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Showing posts from November, 2013

Lumière and Company #1

Film by Film [Hypothesis]

Lumière and Company is a 1995 omnibus film devised by Philippe Poulet and assembled by the director Sarah Moon.It features contributions from forty different international filmmakers, including Zhang Yimou, David Lynch, Abbas Kiarostami, Peter Greenaway and Jacques Rivette (to name a few).The intention of the film was to celebrate the first hundred years of cinema by having each director shoot a short film (one lasting no more than 52 seconds in duration) using the actual cameras and equipment employed by the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière; the early film pioneers, who - in collaboration - defined the spectacle of the modern cinema, and as such, created the invisible thread of influence that now blind the serialized psychodramas of Louis Feuillade to the modern blockbusters of Steven Spielberg, and beyond.

In this occasional series, I'll be sharing my notes on each of the individual short films (some great, some not so great) in a vaguely alphabetised m…

Key Films #28

La notte [Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961]:
In an early scene, the audience is introduced to the protagonists - the married couple Lidia and Giovanni Pontano - as they tend the hospital bedside of a dying friend.The significance of this scene is immediately clear, and the level of detail and information that Antonioni and his co-writers place within these seemingly perfunctory conversations and the awkward small talk establish a dynamic between characters that will be explored and examined as the narrative unfolds.This sequence - as with the opening sequence of the subsequent L'eclisse (1962) - is also essential to understanding the tone of the film; the emptiness of the hospital, the distance between the protagonists (both physical and emotional) and the occurrence of a surreal and disarming sequence in which Giovanni is confronted by a disturbed and uninhibited young woman who attempts to seduce him, create a stark, clinical and at times often distinctly morose feeling that seems to…

On-Screen / Off

A note on 'the image' as still-living testament in De Palma's The Black Dahlia (2006)

De Palma's voice, off-screen, interrogates the actress.She stares, doe-eyed into the camera, desperate, eager.She wants to impress the director; to make a good impression.It's a candid moment, both captivating and uncomfortable.It addresses the inherent voyeurism of the viewing audience; questions our potential to find entertainment and intrigue in the sadness of the screen or to disassociate ourselves from the reality of this woman, recorded, on-camera, as an actress (a living being, with thoughts and feelings, captured on film) to see instead an object, an icon, a characterisation.The scene blurs the identifiable line between fiction and reality.It suggests 'an actuality' - a behind the scenes interaction between the real-life director and his star, made public, as if by accident - but it also provides a necessary function in the development of this devastating tale.

The m…

Key Films #27

Greetings [Brian De Palma, 1968]:
In a key scene, Robert De Niro's budding filmmaker Jon Rubin persuades a young woman to take part in an art project that he's been developing.He claims that it's an installation on the subject of still life.In truth, the project consists of De Niro's character filming the young woman through an open doorway as she readies herself for bed.As the woman undresses (and amusingly over-acts the part of the unconscious starlet, unaware of this intrusion) the camera becomes De Niro's eye and the eye of the viewing audience.As it records, unmoving and unbroken - observing the woman as if not even there - the voice of De Niro continues on the soundtrack, directing; leading the actress through this "private moment" (as Rubin calls it), which culminates in a clear act of seduction.In doing so, De Niro's character breaks the fourth wall of his own conception; stepping into the frame, literally, in an effort to claim the beauty that…

The Land as a Voice / in Exile

Thoughts on a film: Black Sin (1989)

On the soundtrack, a voice recites the words of the text.Exact and unburdened by feeling, the words become statements.They declare; they assert through the use of language - its rhythms and its intonations - a particular meaning (an intention), but they deny us the expression; the emotion that such words might suggest.Instead, it is the image itself that expresses the sentiment of these words. Not the voice of the actor, but the composition of the shot.Through the image of this man - Andreas von Rauch as Empedocles, laying prostrate upon the earth - the filmmakers are already evoking the solitude of the great philosopher; his position, defined by the elements; "asleep", though not in slumber, with his back against the world.Already we're experiencing the loneliness of the man; his sense of shame and disappointment expressed on a visual, purely figurative level.

The image - the composition of it, the mise en scène - presents the despair …