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 © 2021 James Clark

      Having finally, in the preceding essay, L’Avventura, ventured upon the cues of poet-film writer, Tonino Guerra, one might proceed with gusto upon the second campaign, namely, La Notte (The Night), 1961.

However, before thrilling to a rare lucidity from Guerra, I must describe how wrong my first impressions of this film were. (Not that it matters what I did; but there is a lapse which everyone involved has missed, a crucial mistake.) In those days, Antonioni could do no wrong in my eyes. But an anonymous note which I stumbled upon back in 2013 for a blog , in Wonders in the Dark, concerning La Notte, and promptly forgot, might have wakened me up a bit. The preamble of the “behind the scenes,” involved another fan, shoring up the Antonioni line. “I’ve become fascinated in gradually realizing that almost the full complement of this indie—yes—but also guerrilla art, had been met with censure. It was something of a jolt to learn that the film on tap here, La Notte, hinged upon two great performers (and specialists to boots) concerning problematic incitement, namely, Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, who hated this assignment and did not take seriously the roles they were to sustain. Mastroianni, in particular, spent quite a bit of time on the set quarrelling with one of the writers, Tonino Guerra. And that rancor, with its behind the scenes clutter, cues our special concern here, regarding the precise nature of Antonioni’s pristine closures within complex and even Byzantine involvement by associates, though contrarian with regard to conventional filmmaking, unlikely to have absorbed the unique physicality of his inspiration.”

One more time: “… unlikely to have absorbed the unique physicality? ” The unique physicality was entirely the initiative of that trouble-maker!

Let’s see if I can make amends.

Guerra, the necessary “nuisance,” would have constructed for the Antonioni appellation, a seeming hot intellectual subject, namely, “alienation,” wherein to place a far more comprehensive and far more profound demand. Right from the opening credits, with a steep, steady drop of an empty glass elevator, there is an oblique indication that human authority has stepped back a move. We’re in Milano, with its heady schemes, but that steady fall steals the show. Very soon a moving car with a man and a woman on board, nearly becomes crushed by a wreckless heavy- construction worker. The escapees use an elevator to reach a friend in a hospital. As they approach their destination, we notice that each of them conveys a remarkably vivid shadow. We imagine that the anxiety here (terminal cancer) has been given a graphic form. That form, with its mundane, shadow aspect, can stand as a promise that another  force has to be reckoned with, despite being lost to the “realists.” During this event, we notice varying intensity (including that of the victim and the victim’s  mother); and, sometimes, also no shadow at all. This forum of potential mystery and potential power consists by way of an agency unseen per se. But when one has an inkling to be fully alive, that constituent will see what one’s made of. The elevator was an entrée. The rest of the saga is out of this world. (more…)

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 © 2021 James Clark

 

    There is a supposition, in mature film feature production, that the director calls the shots because he or she knows passionately what needs to be disclosed. Michelangelo Antonioni, an icon for many, has handsomely benefitted from the rather feudal strictures whereby a mere screenwriter becomes a dime a dozen, and all the couth comes to the likes of Antonioni. Well and good, if the boss man delivers. I certainly imagined that Antonioni had delivered. Now, I don’t.

After a very tardy study, I’ve realized that Antonioni’s films of the 50’s (which I barely noticed), were sentimental melodramas, precisely what a patrician/ aesthete with an influential father could manage, for a middling career. (Moreover, in a trump card, he often came to construct a suicide hand. Take that, cruel world!) That was why Ingmar Bergman loathed him. But he missed the brilliance to come. A film like Il Grido (1957), does have much to offer. But it’s not what we can’t do without. We began to find Antonioni films to be necessary only after Tonino Guerra became part (a very big part) of the picture.

Guerra’s family emerged as illiterate farmers. He, himself, chose poetry over farming. During the War, while Antonioni dabbled with rebellious leaflets and became arrested for it and quickly released by his father; Guerra, also, a rhetorical enemy of fascism, spent two years in a German jail for it. The ensuing involvement, as you might imagine, was not friendly. Not friendly, but productive.  (There are documents to indicate that they seldom had a day without a flaming and protracted blow-up. Antonioni unready to grow up; and Guerra ready to delight.) The genius of Antonioni being actually the genius of Guerra, not simply in dialogue, but even more critically, the marshalling and pacing of manifestation. (more…)

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 © 2021 James Clark

 

     In the film, Nostalgia (1983), filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky is never more in debt to Ingmar Bergman while, at the same time, being never more himself. The vitriolic concerns by which Bergman introduces his hopefuls are masterpieces of destruction. With Tarkovsky, though, it is not the famous few films, like, Wild Strawberries and Persona, but rather, films very unlikely having ever  been heard of, let alone seen. For a study of pestilence, though, our helmsman today knew what was cooking. Therefore, we’re set upon by, particularly, All These Women(1964) and Waiting Women (1952).

As for the personal input, we have Tarkovsky being aware that he would be dead very soon by way of incurable cancer. The waves of reverie and drama in this film muster forces of rare incisiveness.

We encounter a Russian writer, Andrei Gorchakov, supposedly at work upon a study of a seventeen century Russian composer, who worked in Italy. He is as bored with the task as we are. Fortunately, that protagonist with serious misgivings, ignores the pedantry and learns a bit about life. (He is in the second year of being away from his wife and two children. He is shackled to an Italian interpreter who is fluent in Russian, beautiful and, in his view, crushingly boring. What happens?)

It reminds us of the “noted [patrician] expert” of music (who isn’t, at all), in the film, All These Women, where pretty and empty creatures (a harem, in fact) become crushingly boring. Andrei, though, with that sketchy history in tow, will show us another being not strong enough, though strong enough to feel crushed; and  with a gift of nostalgia to become a player of note. Therefore, near the outset of this demanding saga, we have Andrei and the translator, namely, Eugenia, en route to an ancient church renowned for its pageantry, its all-women forces. They’ve stopped to allow her to savor the rough and foggy church area, austere but mysterious, if you look hard enough, and even remarkable. (That description might be her modest calling-card.) He, though, has no heart for what she seems to appreciate. “It’s a marvelous painting,” she overreacts. “I cried the first time I saw it. This light reminds one of autumn in Moscow, in Neskuchyny Garden.” (She can’t help being erudite and pleased. (And why is that such a crime, if one’s heart is warm?) “Come on,” she urges./ “I’ll  stay in the car… I don’t want to. I’ll go ahead and wait for you inside… I already told you. I am fed up with your beauties. I don’t want to take it anymore. All this beauty of yours. I can’t take it anymore. That’s it…” (more…)

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 © 2021 James Clark

      In the films we find necessary, there’s seldom, if ever, a chance to set in relief a smiling baby boy. Mirror (1975), by Andrei Tarkovsky, does not include such an event as a supercilious whimsy. In fact, that presence is extremely well proffered. Our film concerns, as always for Tarkovsky, and for Bergman before and after, the way to smile with conviction. The baby has an instinct to thrive in that moment. How does it fare, going forward? Forces rule; and we all play versions of the same game.

Near the beginning of this saga there is a woman, in the Russian style, having many names (here, Maria, Masha, Marussia, and [particularly] Natalia), lounging, as is her wont, on a rustic fence at her appealing rural home. She’s having a smoke and gazing upon the panoramic meadow many miles distant. She notices a man approaching a long way away. The man’s voice-over remarks, “The road from the station lies through Ignatyovo… turning off near a farmstead where we spent our summers before the War, and then to Tomshino through a dark oak wood.” (Someone who knows where he’s going?) The woman is not happy seeing a stranger. Birds sing, but smoking is more her style. He’s carrying a black satchel. As he arrives she tells him, “You should have turned at the bush.” He asks, rather forwardly, “Why are you sitting here?”/ “I live here.”/ “Where? On the fence?” This annoys her. He counters with, “Strange, I took everything but the key.” His tone implies that it was she who missed seizing the key.  He asks, “Why are you nervous? Give me your hand. I’m a doctor. Don’t count! I’m counting.” (A ripple of the Surreal, and the Theatre of the Absurd. Standbys of Bergman and Tarkovsky.) “Must I call my husband?”/ “You’ve no husband. You’ve no wedding ring.” (Swift panning shots.) The smoke from her cigarette carries an almost volcanic thrust. Her tightly wound hair sends a message of pedantry. He’s given the cigarette he wants. “Why are you so sad?” he inquires. He sits on the fence along with her, and it promptly collapses. He laughs. She doesn’t. He sees a flash of the uncanny. She sees nothing out of the ordinary. (But does this clash introduce two sides of the same mirror?) Marching off, a bit, she asks, “Why are you so happy?” His mystique plunges, when saying, “It’s nice to fall with a pretty woman.” He rallies with, “Look at those roots, these bushes… Did you ever wonder about plants?” She is cleaning off her clothes. He perseveres, “The trees, this beechnut.” (The Major, in the film, Ivan’s Childhood [1962], where a woman is stalked and insulted in the woods, has been put in place in contrast to the interplay here. A singularity? An upshot of structure which could be seen as a mirror, a very specific and complex process of force.) “They’re in no hurry,” he maintains. “While we rush around and speak platitudes… It’s because we don’t trust our inner natures. There’s all this doubt, haste, lack of time to stop and think.” It seems there’s something very wrong with that commotion. She begins to say, “Do you have…” But he rudely interrupts. “Have no fear. I’m a doctor, you know…” When she’s able to say something, she fires off, rather surprisingly, “What about ‘Ward No. 6?’” (That being the writer, Chekhov’s, whose concern here  was strictly about injustice, not obscure, enigmatic possibilities. Natalia’s job, as a proofreader would be rooted in pedantry, almost as far as one gets from the stranger’s passion.) “It’s all Chekov’s invention,” is the careless way he dismisses the humanitarian. “Come to Tomshino. We have jolly times there.” (This being an invitation to the pagans in force, in Tarkovsky’s film, Andrei Rublev [1966].) Her refusing the invitation, he gives her short shrift to deal with the cut ear (the deaf finesse) he scratched on falling from the fence.  What maintains is the ripple of the grasses in the wind. He stops and looks back. A fierce gale comes and goes. Nothing seems to adhere. But the voice-over of the pagan, bound for idyll, one way or the other, tells himself a pretty story. “You were lighter and bolder than the wing of a bird… flying down the stairs two at a time… pure giddiness, leading me throw moist lilac…” Cut to a small boy. “To your domain beyond the looking glass. The Alice in Wonderland making everything  bright.” (How a problematic becomes a farce.) (more…)

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© 2021 James Clark

     The film genre of war appears to be pretty much straightforward. Alpha cultures cannot resist stealing the land and wealth of others. Their appetite for advantage knows no end. Moreover, those being non-alphas seldom fail to embrace their own versions of reckless advantage. Considerations toward others actions rarely ever reach serious levels. In the course of such uprising much complication comes to pass. There is room for fascinating argument and fascinating machinery of death.

Devotees of such intensity tend not to realize that a whole universe of involvement has been ignored there. On the other hand, though, filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, won’t consider war films unless a haunting presence has been brought to bear. As such, his first film, namely, Ivan’s Childhood (1969), becomes a bit of a shock whereby our (nominal) protagonist—a young boy about twelve, intent upon attacking Nazis during World War II when his Russian family was massacred—becomes a victim himself to a German guillotine. As if not enough, the event demands making sense of it all.

There is a more relatively easy way to understand what is going on, which we’ll dig into now. And then we’ll tackle the real problematic. (more…)

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 © 2021 James Clark

     The film, Andrei Rublev (1966), does so much more than shatter a routine. A veritable chronical of ancient Russia, we come to see how bad political power gets, not that contemporary power lacks massive dilemma. A wall of savagery, having to be reckoned with.

But our film has grasped upon a horror even more demanding than culture. It is that concern which Tarkovsky wants us to embrace in this masterpiece, which opens with two fearless men dying in vastly different circumstances.

What they have in common, is a thirst to plumb the intensities of their courage, a courage finding no resemblance among their companionship. The first endeavor consists of two massive stitch works from large beasts, linked to be introduced with hot air and thereby buoyancy. The most crucial element would be a pilot both skillful and intrepid. His supervision of the take-off affords understanding his vision and his daring. (The apparatus would be a mass of ropes, amidst which to possibly catch the heavens.) “Arkhips,” give me the strap!  Hold it!” Much confusion becomes the prelude of a short but intense understanding. He had been cheered by the otherwise mundane. “Come and help! Pull the rope! Hold on a second. Come on, quick! Come on fast! Lift it!” He rushes back into the church (being a take-off point with the town). “Lord, let it go right!” A horse goes passed the open doorway of the church. Another great heart. Untie it now!” Several men holding ropes for the unusual balloon. “The rope is tangled!” the fretful flyer declares. “Hold it!”/ “We won’t have enough time!”/ “I’m ready!” the risk-taker calls./ “Archipushkant! You try to hold them! Just a second… I’m here! Cut the rope, man! I’ll show you. Cut the rope!” (Cut to the four faces on the church wall.) “My God!” (Cries of shock and joy!) “I’m flying! I’m flying!” (Excitement on the ground. Pan over many boats. Pan over many militants.) “Hey! Chase me! Chase me!” (The speed of covering the areas. The tiny failing to look down on others. Sheep and goats… he laughing…) “My God! What is it?” (Shooting downward to death.) (more…)

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by James Clark

 

      

For her sagas of crime, the films of Kelly Reichardt dedicate a remarkable wealth of ardor. Such tutelage becomes not only a gift but a confusion, a fertile confusion.

Seemingly of no significance to the zealots, she was the daughter of both parents working as police officers. Could there be a lacuna in that market which makes all the difference? There seems to be in play that the rigors of contemporary life are so beyond coherent management that appalling outrage can coincide with gentle ways and seem a fine validity. Seem. But not, in fact, for a moment. And Reichardt, so West Coast and so donnish, knows very well that that turkey won’t fly, as such. (In another of her films, Certain Women [2016], a construction business owner allows one of her workers to be injured for life, due to careless management. She suckers the victim to throw away, in a pittance, his worker’s compensation rights and, after long and reckless pleading his case, ends up in jail. The owner has a case of insomnia.) As we enter, once again, that precinct of presumptuousness, now namely, First Cow (2020), our work cut out for us becomes the whereabouts of courage. Like the frequent bathos and very rare pathos in Certain Women, we are on the hook to measure what Ingmar Bergman would think of the coterie of the new film. And where our guide today could find her footing.

This astounding film poses many possibilities of entry. I’ve settled upon the treasure of foliage here, for its foundational (and nostalgic) powers, in the form of Oregon Territory in 1820. Our protagonist, namely, Cookie, first appearing in deep forest, unearthing mushrooms in the capacity of providing food for a crew of fur hunters, has been provided by a world of beautiful uplift and a world of deadly violence. At this point, positivity is in ascendence. So concentrated is the growth, that Cookie becomes far from a mundane toiler, and instead part of nature itself. In the murky atmosphere, close-up snippets of his body meld with the forest itself. (more…)

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© 2021 by James Clark

Our protagonist, early on in this mammoth undertaking, and en route to a client, protests to an imaginary companion, “My dear, the world is so utterly boring. There’s no telepathy, no ghosts, no flying saucers… They can’t exist. The world is ruled by cast-iron laws. These laws are not broken. They just can’t be broken…” On reaching his customer, there is also a woman, in furs and with a cool sports car. He continues his rant, now addressing her. “Don’t hope for flying saucers. That would be too interesting…”She retorts, “But what about the Bermuda Triangle?” This annoys him. “You’re not going to contradict…” And she quickly declares, “Yes, I am.”/ “There is no Bermuda Triangle,” he insists. “There is Triangle ABC which equals Triangle A prime, B prime, C prime.” She yawns, “It’s all so tedious, so very tedious.” She might have added that it’s all very pedantic. It’s all very pushy, in a thrust that doesn’t yield power. Pedantic, to the point of desperation. Shifting back to his whimsy, he tells her, “In the Middle Ages, life was interesting. Every house had its goblin, each Church a God. People were young. Now every fourth person is old…” The client had placed his hat on her car; and, in the woman’s resenting the protagonist being so adamant, she races away from them, leaving his hat on the roof. That dogmatic display had been mitigated in several ways. Surrealism had landed with the hat. The triad of the Bermuda Triangle was also a breath of fresh air, a visit from a source to be seen soon. Telepathy, ghosts, flying saucers, all in the mix, somehow.

Beginning as we did, there requires now a more complete sense of the crisis. His career of being known as a “Stalker”—a term implying harsh measures—focuses down to his being a sort of pilgrimage tour guide. Whereas such a calling could be lucrative, one look toward our protagonist’s home makes very clear that money is scarce there. His bedroom and kitchen have been reinforced by a living room operating as a public bar. Could that polyglot become a manifestation of the passionate innovator himself? Whereas those typically doing pilgrimages rush to prove how old-fashioned they are, our Stalker finds a market (obviously not numerous) for those with a hankering of the rebellious. The saga of the missing hat would be a case of a lady’s man, a popular, wealthy writer purveying the chic and solid classical rational thought from many centuries ago. That he’s fond of “risk” is one thing; that he’s bought into the ways of the Stalker is a very different thing. The first visitor seen at that surrealist bar is the other client of the adventure, a scientist. Curiosity being smiled upon in that realm, where standard curiosity does not have a hope. Not about smidgens, but a new cosmos. Both would be proud to call themselves skeptics. Both would be impostors. (more…)

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 © 2021 by James Clark

      Having tested the waters of the mysterious Andrei Tarkovsky, by way of his film, Solaris (1972), I feel obliged to settle matters that could test the patience of those seriously intent upon appreciating processes of great merit. Braced by the sophisticated genius of the work of Ingmar Bergman, Tarkovsky has chosen to maintain a mysticism—far from supernatural—but clinging to (perhaps confusing) tinctures of mainstream devotion. In the film, Solaris, he takes his directions from Bergman’s films, The Devil’s Eye (1960) and All These Women (1964), where the force of nature pertains to pathos. Not satisfied to contest the weakness at several points of science, Tarkovsky, by way of a form of sleight of hand, installs dead victims of a violence becoming life-like to those now-touched by guilt. A perhaps questionable (though intense) means of challenging the brutality of wayward captains of a small planet. An unbalanced touch in the service of deep pathos should not become a song and dance. Bergman, the kudos notwithstanding, would not be a fan.

Our second selection, here, namely, The Sacrifice (1986), mercifully desists from fantasy, though its cast of players tends to whimsy. (I’ve chosen this film, being Tarkovsky’s final work, a work by way of the young maestro’s  being stricken by fatal cancer, because this film administers most effectively the artist’s campaign, leaving the other films to supplement the rigors. Our study today recalls all those pedantic, bourgeois targets whom Bergman regarded as travesties. Whereas being “educated” appears to virtually everyone’s sense of virtue, Bergman [and now Tarkovsky] want us to see a very different form of action, and thereby a form of problematic reflection never being saliant, because the educational history of the planet has throttled a crucial aspect.) (more…)

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© 2021 by James Clark

Ingmar Bergman, not widely known to praise other filmmakers, was, however, on one occasion, drawn to remark: “My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film [Ivan’s Childhood, 1962] was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease. I felt as if I was entering and encountering a range of stimulation. Someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how. Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, as a dream.”

With Bergman, however, being a tricky hand-to-hand brawler, you have to look carefully about such a homage. Yes, Tarkovsky comes on the field as remarkably brilliant. His instinct for dynamics and mis en scene is truly inventive and revolutionary. But where do you think that new genius learned his chops as an exhaustive challenger of world history as it has enjoyed total and disastrous power since societies on earth began? Tarkovsky’s film today, namely, Solaris (1972), is about space discovery, the wonder of the “new,” in the bright solar awakening. But the solar, if you look at it, is a fury, a visitation of intensity (emotion) having been censored from the entirety of life, of nature; while religion and science have carved up everything in sight, despite being possibly, however, having much to do with the new. The protagonist, Kris Kelvin (a surname redolent of “hard” science and control of heat), does not, at first blush, present any hope of becoming a paragon of emotive innovation. His father, on the eve of Kris’s departure—to a Soviet space craft having encountered disarray, and which he seemed to be the right man to straighten it out—far from a radical but aware that there is more in life than science, remarks, “He reminds me of a bookkeeper, preparing his accounts… It’s dangerous to send people like you into space. Everything is fragile. Yes, fragile. The Earth has somehow become disgusting to people like you, although at what sacrifice!  The Earth has somehow become adjusted to people like you. What, are you jealous that [someone else] will be the one to bury me, and not you?” (more…)

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