Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Master (2012) A Film by Paul Thomas Anderson

(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

So often as viewers we forget the craft of good film acting. We take advantage of the fact that there's a distinct and challenging path taken to get to a representation of a character onscreen. The film actor is highly fragile material, and anyone who's ever tried their hand at directing – or even anyone who's ever witnessed a director/actor relationship in action – knows that at any given moment communication can break down entirely, that something in the air, something difficult to pinpoint, can combust between the director and the actor and cause nothing to turn out as expected or hoped for. Nurturing a strong collaboration is sort of like zen or voodoo. When it works, a sacred zone with a unique, primitive language develops. Once you're in that zone, a lot can destroy it. It's complicated by nature, vulnerable to slight outside influence, and susceptible to minute shifts in power dynamics. Come to think of it, it's a lot like the relationship between Lancaster Dodd and Freddie Quell.

Paul Thomas Anderson's last two films (and to a lesser, varying degree every film that came before them) have been profound studies of great acting performances – not just films that feature great performances, but films that observe, explore, flaunt, and valorize them. Indeed, Anderson has somewhat suddenly become one of the most gifted actor's directors out there, and, as far as I'm concerned, has overseen the finest feats of acting yet in 21st century American cinema. It certainly helps that he's had some not-too-shabby resources to work with - Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Joaqiun Phoenix are some of the best in the business - but even the best are human and are therefore capable of falling apart in a role. Even more so than There Will Be Blood, Anderson's new film The Master engages intimately with its central performers; if the prior film was a controlled, brooding slice of perfection, the new one is bulky and exploratory, but what it lacks in overarching fluidity it makes up for in extended, near-transcendent observations of human behavior at its most unpredictable.

Daniel Plainview was a force of life in There Will Be Blood, a total animal, and in some sense Anderson's crisp widescreen compositions and assured pace kept him at bay. At the same time, the tension between his feral, explosive qualities and the film's formal restraint was a major source of excitement. To a degree, The Master keeps this tension intact, yet it also indulges its attention on the mysterious, compulsively watchable Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), and eventually his foil Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), at the expense of forward narrative momentum. This is a film that finally earns the definition "character study," rather than just wearing it as a vague indicator of depth. Many scenes are exclusively about picking apart the central characters, defining and exploring their hidden complexities, and observing their physical form for great lengths of time; indeed, the film's centerpiece is an extensive "therapy" session between Dodd and Freddie in which they do exactly these things to each other, and Anderson films them in piercing close-ups (rarely has a shot-reverse-shot set-up felt this tangible, this searching).

The first, and strongest, half of The Master follows Freddie, a discharged World War II veteran, as he boozes, curses, and masturbates his way through postwar malaise. Anderson's structure is very much free-form and circumstantial here, reflecting the unhinged drift of Freddie's life; something happens, then another, then another, and so on. Freddie has sex with the sandcastle of a naked woman, descends into the bow of a Navy ship (not unlike how Plainview descends into the parched Earth) to suck down the first of many poisonous alcoholic concoctions he makes in the film, works a brief stint as a migrant farmer before being chased from the land by angry Filipino workers who insist he's intentionally poisoned their ailing co-worker with one of said concoctions...etc. While circumstances accrue on top of each other, the filmmaking seems every bit as uncertain of the near and distant future as the drunken, sex-obsessed Freddie. Both Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Werner Herzog come to mind during this compellingly aimless section, the former for the planted, shallow-focus camera that pans and tilts perfunctorily as its subject of focus drifts around the space and the latter for the nonjudgmental devotion to the mad logic and trajectory of the central figure.

Freddie speaks with his head tilted upwards, the line of sight from his squinted eyes just barely reaching over his cocked face, and through only one side of his perpetually slanted mouth, but for quite some time he doesn't speak much at all (like There Will Be Blood, The Master begins by merely dropping the viewer into its hero's milieu, catching the mood of the environment without launching into a narrative). His default pose is to hunch over while peering blankly into the distance with a vaguely inquisitive expression that is really just the shell-shocked result of a man longing for sexual contact. Before any significant lines of dialogue are spoken, this sense of physicality is overwhelming, dominating Anderson's loosely-defined frames. In fact, the mere observation of Freddie's formidable presence in such great detail cements the notion that The Master, despite the fact that its titular figure is Lancaster Dodd, is ultimately Freddie's film, and Anderson's fascination with him as a living, breathing, altogether authentic human object runs throughout the entire film even as other threads come and go.

One of those threads: "The Master" himself, Lancaster Dodd. That the initial meeting between Dodd and Freddie is kept offscreen is perhaps a sly suggestion on Anderson's part that he is less important as a man in his own right than as a man with an effect on Freddie. Instead, Dodd's presence is first symbolized by the romantic ocean-liner that Freddie inadvertently stumbles upon and on which Dodd is throwing a party for his quasi-religious fan-cult – that is, to Freddie, an emblem of status, wealth, and achievement (traits whose implications Anderson will gradually pick apart over the course of the film). In a film that gently scrambles chronology and elides revelations without calling much attention to it, it's par for the course that Dodd and Freddie's first onscreen conversation feels like the continuation of a conversation the previous night aboard the ship; Dodd inquires about Freddie's alcoholic concoctions, and Freddie awkwardly inquires about a job (which Freddie "gets," but the nature of that job is never clear, suggesting that a relationship to Dodd's cult is work enough). Already there is a sense of a mutually beneficial relationship at play. The Master details the transition of those benefits from concrete forces to the abstract, intangible stuff of macho relationships.

Dodd is referred to as "The Master" by a swarm of mostly retired women, and he spearheads a worldview dubbed "The Cause." (For extra information on the associations with Scientology, see Kent Jones' comprehensive piece. I won't go into any of it here because I recognize that Anderson's aims are much less specific than this single religious denomination). As Dodd's son (Jesse Plemons) puts it, Master's "making it all up as he goes along," pulling wholesale from various schools of thought such as Buddhism, Christianity, Freudian psychology, New Age Spirituality, and the pragmatic everyday teachings of self-help books. The actual content of his theories is of much less interest to Anderson than the persona of leadership he is able to erect and wield to his social and financial advantage, as well as particularly how that persona acts as a much-needed grounding for Freddie, who up until meeting Dodd appears on the brink of self-destruction.

As in There Will Be Blood, the central character dynamic is that of a forward-moving introvert and the false prophet that distorts, partly unintentionally, the introvert's true self. Anderson's riffing, quite explicitly, on a master/servant dynamic, yet he's also continually revealing the unexpected nuances of this type of relationship. The aforementioned therapy scene doubles as an exposé on the notion of performance, and where Dodd succeeds in his work is getting Freddie to finally break through his off-putting weirdness and reveal something about his emotional core. His confession that he's in love with a girl back home (embodied as an angelic adolescent ideal by Madison Beaty) emerges so organically and spontaneously that it's as if he wasn't even consciously aware of it until prodded by Master. But as much as Master is able to excavate unseen dimensions of Freddie, Freddie's nearly puppyish servantry proves instrumental in the maintaining of Master's sanity and confidence as a leader. (Freddie's support is even more important to Dodd than his disapproving wife's (Amy Adams, who is all but suffocated alongside these monstrous performances), or any of his other female followers (Laura Dern among them). Women in general play only a peripheral role in the development of these absorbed male egos, and when they do figure, it's mostly in the form of one-note abstractions.) Late in the film, when Freddie is about to free himself from Master's grip once and for all in a dialogue scene that takes place in Master's very Citizen Kane-ish dwelling – also reminiscent of Plainview's final resting place (more and more similarities arise...) – Master tells him "if you leave me, I never want to see you again." It's a telling statement that gets at the dependent quality of the relationship; Dodd wants a definitive answer regarding whether or not he will have access to Freddie's presence, because if he doesn't at least know, he seems unable to go on.

At any given moment The Master feels like it's going to explode with tension, that the primal churnings of man will wreak havoc on the unruffled surface of the film. This has been a recurring sensation in Anderson's filmography, but it's never been quite this palpable. The tweaks in Anderson's style (less tracking shots, less completely static compositions, less depth of field, a lot less) have shifted greater emphasis to the interactions of the characters themselves, and even when a composition smacks of immediate subtext - such as in the brilliant jail cell scene between Dodd and Freddie in which each of them occupy their own half of the frame, one frenetic and one stoic - there's a casual, almost fly-on-the wall quality to the images. Even a tight close-up has a loose, moldable essence. In every sense, the image-making is the antithesis of the shots that Freddie takes during his on-again-off-again role as an advertising photographer, first for a department store and later for Master's own brand: posed, artificial images of America, of consumerism, of normalcy, images that Freddie rejects entirely in his haphazard, messy pursuit of pure behavior.

We are first introduced to Freddie through a view of the top of his grey combat helmet, a blank surface that hints at the existential juncture of this character. It's also a clearing of the slates that supports the notion that The Master is the story of mankind, told through Freddie: a slow movement from primal, uncivilized existence towards economic and cultural superstructures (Dodd), and how the authentic human is perverted along the way. Perhaps this is giving Anderson too much credit, that it's cohering ideas that were fuzzy in the conception of the film, but there's too much of an insistence upon defining the term "animal" here to not acknowledge Anderson's cosmic ambitions. Put simply, Freddie is an animal, a man who listens to his primal sexual and violent instincts, while Master is a man who tries to reject the idea of animalism only to continually reveal his instinctual side in outbursts of emotion as he feels his air of authority slipping away. As much as Freddie's a prick, the film sticks with him and harbors a tragic romanticism towards him, because when the influence of social organization has left the picture, he's still there at the center of the film, a man unwilling to temper the volcanic urges within him.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Samsara (2012) A Film by Ron Fricke

When deciding whether or not to see Samsara at the Dome in downtown Hollywood – an incredibly vast and immersive movie experience that is every bit worth the steep price of admission – I made the mistake of perusing Rotten Tomatoes for quick and dirty judgments (funny how we can look at this tactic as a mistake, when, at core, it’s the essential commercial purpose of film criticism), and the blurb that I had floating in my head while the film washed over me was this one from the Chicago Reader's Ben Sachs’: "Any sincerity inherent in the project is overwhelmed by the manufactured awe of its godawful New Age score." Now, I admit, it’s not necessarily professional practice to be so persuaded by other critical work in the formulation of one’s opinion, but Samsara's music is such an unmistakable element of its texture that it's probably impossible not to feel one way or another about it. In this case, I sympathized with Sachs' assessment, so I kept wondering, is he correct to say that this music that's just plain goofy is overwhelming the sincerity? That's a tough question to crack, because I'm not sure I buy the alleged sincerity of Samsara to begin with. I'll go a step further than Sachs' and others and argue that in addition to being plain goofy, this music gets at the core of what I found grating and ridiculous about the larger artistic and philosophical modus operandi of Samsara.

Written by Michael Stearns, Lisa Gerrard, Marcello De Francisci, and performed with musicians Bonnie Jo Hunt, Ron Sunsinger, and Vidia Wesenlund, the Samsara score is a synthesis of reverby Enya-esque ooh's and ahh's, spaced-out synth-pad drones, vaguely indigenous drum rhythms and chants, a grab bag of tropes from different cultural musics, and ever-escalating-and-sustaining climaxes, and the number of musicians who worked on it only gives a hint of the clusterfuck eclecticism on display. It also reflects the guiding ethos of the film: cover everything, mix it all up, and present it as one piece, because everything belongs together and warrants the same level of attention. Carried along by this flowing, rarely ceasing musical accompaniment, the images start to feel democratized to an outlandish extent – the slicing of raw poultry is observed with the same detached, aestheticized awe as the painted face of an Aborigine. Everything is viewed as if a lunar landscape, something worthy of caution and wonder.

The idea at the heart of the film is interconnectedness, which justifies Fricke's seemingly haphazard cutting between radically different locales (poverty-stricken countrysides to bustling urban metropolises, for instance), but there's a superficial quality to this universal equation. Unlike, say, Terrence Malick (another filmmaker who works on this cosmic scale but in a more searching, inconclusive manner), Fricke seems to have decided from the onset that there is something sacred in everything, meanwhile missing the unique charm of something plainer, more-down-earth. It's no surprise that some of the film's most genuinely humbling moments comprise the only times the musical score lets up and we glimpse an image for what it really is, without the thick gloss of importance laid upon it. A waterfall, or a roiling cloud of volcanic smoke, or a speckled cityscape dotting the night sky, is sublimely beautiful on its own, but with the relentless side-note that it's only sublime paired with something else, it becomes a trite, degraded postcard-ready picture.

Samsara aims for nothing less than an existential survey of the past and current history of life on Earth. At a certain point, it feels like it’s working its way through a checklist of major talking points of humanity both in a contemporary and a metaphysical sense: war, religion, prostitution, food industry, poverty, etc. The film's game plan is simplistic: juxtaposition. Let's try juxtaposing the ancient with the modern, the poverty-stricken with the well-off, the mechanical with the organic, the violent with the gentle, the macro with the micro, the vertical with the horizontal, etc. The question of intersections, of revelations, of sums, of outliers, is so rarely addressed; instead, Fricke is keen on stepping back to play the contemplative card, shuffling the puzzle pieces for the fun of it and leaning back on the knowledge there's a picture within there somewhere.

Now, to step back for a moment, I should admit that Samsara houses some of the most immaculately photographed, "breathtaking" images I've seen in my life. Among them: pyramid temples spaced out in a verdant landscape and illuminated by the last golden beams of a sunset; a slowly panning time-lapse view from the inside of a shack in the desert; color-coded assembly lines that stretch as far as the eye can see; soaring shots over intersecting urban highways at all different times of day; an aerial glimpse of a vast religious ceremony in which people miles apart from each other bow in unison, creating a collective "blinking" effect that has to be seen to be believed. For these shots alone, I'd recommend seeing Samsara on the biggest screen possible. But as a cumulative work of art, I feel cheated. To the extent that the film expresses anything, it deals in fortune-cookie clichés: destruction is creation, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, power corrupts, progress is relative, etc. If you're looking for a bit more of this, Samsara's not a bad place to find it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bluebeard (2009) A Film by Catherine Breillat

The films Catherine Breillat has made after Anatomy of Hell have marked a compelling and cohesive direction in a career otherwise defined by scattershot provocations. Her career trajectory now loosely resembles David Cronenberg's; both begin with abrasive, explicit hammers to the cerebellum (a mode Cronenberg pulled off with greater success) and eventually switch gears suddenly, making way for talky period dramas that only appear sober in relation to the ornery visuals that preceded them. In Breillat's case, this transition has yielded fruitful results, and Bluebeard is yet another assured and thought-provoking effort alongside the restrained and mysterious The Last Mistress (my favorite of the three) and the deliciously surreal The Sleeping Beauty. These films share a singular approach to fairy tales and period detail, a detached, self-consciously unreal presentation of history that meshes elegantly with their essayistic, analytical nature.

Like its follow-up, Bluebeard operates on two levels: in Sleeping Beauty, it was a whimsical hundred-year dream and an unhinged reality, and in Bluebeard, it's a scene of two sisters reading Charles Perrault's titular fairy tale and a visualization of the story. Having gathered their ideas about the social institutions Perrault tackles in his cautionary tale (courtship, marriage, sex) merely through an uneven mix of watered-down official explanations and fragments of hearsay, the sisters explore and discuss the text in their dusty attic like kittens suddenly presented a new, curious object to play with. The younger of the two, Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites), handles the material with the easy confidence expected of a child with such a minimal grasp of the topics it deals with (she believes homosexuality to mean the love that consummates a marriage), while the older sister, Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti) - perhaps because she's within a stone's throw of puberty - urges her sister to stop reading even as she hesitantly, fearfully listens in.

The dynamic of naïveté and apprehension existing in this situation is matched by Breillat's dichotomous presentation of the fairy tale setting, a place of stiff mannerisms and postcard-perfect compositions interspersed by the occasional hyper-sensual image: a ladle entering a bubbling broth in tight close-up, a beheaded foul mechanically flailing about as its body perishes, the barbaric Bluebeard (Dominique Thomas) devouring a massive hunk of meat, three girls hanging above a floor skimmed in blood. Shots like these spike Breillat's otherwise hermetic, controlled atmosphere, and generally correspond to some psychological or emotional development both in the sisters reading the story and the sisters within the story. Not that there's much difference; by giving them variations on the same names - the sisters in 17th century France are named Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton) and Anne (Daphné Baiwir) - it's clear that Breillat means to suggest the universal impact of the fairy tale, the sense of identification naturally triggered in young readers. In this regard, the spunky, assured Catherine is mirrored by the confident, gorgeous Marie-Catherine, while the frightened Marie-Anne gets her surrogate in the form of Marie-Catherine's jealous, ill-tempered older sister Anne. Sibling rivalries, Breillat argues, have featured the same core components across generations.

In the tale of Bluebeard proper, Marie-Catherine and Anne are students in a convent whose father has recently died, forcing them to return home to their grieving and impoverished mother (Isabelle Lapouge). On their trip, they catch a glimpse of Bluebeard's mansion, a towering, isolated castle on a hill that reflects the man living in it. Word trickles down to these girls that the women Bluebeard marries are never seen again once they enter his grounds, and this news provokes the expected terror and curiosity in the older and younger sister, respectively. One of Bluebeard's messengers approaches the poor, fatherless family offering stability and happiness, the implication (unchallenged by the mother) being that another man must fill the patriarchal void left by the deceased father in order for the young girls to achieve any kind of upward mobility in this strict society governed as much by gender as it is by wealth and possessions. Soon enough, Marie-Catherine is living with the behemoth Bluebeard, though the relationship dynamic does not play out as predicted; one of the first things Marie-Catherine does is request her own room small enough to prohibit Bluebeard from entering, a cunning, lightly seductive ploy to assert her power in this male-dominated zone.

Indeed, it's Marie-Catherine's smarts and charm that allow her to subvert, for quite some time at least, Bluebeard's oppression. The mere sight of her dainty figure juxtaposed against Bluebeard's vast, imposing frame suggests an absurd degree of dominance only augmented by the cartoonish scale of the interiors, but in the face of Marie-Catherine's fortitude Bluebeard appears tender and oafish. Shades of Beauty and the Beast are inherent in Perrault's original, and I suspect Breillat intends to gesture towards them only to eventually diverge in the opposite direction of that openly romantic sensibility. If the relationship between Beauty and the Beast is ultimately open and honest, defined by a willingness to seek the ideal, Marie-Catherine and Bluebeard's is so entrenched in pre-destined social roles that it plays like a long test in which both are constantly navigating the treacherous waters of the other person, searching for untrustworthy qualities even as they hope not to find any. Bluebeard's final test of Marie-Catherine's character is to have her hold on to a special key while he's out of town, meanwhile forbidding her from the entering the room it opens. What ensues is no less shocking for its sense of inevitability. It's a confirmation of the enslavement of these individuals to the overarching sexual politics of their environment.

Breillat formalizes the cyclical nature of the denouement by literally repeating shots over and over, all the better to reflect the same ideologies of marriage and gender being taught to young girls again and again. To cement the impact of the story on the minds of the contemporary sisters, Breillat first has Catherine appear in the fairy tale world performing Marie-Catherine's behavior and eventually intertwines the final act of the tale with the girls' own trajectory. As such, the building tension between Marie-Catherine and Bluebeard is not cut off prematurely as it may appear to be, but is rather extended and completed by the scene between Catherine and Marie-Anne. Encroaching violence spills over into their psyches; Catherine delights in her sister's discomfort, and Marie-Anne, reaching a climax in her awareness of romantic inequities, falls, literally, into adolescence, through the space left by a missing floorboard in the attic. It's a transition that, as in The Sleeping Beauty, is violent and disorienting.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ingmar Bergman, Ranked

(This is the second entry in the Favorite Directors Blogathon. Next month is Stanley Kubrick.)

When Ingmar Bergman died in 2007 (on the same day as Michelangelo Antonioni) and buzz about the supposed "end of cinema" proliferated on the web and elsewhere, none of it registered much for me. It came at too early a stage in my cinephilia, and at that point I had only seen The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, and maybe Winter Light. During this time I was drawn mostly to films with robust visual flair (Stanley Kubrick, Wes Anderson, Peter Greenaway, etc.), so I found Bergman's work interesting but mostly unremarkable, my admiration largely detached as if I was forcing myself to adhere to critical consensus. At a certain point a year or two later, after seeing Persona, his work suddenly clicked for me, and it inspired a marathon of Bergmania that left me stunned film after film. I came to the conclusion that Bergman was incomparably consistent and prolific, producing work year after year that shared very similar preoccupations (narrative, thematic, stylistic, and otherwise) without becoming redundant or stale. It seems odd to have paradoxically discovered cinema at a time when all sources told me it was dead, but that was the feeling I had, and the opinion I still hold today is that Bergman's contributions to humanity were no less significant than his contributions to the world of film.

I love and respect him for: his nakedness in dealing with the dark, private, often embarrassing aspects of human nature that so many artists skip over, his relentless bowing to the complexity and enormity of life on Earth, even when dipping into particularly narcissistic territory, his unmatched fascination with the human face, which is of course capable of being the most expressive cinematic element if treated as such, his almost guileless faith in symbols and allegories to express something inexpressible, his vision of cinema as the domain of dreams and spiritual therapy, his fondness for natural landscapes (both as physical facts of life and as manifestations of inner states), his understanding of the psychic dimensions of light and color, his utter lack of qualms about mingling different art forms (theater, music, painting) with cinema, his refusal to water down his sensibility in order to make genre films, understanding that a consistent worldview provides a genre in and of itself, his dogged professionalism and reputation as a leader in spite of his outspoken insecurities and demons, his ability to make every sound and silence count...the list, it goes without saying, could go on.

In putting together these rankings, I felt confident in the opinion I hold on exactly 14 of his films, many of which I revisited in the last few months, which explains the unusual tally. (For the films that do not grace this list, there will be a time when I either discover them or revisit them and feel comfortable canonizing them, at which point they will be added to this post.) Every film on the list below is capable of being reduced to hyperbole; they reflect minor gradations of greatness - that is, my 14th pick is only a couple notches "less great" than my #1 pick. In my humble opinion, almost all of them are "masterpieces," a word I rarely pull out from the cobwebs for fear that it might be an empty buzzword reflecting short-lived thrill, but I dare to say that's not the case here. Bergman has been an enduring part of both my cinematic education and my development as a human being, and I can do nothing but be true to my immensely fruitful relationship to his body of work.

1. Fanny and Alexander (1982): Christmas is, to me, the most wonderful time of the year for many reasons: for the way it brings together family, for the joy, for the winter season, for the food, for the color palette, for, well, everything. But there is also an air of mystery surrounding Christmas, particularly for a child trying to grapple with its strange folklore. No film in the history of cinema has managed to synthesize all of these qualities quite as organically and effortlessly as Fanny and Alexander, the first half of which presents the most sensually rapturous vision of the holiday ever presented in any medium. The merrymaking, however, gradually gives way to darkness and instability following a death in the family, forcing the young protagonists of the title into the ascetic mansion of their mother's new disciplinarian husband and sending the Bergman surrogate Alexander (Bertil Guve) into a prolonged confrontation with the cruel machinations of the world beyond his cozy, ornately designed home as well as the void beyond life. This is Bergman's most lush, emotionally varied film, a dreamlike coming-of-age tale that reveals great expanses of doom and despair beneath warm, familiar surfaces.

2. The Silence (1963): Rarely, perhaps never, has there been a more succinct expression of the fundamental, irrevocable disconnect between people than the final statement that graces The Silence: "words in a foreign language." It's simple, vague, and awkwardly incomplete but in the context of this primal, hallucinatory masterpiece, it's boundlessly expressive. Hostility, loneliness, pain, and indifference are all minor gradations of an enveloping bleakness here, but the film still feels exceptionally propulsive and moody despite the heaviness of its themes and the seeming redundancy of its expression. An abstract poem carved out of a surreal scenario, The Silence is the wise grandfather to Kubrick's The Shining and probably the scariest film Bergman ever made.

3. The Seventh Seal (1957): Iconic as it is, The Seventh Seal has never drowned under the weight of the many parodies and imitations it's spawned, or its own status as the quintessentially ponderous, death-obsessed European art film. Sure, the film is transfixed by the question of our mortality, but it's also ecstatic in its search for the bright spots of life: a snack of fresh strawberries on a warm Scandinavian summer evening, a vaudevillian showcase in the middle of a town reeling from fear of the Black Plague, and a recurring hallucination of the Virgin Mary in a sunny field all come to mind. In fact, the most lasting impression given off by the film is a sense of calm and tranquility; its contemplation of vast philosophical perplexities feels confident rather than anxious, its visions of the unknowable strikingly relaxed. I can imagine watching this film on the day I die and still finding a charm and level-headedness in it that can defeat the fear of our inevitable fate.

Monday, September 3, 2012

MUBI and other news...

I'm proud to announce that I've started writing for MUBI's The Daily Notebook, which I've always considered to be one of most insightful sources of film criticism on the web. To write alongside such a forward-thinking team of critics and other writers including Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, David Cairns, Ryland Walker Knight, Adrian Curry, Adam Cook, Fernando F. Croce, Michael Sicinski, and of course editor Daniel Kasman (who I met this past May in Cannes and who assisted me in developing the erratic thoughts that have led to my first post), among many others, as well as for a website that has spearheaded a new and fruitful approach to online film-viewing, is a massive honor.

My first piece, on a certain visual trend in Michael Mann's filmmaking in recent years that involves putting emphasis on the ear, is live now, and you can read it here. It's a continuation of a column called The Details that was inaugurated by Kasman himself in 2009, and my work for the website, as far as I can tell for the near future, will mostly be in this arena. The column is simple and self-explanatory; as Danny puts it, "a column that catches the small within the big, focusing on the individual elements that make cinema so expressive." It will be a nice opportunity to diverge from the more macro focus of this blog and a chance to indulge in my formalist side. Writing for MUBI will obviously take away from my time writing here, but I still plan to post several times a month, in addition to linking to the articles that are published there.

In other news, I am moving to Los Angeles for a three-and-a-half month semester, which for all intents and purposes is totally irrelevant to all of you, other than for the fact that it may both put a strain on my mental capacity (I already feel allergic to all this traffic and beautiful weather, though there's an undeniable charm to California as well) and influence the kind of writing I do and the films I watch (three examples that have sprung up already: 1) yesterday I saw a man in a cowboy hat disappear behind a very Bottle Rocket-esque motel building while appearing to look at me, making me feel for a second that I was in a Lynch movie; 2) driving through the dusty, barren hills of wine country had me thinking a lot about Kiarostami; and 3) as I write, I'm in a Santa Barbara hotel room where one member of the considerable Mexican population in California is cleaning my room, giving me the unsettling feeling that I'm one of the targets of Lucrecia Martel). Alas, before I know it I'll be back in Boston and out of this strange dream world. Hell, maybe writing for MUBI's not even real.