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Showing posts from February, 2020

Shanghai Express

Thoughts on the film by Josef von Sternberg
The history of the cinema is defined by two icons of industrial engineering: the train and the bridge. In the oldest surviving fragment of film, Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge (1888), photographed by the mysterious and enigmatic French film pioneer Louis Le Prince, the bridge itself becomes a symbol. Not just a geographical setting chosen for narrative purposes, but something more significant.
Conventionally, the bridge is a link between places and people, allowing individuals to travel outside of their own location, and to experience something different and new. However, a bridge can also provide a theoretical link between psychological and sociological states, such as the before and after. For Le Prince, hisbridge linked the pre-cinema to the post-cinema worlds, marking the point at which this new medium, as then still in its infancy, connected us to new cultures, ideas and expressions.
After the bridge came the train and with it the journey; …

The Year in Film 2019 - Part Four

Happy as Lazzaro [Alice Rohrwacher, 2018]:
Watched: May 04, 2019
The furious social commentary of the film put me in mind of an old quote attributed to the filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard; or more specifically, to Godard's character in his own great masterpiece, First Name, Carmen (1983): "When shit's worth money, the poor won't have assholes."The sentiment reverberates throughout Happy as Lazzaro, where the saintly nature of the central character, held, along with the rest of his fellow villagers, in a perpetual cycle of poverty and subservience, like hostages to their own employers, gives an added weight to the film's condemnation of capitalist exploitation. Like M. Night Shyamalan's much maligned but brilliant The Village (2004), Happy as Lazzaro plays with the perception of time and the idea of characters imprisoned, not by lock and key, but by manipulation; by the intentional withholding of information by those in positions of power. In both films, the subse…

The Year in Film 2019 - Part Three

El patrullero (Highway Patrolman) [Alex Cox, 1991]:
Watched: Mar 17, 2019
If one filmmaker dominated 2019 for me, it was Alex Cox. Earlier in the year I read his 2008 memoir, "X-Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker", and greatly enjoyed its informative and always self-deprecating approach. I purchased two more of Cox's excursions into the literary world, his 2017 book "I am (Not) a Number: Decoding the Prisoner" and 2009's "10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western", and found both to be of a similar value. Inspired by the books I was also watching and re-watching Cox's films. Of those that were new to me, his films The Winner (1996), Revengers Tragedy (2002), Searchers 2.0 (2007) and Bill the Galactic Hero (2014) are either excellent or better than their reputations suggest, however one film stood out as a definite highlight. Filmed in Mexico following Cox's departure from Hollywood, El patrullero – or Hig…

Blue Black Permanent

Thoughts on a film by Margaret Tait
"I see nothing. We may sink and settle on the waves. The sea will drum in my ears. The white petals will be darkened with sea water. They will float for a moment and then sink. Rolling over the waves will shoulder me under. Everything falls in a tremendous shower, dissolving me."
- The Waves (1931) by Virginia Woolf
At one point in the film, a character talks about a flower that can only grow in one specific location, a heath on the Orkney archipelago. Any attempt to remove the flower and replant it somewhere else results in the flower's slow demise; its sense of being so firmly rooted to that one singular place that it's unable to flourish anywhere else. It becomes an obvious metaphor for the central character, the 1950s poet, mother and housewife Greta Thorburn, whose early death and the mystery surrounding it still haunts the life of her adult daughter, and provides for the audience the emotional center to this strange and personal…

The Word for World is Forest

Thoughts on the book by Ursula K. Le Guin With additional notes on Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

"If the yumens are men, they are unfit or untaught to dream or act as men. Therefore, they go about in torment killing and destroying, driven by the Gods within, whom they will not set free, but try to uproot and deny. If they are men, they are evil men, having denied their own Gods, afraid to see their own faces in the dark..."
- The Word for World is Forest (1974) by Ursula K. Le Guin
I've read three books already this year and I'm currently mid-way through a fourth. To say that "The Word for World is Forest" by Ursula K. Le Guin is the very best of them would be an understatement. It's one of the very best books I've ever read! What I loved about the book, first and foremost, was its humanism. This might sound incongruous given how the focus of the story is partially centred on a race of forest-dwelling alien creatures, but the subtext, and t…