kamerasutra

"in those days, pleasure was not considered fashionable; indeed, we on the left saw it as a vaguely right-wing feeling." --bernardo bertolucci

 

i was turned on to this book- film: the critics choice over at FSFF. it's a beautifully designed coffee table book that also happens to be pretty high on substance. heavy hitters like david bordwell and peter wollen among other contribute with bernardo bertolucci writing a short intro that's really quite passionate and polemical. buy it used for mere pennies. 


film crit roundup

over the years since leaving college and becoming a working professional, i've stopped frequenting libraries. it's not something i'm proud of because libraries are some of the most wonderful inspiring spaces around. wandering deep into the bookstacks always gave me this strange feeling of isolation and privacy cocooned within a public space. there is no algorithm that can mirror the feeling of walking over to a shelf and then browsing its length and randomly finding other interesting books. the dewey decimal system really does rule.

 

but location, modernity and a busy lifestyle have for me supplanted the library with amazoning. it's not the same thing. one doesn't get lost in a database in quite the same way. but there is a specific pleasure to be found in browsing a vast array of books in your pajamas at 1am in the morning when you decide you just really need to find out what the new umberto eco novel is all about. and then wirelessly downloading it to your kindle in mere moments? pretty sweet.

 

in addition to the physical action of browsing, i also find myself missing being able to cull through back issues of journals. as a student, this was perhaps where the most golden nuggets of information could be found. but again, the internet offers some recourse. it seems many of the best journals for film have a degree of online access. additionally, there are strictly new online resources of varying depth and scope. Here's a hitlist of my favorites:

 

traditional film journals:

http://screen.oxfordjournals.org/content/current
http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/journals/jvlt.html
http://cameraobscura.dukejournals.org/
http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/

online blogs offering thoughtful criticism, theory and the virtual cinematheque experience:

http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/
http://mubi.com/notebook/
http://www.cinefamily.org/
http://www.criterion.com/

design oriented approaches to looking at films:

http://www.artofthetitle.com/
http://moviebarcode.tumblr.com/

 

the tree of life

it's been suggested that the tree of life may be a film made for cinephiles, but i think this sells both the film and the audience short. like 2001: a space odyssey, it's a film that contains experimental elements, a philosophical stance, and a story providing a framework for answering the really big questions. it's exciting to see a mainstream big budget film depart from conventional ways of storytelling and ask the audience to to take a leap into abstraction.

 

these moments of abstraction- exploding super novas, the origin of life, our primitive world and it's natural processes seemed to push the depth of the narrative. the core of the story- a family melodrama is fairly conventional. the way in which this story unfolds is not. when we step outside the story into the universe we learn that the idea of grief is as old as time and only something massive like the universe and time itself can begin to quantify the feelings of loss and rage in the face of death.

 

the dinosaur tableau in particular is a divisive moment in the film. audiences seem particularly polarized by it's relevance. i found myself thinking that in a post jurassic park world, computer generated dinosaurs are expected to be hyper realistic. perhaps the shortcoming here was that these particular dinosaurs were not and thus functioned on the level of distanciation, pulling us out of this fantastic world and into the banal one of computer “wizardry.” nevertheless the moment is still relevant as a symbol of the father. we learn that the need to dominate is ancient and pervasive. it is not specific to man- it's nature vs. grace.

 

the complexity of the family unit, the roles both children and parents play in both it's cohesiveness and the way in which it can shatter apart is what really spoke to me about this film. the story of families, how we celebrate, grow and suffer together is dynamic. it is more often a push pull dance between the parts than the force one single person exerts upon it. the family is not just the kernal from which all life springs but also a reflection of the world we inhabit, putting us on a continuing trajectory of suffering, grief, joy and love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

stills from terrence malick's the tree of life, 2011

 

mcqueen meme | bullitt

i've been noticing there is some sort of steve mcqueen internet meme out there rt now. vintage photos of him are popping up randomly all over the place. perhaps for good reason, it has reminded me of what an unparalleled BADASS he was. back in the day i was made to watch papillon. i did not care for prison movies. but even at the tender age of 17 i recall thinking SMCQ was quite dreamy. and then i saw the original thomas crowne affair which was basically off the charts- SMCQ, faye dunaway and most of all- exquisite split screen action.*

so i decided it's time to revisit bullitt. the name of the movie alone sets the stage for the badassery that unfolds. right from the graphic opening credit sequence, schifrin jazz score, the famously epic san francisco car chase, all the way to the rather unexpectedly existential ending, this film is essentially perfect. it's a methodical cat and mouse game with great bursts of energy. but overall very deliberate. not a shoot em up chills kind of action adventure.

 

one thing i keep thinking about though, is the ending. the last shot where bullitt closes the door on his sleeping girlfriend and reflects upon his own image in the mirror instantly reminded me of the last scene in the godfather ii. bullitt's girlfriend [jacqueline bissett] occupies the same space as kay corleone [diane keaton]. they both exist outside this impenetrable world of violence and masculinity. inversely, both michael corleone and bullitt are transformed by this violence against their own intentions. both films convey the weight of this inevitability.

 

*as an aside split screen action is something i am always keen to see more of. it's sadly gone out of style but i wish it would make a comeback. it can be so exhilarating.

stills from peter yate's 1968, bullitt

blood meridian | the wild bunch

"the wrath of god lies sleeping. it was hid a million years before men were and only men have the power to wake it. hell aint half full. hear me. ye carry war of a man's making onto a foreign land. ye'll wake more than the dogs."     

                 -blood meridian: or the evening redness in the west


 

while reading blood meridian it occurred to me in the back of my mind that the violence and brutality of the american frontier as described by cormac mccarthy had a familiar ring to it. as i thought about it more i realized that perhaps sam peckinpah's wild bunch was the cinematic counterpoint to mccarthy's literary wild west. on the surface it seems obvious. a group of marauding opportunist outlaws make their way across the american west killing with impunity. an irrational body count lies in their wake, resulting in a bleak unsentimental survey of the american myth.  it seems however, that the movie and the book do not arrive at the same conclusion.

there is certainly a connection between mccarthy's biblical evocation of language and peckinpah's visual blood ballet. i will not contest the visceral success of peckinpah's style in evoking both disgust and horror through the use of violence. i did however find that any attempt at realism and critique the film offers is completely undermined by it's sentimental stance towards the western hero.

in mccarthy's west there are men who deliberately seek out evil and those that go along with it. both are culpable but he does not present any sentiment about it. the dispassionate violence daws us to this conclusion, rendering it more palpable. peckinpah's heroes however, operate within the confines of the hollywood western and even as they attempt to explode the myth, they are in fact over determined by it. they operate within the romanticized notion of a  "code" and yet they abandon it at will. when they die by that code is it meaningless and nihilistic. this tension is what makes the movie thoughtful and interesting and ultimately modern. but it also makes it a less searing indictment of the west because the feeling we are left with is that time passed these men by. they were noble and the land around them had become amoral and so they had to die. in mccarthy's west it is the amorality of the men that in fact molds the landscape. they do not die nobly. they just pass into the evil that exists and will continue to exist- it's part of the landscape and the people. it's part of us. this is much more depressing, but perhaps more truthful.

 

stills from sam peckinpah's the wild bunch, 1969