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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

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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millenium-mambo-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      After exploring a number of films where protagonists seem to have brought down on their head difficulties so weighty as to suggest a mission impossible, I think it’s time for Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Millennium Mambo (2001) to make the case that it’s easy as pie. Well, maybe not exactly as easy as pie, but wisely and effectively circumventing grating levels of peevish mayhem and clueless paralysis.

Apparently this is a Hou Hsiao Hsien movie which the partisans love to hate, inasmuch as it steadfastly refuses to pay the usual tribute to Yasujiro Ozu, in his setting in relief hard domestic times (and their socio-political framework) whereby decorum of the most incisive poignancy can rule. There is no doubt that such salt-of-the-earth sweethearts have left the building in the 2001 odyssey on tap (and I’m as insatiable about seeing the graces of Setsuko Hara [and her skilful followers] as anyone). But rather than shoot first and pile on reasons later, there are rewards to be had—rewards of decorum, no less—in this apparently attention-deficient, rude scramble of a movie (which reminds one a bit of Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels [1995] as taking place where gun-control is not just a saying). What is needed, I think, to come to realize that Hou Hsiao Hsien has, taking to heart the newness of the new millennium—which had been eating away at nostalgic gems for some time before the year 2000—improved not dumbed down his craft, is to (like Wong) pay close attention to the lava flow of contemporary sensuality onscreen, as only at a first and lazy glance devoid of serious content. (more…)

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 IMG_0314-1

© 2015 by James Clark

      I want to begin dealing with this fairly recent film, having already attained to august singularity status in the eyes of legions of film folks, by committing the heresy of, while recognizing it to be a very fine product, identifying it as a witty and ardent contribution to a long-standing vigil by a large crowd of filmmakers many of whom have brought to us even more fertile overtures which have gone largely unnoticed. One of those devotees not having been ignored was Stanley Kubrick. One of his contributions to that comprehensive concern, namely, 2001, Space Odyssey (1968) finds itself right up there with There Will Be Blood (2007) as an object of flat-out worship. There Will Be Blood is essentially a remake of Space Odyssey. It takes a run, in light of Kubrick’s Dave coming up short despite Herculean intensity, within a panoramically vast imperative bearing down on all of us, not only Americans and their difficulties with couth (perhaps the germ of the huge love affair for this film deriving from its brush with satanic materialism and inefficient Christianity).

The writing and cinematic force behind this love-fest turns out to be an inspired explorer of the rich lodes of headway buried in the more or less accessible vaults of art works from recent and distant times. So it is that Anderson sends to us, in There Will Be Blood, a scenario that opens with a barely discernible but soon palpably urgent ringing which reveals more complex structure on the order of that increasingly higher volume and an increasingly high pitch, culminating in an eruption of sound. That jolt lifts the initial entropic optics of dull rocky desert to the point of far more radiant light and touches of green and yellow in the hitherto grim terrain, in addition to which showing the grey hills nearby to have texture and subtle appeal. The high tension aural motif continues over a cut to a creature powerfully chopping away with a pickaxe at the enclosing walls of a dark rocky cave. His historical position, as far as we can see at this murky point, lies somewhere between frantic primeval apes and authoritative high-tech high-flyers. The pit where he toils is untouched by speech—he being, in contrast to those apes we know, alone—and after the ringing subsides we find a similar function arising in sparks shooting from the collision of steel and rock, from the carnal effort. The intensity of his eyes (as he examines a rock), picking up what light has made his way down, is arresting. His beard is full, his hair thick and long and his tan-colored hat (which he puts on after the digging is done and he heads upwards, clambering and pulling powerfully on a rope) gives his head a roundedness. On the surface, night having fallen, he squats morosely and pulls a blanket across his chest. Wisps of his fire show at the bottom of the screen. The wind howls, there is thunder and lightning in the distance and then the date 1898, in neo-Gothic style, appears. Back to work, now by candle light, he with hammer and crowbar dislodges a small piece and examines it, finding there traces of silver. He places a stick of dynamite at the promising area and the flame of the explosive challenges the inert rock. Climbing up he encounters radiant sunshine and blue sky (giving us pause). He struggles to bring up his samples by pulling and failing twice to manage the load. (The dark vertical container being somewhat, in shape if not size or texture, like the monolith administering to the apes. A distant aftermath of this early struggle delivers to us another such arresting configuration—an oil well tower exploding and sending up a huge shaft of black smoke, and then being superseded by raging, devastating, angry flames.) The explosion, far down, suspends that focus and after the dust clears he heads down to check the vein. In his haste he misses a rung and plunges downward. We see his fall from below with an intense light in the zone of the opening to the sky—a fiery figure melding for a microsecond with the play of light. All goes black as his falling body covers our outlook. He wakes up crying in pain with a deep, wild animal timbre. He gasps and a sound like “No” comes through. Looking upward his eyes catch whatever light is to be had in his bind—a link to the apes and that leopard. The low growl of his pain also brings them onstream.) Soon he’s dragging himself up by a rope (this bid invested with more strength than those bids at the surface.) Just before that he has the presence of mind to spit on one of the rocks broken off by the explosion. The silver there braces him and he places a small rock into his shirt near his heart. Agile as an ape, his three long functioning limbs at full capacity, he heads upward. And as he does, he’s joined by steadily heightened and modulated calling, becoming increasingly excited as he negotiates the terrain on his back, pulling himself along with his uninjured leg and his two arms and hands. This crescendo develops from ringing to a siren, revealing traces of conscious imploring. The sonic apparition not only intensifies into jangling high notes, but there is a harmonic quality, elements of high and low somehow rewarding him for his courage. This new component touches upon voices, wild and resonant. At the assayers, while the staff checks out his finds and he remains on his back on the floor, the song of tribute and encouragement continues. There is a human-like sensibility in the lower registers of this extraordinary patterning linking to an extraordinary feat of heart. (Most viewers, it seems, see the protagonist as entirely lacking heart, apparently stricken with an American virus, and thus an opportunity to wallow in hatred and smug self-righteousness.) (more…)

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control-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

 You might say that Anton Corbijn was remarkably positioned to do justice to the brief and lugubrious life of British rocker, Ian Curtis, the writing and vocal dimension of a short-lived sensation in the late 1970s called Joy Division. In his earlier career as a photographer—following in the footsteps, you might say, of Stanley Kubrick—he became involved with the band in the capacity of producing publicity stills, a coverage entailing extensive contact with Curtis, and also his wife, Debbie, whose book Touching from a Distance (1995) formed the backbone of the 2007 film. (She was also an associate producer of Corbijn’s project, his first entry into directorial duties.)

Be that as it may, there are, I think, even more important factors behind his long-after-the-fact, stunning illumination of the protagonist’s plunge toward suicide. They pertain to evidence of a deep appreciation of the film work of that renowned but unknown as such precursor, Kubrick, whose life had come to an end quite a while before our guide here commenced his new career. So it is that in his debut, Corbijn sends us from out of his forte, visual design, a Kubrick moment zooming in on the nub of the crisis of Ian Curtis and myriad others. It occurs at the time when Curtis’ band was clawing toward television exposure on a local (Manchester) bellwether of the best of recent rock. Having produced a demo and put it into the hands of the show’s supercilious guru, the lads are nonplussed that all they received for their trouble was, as the star-maker was signing off, a quick mention of the disc as promising. Later that night the musicians catch up with that lax responder to their talent (“He’s gotta put us on!”), in a bar and Ian is designated to go over to his table and straighten him out. He comes to the celebrity’s table, leans over to him and blows smoke into his face, bringing to rude Manchester the rude and lost Redmond Barry showing his contempt for a woman who was far more remarkable than the dubious object of Ian’s resentment. Unlike the passenger in Barry Lyndon, the attacker goes on to complain, “You’re a bastard!” and receives the assurance, “You’ll be the next band.” (more…)

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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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