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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

pregnant-man-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

 

      I notice that, in an interview with Slant Magazine, filmmaker, Jonathan Glazer, claims not to have seen Her. Also, he says, “I’m very bad at detecting themes in my work… I suppose it’s [the affinity between Her and Under the Skin] in the air or something…” This, hardly unique to him, penchant for misrepresentation brings us to some necessary infill, perhaps, though, especially pressing in the task of charting where Glazer’s films go and where that leaves us. Disclaimers aside, the three feature films he has brought forward over the past fourteen years are discernibly steeped in strivings central to a filmic avant-garde, as rooted in a wider showdown with conventional rationalist securements. Equivocation is “in the air” and we have to care enough to get a handle on its roots and the kind of fruition being allowed to see the light of day.

We’re starting in this seemingly odd way, to address A Slightly Pregnant Man (1973), because we have also in our sightline Glazer’s Birth (2004), which might well be called A Slightly Reincarnated Man. Glazer hopes to keep the general public happy with the notion that he’s simply a not particularly unusual craftsman of arcane cinematic images which he himself cannot comprehend and which trigger musings that the viewer plays for days to come. That kind of transaction is right up the alley of consumers of rock concerts and TV ads (rock and product filming being a big part of his professional career). It benefits, over and above its monetary rewards, from being an outburst unimpeachable in its variable intimations. As a spokesman for his feature films, he looks to that vein so useful in popular entertainment to disarm those possibly alarmed by brash unconventionality. He’s offering, he’d like us to believe, no more than a sensuous tingle from which we can and should bail out at any time it proves discomfiting. For all its corporate savvy, that gambit is seriously questionable. Interviewers and enthusiasts positively struck, as they should be, by the multiple assets of the three features to date, are dismayingly ready to imagine that the highly complex discursive narratives are tantamount to short-loop, gallery-bound video art—optical   and aural tone poems. But the films as such, though aptly felt to amount to problematic suspense, are built like a Swiss watch, delivering an undertow expertly laced with avant-garde consequentiality. That is to say, a degree of friction obtains here, intrinsic to the phenomena being traversed. (I doubt that in his early days as a director of stage plays he’d have been so loath to admit he knew something about the history of his art, as distinct from the technical craft. Glazer’s rather incongruous approval of the work of the great stylist, Stanley Kubrick, has faked many of those viewers who want to believe that it always comes down to the gratifying variety of humankind as established several thousand years ago.) (more…)

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i-know-where-im-going-1

© 2014 by James Clark

 

    Emeric Pressburger, of the British filmmaking team, along with Michael Powell, known as the Archers, has been quoted as emphasizing that a film should have “a little bit of magic…” Though their team name implies precision, straight to the point, shooting, there was from out of their shooting range (so long ago) one memorable treatment of the seemingly crystal clear subject of romance, namely, I Know Where I’m Going (1945), that can, I’m sure, validly lay claim to conjuring real magic.

Let’s dip into its handsomely filmed black and white nuances of a Hebrides location and of London-studio-based interiors, to begin with one of the protagonists, Joan, and her War-era-styled ocelot-skin-patterned hat. There’s a war going on—most of the patrons of the first scene’s upscale restaurant are in uniform—but you’d never know it from Joan’s cracking the whip in the direction of her bank manager/father, to fork over her liquid assets on behalf of a sojourn to Scotland, where she’s scheduled to be married to the owner of Consolidated Chemical Industries (“Did you bring my money?”). As played by Wendy Hiller, an expert in transmitting peppy chain reactions, Joan goes on from letting her dad in on the happy event—rather late; and he’s not invited—to ordering drinks and demanding that he, the picture of Cromwellian asceticism, dance with her. “Come on, Daddy!” (He had, according to her [in a timid rebelliousness on being somehow touched by a rapidly and confusedly rebranding world], taught her to dance.) Her embodying an ebullient and stunning big cat (with a rich twinkle in her eyes and plush dimples) barely manages to say good-bye to her parent, who had accompanied her to a First Class compartment on the Scottish Night Train (“The Night Scotsman”), so absorbed does she become with “Hunter,” her fiancé’s rep in charge of travel plans. “I managed to prevent them from putting you over the wheel,” he reports (a useful lieutenant to her warrior Maid). We learn by a series of brief flashbacks that she had very early on acquired a taste for exceptional sensuous stimulation—as a 5-year-old she told Santa, by mail, “I want a pair of silk stockings, and I don’t mean artificial.” (more…)

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the-philadelphia-story-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

 

     Whereas (in Italy, in 1962) Anna Magnani would capitalize, on the leverage stemming from her indispensability, to hijack Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Mamma Roma, for her own reasons, Katharine Hepburn would shape to her liking the 1940 film romance, The Philadelphia Story, to an outcome unsurprisingly very different from the former project—but, nevertheless, quite amazingly within the same galaxy where disinterestedness becomes palpably crucial. In 1939, Hepburn helped herself to her ex-boyfriend, Howard Hughes’ film rights to Philip Barry’s stage play, The Philadelphia Story (in which she starred); and, ever the shrewd media player, bought out her contract with RKO and signed on with MGM mogul, Louis B. Mayer, on condition that he finance her film property, starring herself (of course) along with a cast and production team of her devising, including her friend, director, George Cukor. Her coming, from out of such high-finance scheming, to navigate along a flight-path which Magnani broached with a wave of instinctive, emotive poetics, is one of the great enigmas of supposedly mainstream, Hollywood “entertainment.” (more…)

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amarcord_1

© 2014 by James Clark

      I don’t usually refer to other critics in pursuing these film entries; but here it seems to make a lot of sense. The esteemed film observer, Jonathan Rosenbaum, produced (in 1982) a review of Amarcord (1973) that was both typically cogent and typically half-hearted. Seeing clearly that Fellini’s outreach about an Adriatic town in the 1930s comprises “community rituals and seasonal changes,” he describes the longings of many of its residents, for something more than that often charming inertia, as “dreams and other fantasies,” which is to say, a type of reflexive inertia veering away from reality. Smoothly disarming any traces of abrasiveness in this finding to be quite futile any challenge to mechanics and orthodoxy, the appreciation identifies the auteur’s evolution as an increased trusting of “imagination over ‘realistic’ observation.” “Fact and fancy are never far apart” in Fellini’s work. But that proposition does nothing to sustain that what he calls “fancy”—in its sense of the “more” that is remarkably new to history—could be a mature, serious form of consciousness. Rosenbaum concedes that “… it is precisely the domain of privacy that the town’s collective dream life feeds upon…” But I can’t help reading between the lines here that “the town’s collective dream life” amounts to some kind of sad little joke. He declares, “…the film charts the lot of provincial dwellers everywhere;” and with that the unwelcome whiff of sociology begins to fill the air. (more…)

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sexy-beast-1

© 2014 by James Clark

It could well be that one of the surest ways to identify a modern film’s holding a strong hand is its linkage to that metaphor of Beauty and Beast tracing back to the tiniest flames of revolt on a violently subdued planet. One filmmaker who seems to know where the loot is hidden is Jonathan Glazer, a rock video and TV commercial alumnus. Glazer, from what I’ve seen, is a past master of edifying desperation, acutely obsessed about our being implicated in a monstrous struggle for sensuous equilibrium, a struggle with the odds heavily stacked against making the merest go of the merest advances.
One way to approach his position amidst that protracted landslide is by noting that his debut feature, Sexy Beast (2000), shares a fascination with the pitch into uncontrollable hatred and violence elicited by the debut films of Nicolas Refn, namely Pusher (1996) and Bleeder (1999). Moreover, in Refn’s Drive (2011), a deft and serenely poised central figure dons a mask at the point where the impudence of a partner-in-crime occasions his losing his composure and butchering the irritant with a hammer. The mask which the presentable young protagonist has fixed upon disguises him as a bald, wiry, middle-aged, cold-eyed Everyman for a dead planet. And therewith it resembles one of the three protagonist-candidates for the title, Sexy Beast (in Glazer’s film), namely, Don Logan, a bald, wiry, middle-aged, cold-eyed ascetic, crazily intent on forcing a former-partner-in-crime to abandon retirement living on Spain’s Costa del Sol and taste again the gratifications of a heist, this one bursting upon safety deposit boxes back in home-town London, the contents of which comprising extraordinary wealth. (Also, that the young driver of Drive gets under the skin of Under the Skin’s enigmatic young woman driver [from 2013], for the sake of complementing her slippage by means of his attaining to high discipline, tolerance for isolation and capacity for sustained affection, somewhat completes our perusal of a delta of reciprocal homage between Glazer and Refn. We might also note the geographic and situational affinities between Under the Skin and Refn’s Valhalla Rising [2009]. These considerations of propelling back and forth matters of cinematic design are, I think, very necessary in the context of Sexy Beast’s seemingly being reducible to the roiling of strictly visceral dramatic action, and Under the Skin’s seemingly being a misty shroud of mood. Artists like Glazer and Refn, we have, I think, to appreciate, strike a balance between virtuoso cinematographic conjuring and reciprocal erudition about the historical architectonics informing kinetic crises.) (more…)

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under-the-skin-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

      Under the Skin (2013) fires toward us a maelstrom of visual and aural stimuli. Much of it pertains to electrodynamic frontiers vastly complicating the human component of such motion. Thus we have an introductory passage wherein startling confluences of astronomical light in blue, gold and red play out upon the infinite darkness of a cescendoing cosmos. A musical accompaniment of lacerating and seductive pulsating ringing, clatter, grinding and thundering presses the tension and makes very clear we have come to a history having forever turned its back on the venerable and sedate gratifications of the music of the spheres.

In the orientation just described, there come to view geometric features playing out to a cylinder of sorts that could be a vehicle or a scanner (an MRI, perhaps). Drifting over this incursion are voices calling out, in a blurred way, what sounds like, “…food, feed…cell… cell…” Then the iris of one eye fills the screen, several of its elements pulsing, like a city seen from a great distance. The dark, reddish brown of that organ gives way to a dark landscape with coursing rivulets and a dusting of snow. There’s a winding road seen from far away and from some kind of promontory, and grinding sounds and dangerous speeds recommence. The ominous thrust and noise stop, the motorcycle rider plunges purposefully down a nearly pitch black slope with city lights spreading across the horizon. Soon the rider, with tempered skeletal touches on his leather uniform, re-emerges with the corpse of a woman slung over his shoulder. She is all in black, with net stockings. The narrative moves on to a brightly lit, shimmering space, bringing to mind an operating theatre. But what appears to be the dead girl (or subject of some kind of [genetic?] surgery) is on the glowing floor and another woman—all in silhouette—busies herself with removing from the corpse and putting on her own body the dead young woman’s clothes. Heavy high-heeled shoes going on create a reverberation. And then the newly-outfitted figure gives us reason to wonder what else she has taken from that all-too-mortal victim whom the biker had found as by some advanced technology (or, on the other hand, had he killed her some time before?). The stranger with someone else’s clothes—her tall, vibrantly-toned body being one of great beauty, evident even in the compromised light—reaches down to the recumbent woman with her finger to sample something not factored into the transplant, namely, a trace of vaginal fluid. From the bush where she was accessed, the dead body reveals another curiosity-seeker, a tiny ant, treading through the liquid on the lovely woman’s finger. That iris has readily come into her outfitting. The other area would be part of a work in progress, for a most unusual piece of work. (more…)

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juliet-1

 

© 2014 by James Clark

      In the 1950s, actress Giulietta Masina starred in two films deriving from her husband, Federico Fellini’s, internationally consequential cinematic reflections. In one of them (La Strada) she richly embodied a young woman having run away to join a (ramshackle) circus act; in the other (Nights of Cabiria), she brought to glowing life a low-rent prostitute. Each of these movie charmers came replete with a kinetic repertoire directly transmitting not simply a strange gusto for life but an unmistakably (though undefined) dangerous gusto. Fellini’s researches into that danger came—after the steps that were named La Dolce Vita and –upon a means to exploit Masina’s former effervescence along lines of totally extinguishing it, giving us a figure bereft of kinetic/carnal cogency, namely, the Juliet of the movie in question here (from 1965). The upshot is a cinematic experience remarkably hard to warm up to, its attendant riot of sybaritic flare-ups notwithstanding. This package has inadvertently dragged along, for the sake of scuttlebutt in lieu of comprehension, a tide of marital and Jungian and Surrealist baggage, not to mention a charge of creative comeuppance for a lazy but canny millionaire. (As to that latter point, it is ironic that producing this attenuated horror vehicle nearly bankrupted the supposedly play-it-safe fat cat. That Jonathan Glazer’s recent minefield, Under the Skin [2013], could be seen as featuring a vastly [though plausibly] changed Samantha hitherto from Her, excitingly speaks to the endless investigative dimensions of the problematic of avant-garde film, which does not abandon history for the sake of the scientism of classically imprisoned perceptual phenomena.) (more…)

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roma-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

      As the metropolis of a high-impact socioeconomic power, Roma—like New York, London, Tokyo and Paris—has been cinematically scrutinized for the better part of a century. Invariably the City would have come into play in the course of a clearly defined protagonist (or two) bidding for plenitude in a world making plenitude a long shot. On the subject of Rome, we have, for instance, Roberto Rossellini’s, Rome, Open City (1945), wherein a woman, played by Anna Magnani, is destroyed by a home turf poisoned by fascist distemper. Seventeen years later, Pier Paolo Pasolini, in his film, Mamma Roma, starring, Magnani, seeks to rain all over the post-War Italian (economic) miracle—depicting Rome as a vicious arena of self-serving money-madness and cruelty. But the star has other ideas and injects into Pasolini’s pedantic slam-dunk some tough de-fence of the elusive improvisational treasure she lives for. Joining this play of contentious cityscape, we have an installment with Magnani once again present, namely, Federico Fellini’s aggressively branded, Fellini’s Roma (1972). Scant months before her succumbing to a cancer she would have known to be terminal, she speaks to Fellini (who is off-camera) for only a few seconds; but that is enough to have her (this time with the full encouragement of the auteur) once again part of a game-changing force.

Magnani’s at death’s door and Fellini is far from the attention-getter he was in 8 ½. So who’s minding the store? Definitely it’s no one captured on camera. Fellini’s Roma is a cinematic singularity insofar as it dares to be almost absolutely awash in dismissive perversity—the better to capture a real state of affairs of arguably terminal oblivion. Unlike more conventionally-structured film narratives, there is no persona to marvel or even care about; but rather a seemingly endless stream of largely farcical dissolution. Before engaging specific events, therefore, with a view toward what is at stake here, we have to pick the lock maintaining a hegemony of seemingly Eternal nihilism. This we can begin to effect by noticing that a child and then a young adult, both passively floundering within the action’s early scenes (in the 1930s) of virtually clownish waywardness, go unnamed but are clearly the same person. (We see the little boy wide-eyed as a train departs a little station; then, on the heels of that, we see a train arriving and a wide-eyed young man tastes his first moments as an adult in Roma.) We can travel from there by noticing that the stacked deck of Mussolini’s 1930s as depicted by that transfer (that would be XVI, in view of the godsend that occurred in 1922) is overtaken (though putting in a few other spicy recurrences) by various stages of a film shoot in the early 1970s, wherein, over and above the brief interview with Magnani, there are a couple of Hitchcock-quick comings on the scene on the part of Federico (Fellini) himself, leaving us to understand that he is the outnumbered and invisible protagonist and that the entire film in its multifaceted interplay with the Eternal City is the action of struggling for the necessary new, in the spirit, if not the intentional register, of Mamma Roma. (more…)

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mamma-roma-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

      It’s a wedding reception out in the sticks (somewhat like that wedding party in Fellini’s La Strada). But we notice its far heavier acidic content, as compared with the child-like food-fight at the table where Gelsomina and Zampano relax a bit before once again putting their show on the road. A local woman has staged a quite startling invasion in the course of sending a message to one and all, a touch of theatre with no qualms about upstaging the principals. The happy complement of her entrance involves one male pig and two females, decked out in appropriate headgear, and she gets things rolling with, “Here come the brothers!” (The bride is from a farm.) She can barely keep from falling over from delight in her indiscretion, as she moves the animals toward the bridal party, amidst appreciative laughter from the guests. She refers to one of her companions as “Regina, the Pervert…If you only knew what she does!” The father of the bride stands up to deliver a seemingly heartfelt paean to the value of farming life, only to have the lady with the pigs call him a “hick,” which gets the company going on the speechmaker’s being out on bail. Someone asks her, “Why don’t you sing for us, a song from the heart?” perhaps with regard to re-establishing the moment of romance. She declares, as if emphasizing that it is her passionate nature which has brought about the creepiness wafting over the event, “When I sing, I sing with joy!” But, in going on to tell everyone that, “If you knew the whole story, it would ruin this celebration,” this disruptive entity alludes to a life of conflict unsuited for mainstream gratifications. She fires off a musical statement particularly unflattering to Carmine, the groom, whom she obviously has known for a long time; and the bride stands up and sings (in the impromptu operatic-rap at which the whole party seems to excel), “You sing and act so happily, but your heart’s bursting with rage…” To which (and to the charge that she’s jealous, being no longer the groom’s lover) the center of attention patronizingly addresses her, O Flower of Shit…” The bride is a frumpy blob with missing teeth and the groom resembles a weasel; but the invited intruder is a smartly turned out, no longer young but not yet old woman, with the kind of broad-faced handsomeness bringing to mind a dark, punchy, 40-ish version of Monica Vitti, who was radioactive at the time. However, on second thought, we should mention now that our protagonist needs no buoying by resembling a celebrity. She’s embodied by super-formidable, Anna Magnani, one of the most richly explosive presences in the history of cinema. (more…)

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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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