Monday, March 30, 2015

Argento's Beginning: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Malleus Rock Art Lab
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is the first feature film from writer/director Dario Argento. Like the rest of his films, it is a giallo—for anyone unfamiliar with the genre, giallos are generally horror-inflected murder mysteries where an outsider (not a detective or police officer) investigates murders committed by a villain who dresses like he really wants to be the villain in a murder mystery (fedora, trench coat, gloves, etc.). If you imagine an Italian director watching Le Samourai and saying "I want to make that with less subtlety and more fake blood!" then you wouldn't be far off.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Paprika & the Truth that Came from Fiction


As an old favorite of mine and an easy contender for my top 10 most watched, I was incredibly blessed to see Paprika back on the big screen thanks to the wonderful Brattle Theater (they were also showing Sorcerer, but the large group of friends we assembled couldn't be arsed into seeing two movies on a Saturday night).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Reality of Performance in Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York is a masterpiece in high concept screenwriting. It is a movie about a man trying to discover capital-T Truth through a work of art, and is also at the same time that very work of art and a look at all such works of art. It presents the story of a man reaching towards infinity in his search for meaning, and through that presentation the film itself also takes part in that search and comments on it. It is a movie about looking for answers which is itself looking for answers and talking about what it's like not to find them. Synecdoche, New York is Caden Cotard's play and the review of that play.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Am [Before] The Law: Kafka Watches Contemporary Cinematic Representations of Justice & Violence


Warning: Spoilers for Dredd (2012), Prisoners (2013), RoboCop (2014), and Veronica Mars (2014) throughout.

"I Am [Before] The Law"
Violent Police vs. Benevolent Criminals

In "Before the Law", Franz Kafka writes about a man from the country seeking entry to the law. The gatekeeper denies him entry, but explains that he may be able to enter some time in the future. So the man waits. At the end of his life, he asks the gatekeeper why, in all his time waiting, no one else has come. The gatekeeper responds, "Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it." In doing so, the gatekeeper indicates the fallacy of the man from the country: he assumed that there was only one point of access to the law, that the law was an objective institution, when instead the nature of his individuality and subjectivity were always taken into account from the beginning. It is not a building we can enter and exit as we wish but something more ethereal, and our actions and our politics are constantly in the process of reshaping it. The lesson to be taken from Kafka's parable is that justice and the law do not coexist separately from our participation, that our subjectivity is a crucial ingredient in the functioning and power of the law. The law never exists without its subjective dimension.

In contemporary American ideology (embodied in modern Hollywood cinema), this lesson takes on an additional layer. It is not impossible to gain access to the law in its objective dimension, it is merely that this process robs the subject of their subjectivity, of what makes them human. We may access the law, but by doing so we are robbed of our subjectivity and the law is likewise robbed of its connection to justice. Law and justice are no longer inextricably interconnected, and we are forced to search for solutions outside the state; but these can be just as problematic. The common solution of vigilantism arises from a false heroism which tragically reproduces the same conditions of injustice it was meant to alleviate. So how do we resolve this deadlock?

The following recent films visualize this concept of someone who has gone through the gate of the law (as the man from the country never could) in order to explore what they find on the other side. These fictional representations allow us insight into popular perceptions of both the law and vigilantism and their problematic relationship with justice and violence. Specifically, they show us how these relationships are bound up in the law's constitutive split between its subjective and objective dimensions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Totalitarian Ducts & Fantasy Terrorists: Ideology & Escapism in Terry Gilliam's Brazil


Brazil is a science fiction black comedy from famously idiosyncratic director Terry Gilliam, and even though I don't consider myself a fan of the director's work in general, to me the film is a masterpiece. It is so richly textured both in terms of its visual presentation and its thematic construction that it's hard to know where to begin (the film almost belongs as part of the German Expressionist movement). Perhaps it is Gilliam's penchant for detail which draws me to the film, as there's a part of me that wants to go through and take screenshots of every one of the fabulous fake posters scattered throughout the film, but there's much more here than simple style.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Hero & China's Crisis of National Identity


The following analysis contains potential spoilers for the broad strokes of the plot of Hero. If you haven't seen the movie yet and are looking for a quick reason to check it out, it has some of the most beautiful photography ever. If you like kung-fu movies and don't mind "wire-fu" then you'll probably find as much enjoyment in it as I did.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Quick Notes Toward an Analysis of Lost Highway


They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die, but what if it was someone else's life instead? Lost Highway—as with most David Lynch films—is a particularly enigmatic film, so if you haven't seen it and have any interest in the film you should probably see it before reading anything. There's a sense in which his films are essentially unspoilable (they're too purposefully ambiguous), but that's not going to stop me from trying. Potential spoilers below.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Notes on Mulholland Drive: Analysis & Trivia


There was a time not too long ago when if you asked me what my favorite movie was I might have told you Mulholland Drive. There's a lot going on in the film and I certainly won't claim to understand all of it (something I might have done when it was my "favorite movie"), but I do have a reading of it that seems to answer a lot of the questions it poses, so here goes. No specific spoilers (hence no spoiler tag), but if you haven't seen Mulholland Drive you really ought to see it as blind as possible.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

An Inception Retrospective: Responding to Criticism & Interpretation


Inception is hard to talk about at this point because it was such a phenomenon when it was released that so many things (both good and bad) have already been said about it. It's not only hard to justify the existence of yet another review of the film because the chance that I'm going to say something new at this point is fairly low (I'm not), it's also hard because in order to articulate my opinion I have to make reference to all these other pre-existing opinions about the film and about Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Aesthetics vs. Politics in Koyaanisqatsi

As a technical exercise, I can't praise Koyaanisqatsi highly enough. The question of what to even call it is enough to give reviewers pause—is it a documentary? a motion-picture essay? a visual poem? At its most basic level, it's essentially a 90-minute montage, and the way it plays with the Kuleshov effect (how an image changes in relation to what precedes & follows it) is equally brilliant and fascinating. It opens with a 2001-level cut across time from cave paintings to space travel where the exhaust from a shuttle launch seems to burn through the primitive artwork. You might think that an hour and a half without dialogue would be a hard journey, but the film is actually quite enthralling, thanks in part to its incredible pacing: after an admittedly slow start, the tempo progressively builds with tricks like timelapse photography (some of the most impressive I've ever seen) to speed up the images and the "story" (there's no traditional narrative, but the images tell a story of their own).