Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Screening Notes #11

For the past two weeks I have been in the midst of production on my new film I Fell Silent, so film viewing has been pretty sparse. Directing requires a very stable internal space; it's best not to let outside aesthetic ideas interrupt the focus. Nonetheless, I did get around to a bunch of experimental shorts, and they've been weighing on my consciousness despite my best efforts at easy viewing. I'm sure that for the next few weeks I'll be overdriving into a hyperactive cinephiliac schedule. Here's what I saw in the last two or three weeks:

Sarabande (2008): Ridiculously gorgeous. I'm blown away by the liquidness, translucence, and milky textures of Nathaniel Dorsky's images. Dorsky calls to question the very nature and presence of the camera itself, which seems too ordinary and mechanical to capture amorphous clusters of light and color that are this otherworldly. Yet the power of the film paradoxically comes from the sense of these primordial images actually arising, somehow, from the physical world we occupy, in the nooks and crannies rarely sought out by the determined, everyday eye. With the help of macro lenses and the brilliant colors of celluloid, Dorsky insists that we see the world differently and makes us feel like underachievers for focusing so readily on only our common visions.

The White Rose (1967): Bruce Conner's eccentric document of the moving of a massive fresco by San Francisco Beat painter Jay DeFeo is touched by a compulsive heightening of the prosaic to the level of the mythic and heroic. The White Rose is a pedantically chronological account, watching as the muscular movers enter DeFeo's apartment, locate the imposing stone carving, huddle around it deciding how best to approach budging something so vast, and shimmy the artwork out of the third story window and into their truck. Conner injects quirky details throughout, like the way his camera peers childishly around the artwork trying to catch a glimpse of the exhausted expressions of the movers, or the shot of DeFeo sitting defiantly on her makeshift balcony, an eroded cliff on the outer edge of her apartment building. It's not only the melodramatic Miles Davis/Gil Evans soundtrack that elevates the removal of the precious labor of love from DeFeo's studio to high tragedy but also Conner's probing camerawork, which jolts in and out like a spastic art historian fearful for the well-being of the art but too meek to make any sort of impact.

New York Portrait: Chapter 1 (1979): Peter Hutton's serene and painterly films always offer refuge for the burdened and frantic mind, particularly for those that reside within a city and struggle to see beyond the rampant filth and ugliness. Comprised of long static takes, Hutton's New York-based films seem to exist solely within that coveted window of time just after dawn breaks when the city is not yet entirely awash with noise and chaos. Or he just managed to pick the most off-the-beaten-path locations to revel in the silvery sheen and gritty textures of his urban milieu. These images possess a peculiar clarity and dynamic range unique to reversal celluloid stock, and Hutton takes full advantage of that image fidelity, finding tableaus where the relationship between blacks and whites, when seen in the proper format, is downright unearthly. There's also a sense of supernatural chance at play in Hutton's visual scavenger's hunt, especially noticeable as a flock of birds swirl in front of his camera for minutes on end, only to swoop out of frame just as a ghostly airplane slowly enters the shot.

Passage à l'acte (1993) and Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998): If anyone told Martin Arnold in the early nineties that he was going to have a surprisingly vast, albeit indirect, influence on the DIY media making of the YouTube generation, he probably wouldn't have believed it. But Arnold's irreverent manipulations of the images of pop culture through looping, skipping, and stuttering bear a striking resemblance to the decidedly sloppy, postmodernist sensibilities of Tim and Eric as well as to all the anonymous humorists in their wake unleashing their bedroom experiments online. What's special about Passage à l'acte and Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy, though, is the way they impose such a clear sense of purpose. Both films hilariously concoct new subtexts out of scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird and Busby Berkeley musicals, respectively, and turn what are otherwise innocuous gestures into loaded statements of incestuous intent, patriarchal authority, and hormonal energy. A kiss between Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney becomes an animalistic slobber-fest, a father's order becomes a robotic chant, and ordinary movements start to resemble radical distortions of time and space.

No Country for Old Men (2008): I caught just the ending on TV, but what an ending it is! The simple shot-reverse shot setup, the midday brightness and dark undertones of the conversation, Tommy Lee Jones' thousand-mile stare, the unassuming cut to black. Every time I see parts of No Country for Old Men, I feel more and more like it's one of the best of the decade.

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