Archive for August 1st, 2010

A Picture of Illusion

This is not a normal “Guess the Pic” entry (that contest is currently offering a screen-cap from Allan Fish). Rather, it’s a one-off puzzle proposed by Bobby J.

1. What is the film?

2. A percentage of the film is an illusion – what percentage?

And one clue: the film is from 1970.

The reward for a correct guess will be bragging rights. Although if you’d like, you’re more than welcome to don an imperial crown and parade around shouting “I’m the Wiz!”. We won’t mind.

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by Joel

#74 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series counting down the most acclaimed films of the previous decade.

The films of Zhang Ke Jia are like time-lapse images transforming both slowly and rapidly before your eyes. Finally what you’re seeing at the end (of a shot, or particularly in this case, of the movie) bears little resemblance to what you saw at the beginning, though the route of this change is not easily re-traceable (“how did we get here?” could be the epitaph to each of Jia’s films). This transformation is slow because Jia’s camera takes its time. In Platform there are no reverse shots, no close-ups, and almost no cuts during scenes (I can think of at least one exception: the provincial theatrical touring group rushes up to an elevated railway in a desolate landscape; suddenly we are on the tracks ourselves, facing away from the train which is rushing off behind the camera, while we stare into the cast’s faces as they grin and wave, exhausted). The transformation is also rapid, however, because so much happens within a fixed time frame or spatial plane: a building dissolves into dust (or takes off like a space rocket) in Still Life, a mini-universe is revealed by the ascension of an elevator in The World (a film less defined by fluid long takes than Platform or Still Life, though they are still a part of the texture), in Platform hearts are broken and futures fixed in a lovers’ discussion which ends with one character proclaiming (ever time-conscious) “You’re too late” and walking away. If that last transformation seems less dramatic than the previous one, don’t be fooled. Within each shot, in itself a miniature movie, Platform fixes its gaze on a moment, albeit one always in flux (as moments always are). But over the movie as a whole, there is a more rapid physical and spiritual transformation than anything in either Still Life or The World. That’s because Platform takes as its subject the still-bizarre mutation of China from a totalitarian communist workers’ state to a semi-capitalist ultra-modern society in the 1980s. An obsession with transformation and mutation are not only aesthetic strategies in Platform, they are the very meat of the film, its text, context, and subtext. Here, form and content fit together perfectly as hand in glove, which is good, because nothing else in the film is so easily malleable.

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1964 188m) DVD1/2

If you listen very carefully…

p  Samuel Bronston  d  Anthony Mann  w  Ben Barzman, Philip Yordan, Basilio Franchina  ph  Robert Krasker, John Moore  ed  Robert Lawrence  m  Dimitri Tiomkin  art  Veniero Colosanti, John Moore  cos  Gloria Mussetta

Stephen Boyd (Gaius Metellus Livius), Sophia Loren (Lucilla), Christopher Plummer (Commodus), Alec Guinness (Marcus Aurelius), James Mason (Timonides), Eric Porter (Julianus), Anthony Quayle (Verulus), Mel Ferrer (Cleander), John Ireland (Ballomar), Omar Sharif (Sohamus), Douglas Wilmer (Niger), Finlay Currie (senator),

Interviewed by ‘Cahiers du Cinema’ in 1957, Anthony Mann was asked to name directors to keep an eye on in the future.  He listed a couple, then added “the director who made The KillingStanley Kubrick – he has a lot of talent, imagination and we’ll hear a lot about him.”  The Oracle had spoken, and one wonders whether Mann recalled his comment when, having been fired from the set of Spartacus by producer/star Kirk Douglas, he heard that Kubrick was to replace him.  It must have smarted; he’d been ousted from a Roman epic before, Quo Vadis?, following John Huston and others out of the door in the early stages, and he’d have been forgiven for wondering whether he’d ever get a crack at ancient Rome.  The Gods were toying with him, and he could hear them laughing.

            He got his chance only a few years later, the Gods seemingly quiet for now, but in the original drafts of the script by Philip Yordan, Mann must have recognised what Yordan was getting at.  It begins with the stately words, “two of the greatest problems in history are how to account for the rise of Rome and how to account for her fall.”  Yet it would take a greater man than I can think of to get to the heart of especially the second quandary; Gibbon tried it, but even at three volumes he barely scratched the surface, like an archaeologist brushing away at a mosaic and terrified of damaging the tesserae.  Mann’s film tries to get to the heart of something altogether more fundamental, the glory that was Rome, the dwarfing, decaying splendour.  It’s set in the late 2nd century A.D. and begins on the German frontier, where Marcus Aurelius is trying to tame the last bastion of resistance in Europe, but is also coming to realise that it’s not his unruly son Commodus who should succeed him but his general, Livius.  The emperor is murdered, and so ends Act I.  (more…)

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