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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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 © 2018 by James Clark

 The singularity of Michael Haneke’s latest film, Happy End (2017), does not so much inhere in charting a disaster (near and far), nor a wrinkle as to Haneke’s soul-mate, Abbas Kiarostami. What becomes most eerie and challenging here is this film’s being a kind of binary star (revolving around a common centre) along with Ruben Ostlund’s film—from the same year—namely, The Square!

Whereas the latter’s ferocity pertains to a cave-in apropos of widely beloved humanitarianism, Happy End, literally and metaphorically, has to do with a sink hole in the form of technology and its classical-science grounds being essentially groundless, despite being hugely productive and generating a vicious idolatry. The peculiar situation of Haneke’s preferences here elicits a fireworks factory conflagration of flashes recalled in previous films having meaningfully touched upon that conundrum of all conundrums.  Actress, Isabelle Huppert, occupies a special vantage point within this evocation of personal worst inasmuch as she brings to the current film a distinguished track record of frequenting the advent of living dead, in two other recent films. In the Haneke film, Amour (2012), she plays the part of the hapless daughter of a couple of brilliant musicians on the order of technique who, in their later days, detest music. In the film, Elle (2016), by Paul Verhoeven, she portrays the owner/ director of a booming games production concern, hard as nails and following a trajectory culminating in sit-com ordinariness. In Happy End, she is the general manager of a multi-tech construction firm Her aged father, whom she has supplanted in the board room, is played by actor, Jean-Louis Trintignant, who ran his technical skills into the ground as her father in Amour. Huppert’s Anne, in Happy End, has a dysfunctional son, Pierre. Huppert’s Michele, in Elle, also has a dysfunctional son, Vincent, never to be confused with the self-unsparing painter. Actress, Elizabeth Moss, is called Anne and she forms an unsteady alliance with a PR-first museum director, named Christian, in The Square. Both Christian and Anne-the builder run into intractable difficulties in the form of Muslim refugees. (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

 In the spirit of craft, so central to this film, we’ll cover first (all but one of) the essentials of where it’s going; to be followed by how it fares. Though set in London in the 1950s, purporting to be a love story about a renowned couturier, Reynolds Woodcock, and a young woman, Alma, first seen as a waitress in a rural locale, we have to get over its old-timey, sentimental sheen and take to heart how old and wooden the maestro is and how like an ungainly woodcock Alma is (searching at night in soft ground—in her case, for poisonous mushrooms by which to seal his dependency on her). They have a child, and by their lights have a happy life.

Fans of Pride and Prejudice might be tempted to imagine that the good old days are back. But how many 50s romance aficionados are left out there? Has Anderson overestimated that the emotive skills of actors, Daniel Day Lewis and Vicky Krieps, could draw a crowd to pay the bills for his deep and difficult 21st century vehicle? (From my perspective, I’m saddened, but not surprised, that in a centre of more than 6 million, only 2 theatres found it worth showing.) This massively quixotic endeavor ensnares us in its fantastic brilliance which no one wants to see.

There are many candidates vying in this picture, for filling the presence of “phantom thread.” We’re given, if we’re awake enough, a foothold on the real breakthrough very early on. Reynold’s current doll begins to chafe at the breakfast table, denouncing him (politely, of course, this being a drawing room in the realm of British good breeding) on account of, “There’s nothing I can do to get your seeing me…” The rigidly tastefully groomed owner of the mid-town Georgian mansion which doubles as his studio and production floor—seen at the outset, one morning, attending to body and raiment as if he no longer can, as if he ever did, distinguish between perfect artefact and human volcano—stages thereby what he might imagine to be a British volcano in telling the talkative serf, “I can’t begin my day with confrontation… I simply have to have silence.” At which, a rendition of “My Foolish Heart” fills the cordon bleu air. (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

      Playwright, and now auteur, Martin McDonagh, brings to the screen—in his film Three Billboards (2017)—a close encounter with obsession we’ve all seen; but not like this. Fashion and industrial designer, and now auteur, Tom Ford, recently (in 2016) constructed a fascinating study of obsessive revenge, titled, Nocturnal Animals, wherein a writer plots revenge upon his former wife by way of disclosing to her the script of a protagonist who was unable to protect his wife and adolescent daughter from being viciously raped and murdered. The latter filmic locomotiveknows of only the single gratification of destroying an attacker at great heights of physically painful violence.

McDonagh’s vehicle,it seems to me, regarding the aftermath of a vicious rape, murder and immolation of an adolescent girl, does not so much give an accounting of baptism for the sake of decisively taking a stand in a malignant world. Instead, the disclosure upstages apparently sterling personality by way of a weave of sensibility intrinsically on the order of a roller coaster.

A striking and fertile instance of the phenomenon in question pertains to the British lady enclosed in small-town Missouri in the capacity of the wife of the Chief of Police who is facing incurable cancer. We first see her, her two young daughters and her husband maintaining remarkable joie de vivre while pierced with imminent catastrophe. This unmistakably secular group makes its way to a forest and stream attraction, the children eager to cast their lines in that idiom so complementary to a rural home. The happily situated father, Billy Willoughby, orders the little ones—with gentle, jocular gruffness—not to stray from the picnic blanket where they were to ply the stream at its bank. Meanwhile, Billy and the missus depart for a round of coitus in the deep woods. Back home, the lady of the house warmly congratulates the lawman for his “great fuck.” She chafes a bit, burdened with what he calls her “Chardonnay headache” and his having to tend to a couple of saddle ponies in the barn, but the moment of not liking the rural South is readily stanched. Bill goes to the lovingly maintained barn, places a bag over his head—on which we read, “Don’t Remove the Cover”—and he shoots his head with a hand gun. The next step is the three girls comforting each other on the bed. The following morning the brave and dutiful mom visits a souvenir shop and confronts the clerk on duty, namely, Mildred Hayes, a taciturn, anxious middle-aged lady with a youthfully erect presence. The visit is far more angry than unhappy, a situation giving us a start. She hands over a sealed envelope addressed by Billy to Mildred. She cannot resist berating Mildred for her campaign of ridicule and fury regarding—a year after her daughter’s horrific murder—the local police (and particularly Billy) failing to apprehend the culprit or culprits. Billy’s widow, with virtually the whole town backing her, adopts a murderous hatred that Mildred had so unfairly ambushed the harmonics of her family’s remarkableness. (more…)

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