Sunday, February 25, 2007

little pancho vanilla (tashlin, 1938)

Tashlin is not the most mad of all the Warner directors (that was Clampett) but his films are frequently the most emotionally grounded, as mad films often are. They may or may not pause for very long to reflect on things like romantic ecstasy, pathos, or terror, but these moments are striking, strangely moving, and have the power to restructure the rest of the surrounding narrative in perspective. Examples include: the pitiful woodland creatures in Porky in the North Woods; declarations of love between Tom Ewell and Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can't Help It; the narrative-arresting musical numbers in the same film; the distraught, suicidal girl in The Disorderly Orderly; the gamut of emotions (from abject terror to indifference to proud showmanship) exhibited by Early Porky Pig in Little Beau Porky and The Case of the Stuttering Pig, among others.

Tashlin will frequently bend or break his film in order to follow a train of thought, an idea (or a herd of ideas), or a simple whim. One of my favorite examples is the ridiculous interruption of Little Pancho Vanilla with a trio of fruit-bearing, diminutive singing ladies who then proceed to swoon over a poster of a Clark Gable look-alike (as only Tashlin could imagine him). Prior to their arrival, Vanilla affects something like pastoral realism - or what passes for it, in Looney-land - in its depiction of a provincial Mejican village; afterwards, every absurdity is acceptable, peaking with a speaking bull's transformation of a disparate crew of matadors into identical billiard balls.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

flags of our fathers (eastwood, 2006)

Eastwood's films are neither weighted nor weightless.

retribution (kiyoshi kurosawa, 2006)

KK's new film prostitutes wholesale chunks of his three strongest features prior to this one: Cure (God Told Me To...Kill!), Pulse (the world is emptying itself out; ghosts are driven to insanity via an insurmountable loneliness), and Charisma (Koji Yakusho becomes the "messiah cop"). I did not mind this very much, because I have always felt that he's had bigger fish to fry than simple shock effects, even in a film like this, where the script seems to have been hastily prepared (he is his own writer) and the direction - while exceptional - doesn't go far in unmuddying the waters. The film is an embarrassment of riches for fans of the director's sense of architecture, boxes, unfinished surfaces and unnervingly "off" angles, sense of displacement.

There is a shot of the ghost creeping towards Yakusho. She creeps and creeps. She is not CGI'd in this shot. The two actors share the frame. There is no gauze over the lens. She creeps toward him like Snidely Whiplash would creep towards somebody. He cowers/she creeps. They resemble rehearsal partners - you expect someone to say "and...scene" at a certain point. I love this shot enormously.

A key moment suggests KK read Thomas Ligotti's 1989 short story "Dream of a Mannikin."

The bones call to mind Suzuki's Zigeunerweisen. I feel that KK pays homage to the "flawed" Sarasate record in that film several times: the sound reels in Seance (where a dead voice seems to have tainted their recordings), the film clips in Cure and Loft (in which an artwork/artifact from circa the 1920s hints at something far older).