April 2009

In anticipation of The Limits of Control: Video Essay on Jim Jamusch’s last film

I haven’t yet mentioned here that I’ve begun producing a series of video essays titled “REWATCH” for Film In Focus.  As Jim Jarmusch’s new film The Limits of Control premieres tomorrow, I thought I’d embed the first video essay I produced for REWATCH, on Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, starring Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton.  I enjoyed producing this as it made me think about cinematic depictions of flirtation, something the film does rather strikingly (in fact one could even say that the film itself is one big flirtatious tease on the audience). Commentary by Jessica Winter:

Stay tuned as the second installment of the series, dealing with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (one of my favorite films this decade) drops in the next week or so…

Video: Q&A with director Ying Liang at The China Institute

This is cross-posted to the dGenerate Films website.

Last Saturday we had the pleasure of presenting Ying Liang and his film The Other Half at The China Institute. Here’s the entire Q&A session with Ying Liang that followed the screening, in three parts. Special thanks to Vincent Cheng for his excellent live translation, and Jeff Yang and Jeff Hao for taping the session.

Part I:

0:00 – “What inspired you to make The Other Half?”

2:05 – “What’s your take on independent filmmaking in China?”

4:12 – “Who are your actors? Do they appear routinely in all your films?”

6:30 – “Have your films caused problems between you and the government?”

Part II:

0:00 – Continuing on the topic of the commercial and legal considerations of distributing independent cinema in China

7:00 – “To what degree do you consider your films to be documentary and not just fiction?”

Part III:

0:00 – Continuing on the topic of the film’s use of fact and fiction

3:55 – “Why can’t an army officer get a divorce?”

5:00 – “Are your films made with a non-Chinese audience in mind?”

Video Essay for 890 (10). Johnny Got His Gun (1971, Dalton Trumbo) with music by Metallica

View main entry

It’s a real pleasure to unveil this latest video essay for several reasons. First, because it marks the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series of videos produced in conjunction with the Greencine Daily, highlighting notable DVD releases. This initial video just happens to be on a TSPDT 1000 film that I blogged about towards the beginning of this online project: Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.  Interestingly, the three video clips I posted to accompany my blog entry have more views than just about anything else I’ve posted on YouTube. I think it has something to do with a) the film not being available for many years, even though it’s based on a book that’s still widely taught in schools; b) the film being referenced in Metallica’s video for their song “One.”  At one point I even put an open call asking if anyone knew of how to get the film released on DVD, since I was receiving dozens of similar inquiries through my YouTube account. At long last, the film is available on Shout Factory DVD.  And I must say, it’s a gorgeous transfer, miles better than the out of print VHS I used for my initial viewing. It even includes the Metallica video!

Here’s my video essay, which you can also watch on GreenCine Daily and on YouTube. Enjoy!

966 (108). Bad Timing (1980, Nicholas Roeg)

Screened April 17-18 on Criterion DVD in Berlin, Germany

TSPDT rank #926 IMDb Wiki

A fairly simple break-up story told through a dizzyingly baroque narrative flashing back and forth, Bad Timing is a buzzing paradox, revealing Nicolas Roeg at his most controlled and most unhinged; this study of a relationship on life support is both coldly clinical and emotionally raw, sometimes in the same scene. Roeg slices and shuffles his film like a puzzle, putting the viewer in an obsessive mystery-solving mode not unlike that of Art Garfunkel’s psychoanalyst researcher Alex as he tries to impose order on Milena, a wild-eyed, beautifully impulsive Theresa Russell.  The two have next to no romantic chemistry, which is just as well since the film aims to be the ultimate depiction of breaking up in all its brutal truth. It’s obvious that the two have next to no business being together: Russell as a wolverine of an aimless twentysomething wishing for unbound adulthood but who falls apart without a steady paternal presence; Garfunkel (impressively understated) as a intellectual whose attempts to convey rational authority give way to smugness and acts of male insecurity. But the leads give in fully to the frustrations of their characters, making their frequent miscommunication painfully compelling, especially in the erotic charge to their desperate attempts to connect.

The eroticism of disconnection is also scored brilliantly through Roeg’s associative editing: Garfunkel’s raising of a cigarette in one shot recalls a similar moment in another (him catching Russell lighting up with another man) and whose emotional subtext (jealousy, insecurity) loops back to the first. The piece de resistance is one of the most unromantic yet cinematically sexy love scenes ever filmed, cutting between Alex and Milena’s emphatic fornicating and a comatose Milena undergoing a bloody tracheotomy on an operating table.  She’s is a numb body being vivisected, not unlike like her dead-end relationship under the surgical scalpel of Roeg’s editing.

Bad Timing is as obsessed with sex as Don’t Look Now was with death, substituting the moody gothicism of Don’t Look Now‘s Venice with a Vienna that evokes a Freudian commingling of civilized living and ominous sensuality. In both cases, the strenuous leaping to and fro of the narrative leads to a stark naked moment of confrontation where one’s dark dreams erupt into full enactment: in the case of Bad Timing, a climactic rape scene of unapologetic frankness, ugly, brutal, and heartbreaking.

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I guess now would be as good a time as any…

to let you know that I’m on Twitter. You can follow me at alsolikelife.

For the Lincoln Center Satyajit Ray Retrospective: Videos on Days and Nights in the Forest

Since Amanda at the Filmlinc Blog reposted these, I figured I should too. Days and Nights in the Forest screens at Lincoln Center  Sun Apr 26: 4 or Mon Apr 27: 6:30.

Part I: Introduction

Part II: Analysis of the famous “Memory Game” scene

Part III: Interview with actor Soumitra Chatterjee, star of DAYS AND NIGHTS IN THE FOREST and the Mastroianni to Ray’s Fellini (they worked on 15 films together)

Essay 5: Three short films to Clint Eastwood

The following is a rough translation of an essay by Michael Baute of the Kunst der Vermittlung project. I used Babelfish and Google Translation to stitch together the most coherent translation I could manage; by no means perfect but hopefully you’ll get the idea:

Three short films to Clint Eastwood

At the end of 2008, upon the American theatrical release of two films of Clint Eastwood (Changeling and Gran Torino), the New York Film Society Of Lincoln Center invited critics in a roundtable discussion about the films. One of the critics involved is Kevin B. Lee, who applied the audio recordings of the discussions later to images of the discussed films and assembled in three parts uploaded onto YouTube (1, 2, 3).

Speaking about current, new films seems effortless, if these new acquisitions are to appreciative a work already existing. It can then be docked on already and thinking and opinion and note. Such docking happens also within the roundtable discussion; especially the third of the three videos which tries to classify the films into the overall aesthetics of their works’ director. With limited proofs from several films of the director a possible ”Eastwood look“, the one constant use of negative space, that is unilluminated parts of the film image, darkness, in which figures act, is distinguished.

Also in the second part of the small Eastwood series, to its Gran Torino, this reference is made on the complete work. It is particularly motivated by the current reception of the film in criticisms and reviews in the word contributions. Unanimously it is described there that Eastwood of his persona in Gran Torino adds a further facet of the aging hero; also comparisons with John Wayne are cited.

What is remarkable in this second part – more still than in the two others – is above all that the film succeeds in integrating the six critic voices and viewpoints in an artifact without being harmonized. Each of the speakers meets Eastwood’s film with a different interest, each individual voice pursues a different perspective. These perspectives are not a concluding evaluation. It is not interest of the video to draw a conclusion over Gran Torino. The video aims rather to seize the comments and their different focuses in the linearity of a film documentary process and to supply them with their own evidence of the excerpts of the film coupled to them.

Essay 4: The Woman in the Window (1944, Fritz Lang) with guest commentary by Girish Shambu

The following is a rough translation of an essay by Michael Baute of the Kunst der Vermittlung project. I used Babelfish and Google Translation to stitch together the most coherent translation I could manage; by no means perfect but hopefully you’ll get the idea:

Michael Baute

Video Essay for 907 (48) »The Woman in the Window« (1944, Fritz Lang) with guest commentary by Girish Shambu

The commentary on this video essay from the ”Shooting down Pictures“ series, written and spoken by Girish Shambu – who among other things operates a widely-read blog – refers repeatedly to Tom Gunnings book” The Films Of Fritz long: Allegories Of Vision and Modernity “and his idea of one destiny machine, which is effected in Lang’s films. This idea of a machine differs by its materialism from the classical concept of ”fate“, to which a protagonist is subjected. The machine is the society: ”For Gunning, Lang’s destiny machine is this vast elaborate system, society itself organized as a machine; this giant apparatus reaches into every aspect of human and social life through mechanisms like constant watching and observing and through advancements in science and technology. “Shambu’s comment works to describe in Woman into the Window Lang’s procedure of staging the effects of this machine to describe the film, but also an additional characteristic which is mentioned rather rarely in the opinions on Fritz Lang: humor.

There is a remarkable sequence in the first part of the video essay, which one knows from one’s own practice of looking at films, but is otherwise rarely found in “films about films”. From 3:12 until 3:25 Kevin B. Lee, who produced and cut the video essay, shows the pictures of the film in accelerated speed, as one it in one’s own four walls with boring passages of a film one looks at on DVD. Lee uses this procedure here probably on the one hand, in order to adapt the duration of the pictures of the duration of the commentary, but on the other hand also, in order to insert a small irritation into the expiration of commentary and announce over thereby observations, which Shambu in the second part of the video essay presents.

To see a man, who examines an apartment for traces, is to hear Shambu’s comment in the 23 accelerated seconds, which speaks of the nearly fetishistic accuracy of this tracing, whose comedy is compressed by the high-speed running of the images; ”until he finds what he’s looking for.“ With the finding, which is to be seen again in original speed, the first part of the video ends.

In the second part, from 3:45 until 5:43, exemplified by the comment Shambu’s thesis prepared to argue that by image acceleration and compression Lang shows a humoristic course, which one would not associate automatically with him in Woman in the Window. “I find this film in its own ironic and grim way to be quite funny.“ Proofs for it are a scene with a boyscout, and “the sly casting of the actress who plays the professor’s wife.”

On the whole film Shambu speaks of its ”inevitability“, which he admires, but at the same time also finds it ”A bit comical“. This center section concludes with a quotation of Andrew Sarris, in which Renoir is compared with Lang: ”If Renoir is concerned with the plight of his character, Lang is obsessed with the structure of the trap.“ As this interest in the “case“ in Lang’s film is staged, the third and last part of the video essay, which emphasizes two things, is produced.

Emblematic for Lang’s interest in the structure of the trap and the inevitability of a regulation is first of all a short moment in Woman in the Window, which Lee and Shambu show and commentate.

”The professor walks through two door frames, the bedroom and the bathroom in order to of wash out the scissors. Not only is the frame a sign of confinement, but the camera is already in the bathroom, which is a sign of inevitability. The camera is ready and awaiting the character to make his way through the doors and the bedroom and into the bathroom. The film is full of little bits of business like this. “

Business like this – to the conclusion of the video Lee and Shambu point secondly an assembly of attitudes of the film, in which clocks are to be seen, which are a constantly present memory of the inevitable work of the trap.

Additionally to the briefly described video essay Lee arranges here an extensive collection of screenshots and refers to on-line available texts for each of its screening entries. In the case of Fritz Lang’s The Woman into the Window, which was screened on 16 January 2007 on DVD, looks this entry in such a way.

Essay 3: Who’s Laughing Now? Evil Dead II

The following is a rough translation of an essay by Stefan Pethke of the Kunst der Vermittlung project. I used Babelfish and Google Translation to stitch together the most coherent translation I could manage; by no means perfect but hopefully you’ll get the idea:

WHO‘S LAUGHING NOW?

Kevin B. Lees Videoessay # 933 zu Sam Raimis »Evil Dead II«

How beautifully the doors fly open, naturally by a spirit hand, when Lee in the opening sequence of this work paraphrases exactly a passage of Evil Dead II, with which it then really enters into the film: a rapid camera movement from an American single family house to the outside. Here upturned: underlaid with the scary sound of the original track we leave sunny New Yorker streets, in time lapse over stairway, dark passage and several rooms on a television zuzustürzen, in which the referenced scene runs. So it could go ever further.

In the television room a young woman lies on the bed, cheaply on dead made up (Cinephilie meuchelt Libido? …). Two sheets of paper lie beside her. In the YouTube dissolution is not to be deciphered, which could stand on them written.

Road – house – room – televisions – the journey goes into an inside. The rerecording into the discussed film is appropriate for arisen door on one rabiat: instead of the screen from glass wood splinters. We penetrate into the film. Interpretation as violent act.

Only after this prologue Lee in the offscreen seizes the word. Its economical comment concentrates on the relationship between comedy and anxiety in EVIL DEAD II; appropriate pairs of opposites pulls through Lees discourse: funny/scary, more laughter/terror, Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Tex Avery, Daffy Duck/Jack Nicholson (in Shining).

Lee concentrates also on the main figure. He selected excluding cutouts, which show the actor Bruce Campbell alone. Without expressing it explicitly, Lee formulates so also that it goes in the horror category on most different ways around fights into head and soul, around self-arguments, around disturbances of sensitive internal equilibrium up to the uncontrolled intoxication of the irrational one, to the bad trip.

In addition a remarkable characteristic are Lee’s writing modules. In the telegram style it supplies with their assistance detailed information to special effects. Knowing how it’s made can drive the fright out. The favorite child of numerous DVD bonus distances so in addition, rightfully zurechtgestutzt on footnote dimension.

In Evil DEAD II leads the main figure Ash a war of extermination against his own hand. This war is also then not yet past, when Ash separates by means of chainsaw from the hand. It lives its own life even without a host body, but at the moment of amputation may be the triumph of Ash howling not resist: “Who’s laughing now?” It pushes several times out. The question is wrongly posed, it should be: Why?  Lee alludes, by reminding us of the abrupt end of his short essay of the uneasiness, which is inherent in our laughter.

Essay 2: The World According to Garp According to Christianne Benedict

The following is a rough translation of an essay by Stefanie Schlüter of the Kunst der Vermittlung project. I used Babelfish and Google Translation to stitch together the most coherent translation I could manage; by no means perfect but hopefully you’ll get the idea:

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP ACCORDING TO CHRISTIANNE BENEDICT

Shooting Down Pictures # 940 (82)

Lingering before THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (GARP, AND HOW HE SAW THE WORLD) (Director: George Roy Hill, USA 1982), I was a teenager late at night in front of the TV; due to the movie, I became a reader of John Irving novels. Christianne Benedict and Kevin B. Lee’s video essay makes me equally curious, because I barely have more cinematic memories of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP did. Memory rather of a symptom as to a picture: At that time I had gotten a notion of the fact that there are other stories to discover than those, which I had so far seen and had read.

A character in the movie is Roberta Muldoon, she is transsexual and is the center of the film about the film by Christianne Benedict. At this figure Benedict goes to the question of the representation of transgender in the cinema, and notes that Roberta is a rare phenomenon: “She is not a victim. She is not a prostitute. She is not a punch line. And she is not a psychopath “- what the stereotypes would be appointed to the cinema for the representation of transgender in store.

Christianne Benedict herself is transsexual, and when speaking about the cinema, which has a very personal, conversation-like tone has, she reaches several times into film history. As casually as a film fan passing examples of a striking lack of positive characters among transsexuals. In four contemporary films, which Christianne Benedicts regards again on the occasion of the video essay, transsexual protagonists are prostitutes: TODO SOBRE MI MADRE (ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER) (Spain / France 1999,Pedro Almodovar), MAUVAIS GENRE (TRANS-FIXED) (France / Belgium 2001, Francois Girod), WILD SIDE (France / Belgium / UK 2004, Sébastien Lifshitz) and 20 CENTIMETERS (France / Spain 2005,Ramón Salazar). On the other hand, along the movie clips from THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP the sympathetic picture of Roberta and show them in different roles – as a partner of Robin Williams, as a mother or an ex-football player.

John Lithgow, who plays the role of Roberta Muldoon according to Benedict as a kind of reparation for his woman murderer role in BLOW OUT (USA 1981, Brian de Palma), is nominated with this role for the Academy Award – and not only as an Actor / Actress in the treatment of a character between the sexes embodies.

According to Anne Benedict of Christ: “That was a very weird year at the Oscars.” Anyway, what gender politics.

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