cinematographique

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Archive for May 2009

Bad Lieutenant

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Always with the half-truths. I, perhaps like Werner Herzog, have not yet seen Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, a movie from 1992 starring Harvey Keitel as the eponymous bad cop facing his demons. What follows is a clip of Herzog speaking about his forthcoming re-envisioning of Bad Lieutenant, with the novel appellation “Port of Call New Orleans”. Note his insistence on mispronouncing Ferrara’s name. What a card.

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Written by James P. Campbell

28/05/2009 at 20:39

Godard ou Truffaut

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Two of the biggest names from La Nouvelle Vague. Often the first two directors of the French New Wave that we, the young or uninitiated, come across. And the films of both are undergoing some form of British revival, with restored prints doing the independent cinema rounds thanks to the BFI. As a youngster, and with a keen but uninitiated father, I am currently exploring the oeuvres of Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut at one such cinema, and would like to self-indulgently reflect on an important difference between two key works: Les 400 Coups, and Pierrot le Fou. Side by side:

400coupsPierrot

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Written by James P. Campbell

23/05/2009 at 22:43

Reversible

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IrreversibleIrréversible, Gaspar Noé’s second feature, made a significant impact on me. I felt strong in my conviction that it was doing something meaningful, that it succinctly expressed something worth saying about time, causality and experience. This view held up under repeated viewing, whether alone, with family or friends – testing the impact through a range of different viewing environments and partnerships. What best supported this view was the stunned reaction of a friend, and the lengthy discussion of Kant and Hume which it provoked. There was something to be said on the intersection of ethics and aesthetics; trauma and memory; on morality and violence, and on what it is to be human.

It seems only fair to consider what a film has to say in terms of the thing itself – to let the object or artwork speak without prejudice in light of context, circumstance or exegesis. On those terms there would seem to be a fascinating puzzle to unravel in the constellation of the film’s three riddles – its reversed structure, its title, and the epigram, “Les temps détruit touts“. In the space between these lurks not only a commentary on the philosophical issues, but also a minefield of potential offense. I wouldn’t fail to understand a disgusted reading of the film: an outrageous affront to the homosexual community, a panegyric to heterosexual purity and hierarchical-masculine rage. But I felt there was enough there, and placed enough faith in Noé (a first crucial misstep in reading the film per se) to take such accusations with a pinch of salt. And equally, it seemed that there was a lot to be found out about how we relate to film in examining the diverse responses to and corresponding experiences of this provocative work.

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Written by James P. Campbell

19/05/2009 at 12:40

Encounters at the End of the World ****

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The documentaries of Werner Herzog are good, but they could be great. I admire his philosophical position and his work – though am often respectfully suspicious of its veracity. He can work almost found footage with tremendous aesthetic and metaphorical flair. But he could invest pictures like Encounters at the End of the World with more unambiguous substance, execute with greater elegance, and offer a more universal or accessible experience.

It seems reasonably well known and self-acknowledged that Herzog often places more truth content in his fictional works than the documentary pieces. He probably stages and creatively reconstructs his encounters with people (come on, were the polar researchers really watching that apocalyptic b-movie with the cameraman in front of the screen?). His distrust of specious philosophical claims is palpable, and his acute awareness of what is wrong with people’s positions leads him to criticize (rather than give precious time to) those who fall foul, and eulogize those who embody the ideal. There are those who find all of this abrasive, such as Peter Geyer, who revealed (in conversation at EIFF 2008) some frustration with Herzog’s liberal disregard for factual accuracy and implicit duplicity. I, for one, find it playful yet maddening by turns.

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Written by James P. Campbell

08/05/2009 at 16:55

In The Loop ****

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intheloop4In The Loop is the feature adaptation of the BBC television series The Thick of It, and is a searing satire with its sights set on all that is venal and crass (!) in contemporary Anglo-American politics. As if you didn’t know that already. Simon Foster, Secretary of State for International Development (played as charmingly bumbling by Tom Hollander, though I suspect that my sympathy for the character may not chime with a public braying for the blood of real MPs) finds himself embroiled in intrigue when his loose tongue publicly ties itself up in several choice pieces of fatally ambiguous spin shrapnel, foremost of which are the claims that war is “unforseeable” and that when the time comes, we must “climb the mountain of conflict”. The first lands him in hot water with the PM’s enforcer (the searing Malcolm Tucker of Peter Capaldi), quite obviously a close-to-the-bone riff on Alastair Campbell, whilst endearing the hapless Foster to Americans on the warpath. The second statement becomes their bumper sticker, quite literally.

Technically, this is a film of rare composition – flowing in a moderate rhythm yet tearing through seething material at break-neck tempo. There is consistent plot-developing action, submerged completely in a dialogue-heavy script, whose execution on screen is magnificent – rich with detail, but not simply descriptive, expedient to the story. The audience is kept on its toes, while the film develops a seductive, multi-dimensional melody at tremendously high frequency, soaring above those tempered narrative beats.

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Written by James P. Campbell

08/05/2009 at 16:34

Rope

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His first work in colour, and one of his most experimental, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope received a mixed critical reception upon release. And yet it seems to be not only a groundbreaking piece of work, technically and conceptually, but also a great film. It’s riddled with many brilliant little self-references and in-jokes. It’s clearly stagey, a play on screen and in words, and intentionally so. While it does not exploit the potential of the cinematic medium in terms of its traditions, instead Hitchcock pioneers all sorts of wonderful new things. He once told his daughter that he wanted to put a play on screen, and this was his chance. Rather than being bound in gallery or circle seats, the audience is brought within the action, becoming the lens as it dances about the cast (who, unbeknownst to us, must dance around the gigantic colour camera in turn). The making-of documentary is compulsory viewing to fully appreciate the degree of choreography required, and the phenomenal de- and reconstruction of the set that took place. Indeed, this demanded a sharpening of the already acute micromanaging tendencies of Hitchcock, to the chagrin of actors (directed by order, down to the minutae of facial expression). Every detail, before and behind the camera, lived in the director’s mind.

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Written by James P. Campbell

01/05/2009 at 12:10