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Archive for the ‘Author Duane Porter’ Category

by Duane Porter

It seems like forever ago, in another world, I sat in a theater watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood without a care in the world. I could never have imagined that in a few months time, being near another human being would fill me with fear. And yet, now as before, it is other human beings that give meaning to existence. Beyond this reassuring meaning we find in one another, meaning is only valuable as a social construct. We ascribe meaning to things in order to be able to communicate with each other. But, assigning meaning can be limiting, keeping us within the parameters of the known. With a bit of effort we might be able to look around without asking what does this mean, or saying it means this, or saying it means that. To see what is before us and maybe learn something from it that we didn’t already know, that would be a good thing, I should think. With eyes open, perception free of constraint, embracing the unknown, we become aware of all we don’t know. Ultimate reality, consciousness, divine presence, each contingent on the other, these things we seek to explain through art, philosophy, and science. Perhaps, one day, we will, but it’s altogether more likely there are mysteries of the physical world that will always remain beyond human understanding.

Looking at the best films from last year, the glow in a woman’s face, the light cutting across a wall, the movement of the air around tree branches, the reflection of sunlight off sunglasses on bright yellow hair, the loneliness and regret in an old man’s eyes, a little girl looking expectantly into the sky, experiencing these things can lead to as deep an understanding of the universe as would earning a degree in physics. Keep looking, try to remain open, engage with the world around you, the universal can be found in a gesture.

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I. Portrait of a Lady on Fire directed by Céline Sciamma

Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) has finally consented to sit for her portrait. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) directs her pose, “Turn toward to me—a little more—turn your head slightly—rest your arm here.” Taking hold of her arm she adjusts its position. She places the right hand upon the left. She asks, “Are you comfortable?—can you hold that pose?” Héloïse answers, “Oui.”

Héloïse is sitting upon an improvised pedestal. She is wearing a dark green gown and her hair is tied up exposing her ears and the back of her neck. Behind her is an expanse of paneled wall with two large mullioned windows to either side. The stream of light, falling upon her face, outlines her brow, the shape of her cheek, the delicate folds of her ears, the slope of her neck, and gathers in the cleft formed where the indentation of her clavicles meet the tendons of her throat. Flowing over her gown, the light reflects from every crease and fold presenting a multitude of shades of green. Her eyes gaze directly from under dark brows that accentuate her slightly sullen expression.

Marianne raises her eyebrows and complains, “I can’t make you smile.” Noticing a cloud pass over Héloïse’s face, she says, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Héloïse puts her hand to her mouth and shakes her head, “You haven’t hurt me.” “I have, I can tell, when you’re moved you do this with your hand and when you’re embarrassed you bite your lip and when you’re annoyed you don’t blink.” Héloïse takes a breath, tips her head back slightly, and says, “You know it all.” Marianne smiles, “Forgive me, I’d hate to be in your place.” “We’re in the same place, exactly the same place,” Héloïse counters. She has Marianne come stand beside her and look back to where she had been, “If you look at me, who do I look at?” Héloïse continues, “When you don’t know what to say you touch your forehead and when you lose control you raise your eyebrows and when you’re troubled you breathe through your mouth.” Marianne turns toward Héloïse. They look deeply into each other’s eyes. It’s only now, Marianne truly sees Héloïse, as if for the first time.

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2. The Souvenir directed by Joanna Hogg

Anthony (Tom Burke) leads Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) through the rooms of the museum wishing to show her a painting he is fond of. Entering the gallery, he turns toward a picture. There on the crimson covered wall hangs a quite small painting in a substantial gold leaf frame. He stands aside and Julie moves forward to look at it more closely. A hint of a smile begins to appear on her face. Anthony speaks, “Do you like her?” Julie turns and smiles broadly, “I love her.”

In the picture, a young woman in a flowing pink satin gown with her hair done up in typical eighteenth century fashion is intently carving initials into the trunk of a huge old tree. Her hastily discarded wrap lies upon a marble bench where her little dog sits closely watching her progress. Beneath the bench a letter from the one she loves has fallen to the ground. A little brass plate at the bottom of the frame is engraved with a title, “The Souvenir.”

In film school, Julie learns such things as how to use a movie camera and an editing table. In class they discuss the shower scene in Psycho to demonstrate the power of film editing. She is struggling to find her own voice. During the same time, her complexly ambiguous relationship with Anthony forces her to experience life in ways that are entirely foreign to her. With Anthony she undergoes moments of exquisite pleasure as well as intense dramatic pain. Life is bringing an aesthetic authenticity to her creative ambitions. She is becoming an artist.

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3. The Irishman directed by Martin Scorsese

Through the partially open bedroom door Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) can be seen packing a suitcase. The late night news is on the TV and Fidel Castro can be heard delivering a speech in Spanish. Beside the suitcase is a handgun. He picks up the gun and slips it into his pants pocket. From the hallway, Frank’s 11-year-old daughter, Peggy (Lucy Gallina), is watching him. As he closes the suitcase and turns off the TV, Peggy backs away from the door. He goes down the stairs and she follows. Standing at the head of the stairs in her pink pajamas she asks, “Where are you going?” He looks up at her, “I’m going to work. Go Back to sleep,” and he goes out the door. Peggy stands looking out the window as he drives away.

Several years later, Frank is in the kitchen pouring milk on a bowl of raisin bran. There’s a small TV on the kitchen counter. A news report has his attention, “It happened in New York’s Little Italy.” There has been a shooting the night before and the police are investigating. Frank takes his bowl of cereal and moves toward the kitchen table. Still standing, watching the TV, he begins to eat his breakfast. He sits down at the table, his attention focused as he continues to watch the TV. He doesn’t notice that Peggy (Anna Paquin) is standing in the doorway staring at him. As she watches him and hears the details of the shooting being reported, a horrible realization begins to show in her eyes. Sensing her presence, Frank turns his head to look at her but says nothing. She stares at him, he lowers his eyes and then looks at her again. The TV continues to recount the lurid event. Peggy stands there still staring at her father until, hearing her sister call for her, she turns away and leaves. Frank leans forward to watch her go and then goes back to eating his cereal.

Peggy’s eyes are the conscience of The Irishman. Frank never gave it too much thought. All he ever wanted to do was take care of his family. In the army during the war, he learned that if you follow orders, do as your told, you get rewarded. He didn’t often ask himself whether the things he did were right or wrong. In the end, the things he thought to be important, the people he tried to please, they are all gone and forgotten. Frank is left waiting, alone in a room. He only asks that the door not be closed but left a little open.

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4. Vitalina Verela directed by Pedro Costa

Soft light enters the bedroom through the cracks of a boarded-up window and rakes across a stucco wall where stands a dresser with a large dark-framed mirror. Vitalina sits resting on a chair beside the bed and turning her head sees herself in the mirror. One by one, she removes her earrings and places them on the dresser. She then removes her dark headscarf and replaces it with a white one, its reflection in the mirror catches the light and shines like a beacon in the darkness.

The old priest goes up the concrete steps of the little church with it’s facade of corrugated sheet metal crowned with a cross made from salvaged steel bars and opens the creaking metal doors. Vitalina is sitting in the dark mourning the death of her husband. The priest attempts to comfort her, “He’s not dead. He’s only sleeping until the end of time. Until you join him.” She is quiet for a while and he starts to walk away. Vitalina speaks, “I want you to pray a mass for him. And for me.” He takes his place behind the pulpit, in front of a large crucifix hanging on the wall, and he begins to sing, “Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, Have mercy upon us …”

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5. I Was at Home, But… directed by Angela Schanelec

A donkey walks into an abandoned house, its hoofs clomping across the old wooden floor. It stops and turns its head toward an open window. On the floor in front of the window, a dog is tearing at a dead rabbit, using its teeth to pull it apart. The donkey watches the dog for a while and then walks slowly to another open window and stands there looking out. Soft light flows through the window. Shadows cast by fluttering leaves on trees outside the house dance lightly on the worn and dirty walls. The dog, finishing with the rabbit, tired from the effort, walks over to a spot near the donkey’s feet and lies down to rest.

In a park, a boy, sitting on an embankment close to the trunk of a huge old tree, recites the lines from Hamlet, “Are you honest?” A girl, standing nearby, answers with the lines of Ophelia, “My lord?” The boy continues, “Are you fair?” The girl again responds with a question, “What means your lordship?” “That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty. I did love you once.” “Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.” “You should not have believed me, I loved you not.” She closes with, “I was the more deceived.” The movement of the air is all about them. The grasses waving gently, the branches of the trees swaying in their prescribed arcs, the leaves shimmering with the light of day.

In the darkness, Astrid (Maren Eggert) climbs over a fence under a shroud of trees and dense shrubbery. Gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar (M. Ward’s cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”) accompanies her as she runs through the trees to a place she knows well. “Let’s dance. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.” She lies face down on the ground holding onto a gravestone. “Let’s dance. To the song they’re playin’ on the radio.” Lying there, she falls asleep and is visited by a little quail that walks over her hand, steps up close to her face, and looks at her inquisitively. She is remembering a time at the hospital when she and the children, Philip (Jakob Lasalle) and Flo (Clara Möller), performed a little dance for him. They had practiced the choreography so that their movements would be in unison and as they made each gesture together it made her smile. Through an opening in the tree branches above where she lay, a single star shines brightly in the night sky.

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6. A Hidden Life directed by Terrence Malick

The green of the earth, the blue of the sky, the wind in the trees, the shimmering leaves, the sound of the birds, the waves of wheat, the people harvesting grain, the miller grinding flour, the baker baking bread, the women doing laundry, the chattering of children, the church bells ringing, the sound of water running, the passing of the seasons, the quiet of snow, the first flowers of spring. This world where we live, it is a good place, it suits us. We should be happy here, but, unfortunately, evil lurks in the hearts of men.

Shunned by his friends and neighbors, taken away from his wife, Fani (Valerie Pachner), and his three daughters, Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) sits in prison, facing death, because he is unable to do a thing he believes to be wrong. Shuffling his shackled feet down a corridor, passing by the cells of his fellow inmates, sitting on the edge of the bed in his cell, seeing the light streaming through a window, his constant prayer, “You, my shepherd. You make me lie down in green pastures. By the river of life. You, my strength, you show me the path. You, our light, darkness is not dark to you. Bring us to your eternal light. To you, the true, the never-failing light.”

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7. Tommaso directed by Abel Ferrara

The sun shines brightly on the ancient buildings, the noisy traffic fills the street, the wide sidewalk is dark and shady under a row of old trees. Tommaso (Willem Dafoe), an American living in Rome, is on his way home after the class in Italian he’s been taking. He drops into a crowded coffee shop for a quick espresso. Smiling, nodding, he makes his way to the counter and chats briefly, speaking Italian, with one of the waitresses he knows. He steps into another little shop, selects two heads of garlic and breaks them from the garlic braids hanging on the wall. Looking through the bins, he asks about radicchio trevigiano. The shopkeeper answers, “No, trevigiano is not now.”

Tomasso lives with his wife, Nikki (Cristina Chiriac), and his three-year-old daughter, Deedee (Anna Ferrara). He takes Deedee to the park to play on the swings and gets her an ice cream cone. As a recovering alcoholic six years sober, he is trying to be there for this child as he wasn’t for his other children. When they return home, Nikki takes Deedee to get cleaned up and Tomasso then sits down to write. He is a writer, a filmmaker, an actor, and sometimes a teacher. In his acting class he leads his students through a series of exercises designed to lower their inhibitions, “It’s important to find the gesture in an organic way.” They dance around the room following each other in a circle waving their arms wildly and laughing hysterically. When they stop, Tommaso goes on to explain, “I like very much the idea of distraction, for me performing has always been about control and abandon, so these distracting things we do that don’t seem to go together, it makes you more emotionally available. We all know it in life when we do things and we forget about ourselves and we’re doing the action in a pure way, that’s when we get closer to experiencing, for me, the beauty of life.”

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8. Uncut Gems directed by Josh and Benny Safdie

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a Manhattan Diamond District jeweller and a basketball fan, is excited. Kevin Garnett, star player for the Boston Celtics, has entered his shop with the idea of looking for a new watch. “KG — KG, you gotta come here. All right? I gotta show you something.” Howard wants to show Garnett an Ethiopian black opal he has recently acquired. “It’s right here, that’s the rock, that’s the stone.” Howard’s enthusiasm is contagious. Garnett cradles the stone in his hands, “Let me see this, man.” Howard takes the jeweler’s loupe from around his neck and hands it to Garnett, “That’s history right there, you understand.” Garnett, looking through the loupe, is mesmerized, “Why’s it got so many colors in it? Man, what is this?” Howard turns his head toward his assistant, Julia (Julia Fox), exchanging complicit smiles, “That’s the thing. They say you can see the whole universe in opals, that’s how old they are. That’s why I wanted you to see it. From stone to stone, garnet’s a stone, you know that.”

Seeking meaning in the excitement of the present moment, a compulsive sensation-seeker with a reckless disregard for risk, be it physical, social, legal, or financial, existentially addicted to the adrenaline rush of the next big score, for Howard life has to be a headlong kinetic assault that doesn’t stop — until it does, then the search continues, into the cosmos.

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9. Joan of Arc directed by Bruno Dumont

Among the sandy dunes of the Pas de Calais, its slopes covered with dune grass and holly, the wind blows gently. Still wearing her battle armor, Jeanne (Lise Leplat Prudhomme) gets down on one knee in the sand to pray. She puts her hands together and raises her arms in a gesture of supplication. She is young, still a child really, and she struggles a little to hold her balance as she tilts her head toward the heavens. She stands, and with one hand holding up the standard and the other hand on her belt, she looks out resolutely as the breeze plays with the loose strands of her hair. She looks up, a large white cloud floats in the deep blue sky, it moves aside and the sun shines brightly on the land.

Jeanne, seated on a horse, wearing her armor and bearing the standard, the visor of her helmet tipped up, surveys her army of soldiers, also on horseback, standing in a line before her. Then, a corps of drummers begin beating out time. The men on horses divide into four groups and start a procession around Jeanne who remains stationary in the center of the field. The four groups circle around the four corners of the field and back again enacting an intricate choreography of circles, cloverleafs, and opposing parallel lines. As the ceremony comes to an end, Jeanne sits still, her head tilted slightly upwards, her eyes closed , basking in the warmth of the moment.

In reenacting the trial of Joan of Arc, Dumont is in dialogue with cinema history. The story that has inspired so many filmmakers since the earliest days of cinema still has the power to captivate an audience. From the first short films of Georges Hatot (1898) and George Méliès (1899) to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and Robert Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962), her story continues to cast a spell. Dumont’s casting of Lise Leplat Prudhomme, a young actor of undeniable presence, evokes remembrance of the great Falconetti.

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10. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood directed by Quentin Tarantino

Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) drives down the highway in her little black Porsche 911 coupe, Buffy Sainte-Marie singing on the radio, “And the seasons they go round and round, And the painted ponies go up and down,” arriving in Westwood Village, she leaves the car to a parking lot attendant. Walking down the street in her little white miniskirt and matching white go-go boots, she puts on her sunglasses, her long blonde hair floating on the air behind her, and looking around she suddenly stops, a smile on her face, she sees her name on the marquee of the Westwood Bruin. She walks up to the theater and stops to look at the poster for The Wrecking Crew. Seeing her name on the poster, she smiles again and then turns and crosses the street. She goes into a bookstore to pick-up a book she had ordered, a first edition of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” a present for her husband’s birthday. On her way back, she passes the Bruin again, she stops to look at the lobby cards framed on the wall. Seeing the pictures of herself, she decides to go in. When the girl in the ticket booth says, “Seventy-five cents,” she starts to reach into her purse but then thinks to ask, “What if I’m in the movie?” When she says, “I’m Sharon Tate,” the manager comes out. Obviously pleased, he invites her in to see the show. She makes her way in the darkness, finds a seat down close to the screen and, sitting down with a big smile on her face, puts on her glasses. Her character appears on the screen, taking a pratfall, sprawled on the floor, she says, “I’m Freya.” The audience in the theater laughs loudly. Sharon looks around, pleased at the response, beaming, she leans back and puts her bare feet on the seat in front of her. When the movie comes to the part where she has a big action scene, she puts her feet down and leans forward. Watching herself performing karate moves on the screen, she holds her breath in delight. She remembers how hard she worked, under the tutelage of Bruce Lee, to get every move exactly right. Sitting in the theater, she reprises the hand gestures as she watches herself perform them on the screen. As the scene ends, the audience claps and cheers. She is so pleased she can’t stop grinning. Coming out of the theater, the sun is going down, the marquee lights have come on, and as she walks back to her car, Jose Feliciano singing, “All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey,” we have come to the realization that Sharon Tate is the angel that watches over Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood.

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Runners-up – limited to ten and listed in alphabetical order:

First Cow directed by Kelly Reichardt
Invisible Life directed by Karim Aïnouz
Joker directed by Todd Phillips
Little Women directed by Greta Gerwig
Marriage Story directed by Noah Baumbach
Pain and Glory directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Parasite directed by Bong Joon-ho
A Rainy Day in New York directed by Woody Allen
The Truth directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Varda by Agnès directed by Agnès Varda

And lastly the films I haven’t been able to see yet:

About Endlessness directed by Roy Andersson
Bacurau directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles
The Halt directed by Lav Diaz
Liberté directed by Albert Serra
Martin Eden directed by Pietro Marcello
An Officer and a Spy directed by Roman Polanski
Oh Mercy directed by Arnaud Desplechin
The Painted Bird directed by Václav Marhoul

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By Duane Porter


With the advent of modernism almost a century and a half ago, art works such as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and now The Other Side of the Wind have taken their place alongside the investigations of science and philosophy as a means toward understanding the nature of the universe. Art, rather than aspiring to mimesis, now becomes a consideration of perception and consciousness. It is when art ceases to be about something external to itself that it then begins to be about everything.

Although the themes of The Other Side of the Wind (friendship, collaboration, betrayal, guilt) are typically Wellesian it is the extremity of multiple styles in the film that is a surprise. A postmodern montage of cinematic perception (video, super-8 and 16 mm footage both black and white and color) resulting in a disparate découpage structurally juxtaposed with the formal modernism of the film within the film (on 35mm color) jars our sensibilities just enough to momentarily disrupt our equilibrium allowing us to see things with an immediacy we don’t normally have. As our balance is quickly restored we may find that we have gained, through a glimpse of self recognition, a clearer view of what is real.

The long overdue release of this film should help to renew our awareness of the importance of Orson Welles to cinema. As an uncompromising artist working in an unforgiving capitalist medium, he was in trouble from the moment Citizen Kane failed at the box-office. Although, as he occasionally said, he would’ve liked a mass audience, he wasn’t willing or even able to make films for the masses. His never-ceasing passion kept him working despite relentless adversity. As an independent filmmaker ignored by Hollywood he sought financing elsewhere, often working as an actor in the movies of others or making television commercials to get a paycheck, increasingly working outside the mainstream of commercial cinema, making the most of limited resources with innovative experimentation, he never stopped making his own movies. It is his importance as an artist that ultimately even exceeds his films. The legacy of Orson Welles stands as a monument to the autonomy of art. (more…)

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by Duane Porter

Art is art regardless of where you find it, in an art gallery or in the street, in a theater or on television. Art does not have to be didactic, edifying, decorative, or entertaining. As Marcel Duchamp demonstrated over a century ago, it doesn’t have to be anything at all. Embracing this uncertainty, it’s possible to think of art as research, inquiry into the unknown and perhaps the unknowable. It is also possible to think of looking at art as research. Looking can be an end in itself and a means to an end. Looking thus becomes a dynamic synthesis of perception and consciousness. Being aware of perception and conscious of consciousness, transcending the day-to-day habit of only seeing what we expect to see, an encounter with art can be an encounter with illumination. Illumination, an emergent property of the act of looking, serves self-knowledge enabling one to construct a more comprehensive worldview and with it, a more meaningful life.

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1. Twin Peaks: The Return directed by David Lynch

01_Twin Peaks

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is careening through the space-time continuum. A vertiginous freefall as depicted in Scotty’s nightmare in Vertigo (1958). Cooper’s face blurred and shaken fills the screen accompanied by a violent whooshing sound. The light from a myriad of stars streaks through the void. A roiling cloud forms amid violet-colored vapors. Cooper passes through and lands in a heap on the balcony of a massive metal structure rising out of a purple-tinted sea. Hearing the sound of the waves, feeling lost and confused, he stands and looks out over this never-ending otherworldly ocean. Looking around, there is a window he is able to enter. The inside vibrates with a dense electronic hum broken by random glitches, zszczch! A woman with no eyes (Nae Yuuki) wearing a red velvet dress is sitting on a couch in front of a fireplace. She turns toward him and nods. The room reverberates strangely as if time is stuttering, zszczch, zszczch! Everything seems to be moving forward and backward at the same time. He reaches out and takes the hand of the woman, he hears music and looks around the room. He asks, “Where is this? Where are we?” She pulls him down beside her, running her hands up his sleeves, she begins to feel his face. She tries to speak but is unable to form words. He is startled by a loud banging. She shushes him, putting a finger to her lips. The banging continues, the walls shake. She becomes frantic. The banging is deafening. She leads him away through a door to a small room with a ladder. They go up the ladder, pass through a trap door, and step onto the top of a metal box floating in space, stars twinkling all around them. He sees a bell-shaped structure there equipped with pressure guages and a lever. The banging continues. The woman tries to tell Cooper something but he is unable to understand her. Sidling close to the edge, she reaches for the lever and pulls it down. Electricity crackles and runs through her body. She is shaken and thrown into space. Cooper reaches for her but can only watch helplessly as she disappears. The banging has stopped. He goes back inside. Another woman (Phoebe Augustine) in a red dress sits before the fire. He begins to move toward the woman, she turns her head to look at him and then checks her watch. A lamp switches on next to an electric panel set in the wall. Moving closer to the panel he feels an electrical force field and hesitates. The woman tells him, “When you get there you will already be there.” The banging begins again. The woman says, “You’d better hurry, my mother’s coming.” The electric panel has a large outlet at it’s center. As Cooper moves closer, he appears to dematerialize and is drawn into the outlet, all except for his shoes which fall to the floor.

July 16, 1945, White Sands, New Mexico, 5:29 AM (MWT) a countdown begins, 10, 9 . . .3, 2, 1. The discordant strains of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) accompany a blindingly bright flash of light that obliterates the landscape. An ominous cloud shaped like a mushroom grows up from the desert floor. Great clouds of dust and debris ride the radiating shock-wave. The shrieking screaming of the Threnody builds as inside the growing mushroom swirling vapors of black and white intertwine. Fiery flashes give way to chaotic particles dancing in darkness. The Threnody becomes a droning as the particles begin to swarm like a plague of locusts. Momentarily resuming their dance, the particles increase to a frantic infinitude of bright dots and streaks resembling a film by Brakhage. As the Threnody reaches a crescendo billowing whorls of fire coalesce into explosians of color, red, green, blue, violet and yellow. Then, out of black and white clouds, appears a convenience store with two gas pumps out front. In the darkness, a steamy vapor rises amid sputtering dimensional glitches of static and bright flashes of light inside the store. A group of men converge in front of the store and seem to be pacing about in random patterns as the static and bright flashes continue. They gather inside as the flashes of light intensify and the store and the ground it sits on begin to disruptively shake. All grows dark and a calmness descends. A figure (Erica Eynon) in the darkness spews from its mouth a stream of foam and bubbles looking much like a latex sculpture by Eva Hesse. From within this gooey fecund mass a black bubble comes to the surface containing BOB (Frank Silva), the embodiment of evil let loose in the world by the deeds of men. The Threnody bursts forth again as a conflagration of fire and dark energy erupts with fiery explosions. From the heart of this inferno comes forth a golden seed, closer and closer, until it fills the entire screen. On the strains of the Threnody, a vision of hurtling through the space-time continuum recalls the stargate sequence in Kubrick’s 2001 (1968), coming again to a vast purple sea, the sound of wind and waves all around, a modernist castle, like something out of the films of Fritz Lang, rests atop a towering pinnacle of rock. Inside, a woman named Dido (Joy Nash) sits listening to a gramophone. A very tall gaunt-looking man (Carel Struycken) slowly climbs a carpeted stairway and enters into a large auditorium that contains a movie screen but no seats. On the screen, he is shown the events that led up to the birth of BOB. With an expression of disquiet on his face, he floats toward the ceiling. Dido comes into the room and watches in wonder as a stream of golden particles issue from the top of his head forming a cloud out of which a golden orb floats down into Dido’s reaching hands. Looking into the orb, she sees the angelic face of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), she kisses it and sends it out into the world.

It’s nightfall as Agent Cooper and Carrie Page (Sheryl Lee) pull out of Odessa. The headlights probing into the darkness illuminate the white lines of the lost highway. Two lights appear in the rear window and seem to hover there. Sensing dread, Carrie turns her head and looks back. The lights continue to hover there. After a few long minutes, Carrie looks back again, anxiety showing in her face. Cooper glances in the rearview mirror but keeps his attention on the road ahead. Carrie looks back a third time and asks, “Is someone following us?” Cooper looks in the rearview mirror again but says nothing. Time passes slowly until, at last, the lights overtake them and a car passes and moves on ahead. Carrie, breathing a sigh of relief, leans back in her seat and closes her eyes. On and on they drive, the white lines flashing by in the dark induce a sense of interdimensional uncertainty. Crossing a bridge, they pull into Twin Peaks. It is late at night, everything is closed and no one is out on the street. Driving through town, Cooper looks over at Carrie and asks, “Do you recognize anything?” He parks across the street in front of the Palmer house and shuts off the engine. “Do you recognize that house?” She says, “no.” He takes her by the hand and leads her up to the front door. He asks for Sarah Palmer but the people living in the house know no one by that name. Cooper and Carrie walk slowly toward their car. Stopping in the middle of the street, they both turn around and look back at the house. Cooper, looking for a clue and straining to understand asks himself, “What year is this?” Carrie looks up at the house again, recognition gradually seeping into her consciousness, she faintly hears someone call out, “Laura!” Suddenly she is overcome by a shattering hysteria, erupting in shrieking anguish. The lights on the street glitch and splutter, zszczch! zszczch! and all goes dark.

A memory of something I once heard long ago comes into my head, “. . . the feeling of something half remembered . . . the face in the misty light, footsteps that you hear down the hall, the laugh that floats on a summer night . . . that was Laura but she’s only a dream.”

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David Lynch is in his studio working on a painting, the paint is thickly textured on the canvas. The image is dark, almost black. Putting his brush aside, he sits back in his chair, lights a cigarette, a cloud of smoke gathering above his head, and he looks at the painting. There is a suggestion of a figure in the darkness, blurry and indistinct, an organic body inhabiting a physical space, reminiscent of the distressed bodies in the paintings of Francis Bacon. Looking at the painting he begins to wonder what it might be like if the wind were blowing through it. Dreamlike the images on the canvas begin to move swaying to and fro reflecting the uncertainty of the physical world. Attempting to grasp an image rising from perceptions passing through the nervous system into consciousness, he picks up the brush and begins moving the paint, his gestural brushstrokes leave tracks on the thick impasto surface, pressing harder he uses his fingers to manipulate the textures and spaces, openly experimenting to see what happens, where it will go. Lynch explains, “The more you throw black into a colour, the more dreamy it gets. . . Black is depth. It’s like a little egress; you can go into it, and because it keeps on continuing to be dark, the mind kicks in, and a lot of things that are going on in there become manifest. And you start seeing what you’re afraid of. You start seeing what you love, and it becomes like a dream.” In the years since Inland Empire (2006), his paintings have admitted more color and light while continuing to look into a resolute darkness. His art is one of philosophical and personal inquiry using language, light, motion, sound, and texture to explore the ungraspable nature of reality. For years, he has practiced a systematic meditation seeking a sort of hyperconsciousness, working toward a connection with the universal consciousness of ultimate reality. In his view, it is for this that we exist.

During the late 1960s David Lynch was an art student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia. It was here, David Lynch: the Unified Field, 2014, the first major U.S. exhibition of his artworks was held. An extensive retrospective selection of paintings, assemblage, photography, and graphic works, as well as the multi-media Six Men Getting Sick (1967). Also included were several of his early short films that were made in Philadelphia. Less than two miles away from the Academy, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (1946-66) can be found. In a half-lit alcove there is a door made of ancient darkened rough-hewn wood set into an arched brick border, many visitors pass it by with only a cursory glance, but behind the door is a room-size diorama, a scene of pastoral eroticism rendered with a disturbingly provocative naturalism, a hole in a brick wall reveals the life-size figure of a nude woman lying on a bed of twigs holding in her upraised arm a gas lamp that illuminates a scenic landscape containing a running waterfall. Stepping up close to the door and pressing one’s eyes to a pair of peepholes, the disconcerted viewer has become the voyeur. The Philadelphia Museum holds the largest collection of Duchamp’s work to be found anywhere and the spirit of Dada and Surrealism pervades the cultural atmosphere of the city. Even though David Lynch claims to not have been much of a museum goer, he was much affected by the time he spent in Philadelphia. Twin Peaks: The Return can be seen as an extension of his greater body of work referencing the early films, The Grandmother (1970) and Eraserhead (1977), many of the paintings and drawings such as Woman with Screaming Head (1968), So This is Love (1992), and Pete Goes to His Girlfriend’s House (2009), as well as the feature films Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Dr. (2001). If the value of art, and I believe it is, is to alter consciousness, to allow us to see the world differently than we saw it before, then David Lynch is indeed one of the major artists of our time.

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2. On the Beach at Night Alone directed by Hong Sangsoo

02_On a Beach at Night Alone Kim Min-hee

Younghee (Kim Minhee) visiting her friend, Jeeyoung (Seo Younghwa), in Hamburg, sits on the living room sofa amusing herself with a small electric keyboard on her lap. Clear soft light from a window brightens a bouquet of purple flowers standing in a jar on a low table at her feet. Going out, Younghee and Jeeyoung walk under an overpass as a train goes by overhead. Looking up, a large leafless tree is silhouetted against the overcast sky. Walking side by side with hands in coatpockets through the green expanse of the city park, they pass others, a boy on a bicycle, a woman with a stroller, someone has a large black dog. A man in a dark coat and knit cap stops them to ask the time, they look at each other and don’t answer, he goes on. Across the park stands the Hamburg Planetarium with its domed rooftop symmetrically framed by a grove of trees to each side. Jeeyoung walks by with Younghee a few steps behind her, figures passing through the frame. Approaching a small footbridge with slightly arched mossy wood railings, Jeeyoung proceeds directly across but Younghee hesitates. She stops, Jeeyoung looks back at her but continues on across, stopping to look back again from the other side. As Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major fills the air, Younghee falls to her knees and bows down, her head nearly touching the ground. Jeeyoung stands and waits, turns away and looks at the ground. A few moments pass, Younghee rises and walks across the bridge. (more…)

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by Duane Porter

This selection is restricted to films that premiered somewhere in the world during 2016. My top pick was first shown February 2016 at the Berlin International Film Festival. I was finally able to see it on a Region 2 DVD imported from Spain almost a year later. It just received a limited release in the U.S. a few weeks ago. Six of my ten were first shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. All but one of these had a U.S. release last year but I had to wait until March of this year to see my number three pick. Such are the difficulties of trying to come up with a definitive list of the films that matter most to me.

I found 2016 to be an unusually rich year for international cinema. There were a larger number of quality films, making my selection of ten much more difficult than in any past year that I recall. It’s also interesting to note that four of my ten best were directed by women. I don’t think this has ever happened before and one can hope that this is an indication of better things to come.

I should mention that there are always some films that I haven’t yet seen (not to mention the hundreds I don’t know about or barely know about), most notably Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu), A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery (Lav Diaz), Slack Bay (Bruno Dumont), The Death of Louis XIV (Albert Serra), Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello), Staying Vertical (Alain Guiraudie), and The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz).

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1. A Quiet Passion directed by Terence Davies

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Evening in the Dickinson home, the young Emily (Emma Bell) sits reading, a small book in the palm of her left hand. A flickering light illuminates her face with a warm soft glow. Turning a page, she raises her head and looks to her right. In voice-over we hear the older Emily (Cynthia Nixon) reciting one of her poems, “The heart asks pleasure first.” The camera begins a slow pan in the direction of her gaze. The voice-over continues, “and then, excuse from pain; and then, those little anodynes that deaden suffering.” The camera passes over Aunt Elizabeth (Annette Badland) sitting on a sofa barely able to keep herself awake and the recitation comes to a close, “and then, to go to sleep; and then, if it should be the will of its Inquisitor, the liberty to die.” The movement of the camera continues its way around the room. There is a vase of flowers and a burning lamp next to Emily’s father, Edward (Keith Carradine), intently reading, with a book in one hand and his head resting on the other. Behind him seated at a table under a large lamp is her brother, Austin (Benjamin Wainwright and later Duncan Duff), also reading. Across from him is their sister, Vinnie (Rose Williams and later Jennifer Ehle), working on her embroidery. Now the camera comes to the mother (Joanna Bacon) who is sitting in an armchair near the fireplace gazing longingly into the fire. A lamp casts its glow on two books, lying on a small table next to her, unread. Passing by curtains covering a darkened window, the camera moves downward attending to the fire crackling in the fireplace and then up to the top of the piano where sits two burning candles, a decanter of wine and an empty glass, and then two more candles burning. Coming to another small table holding flowers in a vase and an unlit lamp, the camera has made its way around the room and back to Emily once again. No longer reading, her face betrays a plaintive sadness. (more…)

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01_lajetee-orly-airport

By Duane Porter

Nothing distinguishes memories from ordinary moments. It is only later that they claim remembrance. By their scars. — Chris Marker, La Jetée

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Writer, editor, photographer, filmmaker, world traveler, archivist and multimedia/installation artist, unclassifiable and without boundaries. Born Christian-François Bouche-Villeneuve on 29 July 1921 at Neuilly-sur-Seine, an exclusive suburb of Paris, Chris Marker has sought to circumvent the expectations and limitations associated with background and class by choosing a name that might belong to anyone and that is easily pronounced anywhere. Working under various pseudonyms, avoiding interviews and photographs, and being somewhat evasive regarding his biography, Marker maintained a certain level of anonymity that has proved useful in his work. Beginning in January 1947, he published poems, short stories, and essays in the eclectic intellectual journal, Esprit. Also among his early works are one novel, Le Coeur net (1949), about airmail pilots in Indo-China after the war, and a critical monograph of playwright Jean Giraudoux (1952). He became increasingly interested in film, writing essays on Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, Cocteau’s Orphée, and Carl Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, among others. Having mastered the personal essay, inspired by a love for word and image, he ventured into filmmaking with Olympia 52 (1952), an account of the Helsinki Olympic Games. His second film was actually his first, begun two years before Olympia 52 but not finished until one year after, Statues Also Die (1953), co-directed with his friend, Alain Resnais. Being about African art and the effects of colonialism on traditional cultures, it was banned by the French government for its criticisms of colonialism and wasn’t seen in it’s entirety until 1968. Several distinctive essayistic travel documentaries followed, A Sunday in Peking (1956), Letter from Siberia (1958), Description of a Struggle (1960), and Cuba sí! (1961), firmly establishing his association with the essay film. Marker considers his work up to this time to be merely a rough draft, maintaining that his filmmaking career began in 1962 when he began work on Le jolie mai (1963), an intimate interrogatory account of Paris during May 1962 in the days following the close of the Algerian War. It was during breaks in the shooting for Le jolie mai that he made most of the photographs that make up La Jetée, a 27 minute post-apocalyptic love story made up almost entirely of black and white still photographs. A meditation on time and memory that is also a reflection on the nature of the photographic image. A photograph being a perception of immediate reality, an image of the present that instantly becomes the past, a photograph is always a memory.

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1_her-shanghai

by Duane Porter
“The present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting. This second is life. And when it is gone it is dead.” — Sylvia Plath

Considering science fiction as a genre with it’s own codes and conventions, among the many well-worn themes it might focus on is what will the future be like. Dare we hope for utopia or is the opposite more likely? Science fiction often presents a cautionary tale concerning the potential consequences of our relationship with technology, playing on our fear of the unknown, foreseeing a technological dystopia where artificial intelligence has come into conflict with humanity (man-versus-machine). At it’s best, science fiction can offer a speculation using ideas derived from scientific research to shed light on the problem of our awareness of mortality (the human condition) and the withering indifference of the universe (space, time and infinity). On the basis of these criteria, Her surely qualifies as a science fiction film. It begins as a look at the future with an uncertain concern over the relationship between people and their mobile devices and how this affects social behavior. Then, at it’s center, Her becomes an uncommonly perceptive account of falling in love. Ultimately, it ends up being about something else, a reflection on the nature of consciousness and the mysteries of existence.

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by Duane Porter

Looking back at the films of last year. Adding another chapter to the ongoing history of cinema. A history of light and shadow, color and movement, music and sounds. Trying to look directly at the screen and see what is there without preconception or bias. These are the films that meant the most to me. A history of ancient China that unfolds with all the beauty of poetry and painting. A quirky homage to the screwball comedies of the past. A story of desire playing out during a time of repression. A documentary essay on aging, mortality, and the bond between a mother and daughter. A documentary/fantasy critique of the economic-political climate of modern Portugal. An action blockbuster that appealed to both the arthouse and the megaplex and even won a few academy awards. An avant-garde recreation of lost films from nearly a century ago. A highly personal spiritual quest that moves slowly through a beautiful world. A surprising single-take afterhours spree that suddenly morphs into a heist film. And even another cerebral sci-fi contemplation on humanity and artificial intelligence.

As is always the case, there are many films that I have been unable to see. Most notably, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor, Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days, Hong Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then, Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart, Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women, and Andrzej Żuławski’s Cosmos. Any one of these might force a change in this line-up. But, as it stands today, these are my ten favorite films of 2015.

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1. The Assassin directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

1_Assassin 2015WitD

Through diaphanous veils and reflections of candle flames hanging in the air, we see Lord Tian (Chang Chin) return to the side of Huji (Hsieh Hsin-Ying), his favorite concubine, after having confronted the assassin. She shows him a jade medallion she has found in their rooms that matches his own. (more…)

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WitD Beehive 01

by Duane Porter

“Once upon a time, somewhere on the Castilian plain, around 1940,” a truck rolls past the signpost for Hoyuelos. Excited children gather around it as it pulls to a stop. “The movie’s coming! The movie’s coming!” Film cans and a projector are unloaded and carried into the town hall. A woman blows on a small horn and announces ticket prices for a showing of Frankenstein (the 1931 film directed by James Whale) to be held at five o’clock that evening.

Inside the makeshift theater, the people gather before a big movie screen hung on the wall opposite the door. Everyone carries in their own chair, the children hurrying to place theirs closest to the screen. The lights go out and the film begins with a friendly word of caution for those of delicate sensibilities. Beware, this movie will be about man’s transgression into God’s domain, the creation of life and its inevitable death. Everyone listens intently, the children wide-eyed, one man lights a cigarette. (more…)

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by Duane Porter

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past few months concerning the state of cinema in 2014. Many seem to feel that it was a decidedly mediocre year for movies. I can agree, there have been years when it seemed that something wonderful opened every week during October, November, and especially, December. This was not one of those years. But, when all is said and done, 2014 has been a truly fabulous year. Living far from New York, L.A., and any of the major film festivals, It has taken a lot longer this year for me to have an opportunity to see the ten films that comprise this list, but, they were there all along.

1. Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson01_Inherent Vice, 2014, WitD

“She came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to. Doc hadn’t seen her for over a year. Nobody had. Back then it was always sandals, bottom half of a flower-print bikini, faded Country Joe & the Fish T-shirt. Tonight she was all in flatland gear, hair a lot shorter than he remembered, looking just like she swore she’d never look.”

“That you, Shasta?”

“Need your help, Doc.”

Disguised as a detective story, riffing on The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye, it’s really a picaresque whimsy on which to hang a poem about the passage of time and the sense of loss. What’s it all about? It doesn’t matter any more than it did in The Big Sleep. Often obliquely funny but drenched in a soul-numbing sadness, Inherent Vice is a metaphor for the built-in unavoidable fleeting nature of all things human.

All things human and and all the things humans strive for, just when we think we’ve caught sight of nirvana it always seems to slip away as if there is some dark force holding us back. “Was it possible, that at every gathering — concert, peace rally, love-in, be-in, and freak-in, here, up north, back East, wherever — those dark crews had been busy all along, reclaiming the music, the resistance to power, the sexual desire from epic to everyday, all they could sweep up, for the ancient forces of greed and fear?”

As Doc and Shasta drive into the fog, the glow of headlights passing over their faces, Shasta says, “Being with you is like being under the sea, where the whole world ceases to matter.” Doc says, “But it doesn’t mean we’re back together.” She replies, “Of course not.” (more…)

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1 troubleinparadise WitD

By Duane Porter

In the darkness, light filters through the glass panes of a closed door. A man steps up and takes hold of a garbage can that has been left outside the door. He carries it to the edge of a canal and adds it’s contents to the already huge pile of garbage in his waiting gondola. Setting down the empty can, he exuberantly breaks into song with “O Sole Mio” as he pushes off on his way down the canal. This is Ernst Lubitsch’s Venice.

Having just pulled off an audacious robbery, master thief Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall), posing as some sort of baron, is making plans to have a most romantic dinner with a beautiful visiting countess.

“It must be the most marvelous supper. We may not eat it, but it must be marvelous.”

“And, waiter. You see that moon?”

“Yes, Baron.”

“I want to see that moon in the champagne.”

The countess arrives in a fluster, worried that she has been seen entering his rooms and that, surely, a scandal will ensue. His suave soothing manner seems to put her at ease and they start the evening with a kiss and a cocktail. She is Lily Vautier (Miriam Hopkins), but she is no more a countess than he is a baron. As the evening progresses, they each become aware that neither is who they purport to be. She has lifted a wallet from his pocket and guesses it to be from the earlier robbery, news of which has traveled very fast. Not easily taken unaware, Gaston now knows that his guest is a charming little pickpocket. He grabs her by the shoulders and shakes her until the wallet falls to the floor. He picks it up, puts it in his pocket, and resumes his dinner. Delighted, they begin returning various items they have taken from each other. He has her pin. She has his watch. They are surprised and excited by the other’s prowess. (more…)

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