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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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© 2018 by James Clark

      Seeing Ruben Ostlund’s film, Force Majeure (2014), where a husband and father runs away from his family when faced with an avalanche about to hit (which in fact doesn’t), we were clearly in the hands of an artist who had much to say about the indispensability of courage. His recent film, The Square (2017), finds him elaborating upon the earlier film’s domestic crisis coming to bear when being safely on the sidelines (like Ostlund’s Sweden in being “neutral” in face of a violent Germany amidst World War II) sows a deadly nightmare.

Let me inject some local color perhaps necessary when the locale is a backwater clouded in a distant and precious past. (Force Majeure, on the other hand, takes place in the well-known cosmopolitan French Alpine playground.) For the purpose of being on the same (target) page as Ostlund, we must know that the Swedish populace has for centuries been rigidly homogeneous as to race and culture, and overseen by the Evangelical Lutheran Church and its ardent and benevolent social priorities as to the vulnerable and incompetent. In the years immediately after World War II, the owner/ manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team (and a military zealot), namely, Conn Smythe, molded the team’s culture as opposed to appeasement, a priority one of his more virulent successors, Harold Ballard, honed into hatred of Swedish players, assumed to be cowards. One of my school chums, Don Baizley, was to go on to work as a lawyer/ hockey agent, with a special mission to introduce Swedish skills to the National Hockey League. I think. on the basis of The Square, there is little doubt that Ostlund follows Smythe and Ballard’s, not Baizley’s point of view. However, this film’s imbroglio is far more a search into difficult skills few have ever mustered, than simply kicking ass. (more…)

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 © 2017 by James Clark

      You have to be careful about tricking out one’s film with factors from other artists. The recent Blade Runner 2049 (2017), offers us a cornucopia of blue-chip endeavors, all of which putting Villeneuve’s spectacular and shallow film to shame.

First of all, there is the first Blade Runner (1982), overseen by an expert, Ridley Scott, regarding the monstrous problematics of interpersonal integrity. Like the current film, Scott’s Blade Runner has been seen as a science fiction entertainment, which is to say, a saga saturated with a baseline of classical scientific possibility. As to this very specific binary business of widespread 21st century navigating, one aspect especially should not be missed, namely, that the protagonist of the Scott film, namely, Deckard, first comes to view to us as quite happily retired from the LAPD where he was regarded as the foremost hunter of wayward slave robots. As we first see him enjoying the Oriental fare of a seriously decrepit Los Angeles sidewalk comfort bar, and being much food for thought as a rather vivacious player within a world of squalor and dazzle we’ve never encountered (this being 2019, not 1982), we know immediately that he’s having no trouble being stimulated by the world, and is steadfastly not being fixated upon “the good old days.” Only the threat of a trumped-up arrest from his former superior restores him to displaying the (now seen more than ever to be time-wasting) expertise in bloodily “retiring” bio-engineered maverick quasi-humans, known as “replicants,” designed for dangerous and super-human work. Thereby, we have a speculative back-story of a free-spirit coming to grips (however boozily) with matters transcending police work, including office politics and moonlighting. In marked (and careless) contrast to Deckard, the born skeptic, we have in the current film a docile, if lethal, replicant/ LAPD detective putting down (30 years after Deckard’s controversial going AWOL) remnants of a long-surpassed replicant issue with traces of that rebelliousness unwelcome to a rather dizzy police state. That the latter protagonist, namely, K [an abbreviation of his serial number], comes to a level of skepticism himself in the course of his employment would be a very different instrumentality from that overseen by Scott. (more…)

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© 2017 by James Clark

      Among the many and rare skills of filmmaker, Kelly Reichardt, I think the one that most defines her work is the remarkable attentiveness to mood. From time to time we all experience how difficult it is to read the real angle coming to us by figures we have a close and clear bead upon. Often a full disclosure can only be attained by discerning a panoply of incidents (overt and covert), perhaps tracing back to a distant past.

Possessed of very high-powered disclosure in that strategic area, she has memorably deployed those resources in order to, in the film, Old Joy (2006), produce sophisticated havoc upon conventional, politically correct assumptions about the sacred cows of our orbit, for the sake of initiating the neglected, very difficult and crucial task of sensuous coherence.

Old Joy directly purports to cover a reunion of Kurt, an itinerant, getting in touch with a former friend, Mark, living, as always, in Portland, Oregon, and now married to pregnant, Tanya, in their environmentally lush home sustained by intellectually demanding jobs. Here we should note a glaring irregularity about each of them. Along the way of this saga we learn that Kurt, the self-styled, not to mention unctuous, “people person,” has waited until his considerable stay in the venue was no longer tenable before leaving on Mark’s answering machine, “I’m in town and I’m just hoping you’re in town.” As to Mark (a mark?), as the film opens, his eyes are closed as he sits in his rather overrun, “authentic” yard, staving off a nervous breakdown, with a Tanya who is pretty much fed up.

This seeming conjunction of ardent, youngish searchers benefits (if that is the word) from the eyes of the “indie” stalwarts who constitute for Reichardt a force needing shock treatment they are unlikely to like. What’s not to love about a counter-cultural rogue, drug addict and homosexual predator catching up with an academically-secured humanitarian, addicted to that liberal radio gospel hour, Air America? Let’s see.

(more…)

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