Wednesday, January 25, 2006

"my heart...it feels like an alligator"

Recent viewings:

Chronicle of a Love (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1950) ***
Hardware (Richard Stanley, 1990) **
The Flowers of St. Francis (Roberto Rossellini) ***½
Curse of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957) ***
They Were Expendable (John Ford, 1945) ***
Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller, 1957) ***
King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005) **
Glen Or Glenda (Edward D. Wood Jr, 1953) ***
Twister (Michael Almereyda, 1990) **
Culloden (Peter Watkins, 1964) ***
The Forgotten Faces (Peter Watkins, 1961) ***

Thursday, January 19, 2006

classic bollywood groove

Another fragment post...

Upon Girish's request in the previous post, here are the films that I started off with during my (re)initiation with classic Indian cinema that I would recommend to anyone (all of these are in the Hindi language, but not all fit the 'Bollywood' description of having song-and-dance numbers). Several are available on DVD, I believe.
  • Guru Dutt (Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool) essential Bollywood
  • Abrar Alvi/Guru Dutt (Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam) widely thought to be directed by (an uncredited) Guru Dutt
  • Govind Nihalani (Aakrosh, Party) I have a lot more to see by Benegal's frequent cinematographer, and these two films did well to whet my appetite (and just so you know in case you ever come across it, his five-hour long Tamas is one of the Holy Grails of Indian cinema)
  • Satyajit Ray (Shatranj Ke Khilari) one of Ray's two Hindi-language films
  • Shyam Benegal (Bhumika, Ankur, Nishaant, Kalyug, Junoon, Manthan)
  • Sampooran Singh Gulzar (Ijaazat, Lekin)
  • Hrishikesh Mukherji (Abhimaan)
  • Basu Bhattacharya (Avishkaar, Anubhav) first two films of a trilogy on marital relationships. Avishkaar (/Aavishkar) is pretty much a forgotten masterpiece, and one that I was surprised to come across - on DVD!
  • Bimal Roy (Madhumati, and to a lesser extent Devdas) the Ritwik Ghatak-penned Madhumati just leaves the mouth agape with its mastery of atmosphere and folkloric storytelling within storytelling. Structurally, it is a distant cousin of Vertigo (both came out in 1958) but Madhumati is more explicit in its depiction of reincarnation.
  • Raj Kapoor (Awaara) I've only touched the surface - so many more of his films to see.
  • Sai Paranjape (Sparsh, Disha)
  • Kumar Shahani (Kasba, Tarang) Shahani is another undiscovered master (he was a student of Ghatak and assisted Bresson on Une femme douce, actually appearing on-screen for a second among the audience during the performance of 'Hamlet' in that film). Kasba is an Indian film like no other: its mise-en-scene is defined by classical Indian painting and its performances by theatre. (There is an excellent essay on the film in Senses of Cinema which is worth reading)
  • Rajaram V. Shantaram (Do Ankhen Barah Haath) I haven't seen any of his colour films, but they're reputed to be insane!
  • Vidhu Vinod Chopra (Parinda) a somewhat trend-setting gangster flick that is still of some interest today after countless imitations
  • Kamal Amrohi (Pakeezah) high melodrama, and a film I'd recommend for the music alone
  • Kundan Shah (Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro) not much of 'formal' interest here, but this is one of the craziest things I've ever seen - starts off as a Blowup-type mystery (with explicit references to Antonioni), and ends up with a corpse being roller-skated off by two men across New Delhi (chased by the baddies, of course), eventually ending on stage in the middle of a 'Mahabharatha' performance. Whaa?!
  • Asit Sen (Khamoshi)
  • Mrinal Sen (Khandhar) the only film I've seen by Mrinal Sen and it blew me away. If anyone can recommend me any of his Bengali films, I'll try to track them down...
  • the slapstick comedies of late, great Bengali actor Utpal Dutt (who has also appeared in films by Satyajit Ray, Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen), especially Gol Maal and Angoor.
That should hopefully do it for anyone seeking some classical Bollywood recommendations. My own to-see list is unending, but any further recommendations are most welcome.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

here and elsewhere

  • As you might be well aware, Zach Campbell had a wonderful post up on his blog in which he explains his feelings about why Sátántangó (or extremely "special" films in general) should not appear on DVD. I can totally understand his perspective on the matter, especially his sentiment on the viewing of the film being an "event", but as someone who experiences his cinema mostly on the video format, I have to say that sometimes one's geographical location leaves one no choice but to come down to the inferior format (and Zach does acknowledge this). I did see Sátántangó on video months ago with a couple other similarly-dedicated friends (the whole experience qualifying more as an "event" than countless other films I've seen on 35mm), and made it to the end with few disturbances (the obligatory couple of breaks, et al). I'll probably never know what it'll be like to see it on 35mm - and I say that with some certainty since a theatrical screening here is not very likely - but I treasure what I've managed to glean from that not-so-ideal viewing.
  • Seeing a couple of Shabana Azmi films on Acquarello's "Pillow List" of 100 films has made me a little nostalgic, and this means that I'll try to get back to watching some classic Bollywood and Parallel Indian Cinema (I had a huge phase a couple of years ago when I went through several Hindi-language films to broaden my exposure or simply catch up with films that I'd only seen while growing up), and for whatever reason the project trailed off. I'll try to get back to it, and hopefully post some thoughts here sometime in the coming weeks. Filmmakers whose work I'll try to track down (from my local Bollywood video library, which actually has a respectable selection) are: Rajinder Singh Bedi (Dastak), Saeed Akhtar Mirza (Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai?, Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan), M.S. Sathyu (Garam Hawa), Bimal Roy (Bandini, Sujata), Shyam Benegal (Trikal, Samar), Basu Bhattacharya (Teesri Kasam), Raj Kapoor (Mr. 420, and several more to revisit). Sadly, they don't have any Mani Kaul films, nor Kumar Shahani's Maya Darpan, which is my most-wanted-to-see Hindi film right now. (Why just Hindi? Because most of these videos are unsubtitled, and I don't need subtitles for Hindi dialogue!)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Autumn Almanac (Béla Tarr, 1985)

"Even if you kill me, I see no trace, this land is unknown, the devil is probably leading, going round and round in circles."

The above Pushkin quote opens Tarr's highly stylised and claustrophobic film, and it will start to reveal itself to the film's narrative slowly as the film progresses. The minimal plot revolves around an apartment that is inhabited by five residents, as distanced from any genuine intimacy as the film is distanced from the world outside the flat: Hedi, the middle-aged owner and her rebel son, Hedi's nurse and her lover (Miklós Székely B., who later appears in Tarr's Damnation and Sátántangó), and a destitute teacher. Throughout the course of the film, these five characters will, in various possible permutations, express their deepest fears and desires, before turning against each other in acts of emotional and physical violence. I'm only familair with Tarr's rigorously choroegraphed latter films (Damnation and following), but this must have been a transitional work. The theatrical presentation of extended two-way dialogue (frequently acerbic, and filmed in close-ups) recalls Bergman's chamber dramas, and even some Fassbinder (particularly, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant), but Tarr's mindboggling use of colour is what sets this film apart: characters in the foreground are bathed in shades of blue and yellow light, while the background may be covered in green. Not only does this stylistic device create a bizarre, otherworldly atmosphere, but this lends the characters a zombie-like quality that fits in with their wandering and 'soulless' existence. I'm at a loss to explain any other function which this device may serve.

Considering the filmmaker's pessimism over the Hungarian state of existence, political interpretations of the dysfunctional relationships in the film are never far away, especially when characters talk about their fear of existing in the worlds they inhabit. But in this case, it's difficult to say who Tarr's gaze is directed at, since much of their emotional exile is self-imposed, unlike the seemingly supernatural forces which seem to be at work in his later films. Also, despite its use of colour and unusual camera angles, Autumn Almanac bears elements that was to soon explode into the voluptuous form of a Sátántangó or a Werckmeister Harmonies: the liberated, graceful movement of the 'narrative' from character to character, the fluid long takes, the elegant choreography of the actors, and the dance scene that closes the film which will resurface in Damnation and Sátántangó as the unending dance of the aimless existence.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

All About Evil: Verhoeven's 'Showgirls'

(On the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Dutch release of Showgirls, there's a Showgirls Blog Orgy going on in the blogosphere to which I signed up to. This piece is in appreciation of the film).


Would it be too presumptuous to say Showgirls grows on you? And not merely "grows" as in being semi-infatuated by its subtleties and eccentricities (which it has in spades) so as to develop a strange urge to watch it all over again right after Siouxsie and the Banshees comes up on the soundtrack signalling the end titles, but really, exponentially free-wheeling with every subsequent viewing from unquestioned trash to mindless, campy fun to a frequently ingenious, insanely lush, even endearingly earnest satire of an institution (i.e., Hollywood) we all love and love to hate . Well, at least that's my experience with the film, which I'm convinced is Verhoeven's best American work (Jacques Rivette certainly agrees).

So what is it about the beast which inspires this surge in appreciation? Nothing has really changed in the film itself - the hyperbolic, animalistic performances (especially that of Elizabeth Berkley as wannabe-dancer - uh, I mean "Dancer!" - Nomi Malone), the garish set and costumes, the gratuitous nudity, Joe Eszterhas' name on the credits, the exaggerated everything-else, has remained the same with every viewing. Perhaps, the downright unpleasantness and de-eroticization of it all becomes so pronounced with successive viewings that spectators start to look at other things besides just tits and asses. Like the creeepy series of repetitions running wild in the film: the two sabotage attempts which occur around the Stardust stage, the actual performances of 'Goddess' with its shifting central 'star', the same post-performance party praises, the mutable roles of sadist and masochist between Nomi Malone and Cristal Connors, and most importantly, Nomi's uncoincidental second meeting with the guy who actually brought her to Vegas, are all traditional attempts at introducing symmetry and propelling its simple, fable-like mode of storytelling.

Then there is the presentation of the film as a purely visual spectacle - from the performances (both on- and off-stage) to the vibrant colour scheme of reds, purples, and yellows, from its unbridled celebration of the female form to it coming merely inches from becoming an unfulfilled Arcadian fantasy. Would we have the same violent swimming pool sex scene (during which Bruno Dumont was probably taking notes) if Berkley was kept in-the-know regarding the film's satirical nature? That her performance is so achingly honest, so unwittingly over-the-top, compared to Gershon's more knowing portrayal (that is one for the ages, by the way), is evidence of the real-life struggle of an actress desperate to make it in a big Hollywood movie, in a brilliant (if ultimately tragic) casting move by Verhoeven. In any case, and with all its imperfections, self-consciousness, insane quotability, and baroque, hellish film-isms, this is a film to come back to, and rediscover the magic and bite which somehow never really got noticed in the neon haze of Las Vegas, and the blinding fleshy tones of its whores.


For further evidence of the film's awesomeness, I point you to Eric Henderson's write-up on the film, which is as good as the show. Also, the Anniversary posts as they are linked to over at Girish's.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Almereyda's 'Nadja', and other things

Michael Almereyda's Nadja is so uncannily similar (at least in its basic premise) to Abel Ferrara's underrated and equally adventurous, The Addiction, that it's difficult not to compare the two films. Both films offer a dreamy, wandering female who happens to be a vampire in a quasi-philosophical quest around New York City at night. And shot in black-and-white (added POV Pixelvision shots in Nadja), both films are visually spectacular. The key difference between the two, besides Nadja being a lot funnier and seemingly existing a state of druggish high which it never really descends from for its entire duration, is that Almereyda's anti-heroine is simply the lonelier of the two, and bases her actions to get some sort of attachment (which is why her encounter with Galaxy Craze's hypnotised Lucy is as moving as it is erotic), and her romantic longing for Lucy and desire for reconciliation with her vampire-no-more twin brother is equated to her desire for survival.

Favourite moment: Nadja is floating, moving in the foreground, chased by Van Helsing (a hilarious Peter Fonda, who has obviously wandered here straight out of Easy Rider) in the background, in slow motion, the whole thing set to Portishead. Almereyda says of this scene: “In some ways it encapsulates the feelings that are at the core of the film, not being able to catch up with the thing you're pursuing. The faster you run, the farther away it gets.” This scene reminded me of the crazy sped-up/slowed-down dance/run that Denis Lavant spontaneously breaks into in Mauvais Sang (with Bowie's 'Modern Love' in the background), and I wondered what Lavant is chasing...

Other films seen this past week:

Lightning Over Water (Nicholas Ray, Wim Wenders, 1980) ***
Street Scene (King Vidor, 1931) ***
The Wedding Night (King Vidor, 1935) ***
Road Movie (Joseph Strick, 1974) **½
Kievski Freski (Sergei Paradjanov, 1966) Interesting short film (or rather, a film fragment) that anticipates Paradjanov's masterpiece, Sayat Nova.

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First pictures from David Lynch's next project, Inland Empire (or is it INLAND EMPIRE?). I like the horse!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"don't fight the funk"

Seen over the last couple of weeks:

Mauvais Sang
(Leos Carax, 1986) ***
Gone To Earth (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1950) **½
Without You I'm Nothing (John Boskovich, 1990) ***
Hatari! (Howard Hawks, 1962) ***½
Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg, 1932) ***
Paris Is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990) **½
Girl on a Motorcycle (Jack Cardiff, 1968) *½
Japón (Carlos Reygadas, 2002) ***
Outer Space (Peter Tscherkassky, 1999) ****
Cat Chaser (Abel Ferrara, 1989) saw the 90-minute version, which has its moments but is disappointing overall
Body Snatchers (Abel Ferrara, 1993) **½
demonlover (Olivier Assayas, 2002) **
Bully (Larry Clark, 2001) **
Kids (Larry Clark, 1995) **½

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