Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stalker

Stalker really is an interesting film. It establishes an otherworldly Zone in the very beginning and creates a simple set of rules to govern the Zone as the movie progresses. We start the film with an idea of the Zone but that is all it is. Even when we get there, the Zone isn't this crazy place- it just is. The rules still apply that we learn along the journey or at least appear to affect the characters; however, we don't see any real signs of it affecting them. To me, this makes it an even more powerful place or at least idea- it is very similar to life. We, as an audience, are observers to the characters and since the perception of reality is personal, we do not feel the effects the characters may or may not be undergoing. We just see them and how it has a significance to them, which makes it more similar to real life and easier to suck the audience into. What really struck me about the reading was what the director actually had to say about the Zone. I found the Zone to be the strongest part of the movie for me. It had this weird influence while still appearing to have none at all while I was watching it. It really stuck with me how the director said that the Zone has no deeper meaning, since that was what made it stand out and influence me so much. Watching it, I was able to really believe the story or at least reality of the world and it was able to impact me in a more subtle way. I think due to the style and use of a quotation at the beginning, the journey I underwent was able to stay with me longer.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Miller's Xing

The Coen brothers created a very interesting genre film with their fast-talking gangster flick, Miller's Crossing. It celebrates previous classical conventions of the genre all while providing its own unique spin on the age old conventions. However, it is not strictly a nostalgic classical gangster movie. It also takes newer conventions of the genre from its revisionist period. Therefore in the genre itself, it becomes a mixed genre piece to an extent blending two different styles and periods of the genre. By doing so, it is able to provide unique and often unseen perspectives of common themes of the genre such as The American dream, the effects of capitalism,  and outlooks of society.

Time for a good old fashioned American beatdown, right?
In Miller's Crossing, the world of the gangsters is very multidimensional compared to classical gangster movies while still maintaining very rich iconography and archetypes. It presents a similar yet subtler more nuanced point of view on the effects of capitalism. The film shows some of the horrors it can bring about, but it is nowhere near as overt as films like Scarface. It merely presents the events and lets the audience have more freedom to interpret them. It shows that everyone in this world is only in it by themselves. There is truly few that can be trusted and trust can often be misplaced. It is a cold and harsh reality of the capitalist world. People are talk fast and loyalties are tossed around in the blink of an eye. A loyal friend can be killed in a moment's notice if disloyalty is suspected even falsely. Tom is very aware of this and ends up using this to his advantage. He knows the world and how to manipulate it to succeed. He's like a well trained stock broker in a twisted sense- he buys and sells allegiances and people like commodities. He's hardened by this world and his journey during the film only continue to harden him- he chooses to kill instead of give forgiveness. 
Standing up for the little man just comes back to haunt, Tom....
The role of society in the film is very unique. It provides a more morally grey viewpoint. It shows the whole world as corrupt- the gangsters and the law. This is not indicative of the classical period and more so a trait of the revisionist period in the genre. The mayor himself is corrupt and below the gangsters. The true king of the city is the head of the leading gang. The struggle for leadership can almost be seen as a ruthless campaign between two candidates for the office of king of the city. A very surprising moment which reveals the moral decay of the society comes when the police mercilessly shoot down unarmed gangsters when the step outside. It really does paint a good picture of what this society has become and the rules of the world. 

THIS ENDING OF KILLING THEM SOFTLY ARTICULATES NICELY SOME OF THESE POINTS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V6GHnxEJjg

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Scarface- The Original


Spiffy
Scarface is a very interesting film. I'm talking about the original 1932 Scarface- not the recent DePalma version, which is also interesting in its own ways. First, it was one of the few Gangster films during the classical period of the Hollywood Gangster genre which had a gangster as its protagonist. This in itself raised some minor moral battles in America, which is covered in the reading. As a result, restrictions were placed on the genre which ultimately made it more work than it was worth to make the gangster of a film the protagonist. Instead, it became a switch to the more traditional law enforcement heroes with the gangsters serving as the 'heavies'

The start of the film is in fact indicative of the time period. A title card precedes the film calling out the audience to do something about the horrors prevented in the film- to stop them. This notion of a title card prefacing a Gangster film to attempt to deter further crime or glorification of crime is very dated and is no longer used anymore. 
Who'd want to be him?!


Stylistically speaking, the film helps create or aids in the cementation of a solid gangster type/look. All the gangsters wear their 'uniforms' of slick suits with pride and power. They are also fast talkers. Immediately, we jump into the end of a conversation and somebody's subsequent assassination. This helps show the audience what to expect with the movie from the very beginning in terms of style and tone. Another key element in the film is the use of the newspaper. The very second scene of the movie is in a newspaper office where they are discussing a potential headline about gang war based on recent mob related crimes. Newspapers and even a calendar come back later as themes within the movie. It helps create an outcry to the audience in my opinion.

The ending of the film is very indicative of the time. It needs to end bleakly. The righteous must win- even though the protagonist is not on their side. It has to end in bloodshed- in utter violence. A point is even made of this by having Scarface laugh all throughout this at the beginning. It only starts to hit him once his girl gets shot. Even afterwards, his monstrosity continues to an extent. He walks downstairs in a coughing- which sounds all too similar to a monstrous laugh. Unarmed and cornered, Scarface decides to make a run for it- only to be gunned down mercilessly outside by the cops. He falls like a dog in the street, then we pan up to the words "The World is Your's". Slowly, this message then begins to fade to black as the movie ends. It serves as a message to the American people that these men do in fact end up paying for their crimes and will be held accountable for their sins. 

Breaking the Waves

The film itself is very interesting. No matter how much I didn't enjoy the experience of watching it, I cannot dismiss how impressed I was with the actual technique and decisions of Lars Von Trier. First, I really appreciated the film verité documentary style of filmmaking with such large grain patterns. It really made the film much more realistic in a grittier way to me. I found this particularly interesting because to me the film brought up interesting subjects and almost gave a varied and updated story of Dreyer's Ordet- or rather the inclusion of a holy fool type character in this story.

My actual experience of watching the film was definitely a trip. I hated- absolutely hated the film while I was watching it with the exception of the epilogue. Yet- why did the epilogue impact me so much? Looking back on it, I can see that what made the epilogue so hard hitting for me was the almost normal mysticism it had to it. When I saw Jan walking again, a whole stream of feelings came pouring onto me. All up until this point, I had been very dismissive of Bess; however, once I started to see Jan walk again I felt almost guilty for feeling that way about Bess earlier. Did she really end up truthfully sacrificing herself for love and having it work? I became filled with guilt while still at the same time a slight sense of wonder. At the very end of the film. when the Bells came back, I felt this joy. I felt a release to an extent- celebrating Bess's sacrifices for the first time in the movie and rightfully so. I was able to give Bess the burial and respect she deserved. However, then at the other side of the spectrum, I became doubtful or rather maintained some of my doubt, which was very interesting since at the same time I was able to experience a completely different feeling.

The reading really helped broaden my understanding of some parts of the movie. It helped me deal with some of the thoughts that I couldn't necessarily articulate or understand so much. I really liked the idea of how the film related to goodness and transgressing goodness all at the same time. I do agree with the article that it is easy to mistake Bess as a Christ-like/Joan-ofArc figure but that she is in fact different than that. It helped me deal with some of the thoughts I was having while watching the film and even after the film had ended. I think the idea of perception really plays a big role onto what the film is because it does indeed have a lot to do with the perception the audience has themselves to this experience of the film which indeed comes from their own previous experiences.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Silent Light

Silent Light's not a normal movie. It is different. It shows the transcendental filmmaking style at its peak. The film allows for a lot of moments to reach the unattainable or at least it provided me ample amounts of opportunities for it. Even in the individual shots and moments are there moments of transcendental style- not just on a level of the movie as a whole. A prime example of this shot where three different levels of understanding are reached, for example, would be the shot that dollies in towards the lone flower at the end of a scene which sheds a tear- or a droplet of water. The moment is a moment within itself which isn't necessarily connected to the movie, but because of it the events before and after it took on a slightly different meaning than it would have without it, I believe.

The film plays similarly to Dreyer's film "Ordet" but is allowed to have freedom and move on in a different direction which allows for more thought and beauty, in my opinion. I did have a hard time, however, at the beginning of the film getting into it. The pacing was so deliberate and slow as well as the moments that I did not fully emerse myself into the film until the scenes leading up to Johan's wife's death. Watching myself, I noticed that a lot of the devices that the director uses took me out of the movie sometimes. For example, the lens flaring up when Johan kisses his mistress reminded me that I was sitting watching a movie- but it did nothing more than that. However, the rain on the camera lens when Johan's wife is dying was beautiful and a great moment for me. First, I saw the rain. I accepted the rain on the lens, then I imagined it to be a representation of the sadness and spiritual death she was undergoing while later on and at the same time I accepted that it was also just in fact the weather. It was truly a weird feeling to experience while watching the scene.  

Overall, I can say that looking back I did enjoy the movie. It was able to stir something in me by the end. However, while watching it, I did not enjoy it. It was a trek- and I understood that I had to be willing to undergo all of it in order to reach where I was at the ending of the film. In this sense and with the style of the film, I can say that the movie played like a book. It was able to take on multiple meanings and tones all while maintaing a simple and basic one underneath everything that was taxed onto it by me, the viewer.

Bold. Brash. Covergirl.

Bold. Brash. Zombies?
Oh, grow up, Shaun!
Edgar Allen Wright's Shaun of the Dead from his blockbuster trilogy celebrates both the Screwball and Zombie genres. It plays with each of the genres and their conventions much like the other films in his blockbuster trilogy, Hot Fuzz and The World's End. The film's tone and pacing is directly taken from the Screwball genre. It is very comedic and light. It still allows for the potential for some horror and drama, but it makes light of it all at the same time. It takes Screwball sensibilities and throws them into a zombie apocalypse. Our protagonist Shaun is forced into a situation of which he is grossly underprepared and ultimately has to learn and lead on the fly on his way towards success. It is in this situation where nobody is prepared that Shaun is able to shine. 
The face of a hero?


It brings into light many of the conventions of the zombie film and even acknowledges and pokes fun at them. The first introduction to a "zombie" we see isn't a zombie at all- it's Shaun! We see Shaun slowly lumber out of bed and let out a long unintelligible moan. It's very clear that there isn't much life here, but then the camera jibs up to reveal that what we just saw and assumed was a zombie was in fact a person, albeit a slacker going through life in the day to day grind. The line between the living and the dead in the film, like in many Zombie films, is intentionally blurred; however, this time it is done in a more apparent and comedic way.

The film deals with a zombie apocalypse. Recently, the zombie genre and the scenario of a zombie apocalypse has became all to prevalent during the early 2000s- this prevalence actually contributed to Wright making the movie in part of his three part trilogy. A large part of the film is about trying to figure out and execute a plan to get to a safe house. This is a very clear goal in plenty of zombie films. However, the safe house itself is actually a bar- the bar that Shaun originally took his girlfriend to at the beginning of the film much to her dismay! It also shows life after the zombie apocalypse- which is often neglected. In a very comedic way, using the television, a convention of the genre to relay information, we can see that life is pretty much the same as it was before.  Shaun doesn't even notice the Zombies when they first appear! The message is comedic and almost eery because it shows how brain-dead certain aspects and people in our society can be. Life continues to move on even in the absence of such!



Who's up for some racquetball?
Of course, let's not forget how it was only due to the blending of the zaniness of the Screwball and the horror of the Zombie genres were we able to get this stellar scene! 



Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Snow

Alright, I know what you are thinking what's up with the title? Is snow a commentary on the cold effrontery shown in the film highlighting the decay of mankind? Is it just a commentary on the snow on the ground in SPRING (I know, it's ridiculous). Is it just a nice image to symbolize the film? No. No. No. You are always wrong! It is instead just a random word. There, I said it. Random. It truly shows the mood of the times and the film. Life did not appear to have meaning during the time the film was made with such events as the assassinations of MLK and JFK. It seemed like life did not have a distinct shape- war was going on with Vietnam at the time. It was all very heavy.


Romero's "The Night of the Living Dead" is widely acclaimed as a landmark cultural piece in cinema. Museums even have had pieces about it recognizing its impact. However, in a filmmaking point of view, nothing technically seems revolutionary. It is a fairly cheaply produced B movie. Looking at the images, it is hard to believe it had any impact at all. However, what made the movie so successful was not the film itself by a long shot- it was instead the significance of the film and the symbolism of it. It really paralleled the time it was made in and shows the moral decay of man- people eat each other alive (there is not one mention of the word ZOMBIE in the film at all!). The whole world is seen falling apart within a group of survivors. Even in the group, it shows the folly of man and the times. People fight and kill each other for power over one another within this small group even! But rather the biggest and hardest hitting piece of the film was its scary message that life was in fact quite random...
As a feminist, I am insulted by her one dimensionality.

In the film, not once is it explained how these people are coming back to life. We get into the movie right as it begins to happen. We do not know these characters at all or their backstories further distancing ourselves from them and becoming all the more confused. The same character we start with, who is easy to anticipate as the protagonist at first while watching, ends up in hysterics shortly into the movie no longer adding much the plot or taking much action- however, she does slightly turn it around in the end only to be eaten by her brother.

The heaviest- there's that word again- thing for me in the entire movie, however, had to be the abrupt ending. The movie ends with the lone survivor in the group coming out of the house after having survived these hordes of monsters only to be killed immediately on sight by one of the 'rescuers'. It really parallels what is going on at the time the movie was made- it shows that death is random. It also shows the bleakness to life; he goes through all of this only to be shot at the end. It is very indicative of the morale at the time of Vietnam as well. An armed man coming to liberate him accidentally ends up killing him. This ending is one of the eeriest I have ever seen as a result. It comes out of nowhere which is why it works so well. It stays with you, the audience, due to how bleak and random it is. It can almost been seen as something which was able to even spark up some social activism against the war, since it showed what the horrors this front of "liberation" could bring. However, since the movie was finished, people could not change the outcome of it; instead, they could focus on preventing this from happening further in real life.

This is actually NAM.

La passion de Jeanette d'Arc

Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc conveys an interesting transcendental story.
It is religious in nature and tells the story of the trial of Joan of Arc- a heroic French religious icon. The movie plays like the artwork of the sistine chapel almost- the dialogue itself comes from the actual trial.

In the movie, I was able to really sink into it due to its accessible straight forward narrative. However, at times, it became overbearing like it was with Joan at the time. I appreciated this because it helped me connect with the character in addition to setting up what I consider the final great moment of the film- where it achieved or rather I was able to achieve complete transcendance:

The ending of the film, we are presented with an image of the stake on which Joan of Arc has been burned. All the conflict has been resolved in the film. It is over, yet we are left to linger on this image. Then, the camera tilts up towards the heavens- for me, I saw this working as if I was able to transcend by going into the heavens and out from the physical world with her. There was nothing going on other than this- which really worked for me and made it all the more strangely serene and effective. It made the entire film really come together.