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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

barry-lyndon-1

© 2015 by James Clark

There is a scene, in Kubrick’s film, Barry Lyndon (1975), which offers, within the work’s encompassing an avalanche of distemper, a moment of palpable equilibrium. A British soldier in Germany during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), namely, Raymond Barry, disguised as an officer in the course of deserting (hopefully to the neutral haven of Holland), encounters a young woman living in a farm cottage nearby and left alone with her child due to her husband’s having been swept up in the chaotic warfare. Barry, still redolent of his sweet Irish ways, is accorded a meal and then a few days of love with the keeper of the home fires, a transaction in bloom with gentle recognition of the fragility of existence. “It must be hard for you to be alone.”/ “It is… It must be very danger [the discourse sharing what English and German each can provide] for you to be in the War…” Before the encounter our protagonist is shown enlivened by his escape on horseback—a voice-over, by a narrator having heard of his misadventure after the fact, declaring (with Barry’s optics to confirm the point), “The open road… he vowed never again to fall from the rank of a gentleman…” The noble tone of the couple’s first dinner together (at a table bathed in golden candlelight enshrouded by pitch darkness) is sustained by her pristine question, “Would you like to stay with me for a few days?” and the simple touching of each other’s hand. Then he asks a question—innocent enough, but loaded with the volatility being glossed over by the flourish about constantly inhabiting a lofty rank—“Is the baby a boy or a girl?” In the eighteenth century that would mean to say (flying in the face of the ready confluence between them, just revealed), “Is this person active or passive?” The young mother tells him, “He’s a boy…” And despite the presumably blissful union onstream, as they share a poignant farewell and a kiss informed by strong and true affection, the keynote of action, with all its deathtraps, comes down like a cold, thick fog on that sparkling day. (more…)

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INHERENT VICE

 © 2015 by James Clark

       A likely response to Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, Inherent Vice (2014), a rendition of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, from 2009, under the same title, would be to maintain that the principals have gorged a bit on the peculiar impertinence of California—specifically, LA—style. The year is 1970 and although the whole population has not been concussed with billiard cues this is a shipment of players that gives outsiders the distinct idea that the locals have enlisted in a gigantic wave of franchising their presumably amazing stories.

But though Pynchon is a resolved and deft student of entropy, his Inherent Vice is far more than that. And Anderson’s film copiously demonstrates that he and his vehicle have bought into that more comprehensive and vastly more difficult to comprehend motive. There are features of Pynchon’s text broaching subtleties and sophistications exponentially transcending the addled dialogue of those acting out. (For example: “‘You need to find true love, Doc.’ Actually, he thought, I’ll settle for finding my way through this. His fingers, with a mind of their own, began to creep toward the plastic hedge. Maybe if he searched through it long enough, late enough into the night, he’d find something that might help—some tiny forgotten scrap of his life he didn’t even know was missing, something that would make all the difference now.”)  Anderson resorts to a voice-over in the person of Sortilege, a woman friend of the protagonist, Larry Sportello (whom everyone addresses as Doc, due to his famously finagling the partners of a medical clinic to rent out an office for his private investigation business [but perhaps also due to his willingness to provide solace]); but her discursive energies, heavily laced with astrological rubrics, do not coincide with those of Pynchon. So it is that our starter’s (namely Pynchon’s) arsenal of other pitches must carry much of the thematic load here. That includes inventively exuberant proper and surnames and a perfect wave momentousness as to veins of true gold in the repository of art predating the (by some) supposed renaissance of those self-beatified diggers of the 1960s.   (more…)

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Mr-Turner-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      We recently bought a visual art piece that we find very absorbing. It consists of a reddish screen of Plexiglas within which there is a very thin chair-like configuration. The plastic/glass is assembled in such a way as to conjure the sunlight impinging on it as setting off delicate fires along the trajectories of the chair design. The artist, who has developed a world-wide market for this kind of work, very fortunately lives in Toronto and we’ve been treated to his observations upon his career. A former Texan and one-time Double-A baseball pro, he can’t stand the company of artists.

It was impossible not to think of him when encountering Mike Leigh’s almost incredibly rich disclosure (from 2014) of the ways of British “Romantic” (pre-Impressionist, pre-Abstractionist) painter and water colorist, William Turner (1775-1851), known as “the painter of light.” Despite a brief initial scene where the protagonist, standing in an expanse of farmland, communes with a Dutch sunset, quickly sketching impressions into a notepad, we’re soon caught up in a tradesman’s preoccupation with manufacturing marketable canvases for Londoners with loads of discretionary assets. The artist, for all his occupying a pedestal back home—addressing his canvas of the moment like a rotund golf legend chipping out of a bunker at the Masters on a sunny day—is most specifically a continuum of his (caddy) father (always referred to as Daddy, who used to sell his juvenilia from the barber shop which he once presided over), functioning now as his conduit for paints, brushes and canvas, and also preparer of pigments and stretchers, not to mention his presiding over the retail outlet on the premises. Early on we see him ushering into the precincts comprising their home and William Jr.’s studio a couple of prospective buyers. (In fact there are three in that party, but Turner Sr. only refers to “Gentlemen.” This touch forms part of a pattern of Turner’s thematically significant repeated underestimation of women. On his return from Holland [where we saw a pair of milk maids in old-fashioned costumes walking by the site of the genius plunged into matters too refined for all but the rare, advanced female], he shares an unintelligible joke with Daddy, something about “cackling females.”) The gentlemen art fans stand in an ante room strikingly murky, but Sr. assures them, “The darkness is to a purpose…” He leads them to a doorway and with the vaguely mountebank flourish, “Behold!” opens the way to a dazzling southern exposure, the better to set the scene for the irresistible magic of those latest works of the painter of light, tableaux markedly leaning toward seascapes with arresting clouds and lighting effects. (Turner himself peeks through a peep-hole to see how things are going. Then his ex drops by, along with their two daughters, one of whom with a new-born baby and needing new finances, and, after they are ushered out of his studio by the housekeeper and come to the living room, Turner kicks a chair across the workspace.) (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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IMG_9088

© 2014 by James Clark

 I’m assuming that most of you have not seen the Jacques Demy fantasy/musical Peau d’Ane (Donkey Skin [1970]). But here it is anyway, not for the sake of exploring macabre Surrealist nightmares but with regard to its having become, in France, as omnipresent a Christmas-season classic as It’s a Wonderful Life is, for us.

While it is one thing for a Frank Capra to serve up “happily ever after,” we should not miss the edifying incongruity of a vastly alienated and ironic figure like Demy in the kitchen whipping up some comfort food. Peau d’Ane has to be seen in a markedly disjointed manner to make the mainstream grade—perhaps glanced in tandem with catching up with Grandma or a long-lost uncle. As such, though, it does afford an unexpected shower of not only the quirky physical comedy always in Demy’s oven (though generally clouded by an insistent death-spiral) but also at least one song (“Cake d’Amour” [“Love Cake”], by Michel Legrand, that comes across as a peppy and touching carol (as sung in a duet featuring a deceased queenly mother and her hard-times daughter).

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HysasPjF84

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force-majeure-1

© 2014 by James Clark

      Bear with me for a moment, in embarking upon Ruben Ostlund’s mountain of domestic and individual anguish, Force Majeure (2014), by way of Marguerite Duras’ novella, The Lover (1984). The latter’s opening salvo, wherein the Speaker gets under our skin fast by way of an account of her own physiognomy, can blaze a trail to the revelatory factor of the flawlessly youthful visages (almost computer-generated) of Tomas and Ebba, the film’s protagonists.

“Very early in my life it was too late. It was already too late when I was eighteen… My ageing was very sudden. I saw it spread over my features one by one, changing the relationship between them, making the eyes larger, the expression sadder, the mouth more final, leaving great creases in the forehead. But instead of being dismayed I watched this process with the same sort of interest I might have taken in the reading of a book…”

Already in 1959, as screenwriter of Hiroshima Mon Amour, and far past her eighteenth birthday, Duras was intent upon those singular and difficult currents implicit in The Lover: “Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.” Writer and director Ostlund’s fascination with such kinetic ravages impels him to get things underway with Tomas, Ebba and their likewise photogenic children, Vera and Harry, fresh from Sweden to a sterling ski resort in the French Alps, being rightly prized by an itinerant photographer lurking at the base of the ski lifts. (The photos being gratis, we have to infer that the cameraman has a project in mind which they well fit into. Could it have something to do with their too-good-to-be-true, but now universal, looks? He keeps calling little Harry a “champion.” Or, “Are you a champion? [“champion coming to sound like “chumpion”]. They follow this flattering interruption with slight betrayal of already having more handsome mementos than they need. (Later Tomas will, while enjoying an après-ski beer on the sun-deck, be approached by a young woman who tells him her girlfriend thinks he’s the best-looking man in the bar. She then promptly returns to make the correction that it was another man she was referring to. With so many spa-braced perfect 10’s on the scene, such a mistake would be nearly inevitable.) “I want a beauty smile together!” Later that day Ebba shows the photos to a deep-seated skeptic about domestic cloying. (She declares she’s “on a break” from her two daughters; and her husband. Yet she plays along with Ebba’s zeal for Harry’s perfect features. “Oh, his eyes… He’s very beautiful!”)

(more…)

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nights-of-cabiria-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

      The first episode of Nights of Cabiria (1957) is a crime melodrama so offbeat it could almost be science fiction. We see in the middle distance a diminutive woman, in a white dress with horizontal black waves, zigging and zagging and shimmying backwards in bright sunlight across the nondescript scrub and debris land of the outskirts of Rome, in the throes of the money-mad developments of the post-War “Economic Miracle.” It is impossible not to be struck by the ebullience of her actions, showering affectionate playfulness upon a male friend in stylish shades not a party to her kinetic imperatives. They come to the Tiber and, like a one-track insect, he elbows her into its blazing current, not forgetting to come away with her purse which, just seconds before, she had twirled in a wide orbit. Though she was a player in good standing when it came to gracing terra firma, we immediately realize she’s a non-swimmer (her arms and hands describing graceful but nonetheless hapless arabesques into the river run which has all but swallowed for good the rest of her body). In a spirited effort she brings her head to light and screams for help. Children (one of them in a North American Indian headdress) playing along the river bank hear this and rush to do what they can to save her. One of them remarks, “If she gets to the sewer she won’t get up again!” (Hold that thought.) A well-dressed passer-by takes off his suit jacket and then, applying some of the rationality that took him this far, puts it back on and (after demanding an inventory of possible rescuers in the vicinity) cuts out. Less formally dressed men supplement the children’s efforts in diving into the menacing dynamics of the river and getting her to shore, by beginning to apply artificial respiration. As they hold her upside down (her spiffy shift now miserably soaked and dirty) and find reason to enthuse in her emitting water from her lungs and mouth, a woman standing nearby bites her fist (her face and eyes almost drowned in anxiety about the victim’s difficulties and prospects, but also in distress about a close encounter with death). (more…)

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