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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

stranger-than-paradise-1

© 2016 by James Clark

As an adage, “Never underestimate a filmmaker’s first feature,” may be overrated. (Think of Michelangelo Antonioni’s disaster, Story of a Love Affair [1950].) But, in the case of Jim Jarmusch, I think anyone who wants to measure what’s up with him and his work can’t spend enough time on Stranger than Paradise (1984). (Jarmusch did produce a student project, Permanent Vacation, in 1980; but here we want to see what happens when school’s out.)

Proximity to college film studies (even after an extended trip to Paris) could be limiting or liberating—it all depends on what the novice brings to the cultural/ academic poker table. Where, then, did he come across that beat generation testament, Pull My Daisy (1959); and how did he run with it? Pull My Daisy, a film by Robert Frank from a screenplay by Jack Kerouac, brings to collision course a stuffy bishop and his stuffy wife (invited by the wife of a railway brakeman-cum-writer) with uninvited bohemian friends of the man of the house. (The locals include Allen Ginsberg and, more interestingly, Delphine Seyrig, as the lady of the house.) This self-consciously overkill insurrection, by those self-assured to be hipster legends on having charmed the pants off Gotham’s media, for the sake of ridiculing the whole sweep of American life, shows that update of the Marx Brothers implicitly feeling entitled to the keys of the planet on the basis of their self-satisfaction with their acuity and virtue. (more…)

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knight-of-cups-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

 Terrence Malick could hardly be called a connoisseur of modern urban life. Over the years the few films he has brought to us have contemplated denizens of social backwaters like the semi-bucolic precincts of his first career as a philosophy/ theology academic, however cut short by realization that the life of a mole is constricted.

His recent film, Knight of Cups (2015), kicks off with a donnish-tone Ben Kingsley, echoing the many Harvard and Oxford dons (especially pertaining to that staunch ruralist, Martin Heidegger) our helmsman would have subjected himself to (before waking up a bit)—and drawing our attention to 17th century divine, John Bunyan, and his best-seller, The Pilgrim’s Progress, with its take on “safe arrival.” With that intoning underway, it promptly gives us a figure who, we see at a glance, is not one of those safe arrivals being touted. He peers about, distractedly, while roaming on a mud flat far from habitation—a perspective intensified by a glimpse of gossamer-green aurora borealis playing over a horizon as seen from outer space.

Another quick early peek of the territory, however, shows us, up close, the morose one while in that wilderness being quite cavalier in operating (as silently presented) a cool sports convertible in the company of two Oriental girls sticking out their tongues and twisting around in pleasure as they zip along one of those palm avenues which automotive Los Angelinos have no problem with. (Malick’s first film, Badlands [1973], featured a pair of zippy motorists in the land of big skies just north of Texas. They were movers and shakers of sorts; but glad to be in the farmlands.) We then become inundated by the first swatch of many flashy architectural towers and palaces and their industrial design concomitants. The accretion of a voice-over reading that aforementioned ancient homily tilts the incongruity to a pressure point readily developing into earthquake proportions. Our protagonist and his variable malaise somehow have been set against this religious action the plain, mundane directionality of which does not seem to coincide with Malick’s deposit of uncanny mysticism, which drove him to tell his Oxford tutor, Gilbert Ryle, he of ‘ordinary language” virtue, to shove his pussy ordinariness up his pussy ass. (more…)

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blowout-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      Brian De Palma—a science prodigy and high school wunderkind—could, no doubt, have carved out a peppy career in some corner of what practitioners call “hard science.” At the doorway (in the form of Columbia University) of this generally considered to be fulfilling life, he turned away in favor of becoming a movie maker. Some might jump to the conclusion that he realized he didn’t have what it takes to pursue a “hard” endeavor. My guess is that he came to realize that science isn’t hard enough.

Whereas classical rational science is about managing the architecture of a brilliant intellectual past in order to discern growth potential which could up the ante of discovery, it also functions as a form of church which sustains taboos against regarding sentient entities as logically more cogent than aggregations of elemental particles. It is, I think, the matter of that hostility and coercion which induces, despite the many attractions of scientific research, the drastic turnaround into personas and their seemingly unacceptable, unpredictable actions. Exciting as dynamic scientific discoveries may be, even more exciting (to De Palma) are the truths and consequences of dynamic courage which only full-blown human sensibilities can discover.

The métier which De Palma has settled upon is not without its possibilities of profiting from the architecture of its own brilliant past. Much has been said about his being suffused with the work of Alfred Hitchcock. But that rather ordinary tip of the iceberg traces to Continental avant-gardists as suffused with the energies of the surreal, where humans count for much more (reality) than mathematical flecks. The sensual priorities of this repository entail a remarkable sense of embattlement with mainstream dictates. (In view of this disposition it is well to note that two distinguished colleagues of his generation, namely, Ridley Scott and Michael Mann, present close accompaniment to De Palma’s modus operandi. Mann is particularly significant in being [unusually, for this situation] explicit about his indebtedness to Jean-Pierre Melville—a preposterously underestimated giant—and his own formative years as a close associate with Surrealist jack-of-all-trades, Jean Cocteau.) (more…)

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dressed-to-kill-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

      Brian De Palma, apparently pigeonholed as a disciple of Alfred Hitchcock, would seem to be an unlikely kin to a strict, Jesuitical Catholic who, for all his technical and narrative skills, regarded movie production as clever manipulation in the service of marking time before going to a better show. (Of course there would be clandestine cultivation of phenomenal regions not officially sanctioned. But such embellishments would be harnessed to a prescribed triviality.) Hitchcock’s films brim with entertaining instances of entropy (gradual decline into disorder) from out of precepts inculcated by theological doctrine, not close, free-wheeling experiential investigation. De Palma’s embrace of entropy is quite a different matter, even granting that he does include motifs from Hitchcock films in many of his endeavors to enlighten, rather than amuse.

You might imagine that a career change of focus from physics and incipient computer science at Columbia University to theatre and film studies would be more than a siren call to fame and fortune, especially in view of a researcher, from secondary school onward, winning many prizes for inventiveness along sightlines of fundamental questions. There are ways, not terribly abstruse, of incorporating the distemper, gore and eroticism of a film like Dressed to Kill (1980), within a purview of serious reflection. The history of modern film is quite heavily populated with rich variations of such outreach, erected by artists who regard colleagues as part of a history of crucial largesse (including actors, whom Hitchcock never tired of denouncing as puppets with brains far inferior to his).

At and near the beginning of today’s film, there are two renditions of the iconic shower assault in Psycho (1960). Their impact is diametrically opposite to the Hitchcock classic inasmuch as they evoke a specific apparition in the history of avant-garde film—namely, Giuliana, the entropic and amazingly resilient protagonist of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964)—rather than discharge a spectacular storm of venom and horror for the sake of maintaining that worldly experience is a nullity. (more…)

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life-1

by James Clark

     Life (2015), a film about a desultory movie star in tandem with an ambitious photojournalist, appears to be absorbed in the delivery of visual liveliness, charisma. Put into play by Anton Corbijn, a major photographer in his own right, dating from long before his movie work, there is one other aspect which changes everything: Corbijn’s photography has been focused upon rock and roll—videos, band promotional photos and portraits. The star, James Dean, could be treated as a glamorous, gifted “discovery” like that of so many others in the history of Hollywood, which is to say, a heart-throb in the mold of Adonis or Venus, having no significant historical mooring. However, if we keep our ears as well as our eyes open, we will, I think, have to accommodate James Dean’s being a fairly alert sensibility at the dawning of rock music, a participant of that restlessness being touted, in the words of an LA disc jockey listened to by the photojournalist, Dennis Stock, as he works in his darkroom at the film’s very beginning, “…new country blues song… everyone’s talking about…” Stock completes his processing the print, the DJ yells, “Don’t touch that dial, ’cause now we’ve got Lightnin’ Hopkins!” And Lightnin’ (a rock guitarist [“country blues” being his tag] ahead of his time and an inspiration for hordes of killer guitarists in subsequent decades) detonates a note which sets off an A-bomb flash of white void to magisterially dovetail with: the red glow of the lab (and its faintly grinding sonic atmosphere) and its glowing electrical red filament jumping into view like a nasty alien approaching a space-ship wall; and, moreover, the red flames of the title, Life. A cut to Stock’s driving along night-time LA streets includes Lightnin’s razor-sharp pop which puts to shame the tepid torch-singer polluting the event he sees fit to attend, making sure that his camera and supply of flash-bulbs are tip-top before exiting his black sedan (black sedan; and it’s the year 1955), and approaching the party mall where Hollywood director, Nicholas Ray, is staging a party with a view to future movie magic we soon doubt could withstand the Lightnin’ test. (more…)

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everybody-wants-some-1

 © 2016 by James Clark

 A college baseball player filled to the brim with dreams and drives about making it to the Big Leagues, creates a small riot at a club by attacking the bartender for less than Big League cocktail skills. When he and his teammates are finally chased out to the parking lot, part of the venue’s name shows on the exterior—SOUND. (The full name is the unimaginative, “Sound Machine.”) The one with the noticeably bad temper calls himself Raw Dog, seemingly dovetailing with his Detroit (Murder City, circa 1980) home, perhaps (he might hope) giving him a better chance to stomp to fame and fortune in a very competitive endeavor. The ironic little demurral on the wall brings about a circus-catch robbery of a home run so many viewers would take for granted here.

This film comes to us (after a long incubation) fully aware of general cultural and film-genre biases toward the processes of so-called coming-of-age, to the effect that late-adolescent self-indulgence is a basically life-affirming event. The boys milling about on that asphalt watching Raw Dog scream and jump up and down assertively, have begun their last weekend before classes with a view to drinking, smoking and fucking everything in sight. Most of them seem on the surface to be—in the vernacular of an even earlier era— “disturbingly healthy” specimens on the way to domestic efficacy, under the aegis of the American Dream. Whatever instability they might evince has been universally accorded that spiritedness that makes the world go round. (Still to come are the co-eds, their perhaps inordinate preoccupation with mixing adventure and domestic bliss accorded the same uncritical sunniness from that vast constituency of those unconvinced that there is anything more to life than the accolade-strewn domestic tattoo they have immersed themselves in.) (more…)

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 IMG_1351 (1)

 © 2016 by James Clark

      There are two ways to approach a Ridley Scott film. The first and most popular way is to engage each outing as a totally new venture under the aegis of a writer (or two, or more) never to be heard from again. This preference takes up a vehicle like Black Hawk Down (2001) as a patented Scott patina of highly accomplished cinematic mood in the service of vividly introducing us to the nuts-and bolts details and stresses of modern military action. The second and rarely considered way is to note that, though seldom acknowledged as a (sort of) ghost writer of every production he undertakes, his efforts all zoom to a consistent and rigorously developmental communicative sense of cosmic crisis. As such our film here does not in fact well jibe with indifference toward the ramifications of an al-Qaeda take-down of elite military aircrafts in the productive sweep peppered with the al-Qaeda take-down of the World Trade Centre.

How on its toes is the discursive flood of action propelling Black Hawk Down? An epigraph leads the way—an epigraph far more abusive to the unwary than any of the countless bloody ambushes to come! “Only the dead have seen the end of the war.” The statement is attributed to Plato. Plato, like hell! This little tweak of erudition derives from the philosophy-challenged, General Douglas MacArthur, trotting out an old soldier’s bromide about the huge stature of those in the military and finding it apt that a universally revered clear thinker would be onside. The true author of that reflection on war is a far less celebrated participant within the process of sharing lucidity. That idea, far less self-evident than the General imagined, derives from someone who did his work around 500BC, a hundred years before Plato “flourished” (in the vernacular of professional teachers of the subject of thinking, a métier invented by Plato). Concern for the endlessness of war was a major project for one Heraclitus, of the town of Ephesus (in what is now Turkey), one of his pronouncements being, “War is the father of all and the king of all. Some he has made gods and some men; some slaves and some free.” (more…)

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