August 2007

Will Johnny ever get a DVD release?

Before I was making video essays based on footage from films in my project (starting with this one and progressing in complexity over several entries to this most recent one), I was posting unadorned clips from the films online. One phenomenon I haven’t commented on, until now, is that this site seems to get an equal amount of feedback comments on the YouTube pages for the various clips I’ve posted for this project. You don’t see them on this blog because the clips are embedded, but if you visit their respective YouTube pages you can find what are often abundant pithy messages from random viewers. You also can see the number of views for each clip, from the popular essay I produced on Inferno (1,420 views) to the poor, neglected analysis on The Saragossa Manuscript (93 views).

But far and away the TSPDT-related clips that I have posted that have received both the most views and the most comments are three excerpts I posted from the Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. One clip has 11,000 views!  Most of the comments are clearly from middle school kids (some with dubious spelling ability) but they clearly express the impact that watch the clips has on them. ” so fucked up… omg…. im crying rite now… no joke.” “POST THE WHOLE VIDEO NOW. PLEASE.”

Quite a few of them were already aware of these clips from having seen the video of Metallica’s “One”, which liberally includes footage from Trumbo’s film — as I had mentioned in my entry on the film, Metallica had purchased the rights to the movie so that they could use it for their video.  It is unfortunate then that they have not seen it fit to give the film a proper DVD release (I had seen the film on VHS, which is where I extracted the clips to post on YouTube), especially given its relevance to our current military involvement in Iraq and elsewhere, with young men and women losing life and limb daily. The contemporary relevance of the film is not lost on a number of these anonymous viewers, a number of whom allude to having read the book in their high school classes (one mentioned that the teacher showed the Metallica video in class as a substitute for not having the Trumbo film available!)

Recently I was invited by someone to sign an online petition calling for a proper video release of Johnny Got His Gun.  Sadly as of now the petition has fewer than 50 signatures.  I’m not even sure what would be done with the petition if it received an overwhelmingly positive response.  I traced the petition to a Mikey Diablo who can be found on his MySpace page, A Verbal Bloodletting, dedicated to all things related to horror.  When I asked him about the petition, he re-confirmed that Metallica has the US rights, and bemoaned their lack of initiative for not releasing the film given its contemporaneity.  He did mention the existence of both a Region 2 UK and Region 0 Canadian DVD, though by doing an Amazon search I have only found the former, and it is out of print.

I’m curious if anyone out there has also seen this film.  Reading the firsthand accounts of its impact on young viewers on YouTube, I’m pretty much convinced that this film has more of a potential audience than ever, and needs to be brought back into the limelight.  But it seems that the film is currently languishing in a fate similar to its protagonist, in a land of silence and darkness.

If anyone has any ideas on how to convince Metallica to release the film, I’m all ears.

Brigitte Bardot better than Spencer Tracy? or Actors without a single film in the TSPDT 1000

It came to me while watching …And God Created Woman for the Shooting Down Pictures project, that Brigitte Bardot may be the only reason why this film is on the 1000 list. And yet, Bardot’s talents as an actress are dubious – is she truly deserving of being in such esteemed company, when many other, arguably more talented actors and actresses may not have a single representation on the list?

Bill Georgaris at They Shoot Pictures Don’t They had asked himself the inverse of this question back when he compiled The Shooting Gallery, a list of the most important – or the luckiest? – actors in film history based on the number of their appearances in the TSPDT 1000. Which explains why the likes of Jack Carson or Harry Carey Jr. are listed alongside Robert DeNiro and John Wayne. Though in all fairness and auteurial deference, Bill remarks, “It’s fair to say that the reward (artistically, that is) for striking up lasting working relationships with better filmmakers is high indeed. Not the least of which is an appearance on this list! Would Robert De Niro, for example, be on this list if it was not for Scorsese? What about John Wayne (if not for Ford)? Or Toshiro Mifune (if not for Kurosawa)?”

So what about the indisputably great actors and actresses who don’t have a single film on the list, the unluckiest actors who either didn’t work with enough Fords or Bergmans to piggyback into the winner’s circle, or whose work somehow wasn’t enough to single-handedly catapult a film into the top 1000? I asked Bill this question and he offered this gracious response:

“Interesting statistical question, and one that I actually hadn’t thought about.

But, I’ve investigated within my database, and have come up with these famous names without a single film in TSPDT’s Top 1000.

At the top of my list is Spencer Tracy. I, personally, have seen 31 Tracy films, but none are on The Top-1000. His finest film “Man’s Castle” should be on there. But, oh, well.

Here are some other surprising no-shows-: Ray Milland, Robert Taylor, John Garfield, Daniel Auteuil, Susan Hayward & Loretta Young. But there are more, read below.

Here’s a more thorough listing… As you can tell, there are many modern performers on this list, which reflects the TSPDT-1000’s lack of ‘extremely’ modern film content.”

The list follows after the break. See if you can think of any other noteworthy actors who don’t have a single film in the TSPDT 1000. I thought of one more – David Niven! Continue Reading »

A couple of cinephiles running 26.2 miles against cancer

This year, Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine and I have mutually decided to embark on what for both of us is a lifetime goal – to run our first ever marathons: the NYC Marathon. This is exciting and yes, a little nerve-wracking, and we’re both taking it seriously. I am already running 25 miles a week (and as many as 35/week by race time) – I expect to run a total of 400 miles in preparation over the next several weeks. Ed is outdoing me – he got up at 7 this morning, ran 18 miles, and looked none the worse for wear! We both have our personal goals on top of just finishing the marathon. He wants to do it in 3 and a half hours, while I’ll be thrilled if I can just beat 4:15, which was the time set by Diddy (see picture) when he ran it three years ago.

Both Ed and I have decided to make this more than just a personal achievement, so we are both running for Team Continuum, a charity that cares for the immediate needs of cancer patients. Their focus is about helping people that are living with cancer today, patients as well as their families. Those who were saddened by the recent losses of Danièle Huillet, Edward Yang and Joel Siegel to cancer, as well as Roger Ebert’s ongoing recovery from thyroid cancer treatment, know that this is something that hits every corner of the global film community. Ultimately this disease touches everyone’s lives.

I am running in the memory of those members of the film community mentioned above. Closer to my own life, I am running in the memory of Vanessa Shepard Petrie. Vanessa was truly a light in many people’s lives, including my own. She dedicated her life to helping refugees from Southeast Asia find new lives in the United States. When she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2000, she did her best to remain upbeat and determined to fight her illness. I remember when I visited her home just a month after she underwent intensive chemotherapy. She insisted on cooking one of her famously elaborate dinners for me even though she was clearly exhausted by the effort. I am running in her honor, and in the hopes that others stricken by this illness may have the fullest opportunity to enjoy their lives nonetheless.

This form of cancer is particularly malevolent, and I witnessed firsthand the devastating impact it had on her family and loved ones. From Vanessa and her family’s two year battle, I learned that the emotional well-being required while living with cancer is just as important as the medical treatment. Team Continuum believes this as well, which is why I want to support their efforts. I am committed to raise a minimum of $2620 (that’s $100 per mile) for Team Continuum. All donations are tax deductible.Whether you or someone you know has been stricken by cancer, please sponsor me for as much as you can in support of this effort to make life better for those living with it today.

My donation page

Ed’s donation page

Learn more about Team Continuum

Thank you!

Danièle Huillet/Jean-Marie Straub: Où gît votre sourire enfoui? / Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (2001, Pedro Costa)

screened Sunday August 6 2007 at Anthology Film Archives, New York City IMDb

Sadly this was the only film I caught from the Costa retrospective. Recently Cindi asked me if I had the same amount of free time I had back in ’03 when I watched virtually all of the Ozu films at the Walter Reade retro, which director would I devote my attention to, and Costa immediately came to mind – I deeply admire his choice of subject matter and medium, and the necessary resourcefulness he deploys in bringing aesthetic innovation to both. Fortunately as we entered the screening room who but Pedro Costa was there in the lobby, talking to Robert Cargni, who is surely the most ubiquitous Philadelphian at New York movie houses (though Sam Adams may give him a run for his money). Cargni introduced me to Costa (much the same way that he introduced me to Ernie Gehr a few months ago). Costa struck me as a soft-spoken, self-effacing man, who seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, under-informed as I was, having only seen one film of his. I shifted the topic to Straub-Huillet and told him that I was eager to glean insight on the couple from his films, as I’ve found them quite challenging, as they almost always seem to require pre-existing knowledge of the source text upon which their film is based. To that Costa rolled his eyes and said “You better not tell that to Straub, because he believes the opposite!”

All the same, my impression when watching Straub-Huillet films is that they seem to make them for themselves more than for anyone else, and having spent nearly two hours virtually with Straub and Huillet thanks to Costa’s terrifically spare and direct film, my opinion hasn’t wavered. Listening to them go back and forth at length about which frame upon which to cut to another shot, launching into various theories to support their respective preferences, I found the differences to be microscopic at best and unapparent to most viewers upon watching the results. Only by being privy to such discussions could I realize what values they laid into their aesthetic decisions in the course of making their films. But that only goes to support my first opinion — that it’s difficult to appreciate these films without an instruction manual. I have problems with their direction of actors, which to me feels largely artificial and emulates the limitations of Bresson’s technique with few of the benefits. I think I react to Straub-Huillet the same nonplussed manner that my friends who dislike Bresson react to his films.

So credit Costa for taking spartan, dimly lit footage of their editing sessions and somehow turning it into a vivid, insightful and ultimately haunting testimony, not just to an important creative duo, but to the creative process and the community that gives it life, in this case a community of two. I got many of the same feelings and sensations from watching this film as I did from Colossal Youth. Straub fits all too easily into the emerging Costa mold of the garrulous, vaguely solipsistic character who indulges in long babbling monologues (there are a number of them in Colossal Youth as well), as the monotone set design (here, predominantly shadows) seems to reflect his psychological isolation. Straub’s long-winded theorizing often verges on puffing into so much hot air, while Huillet earns more sympathy as she busies herself tirelessly winding the editing deck back and forth. But clearly the two need each other like yin and yang.

As in Colossal Youth, this world-weary isolation is given an Odyssean dignity by Costa – figures lurking in shadow darkness have a paradoxically obscure yet monumental presence. You get this sense of joining two people momentarily on their lifelong journey through aesthetic innovation, a journey in which they find themselves largely alone with each other, regardless of their reputation, and they alternately rail and resign themselves to the fact that they and they alone share the same vision, though there are several moments in the film that they too seem worlds apart in what they want to do with the most miniscule of cuts. Somehow the work holds together and holds them together. For all of its sparse, unromantic treatment of the filmmaking process, this is one of the most romantic films about filmmakers I’ve seen.

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In-depth observations by Doug Cummings, Acquarello and Daniel Kasman – who also has a great overview of the Costa retrospective

The Lives of Others (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

screened Thursday August 2 2007 in Weehawken NJ IMDb

Cindi noted that the two main contenders for last year’s Foreign Film Oscar both were about the creative acts of individuals to transform their lives under totalitarian rule. What makes The Lives of Others more interesting to both of us is that, unlike the more familiar scenario of Pan’s Labyrinth, a helpless child using her imagination to escape oppression, the key creative presence is part of the totalitarian regime. Ulrich Mühe, who died just last month, plays an East German Stasi officer who, attracted to an actress, contrives to stake out her boyfriend’s apartment and effectively sabotage his life. The story gets interesting when he starts to fabricate his reports to cover up the apartment’s anti-authoritarian goings-on just so he can continue his eavesdropping and manipulations. In essence he becomes the author of these people’s fates even as he dutifully types out fake versions of their lives daily. The script and direction – both by von Donnersmarck – conspire to draw a number of ironies in bold strokes at every opportunity, but mercifully this one overarching irony is given sufficient room for extra-cinematic contemplation. The film is shot in the same expensive TV movie conventions that made Downfall a good but not great film. Germany’s undergoing a revival in its commercial cinema but no new Herzogs, Wenders or Fassbinders to report of just yet…
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Memo to Slavoj: 300 Blows

screened Sunday July 22 2007 on DVD in Weehawken NJ

It seems I’m several months behind on commenting after the controversially contrarian arguments of some of my favorite film writers. Just as well, since just about everyone has weighed in on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s op-ed piece on Bergman in the NY Times. Everything I have to say has been said by other people and can be traced some way or other to Jim Emerson’s extensive coverage of the fallout.

The only thing unique observation I can think of at the moment is an anecdote: back in 2002 I ran into JR for the first time at a conference on Iranian cinema. The main thing I remember is having a burning desire to ask him what he thought about Ingmar Bergman. If memory serves correctly, at the time I was embroiled on IMDb Classic Film in an all-out referendum on Bergman’s value as a film artist. I was heavily against Bergman, decrying him as a “community college professor’s idea of a great director” while I championed Bresson and Dreyer as his superiors, particularly in handling metaphysical subject matter in a uniquely cinematic format.

Ironically, this is one of the main arguments in JR’s recent article, and yet I never conferred with him on this matter, even though I wanted to very much back in that September of 2002. His approach to film criticism was very influential to me, and yet I’d never caught anything he’d written on Bergman, and at that time I desperately sought an opinion from him to validate my own. Well, five years later I have it, and it’s the very argument I would have welcomed back then. But I don’t consider the article to be worthy of JR. It’s begrudging in its tone, insufficiently grounded in some of its claims (i.e. that Bergman is less popular in some circles than Dreyer or Bresson) and, most unfortunately of all, probably does more to undermine the cause of high-art cinema emblematized by the likes of Bresson and Dreyer, by couching it in tones of film snobbery that won’t even welcome Bergman into its ranks. Who knows how much of its pugilistic, snarky tone was cultivated by the Times… But reading the article has me wanting to make an argument for the artistry in Bergman that JR seems all to eager to belittle. I guess one contrarianism begets another.

I had gone through a Bresson/Dreyer vs. Bergman/Tarkovsky phase years ago, and I still consider Bresson and Dreyer to be supreme cinematic artists for their discoveries of new and unparalleled forms of cinematic expression, the same reasons JR tried to articulate in his article. But I’d much rather celebrate what’s special about each of them than pit them against each other. (Though yet again, it appears that someone has beat me to it – and if you believe what Bordwell has to say, it sounds like much of the fuss raised by JR is traceable to tribal conflicts borne within film culture 40 years ago that, in my opinion, may no longer be relevant).

As Roger Ebert (who gave a feisty rebuttal to JR’s essay) is fond of quoting e.e. cummings, “I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach a thousand stars how not to dance.”

——————————

On to the next contrarian, Slavoj Zizek, who caused a stir earlier this year, at least among those who follow his work, for his non-conformist embrace of 300, positioned as a virtual taunt against a vaguely defined array of critics who built an early consensus against the film for being, in Zizek’s words, “the worst kind of patriotic militarism with clear allusions to the recent tensions with Iran and events in Iraq.” I’ve been inspired and energized by much of Zizek’s writings over the years, especially his appropriation of Christian mysticism and invocation of a contentious, argumentative Jesus Christ in his similarly voiced essays. As his film with Sophie Fiennes, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, illustrates, he’s as much an entertainer as a thinker, not afraid to pull the rug from any assumption and making it fun and liberating to do so. But this essay on 300 reads like a parody of Zizek, and it really underscores some of his lesser tendencies. Fortunately Zach Campbell has saved me time by expressing his own misgivings with Zizek and citing a couple of other blog entries critiquing Zizek’s critique.

But to give my own take on the essay: the second paragraph reads like a brainstorming session in which Zizek set out to list every possible half-baked argument that those pesky liberals misread the film, broadly asserting that the Persia depicted in the movie – a juggernaut of military might and depraved sexual liberalism – is really America, and small scrappy Sparta is the helpless third world state i.e. Iran. Clever, but does this mean that the millions of testosterone-happy American teens watching this film see it that way? Zizek is too intent on upturning the opinions of a relatively small cultural elite whom this film wasn’t even made for; I think if he had focused on how this film figures in the fantasies of the mass audience who embraced it, it would have made for a more insightful (and honest) critique.

Invoking the Christian mystic, he goes on about the film’s serious stance towards the necessity of sacrifice, and this argument is starting to feel gratuitous and outdated. 9/11 and Iraq have done so much to contort the meaning and need for sacrifice, with stakes that could not be higher. And it’s downright petty of Zizek to belittle left wing critics for dismissing a film that happens to tout his beloved idea of violent sacrifice when there are plenty of bigger targets out there who are using that same idea to far more pernicious ends.

Lastly, he touts the film for the metaphysical implications behind its hermetically enclosed, CGI-induced style:

The artificial (digital) nature of the background creates a claustrophobic atmosphere, as if the story does not take place in “real” reality with its endless open horizons, but in a “closed world,” a kind of relief-world of closed space. Aesthetically, we are here steps ahead of the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series: although, in these series also, many background objects and persons are digitally created, the impression is nonetheless the one of (real and) digital actors and objects (elephants, Yoda, Urkhs, palaces, etc.) placed into a “real” open world; in 300, on the contrary, all main characters are “real” actors put into an artifical background, the combination which produces a much more uncanny “closed” world of a “cyborg” mixture of real people integrated into an artificial world. It is only with 300 that the combination of “real” actors and objects and digital environment came close to create a truly new autonomous aesthetic space.

I don’t see how this film is any more claustrophobic or artificial than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or the last three (or is it the first three?) Star Wars movies. They all use similar CGI, have the same implanting of digitally airbrushed actors in entirely artificial environments, and in my view are about as airlessly fake-looking as 300. This last point may be where Zizek and I differ, but even if I grant him the distinction, 300 is by no means the first of its kind. Has he not seen Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow? Sin City? Again, Zizek’s emphatic-ness outstrips his factualness.

His parting thoughts on the film’s artificiality – done in a typical Zizekian backflip reversal – is perhaps his most troublingly underdeveloped:

The effect produced is that of “true reality” losing its innocence, appearing as part of a closed artificial universe, which is a perfect figuration of our socio-ideological predicament. Those critics who claimed that the “synthesis” of the two arts in 300 is a failed one are thus wrong for the very reason of being right: of course the “synthesis” fails, of course the universe we see on the careen is traversed by a profound antagonism and inconsistency, but it is this very antagonism which is an indication of truth.

He seems to suggest that the film calls attention to its artificialness, a fissure between reality and artifice that will stir critical reflection among its audiences. As if!!! The kids who flocked to this movie couldn’t have given a rat’s ass if the film was inconsistent with reality or history – they wanted their own innate desires for guiltless, unlimited killing to be satiated. You would think that of all the people to understand this plague of fantasy packaged for mass consumption, Zizek would be the one. But instead he’s hung up on his own fantasy of petty-minded reactionary liberals, a temple of money-changers who are in perpetual need of rebuke. Like the saying goes, he who takes issue with the petty risks being petty himself.

Along those lines, I just have one word to sum up 300: NO

Video Essay for 932. Et dieu… crea la femme / …And God Created Woman (1956, Roger Vadim)

Read initial post here

Transcript of video follows the break

Continue Reading »

932. Et Dieu… créa la femme / …And God Created Woman (1956, Roger Vadim)

Screened Sunday July 15 2007 on Criterion DVD in Weehawken NJ

TSPDT rank #835 IMDb

Watch video essay

Roger Vadim’s attempt to leverage the assets of Brigitte Bardot, his 22-year old wife (they had married once she turned 18) was a runaway success that made Bardot into an international sex symbol. Some critics dismiss Vadim as a hack who capitalized on his wife’s looks to catapult his career, but given that it was his first film and her seventeenth, let’s just say that the benefits were mutual. Vadim’s framings of Bardot are cheeky in every sense, not simply exploitive of her figure but a joyous, consensual depiction of sexuality as an act of personal expression.

Bardot, presented from the first scene as an Eve-like temptress, bounces between a middle-aged tycoon (Curt Jurgens), a strong but mysogynistic shipyard worker (Christian Marquand) whom she desires most, and his feeble younger brother (Jean-Louis Trintignant) whom she marries partly to spite the older sibling. Each has their allure but also present a vague threat in defining her, respectively, as another possession in a capitalist’s playpen, a passionate one-night stand, or a dutiful wife; in every instance an objectified female.

Her scattershot response is to act badly towards her husband’s family, engage in various self-endangering activities, and mambo herself into a frenzy in a climactic dance sequence that plays on her facial expressions like a gang rape. Not quite the unequivocal feminist statement that inspired a generation of young actresses to follow her to undress and shag onscreen uninhibitedly, but it’s unwieldiness is part of what makes it compelling even today.


Coincidentally, the script shares several elements with another film that came out the same year, Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind. Both have at their center wild young women characters who, jilted by unrequited love, use tantrums, lasciviousness and wild mambo dancing to disrupt the equilibrium of the social network depicted in each film. (It so happens that both films locate industrial capitalism as a locus of power in which women are largely marginalized). While Vadim’s film may not equal Sirk’s stylistic tour de force, it benefits from focusing on Bardot with just the right mix of fetishized fixation and sympathetic irreverence.

Wanna go deeper? Continue Reading »

The Evil Dead (1981, Sam Raimi)

screened Monday July 30 2007 on Anchor Bay DVD in Astoria NY IMDb

In preparation for watching The Evil Dead II (TSPDT #783) for my project, I watched Sam Raimi’s first feature, the first installment of the Bruce Campbell /Ash Williams trilogy. Inadvertently I’d seen the last part of the trilogy first: Army of Darkness was a college favorite. Raimi was at his peak around that time; I prefer both Evil Dead films I’ve seen and the delirious Darkman (sort of a poor man’s Batman) to his later, more mainstream efforts that I’ve seen: A Simple Plan (which doesn’t seem to know whether to mock or outdo his buddy the Coens’ Fargo) and of course the Spider-Man series (I haven’t even seen the most recent one). 

Seeing the first Dead movie helps me understand why the Spider-Man series doesn’t do it for me – they lack the most compelling quality of Raimi’s earlier filmmaking – the visceralness.  All of Peter Parker’s digitally rendered slinging and crashing and flailing about can’t compare to the very tactile feel of Raimi’s patented early camerawork flying at breakneck pace through creepy woods full of real trees and dirt, the pancake powder makeup glistening from the faces of demon-eyed young women, and of course Bruce Campbell’s spaghetti-limbed physique.  The feeling of reality in this film resonates beyond the mimetic intentions of cinematic affect, but also opens up the viewer to appreciate the film as an act of filmmaking.

Perhaps some may deride this as calling too much attention to itself, but if we can agree that this film invokes (intentionally) a fair degree of camp, and that part of camp appeal is the knowledge of a show being put on (in which the audience’s spectatorship becomes disembodied from their set position, and they regard all the parts being played on-stage, behind the stage and of course themselves in the audience), this film rewards such a viewing amply, relishing the teen horror stereotypes while simultaneously trying to ape them within its limited means.  Raimi compensates his limited means through sheer ferocity — and, like a pubescent choir boy trying to overcome his croaks by singing even louder, the result incites a paradoxical combo of knee-jerk parodic laughter and genuine terror.  This tonal imbalance has been the bane of his directing (in Spider-man you can never take his “serious” scenes seriously because it doesn’t feel like he is; as a result those moments just drag on the entire enterprise) even as it gives his films an energy that few can match. It may be the aesthetic of an amateur, but it’s far more compelling than the professional doggerel he’s putting out these days.

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Last lenses of lost legends, both done digitally

Maybe I have a thing for impending mortality, but I find the last works by Bergman and Antonioni to be among the most chilling, compelling and enthralling works that either made. And I find it interesting that these legends of celluloid both embraced digital technology to realize their final visions.

A few years ago, at the Q&A for the New York Film Festival screening of Saraband, someone asked Liv Ullmann if Bergman’s shooting technique was different since they were shooting with HD equipment and not film. She replied yes, that when shooting on film, Bergman would usually sit right next to the camera so that when the actors performed directly to the camera they were also performing directly to him, to generate that kind of intimacy he’s famous for. But this time the HD equipment prevented Bergman from using this technique — not only was he kept away from the camera during takes, he was in another room watching on a monitor! But then Ullmann said that when she heard “action”, she suddenly was able to sense Bergman in front of her, as if she was receiving signals from him telepathically.

This marvelous sensation of sensing something old through a new medium, of seeing what was in front of you all along with new eyes, is perhaps why Saraband is special to me. From my notes:

“I actually realized how familiar he is to me, that despite my protestations I’ve somehow managed to watch 17 of his movies, and that I was actually grateful to see one that was brand new, and recognize how distinctive and inimitable his dour, self-absorbed voice really is to my ears. It’s truly a dysfunctional relationship when one is comforted to be reunited with these foibles; whereas I’ve long found them annoyingly familiar, this time I found them familiarly annoying, if that makes any sense.

But the thing is that this film also sheds new light on those familiarly annoying elements; like I said this is ultra-late Bergman, with a feeling of twilight that gives everything, even the bitter arguments between characters, an underlying sense of grace and eloquence… His shooting on high-def digital video also gives his familiar settings a strange new palette of colors and textures, as if it were a Bergman film being beamed from another land of soft pastels and slightly metallic hues, almost as if it were a dream.”

Indeed, Saraband looks like a Bergman movie transmitted from the afterworld. If this is true, it’s oddly reassuring that Ingmar the Grouch is still carping about the human race in the great beyond. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A stroke-afflicted Antonioni used CGI to enable himself to walk one last time for Michelangelo’s Gaze aka Eye for Eye (found on the extras of the Eros tryptich DVD). Stone silent, Antonioni just looks and looks as he beholds a restored Michelangelo sculpture of Moses (the joke here is that Antonioni, through “the magic of cinema” has himself been restored to his feet — so we have two restored Michelangelos in each other’s presence). The film’s nearly silent soundtrack is the polar opposite of the typically chatty Bergman, but in actually it expresses itself in much the same way as Bergman’s films do — in gazes. And Antonioni’s gaze in this film is without equal. The level of concentration in the Antonioni’s act of looking, the desire to reach out and connect with another object in the world and absorb all it has to offer — the conviction that if you stare at the Michelangelo sculpture long enough, gazing deeply at the taut, robust surfaces of Moses’ visage, you can feel all of Michelangelo’s desire to reach out and grasp the essence of humanity in his own hands, to make it real and alive by his creation, an impulse passed along centuries and pulses through every frame of this film.

Fortunately YouTube has my favorite sequence of cinema of either director: 8:36 of the purest cinema you’ll see anywhere (preferrably on DVD or widescreen rather than this tiny online clip). In a seemingly random but carefully assembled series of shots, the universe just seems to expand and expand with stories, potentialities, a life that is everywhere and nowhere at once, just as Antonioni and Bergman are now.

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