story is light and quite uninteresting, but Stoker’s book never kept me too riveted–and neither has any other adaptation of Dracula. However, beyond the plot, there is an implicit depth that seems to be lingering in the subtext of most Dracula adaptations. With Nosferatu, this is linked to disease as well as relationships, providing an alternate subtext to the 30s Dracula (which is undoubtedly inferior to this). But, it’ll take another watch before I’m confident of exactly what Nosferatu has to say.

All in all, Nosferatu is certainly worth the watch for the aesthetics – especially those in its second half. Another masterpiece from Murnau.

Mothlight. A simple short film that asks a question that, now we are in the digital age, can’t really be asked anymore – at least not in the same manner. Through this short, Brakhage asks “What can be film?”. In asking this, he questions the literal material of celluloid and what can go on it. Is light’s impact in chemicals the only means through which cinema can communicate? Is cinema only captured with a movie camera?

Though there hasn’t been extensive experimentation in this field, Brakhage’s experimental film plays with the plasticity of cinema as an art, providing a non-narrative spectacle of light as filtered through moth wings. This is then a weird ‘film’ that asks an interesting question and so is certainly worth a watch.

Words can’t do this justice, but… Steamboat Bill, Jr. is simply incredible.

Not only does Keaton provide his stone-faced slap-stick brilliantly, but the focus on narrative in this film is surprisingly strong. In such, Steamboat Bill, Jr. works so incredibly well thanks to its exploration of father-son relationships as well as the themes of alienation and failure attached to that relationship. Combining this with the age-old tale of torn young love, this narrative really adds dimension to the spectacle that we all know this to be.

But, on that note, it cannot be overstated just how brilliant the final set-piece is. The icon of Keaton standing in that fallen house front, however over-used, is something that undoubtedly represents a height of cinema that virtually no entertainer has ever really reached before or after Keaton.

It can be said a million times over and it will still be true: a masterpiece.



Previous post:

Strike – The Broken Stage; Shaping Society

Next post:

The Seventh Seal – Truth And Lies

More from me:


Strike – The Broken Stage; Shaping Society

Thoughts On: Strike (Stachka, 1925)

Workers rise up against their oppressive superiors in Russia, just before its Bolshevik Revolution.

Strike 2

If you are in need of an introduction to Sergei Eisenstein and Soviet Montage, don’t start with Battleship Potemkin, start with Strike. I myself saw Potemkin first, but the principals, narrative structure and aesthetics of Soviet Montage did not really pronounce themselves through this film; it was, instead, Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera, Dovzhenko’s Earth and Eisenstein’s Strike that made this clear. This is because Potemkin has a focus on story and only really captures montage in certain stand-out sequences – the most famous of these being the Odessa Steps and the chase sequence. As a result Battleship Potemkin is actually a difficult watch as it is so stale and, ironically, lacking rhythm for much of its run-time. So, whilst Battleship Potemkin is a must see, it isn’t the best place to start looking at Soviet montage in my opinion. Strike is a far superior introduction to this class of film as it is, visually and narratively, so much more striking (no pun intended).

What then becomes very obvious when watching Strike is that Soviet Montage has one fundamental basis; its distinction of cinema from theatre and the stage. What you will, of course, find in the vast majority of early silent films – and this aesthetic even lasted deep into the 30s and 40s in a more muted fashion – is a flat staging that mimics the look of a play or vaudeville show.

Early silent films are then characterised by a static, long wide-shot. Moving into the nineteen-teens there were numerous directors, most famously D.W Griffith, who began to better utilise the cut and different shot sizes into narrative films, developing more complex cinematic language and plots that spanned numerous locations and times. This was an art and form that began in the early 1900s with chase films (e.g A Daring Daylight Robbery or The Great Train Robbery). But, these basic principals of the cut, both through time and space, would be developed for about 20 years, until Soviet film theorists took cinema of this class to its utmost extreme.

There are then two really significant and basic elements of Soviet cinema’s form that stems from its distinction of cinema from the theatre, and they both concern the language of a cut. A cut can communicate both form and content. Another way in which this can be, and was, articulate would be with the terms ‘fabula’ and ‘syuzhet’. Fabula can be thought of as just ‘content’, and so was defined to be the ‘raw content of a film’. You will then ‘see’ the fabula of a film if you were the screenwriter imagining the story or a person on set seeing it acted out. The fabula is then this:

The fabula is a stage that your eye must scan, or ‘film’,  itself. Conversely, the syuzhet describes how a film is organised; it is the form. What this means is that the syuzhet describes what you see represented on screen; it is the varying shots all edited together.

So, keeping these concepts in mind, we can begin to better understand the two fundamental ideas of Soviet cinema. The first concerns syuzhet, or form. The best and most concise way I could communicate the form of films such as Strike, Battleship Potemkin, Man With A Movie Camera and Earth, is that they are a broken stage. If early silent films were just stages viewed by a camera, Soviet cinema directors took that stage and broke it into the pieces they pleased as to communicate a point. And this is what montage defines; montage is the process and the product of cutting up space and time. The purpose of this is control – and we will later find this to be a contradiction of sorts from Soviet cinema. As the French impressionists theorised also in the 1920s, when you point a camera at a scene, it is immediately altered; this is photogénie. A cut, as the Soviets truly exploited, is then a director telling you where to look and how to look at a scene. Thus, Eisenstein will not just shoot his various scenes of revolt in Strike from a wide angle, capturing the general body of movement. He will insert into his wider angles important details that emphasise the purpose of the film; a woman pulling on a horse, workers trying to scramble through a door, feet moving, horse’s hooves stomping, pain on a man’s face, water pelting bodies, children playing, bodies falling. Eisenstein does this to literally say “look” and then “listen”.

When we consider what Eisenstein is telling us to “listen” to, we come to the fabula and the second fundamental element of Soviet cinema. One of the most significant attributes the Soviets gave cinema was the idea of juxtaposition and the meaning of a cut. This is defined most precisely by the Kuleshov effect. Because I assume most will know what this is, I’ll leave a link here to Hitchcock’s explanation of this just in case there are a few who don’t. But, that aside, the Kuleshov effect defined the artistic implication of montage; it suggested that meaning and intricate emotional detail can all be captured by the flow and collision of information. And using this very powerful idea, the Soviets created some of the greatest propaganda ever conceived; propaganda that will often transcend its political attributes thanks to the implications of its form and how the philosophy of montage impacted our understanding of cinema.

But, whilst it is true that this propaganda will likely be water off of a duck’s back for most people looking at Soviet films in the modern day, it cannot be ignored that these films had a clear, designed agenda. And again, this is why Strike is a much better place to start your exploration of Soviet cinema; the Marxist-Leninist implications of this narrative are incredibly overt. Strike is then akin to The Eternal Jew (a Nazi propaganda film) in respect to its lack of subtly, whilst films such as Battleship Potemkin are a little more like Triumph Of The Will where, though you see clear Nazi imagery, the Nazi ideology isn’t put on display like it is in The Eternal Jew. So, the content of Strike, much like most Soviet propaganda, concerns the recent revolutionary history of the USSR and the rise of communism. What you will thus see in these films is quite antithetical to most classic Western hero narratives. American films, for example, will often involve groups of people fighting for a cause, but, within this group are distinct individuals – if these individuals aren’t already lone wolves. A perfect example of this would be Reservoir Dogs. It carries on the Western tradition of individualism in crime films through Mr. Pink, Mr. Brown, Orange, White, Blonde and so on. You see nicknames of this sort in Strike, but, these characters all dissolve very quickly as the revolutionary uprising occurs. In such, what you will find in Soviet films is the group representing a collective hero. There will thus be a celebration of collective industrial living, agricultural revolution, military uprisings or working class revolt; there is no knight in shining armour defeating a dragon alone.

The purpose of this is what defines it to be propaganda; it embodied the political interests of a radical and rapidly changing state. In Strike, this is most evident and I will attempt to explain this with my weak understanding of political history, communism and Soviet Russia. As communicated by this film, communism is centred on the recognition and the support of the working class. In certain senses, the re-shaping of society in Soviet Russia can then be considered symbolically. Western civilisation is, by and large, founded by a philosophy bound to the image of the the triangle…


The triangle represents a patriarchal hierarchy; and this is not meant in the same negative capacity as some political entities will use it. The patriarchal hierarchy is bound to the idea of a king (a tsar) or a god; to an archetypal leading male figure as supported by the archetypal feminine presence – God and Mother Nature for example. This, to my understanding and as primarily picked up from various talks by Jordan Peterson, has its foundations far back into even Egyptian society and the image of the pyramid with Horus’ eye above it.

However, without delving too deep into this subject, communists, or Marx, essentially saw this hierarchy as unjust as he thought that capital should not lead to surplus as this constitutes the exploitation of the working class. The manner in which this concept revealed itself, as documented by this film, was attempts to turn our above triangle upside down.

Triangle up

The symbolic implication of this is that the majority working class (proletariat) revolt against the minority ruling class (bourgeoisie), essentially turning the tables, hence, the triangle and hierarchy is turned upside down. We could go further with this line of thought to imply that a communist system, or at least, one that purports to allow the majority rule in respects more literal then representative democracy, is destined to fail as a triangle stood on its tip only stands precariously. Thus, there is danger. Some may argue that the upside triangle can remain balanced, but it is evident that this precarious structure can be tipped over, hence, dictatorships, the re-emergence of a ruling class, and the mass murder of 100 million people. This would then imply that the triangle is, metaphorically and literally, the strongest structure in the world for good reason and maybe shouldn’t be messed with and turned on its head so lightly as it has a tendency to slam back down with a new hierarchical structure.

However, as said, my opinion on such a subject is not really a valid one – and we are getting off-track. But, the point of this line of inquiry was to explore what Soviet cinema’s narrative structure implies through its fabula or content. We see this quite precisely in Strike and it is supported by the guiding frame of Eisenstein. Now, as mentioned, this can be considered a contradiction of Soviet cinema. After all, the realism advocated by, for example, Bazin is one that better aligns with the communal ideals of a Marxist as the frame is more ambiguous and open to an audience’s exploration when it is not static and staccato – as will be seen with Soviet Montage. Then again, a Soviet aesthetic is based on everyone looking in the same direction and with the same ideal – another element of Marxism; one that, paradoxically, seems to imply a hierarchy of guidance (at least through cinema with our formally individual and unique artist – who would later go on to be censored and have his films repossessed by the state).

The topic of Soviet Cinema is not a simple one, and I haven’t done it much justice with this essay, but, if anything of substance came from this, I hope it is the assertion that Strike is a brilliant representative of Soviet Montage and Sergei Eisenstein’s work. So, it’s at this point that I’ll leave things with you. Have you seen Strike? What are your thoughts on all we’ve covered today?



Previous post:

Okja – Ugly

Next post:

End Of The Week Shorts #14

More from me:

Okja – Ugly

Thoughts On: Okja (2017)

A girl who raised a super pig fights to keep it from being slaughtered.


I didn’t like this film much, but, I didn’t hate it. It is well shot, the CGI is clearly CGI at all points, though that doesn’t cheapen the experience, the writing isn’t terrible, but, the message and the manner in which its communicated… yeesh. Okja is very plainly about factory farming, activism, veganism, lies, corporations and animals rights. And whilst this movie makes a few great points on all of these topics, it really adds nothing and provides little of much worth into the world – and so is a pretty pointless film that doesn’t amount to much at all. Moreover, this movie only really serves to be a satire of itself, which it may aim to be in parts, but clearly isn’t supposed to be entirely.

The initial element that I understood, but didn’t like about this movie was its attack of corporations. Whilst, yes, there is terrible corruption in the world and an incredibly significant problem with greed and people just wanting more, the portrayal of this in Okja is very messy and inarticulate. As mentioned, in many respects this is a satirical film, one that, in part, makes fun of corporations and all it is clearly opposed to. However, one lasting joke that seems to pervade the narrative as one of its main messages comes with a late teen, a truck driver, who couldn’t be more apathetic. He works for his corporation, but feels they do not care for him, and so doesn’t care about them at all. Whilst this is entirely understandable, this kid imbues the narrative with quite an ugly tone of self-righteousness, laziness and nihilism – a tone that is encapsulated by a protest of teenage apathy and indignation, which isn’t incredibly attractive and which is never escaped by the overall story. The main problem with this film is then that it creates no characters, nor points, worth caring about; it is plainly immature and unsophisticated.

Moving, then, to our primary protagonist, we have a girl that helps raise the super pig, Okja, that is at the heart of this narrative. The element of her character that really ruins this movie comes at the point in which the pig, which was given to her family to raise – all for obvious reasons, is taken back by the corporation. This trope is present in many movies and is usually the moment at which a child learns that animals aren’t necessarily your friend and that they serve a purpose – a point at which kids usually show their maturity or not. In the movies in which kids fight the adults and want to save their pet… I don’t know, it’s always just seemed really childish to me. However, for the most part, these are kids’ movies, so we can give them some edge. What is so off about Okja, however, is that our protagonist (who, on a side side-note, is almost a superhero) was not a 7-year-old, yet acted with the heart and mind of one – especially through the manner in which she treats her grandparents. So, whilst I know her actions lead to a whole corporate lie being exposed, this immature attachment to what is supposed to be a farm animal imbues the narrative with immaturity – which mirrors the apathetic teen kid rebelling against ‘the man’ with laziness.

A large part of this narrative that really didn’t work for me was then this general aspect of overwhelming immaturity. I tried communicate this to my girlfriend, who I watched the movie with, by saying, if this movie was about huge fish, you wouldn’t care at all; and, as Bill Burr says, all because fish don’t have eyebrows. She just laughed at me and called me dumb. But, the point still stands.

This movie has a clear agenda and point to make, and it makes it in an incredibly devicive manner. In such, Okja tries to make a point about factory farming with animals that are almost on a human level of smartness and who are cute. This was done so that this movie had mass appeal and, somewhat ironically, made sure those dollar bills (S.K wons) started rolling. However, this only hurts the movie’s point. We are tricked into caring about animal rights; we are sold an idea that we should love all creatures, but are provided with an animal that is so easy to love. What I would love to then see is this movie be about giant cod…

… not smart, poo-flicking hippopotami, and see what happens. What this would do, I presume, is distinguish the people who really subscribe to a philosophy which suggest that all life has equal value from those who just like to share cute animal pictures on their social media and pet their cats/dogs who they love so dearly.

So, whilst I will inevitably come off as cynical by criticising this movie in such a way, I can’t sympathise with half-baked narratives that show no real meditation on their themes, rather, just squeeze out pop-political topics which attract teenagers who think they’re to change the world after being inspired by cute animal porn.

What we then have to address is this movie’s core and ignored conflict. There are hundreds of millions of starving and hungry people, primarily in developing countries, across the world. This is an ugly truth that we never, and can’t really, consider enough. Okja clearly wants this to change, but, before everything else, criticises factory farming. In my view, factory farming is a necessary evil in the world that needs to be somehow eradicated over time. However, is everyone turning vegan going to sort this? Uhhh… who knows? Is everyone going to turn vegan? Hell, no. Moreover, by showing the terrible conditions of factory farming, will everyone turn vegan? Hell, no; you can tell people that there’s rats in their favourite food chain kitchens and they’ll still go in with a self-deprecating smile on their face. Why? Because people are very facilitating of necessary evils. This is a very complex topic that could very easily be utilised to make a more compelling point for veganism and change in the factory farming industry, but this movie doesn’t even come near to approaching this.

To begin to ask some questions that this narrative doesn’t, we’ll start with the fact that Okja is a pig that was constructed in a lab with numerous failures and ugly results. Yes, the failures are terrible, but is there a distinction between the farming of animals that are constructed by humans and those that exist in nature? There is certainly a semantic difference, one that implies that, because humans constructed the meat, we have more control over them and so more of a right to do with them as we please. However, how different is this from rearing animals? Yes, they weren’t created in a lab, but they wouldn’t be alive without our input. Does this not give us rights over them?

I don’t think I can answer those questions as I think they stem from a faulted position, but, these are questions that people will be asking in the future – 10, 50 or 100 years down the line. After all, a lamb was only recently raised in an artificial womb…

… so this is an ethical problem that is going to be very important sometime soon. So, what underlies the question “is it wrong to farm artificially produced livestock”, are alternate questions of intelligence and suffering. In such, most animal rights ethics are centred not around the idea of an animal’s life and it being killed, rather, it suffering. This is the most sensible stance someone can take as an animal activist as factory farming is the world’s only real answer to the fact that there are billions of hungry mouths to feed, and as implied, almost a billion who go hungry. So, whilst this giant machine can’t just be destroyed, preventing the suffering of animals is more than justifiable. However, to play devil’s advocate, whilst the torture of animals over prolonged periods as they live is reprehensible, why is it so bad that they suffer moments before they die? Does it really matter so much that they die comfortably, or is this just people massaging their ethical dissonance?

The truth that I am trying to access and exposit by discussing all of this is not just argumentation for the sake of it, nor is it just to point out how this movie is faulted, rather, it is to reach the point that this movie should have made – and so nearly does. This point is: there is an awful lot of ugliness in the world, and most people don’t know how to look at it. For instance, corporations do fucked up things, serving people only as to serve themselves. Activists also do a whole bunch of dumb and (conceptually or physically) damaging things – all whilst trying to make people’s and other organisms lives better. Some farmers raise their animals with love, but then kill them, but only at a price that those who are rich enough to care really about the ethics of factory farming can afford. Because our society isn’t perfect, we need all of these opposing forces locked in a productive conflict so that the activists don’t enforce a fascist vegan rule and the corporations don’t force us into a capitalist dictatorship.

However, will we ever be able to move beyond a point at which society only works, concerning food production, without antagonism of this sort? Well, I think there’s it’s a big “possibly” to be said. And in such, if people, on a wider societal level, are to confront some of the issues raised in this movie, we need to work from the bottom up; by actually questioning the actual ethics of this problem and even why this debate needs be had. And the crux of why this debate even needs to be had all comes down to the fact that people don’t know how to look at ugly things. In such, as the movie depicts through a poignant application of ‘facade’ as a theme, we would all like it if world hunger went away, but, want this done cleanly and with politically correct and smiling faces running the corporations managing this. We would also all love it if there was no suffering in our bacon. The fact is, until the artificial food production companies get a whole lot better at their jobs and find a way of mass producing that doesn’t cause just as much environmental damage as factory farming, as currently we know it, does, we have to look this ugly issue in the face. We then either have to sacrifice something for a higher ideal, or simply ask the question, what is life worth?

Whilst I understand and appreciate the philosophy of “all life is equal”, especially in regards to human life, as it doesn’t leave any gaps for horrific applications of social Darwinism, eugenics and genocide, I think it’s too much of a blanket statement – and one that most don’t live by. People have to kill to survive – energy has to be passed from one body to another. Because we can’t photosynthesise, at the very least, we then have to eat plants. But, what would happen if we found out that plants are quite a bit smarter than we give them credit for – and there is quite a bit of evidence that suggests they are, at the least, more complex then we’d like to think. Would the vegans be unethical and the neo-photosynthesisers be the new moral pinnacle? Who knows, and maybe that’s a silly question. But, the point we build towards again is, if this movie was about fish, no one would give a shit. Plants, just like fish, don’t have facial expressions and so we have a very hard time giving a fuck about their suffering and feeling (if it even exists). What this suggests is that people only care about themselves, and only begin to care about other organisms through personification – and Okja is a brilliant example of just this. This ugly truth is something that people need to confront so that maybe corporations can just be transparent and forget about their ridiculous marketing (lies), and that activists don’t feel the need to radically change the world.

But, before I begin preaching to the choir, we’ll end things. Okja is a pretty bad movie in respect to its purpose and narrative message, primarily, because it doesn’t even come close to confronting the problem of ugliness. For this, Okja is a fun, but immature movie that’s not really worth paying attention.



Previous post:

The Gods Must Be Crazy – Reductionist Film

Next post:

Strike – The Broken Stage; Shaping Society

More from me:

The Gods Must Be Crazy – Reductionist Film

Thoughts On: The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)

Though this is, in part, a South African film, this will serve as the Botswanan film of the series as this is where the narrative is based and the film shot.

The Gods Must Be Crazy is one of the most commercially successful African films of all time – certainly of the 80s for South Africa in countries such as Japan and America. It is centred on the journey of a Botswanan ‘bushman’ who aims to rid his family of an evil glass Coke bottle by throwing it off of the edge of the Earth, but runs into other modern people, including a foreign biologist and school teacher.

For the most part, this is a slap-stick comedy with silent film aesthetics achieved through a use of fast-motion in the numerous physical comedy sequences. You then have to be somewhat sympathetic to not just dismiss this movie as just ridiculous, so, if in the right mood, this is a very amusing movie. Its only real downfall concerns the sound design, which is rife with (in the version I watched) terrible ADR performances. Everything else about this film is pretty good; the direction, acting, story and characters all work very well for what is trying to be achieved. There are two things that really make this movie worthwhile however. The first is the almost alien nature of this cinema – both the visuals, the concept and the story are something you’d have a really hard time imagining coming out of a Hollywood studio. But, the second element I really liked was its application of reductionism.

We see this primarily in the opening in which we are given narration that is so incredibly basic that it becomes absurd. The use of the San people (indigenous hunter-gather groups) in this story is an extension of this as their lifestyle can only be examined through a lens so simple that it makes all other forms living seem absurd. (That said, this film shouldn’t be considered a documentary on these people). A large part of this narrative is then concerned with reducing the complex, yet inarticulated and innately understood, elements of a society to their basic rules as to reveal an uncanny and overlooked truth. This truth is connected, in large part, to the complications that humans invent in society that make life better in certain respects, but much more difficult in many others. This is why we are initially told about the simple, yet idealistic, approach to life of the San people in contrast to modern people in cities. Later in the narrative, we get further reductionism of a similar kind through comedy that, again, utilises silent film tropes through its use of complicated machinery – mainly with gags centred on a truck connect to a Western man who cannot successful communicate with a woman. The most profound implication of this narrative is, however, the ‘evil of necessity’ – as represented by the useful glass Coke bottle which only separates the family which find it. The Gods Must Be Crazy then doesn’t just attempt to romanticise simple and primitive forms of living (though, this is a large part of the narrative), but point out the dangers of complex human ideas that invent complicated, possibly dangerous, behaviours – one of the most basic being possession.

This reductionist approach to narrative can be seen in another film which we’ve covered on the blog, Island Of Flowers. This short film describes attributes of society whilst following the production of a tomato from its initial destination to its last. Island Of Flowers thus explains poverty and freedom in such a way that they almost become comedic – though, all as to set up a profound idea of freedom and human desire. Other examples of reductionist film can certainly be found in the filmography of Yorgos Lanthimos. It is through a movie like Dogtooth, Attenberg or The Lobster that Lanthimos creates an absurd world from small truths put on display in their most unelaborate manner. Dogtooth, another film we’ve covered before, does this so brilliantly with what can be considered a coming-of-age narrative, one that makes a commentary on the poignancy and lasting effects of childhood and parents.

Taking these three examples of reductionist film we can develop a spectrum. On one extremely overt end is Island Of Flowers, which isn’t attempting to be a narrative film, rather a comedic ‘documentary’. On the opposite end of the scale is the subtle films of Lanthimos who, if you don’t recognise what he’s doing, will just seem like a terrible and insane filmmaker. What then lies around a centre-point would be The Gods Must Be Crazy. It has both elements of narrative and ‘documentary’, and brings these elements together with direct reductionist commentary as well as more subtle forms of storytelling. So, despite their differences, there are two things that connect all of these films. Firstly, it is their reductionist approach, and secondly it is the fact that they all contain comedy (dark or otherwise) and striking social commentary.

Whilst a lot more could be said about this topic in general, I think these films are three tremendous examples of how to make a film with meaning. The approach of reductionist films then lays bare the process of boiling complex entities down to simple ideas that exude absurdly power truths. To do this you do not necessarily have to create a reductionist narrative, merely encapsulate the its approach in your processing of your story’s themes and topics. So, this is where I’ll end with a few questions. Have you seen the films covered? What are your thoughts on them? What are your thoughts, more generally, on reductionist film?

Previous post:

Every Year In Film #15 – Falling Cat

Next post:

Okja – Ugly

More from me:

Every Year In Film #15 – Falling Cat

Thoughts On: Falling Cat (1894)

A cat, held upside down, is dropped, turning as it descends to land on its feet. In other worlds, a cat falls.

Étienne-Jules Marey is an incredibly significant artist and scientist who developed remarkable photographic and cinematic technology, as well as sensibilities, in the ‘pre-cinema’ era. We have made allusions to Marey ever since the Every Year series began, but haven’t yet had the chance to talk specifically about him. It now seems that there couldn’t be a better time to talk about Marey as we will next be exploring 1895 and, as you may guess, the Lumières.

Over the past dozen or so posts, we have looked at many technological innovations, like the use of film strips, perforated celluloid and single lens cameras. What’s more we have discussed the commercialisation of ‘cinema’, which was arguably founded with Edison, as well as identified the roots of an early cinematic aesthetic through Louis Le Prince. However, the first major idea from the pre-filmic era that we established through the Every Year series was connected to Muybridge. Muybridge, as one of the first directors of  ‘cinema’, showed a focus on the philosophical implications and the reasons for the form like few did after him; many like Greene, Dickson, Edison and Demenÿ only really demonstrated a focus on entertainment, technology and commercialisation. We then only have 3 particularly interesting and significant figures that emerged from the late 1870s, 1880s and early 1890s. Firstly, as mentioned, is Muybridge.

Muybridge, in my view, represents control and a person harnessing time itself for personal, for lack of a better word, satisfaction. Second to him, we have Reynaud, who made some of the largest leaps towards what we know as cinema today with his animated films, projected with the use of perforated celluloid.

Whilst Reynaud does represent technological innovation, underlying the evolution of his apparatus was a yearning to tell stories. This is why he invented longer film strips and his Optical Theatre. Reynaud was then incredibly significant as he was the first person who used cinema to tell stories and who brought life and motion to the magic lantern presentations of even earlier pre-cinematic days.

Thirdly is the figure we mean to explore today: Marey. When we discuss the profound implications of Muybridge’s work, there comes a point at which we have to pull on the reigns of our enthusiasm. This is because Muybridge wasn’t really a strict scientist – despite his claims and formal choices that begin to imply such a facade. Because Muybridge was not using cinema scientifically, we cannot easily see that he truly cared for the study of motion, space and time; instead, it is quite clear that he revered the power of such a control and captured that aesthetically – which is what we ourselves (most probably) marvel at too. Marey was a scientist and he had a very clear fascination with space, time and motion. This is what makes his works so significant and the world of his art so awe-inspiring – and quite possibly more so than the work produced by filmmakers for decades to come. But, before exploring this idea, we must first know of Marey himself and then his work.

Born and raised in eastern France, Marey would move north to Paris at age 19 to study physiology and surgery, qualifying as a doctor 10 years later in 1859. There isn’t much that is heavily and widely documented about Marey’s early life and so we can assume that he lived a rather anonymous life until 1868 when he published his first work studying blood circulation. It’s with his paper Le Mouvement dans les fonctions de la vie that Marey’s interest with motion is fully established, an interest that of course has roots in physiology. Physiology is, in certain senses, biology in motion; it is the study of processes and bodily functions as attached to time. What we will grow to see is that Marey’s ‘cinema’ is precisely this; it is a study of the body’s relationship with time. This is an idea that would later be understood by the Russian auteur, Tarkovsky, as ‘Sculpting In Time’. However, whilst Tarkovsky studies time in relation to the existential human soul, Marey established a cinema that was bound to a study of the physical human body.

Marey wouldn’t begin to build this cinema, however, until the 1890s. His focus on time’s relationship with organisms’ bodies for the time being, in the 1860s, was on the measurement of pulses and blood circulation. He would then work with a physiologist, Auguste Chauveau, and a watch manufacturing company, Breguet, to produce a portable sphygmograph, a device that would measure a person’s pulse.

He would carry out further studies with this device among others like it (polygraphs, dromographs and other myographs) on various animals with some focus on insects and horses. His research and findings would be published in 1873 within the book, La Machine Animale.

It is in this book, whilst studying the movement of horses, that Marey would suggest that all four of a horse’s hooves were off the ground at one point as it gallops. This caught the interest of Leland Stanford and lead to his wager that resulted in a certain photographer called Eadweard Muybridge being called upon to somehow prove this notion to be true. This of course lead to the first ever experiment with multiple high-speed cameras to produce pictures of movement…

Marey was impressed with Muybridge’s 1879 publishings, met him in 1881, and was inspired to begin his own work that utilised photography as opposed to the diagrams and illustrations you will see throughout many of his books.

Marey would then look to other figures who had attempted to photograph motion for inspiration and came upon Jules Janssen. You will of course know Janssen from the first film we covered in the Every Year Series: Passage Of Venus. He shot this rare astronomical event with a photographic revolver…

Using metal plate (daguerreotype) photography, Janssen recorded sequential images of Venus passing across the Sun in 1874. The photographic revolver was a huge and cumbersome device and Marey was already dissatisfied to a certain degree with Muybridge’s photography as, though it could capture the horse in motion, it couldn’t do so well with birds. This meant, despite inspiration, he needed something of his own design.

Marey was interested in flight, which is why he studied insects, creating models of them and later taking breath-taking photographs of insects, birds and marine creatures. So, with the concept of the photographic revolver in mind, Marey invented his chronophotographic gun:

During the 1880s and 90s, Marey spent part of his year in Posillipo, Naples (Italy), and the rest in Paris. It was in Naples that Marey invented this photographic device during 1882. The gun utilised 12 glass plates that would spin as the trigger was pulled, allowing them to be exposed.

Pointing at and ‘shooting’ birds with this contraption, Marey would have seemed very strange and so was apparently called “The Fool Of Posillipo” by the locals. Nonetheless, Marey would continue with his work, producing images of birds in flight.

Inspired by these studies, he would later have sculptures of birds made in 1887.

He would even patent and produce a 3D zoetrope from these designs, that would function just like their two dimensional counterpart…

However, alongside his work in Naples, Marey would still be working in France. In Paris he was then working with a figure we covered previously, Georges Demenÿ. He worked with Demenÿ in the Station Physiologique, which was constructed in 1882.

Here, he did not continue work with the chronophotographic gun, instead invented a fixed-plate chronophotographic camera that was mounted to rails.

Using this improved device, Marey would take hundreds of pictures from 1882 to 88 with Demenÿ. Their photographs would all capture movement on one plate, establishing the unique aesthetic that many will know Marey for.

On a side-note, if you look at the earlier works of Marey, you will see in his use of graphs a similar aesthetic to this, one of continuous motion:

It then seems that his chronophotographic sensibilities and aesthetic were founded in physical and quantum mechanical wave-like functions, unknowingly bringing to life de Broglie’s 1924 proposal that all matter, even people, have a wavelength. However, let’s not get too abstract as I may end up wading into water too deep for myself.

In 1888 Marey decided to improve his devices, employing the use of sensitised paper for 2 years as opposed to glass plates. It was in 1890, however, that Marey transitioned from paper to celluloid and began to make, what we would begin to consider, cinema. Initially, Marey would study the human figure in motion (much like Muybridge).

However, Marey quickly distinguished himself from Muybridge who only really shot animals and then people doing various acts semi-naked for many years. In 1891, Marey, in Naples, then began studies on insects:

This is then where Marey really begins to take your breath away. His focus was not simply on a concept of motion, but its details. A great point of comparison between Marey and Muybridge would then be his works from 1893, where he continues to study the human form.

In the examples here, we see exactly what separated Marey from Muybridge: the close-up. It is very rare to see a close-up in the works of Muybridge. His studies were instead on wider motions, in short, acts of motion instead of motion itself:

When we stop to analyse our subject for today we will see that Marey’s ethic was centred on our initial idea of physiology and time’s relationship with bodies. So, let us introduce Falling Cat…

Whilst there is a novelty in this being the first movie to depict a cat, this was a scientific study that focused on the Cat Righting Reflex. This is an interesting phenomena as it concerns the flexibility of a cat’s spine which they innately use to flatten out their bodies when they fall. The reason for this is so that they increase the surface area of their body as they fall so that they can create drag – much like a parachute. Because of this ability and their weight-to-size ratio, cats have a non-fatal terminal velocity. This means that if they are allowed to accelerate to the point at which they stop falling any faster (which is around 60mph) and hit flat land, they are likely to survive. If a cat then falls from over 5 stories high, it has a 90% chance of surviving. However, do not throw your cat off of a tall building. It may not die straight away, but it will likely sustain injuries that it will later die from if not given medical treatment.

With that said, Marey’s study of the Cat Righting Reflex demonstrates not just his interest in physiology and bodies, both of humans and animals, which you will find inherent to all of his work, but his interest with time and its relation to organic beings which utilise the physical phenomenon to create motion. This is what makes so much of his work profound; it had reason that implied a whole other purpose that cinema can facilitate. As a result, whilst we may not watch his films as scientific studies, this inherent purpose instills his aesthetics with a focus on the wonders of the physical world.

What Marey then captured with his cinema was, as was suggested at the beginning of the essay, another shade of what would later be Tarkovsky’s cinema. Both Tarkovsky and Marey intentionally created Sculptures In Time; whilst Marey had a focus on the physical world, Tarkovsky investigated the existential and subjective realm of the human psyche. It is for this reason that, in 1894, Marey dismissed Demenÿ from his laboratory and replaced him with Lucien Bull – who filmed the incredible short, Ball Passing Through A Soap Bubble, in 1904.

Marey, as we have discussed previously, replaced Demenÿ because he only expressed interest in the commercialisation of chronophotography. Marey was not interested in this side of motion picture photography, instead, the content of his films which scientifically investigated time and the physical world. Coming back to our previous point, the awe that Tarkovsky captures with his films is then certainly captured by Marey’s equally pure cinema with everything from his depictions of insects to birds, to people and even sting rays…

… expositing not so much the inner human complex, but the complex beauty of the physical world. Marey, in my opinion, then represents the height of spectacle in the early cinematic period as his spectacle is founded in a scientific intrigue, one that ultimately builds an intellectual and even profound spectacle.

Étienne-Jules Marey would work on his films from 1890 until 1900. Beyond 1900, he worked with smoke, studying gaseous motion.

And later he would work with Lucien Bull on projects like Ball Passing Through A Soap Bubble. However, it was in this year, 1904, that Marey died at aged 74.

Marey’s impact on cinema is one that is, very clearly, giant. He not only directly influenced Muybridge, Edison and the Lumières, but he retained an aesthetic and a cinema of his own that no one could replicate. Marey is then a giant above giants in the pre-cinematic and early cinematic eras – one that shouldn’t be forgotten as we explore the ‘birth of cinema’ with the Lumières very soon. I’ll then conclude this lengthy look at Marey with a link to a collection of his films for you to further investigate: link here.

Previous post:

Day Of Wrath – What Is A Witch?

Next post:

The Gods Must Be Crazy – Reductionist Film

More from me:

Day Of Wrath – What Is A Witch?

Thoughts On: Day Of Wrath (Vredens Dag, 1943)

A young girl, forced into a marriage with an old reverend, falls for his son amidst accusations of witchcraft.

Day Of Wrath

There are few auteurs that represent their own form or niche of cinema, and Dreyer is one of the rare few who embody their own personal corner of cinema. With Day Of Wrath, we have then been given yet another masterpiece, one that is seemingly as profound and complex as films get, moreover, one that is rich with subtle, yet piercingly beautiful, cinematography and cinematic language. And despite the criticism that this is a slow and mundane movie, I was wholly immersed into this film thanks to its mature pacing – which, admittedly, isn’t as fast as Mad Max: Fury Road. It is the narrative of Day Of Wrath, however, that is the crux of this monstrously brilliant movie, and I stumbled into its depths with a silly question: does Dreyer actually believe in witches?

Whilst I asked this to myself satirically, questioning what cinema may look like in the hands of 17th century artists and how it would be received by modern audiences, it soon became clear to me that Dreyer has not made a simple film that just critiques witch hunts, nor does it seem like he has constructed a narrative that is particularly reflective of his context. After all, despite being made in 1943, Dreyer denied that this film was about the persecution of Jews – even after critics had interpreted it as such. Day Of Wrath is then quite far removed from works such as The Crucible by Arthur Miller, which both critique the phenomena of a witch hunt and used it to comment on (what was) contemporary topics, namely, McCarthyism. Dreyer’s film is much more complex as it transcends its historical roots, manifesting itself as a parabolic exposition of something deep within the human complex. To delve into this, we’ll quickly outline the main elements of this narrative.

Day Of Wrath is centred on four figures; Absalon, an aged reverend; Merete, his mother; Anne, his young wife; and Martin, his son, who is only slightly older than Anne. With the opening of the film Herlofs Marte, an elderly lady, is accused of being a witch. She is soon captured and interrogated by clergymen, Absalon being one of those that is apart of the trail. Whilst Herlofs confesses to being a witch, she attempts to barter with Absalon, revealing that he saved Anne’s mother, who was also accused of being a witch, only so that he could marry her daughter. Absalon refuses her barter and sends her to burn at the stake, and she goes without denouncing Anne’s already deceased mother. Following this, Martin returns home to his father, grandmother and new mother. For the majority of the narrative, Martin and Anne then fall for one another, hiding behind Absalon’s back, yet unable to escape the presumptuous and contemptuous gaze of Merete, the grandmother. Coming towards the climax of the movie, Absalon finds himself at the deathbed of a neighbour on a stormy night. Returning home, having been affected by the death he witnessed and even feeling death’s calling himself, Absalon confesses to Anne that he shouldn’t have taken her youth. She accepts his confession and admits that she wishes he died before revealing her affair with his son – a fact which kills him. After being defended by Martin at his funeral, Merete claims that Anne killed Absalon and that she, like her mother, is a witch. She is then asked to testify before his dead body and chooses to reveal that she is in fact a witch that used evil powers to kill her husband.

This is an intriguing narrative when we consider the social interactions being represented – though it will seem a pointlessly macabre and boring one if you wanted to see a condemnation of the witch hunt, one rife with hysteria, accusation and melodrama. Nonetheless, we come back to my initial question: does Dreyer actually believe in witches? For the symbolism and subtext that he employs, I would have to conclude that he doesn’t exhibit anything that suggest that he believes in real witches, much rather that he understands the metaphor beneath the religious/spiritual icon. And in such, it seems that Dreyer comprehends what fuelled witch hunts; a stance from which he doesn’t simply construct basic commentary, but, as said, reveals something of human nature. What the narrative of Day Of Wrath is then centred on is one question: what is a witch?

“Witch” is a term that crosses countless cultures with varying meaning, encompassing everything pertaining to medicine to magic to divine powers to evil spell-casting. So, to specify, Dreyer is of course dealing with a Christian interpretation of a witch, one that is attributed to evil and heresy. The Christian ‘witch’ is then one which can raise the dead, will people deceased and communicate with the devil. These are the key elements that are focused on in Day Of Wrath. And if we combine this understanding with a reading of a narrative such as that in The Crucible, we can understand that witches and witch hunts were often chaotic means of manipulating faith as to hurt people or avenge social disputes and quarries. With this being a given as we enter this narrative, the idea that witches could raise the dead, kill people or talk to the devil becomes a subtle means of inciting the same social chaos. In such, through Day Of Wrath it is clear that we are also seeing social disputes, like those between Absalon and Anne, Marete and Anne or Absalon and Herlofs, being funnelled into this concept of the witch. What this then seems to imply is that is the witch is a scapegoat.

We can understand this idea even better if we delve into a detail of Jewish tradition – from which the term ‘scapegoat’ comes from. A scapegoat was a practice from Leviticus (the third book of the Jewish bible) and was a literal goat that villagers would impart their sins onto before sending it into a dessert to die. A witch is very nearly this. In accusing people (often women, though many men were certainly accused and burnt at the stake) of being a witch, people would essentially be doing the equivalent of whispering their secrets into seashells before casting them into an ocean or writing a sin on a piece of paper and burying it some place that no one will ever find it. There is a stark difference between seashells, letters and people, however, and that is that one is a living breathing organism whilst the others aren’t. There is thus a social element added to the witch as a scapegoat, one that can be interpreted in two ways.

Morally, burning witches is an obvious wrong and a barbaric practice – such is a common, basic commentary. Metaphorically, however, this phenomena is a little more nuanced and revealing of social dynamics. As they are depicted in Day Of Wrath, witches are scapegoats, but of a different kind to what has been implied so far. Witches in Day Of Wrath are scapegoats which carry the burden of selfishness (not necessarily sin, malice or jealousy alone). The key distinguishing element of this narrative from many others is then that its depiction of selfishness isn’t always tantamount to evil. In such, much of that which is funnelled into Anne, who becomes a scapegoat witch, is not morally polarising and clearly wrong. For example, whilst her and Absalon’s son have an affair, this is only after Absalon took Anne and stole away her youth (as he admits). Moreover, Martin recognises their wrongdoing and doesn’t accuse Anne of being a witch whilst he believes that she didn’t wish him dead. Thus, he doesn’t give her the burden of his guilt – not until it is revealed that she did wish her father dead. When it concerns Merete, Absalon’s mother, she accuses Anne and despises her, but she does so assuming that Anne has wronged her son – which she did. And when it concerns Absalon, he took Anne’s youth selfishly, but was never a terrible husband to her. The more we assess the characters, it’s clear that they all have their shades of good and bad as well as shades we can empathise with and denounce. What lies at the crux of everything negative attributed to these characters, however, is an act of dishonourable selfishness. Primarily, it is Absalon who takes Anne and contributes to the practice of burning witches. Then it is Merete who hates Anne instead of her son’s decision to bring her into her home. After this it is Anne and Martin who selfishly deceive Absalon. Finally, it is Anne who sends him to his grave.

Every action described is understandable (to varying degrees) and thus we find ourselves in a confounding situation of escalating reactions, all of which are selfish and guided by social context, few of which are direct acts of evil. This situation is incredibly difficult for all of the individuals within this narrative to manage and is exactly why there are such strong emotions of guilt and resentment within this film. The solution that everybody in this narrative eventually takes advantage of is then the scapegoat witch, which Anne is nominated to be. It is then Merete who relieves herself of the burden of her son’s and grandson’s wrongdoings with Anne, and Martin who relieves himself of the guilt of having an affair with his step-mother. Anne also relieves herself of all resentment and guilt with a sacrificial truth; she confesses that she is a witch, that she is the centre of a whole family’s resentment and guilt (unduly or not).

We see a similar paradigm earlier in the narrative with Absalon and the first witch that is burnt: Herlofs. She dies, taking with her his secret, just like Anne probably dies taking with her a family’s shame. So, what this says is that Dreyer does believe in witches; he does believe that social groups create human scapegoats that are burdened with sin and then sent into the desert. He then criticises not the hysteria and the chaos that this can incite, but he criticises, with understanding, the humanity of such a phenomena. This is why Absalon dies weighted down by guilt and is essentially his own undoing. However, Dreyer doesn’t just resort to critique, he sheds mournful appraisal upon scapegoat witches, and does so with a powerful last image. Fading from a cross…

… Dreyer’s last image is this:

The second cross here is one that, though there are a plethora of different cross symbols connected to Christianity, I couldn’t succinctly identify through research. I then think that this is possibly a symbol that Dreyer has invented with multiple meanings. Firstly, the arrow on top of the cross seems to simulate a home, the juxtaposition to Jesus’ cross implying that there has been a sacrifice in a home and for a family; which explains Anne’s final choice. Second, this symbol uses a triangle, which is often associated with hierarchies and the Holy Trinity in Christianity. This would imply that Anne died for social purposes (the group hierarchy which she was at the bottom of), but also purposes connected to divinity and a higher power, which solidifies the reference to Jesus. Thirdly, however, this symbol closely resembles this…

… which is an alchemical cross; a satanic cross attributed to witches. This juxtaposition is most profound as it associates Anne, a scapegoat witch, with an archetypal scapegoat: Jesus. This implies that they both served higher purposes through suffering – in Anne’s case, maybe to prevent endless witch hunts as well as her own suffering – and even leaves Anne with tragic shades of the Virgin Mary about her (especially with her wanting to be a mother).

Whilst any of these interpretations seem viable thanks to the ambiguous nature of the cross, I see all three combining as the intricate and immensely profound social commentary of Day Of Wrath. This is then a film that is as much about selfishness, blame and shame as it is self-sacrifice and responsibility, leaving us wondering if a Day Of Wrath has really begun in the final moments with Anne’s accusation, or if she has somehow saved the family with a sacrifice. I believe it is this that lies at the heart of this masterpiece, but, I’ll end by turning to you. What are your thoughts on all we’ve covered today?

Previous post:

End Of The Week Shorts #13

Next post:

Every Year In Film #15 – Falling Cat

More from me:

Shorts #13

Today’s Shorts: Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012), 10 Minutes (2002), Pale Flower (1964), Bo Burnham: Make Happy (2016), The Ice Storm (1997), Pusher (1996), Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

Well-made in almost every single respect, Gangs Of Wasseypur is a movie that cannot be given any particularly damaging critique. But, whilst I enjoyed this movie, I never felt fully engaged or particularly interested in the characters and the endless plot-points.

What Gangs Of Wasseypur then lacked in my view was an element that really shone; the comedy was there and it usually works, but I wouldn’t say this is a hysterical movie; the action is all right, but never amazing; the drama and romance is present, but isn’t poignant; the application of themes is cohesive, but lacks a striking message or an emotive punch; and the world building is strong, but it didn’t really stick with me.

All in all, I’m glad I finally saw this movie as I have been meaning to see it for a few years, but wouldn’t really be too interested in its part 2 or a re-watch.

This is a straightforward short film that utilises the little time it has quite well. It juxtaposes a Japanese tourist in Rome waiting for his pictures with a scene from the 90s Bosnian War.

An interesting element of this film is its use of the long-shot as a form of realism in the war scene. This is something you see in a vast plethora of films (Children of Men, Atonement, Oldboy) and is also something you can read theorists like Bazin discuss. The long-shot not only imitates a real perspective (an omnipresence POV almost) in real-time, but it forces a viewer to watch a scene much like they would watch the world passing them by. What the long-shot then presents, as Bazin would widely talk about, is an alternative to montage (a scene made up of cuts and many shot types). There is then an ambiguity that lies at the heart of the long-shot as we are not told so directly where to look and how a scene functions through montage based cinematic language. Such mimics reality because, largely oblivious, we form visual narratives as we move through life – and cinema can be an abstract representative of this.

And I think this outlines the crux of this movie. Not only does it show abstract parallels throughout the world, but does this through realism, implying what we may refer to as a form of truth.

Pale Flower is a remarkable film noir from Japan, and is certainly one of my favourites of the genre, ranking way up there with French noirs such as Rififi and Le Samouraï.

I’ve never truly liked a classical American film noir, beyond maybe their aesthetics, because they often fail to capture what Pale Flower does so poignantly. As with many other crime films, there is a silent code embedded deeply into the world and characters of Pale Flower. This counterbalances the brooding existentialism and nihilism of the film noir as, though they seem empty and macabre, there can be reasoning, thought and understanding belying this sombre trudge through life. With ideas of honour, loyalty and vigilante justice, the noir is then given meaning and direction, making the experience of the narrative much more rich.

It’s because Pale Flower injects this mafia ethic into its narrative through its depictions of the Yakuza that it is such a worthwhile watch and an exceptional example of film noir.

I’m not much of a fan of Bo Burnham and his kind of comedy, though I do like it quite a bit and can appreciate him as a significant (though not entirely new) example of modern stand-up comedy.

I see two major faults in Make Happy. The first is the audience that Burnham plays to; they’re, without much of a better way of putting it, incredibly teenager-esque in an off-putting manner (see other peoples’ reviews). The second problem with this special is fed and emphasised by this. Burnham is self-aware, yet communicates his sometimes profound ideas in a very basic way. A lot of his comedy then boils down to pop observations that basically say “life is hard”, but with some grip on a reality that says, “so what?”, in a positive manner. The theme of critique that I’d use to assess this special is then, without wanting to be completely dismissive, immaturity.

Whilst I did laugh quite a few times at this special, which I’ve already seen once before, I’ve been left wondering how Burnham will evolve as the years go by. I hope he doesn’t become a 21st century Bill Hicks as I never liked him, but, time will tell.

Ohhh… it’s been a while since I felt true disdain for a movie.

The Ice Storm is rife with vapid, boring characters whose conflicts are not compelling even in the slightest. No matter how hard Ang Lee tries to have us sympathise with the plights of the upper-class, he goes about it all wrong as there is nothing and no one to truly empathise with. In such, Lee fails to capture the humanity and inner-workings of his characters, reducing many of them into inarticulate morons supported only by some dreamy sound design. Plain and simple, this movie has a disgusting tone that is never overcome. The Ice Storm is then pretentious, ugly and utterly contrived (especially in its final ‘revelatory’ act).

I can see exactly why many people would enjoy this movie (because of its themes and imagery), but, I don’t see how anyone could look past this nasty veneer.

This is, in essence, a story about a rat, one that is constantly backed into a corner, yet never stops fighting to remain in his sewer. Pusher is then a dark crime thriller, but could also be considered a neo-noir, and it fully embraces some of the worst human attributes possible, depicting a man who has nothing to live for but his own momentary self-satisfaction.

Whilst I somewhat enjoyed this narrative as it is well acted by the entirety of the cast and competently directed by Refn, it doesn’t bare too much depth, nor does it try to entertain. Refn then has designed a strange picture, one that is almost a noir for the sake of being a noir, a film for the sake of being a film, one that doesn’t have much meaning, nor spectacle.

Many people will then despise this picture, but I was immersed into this world with its entirely corrupt characters and so have to say the opposite. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s certainly good.

If “Dumb” was a movie genre, this would be a masterpiece.

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey has no business being as good as it is. It’s ridiculous in every single respect, but I love this movie (almost as much as the first). The humour works, the terrible writing works, the tone and sensibilities… it all works. Technically, this isn’t a bad looking movie. The director, Hewitt, knows what he’s doing and knows his cinematic history, implementing just as many nods to German expressionist and Swedish art films as pop American blockbusters and sequels. Reeves and Winter kill it. The soundtrack (the clearest element that is superior to the first film) is amazing; Kiss’s God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You with Steve Vai’s solo intro being a perfect ending to this utterly tremendous movie.

Excellent, non-heinous and bodacious. Obviously, a personal favourite.



Previous post:

Je T’aime, Je T’aime – Time And Romance, Bitter-Sweetly

Next post:

Day Of Wrath – What Is A Witch?

More from me: