Sunday, September 27, 2009


Waiting for Love (2007)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ferrara's Caruso

You can say that there aren't any bad actors -- just poorly directed ones. And half of good acting is good directing. For instance, there's something about Abel Ferrara's direction that brings out the violence in David Caruso.

The same's true of Matthew Modine; even Kubrick got just a passive violence out the guy, but with Ferrara Modine seems like he's screaming even when he whispers. But Caruso -- he's not a terribly interesting actor elsewhere, usually just floating by on a few good tricks even if he's in the lead, but when Ferrara casts him, even if it's in just a supporting role (and in fact, that's the only way he's ever cast him: in China Girl, King of New York and the Crime Story pilot), he's a monster. With that red hair, he stands out in a crowd, but even without it, that viper look would still overpower anyone else in the frame. He can be in the background, out of focus, and still, every second, you're aware of how he's reacting, what's he doing, how he's fidgeting with his hands or turning his head to the side. A real punk.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Too Early, Too Late

Things shift in your memory. I've only watched Too Late Blues once, sometime in 2006. At the time, it seemed like a road not taken, the sort of film (and A Child is Waiting seemed this way, too) that Cassavetes could've spent the rest of his life making, but didn't. The Cassavetes that could've been, but thankfully wasn't: a Cassavetes distinguished by subject matter and seriousness more the attentiveness, all-encompassing action or a direct relationship, almost a marriage, between a camera and an emotion. A damn good movie, with Darin's best acting and one of the greatest one-off performance in American film -- Everett Chambers (a television and theatre producer) as Darin's manager, doing the sorts of things with emotions that Cassavetes would end up demanding of all of his actors. I still preferred the path he'd end up on.

But certain things stick out in your memory, like little islands in an ocean. The ocean changes, or maybe it's a question of the tides, and after a few years those islands seem to stand out just as much, but out of something different. Now I think ,"It's Cassevetes, and that should be good enough for all of us. No excuses." Maybe back then I lived to make excuses for everything, and I didn't like most of the films I saw; now I don't feel the need to apologize much, the apologies all seem like surrenders to something running counter to cinema, and with every week, I find myself liking everything more and more. And yet back then I was less critical -- I didn't think as much. But I guess to think about something all the time, you really have to love it.

One of those little islands is a shot that seemed like a stray, the later Cassavetes shining through in one of his early films. Now it seems to anchor the film, as though it wasn't premonition -- as though what I "preferred" to the film was there all along. It's a shot of a shoulder, really, with a woman's face emerging from behind it, like a figure coming around a corner. I had to go back to the film to see if it was really there, if I hadn't misremembered it or ascribed it more purpose than it really deserved. It's there: she rests her head on her fist, as though forcing her face up. She's crying. We can see tears on her knuckles. She says only one word: "Hi."

Listening to The Touch

When we think of Max von Sydow, we tend to think of his mountainous face, especially the way it looks in shadows, the way those crags and canyons shift as he talks. But there are many faces with the same qualities, but no voice quite like his. The face seems to belong to some landscape; the voice is completely organic. Von Sydow, more than any other actor, acts not with his words, but with his mouth, throat and nose. That is, when we hear von Sydow talk, it isn't dialogue that we're hearing, but a man breathing in and out, with words occasionally making their way out of his mouth alongside the carbon dioxide. The voice is made equal with a wide variety of sighs, coughs, quick inhalations, barely audible hums and whistles. To watch his face is also to watch his neck, and the way his Adam's apple bobs down when he swallows at the end of a sentence.

So who does Bibi Andersson leave good old Max for in The Touch? Elliott Gould. Elliott Gould, whose voice (always more feline that it seems like it should be), big head and lanky body are reminiscent of a recorder: the mouth as a labium, the brain as a fipple, the nose as a windway. Not a human flute, like Jean-Pierre Leaud (whose voice seems to be produced by the wind blowing against that embouchure hole of a mouth) -- no, certainly a recorder, and one that's being played by an amateur, maybe just a student, someone who knows the fingerings but can't get their embouchure right, the notes sometimes coming out as squeaks, sometimes wonderfully sweet, sometimes too quiet. He sounds as if his lungs were made of wood. And maybe that's the tragedy: she chooses an instrument over someone that can only be human.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009

Robinson Crusoe on Planet Beineix

(More archive-digging. This is from April.)

The Moon in the Gutter begins as a science fiction film. What planet are we on? At first it appears to be the Earth as seen from a UFO, but then we realize that it’s Planet Beineix, which, in the night sky, resembles the star Carax but is in reality countless light years away (roughly the same distance as between the Godard Galaxy and the lonely moon De Broca, which floats through space looking for a planet to orbit). It's part of the same solar system as the gas giant Besson and the small and harsh planetoid Noe, which has an atmosphere like that of Venus. Not too far away is that stony planet Clouzot, which refuses to orbit any star. Planet Beineix is orbited by a single large moon, Jeunet -- just warm enough to support a human population, but without enough air. Terraforming might be required.

Regardless of where he’s really from (and some say he's an astronaut that landed here from Earth), the sole inhabitant of this planet would rather be seen as an alien. He isn’t visiting our planet; we’re being shown his. The Moon in the Gutter is based on a David Goodis novel (what isn't?), but this is less a question of Beineix "adapting" the novel to his style than figuring out how it would happen in his head.

Beineix cares about the appearance of the image more than the image itself. The cinema du look (if we believe that such a thing ever existed to begin with) was always a little theatrical: it was about staging things for the camera more than capturing an image, closer to a photogram than a photograph. The importance of the “look” has the result of haphazard framing and editing—the “appearance” of an image surpasses the image itself. So I remember the lighting in a scene from a Beineix film but not whether there were close-ups or wide shots, whether the camera moved, whether it was one shot or many.

As verisimilitude values the appearance of authenticity over something actually authentic, Beineix prizes the appearance of artificiality over the idea of an artificial image itself. This is the basis of what's either Beineix's genius or his idiocy.

Perspective / Christine

John Carpenter has a real way with the frame -- especially if that frame is about 2.4 times as wide as it is tall. A real control of perspective, too, and that's what makes him seem like a descendant of (not an heir to) Alfred Hitchcock, even more so than Brian De Palma. Every image Carpenter makes, he makes with the audience in mind. An image to create (or controls) the perspective of the audience. De Palma approaches every image with the same perspective in mind: his own. Carpenter puts the "tools" a frame provides him with to use; De Palma sees the frame the way a painter sees a commissioned canvas: a space in which he's free to express whatever he wants, as long as it follows certain requirements. This is not an issue of the egoist vs. the storyteller, or something along those lines; no, the approach to perspective is also an issue of perspective -- namely the director's perspective on a director's responsibility. For Carpenter, the responsibility lies with the audience; for De Palma, it lies with cinema.

Christine (1978)

is John Carpenter's most elemental film, the one where all those struggles that in his films would usually only exist in the audience's heads -- those fears, those tensions -- take on shape and color in the image. It's blue vs. red, movement against walls and stillness, machines against each other or against people, bright white headlights against inky highway darkness. As pure in its images as Viva Las Vegas.

There were a lot of important images produced in the coverage of the December 2008 riots in Greece. The most insightful were by Yiorgos Karahalis, a photographer for the Reuters news agency.

There's the famous hand dripping blood, but the one that's struck me the most is this one. Struck is the right word -- striking, like the piece of wood in the protester's hand. It's not the figures, but the empty space that makes this image. Other pictures from the riots give us massed forces, or people alone amidst fires and wreckage. Here, we see two willing combatants, and we remember that the "society" an individual struggles against isn't some faceless mass -- it's always individuals against individuals. The society is just an idea. As narcotic as the concept of ideologies battling each other is, it's not real. There is no "police" -- only policemen.

Sunday, September 6, 2009