Sunday, October 25, 2009

mad men (late to the party)

I dunno. Smug "weren't they primitive back then" jokes to conceal vapid relationship dynamics and mindblowingly overdetermined mise-en-scene. Yet I can't not watch it. Ain't TV a weird animal? If it was a film I'd snuff it inside five minutes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

the brothers bloom (johnson, 2008)

I started and restarted a long consideration of Rian Johnson's wonderful second film, but I was unhappy with both drafts and so they went into the scrap heap. All I wanted to keep, I guess, is that I've never before had such enormous affection for Rachel Weisz, and that Johnson may be paying tribute to Wes Anderson - each WA film is given a nod - but that he is also, fiercely, and I resist the temptation to elaborate, his "own man." I'm eager to see the next one.

the hangover (phillips, 2009)

I know I'm the only person in the Northeast who wasn't blown away by this, and that includes my better half, who was in stitches, but to my mind, the only show here is Ed Helms. The director made a much funnier film, with a wider, gamer cast, and (yeah, I'm going to say this) a tougher nerve, ten years ago: Road Trip. No masterpiece, that, but its loose, unpracticed structure was more 1941 (that's a compliment) than Very Bad Things.

Helms, not exactly playing a HUGE variation on his Andy Bernard character on NBC's The Office, is given the first, least belabored, and therefore the funniest portion of the Taser bit, a silly, Pythonesque song, and a deftly delivered line that sweeps all Sin City misdeeds under the rug of a MapQuest snafu. Well played, sir.

Monday, October 05, 2009

the pink panther 2 (zwart, 2009)

Not much to say here, but not a bad piece of work, and it looks fantastic!

the defect (feuillade, 1911), cont'd

Resuming 21 minutes in. No chapters for this 41 minute film, so fastforward is only option to get to where I left off, i.e. waiting for the heroine's defect to reappear and mess up her nice life. (It bears observing that her sordid past is expressed visually by her acts of waiting tables, bussing tables, and being flirty with male patrons. SCANDAL!) Had to stop to admire the overhead train transition shot.

24:41…aaaand here we go.

29:29…Calm and menace. Images prefigure Les Vampires; Ann…a good Irma Vep?

31:33…this meeting of society's elite investors seems to be going great, what could go wrong?

31:50…a mysterious letter!

33:13…"So, ladies and gentlemen, I trust you've had a chance to review...say, why so glum?"

33:31…"It's not you, whore, it's us. You understand. I'm sure you'll land on your back--er, your feet."

35:51…these people, clearly not fans of music and revelry. Half-hoping this movie will end like Animal House or School of Rock, something.

36:03…holy moley,that one lady is really getting into this, a la Marcia Gay Harden in The Mist. Counted at least three Christ-figure poses since Ann's forced outing.

37:02…nice trick-wall shot, beatifully executed but also the whole scene employs it well. Trick or no trick, the most graceful shot in the film.

the roman orgy (feuillade, 1911)

Feuillade understood the power of actors and costumes to rebuild a frame or simply redirect its visual energy. Feathered orgy is wonderful "moment out of time." Lots of color, each shot seems to be built on one direction across the frame: left or right, up or down. Result, viewer feels highly unstable at precise moment of melodramatic release.

homicide (mamet, 1991)

Note, then, a more than passing resemblance to Vertigo, as a faceless criminal eludes law across treacherous architecture, finally showing true face in the last reel, mise-en-scene (who can forget the green wallpaper) expresses states of mind, and a protagonist willingly, zealously, erects the scaffolding for his own hanging.

Friday, October 02, 2009

the defect (feuillade, 1911)

"…where loose women congregate…". A prequel to Custody?
Once again, theatrical choreography with an architecturally- preoccupied camera position.  I feel confident that this is one of the director’s defining features.  However, I'm 4-5 minutes in and the film is not yet great and the relentless musical refrain (not Feuillade's fault) is driving me bananas.  And then a HALF DOZEN waitresses (profanely recalling Feuillade's 1909 Spring) just MATERIALIZE to clean a table that would take (and has) one waitress less than 9 seconds to make new and pine-smelling for the next patron.  The kind of grand gesture that Feuillade slips under our noses from time to time.
Transition: gorgeous deep-focus photography, train passes foreground (bird's-eye with slightly canted angle; sunlit bay in far, depressed background).
I respect contemporary long-take directors, think static-cam maneuvers challenging enough that even mild success earns at least a grudging respect.  Roy Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor employed long takes that worked the foreground and background against each other and built gargantuan visual tapestries.  Usually to indicate one joke.  Feuillade's static camera juggles multiple planes and multiple timing cues to further the narrative.  As alluded earlier, Feuillade's crowd control is the impulse while his use of architecture is the correction.  Closer to Welles, in this way.
In this odd film, what appears to be a gaggle of moralizing harpies descending upon the heroine evaporates to reveal the heroine's apparent benefactor.  (But we are not sure of that, either; a mindbending manipulation of expectations. Yet Feuillade continues to promise NOTHING: promises neither cathartic she's-a-saint fist-pumping nor snarky ha-ha-that's- what-you-get-for-expecting-happiness tragedy; what is on the agenda, with Feuillade creating set-/frame-centric backgrounds and allowing the melodrama to run its course?  The director coaches his actors to express rather than telegraph, so each gesture seems to be taking place in the present, and events seem to end before they begin.
Transition:  as the "loose woman"'s patron expires, his entourage suggests jealousy and black-clothed contempt but appearances deceive as their demonstration of easygoing acceptance resembles that of a Farrelly brothers movie.  How long can this idyll last?  The title after all is DEFECT.
To be continued.  At 41 minutes, The Defect is quite long in comparison to almost all of Feuillade’s non-serial work.  Will resume with a Part 2.

custody of the child (feuillade, 1909)

Of course, Feuillade would begin a melodrama with a shot that promises to drop us into the story yet, Tati-like, does not highlight the principals or even indicate they have entered the shot! But with unaccented grace he sweeps aside all visual noise and clarity arrives. (Among silent-film titans, LF was the ninja, silent but deadly.)

(Should note that I am highlighting LF's formal strengths very nearly in panicked defense from the pulpy melodrama, which perhaps only form can transcend. The film's title practically exclaims, "skip me!")

Rooms structured around tasteful yet extravagant decor, LF is rarely happy unless the background contains a few ports: doors, windows, curtained nooks, fireplaces...why is the painting over the fire curtained?

An idiot could have handled this narrative, but an idiot didn't, Feuillade did. And he gets suspense from a child hiding (badly) from cops under the dining room table. His seamless merger of film frame and theatrical arch pays huge dividends.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

the fairy of the surf (feuillade, 1909)

Not more refined than Melies' work but Feuillade's approach to phantasmagoria exhibits his capacity for directing individuals and groups, and his compositions create startling shapes and intersecting lines because of his human players rather than in spite of them. (See also The Colonel's Account.) Felt my heart lift during the final shot, a mesmerizing collage that celebrates what was then the cutting edge of film production: layers of in-camera effects, puppets, pageantry, hand-painted frames joined with early 2-strip color. Divine.

EDIT: Realize I called puppets "cutting edge 1909 technology.". Intended, rather, to indicate multitude of layers within shot, which mixes old & new, hi-tech with lo-, and such.

spring (feuillade, 1909)

Ice melts to become whiteclad girl. Nymphs, in-camera superimpositions. Why shoot birds when miniature f/x will give you tiny flutists? Inconsequential pageantry? Maybe, but I wonder if Feuillade did the other three seasons in the same mode; have a feeling the whole would be greater than the sum, etc. Final shot is pleasurable and sincere, like the middle section of Le Plaisir.

a very fine lady (feuillade, 1908)

Feuillade may not be the first filmmaker to use music hall gags (the swinging ladder/rifle that hits the other man; man is sprayed by ignorant gardener, etc), but here at least he has a knack for exploiting the frame's edge and foreground-background interplay. Gags would be perfected later by Chaplin, Keaton, Tashlin, Kovacs, Tati, et al. Crude but fun.

A girl so hot she leaves a trail of disaster a mile wide.

the colonel's account (feuillade, 1907)

An elderly dinner guest tells a war story that comes to life, leaving no guest unperturbed, no inanimate object unsmashed. A stunning ensemble work, as perfectly timed as a flock of birds changing direction midflight. Two and a half minutes separate Victorian fine dining from utter bedlam.