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Archive for the ‘Retrospective’ Category

Ran

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The character of Lady Kaede, played by Mieko Harada, is one of the most sinister creations I’ve encountered. Unfortunately there are no clips readily available of her best scenes in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran. Suffice it to say she incorporates the worst qualities of Lear’s Cornwall and Lady Macbeth, embodied in a form which set the paradigm for horrifying little women in Japanese cinema.

Written by James P. Campbell

16/08/2013 at 23:44

Hiroshima Mon Amour

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At a performance of the short ballet, Sea of Troubles (MacMillan, 1988), the score reminded me of these opening passages from Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (which I found infinitely more arresting). Professor Emma Wilson gave a glorious lecture on this film, and these scenes in particular, with quite an emphasis on their textural quality – riffing on a few themes from Laura Marks. The music hauntingly sticks to these scenes in my memory, bringing it all back vividly.

Written by James P. Campbell

16/08/2013 at 23:30

Micro-reviews

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White Ribbon SaragossaParnassusKatalinZombielandInvention of LyingFunny People

 

 

 

The White Ribbon (w/d. Michael Haneke, 2009)

Technically faultless. Often arrestingly beautiful. Superlative performances.

Sound design, structure and mise en scene recall Hidden, The Piano Teacher and Benny’s Video, so The White Ribbon is arguably the apotheosis of an auteur mastering his language. The disturbance the film arouses is redolent of that turbulence coursing beneath Resnais’s Night and Fog, but without its explicit surface.

Haneke plays a few games in imitation of Ingmar Bergman – mirroring both images, plotted power dynamics, stylistic and dramatic aspects of dialogue. The Lutheran pastor is an expansion on that sinister figure of Fanny and Alexander. The doctor is an explicit rendition of the doctor in Cries and Whispers, or so many other Bergman men who have skeletons in their cupboards and violently abusive exchanges with the women they crush. Wintry black and white crime scenes recall the suicide of Winter Light.

Haneke clearly intends, and was quite right to mention so in recent interviews, his films to lurk in your thoughts once you’ve left the cinema. Nobody sits to discuss the film after, and it worries you in the core. Plotting, despite the ubiquitous inconclusiveness, is essential to his method and ends. The stories remain open both to leave one questioning events, and thereby to return one to the world presented. We aren’t to wonder ‘who done it’. That is irrelevant, and a MacGuffin to draw us into pondering this world’s “malice”, “envy”, “brutality”, “apathy” and “perverse revenge”.

One can hardly help but place the little boy in the white band, his lips pursed as though a lie is trying to force its way out, in his presumed future as camp commandant; his omnipresent sister as a prototype Eva Braun; the flayed whistle-thief as jackbooted storm-trooper. This is context specific, but the film’s world isn’t, and Haneke wants it to be read easily into any scenario where an authoritarian and absolutist value system is forced down throats until it is internalized and returned with vengeful fury to those who hypocritically and inconsistently inseminated it. Where Hidden made the vague gnawing of collective cultural responsibility for distant suffering highly acute, personal and present inside our lives (rather like a terrorist attack), The White Ribbon plays a similar tune to those vices quoted above. Here is where its lingering, troublesome affect has bite, and why I draw the Night and Fog analogy. Each of us is still culpable, in the same dimensions as those condemned, for contemporary manifestations of those same horrors.

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The Thing

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The ThingI already knew The Thing quite well, having screened it for my college film society, as part of a body-horror double bill. But some stimulating retrospective pieces in national papers whetted my appetite, and when I found it was showing at my local multiplex I couldn’t resist. It was the prospect of seeing that masterpiece on an enormous screen, with a presumably thin audience and all the privacy in the world that made it so, frankly, irresistible. One thing failed to disappoint – the film.

To my ambivalent surprise, I arrived to an officially sold-out screening. 10 left out of several hundred seats. This is fine, I thought – quite pleasing to see so great a turn out for a left-field rerun – perhaps a serious crowd of cult fanatics. Maybe we will see more of this sort of thing. Of course, I could no longer expect a comfortable space with aural insulation – but having seen The Thing before, surely I won’t be so tetchy about getting under the skin of the film – becoming immersed in the experience so I don’t miss a thing, so I respond in good tune.

I enter the theatre, having missed the opening shots of that remarkable first scene – a husky in flight from two helicopter-mounted Norwegians, letting rip with assault rifle and grenade. I stood aside and let the action subside before interrupting other virtuous filmgoers. Ah-hah! A perfect seat nestles half way up the stairs, at the middle of a row. Not too bad, I think, as I politely slip past the seated and sink into my chair. Then it begins to sink into me.

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Written by James P. Campbell

16/09/2009 at 00:29

Afterthoughts on Tarantino

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IB11Jonathan Rosenbaum has written more on what troubles him about Inglourious Basterds. He makes, much more articulately, the point I wished to make about how it fails to convey any meaning: how its talk is idle. My response, one that JR claims to be waiting for (though it is not possible to reply directly as his blog is closed for comment), is that there will be no such reply: no one will be able to perspicaciously point us to anything Tarantino is saying about his subject or his medium (or persuasively argue that Inglourious Basterds is an experience worth having). What we might get, however, is analysis of the film as a phenomenon (a symptom): in the vein of K. Longworth’s post on Tarantino’s little omelette. She felt that I.B. seemed to be more symptomatic of the world of September 2009 than of the 2008 which threw it up. And when I watched the film, Slavoj Zizek’s preoccupation with the obscene fantastical popped into my mind (a similar connection was made by KL). Yet this film is the obscene fantasy of QT, and a select few peers. I am glad not to count myself among them, but also glad not to merely dismiss it as simple self-indulgence. It is, after all, quite obscene.

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Written by James P. Campbell

27/08/2009 at 22:13

Elephant

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Elephant is a film it took a while for me to get round to watching. It is also a film which I had hardly heard of, beyond the brief buzz around its Cannes prize winning. I did get round to watching it, and its poetry moved me to try describe it in some aspect.

ElephantLike Russian Ark, it travels around its setting tracing a history, but this is a history in non-linear time, foreshadowing and backshadowing, rather than taking stock of a past. It follows ordinary people; we see them as an other, but we also trace their footsteps as though in their shoes, and we (as the camera, present as our eye) are not really seeing through a subject as in Russian Ark: there is no self, interpretation or discourse here. As if to underscore that fact the camera just flows through the halls, through the doorways, going where these people go, in absorbed, transparent coping, in basic understanding. And at the same time we are interpreting, we are conscious of a discourse by Van Sant on these people, in this place. Not only are we seeing (as them) how they effortlessly, unconsciously and intelligibly navigate their worlds, but we are also seeing them as subjects who are relating to the objects around them, (and so conjuring that intentional space in our own conceptual abstraction). And here is where Van Sant tells his story – a story which delves deeply into the observation of, first, Godard’s assertion that “les travellings sont affaire de morale” and more importantly, Luc Moullet’s primordial formulation, “la morale est affaire de travellings” – because these tracking shots are phenomenal manifestations of morality.

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Written by James P. Campbell

15/08/2009 at 00:47

An essay on film as art (III)

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Part III: Why ‘art’ cannot be defined in relation to conditions

So far, we have established several criteria which are neither individually necessary nor completely jointly sufficient conditions to classify a film as a work of art. Those films produced by an artist and presented to an artworld public, which exhibit representational, expressive and formal characteristics, and which were intended to have the capacity to satisfy the aesthetic interest, can be works of art. However, if art is to be defined in terms of individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions, in lieu of such conditions, film cannot be described as an art form.

Dean argues that such conditions are not discoverable. Both cognitive science and (select) philosophy support the view that the structure of concepts mirrors the way humans categorize things: in respect to their similarity to prototypes, not in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions (Dean, ‘The Nature of Concepts and the Definition of Art’ in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 61). Against this it has been contended that such psychological theories of concepts afford, at best, an account of how people seem to classify things, but cannot account for the correct classification of extra-psychological phenomena; and that such theories are presently too controversial to draw substantive philosophical morals from. On the contrary, I urge that by mobilising certain philosophical arguments, the quest for a definition of art that states individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions can be proven misguided. We do categorize things in respect to their similarity to prototypes. This is clear both from psychological theories of concepts and Berkeley’s subjective idealist analysis of general names. Therefore, if we are to determine whether film is or can be an art form, art should be defined in relation to prototypes, rather than by assembling conditions.

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Written by James P. Campbell

09/08/2009 at 18:01