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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

nymphomaniac-1

© 2014 by James Clark

      Lars von Trier’s archipelago of a movie, Nymphomaniac (2013), spreading across about five hours and ranging toward us in two (time) zones of ticketed statement, could, if aptly engaged, be one of those “trips of a lifetime.” But it takes us to a place as far as you could go from relaxation.

It shows us a protagonist, Joe, a woman we’d hesitate to call an ordinary Joe; and yet, when all is said and done, we might conclude she has failed (though certainly not without giving it an exceptional shot) to get out of the rut we all know, at some level, we suffer from. Does her one-girl-assault upon that citadel of the constrictions of intimacy inadvertently whisper to us (and here perhaps the length of the exercise proves its worth)—whispering being an odd concomitant of such high-volume (would-be) subversiveness—a far better (but, alas, an even more daunting) approach?

For those many hours, we’ve seen her recounting memorable events of her life to a man who has found her badly injured on a street near his home and has kindly taken her in for repairs and for attention to her devastating story. He claims to be “asexual;” she claims: that “telling my story has put me at ease at this moment;” that “ridding myself of sexuality is now my goal;” and that he is “my very first friend.” Soon after they go to bed in separate rooms, he returns to her, attempts to mount her, and when she protests he notes, “You’ve fucked thousands of men already…” She shoots him and, as the screen goes totally black, we hear her leaving. (more…)

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la-strada-1

© 2014 by James Clark

    Pasolini’s angry bid to undo not only modernist cinema but modernist culture may be an annoyance; but it’s also a golden opportunity. A special aspect of this windfall is Giulietta Masina, coming to us along those sightlines as the Antipode of the lumpen amateurs Pasolini would favor (not quite getting what Bresson was up to with that angle). Pasolini’s rather systematic but flamboyant notion of gender unwittingly shines a spotlight upon the supposed more natural and efficacious sense of integrity a quorum of female historical players possesses (to be supplemented by the coercive efficacy of the few teachable males on the planet). His sincerely longing for interpersonal decency, while happily installing mass regimes of bestial indifference, redirects our view to those of his filmmaker contemporaries who pursued their muse in resisting being sideswiped by traditional rationalism, including Italian neorealism. As such our examination of the case of Pasolini’s film output—a probe looking for signs of the wherewithal to counter being mired in half-measures—takes on a very welcome complement, namely, the films of Federico Fellini, which bring us to his muse and wife, Giulietta Masina. (more…)

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arabian-nights-1

 

© 2014 by James Clark

Jep, the erratic protagonist and man-about-town of Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (2013), could be described as a man who has experienced a thousand and one Arabian nights. His embrace of “vibrations” does, very markedly, include a rich sense of irony and a strong sense of self-criticism. Not for him an educated playboy’s satisfaction in soaking up the fruits of a liberal historical momentum. During a lull in one of his parties, he sits with his rather glum and confused housekeeper and pronounces, “This wildlife I’m surrounded by…they’re my people…” [I’m stuck with them; and they keep me away from serious literature].

    Nuredin, one of the two main protagonists of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Arabian Nights (1974) [actually, The Flower of One Thousand and One Nights], is an impoverished illiterate boy who harbors no literary ambitions and gives us in action his definition of “wildlife,” namely, being favored by women, like the slave, Zumurrud, for his “smooth cheeks” and “beauty.” More specifically and compellingly, he gives us a rendition of a bird having won over a mate by seemingly the most reflexive telepathy, only to have her stolen from him by more alert and shrewd members of an aviary strung across the whole expanse of this “Arabia.” His go-getter of a lady-love chooses him for her master in a raucous outdoor marketplace. That the transaction comprises her promptly producing the money for his purchase of her and their rental of “a house [nest] in the district” introduces the arresting stylization of such no-fuss-no-muss breeding exigency into a pulse of human interaction that very definitely poses the issue of one’s having much more to do than breed. (more…)

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the-great-beauty-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

 What can we bring to an ambitious film masking its ambitions in many ways? This question becomes especially pressing in face of the ultra-sophistication inherent in an order of modern Italian cinema, generally perceived to be inexorably receding into oblivion. The peculiarities of such a dilemma might never have staged a counter-thrust without the deft cinematic archaeology of Paolo Sorrentino as disclosed in his film from 2013, The Great Beauty.

    It will take a while to lucidly get to the point of such a unique tangle; and as good a beginning as any would be a passage, near the work’s outset, where a celebrity journalist attends a display of site-specific performance art on the outskirts of Rome. Along with a few dozen middle-aged Gran Tourismo drivers and a clutch of academics having put through precious, runic (spring solstice?) paces their expensively educated young children, the writer, Jep, beholds a nude woman (with a hammer and sickle trim of her red-dyed pubic hair), her head covered by a veil, sprint headlong into an ancient stone pillar of the aqueduct defining the space, after which she lies on the ground, bleeding through that veil, and then gets back on her feet, announcing to the shaken audience, “I don’t love you!” But now having passed beyond that, and given her a couple of noncommittal claps of applause, Jep proceeds to interview her, the late sun having finally (iconically?) set. He interrupts the swarthy, bruised sensation of the moment, to protest her referring to herself in the third person, an inflating of her specifics in art-prissy terms of “The Talin Concept.” The unsmooth, rather rustic toiler, a far cry from Jep’s unmistakable urbanity, gallops into the infelicitous harangue, “I don’t need to read. I live on vibrations. The pattern of vibrations cannot be supported by the vulgarity of words.” When Jep registers his sense that that tangent is passé (“You can’t charm me with things like this…”), she retorts, “I’m starting to dislike this interview. You’re an ass!” (It may come about that she herself is one of a surprisingly viable herd of asses.) After arguing, the picture of reasonableness, “I want to know what a vibration is… Lives on vibrations, but doesn’t know what a vibration is…” Jep thinks to put her in her place by patronizingly informing her that he works for a journal that has “a core of cultivated readers” who are beyond being “taken as fools.” She backs down from this chastisement, quietly stating, “It’s a difficult journey for an artist…” But she signs off with the more energetic protest, “You’re an obsessive jerk!” (more…)

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valhalla-rising-1

© 2014 by James Clark

 When we come to a film as bizarre as Nicolas Refn’s Valhalla Rising (2009), we are, perhaps unbeknown, placed within large demands to get to the bottom of its expressive design. The work appears at first glance to be a study of sorts concerning the ways of Nordic tribes in the late medieval period (say, 1000 AD) where a pagan (Viking?) ethos finds itself troublesomely confronted by the clerkish circumspection of bands galvanized by Christianity. At the outset, we are put on notice, along such lines, by this signage: “In the beginning there was only man and nature. Men came bearing crosses and drove the heathen to the fringes of the earth.” Judging from the Scottish dialect of the non-heathens here, we would seem to be dipping into the ethnology of early Britain. (Valhalla Rising was in fact filmed in Scotland, spilling our way as concentrated a swatch of disturbing atmosphere as you’re ever apt to see—unremittingly dark and damp and stark, with winds close to blowing the cast off of the planet, reminding us of the inclement features of Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, filmed in another weather hell, Canada.)

    But if the concern of Valhalla Rising were at all driven by the romance of history, we would not, surely, see so much Gothically chic wardrobe—not unlike the garb on display in expensive, media-zone restaurants. Nor would we have a camera-angle, during a tense confrontation, where the protagonist’s battle axe is poised like a big pistol in a holster. Nor would we have a Man with no Voice, unmistakably giving off a (highly inflected, of course) version of the Man with No Name. (Actor, Mads Mikkelsen, provides a similarly handsome tautness of skin and expressivity of eye.) The protagonist’s loyal companion, a young boy with Scandinavian hair, tells him, during one of the myriad tight spots they occupy, “You need a name. You’ve only got one eye…” This near-banter within a narrative plunge so heavily steeped in violent death, while seeming to fit nicely within the glory days of Clint Eastwood, does, in fact, bring us to the point of realization that Valhalla Rising no more closely stalks early film than it stalks early history. (For good measure, Refn has apparently done his bit to muddy the waters by referring to this movie as “science fiction,” especially thrilled by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.) (more…)

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her-1

© 2014 by James Clark

   After Theodore, the protagonist of Her (2013), completes a spate of ghost writing in his capacity as writer #612 at Beautiful Handwritten Letters, Limited, by putting himself under the skin of client, Marie, fondly reminding her husband to tell her about “one little thought you had today,” his supervisor comes along and tells him, “That’s beautiful! You are part man and part woman. The inner part is woman. It’s a compliment.” It’s also a distortion, of a film narrative far too subtle to fall effectively into the template of Southern California Lotus Land, sometime in a future whereby LA is as rife with pungent office, hotel and condo towers as Shanghai (the actual site) is today. Theodore is an expert in linking spouses and all manner of significant others, on the basis of touching those homespun strengths that bring the ordinary into the realm of the heart warming. He was married to a woman (now in the process of divorcing him) whose idea of writing played out to more weighty concerns. And, for the lion’s share of this lamb’s crossing our path here he has devoted considerable, perhaps surprising, energies to pursuing the interpersonal prospects of joining with a computerized operations system (an OS) designed in such a way as to deploy its informational resources toward evolving to infinite heights of discovery, especially as pertaining to mood. As such, this “Samantha,” as she calls herself, becomes the second woman in his life who brings him into a range of problematics where he performs badly—but not, as with his ex, Catherine, hopelessly.

(more…)

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inside-llewyn-davis-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

 Two folksingers, Jean and Llewyn, at a time (1961) and place (Greenwich Village) supposedly welcoming to their calling, are in a coffee house discussing her imminent abortion. She’s married to Jim and theirs is a musical partnership beginning to be noticed for their undemanding lyricism. Llewyn, on the other hand, was partnered with Mike Timlin (not, perhaps, a successful baseball relief pitcher), until the latter committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. That defunct duo’s one and only album, “If We Had Wings,” was not without generous hooks and telling harmonies. Of late Llewyn’s been a soloist, and Jean, who tells him a bit earlier, “Fuck you, you asshole! Everything you touch turns to shit! I miss Mike!” [Perhaps he was the reliever, picking up the starter prone to losing his stuff], asks, “Do you ever think about the future?” Llewyn calmly retorts that her notion of progress being the suburbs and kids (unequivocally from Jim) is not for him. “It’s a little careerist and a little sad.

    It’s, as noticed, 1961, and, across town, Holly Golightly, in the film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, lives with her ginger cat (“no name slob”). She maintains, “We [namely, she and No Name] belong to nobody…” and, “Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of…” She finds that a visit to the jewellery emporium, Tiffany, always picks her up with its “quiet and proudness.” Llewyn sponges off of (among many others) Mike’s parents, Upper West Side academics. On one occasion he comes by (dropping off their ginger cat which he had carried, lost and then hunted for around town after having it locked out of their place) as they are getting started with a dinner party involving a few PhDs—among them an Early Music expert. (more…)

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oh-brother-where-art_thou-1

© 2014 by James Clark

Approaching a film with such a plethora of reckless screwballs as displayed in the Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), we could iterate the boys’ Surrealist agenda as to self-distortion and attendant (absurdist) humor (which they delight in pretending to be apple-pie folksiness). Or we could catch them up in yet another dangerous stab at satire of American regional foibles (prone to self-indulgent distemper). But there is something quite wonderfully special lurking within this hayride and it prompts me to begin with the film’s one and only instance of dramatic subtlety.

    Our three protagonists (measuring, almost frighteningly, down to the Three Stooges, as escapees [by completely unconvincing luck] from a Mississippi chain gang) meet up with a jovial bank robber and accompany him, first of all, as he gleefully discharges his tommy gun toward two police vehicles on his tail and, then, toward a herd of cows. As things get noisy, one of the fugitives, Delmer (who sports a haircut made famous long ago by Moe, one of the schmos) drawls off the redundant query to the gunman, “What line of work you in, George?” The radiant shooter, grinning from ear to ear, chooses, “Killin’ coppers,” as pretty close to the mark; and then he elaborates with, “I’m George Nelson… I’m bigger than any outlaw who ever lived!” This doesn’t help us understand his turning to gun down that herd of cows and declaring, “I hate cows worse than coppers!” Some of the startled herd come to collide with the pursuers, inducing our chubby young attention-seeker to, with optimum hilarity, shout out to them, “C’mon you miserable, god-damn sons of bitches!” (more…)

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christmas-kitten-1

by James Clark

 You might think that having the likes of Dylan Thomas (he of, “Do not go gentle into that good night”) drop by at Christmas would be tantamount to exclusively broaching Scrooge’s Christmas Eves prior to that special one. Just in case our unlikely courier of charm might, to some, fixedly and unwelcomely portend a variation of The Nightmare before Christmas, we also have in our sack the sure-fire James Herriot and his just-right reminiscence about The Christmas Day Kitten. I’ll keep my enthusing, about Thomas’ visit, to a minimum, whereupon there is the YouTube of the author’s 1952 reading; and, then, to some hints about Herriot’s doing so much more than damage control.

    As good a place as any to reach the nub of Thomas’ going back to the ways of Christmas celebration when he was a boy in Wales is the moment—somehow still compelling to him as an adult—when he and his friend, Jim, “…patient, cold and callous… waited to snowball the cats.” This glimpse of cold-weather crudity striving for gratifying sizzle sets the tempo of every incident recalled. A fire breaks out from an errant bid for hospitality, and a maiden aunt asks the firemen, “Would you like anything to read?” Young Dylan brags to younger children there, about the unique wild side of winters past, postmen past, Christmas presents past and the uncles past (“There are always uncles at Christmas. The same.”), galvanizing a domestic, even ascetic celebration like that into a spectacle of slightly eerie departures from a long-standing sedateness. After the luncheon feast (where the uncles shone at over-indulgence), the boy-adventurer would go out for a walk with a few chums. A wiser Thomas describes such a moment as that in which the callow, irrepressible little show-off would tarnish beyond fruitful recognition the unembellished magic of life around him and within. “The silent one-clouded heavens drifted on to the sea. Now we were snow-blind travelers lost on the north hills, and vast dewlapped dogs, with flasks around their necks, ambled and shambled up to us, baying, “Excelsior.” On the “poor streets,” the children “cat-called” after the stuffed revellers, their cries, “…fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay.” At tea, Auntie Hannah “laced hers with rum… and the ice cake loomed in the center of the table like a marble grave.” (more…)

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bay-of-angels-1 

© 2013 by James Clark

For all the fertility of his endeavors, it must, I think, be acknowledged that the career of Jacques Demy traces a quite relentless decline from initial efforts of breathtaking cogency. Of course, such a claim needs specific fortification. Here we have no interest in seriously comparing early and late films; but, in showing an early work of consummate subtlety, we can suggest the likelihood that subsequent instances won’t match what we’re about to see. As recently touched upon, his debut film, Lola (1961), strikes me as having evoked wonders of delicacy and wit in pursuit of an elusive, harsh true love. The two musicals of the 1960’s reach divine heights, while at the same time distancing specific sensibilities in becoming increasingly absorbed by conveying thematic concerns regarding Pandora’s Box and Surrealism. After that, such machinery becomes even more destructive of the carnal deftness seemingly so effortless in Lola.

There is, in the film directly following Lola and preceding the musicals, namely, Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels [1963], a second golden moment, like its predecessor gently moving toward a form of Pandora’s Box, but never relinquishing its visceral situation. And here we bring it forward, not only for the sake of cueing up the mother lode of Demy’s invention (and where that could take us), but for a particularly timely celebration of Christmas. (more…)

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