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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

force-majeure-1

© 2014 by James Clark

      Bear with me for a moment, in embarking upon Ruben Ostlund’s mountain of domestic and individual anguish, Force Majeure (2014), by way of Marguerite Duras’ novella, The Lover (1984). The latter’s opening salvo, wherein the Speaker gets under our skin fast by way of an account of her own physiognomy, can blaze a trail to the revelatory factor of the flawlessly youthful visages (almost computer-generated) of Tomas and Ebba, the film’s protagonists.

“Very early in my life it was too late. It was already too late when I was eighteen… My ageing was very sudden. I saw it spread over my features one by one, changing the relationship between them, making the eyes larger, the expression sadder, the mouth more final, leaving great creases in the forehead. But instead of being dismayed I watched this process with the same sort of interest I might have taken in the reading of a book…”

Already in 1959, as screenwriter of Hiroshima Mon Amour, and far past her eighteenth birthday, Duras was intent upon those singular and difficult currents implicit in The Lover: “Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.” Writer and director Ostlund’s fascination with such kinetic ravages impels him to get things underway with Tomas, Ebba and their likewise photogenic children, Vera and Harry, fresh from Sweden to a sterling ski resort in the French Alps, being rightly prized by an itinerant photographer lurking at the base of the ski lifts. (The photos being gratis, we have to infer that the cameraman has a project in mind which they well fit into. Could it have something to do with their too-good-to-be-true, but now universal, looks? He keeps calling little Harry a “champion.” Or, “Are you a champion? [“champion coming to sound like “chumpion”]. They follow this flattering interruption with slight betrayal of already having more handsome mementos than they need. (Later Tomas will, while enjoying an après-ski beer on the sun-deck, be approached by a young woman who tells him her girlfriend thinks he’s the best-looking man in the bar. She then promptly returns to make the correction that it was another man she was referring to. With so many spa-braced perfect 10’s on the scene, such a mistake would be nearly inevitable.) “I want a beauty smile together!” Later that day Ebba shows the photos to a deep-seated skeptic about domestic cloying. (She declares she’s “on a break” from her two daughters; and her husband. Yet she plays along with Ebba’s zeal for Harry’s perfect features. “Oh, his eyes… He’s very beautiful!”)

(more…)

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nights-of-cabiria-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

      The first episode of Nights of Cabiria (1957) is a crime melodrama so offbeat it could almost be science fiction. We see in the middle distance a diminutive woman, in a white dress with horizontal black waves, zigging and zagging and shimmying backwards in bright sunlight across the nondescript scrub and debris land of the outskirts of Rome, in the throes of the money-mad developments of the post-War “Economic Miracle.” It is impossible not to be struck by the ebullience of her actions, showering affectionate playfulness upon a male friend in stylish shades not a party to her kinetic imperatives. They come to the Tiber and, like a one-track insect, he elbows her into its blazing current, not forgetting to come away with her purse which, just seconds before, she had twirled in a wide orbit. Though she was a player in good standing when it came to gracing terra firma, we immediately realize she’s a non-swimmer (her arms and hands describing graceful but nonetheless hapless arabesques into the river run which has all but swallowed for good the rest of her body). In a spirited effort she brings her head to light and screams for help. Children (one of them in a North American Indian headdress) playing along the river bank hear this and rush to do what they can to save her. One of them remarks, “If she gets to the sewer she won’t get up again!” (Hold that thought.) A well-dressed passer-by takes off his suit jacket and then, applying some of the rationality that took him this far, puts it back on and (after demanding an inventory of possible rescuers in the vicinity) cuts out. Less formally dressed men supplement the children’s efforts in diving into the menacing dynamics of the river and getting her to shore, by beginning to apply artificial respiration. As they hold her upside down (her spiffy shift now miserably soaked and dirty) and find reason to enthuse in her emitting water from her lungs and mouth, a woman standing nearby bites her fist (her face and eyes almost drowned in anxiety about the victim’s difficulties and prospects, but also in distress about a close encounter with death). (more…)

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hiroshima-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

      Alain Resnais is a filmmaker widely revered as a harbinger of the many contemporary filmic launches testing our tolerance for risk and innovation. Unlike many of those he supposedly inspired, his was not a career with much staying power in the limelight. As we prepare to size up his signature (and debut) piece, Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), we’ll begin with the conundrum of supposed dynamite branding having apparently lost its way, or at least having lost its compellingness. The supposed magic touch, of our film at issue here (produced in association with screenwriter [novelist, playwright, and filmmaker] Marguerite Duras), pertains to his bringing to quite unnerving immediacy an impasse between the two protagonists. Let us posit, for the sake of coming to savor singular energies here (accounting for an early noteworthiness and niche patronage but no significant subscription to his method) which have perhaps not effectively made it on to the global radar, that it is the weight of world-historical inundation which ushers in a type of crisis both devastating and manageable. More succinctly, I’d like to propose that we are not (horrific details and pundits notwithstanding) getting ourselves into the onset of a death march, but instead a joyousness in being under heavy but not impossible fire. Resnais haunts later film not for depiction of hopeless decadence; but instead for getting under its skin the marvel of a daunting competence. (more…)

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eyes-wide-shut-1 (1)

 © 2014 by James Clark

      Take a look at 1938 Roma from the perspective of Federico Fellini’s film, Roma (1972), and you could be well on the way to comprehending what’s up with the 1999 New York City of Stanley Kubrick as served up by his film, Eyes Wide Shut. In the latter project (the artist’s last hurrah), a scene that hogs the lion’s share of the fire power features a masked man in a Vatican cardinal’s scarlet robes, seated on a dais presiding over a satanic ceremony heavy on orgies and murders of mass dominance. In Fellini’s Roma, a scene that wins the jadedness prize hands down in a scenario seeming to be known by jadedness alone, the Pope, in his cardinal’s robes and wearing shades, has been invited to the palazzo of Princess Domitilla as part of an effort to lift his spirits in the wake of the shock of ruthless secularism represented by Mussolini-style fascist dominance. Seated on a dais in the palace’s ballroom, the melancholy divine is treated to a fashion show of clerical costumes purporting to introduce a new, with-it spirit to the corporate miasma. The Princess laments, “People were nicer, more respectful…” Her strategy to, if not revive the cause, at least bring to her sanctuary a bit of omnipotent, rejuvenative fantasy, includes a pair of roller skating nuns, hyped, in the show’s voice-over, as “Little Sisters of Purgatory,” with huge (wimple) head-pieces of material giving them a lilt like the wings of seagulls. It does create a bit of a sensation in that refuge desperate for uplifting news.

That latter event would stand, in the couplet-endeavor Kubrick has activated, as a quaint, geriatric response to the condition of molding a quorum faithful to a gratifying ultimacy. (The 1938 event resumes, for a final climax, in the form of a wispy, heavenly aura within which is inserted the fabrication of the likeness of a long-gone pope. [“He’s back!” the innocents cry.]) The no country for frail, simply gentle and less than millionaire creatures that was New York, in 1999, is given a similar expose by the Kubrick film, a slice that noticeably jacks up the killer instinct. (more…)

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blancanieves-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

       It seems a bit strange, wanting at the outset to dig into a rather complex point of film design, for a film virtually no one has seen. But, as never before with this series of film finds, we are about a film disclosure that entails a much-deserved rebirth, in the wake of the extreme failure to thrive that was its fate back in 2012, when it attracted (ignored) kudos on the part of a handful of critics but received no serious distribution. Blancanieves came forward as, alas, the second (by mere months) silent film of the 21st century (after Michel Hazanavicius’ enormously popular and acclaimed comedy, The Artist. Both Hazanavicius and Pablo Berger, the writer/director of our film here, worked independently to mine crucial currents of sensibility that could be startlingly accentuated by bringing body language to very intense levels in silent black and white filming replete with special filtering of the grey scale and a cast of masters of dance and mime. But whereas The Artist banked upon the copious rich windfalls forthcoming to largely mainstream domesticity, Blancanieves had a far darker and deeper story to tell.

Which brings us to that “complex point” we have to tackle in order to dispel any inferences that this narrative, packing an infrastructure teeming with details of the children’s story, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, could be effectively engaged as suffused by the sentimental simplism of the Brothers Grimm and their ancient sources; or, for that matter, any “adult” variant of the conquest of evil by the forces of virtue. The Snow White factor, it won’t be so hard to demonstrate, hangs out there (as do the antiquated auras of the silent and black and white format and the eventuation of the bullfight and its rituals) as instancing historical architecture in the process of being razed by an intimate illumination of unprecedented cynicism, risk and disinterestedness. Though the original tale shows a poisoned heroine’s body lying in state in all its beauty in a shrine, under constant watch by the troupe of dwarfs, to be, before long, brought back to life by a loving hero’s kiss, our film (uncountable light-years away from Disney) has a bullfighter agent—who had taken advantage of the illiteracy of Snow White (Blancanieves), the novelty starlet in that field, to lock her into a lifetime contract for peanuts—putting her beautiful corpse on stage in a freak show, where men (and the occasional woman) would pay him to take a shot at delivering a magic kiss to bring her back to life. (Every night, by means of a mechanism hidden within the coffin, someone gets to imagine his kiss making her sit up and smile.) This being in fact a Surrealist shocker which goes on to take our breath away by its acuity regarding love, the freak show is preceded by the father of Carmencita (Snow White’s original name before getting into show biz along with 7 bullfighting dwarfs), a wheel chair-ridden former great matador, being pushed to his death down a long flight of stairs by his love-deficient second wife who proceeds to charge his fans to have their photo taken with him in his Suit of Lights. (more…)

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LAVVENTURA-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

 Some years back, I wrote an essay on L’Avventura (1960) as usefully clarified by Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000). There the thematic wonderment centered upon a tidal wave of social exigencies shattering intimations of integrity which would cut across the grain of mountainously firm and venerable laws of survival.

In the wake of a consideration of the wiggle-room of similarly-beleaguered A, the protagonist of Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (1961), there seems to be more to say about the trials and tribulations of Claudia, protagonist of L’Avventura, ensconced, like A, in an A-list milieu. A would eventually consign herself to the ways of salt-of-the-earth, X. But her trajectory would also be mindful of the allure of solitude as an offshoot of both advanced material well-being and advanced flexibility in coping with the world at large.

Even before bringing us L’Avventura, Antonioni was well known as an avatar of arrestingly stylish cinematography, an auteur extraordinarily focused upon the perceptual updrafts accruing to the pulse of a scenario by reason of striking deployment of natural light as absorbed by the grey-scale of black and white filming, in conjunction with the physical presence of performers, their apparel, their industrial and architectural design milieu and the compositional cadences of their moving about. With L’Avventura, he had on his hands an unprecedented objective to bring these factors into stunning and subtle force. (Hence the first image of the credits reports that the film has been cited, by the Cannes Film Festival, for its “new movie language and the beauty of its images.”) (more…)

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Last-Year-Marienbad-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

      The intricacies of Anton Corbijn’s film, A Most Wanted Man (2014), come down, it seems to me, to the readily ignored grace note of solitude. (For that matter, Jonathan Glazer’s Birth [2004] also exposes that elusive treasure.) In the Corbijn film it is only intimated by the disaster in its absence and the rumor of its presence in the sailing we hear about (once) but never see. On having, over the past four years, gathered together what sometimes seems to be a filmic mountain of exigencies painfully including that possibility of quiet, I think it is time to pay specific attention to three films from the dawn of contrarian go-for-broke, quite well-known but not widely enough cherished for their daring—namely, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Marguerite Duras’ India Song (1975). Generally understood as instances of a filmic tsunami of ennui and distemper triggered by a World War palpably obviating the allure of the kind of heroics which had served for so long as a cogent grace note, the choreographic imperatives of those hugely alienated creations have been substantively overlooked—in itself a powerful revelation of the hardness of the crisis they address. (more…)

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