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Archive for the ‘author James Clark’ Category

 © 2019 by James Clark

      Like the Bergman film, Winter Light (1963), Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), threatens, at first blush, to be a pain in the ass. Instead of the former film’s protagonist’s death march through rootless theology, we have a veritable general assembly of gluttons for winning advantage over everyone else, so smug and fatuous in their ridiculous “sophistication” as to seem not only from several centuries past but obviously headed for embarrassment. However, just as we were rewarded by putting up with the first hour-plus in the first-mentioned film, there is, in the latter (our film today), after quite a long while, something delicious turning the tables—which is not to say, becoming dominant.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a high-profile Stockholm actress, Desiree, presses her mother—an elderly dowager—to stage a summer weekend for a number of her associates, in order to create a fracas that will wrest away from his very young wife a lawyer  whom, as once before, she finds herself in love with. Whereas the jockeying amidst various cynical patricians is hectic and not particularly witty—one scene recalling the Three Stooges—(making for Bergman a much-needed state of solvency and continued career), it is the non-amorous octogenarian who makes the occasion truly sexy.

There is a prelude to this romp, where Desiree bursts into her mother’s bedroom (interrupting the latter’s game of Solitaire, at 7 a.m.) to have her write out the invitations. While the daughter drinks a lot of coffee and then skims over a novel, the owner of the estate has more to say about the state of the nation than the progressions of her flakey daughter. On Desiree’s describing her event as doing a “good deed,” the rather frail but very alert intruded-upon declares, “They [good deeds] cost far too much” (the recipient not likely to seriously respond, leaving the donor nonplussed). She goes on to elaborate upon her being fond of Solitaire. The social convener/ daughter asks, “Is anything really important to you?” Her mother, not needing to think it over, shoots back, “I am tired of people. But that doesn’t stop me loving them… I could have had them stuffed and hanging in long rows, any number of them [fine as a decorative possibility; disastrous as actuality]. One can never protect a human being from any kind of suffering [the level of grotesque perversity being like a self-satisfied plague]. That is what makes one so tremendously weary…” (more…)

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 © 2019 by James Clark

      In many ways, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), looks to a past leaving it nearly an anachronism. The helmsmen here, Joel and Ethan Coen, have, in their business affairs, been forced to locate their complex communications in the swill of the multi-cocktail Happy Hour known as Netflix. (Years before, David Lynch, apropos of the vein now virulent, was heard to declare, “I didn’t make this picture for your damn phone.”)

As you probably know, the boys are nothing if not resilient, and with this unwelcome matter in the air they prove to be even more feisty and irreverent than usual. Their strategy to be large as life is a wild and wonderful tour de force. Inasmuch as this film with a vengeance is multi-faceted, let’s ease into it by way of its amusingly wicked parody of Millennials, those softies utterly disinclined to show up at a theatre to see a Coens’ film.

You might think the lads are staging some kind of revival of Cowboys and Indians entertainment, inasmuch as the setting is the “Wild West,” and its six vignettes comprise the product seen to be slices (in various tones) of the fateful drama of what used to be a big money-maker. Actor, Tim Blake Nelson—directly addressing the audience as if it were packed with fast friends—leads off with a singing cowboy, Buster Scruggs, so hilarious in enjoying his domain that we barely register that the song he so confidently sings is about dying of thirst (“Cool Water”) and that he takes low-key umbrage that one of his wanted posters accuses him of being a misanthrope (his horse whinnying in support when prompted to consider that the charge is patently unfair). That he brightens up with the thought that “Song never fails to sooth my restless heart,” constitutes the first of many displays of assurance that heavy baggage can be exorcised on the order of a good cleaning lady. (The writer/ performer of the song, “Cool Water,” Marty Robbins, was not only a country/Western musical profit-centre in the Nixon-era, but also a NASCAR driver, always in the hunt. On one racing occasion, he was seriously injured swerving into a wall to avert smashing into a stalled vehicle. Hold that thought in fathoming the protagonists stalled here, in other ways.) (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

 Our film today brings to mind ancient Greek theatre (often regarded as “tragedy”), inasmuch as it is concerned with an odyssey of no mean weight. In accordance with this template, there is a chorus, a number of mainstream busybodies galvanized by a unique and self-destructive protagonist. True to form, these lesser lights have much to say; and what they say is often more than they realize.

Their modern apparition appears in the story’s very first chapter, where a test pilot, Neil, let’s rip with an aircraft not for the general public. In the midst of his struggles with the untamed beast, the bureaucrats in the picture radio to him a series of complaints. “We show you wobbling, not turning… You’re bouncing off the atmosphere… He’s a good engineer, but he’s distracted…”

The do-nothing perfectionists do manage to dissuade Neil’s seeming to be on a roller coaster from hell. Of course he’s in elaborate protective gear, but the caveats unintentionally direct us to the regions of death and where to thrive there before disappearing into those abysses having given to us a startling physical introduction. (Our latter-day Odysseus has been branded a First Man [2018]; and we’ll be tested to recognize whether he deserves such a vaunted reputation.) Our Homer, here, befitting the métier of cinema in perhaps its dying days as an adult pursuit, is Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), who, as it happens, was a devotee of dynamics as wild as it gets. Coming upon First Man, therefore, we are provided with, in addition to what that chorus distinguishes itself by carping, Bergman’s very self-aware steering apparatus, “acrobatics” and “juggling.” (more…)

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© 2018 by James Clark

 

    Our striking film today is not what it seems to be. And it signals something along those surprising lines by its title, You Were Never Really Here (2017). The elsewhere, where our leading man, Joe, chooses to be, lands him in late 19th century Sweden. He, portrayed by actor, Joaquin Phoenix. along with filmmaker extraordinaire, Lynne Ramsay, proceed to the extremities of the filmic communications of Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007),  in particular, his film, Cries and Whispers (1972). Whereas we see onscreen a burly, bewhiskered, kill-for-pay, frenetic bottom-feeder, he’s galvanized by a maxim, produced by a long-ago patrician of Bergman’s invention, namely, Karin: “It’s all a tissue of lies…” Joe’s not the sort who would bat around remarks like that; but he does very deeply know what it means.

Both Joe and Karin (the latter being one of a triumvirate of sisters) have been burned by violent parenting. But it is how they cultivated that rather mundane handicap which distinguishes them as thoroughgoing thinkers, forming a bizarre kinship which can tell us a lot. We see in tenuous flash-backs Joe’s mother being assaulted by her husband by means of a hammer smashing her head and Joe being terrorized (including sexually) and frequently hiding in a closet. (We also see, in the earlier film, in that same way of flash-back, how two of the sisters, Karin and Agnes, are slighted and intimidated, by their mother, while the third [and prettiest], Maria, is spoiled rotten. Soon we will hear of a pretty young girl, Nina, basking in her mother’s affection, but losing that, perhaps dubious, gift on the latter’s death, which sends her frequently running away from home to seek a revival of the right stuff, or the rich stuff.) Fathoming the heart of You Were Never Really Here means transcending its scabrous comportment per se, for the sake of disclosing the massive rigors of lucidity and love. Despite its façade of Grand Guignol melodrama, we are expertly guided to something far more rare and important—the patrimony of Bergman, re-branded for an age of iconoclasts.

Joe’s mother, quite far into dementia, can introduce us to the nature of advanced perception. We first see her, late at night, after Joe returns from Cincinnati, where he has  murdered, by a ball peen hammer, the principals of a child prostitution ring, one of the captive’s parents being eager to recover their child for a significant payment. What catches our attention first of all is the affection between the youngish beast and the old beauty. He finds her asleep in front of the TV, and as she wakes up she smiles and tells him she wanted to stay up to see him (having no idea what his job entails). Her carefree laugh is echoed by him. She refers to the late-night screening of Hitchcock’s Psycho—“Oh, boy, it’s scary!”—and he joins the edgy fun by simulating Anthony Perkins’ slashing Janet Leigh. Over and above the robust conviviality, this moment establishes their being more contemporary than the cloying domesticity mentioned above. The hot jazz sax solo doubling down on her radio takes us to Lynch’s Lost Highway—something closer to what’s in store for Joe. He helps her into her bed and she doesn’t want what she sees to be a gem of a night to end. “Hey, Joe, stay a bit…” In reply, he twigs on to her fear of being murdered, flaring up due to Hitchcock. “Well, if you must watch scary movies…” (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

      We’re off and running with another breathtaking film by Ingmar Bergman, namely, Cries and Whispers (1972). The nature of this production entails, as usual, thrilling motivations most of us had never thought about. And here we must put into the mix, as never so emphatically before, that the uniqueness of that delivery entails being without any effective allies. We have encountered, in the films by Bergman so far, a species of more or less thriving upon that neglect, a warrior sensibility. But enfolded within that tang, we are also alerted to partaking of the powers implicit in cooperation, cooperation with those who don’t and never will, give a damn for what a figure like Bergman would live for, however chaotically.

Our film today attends remarkably to that estrangement, and, as a result, lingers with the personnel in such a way as to garner from (some of) them a direction to love. The film’s saga involves two protagonists; and we choose here to spotlight one, a woman, namely, Agnes, who has already died from cancer in the earlier part but conveys her golden moment at the film’s final seconds, by way of a diary, read by Anna, her long-time housemaid (though presented by the diarist’s voice-over). The event recorded involves desultory Agnes being paid a visit to the family manor (under her keeping) by her two sisters whom she has allowed to more or less overtly treat her as a non-entity, as she was treated by her mother. Braced, as the latter were, by her long-term illness, there is a moment of vision emanating from their ramble upon the palatial grounds, strewn with golden leaves. “It’s wonderful to be together again… Suddenly we began to laugh and run toward the old swing that we hadn’t seen since we were children [when kinetics were at least as favorable as frozenness]. We sat in it like three good little sisters, and Anna pushed us slowly and gently. All my aches and pains were gone. I could hear them chatting around me… I could  feel the presence of their bodies, the warmth of their hands. I wanted to hold the moment fast, and thought, ‘Come what may, this is happiness. I cannot wish for anything better. Now, for a few moments, I can experience perfection. And I feel profoundly grateful to my life which gives me so much…” (Those visiting angels having—along with Agnes’ skittishness—tossed divided but meritorious Anna to the sharks.)

The full-color composition (unique up until this time for Bergman) needs to be broached, along with the previous films, as a positioning of the urgency of fearlessness. With this particular vehicle, however, we’re on the hook to attending most closely to the apparatus required to fully show what’s ticking here. Therefore, as usual (but not quite the same), we posit, “How new is new?” You’d never have gotten from him anything explicit about the possibility that gigantic and unprecedented change has begun to make inroads and that that uprising (but tempered) is where art attains its stature. Apart from playing the movie game that the single work on tap must stand entirely on the basis of the screen being watched, there would be, however, the understandable discomfort that—unlike the folk reservoir of normal filmic presentation—matters of reflective complexity, generally assumed to be the purview of science and other academic disciplines, have become necessities. Just because the entrenched classical rational experts would utterly dismiss any validity not certified by their practices, does not disable a figure like Bergman to take matters into his own accomplished hands, in his own medium of communication. As such, his work being an extended research of sensibility, the various steps of his disclosures comprise, unlike the normal, disparate  entertainments, a constant, expanding investigation, very germane to earlier discoveries. Unlike conceptual building blocks of a technical nature, Bergman has at his disposal, not only a manifold of dramatic sensibility by way of his screenwriting and Sven Nykvist’s cinematography, but a cadre of performers the varying roles of which, from-film-to-film, increase a current of intent or temper a performer’s previous apparition, for the sake of comprehending the volatility of discernment and its creative capacities as a co-host of the cosmos. (more…)

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© 2018 by James Clark

 Our film today is, even by the standards of Bergman’s shoot-out-all-the-lights iconoclasm, over the top. Whereas his other films hop to it to embed, near the beginning, uncanny startlements sending out for those on the wild side a shot in the arm for the duration, Winter Light (1962)—its very title a threat to creativity—dares us to keep viewing a tedious melodrama dribbling toward soap opera.

Of course, those few who have found their way to the mother lode of the work’s endeavor, could apply the acrobatics and impossible juggling apparent in absentia. But there is no getting past the thunderous deadness on display, seemingly intent on entrenching an insurrection. Thereby, the viewer has been obliged to muster tons of patience toward the bad old days, in the expectation that this nightmare will end. And end it does, but only at the narrative’s very last scene, where a meek hunchback sexton, Algot, takes aside the reigning clergyman, Tomas, and tells of his discovery that the Bible’s real sense pertains to one sensibility, Jesus, whose sensual virtuosity was never grasped by anyone as realizing that the spirit driving it all has nothing to do with human immortality. After hearing this mountainous and—from the point of view of exegesis, totally daft—heresy, the pastor finds it right on! The only thing left to do with Bergman’s structural acrobatics here is to go back to the beginning in order to savor the singular passion of Tomas.

Let’s start, though, with Algot’s surprising and incisive amateurism. We hear him first, not as a revisionist metaphysician but fussing about his prosaic caretaker duties, which almost magically manage to run to poetry—no small accomplishment, in the wake of our being pelted, over the preceding hour, with routine disappointments. “Those bells rang for twenty seconds too long. Unfortunately I was busy replacing the candles” (seen on-screen to be disorderly but still a feast for sore eyes in the dark church). “ I usually turn on the bells, light the candles and make it back on time. But today I bungled it. An unfortunate mishap. But those candles were tricky to light,” [trickiness being a trope for this campaign—particularly in view of the virtual impossibility of reaching another, importantly; reaching, in a process of “juggling” between prose and poetry, on a basis of uncanny sensual timbre, “acrobatics,” reaching a startling level in the form of Elisabet’s ceasing to speak, in Persona [1966]]. The sexton continues his generous lament, with, “Probably a factory defect,” [the trick that matters not apt to be found on an assembly line]. “And I guess my broken-down body is slowing down my actions. The reason hardly matters.” You’d have to say his broken-down body is doing very well. But “reason,” and its factoids, are—stellar results, notwithstanding— not doing well in their imperial guidance. “I leave the temple in semi-darkness until just before the bells start… I believe electric lights disturb our spirit.” (Algot, an impressive practitioner of “spirit,” would have spent long hours about the timbres of fire and the timbres of electricity. Perhaps his reading of the latter has compromised something new and useful as to “juggling.”) (more…)

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© 2018 by James Clark

      In some ways, the output of films by Ingmar Bergman could be called an early rendition of serial drama, minus the TV and plus the theatrical rhetoric. That medieval couplet, The Seventh Seal (1957), and, The Virgin Spring (1960), introduces an “impossible” and necessary “trick,” pertaining to acrobatics and juggling. And the rest is about how the hell it’s done.

The weighty reflective saga therewith, coincides, for us in the new millennium, with a film market allergic to “weighty reflective sagas.” Getting on with bucket lists becomes a particularly insidious concern, insofar as the temptation to dip into a so-called masterpiece (and nothing else) is exactly anathematic to the tenor of the work. This difficulty requires an acrobatic feat in order to prime the spectacle to its best futurity. Included in this maneuver, therefore—and we have to admit that even in the 1960’s when the supposed Mona Lisa, namely, Persona (1966), was making some noise, no one, including Woody Allen, had a serious clue—would be pretty much disregarding the pretenders and watching for the few who well know what investigative popularity is worth on this questionable planet.

Persona is not a one-off and any effort to approach it that way is doomed. The opening passage of the film entails a young, bespectacled boy, played by child actor, Jorgen Lindstrom. His action spans a corpse in a morgue and a fervent stroking of a large portrait of a beautiful woman’s face. In the film, The Silence (1963), that same child, called Johan, encounters, with those same schoolboy, round-lens glasses, turbulence in trying to come to a harmony with his attractive, dangerously reckless mother; and, as a default choice, his beautiful, careful aunt. The painful and obscure action of Persona cannot come to coherence in the absence of a rigorous examination of The Silence. As it happens, Elisabet, the protagonist of Persona and a famous stage actress, stages a many-months refusal to speak and refusal to deal with her husband and son—sharply curtailing her paying career but getting down to business with the unfinished business of reckless, elusive Anna, in the film of three years before, where interplay shatters upon irreconcilable intentions. Whereas Anna shoots the works and hopes for serendipity, Elisabet, the occupier of designs, has a plan. Seemingly inert, particularly at the first stages when she is bedridden, she will soon  be more overtly acrobatic, in her own eccentric ways. Moreover, despite Olympian disdain, she will, with characteristic undemonstrativeness, endeavor to put into play a juggling act whereby seemingly errant trajectories become welcomed constituents.

In order to fathom this peculiar action, we must highlight, in the spirit of the four Bergman films we have touched upon in previous blogs, the remarkable cinematic physicality raining down upon figures whom the unwary might assume to be in the midst of a fairly common medical treatment regime. That prelude, locating the same player in two films, has been designed as an introduction of the dynamics of the cosmos (which humans play an important part in), not the kick-off of a melodrama of rational souls being troubled and thereby—hopefully—rescued. One close look at the abysses of this storm, and the idea of rescue has been obviated. (The continuity of risk-takers having reached a showdown whereby a new plateau of outrageousness must be explored comprises the real “narrative” here, and everywhere Bergman chooses to aim. The Silence and Persona constitute a conclave of badass mommies fumbling the gentle love intrinsic  to their heresies. So, too, Claire Denis, carrying the Bergman crisis in our century, with, for instance, her White Material.) (more…)

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