Archive for August 13th, 2011

By Bob Clark

More and more nowadays, it seems as though one of the most common ways to be introduced to a great movie is by another one altogether. It’s nothing new, exactly– there’s plenty of films that famously pay homage to great works and influences past, sometimes through borrowing elements of narrative (Star Wars from The Hidden Fortress, Reservoir Dogs from City on Fire) or visual substance (For a Few Dollars More from Yojimbo, sometimes almost shot-for-shot). Occasionally, screenwriters and directors go so far as to drop the names of the films they’re pickpocketing from in dialogue directly, leaving so many pop-culture reference laden soundtracks in their wake (without which the combined works of Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino and Joss Whedon would be about enough to fill a Post-It note). Perhaps most interesting are the moments on film where characters get to enjoy the experience of going to the movies themselves, or in our modern media-age simply take the time out to sit down and watch one on television. Godard made the experience of sitting in an audience and watching a film a centerpiece of Vivre Sa Vie, as Anna Karina’s streetwalker tearfully attends a screening of Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, only an hour or so before we will be forced to bear witness to her character’s equally tragic end. That moment, like the best of all moviegoing-within-a-movie moments, used a film from the past to comment on the substance of the film we ourselves are watching in the present, creating a bridge of cinematic memory for those well versed in its history, or at the very least unveiling the film for new eyes that have never heard of it before (or ears that have never seen it).

One such experience for me came in the 2000 release of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell, a rather unfairly underrated little genrebender that combined the hallucinatory alternate reality games of The Matrix with the hardcore serial-killer proceduralisms of Se7en, pitting FBI manhunters and dream-diving scientists in a race against time to rescue the last remaining kidnapped victim of a notorious murderer by delving into the nightmarish landscapes of his mind. Not a great movie, by any means, but an impressive visual smorgasbord that at the very least took wonderful advantage of the potential for a story set in a series of sci-fi dreamscapes better than the vanilla corporate-espionage of Inception ever bothered. With surreal imagery owing equal parts to music-videos (Singh’s previous calling-card) and modern artists like Damien Hirst, it’s a film that goes out of its way to impress its viewers with as much visual ingenuity as possible, but never sacrificing in the way of taut dramatic pacing (even if the screenplay itself screams of one cliche after another so well-worn you could discover oil in the footprint it leaves behind). And yet, for all its cool imagery, the film manages to upstage itself early on with a brief moment where our subliminally-adventurous heroine (a pretty, but distracting Jennifer Lopez) does some late-night channel surfing and stumbles across a broadcast of Rene Laloux’s feature debut, La Planete Sauvage, better known in English as “Fantastic Planet”.


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