On the Beach at Night Alone (Hong Sang-soo)

Beach

Sangsoo’s most emotionally resonant film builds from nothing and shares its impact in thoughts to come rather than thoughts present when watching the film. For some time, like many of Hong’s film’s, the quotidian is represented through mundane detail, seemingly detached from narrative sensibilities. You don’t quite know the point of it all, and it ends as simplistically and detached as it begins.

But something remains: a feeling for the music, a sympathy for the character, a wonderment for dream and desire. In its rich sparsity and detached affectations–this is Hong pairing Bresson and Kieslowski–it is austere yet devoted, and nuanced beyond measure.

On reflection, the film is grander both philosophically and emotionally than his average film, with a certain depth often missing from his lighter fares. The instances of regret and loneliness, tenderly romanced for the sweetness which memory transforms these feelings into, are pure and ephemeral as one’s therapeutic dissolve into the secret space of dreams.

93/100 – Amazing.

5 Stars

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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (Casavettes, 1976)

Bookie

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie mounts Casavettes’ unique hand in raw realism via a narrowly focused narrative on a singular character’s plight of life. Shots, with a narrow angled camera–tend to bring background to the fore, intimating the character’s narrative while substantiating it through a phenomena of distance and alienation. The viewer is transformed into an observer in the crowd, a part of the mix, an active participant in the hero’s, or should I say anti-hero’s, journey.

Unlike Casavette’s features which are belabored by exposition, dialogue, and a heavy handed directorial temperament, Bookie has moments full of life, intuition, and poetry. Casavettes allows some freedom for the magic of cinema to enter the film instead of stifling the art through acts of control. The scene wherein a coffee waitress auditions and the following use of theme music during a reflective cab ride demonstrate Casavettes heretofore unseen aptitude for expressing art through aesthetic alone.

Tie this in with depth of character, subtle and succinct character denouement, and an understated use of metaphor in the facade of strip-club entertainment, and we have true example of Casavettes’ brand of American indie-art.

The film has turned my previously dismissive stance on Casavettes, unchanged previously by the impressive but flawed Woman Under the Influence.

90/100 – Amazing.

5 Stars

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Experimental Cinema, Jack Chambers’ Hart of London

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Jack Chambers’ masterpiece of experimental Canadian film carries within it some of the purest moments cinema has to offer.

Chambers’ sprawling form of experimentation straddles the fine line between so called high and low art.

Adopting an anodyne viewpoint, he freely observes and presents both the unsightly and the majestic in a form of realism predicated on the viewer’s subjective perception and emotional interpretation of the events being unfold, often in real-time, on screen.

Foggy footage of a deer hunt incites Rorschach opacity, gesturing the viewer towards their own predilections. Deer’s blood spilling by the neck conveys an image as haunting as it is prideful. A vagina spreading for the head of a child’s birth to pass nods toward both the baffling and the beautiful.

The world’s quotidian activities, from the grim to the simple and plain, are placed on equal footing for viewer, as voyeur, to respond immediately, and therefore truthfully.

The finale’s use of repetition compels one to reflect on the experience and one’s emotional responses to the images. Upon completion, the film incredulously reveals for the viewer the truth of their emotional selves and the truth of the reality one both creates and perceives.

90/100 – Amazing.

(16mm at the Cinematheque)

5 Stars

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Experimental Cinema, Snow & Saïto

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La Région Centrale (Michael Snow, 1971, 16mm)

A meditation of time itself.

Challenges the viewer’s capacity for prayer as it entangles the spiritual and physical in worlds both of the reveler and the revealed through a form of fixed yet flowing movement.

Slighted only in that concept is greater than creation and the finite world of mathematics inspired concepts is limited by its own presupposed parameters.

A novel experiment.

85/100 – Excellent.

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Trees

Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis (Daïchi Saïto, 2009, 35mm)

A cataclysm of unmediated energy.

Reverberating pulses of light & sound conjure a psycho-physical response and shift in metabolic activity.

Film grain and the dark cavern of cinema support this effect.

90/100 – Amazing.

5 Stars

 

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How Music Ruined a Potential Masterpiece: Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and its Greatest Failing

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There’s much in Nolan’s audacious new feature worth commending, chief among which is the underlying conceptual apparatus of time and rhythm and the greatly immersive experience it generates.  Cross cutting between three divergent storlines yet maintaining a parallel flow of time between them is something I’ve frankly never seen before. In spite that each plot recount a distinct timeline, and each cut serve as an extension or contraction of time, the bombastic flow of Nolan’s pure visual storytelling remains uninterrupted. This is a brilliant feature of the film which tends to its unique and captivating viscerality.

Rather than delineate a three act structure of rising action, climax, and resolution, Nolan opts to begin in medias res and remain in climax for the film’s entire duration. This at once works for and against the film’s underlying concept. The viewer’s conception of time is suspended such that each moment engages one’s perceptions with the same degree of impact as any other. There is no sense of relative action between the film’s stages or the microcosmic climax within climactic action; the initial scene’s energy peaks to the same degree as those in middle, climax, and closing.

This continually regenerating climax of the film’s rhythm is owed in part to Nolan’s masterful command of visual storytelling, a feature of his craft relatively unseen since 2000’s magnum opus, Memento. The film exhibits a clear influence of Soviet Montage, with certain scenes—including the opening titles and flow of editing transitions—recalling the films of Sergei Eisenstein, Strike in particular. In similar manner, the film strives for that impossible dream of pure cinema described by Mitry, Arnheim, Eisenstein, Clair, Vertov and others. This method serves as a form of defamiliarization, and Nolan’s scattered narrative works on many levels to convey a sense of it.

Also owed to Nolan’s continually regenerating rhythm, apparently, is Hans Zimmer’s literally non-stop score which means to buttress the climactic energy of the film’s visual rhythm. Unfortunately what it actually does is compromise Nolan’s venture into pure cinema. The visual tour de force of Dunkirk does not need support from an incessant, deafening score riddled in monotony. What may have created powerful emotional moments through image alone is instead transformed into fodder for the film’s all too uncompromising mood, a control of viewer’s emotions which is behoeven to the music. Scenes which are narratively denser than others are perceived with equal emotional amplitude, the result of an equally resounding soundtrack. There is no rise and fall of emotional gravitas between a passing scene and one integral to plot.

While both qualities I have mentioned of sound and image work towards Nolan’s concept of a continually regenerating climax, they work in contradicting manners. The notion of pure cinema relies on ideas of defamiliarization and non-representation. It goes against the commodity form of production related to media which consists of the idea that “to look is to labour”, in other words, the idea that the viewer’s passive attention is controlled by what becomes an image’s hegemony. In contention, the notion of pure cinema lies in concert with Bazin’s advocation of free cinema—deep focus and long take for example as techniques which bestow autonomy on the viewer, and thus strip an image’s hegemony of its power and delivers that power to a now active viewer.

The scattershot narrative, montage, and suspension of time held in Nolan’s visual rhythm support this idea of pure cinema, of viewer autonomy, and of defamiliarization. It requires the viewer’s active attention to remain entranced and transformed by a transcendental structure of time constructed by the film’s rhythm. To do this might result in a pure experience of the visual aesthetics, what may rightly be deemed an aesthetic experience.

Preventing this aesthetic experience, however, is the contradistinctive hegemony of the film’s score which incessantly seeks to distract the viewer’s attention. Instead of supporting the notion of pure cinema, it supports the commodity mode of production by controlling the viewer’s emotional experience.

Due to the score, one’s autonomy of the film’s impressive cinematic feats is stolen and so too is acclaim of a masterpiece. A tragic thing it is…

84/100 – Great.

4 Stars

 

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A Vital Moment In History: Monterey Pop

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DA Pennebaker made history by documenting the first major festival of its kind, the huge (at the time) Monterey Pop Festival, which I consider to be a more significant moment in the late 60s hippie revolution than even Woodstock. It was the birth of an era.

During the Summer of Love, artists from Jefferson Airplane to Big Brother and the Holding Company to Jimi Hendrix to Ravi Shankar played a three day concert under the shining sun to a group of bliss-filled music listeners on the groove. Nothing but beautiful music and good vibes at this festival, unlike Woodstock which was both heaven and hell, beautiful and miserable, and filled with as much negative energy as positive according to basically any artist who performed at both.

Though he missed the opportunity to showcase the talents of groups such as Quicksilver Messenger Service and The Byrds, my biggest qualm with the film, Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop serves as a benchmark of the concert film, highlighting not only the music but the experience itself. Cross cutting between performer and listener, stage and audience, the film beautifully conveys the atmosphere of the festival for all us vicarious viewers to rapturously imagine.

85/100 – Excellent

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Bloodsport: A Prime Example of Affective Cinema

Bloodsport

In spite of nostalgia’s effect on my revision, and in spite of Bloodsport’s apparent contrast to what we generally deem cinematic art, the cult-classic remains fastened on the minds of many a cinephile. Such a phenomenon surely calls for retrospection, and today, after viewing the now 28 year old film—which was released on my birth year—to an energetic 400 capacity venue in Vancouver, it will receive one.

When released, the film drew much critical backlash as well as general dislike from audiences, and Jean Claude Van Damme was nearly awarded the 1989 Razzie for Worst New Star (Note that Van Damme would go on to win the much lamented Razzie for Worst Screen Couple with Dennis Rodman).

The film was perceived as a joke. Its cardboard acting, disrespect of filmmaking guidelines including continuity editing, and its penchant for brazen emotion in lieu of narrative fervor met the criteria for discarding the film as a cheesy flop. And yet the film is today revered as iconic by those who were moved by its originality, memorable characters, resonant music and images, and ability to inspire.

To realize how a supposed ‘bad film’ could be revered in such high manner would be to question the cinematic, something which film critics and theoreticians are hesitant to do. But this is not always the case, and in doing this for Bloodsport,  the notion of affect or affective cinema may be helpful. It is a film perspective oft used to describe what is called the post-cinematic film, and as a movement it has gained greater recognition in recent years due to a tie-in with the modern cinephile borne concept of vulgar auteurism.

Through minding this viewpoint, Bloodsport may serve as a prime example of affective cinema. While it may not be cinematic in terms of a tradition of quality, Bloodsport contains the presence of affective sounds and images which draw a visceral experience for the viewer. The story is revealed by way of static transformed moments, images which are held independent of narrative and are immediately apprehended by the senses. This feature makes such images resonant beyond the possibilities of continuity editing and instead showcase what Eisenstein referred to as total image, or an image within which the elements of montage already exist.

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Bloodsport is replete with images of a total nature. They stand independent from the film as a whole and thus exist in a world of icons. Supported by the sound image, this includes such moments as Jean Claude stretched between trees, Jean Claude stretched between chairs, and Jean Claude stretched on a bench over the City. Jokes aside, the images throughout the film, from young Frank’s sliced cap to the dim-mac, chants of “Chong Li”, roundhouse kicks, a raspy cry while blind, and the sudden bliss of martial arts meditation conveyed through sound effect and facial expression all serve as elements of Bloodsport’s iconography.

It is through affective images of this kind that a strong emotional resonance may be formed between viewer and film, as proven by the number of viewers at last night’s screening applauding one resonant image while anticipating the next. What is between these iconic moments is as incidental as the base story line.

To recognize a ‘bad film’ as one with tremendous transformative potential is to recognize the tenuous line between so called high and low art. It also throws into question the service of narrative in creating cinematic art, after all “film isn’t story. it’s mostly picture, sound, a lot of emotions. The stories are just covering something” (Bela Tarr).

It is through intuition that viewers may realize the art hidden behind the surface, and it is through our perceptions that an aesthetic experience of art may occur. In understanding this, we may now retroactively analyse films like Bloodsport with eyes unblemished by prenotion. By mounting a state of perception that is receptive to art, we might find ourselves entranced by the magic of cinematic art in a most unexpected place.

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Compassionate Filmmaking in De Sica’s Shoeshine

Shoeshine

A heartbreaking venture which called forward the neorealist film movement wherein De Sica became a celebrated figure. Shoeshine at once defines the genre while proffering De Sica with the tools and ideas to be reworked in his later neorealist masterpieces Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D, perhaps the two best examples of this specific postwar movement. All three of these films delve deep into the souls of those suffering the late 40s Italian depression, and all three convey this pain through boundless compassion for their characters.

89/100 – Excellent.

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Pakeezah (Kamal Amrohi)

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Pakeezah is a beautiful, heart rending film. Passionately developed and performed, its beatific sequences are saturated with love and beauty as is the painterly mise-en-scene which adorns the set. Highlighting the film’s merits is a wonderful soundtrack which provides entertainment as well as context. Rife with layers of subtext, metaphor, and socio-cultural commentary, Pakeezah’s screenplay is quite substantive. This is a multi-faceted Indian classic.

87/100 – Excellent

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Mundane History (Anocha Suwichakornpong) Review

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Though rather unassuming, Mundane History conveys this dreamy energy whose effects are felt for days to come. As the title commits, the narrative events are monotonous. Yet paired with a non-linear timeline, the blatant monotony becomes the driving force of reality and thus reveals the eternity held in single moments.

Charting how a single thought, or the birth of a thought, may draw a link with the infinite, Suwichakornpong consolidates notions between the micro and macro, the finite and infinite, and the inseparability among. Her psychedelic world holds meaning within and of itself; the death of a star is as meaningless as the birth of a child and the the birth of a child is as meaningful as the death of a star. All becomes one underneath this scape of life and all is relative.

The events depicted exist in a world of their own: the world of Ake and Pun and Ake’s father. What is mundane in one life is is of great consequence in another. As historical fact, the significance of a star’s life is made inert, but as a personal memory, the birth of a child is made significant. Loss of feeling, loss of passion, loss of limbs, lack of reciprocity; these events all contain an energy and life within them–proportion and relation are the evening forces.

We are all stars and all the stars are within us.

95/100 – Amazing.

5 Stars

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