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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

samourai-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      David Thomson cherishes Melville’s Le Samourai (1967) for its “… configurations… so mysterious, so averse to everyday explanation;” and he goes on to wrap it up as an everyday bonbon. “Seen now, Le Samourai looks like a film from an earlier age, one made at a time when great films were necessary (and regular) because they demonstrated and fulfilled the nature of the medium.” That’s quite a niggardly pratfall! Not many sentences begin with avant-gardist premises only to flash logical-positivist conclusions. Such conclusions (living in the vicinity of Jean-Luc Godard’s academicism) are copiously pinpointed by Thomson’s last words on the subject, prefaced with passport-to-adulation effete pessimism. “Now that the medium is in ruin or chaos, Le Samourai looks as abstract, yet as beautiful and as endlessly worthy of study, as the Giotto frescoes in the basilica in Assisi. That which seemed fanciful has become an eternal and luminous lesson in how men behaved when they believed behavior mattered.” Such eloquent superficiality should not interfere with our engaging the film Melville in fact offers us, a film-phenomenon (rather than a concept) that has more serious work to do than prettily signing a death certificate for all innovative activity in our time.

There have been myriad endeavors over the fairly recent past stemming from conviction that behavior matters—in fields seemingly so disparate as quantum physics, ontology, architecture, sports and, to name but one more field which at the same time neglects many other efforts, film. None of them, however, has much to recommend in Giotto. Unlike researchers and builders in awe of the innovative lengths to be essayed, the unique human phenomena appearing in grounds-breaking films do not luxuriate in collegial centres. Thomson’s essay includes the alert about our film in the spotlight today (short-circuited, as it happens, to coincide with antiquated stasis), “Everything is in the playing or the enactment.” That is a window on the world which many (Thomson included) harbor a strong impulse to smash. Allowing oneself to babble on about such dynamics without including an iota of what they imply disqualifies one from effectively fathoming what a work like Le Samourai is about. (more…)

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bob-le-flambeur-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      It wouldn’t seem plausible, from the perspective of bloated numbers pledging their allegiance to “commonsensible” understanding of the world in general and film in particular, that an approach to the whimsy of Melville’s Bob le Flambeur (1956) requires a brief update of the reflective history of the planet. But, when you stop and think about the flaming absurdity and mawkishness of mainstream (law-abiding) experience, it is precisely a disregarded figure like Melville (and his most acute contemporary associate, the much-maligned Michael Mann), who would be doing the heavy lifting so germane to the roster of geniuses who have left things in so self-satisfiedly superficial a state.

Incisive investigation tends to come in two forms. The first, stemming from 19th century idealist-academic inquiry (in turn stemming from pre-Socratic endeavors) comprises conceptual architecture having tripped open lacunae of the rational (Platonic) tradition. The second, stemming from the arts, comprises construction of physical objects in such a way as to reveal an underbelly of rewarding startlement that physical events can be endlessly compelling.

The arts having to do with that black magic have jealously maintained that those whiffs of ecstasy and frisson they trade in are to stand as sacrosanct in their ineffable and almost utterly confusing power. As such, in radical film production, the sensuous bite of malaise, impasse and fleeting thrill tends to stand out as an unsurpassable frontier unto itself.

But this now venerable electrical storm (along lines of Antonioni, Fellini, Bresson, Lynch, Von Trier et al.) does admit of being cultivated further. And the inception of this problematic peeks out of the well-trodden ground by way of a film feted for elegance, technical audacity and panache; but not recognized as a bold departure speaking to the heart of modern existence. (more…)

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thief-1 (1)

 © 2015 by James Clark

      Each film of Michael Mann is arrestingly sown with overtures bearing close resemblance to those salient in many of his cinematic inventions. This singularity has led more than a few viewers to conclude that though he might be a fine filmic “stylist” he must still be regarded as a “hack,” a manipulator of a grab bag of clichés in the service of giving structure to intrinsically shallow titillation. One of the recurrent choices pertains to remarkable craftsmanship in the course of breaking the law. Mann demonstrates an inordinate fascination with those performing physical tasks welling up from preparatory discernment of riches to be unlocked (sensuous payoffs). His protagonists are precise and resolute laborers immersed in resolute navigational considerations. We could say that he sees the world as a fabulous, monstrous and lethal creative power demanding fantastic discipline to derive what it offers. His sagas are structurally similar because only a sucker would imagine mastering those tests at one fell swoop, or even a million fell swoops.

Mann’s closest professional kin, Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973), often referred to as “Poet of the Underworld,” was similarly discounted, in his case by that noisy power bloc of self-congratulatory contrarians who came to be known as the Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). Melville chose his nom de plume in recognition that American novelist, Herman Melville, in his piece de resistance, Moby Dick, could see the lucidity within the action of tackling a dangerous kinetic force informed by rare and necessary verve and grace. As with Mann, Melville’s was an undertaking of wild and often violent endeavors. However, for the disclosures of both of those individualistic figures there also comes to pass a high premium upon amicable, even loving, relations with an unlovely, largely unlovable, but also lovely and lovable historical agitation. Implacable rejection and good-will. That’s the task of harmonics both these artists struggle with. And for the better part of the rest of this year, that’s the scene I’ll be hopefully revealing to be, when all is said and done, most enjoyable. (more…)

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2001-1 (1)

 © 2015 by James Clark

      Although this film benefits handsomely from the various high-definition enhancements of recent years, which sustain an imprecise aura of fertile vitality in actions tending to be, when not lame, deadly, we must carefully acknowledge those first two minutes when the screen is blank and then gradually allows to come into their own the sounds of a primeval territory. This first aural statement is musical not zoological—marking out a primacy of human music as compared with animal noise. An organ glide rings quietly, then more intently. Brasses sound, the impact a bit blurred. Then the organ is back, now tremulous. An ensemble produces a faintly quavering and warbling sense. Then we witness the final stage of an eclipse of the sun—first a sharp golden inverted crescent peeking out from the dark grey mass of the moon, as a range of shadowy Earth drifts downward, out of the frame. As the sun fully pulls away from the moon the elegant and dazzling opening bars of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra ring out the last word in adventurous fanfares. Then the harsh beauties of a parched land come into view; and then its inhabitants, a small tribe of apes being accompanied by a herd of herbivores, tapirs, in fact. Grazing on a minimum of palatable food goes on soundlessly, even when one of the pig-like ponies annoys one of the apes by trying to pull from him a dried twig. From a height a leopard attacks and kills one of the apes. The cries of pain are remarkably brief and restrained. Soon we hear caterwauling and see frenzied gestures when the resident tribe is challenged for its water hole. The locals are driven off. This miasma is largely upstaged by the eyes of a leopard surveying the zebra he has just killed and surveying the battlefield about to become much more complex and deadly. Those eyes burn with an unearthly, blue flame that affords access to the heavens we saw during the eclipse. (more…)

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wolfpack-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      Crystal Moselle has titled her documentary film, from 2015, The Wolfpack. Her work is ambitious and complex; but her choosing that title provides, I think, a definite sense of direction.

The central feature consists of six brothers marooned in a Lower East Side public housing unit, describing what it is like to be imprisoned there well into late adolescence, due to a father having come from rural Peru whose religious precepts leave him aghast at the course of contemporary urban life and consequently putting into effect an almost absolute wall between his children and an apparently devilish and deadly New York, New York. Oscar, the rigidly protective head of the family, is prone to call himself God, and to declaring, “My power is influencing everybody.” His wife, Susanne, an American woman who met her husband-to-be on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu where he was a guide, argues that “a lot of socialization [in her native land] is not positive socialization.” Ranged against that draconian authority the boys emanate a sloe-eyed, very long-haired (in line with their father’s Hare Krishna beliefs) gentleness and playfulness centering upon their being in thrall to the 5000 DVD movies the selectively old-fashioned father, whose hair is not long and who felt—erroneously—that he had what it takes to take Gotham by storm with his rock and roll musicianship, has purchased, in a binge of divine illogic. We could only too easily fall for everything they do as a breath of fresh air. But the term Wolfpack seems to caution us to look very carefully at what is coming down here. (more…)

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heat-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      Mastery comes in many forms. A few nights ago we were rocked by a master at work, namely DeMar DeRozan. Who?! That night he put on a show the value of which could be doubted—but only by the blind. Professional basketball isn’t often included in avant-garde questions; nor, for that matter, are the films of Michael Mann. But let’s see if we can move the ball into that “new unknown” so palpably in the air but so hard to take seriously.

DeRozan’s righting that night a Raptor ship that had for weeks resembled a suicide/terror affair ineluctably headed for a murderous obstacle was a vivid case of shaking off protracted depressive blahs. The first 8 or 9 minutes our man of the moment was dogged but middling and generally easily squelched by a very good Houston Rockets quintet. His body language was more on the register of desperation than self-possessed poetry. But thereabouts the real DeMar smashed through that cockpit barrier and the sky became the limit. Kinetic dimensions of agility and authority (offensive and defensive) began to eclipse the ubiquitous and never-ending rock soundtrack rather mechanically groping for pizzazz. There was, for all to see (and possibly retain), a stunning enactment of self-control and precision lifting the proceedings to not only a fun victory but a fund of well-being going way beyond the NBA. (Pressed to play with few breaks, near the end of the game his now-exhausted performance became ragged—even free throws were missed, very rare for him. But a clinching 3-pointer in the last minute—he suspended in space, at one again with elementary particles—gave us to understand something unusual about the imperative of guts.

Whereas De Rozan’s patter in the post-game interview was standard jock taciturnity, the live-wires in Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), putting all their might into both career-level performance and careerist travesties, are seldom at a loss to articulate (for better or worse) a world-view so far from the optics and sonics of the history of planet Earth and yet deemed to be so necessary. A figure in that theatre of very big migration, master criminal, Neil McCauley, intones—almost in the function of a Zen chant—“Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel heat around the corner.” He flashes this proud shocker of a maxim (a sort of steroid-enhanced version of the old trench coat guy who would whip open his garb to reveal naughty pictures) in our presence on a couple of occasions. But I think the entryway to that self-serving bravado beckons to us during the instance of his right-hand man, Chris, being distraught and put off his game by conflict with his wife about his crime and gambling obsessions. Here Neil not only whips out the ruthless loner vision, but refers to it as having been the brainchild of another transgressor, Jimmy McIlrain. Chris had declared with good-old-boy sentiment (almost as if he were in the maelstrom of the actress [Ashley Judd] portraying his wife, Charlene, an implication in the country-western Judd franchise), “To me the sun rises and sets for her…” Thus, in such multiple setting in relief of an instinct to ape perhaps dubious players we are provided a means of fathoming this film’s in fact remarkable multi-media disclosure and coup. (more…)

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master-1

© 2015 by James Clark

      True to form, Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay and production of The Master (2012) powers away in a foreground that seems all about personal gain and prestige while investing heavily in shadings which put to shame all semblances of Yankee sweat and know-how. But still we must touch upon this almost Wellesian melodrama from a unique perspective. This peculiarity derives from the narrative’s being suffused with the actions of a purveyor of what is purported to be unprecedented enlightenment. A filmmaker of such fare (and those further conveying the fare in the spirit of radical discovery) cannot but find that very daunting communicative singularities swirl up when such a cast of characters comes on board. It’s one thing to run circles around oil tycoons, cops and robbers, folk singers, show girls and the like. But a figure like this film’s Lancaster Dodd, a go-getter about reconfigurating sensibility and the cosmos for one and all, treads painfully close to dilemmas, if not imperilling, making monstrously complicated the very substance of a film like that and a commentary like this.

It’s never, to reiterate, such a problem when protagonists flounder in roles having no direct relation to the very fabric of the film project. Painter, William Turner’s foibles, in Mr. Turner, could never apply real heat to Mike Leigh’s procedures as a contemporary filmmaker. Robber Neil and cop Vince in Heat would, despite being closet metaphysicians, say nothing about Michael Mann’s métier (a subject for the near future). But when Dodd, with his prep-school good bones and patrician patina holding forth in an Upper East Side salon in the form of inducing a once-upon-a-time deb to pursue a reverie (“I think I was a man…”/ “Laughing is good…”), comes to be interrupted (in his homily about “spirit”) by another prep-school grad who declares, “Some of this sounds like hypnotism… I still find it difficult to see the proof with regard to past lives… You claim to be able to cure leukemia… This seems to be about the will of one man… a cult,” the skepticism also beams out to the argument-averse disclosures of the heart of Anderson’s project. The Ivy League voice of venerable rationality goes on, in his debating-team-rhetorical-points-leader form, “I’m sorry you’re not able to defend your ideas.” That’s trouble for Dodd (Dud?); but it’s also trouble for Anderson (and me; and anyone else who comprehends that, as all of alert reflection in art, science and design over the past hundred or so years has discovered, there are areas of disclosure that go far beyond classical intellection). And The Master is first and foremost about the exposure of far more sophisticated rebellion never being a hot ticket where big ticket classical training and capitalization (advantage) comprise a rock-solid cult. (For all his inchoate sense of a time ripe for change, the tenets of Lancaster’s vision [heard in one of his indoctrination labs] are as obsolete as the airplane the name of which he’s tagged with: “Every man back to his inherent state of perfect. Man is not an animal. We are far above that crowd. We are spirits. It is not only possible, it is easily achieved…”) (more…)

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