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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

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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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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