Friday, January 01, 2016

The Little Black Book of Movies 2

Hilda Koronel in Insiang

Continued from my previous post:

Seems to me that the book resembles a titanic blogathon, where Chris Fujiwara asked sixty-two people "What are the key events / films / people / scenes in cinema?" and received a thousand replies, many of them coming from unusual directions that imply different backgrounds, orientations, ways of thinking.

Brad Stevens, for example, in considering the opening of Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1962) where Humbert Humbert (James Mason) stalks an irrepressible Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers), writes not on the mis-en-scene, as any proper auteurist should, but on the acting--Stevens chose the scene, he wrote, because it "focuses, in a particularly revealing way, on notions of performance that are evident in all of Stanley Kubrick's films." Notions, it might be added, that helped grant the two interplanetary travelers in Kubrick's 2001 their robotic quality and HAL 9000, their onboard artificial intelligence, its subtle, slightly sinister wit, the point being that acting is nothing more than one of many tools employed in an auteur's kit.

Stevens again, on what if I remember right was the penultimate image in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1963): "This scene perfectly sums up the interior nature of this epic film." I'm not up on the history of the epic form, but I suspect Lawrence is one of the earliest if not the earliest example of this sort of film, of which there are later examples--Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987); Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998) and The New World (2005). If I'm citing a lot of Stevens', Camper's and Rosenbaum's contributions, I suppose it's partly because they come up with such unusual choices, one of my favorite features of this book--that, or come up with classic choices approached in an unusual manner (see above, re: Lolita).

To this I must add Stevens' fascinating post on the dancing in The Leopard (1963)--it demonstrates "Visconti's ability to express complex ideas throughn visual imagery;"; Chris Fujiwara on Buddy Love's entrance in The Nutty Professor (1963)--may be hard to believe for many that there could be "a legendary and revealing sequence" in a Jerry Lewis film, which Fujiwara calls "an American classic," but there you are (for the record, I happen to agree); Jonathan Rosenbaum's rhapsodic tribute to a single cut in Carl Dreyer's Gertrud (1964)--a cut that, as he puts it, "expresses everything we need to know about passion."

,,,Don't have much to add regarding filmmaker
Mark Cousin's comments on Orson Welles' staging of the Battle of Shrewsbury in Chimes of Midnight (1966) beyond the fact that I second what he has to say, and then some: the sequence is "an inspiration to many subsequent films, it's rightly considered among the greatest battle scenes in all of cinema..."

...Then there's Adrian Martin's lovely meditation on that long tracking shot in Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend (1968), which he believes "progresses from the banal to the surreal to the horrific." I thought the shot encapsulated the whole of human activity (including death), myself, but suspect Martin and I are really using different words to say the same thing.

Blake Lucas writes of the "Whistling in the Dark" reprise in Blake Edward's Darling Lili (1970): "what this beautiful song and its cinematic realization represented in Hollywood musicals was ending but at the same time was never more gloriously alive." By the time the '80s rolled up Hollywood's idea of a musical would consist of Fame (1980), Flashdance (1983), Footloose (1984); Edwards' near-forgotten epic was like the fading glow from a setting sun.

Fred Camper cites a key event: President Nixon viewing Patton (1970)--Franklin J. Schaffner's memorable portrait of a self-absorbed, anachronistic megalomaniac--twice before invading Cambodia. "The viewing of a movie is here connected to a disastrous military decision." Can't help but think of Bush's top military men viewing The Battle of Algiers and coming away with the wrong lesson: that torture would help them in Iraq, not lead them to Abu Ghraib, or the endless, ongoing struggle between branches of the United States government to redefine the limits of interrogation.

Stevens again, again doing the wayward thing: dwelling on the greatness not of an image or of a camera move, but of a line of dialogue in Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). He makes the case that the line is nothing special (it consists of exactly two words: "no good."), but "works in harmony with other filmic elements, rather than being outstanding in itself."

And sometimes it isn't about art, or intellect; sometimes the organ involved is located lower. much lower. Martin mentions a meeting between Luis Bunuel and Alfred Hitchcock in 1972, where Hitchcock views Bunuel's Tristana (1970). "The meeting of two great directors," Martin writes, "confirmed the profound commonality between them." They share similarly kinky tastes, in effect (Quick, what's the difference between 'kinky' and 'erotic?' 'Erotic' you make love using a feather; 'kinky,' you use the whole chicken).

Martin on the screening of James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein in a small Spanish village, in Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive (1973). More often than not when a great film is mentioned or alluded to or screened within another film, the latter suffers from the comparison. Such is not the case here, I think; Spirit is easily one of the finest of Spanish films, and one of the most hauntingly beautiful of any film, anywhere. It helps that Erice doesn't actually show the moment in question; as Martin puts it, "the dreamlike logic of Erice's film turns on a missing scene." Again the magic of cinema, which is able to chart the effects and consequences of an image without actually revealing said image.

Then there's the moment when Tonya urinates in Lino Brocka's Insiang (1976). I'd written that the scene "shows one of Brocka's inimitable gifts: the singling out of a detail or image that captures the misery of the Filipino poor." The scene pretty much speaks for itself; can't think of anything more to add, save that Fiel Zabat once told me that her design for Insiang's carefully constructed little home (which looked for all the world like a real squatter shanty Brocka chanced upon at the very last minute) broke apart to allow the camera to move around, much as the set of Hitchcock's Rope (1948) fell apart and came together as the camera came and went (Brocka had an easier time, so to speak, because he wasn't doing continuous takes--but then he didn't have Hitchcock's budget, either). There wasn't enough room for cast and equipment both, otherwise. 

First published 12.19.07


John Santos said...

Regarding Weekend, have you seen Tout va bien? Godard recreates the same long uninterrupted tracking shot, but in my opinion updates it by making the lateral movement itself the driving force for action rather than just a vehicle for observation. Either way both shots are great, but Tout va bien encapsulates the progressive action that Godard only proposes in Weekend.

Noel Vera said...

Progressive? But I thought Weekend's tracking shot (and the film itself) suggested the apocalypse--nothing progressive intended.

John Santos said...

Well, apocalyptic visions, I don't think, suggest simply "we are fucked," but rather "we are fucked if our present situation--which led to this vision--remains unchanged." I think Godard's intent to present the need for change is echoed by the other scene in the film that is shown without any distraction, when he presents the case of those who chose to work/fight for change. It's an apocalyptic vision, like any other good apocalyptic visions, that opens rather than closes the possibiltiy for what could be.

Noel Vera said...

Sure, but Martin makes the point that--well, I hate to pre-empt his little capsule commentary, but he writes that Godard gives the impression of making whole films just to include a single sequence, and for Weekend that was the sequence.

Godard may have intended some kind of satire/solution formula, but sometimes a film has more than one current of thought going through it, and the current that created that shot that Martin and I responded to simply wanted to say: "this is life, this is how it progresses, this is how it ends." Sure the complex tracking and choreography in Tout va bien is brilliant, but this straightforward progression was, to me at least, inspired in its simplicity.