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 © 2018 by James Clark

      Many folks swear by exotic travel to lift themselves out of doldrums. The duration may be as brief as a week and as long as years. By and large, the voyagers adopt a passive disposition for experiencing welcome change, particularly with the matter of igniting an avenue from which to bring their skills to bear.

Though it might seem impolite, we have to entertain the possibility that the world as such does not smile upon those intent upon letting others set the pace. Wong Kar Wai, in bringing to light his film, Happy Together (1997), about two young men from Hong Kong, Lai and Ho, looking for magic in Argentina, trains his high beams on exactly that exigency. As such there is the figure, Lai, after having been driven to distraction in the course of looking for the easy way up, who eventually gets down to business as a very non-white-collar-worker in an abattoir where you don’t disregard guts. The minutiae underway, of Lai’s odyssey on behalf of hard employment, constitute, therefore, a sort of anti-holiday none of us can do without. And, this being a Wong Kar Wai movie, those twists and turns put into play moments of sensibility not merely striking but haunting. (Although “explanations” by auteurs are usually understandable mischief, in the case of Wong’s insisting—against the narrative’s surface—that this film is not concerned with tendencies of homosexual men, a rare accuracy occurs. A degree of caressing and anal sex comes to pass; but in this vehicle Lai and Ho are under scrutiny for the honorific cool side of their tastes, not for biological imperatives.)

Soon after arriving in Buenos Ares (now having to live alone, after one of their frequent divorces) Lai takes a job as a doorman/ greeter at a tango bar, “Bar Sur” [above the norm]. We see briefly a man and a woman, in severe apparel and coiffure, demonstrating the fussy dynamics of the dance, conspicuous for its intimacy bereft of joy and affection; but flush with belaboring those in attendance with their own superiority. (Ho, we shall soon come to realize, having in his scant repertoire of skills, being adept in that dance-style, in addition to nymphomania and prostitution.) But, much more than that self-consciously risqué bohemianism, there is Lai, out on the street, being the first responder for one of many overassertive party animals and snapping photos for the ladies. His motivation, which he will soon deny, is (despite the de rigueur circus-barker tone) suave and good-natured as only Wong-stalwart, actor, Tony Leung, can mix amusement and devastation. (Ho, portrayed by Leslie Cheung, sets in relief, with his peevish peasant appetites, thereby, the aristocratic cravings of Lai simmering in such a proletarian zone.) As that shuffle of narrative overtures spins downwards, Lai takes morosely to Mickeys at the club’s entrance between visiting awesomeness and soon severs his involvement with the juvenile Sur. (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

      Now, as we open a third can of worms installed by the inimitable, Ingmar Bergman, we need to open our eyes to the seriously bizarre communication these films consist of. Unlike the catch-as-catch-can opportunities to turn a buck by fulsome cinematic and mainstream cultural techniques, Bergman puts to himself and his clients two simultaneous and contradictory presentations. Why did he work like that? He didn’t want to starve. And, moreover, he was obliged to maintain—with reservations—that the mainstream has much to recommend.

The works, in question now, introduce with silent-film-optics-brilliance, figures variously galvanized by the resources of the history of Christian assurance. Though the most overt aspects of the narratives very convincingly appear to sustain the integrity of loyalty to a Christian power, there coincides an ambush exploding the entire enterprise and mooting the uncanny ways of fearlessness.

The era when Bergman displayed such an impressive changeup pitch was perhaps less experimental and volatile than our own. But his assumption that he was on to a crucial singularity resonates—to those with advanced reflective skills—in our own millennium. The films, Through a Glass Darkly and The Seventh Seal, subtly found much amiss in insisting that strong but fabricated personalities could put one on easy street. In our film today, The Virgin Spring (1960), only a last minute convulsion cements that whimsy. But, all the better from our point of view, the drama concerns a very flesh-and-blood problematic, namely, distemper. (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

      We were, in absorbing Ingmar Bergman’s thrilling and strenuous film, Through a Glass Darkly (1961), ushered into a reflection about fearlessness—specifically, the loss of fearlessness. In light of that beacon, replete with a beacon/ lighthouse, we can proceed with a film of his, The Seventh Seal, produced earlier, in 1957, offering a variant of fearlessness sustained, though so incomplete you’d probably miss it.

Our film today affords noticing that its two scene-stealers at the outset, exhausted and inert on a rocky shore with luminous clouds dancing apace, comprise an important contrast to the introduction of Through a Glass Darkly, where four raucous vacationer-swimmers come ashore with a laureling sky above and slag-heap consistency of the sea. Nearby that pair are their horses, looking as fresh and beautiful as can be, not to mention lovely bird song. Nature disapproving of stasis; and the other film’s putting on a brave front being closer to nature. (Here, too, the credits subtly disintegrate in giving way to the next names. The title, once again, has been drawn from a biblical vignette, this time pertaining to a vacuum in the generally good-news-communication between God and the faithful. What does put in a striking appearance is a rather ominous, large hawk.) The two having succumbed to protracted inertia—one of them a knight, bedecked in an impressively-designed Onward-Christian-Soldiers crusader tunic and now washing his face in the surf—appear to have survived a shipwreck (a shipwreck having been a factor in the other film). They’re damn lucky to be alive. Karin, in the other film, shows she’s willing to claw herself toward lucidity as to being lucky. How do our crusaders handle the matter?

The better-dressed of the company, surveying the harsh landscape, clasps his hands in prayer, but soon he brings his hands down and his face clearly spells “out-of-service.” What he unfortunately can do is produce a chess board and spend the rest of his life banking on gamesmanship no one in his right mind would essay. He conjures a spectre (an ascetic priest in flowing black cassock), who addresses him—a sort of kick-off—with, “I am Death. I’ve been at your side for a long time. Are you prepared?” For his part, the supposed aristocrat announces that they should play chess to determine longevity or not. Shook up is his state of affairs, in ways bearing some resemblance to the tailspin of Karin (seen in the previous campaign), after the bilious stage play. The knight declares—from out of that peevish, weakling bossiness we saw in Karin— “If I win, you set me free…” (He doesn’t have to say a word to speak volumes that the stirring military observances were not stirring.)  But we’ve already seen enough to know that he and freedom don’t get along. Having been there quite a while, his first impression was him decoratively sprawled on a large rock with the game facility and with a grip upon his expensive sword, like some kind of soft grandee. It seems to me that to get over at the outset any assumptions of viable integrity in the knight prepares for an unexpected keeper (or keepers) of the flame. There is never any doubt where the hope lies, in Through a Glass Darkly. But this saga could be headed toward overthrowing the reflex of counting on elevated families.    (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

 The truest way to the heart of Kelly Reichardt’s film, Wendy and Lucy (2008), may turn out to be its penultimate moment. This was not always my approach, as a reading of the Wonders in the Dark blog from February 15, 2012—A Dangerous Devotion: Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark” and Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy”—would show. There I was intent upon engaging the protagonists of each work having risked everything (like Joan of Arc) for the sake of getting to the bottom of a dilemma unfortunately even beyond their very alert and brave powers. What, specifically, drives such souls to the brink of destruction?

There are ways of taking a closer look at the phenomenon, and Wendy and Lucy shows the way. Like Mouchette, a classic film figure under heavy fire, Wendy can no longer stand her emotionally violent, Midwestern blue-collar family and neighbors and their Rust Belt home base spanning Muncie and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Unlike Mouchette, the famous waif, she does not choose suicide as a meaningful change (nor is she destined to be immortalized by a forum of movie buffs). She hits the road with 500 dollars in savings from unspecified jobs, and a clunker supposedly capable of reaching that land of fool’s gold, Alaska. (Where others dream of gold, she—speaking volumes—dreams of a job in a cannery which, at least, does not resemble Indiana.) However, she does also bring a stunningly vast fortune in the form of her golden retriever, Lucy (a born retriever of buried treasures). (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

 As we begin to touch upon the films of Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), we have to bring to the mix our recent encounters with the puzzles of Kelly Reichardt as struck by that dark horse, Abbas Kiarostami. The worst step we could take here would be to situate the work at hand (and all the others by him) as one more mid-twentieth century filmic testimony that the foundations of world history cannot effectively support modern sensibility. Major experts of that persuasion—Robert Bresson (1901-1999), Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007), Federico Fellini (1920-1993) and Jacques Demy (1931-1990)—portray diverse investigators coming upon dead ends, their endeavors amounting to stark confusion. Amongst the artists persevering with this matter at that time, dramatic bite and charm loom large. Bergman, it seems to me, finds that those focuses waylay discoveries which need to be entered upon. There is no doubt that whereas those 60’s renegades cited (and others not cited, in being only half-committed) were, to a man, experts of modes of cool, Bergman’s deliveries undercut that blithe wit, that optical chic, seeming to define skeptical contemporality.

One of the factors drawing me to begin this series with Through a Glass Darkly (1961)—the title being drawn from a biblical passage and thus further suspect in the eyes of the hasty cool—was its undertow of off-season Baltic Sea astringent sensuousness, quietly exploding the last-minute-buy fabulousness supposedly compromising any roster of self-assertive talking heads. (The marginalization of Lucy, the dog, in Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy [2008] and Lucy, the dog, in her Old Joy [2006] looks to what has been out there quite a while in the offerings of Bergman.) Much can be said about the staginess of Through a Glass Darkly, and the helmsman’s being as absorbed by stage theatre as by film work. But I think the case can be made that what at first blush seems ponderous is in fact a course of phenomena light as a feather and bidding to steal our heart away.

Whereas Reichardt’s River of Grass (1994) and Night Moves (2013) get around to an antithesis clashing with the derangement of the protagonists rather late in the proceedings, our film today leads with the better half, characteristically inflected. We have a pan-shot aerial-view of the sea in heavy mist, giving on to silvery, rolling waves which appear to be undergoing some form of coagulation. The progress of the flight culminates in shimmering waters and wafting white clouds. (The black and white format conspires in placing in relief the kinetic and resolved aspects.) Our first glimpse of the four protagonists follows that atmospheric proposal, in a most unusual way. The aerial perspective has come closer to the surface, enough to reveal the four of them wading ashore in a simulation of the evolution of Homo Sapiens, recalling the airward club in Space Odyssey. The happy patter of their beach vacation offers a sharp contrast to the pristine outset—a way of recognizing that human sentience tends to squander its comprehensive dimension. The four landward bathers present a holiday tone, one of the three men remarking that whatever strikes Karin’s fancy should be satisfied. Although the protocol slips from there, to (with a boat trip in the offing and chilly Swedish weather, “If Hemingway can do it, so can we…”), the point to absorb is that this is a family gathering very able to keep on the sunny side. There will be darkness soon—though the date and latitude afford a midnight sun—but not the kind of terminal collapse dominating the dialogue. Karin’s self-adoring husband, Martin, whom we will soon learn to be a self-important physician, and whom, while berating her father, David, a well-known novelist losing whatever magic he once commanded, proudly declares, “Fortunately, I’m not very complex,” characteristically underestimates the cocktail of destruction he and his friends represent. It is he who has concluded and acted by having her go through a stint of electric shock therapy—along the hysterical lines of his diagnosis of David (“You are a craven coward”)—that Karin’s malaise means schizophrenia and a future of helplessness, leading her, in the film’s first passages, to demonstrate her inconvenient equilibrium and joie de vivre. (more…)

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© 2018 by James Clark

      One of the consequences of infinite digital connectivity is awakening to the certainty that one’s endeavors, protestations notwithstanding, mean nothing to the more or less vivid raucousness out there. True, some close-range attention flickers, but a quite startling void forever opens. It goes without saying that reciprocal success shines upon the various political (including religious) and scientific assemblies to meet objectives of material well-being. Also self-evident are the slides (from shoring up social abysses) becoming sites of fanatical violence toward those not sharing a presumed virtue. World history, now, with the world-wide-web, having become types of blast-furnaces, convenes missions of overt and covert religious ultimacy. Belief in a menu of total satisfaction presents a variety of armies, each member of which purporting to know about his or her payoff. The chaotic feebleness of these protestations does nothing so much as demonstrate that the dark saga of personal securement is a fraud, a fraud by dint of throttling those energies of sensibility by which a person is not a small business intent on personal fortune but an integral productive partner of the cosmos, on behalf of a split-dividend. Humankind has definitively ruled out that phenomenon. But endeavors on behalf of those not routed do obtain, as with, for instance, the films of Kelly Reichardt.

Our task today is to center upon what is fresh and playable about the film, Night Moves (2013), which brings to our attention not so much three underwhelming and viciously presumptuous environmentalists of various stripes, but how their hard-core myopia impinges upon sensuous resources their betters can derive traction from. This is, then, neither premium ecological disclosure, nor suspense and crime cinema, despite brushing upon such eventuation. This is, instead, an instance of players lethally ignorant of the ways of the world and demonstrating facile recourses in lieu of the hardness of that “environment” they are embarrassed by, and as such pose a test for us as to how to manage, in their presence, traces of fruitfulness, which, rather surprisingly, is enough.

Before getting into the hidden delights of what many would regard a minor effort, I want to introduce a thread, to be taken up in later spring and summer, which quite amazingly speaks to the work of Reichardt—in particular, Night Moves. You’d be on pretty solid grounds dismissing the idea that Ingmar Bergman’s, Through a Glass Darkly (1961), has something to do with Night Moves. The former focuses upon a schizophrenic (split-dividend) woman, who comes to the conclusion, “I have seen God, and he is a spider…” We must hasten to add that, though her reasoning could be better, it also could be quite a bit worse, for instance, leaving creatures out of the money. The thrilling developments of Reichardt’s work must be seen to be part of a long, large-scale, though effectively buried, commitment. Hopefully we can now proceed with a vehicle having very little to do with the entertainment industry but having a lot to do with high-spiritedness.

The protagonist, Karin, in Through a Glass Darkly, sees herself as floundering between two worlds “that don’t fit together.” Her response is to return to the asylum and bury herself in self-satisfying mysticism.  Dena, owner of a sauna by way of her family’s deep pockets (sounding quite a lot like Kurt, the West- Coast oracle [and self-styled quantum physics genius] along with being a junky and predator, in our guide’s Old Joy [2006]), opines that she needed only her Freshman year to ace the matter of nature’s collapse [and apportion blame], a far better thing than graduating and ending up in media work in New York City. (At one point she makes clear that she’s from Connecticut but needs the simplism-friendly simplicity of the Northwest.) Her questionable self-confidence induces her to step beyond her spa/ asylum in order to put into action her instincts for perfection. (more…)

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© 2018 by James Clark

      Marketing films would seem to be a straightforward matter. Some subjects attract a large constituency; other subjects find niches within the vast clientele. Of course, professionalism is indispensable. And essential to that construction would be a solid vision that there is a demand commensurate to the costs, financial and wear and tear. Some viewers want to be simply entertained; some viewers want more than that. And filmmakers are well aware how their vehicles can succeed in that division. Whereas the single-minded entertainers occupy an industry like any other industry, those practitioners aware that movies can function as disclosure—not only on the same level as the venerable arts but on a step above—have placed themselves within a far more complex sphere of communication. The majority of such film folk see a clear route to lucrative and enjoyable outcomes by catering to long-standing verities. Tweaking what religion, morality and science have plied for millennia garners the lion’s share of the activity we’ve begun to clarify. Some film artists graft unfamiliar factors to their conventional offerings, on the supposition that their clientele will appreciate a bit of daring (to be readily subsumed by their unshakable parameters).

Others of that predilection for more, having crunched many numbers along the way, openly defy in their work mainstream world history. Included in this rebellion are the many sensational possibilities which the volatile daring brings to itself. Thus, this wing of mavericks stands to entice a share of the lighten-up thrill-seekers. Diverse such artists—having now branded as “auteurs”—like, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson, Terrence Malick, Michael Mann, Brian De Palma—have ridden to fame and fortune along that career path. More recent entries to that fraternity can be seen in the work of Tom Ford, Ruben Ostlund and Martin McDonagh.

But this strategy, to me, anyway, affords being, if not obviated, complemented by a mode of filmmaking which has something very different in mind from the now well-known auteurship. Far removed from the glamor of being a wise, punk superstar, there is a notable development of films having spoken to alarmingly few. Their occurrence is so unprepossessing and so devoid of substantive direction that only those patient enough, to backtrack along its vast distemper to a (beckoning) hidden source, would assemble there. Paramount to this communication is a preparedness for never prevailing against a dead weight of anathematic destructiveness. (Such isolation being at the same time directed to share pleasures of self-sustainment, the energies of which soaring to real integrity with scant follow-up by that clientele, but enough fascination to look for more.) Three filmmakers—forget the auteur status—have brilliantly managed to sustain such a project while still being assumed to have been “indie” auteurs, show-biz insiders. The prototype, Abbas Kiarostami (1940-2016), became a gang of one, finding money and well-wishers in the impenetrable dark ages of Iran. Jim Jarmusch, a former Manhattan hipster-musician who spends virtually all his time and finds financing in Europe, excels in finding the light during a perpetual eclipse of the sun. The third such unknown, Kelly Reichardt, whose first film, River of Grass (1994), we take up here, has wonderfully accommodated our study of what makes her tick insofar as she has seen fit to, on completing the movie on tap, stay silent (with the exception of a couple of short experiments) for 12 years before proceeding with a manifold to stay the course. (more…)

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