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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

collateral-1

 

© 2015 by James Clark

 Most crime stories committed to film are suffused with satisfaction that they’ll give the audience technology-based thrills along lines of impressive actors, “Keeping them on the edge of their seats” about how it all will end. They might also factor into the market prediction their having scared the shit out of hard-pressed contemporaries apropos of society becoming an ever more vicious battlefield. What else could an ambitious filmmaker in the “action” field ask for?

If we keep our eyes wide open while watching Michael Mann’s crime story, Collateral (2004), we might surprise ourselves that the abovementioned formula admits of being surpassed a million times over. However, not only the practitioners lend themselves to that dead weight of old timey fun, but also the audience. Departures on the screen from lazy fun can, in the buttery hands of the popcorn inactivists, be readily fixed as akin to Superbowl ads and attributed to the dime-a-dozen charms of movie stars. Our account of the uniqueness of such a film as we have in our face right now depends upon those few viewers who can take to heart its voluminous concentration upon registers of displacement and distress far beyond anything mainstream experience provides. So while Mann would be quite happy to bank the funds coming from customers who twist his work beyond recognition (the DVD supplement fascinatingly contributing to the confusion)—I recall overhearing a viewer in an art museum getting clear that the painting in front of him was on the order of “Untilted”—there is about his enterprise a clandestine range of rewards generously out there for those whose assimilative energies have not been beaten down. (more…)

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goodbye-south-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

     Rather than immediately follow upon the overture that was the business regarding Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai (featuring a hit man), in the form of introducing links like Michael Mann’s Collateral or his Manhunter (featuring a “Tooth Fairy”), we’re going to make a brief hop over to Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996). There was an intriguing affinity to the goings on in Melville and Mann, in Hou’s Millennium Mambo with its premium upon a slippery process between right-hand self-possession and left-hand slacking off. And this seems the right point in our deliberation to consider how the deft Taiwanese master (the latest film of which, The Assassin [2015], brims with unusual promise) comes to grips with the love/hate paradox we need all the help with we can get. More particularly, we want some perspective upon the very sophisticated dialectic Melville and Mann find to be crucial, in view of the apparently far simpler harmonics Hou Hsiao Hsien settles upon so glowingly.

Here we especially key upon Hou’s apparently having no time for the tempered subversiveness the Occidental Two (Three, if you count Antonioni) broach, albeit from afar. The latters’ loner’s creed igniting their films with hardness many find repellent is nowhere to be found in Goodbye South, Goodbye. Instead we have a protagonist, Gao, having made a business partner of a younger brother, Flatty (or Flat Head), who, to put it mildly, has no aptitude for business life or any other form of adult comportment. Flatty’s girlfriend, Pretzel, supposedly adding to a going concern, is infantile to the point of emotional derangement and a suicidal cipher. The brothers had left their southern Taiwan, rural homeland to contest cooler atmospheres. Wanting no part of a tacky family distribution of a relative’s estate, they had pointedly told those hicks that they were above that. In the course of the film, Flatty’s default position, after a string of less than stellar start-ups, is to go for his share of that long-settled disbursement, citing his in fact having put in a bid however ridiculously late. Being told to get real in the most oblique way (a secondary family member and violent gambling addict having horned in on the loose cash), the one who should have remained a village idiot presses for confrontation and, once there, gets punched out by the mob of marginal loved ones who had long-ago squandered that abstraction, a network including a local cop. This prompts the bad-tempered moron to look for a gun and Gao, the boss man with few leadership qualities, makes some calls to this effect, calls that are bugged. The boys are taken for a long ride into wasteland where corpses would never be found. However the family includes a political boss of the area who counsels directing the city slickers back to Taipei. On the way home Flatty runs their car off the road and Gao is killed. (more…)

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samourai-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      David Thomson cherishes Melville’s Le Samourai (1967) for its “… configurations… so mysterious, so averse to everyday explanation;” and he goes on to wrap it up as an everyday bonbon. “Seen now, Le Samourai looks like a film from an earlier age, one made at a time when great films were necessary (and regular) because they demonstrated and fulfilled the nature of the medium.” That’s quite a niggardly pratfall! Not many sentences begin with avant-gardist premises only to flash logical-positivist conclusions. Such conclusions (living in the vicinity of Jean-Luc Godard’s academicism) are copiously pinpointed by Thomson’s last words on the subject, prefaced with passport-to-adulation effete pessimism. “Now that the medium is in ruin or chaos, Le Samourai looks as abstract, yet as beautiful and as endlessly worthy of study, as the Giotto frescoes in the basilica in Assisi. That which seemed fanciful has become an eternal and luminous lesson in how men behaved when they believed behavior mattered.” Such eloquent superficiality should not interfere with our engaging the film Melville in fact offers us, a film-phenomenon (rather than a concept) that has more serious work to do than prettily signing a death certificate for all innovative activity in our time.

There have been myriad endeavors over the fairly recent past stemming from conviction that behavior matters—in fields seemingly so disparate as quantum physics, ontology, architecture, sports and, to name but one more field which at the same time neglects many other efforts, film. None of them, however, has much to recommend in Giotto. Unlike researchers and builders in awe of the innovative lengths to be essayed, the unique human phenomena appearing in grounds-breaking films do not luxuriate in collegial centres. Thomson’s essay includes the alert about our film in the spotlight today (short-circuited, as it happens, to coincide with antiquated stasis), “Everything is in the playing or the enactment.” That is a window on the world which many (Thomson included) harbor a strong impulse to smash. Allowing oneself to babble on about such dynamics without including an iota of what they imply disqualifies one from effectively fathoming what a work like Le Samourai is about. (more…)

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bob-le-flambeur-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      It wouldn’t seem plausible, from the perspective of bloated numbers pledging their allegiance to “commonsensible” understanding of the world in general and film in particular, that an approach to the whimsy of Melville’s Bob le Flambeur (1956) requires a brief update of the reflective history of the planet. But, when you stop and think about the flaming absurdity and mawkishness of mainstream (law-abiding) experience, it is precisely a disregarded figure like Melville (and his most acute contemporary associate, the much-maligned Michael Mann), who would be doing the heavy lifting so germane to the roster of geniuses who have left things in so self-satisfiedly superficial a state.

Incisive investigation tends to come in two forms. The first, stemming from 19th century idealist-academic inquiry (in turn stemming from pre-Socratic endeavors) comprises conceptual architecture having tripped open lacunae of the rational (Platonic) tradition. The second, stemming from the arts, comprises construction of physical objects in such a way as to reveal an underbelly of rewarding startlement that physical events can be endlessly compelling.

The arts having to do with that black magic have jealously maintained that those whiffs of ecstasy and frisson they trade in are to stand as sacrosanct in their ineffable and almost utterly confusing power. As such, in radical film production, the sensuous bite of malaise, impasse and fleeting thrill tends to stand out as an unsurpassable frontier unto itself.

But this now venerable electrical storm (along lines of Antonioni, Fellini, Bresson, Lynch, Von Trier et al.) does admit of being cultivated further. And the inception of this problematic peeks out of the well-trodden ground by way of a film feted for elegance, technical audacity and panache; but not recognized as a bold departure speaking to the heart of modern existence. (more…)

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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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