Monthly Archives: March 2011

  • La Dolce Vita Frederico Fellini (1960 Italy)

    La Dolce Vita Frederico Fellini (1960 Italy) Marcello Mastroianni; Anita Ekburg

    Viewed: Side Cinema, Newcastle 22 March 11 ticket price: £5.00

    retro crit: Mirror Mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all? Sylvio Berlusconi

    of course!

    Filmed as a series of psychic fragments Fellini’s (FF) film is an oracular vision of the shape of things to come: the transformation of all areas of life into hallucinogenic spectacle with no distinction between the participant and onlooker. Spectacle fed into the amplification circuitry of the media who both feed off and feed into the images they produce. Fellini’s Dolce Vita is an initiation rite into a Western World driven and controlled by ‘image’ whose present dynamic takes the form of Berlusconni as a demonic hybrid apotheosis of the world of politics and media. As I watched Dolce Vita unfold I was awed by FF’s visionary clarity in relation to the convergence in shape and form of the control apparatus.

    The opening sequence of the movie is a statement of intent. We see, flying low over Rome, a helicopter with a huge statue of Christ slung by ropes beneath its undercarriage. The apparition causes everyone to look up at this giant airborne caricature. La Dolce Vita (DV) introduces Christ as the clown of the skies, a cosmic Christ for our entertainment and amusement Ladies and Gentlemen…… The flying Christ merges publicity stunt with religion, marrying the two worlds in a spectacle that presages the movies underlying theme.

    A thought: where did FF get this statue? It looks like it was made for the movie, for the brave new world of 1960. More interesting where/ how did he get the idea? Perhaps it was something he actually saw or heard about; anyway, ‘as idea’ it perfectly and succinctly predicates what follows.

    In DV, FF uses the structurally broken filmic fragments of action as a mirror to catch Marcello’s reflection as he is transformed and bent into shape by the images and social forces that come to define his life. An early fragment of the film sees him, an inveterate womaniser, spend a night trying to seduce and bed the American film star Sylvia (Anita Ekburg who’s a shoo-in for Marilyn Monroe). In the mirror fragment we see clearly that narcissistic narcosis induced by publicity and media attention have totally absorbed this Diva. Marcello discovers (he takes a little time to get it) that Sylvia is not really of the flesh. She has a body, central to her image but an appendage to her life. She may seem present in the flesh but actually she lives inside an endlessly projected movie of herself.. She isn’t really present; sex with her can only be a two dimensional movie. Sylvia is machine for absorbing fantasy and projecting desire onto the white walls of life. For people like Sylvia life doesn’t flow; rather it takes the form of a sort of eternal recurrence: the same people sets and situations repeated time and time again. This recurrence is only broken by the momentary irruption within Sylvia of fleeting impulses that are for an instant totally insistent, but immediately fade. Time in her life doesn’t flow rather it is compressed into a crystallised everlasting and overwhelming present, bolted like the image of the flying Christ, to an unchanging image of herself.

    Marcello has the chance to avoid being trapped in the recurring movie of his projection as an image in two dimensional photogenic space. He has a chance to chose to live through time as he is pulled by his girl friend to accept her love to share her carnality. But each glimpse in the DV mirror fragments shows him drawn further into the spectacle by the fascination of himself as an operating image. Through the shattered fragments of time Marcello develops the idea of himself as an increasingly self referential and narcissistic object. An increasingly emptied out self, refined through the rectifying forces of the media, into a being of pure surface. A centre of attraction and repulsion in the endless parade that he joins to replace the tedium of life.

    The music as in all FF’s films complements in form the content of DV. It’s surging rich gorgeous encompassing. Parade music that is intended like the Pied Piper’s flute, to draw in everyone who hears it, to disarm resistance and allows the children to completely abandon themselves to the show. The music is an amalgam of mood feeling and thought swamping and bypassing the human mental faculties as FF fills out DV with sequences of extraordinary fluid shots that capture small and large crowd situations and scenes.

    DV opens up worlds as spectacles that absorb, disarm and finally infiltrate the individual. The world of religion filmed as a hysterical fusion of media frenzy and religious hysteria. Catholicism experienced as a testing ground for experiments that would later be internalised and finally replicated by the profane secular order. Marcello cannot see the hilarious farcical religious and media circus caused by two young children claiming to have seen the Virgin. He is absorbed by it, and excited by the prospect of living and working outside time. He breaks (or rather the mirror fragments suggest that he does, for there is no convention of continuity in DV) with his girlfriend and joins the parade of partying which is the gateway to a sort of immortality. The movers and shakers the money and the power exist in a never ending spectacular that engulfs life and pulls everything along with it in a frenzied dance lived out in image and gesture, a saturated narcissism that ends in death. But of course death does not stop the show.

    The final sequence on the beach shows the party goers descend onto the beach to gaze at the lifeless form of a huge dead fish. A young innocent girl, introduced earlier in the film as working in the beach café also looks on. Both exist outside the spectacle,

    Adrin Neatrour

  • Journal d’un curé de campagne R. Bresson (1951; Fr)

    Journal d’un curé de campagne R. Bresson (1951; Fr) Claude Laydu

    Seen at Film Forum NYC Ticket price .50

    Film blanc: grace as a circuit of amplification

    At the end of Bresson’s film the witness to the curé’s death reports that just before he died the curé clasped the hand of the witness and cried out “ What does it matter? All is grace.” An utterance that brings Journal d’un curé de campagne (Journal) to a close and suggests a vision of the union of body and soul. If you have been ‘in’ the movie it is shattering moment, a striking moment that demands an attempt to understand the forces set in play by the movie and what they might mean. It requires thought. This is difficult.

    Here are some thoughts.

    In its primary structure Journal is based on the strong oppositional paradox of body and spirit. Much of the curé’s writing (though not all) concerns his sick body. The physical condition of the body is mediated through his thought. In contrast the appearance of the cure’s body in particular his face, shines out with the intensity of his spirit: face photographed so that he radiates a white burnt-in intensity. The inner state of the cure is mediated through his body. The mediated through thought. It is this oppositional structure that drives the film and makes it difficult to approach intellectually. It is understandable intuitively. At the end with his final statement of reconciliation in relation to ‘grace’ I was left speechless, trying to order the turmoil of my thoughts.

    Viewed from this scratch end of the 21st century ‘Journal’ is an alien world, a filmscape without Desire. In today’s filmscapes such a thing is rare almost inconceivable.

    In relation to Desire, the curé seems to me to be a sort of ‘priest clown’. In the same way that the clown’s whitened face glows out in the circus spotlight, so the lighting set ups give the curé a similar allure. The nature of the clown that is pertinent to the identity of the curé is his primal innocence. The core quality of the clown’s innocence is lack of Desire a want of extrinsic motivation in relation to others. The clown doesn’t manipulate, or scheme or preach. All the cloen does is show what he is, reveal his identity and accept his destiny. The clown is pure being. As we see the curé move through the world we realise that his destiny is not linked to systems of belief or social apparatus: his destiny like that of the true clown belongs to himself. Only he can find and accept what is to come. If others are touched transformed or made to laugh along the way, then so be it. But that was never the point. I think this is different from fatalism; destiny has to be consciously embraced.

    The opening shot of ‘Journal’ shows the newly appointed priest of Ambricourt starting his diary and declaring in voice over, his intention of keeping a record of his thoughts as he goes about his work. A daily confessional. The filmic form Bresson adopts for the ‘Journal’ the world as if in a pure optical or sound situation: the images and sounds exist almost as separate entities mirroring the body spirit opposition which is embedded in the structure of the film.

    ‘Journal’ is a film about what cannot be seen. Bresson shows the physical context of the film: the village, locations events and situations. Everything else has to be surmised, the significant movements take place in another realm: the trials of the body the workings of the spirit. We have some access to the unseen through the curé’s diary: his struggle with his failing body, his doubt and lack of worth. But the curé’s reading of his diary is in many ways oblique; or where it is clear leaves open the issue of interpretation and of integration of what has been said with what has been seen. ‘Journal’ is full of sounds, the indicators of worlds that lie just beyond what is visible: hunters, dogs, gardeners, who announce their presence. Grace and spirit haunt the screen in the image of the priest, their unseen presence felt but often met with spite. Everywhere in Journal the curé meets with fences gates and doors, people who avert their eyes, symbolic obstacles that seem to resist his presence, his showing of himself. The cure is unlike the other country priests whose role is to gently police the community, demand conformity to dogma but practice and preach a relatively uncensorious forgiving faith and bless the people with reassuring homilies. The cure is an intense experience: given to prayer, initially torn by doubt and racked by illness, finally, at death, overwhelmed by inner psychic certainty.

    Journal is not about systems. It is about the destiny of an individual who is filled with a force that overflows out of him. This force within the curé does not emanate either from the Catholic Church or its teaching. The Church may have provided an expressive form for some of the curé’s outer psychic emanations; but the power that drove him came from a deeper inner light. That Bresson’s subject is a catholic curé is an accidental: he might be a protestant pastor or even a heroic soviet proselytizer.

    I think that what streams forth from curé’s presence is an inner intensity that is powered by his connection to an immanent absolute purity. This he calls ‘God’. There are other names. Whether he is wrestling with doubt about his connection to the Absolute or in union with it, the effect is to distance him from other mortals except those in a similar extreme though perhaps temporary state of receptivity, such as the Contessa..

    The dialogue between the curé and the Countess focusing on her hatred for God is central to the film’s moral core. Her final acceptance of the death of her son followed by her sudden death are Bresson’s statement of a moral imperative, and perhaps one of the reasons he chose to film Bernanos’ novel . There are no cheap solutions to the problem of our separation from the absolute. In principle, no miracles. What is of the earth will not save us, it will probably mock us. The world of the flesh and the spirit, the world of hate and love, are separate spheres each operating according to their own light, their own logic. The two worlds never meet in the outcome of events. Where they do meet it is through the medium of the individual who at the point of contact experiences a shattering of individuality which never leaves them even when the experience is subject to the processes of doubt and questioning.

    Journal was shot by French cinematographer LH Burel. Burel was Gance’s cinematographer on Napoleon (1929) and went on to work with Bresson on another three films. Burel films the image of the curé so that his face appears almost transfigured, his face burns out an intense inner light. Yet although Burel must have used an assortment of filters and high key lighting set-ups, the film seems to have few strong shadows. Visually the film is shot using the lighting set ups to create light as an affirmation of being, and to avoid the caste of shadow with their metaphorical symbolism of encroaching darkness. A symbolism that is traditional high key lighting genres such as film noir. But this is film blanc.

    adrin neatrour

  • We Need to Talk about Kevin Lynne Ramsey (2011; UK)

    We Need to Talk about Kevin Lynne Ramsey (2011; UK) Tilda Swinton
    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 25 Oct 2011; Ticket: £7.95

    Kevin seems like a Christmas tree. Instead of being decorated with baubles and lights, he is festooned with the markers of his otherness.

    In Lynne Ramsay’s (LR) film We Need to Talk about Kevin (NTK) the past isn’t so much a foreign country as a place we visit by using Eva’s press button text message service. I think the manner in which the past is accessed by Eva indicates that NTK uses time, in the form of the flashback, as a purely mechanical device triggered by image and gesture. LR focuses on the mechanics of the recollection image. The sentient organic field of meaning, and the search for meaning is not probed. The situation, the otherness of Kevin who is characterized as a Daemon, is presented through the eye of the director and Tilda Swinton as something that has to be coped with: not as something which has to be understood. LR’s flashback structure is designed to be exempletive of the difficulty Kevin presents to Eva but it’s too crude to engage with strata of ideas and possibilities that lie under the surface of the situation. By the end of the film its mechanicality exerts a deadening effect on consciousness. Closed off and characterized by its temporal mechanism. NTK has nowhere to go. In evading the realm of understanding LR has little to say about the situation it brings to the viewer’s attention except the banality that is is hard being Kevin’s mum. Nothing is revealed.

    Kevin is conceived as a Daemon a soul born with ‘destiny’. Born to be a mass murderer. Born to have a mechanical path through life. There are hints that Eva is knowledgeable about Eastern religions (the early sequence that looks like it might be a Hindu ceremony) but the film is oblique about this as a context as it is about everything else governing the film’s placement in time and space. As NTK doesn’t engage with Eva at the level of understanding, which is an organic process, she is reduced to a series of affect images, looks that the viewer is expected to read that point to her distressed state. The affect images are presented both as expositions and explanations of her mechanical trauma.

    The temporal relations in the film, its flash back structure, are used to manipulate rather than to open out the time space of the situation. The film flicks back and forth like demented text messages between Eva’s post massacre situation and the times before Kevin’s rampage. These time flicks are mediated by the affect images of Eva, ‘her look’, as some event or action engages her recollection images of: Kevin’s birth, his childhood and his adolescence.

    As the movie develops the mechanicality of this recollection device becomes evident; the predictability of the connection produces diminishing returns. It becomes apparent that Eva is a memory machine. Eva sees something hears something – looks: cut to – Kevin’s birth – Kevin learning – Kevin something or other. The film is overdetermined in its structure, unable to negotiate Eva’s state of mind as part of the film’s structure. The audience are relegated to the status of one who gazes rather than one who sees. If this was a typical Hollywood action movie, fine, it’d be appropriate to the ambitions of the genre. In a film with NTK subject matter, it’s disappointing that LR betrays and throws out the European line of filmic sensibility for a crassly Hollywood solution to the problem of what film to make. It feels like a sell out to the money, another calling card movie.

    This Hollywood style of film making through image manipulation deadens the film’s energy which LR trys to revive with a groovey sound track. The viewer engaged only in gaze, is treated by LR as a passive agent to be toyed with in the classic action movie manner: exploitation of the edit point. Cutting back and forth through time in the editing, works in NTK as means to catch the viewer off guard. LR’s uses the flashback edit points as shock devices to short circuit the audience’s critical faculties. The incoming edit is often fashioned to disturb, to have immediate visual or sound impact. LR presses a button, audience get a shocking image. The reaction triggered in the audience is: “Woah this is weird!” rather than “What is happening in this situation?”

    Lack of any contexts is a logical consequence of need to keep the material contained and controlled. NTK which exploits temporal relations to suppress wider timeline context (in this respect similar to Malick’s Tree of Life) . Temporal context is not important for films that engage with the forces of interiority. But in NTK there are only exteriorities. Experiencing only filmic temporal self referencing in NTK’s actions and images, the viewer is left hanging aimlessly in time unable to relate the fictive events on the screen to other contexts. Are we before or after 9/11, before or after Colombine? NTK takes place in a carefully contrived time vacuum, a bubble world where the filmic design carefully expunges the actual world.

    With the exception of the suburban setting and the implied values of the American home, LR barely develops the social and cultural matrices which contain the events. The massacre is an event not just without a chronology but also without a social context. The school the community his father’s job have no place in the film. Kevin and Eva are deterritorialised characters, without interiority or exteriorities, persona onto whom anything can be hung. Kevin seems like a Christmas tree. Instead of being decorated with baubles and lights, he is festooned with the markers of his otherness.

    There are a number of films, where ‘WEIRD’ in itself is central to the movie as a conceptual device. NTK is replete with ‘the weird’: fingernails, gloopy sandwiches, little balls of matter. In some American films (there is almost what one might call a WHIRD genre) weird plays a pivotal cognitive role as a signifier of the discontinuous incongruous relation between individuals and their culture, between the conformist culture and the outsider. Image driven food. personal habits, odd remarks made, all serve to give off signs in their own right. of an individuals fundamental psychic disengagement and detachment from the core. In NTK ‘the weird’ in particular weidness food, plays a key role as a signifier that there is something visibly disconcerting about Kevin. The problem is that Weird is a signifier without significance. Kevin is treated in the film a bit like a Christmas tree. Instead of being decorated with baubles and lights, he is festooned with the markers of his otherness.

    In comparison with Gus Van Sant’s 2003 movie Elephant, also about a high school massacre, NTK’s seems conceptually and structurally impoverished. Elephant taking its cue from the Columbine killings set up a psychogeography of space, a situational analysis of the event. The film characterized by long takes in the physical environment of the school, used the filmic possibilities of the camera rather than scripted dialogue to contrive a parallel resemblance between the design of the school and the design of video games. The school had many of the special characteristics of a video game: long corridors, 90 degree turns, series of rooms and spaces that were all the same. The killing sequence was carried through with the same detached quality that players bring to the video game, dispassionate killing in order to score. Elephant builds up slowly and inexorably, makes the situation visible to the audience, allowing them to see. In contract NTK is characterized by a heavy handed determination which shows us little and leads us nowhere.
    adrin neatrour