Sunday, October 28, 2012

"The weak are meat the strong do eat": 8 notes on Cloud Atlas

1) Even given my initial doubts (all of that makeup, Tom Hanks), I was very impressed with Cloud Atlas, thinking it the closest thing to James Joyce's Ulysses to arrive at the cineplex all year. The major value of the cinematic experience for me lay in the transitions, the matching action cuts, and Alexander Berner's thematic editing between the six storylines, the way the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer juxtaposed six genres (19th century travel narrative (Moby Dick), pre-World War II epistolary novel, airport thriller, comedic contemporary novel, Blade Runner-esque science fiction, and post-apocalyptic fantasy) so that the viewer is constantly teased with razzle-dazzle interrelations that criss-cross and loop-the-loop time and space.

2) I spent much of the weekend enjoying David Mitchell's 2004 novel, which, if anything, is better than the film because it can explain its correlations more, and sometimes even mock them. For instance, Timothy Cavendish dismisses any thought of the 1970's-era Luisa Rey being the reincarnation of the 1930's-era tortured artist Robert Frobisher as "too hippie-druggy-new age," and he also makes fun of the portentous comet-birthmark (that many of the major characters possess) by mentioning how his birthmark looks like "Timbo's Turd" (357). Some of the story lines succeed more than others (I preferred the detective thriller 1970s of The First Luisa Rey Mystery to The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing), but what matters is the rapid interplay between genres, the way the movie and the book resist oppression through conceptual play, taking as its central dichotomy the struggle between freedom and servitude in forms that range from 19th century slaves, present-day elderly imprisoned within rest homes, and futuristic workers/replicants trapped within debt and systematized corporate control. As Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent in the movie) points out in the novel: "`Freedom!' is the fatuous jingle of our civilization, but only those deprived of it have the barest inkling re: what the stuff actually is" (356).

3) Critics who complain about the movie's complexity and impenetrability miss out on the way Cloud Atlas is way more fun if one can't get to the bottom of its juxtapositions.  I will attempt to explore one aspect of Cloud Atlas' thematic depths by tracing some of its parallels/influences in Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (2004), Soylent Green (1973), and Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962).

4) (spoiler alert) For me, the most compelling of the six narratives in the novel is An Orison [or prayer] of Sonmi-451, a Blade Runner-esque story of a replicant cloned to serve as a corporate drudge waitress in a restaurant for twelve years. She's supposed to attain "Xultation," or paradisal happiness in Hawaii, but instead she escapes, educates herself, and eventually evolves into a key figure in the Union underground resistance movement. In many ways, the future world of the Orison chapters reads like a satirical variation of our own, with a massive corporation running the world as it enforces an atmosphere of "Work, spend, work" (316) and "A Soul's value is the dollars therein" (325). Here, perpetually dissatisfied consumers enjoy riches at the expense of an unacknowledged underclass. The omni-present corporate popular media denies worldwide mass-pollution. Everyone has already suffered "the disastrous Pentecostalist Coup of North America" (327), and Papa Song restaurants resemble McDonald's in the way they cater to the children of the consumer clientele.  My comparison to McDonald's might seem incidental, but Mitchell underlines the likeness by noting the "golden arches" of Papa Song's Golden Ark," where the replicants supposedly enter their blissful paradise.

5) Instead of going through Xultation herself, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) gets to spy upon what happens to one of her peer replicants, who secretly gets killed by a metal bolt positioned inside of a helmet. In the movie, metal bolts then pierce her ankles, and she's lifted into a large hidden mechanized abbatoir.  To quote the novel:

"A slaughterhouse production lay below us, manned by figures wielding scissors, sword saws, and various tools of cutting, stripping, and grinding. The workers were bloodsoaked, from head to toe. I should properly call those workers butchers: they snipped off collars, stripped clothes, shaved follicles, peeled skin, offcut hands and legs, sliced off meat, spooned organs . . . drains hoovered the blood."

When her interlocutor asks her the purpose of such "carnage," Somni-451 coolly replies:

"What cheaper way to supply this [Soap] protein than by recycling fabricants who have reached the end of their working lives? Additionally, leftover `reclaimed proteins' are used to produce Paper Song food products, eaten by consumers in the corp's dineries all over Nea So Copros.  It is a perfect food cycle" (343).

6) As soon as I saw the film's version of this slaughterhouse, I realized that Tim Cavendish's taunt of "Soylent Green is made of people!" makes perfect sense, although in that case he was just emphasizing his need to escape the Aurora House rest home.  In his narrative, he also notes how his entrapment within the Aurora House has much in common with Randle Patrick McMurphy's plight in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Nobody, however, in Cloud Atlas, calls attention to one of Chief Bromden's dream of a slaughterhouse-like underground, a highly mechanized Metropolis (1927) world that includes "one of those trestle affairs like you find in meat houses, rollers on tracks to move carcasses from the cooler to the butcher without much lifting."  One of the workers there lifts up a patient and "drives" a "hook through the tendon back of the heel, and the old guy's hanging there upside down, his moldy face blown up big, scared, the eyes scummed with mute fear." Then, the "worker takes" a "scalpel and slices up the front of old man Blastic with a clean swing and the old man stops thrashing around" (78-9).

7) Lastly, one can find parallels in Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, this time concerning actual slaughterhouses for cows.  As Schlosser writes:

"For eight and a half hours, a worker called a `stickler' does nothing but stand in a river of blood, being drenched in blood, slitting the neck of a steer every ten seconds or so, severing its carotid artery.  He uses a long knife and must hit exactly the right spot to kill the animal humanely. He hits that spot again and again. We walk up a slippery metal stairway and reach a small platform, where the production line begins.  A man turns and smiles at me. He wears safety goggles and a hardhat. His face is splattered with gray matter and blood. He is the `knocker,' the man who welcomes cattle to the building. Cattle walk down a narrow chute and pause in front of him, blocked by a gate, and then he shoots them in the head with a captive bolt stunner . . . which fires a steel bolt that knocks the cattle unconsious.  . . . As soon as the steer falls, a worker grabs one of its hind legs, shackles it to a chain, and the chain lifts the huge animal into the air" (171).

8) Mitchell implies that the slavery of the past becomes the corporate exploitation and cannibalism of the future. Given the Nazi concentration camps of the past and the sweatshops of the present, some combination of both isn't hard to imagine. As Somni-451 says:

"in a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only `rights,' the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful.  In corpocracy, this means the Juche. What is willed by the Juche is the tidy xtermination of a fabricant underclass" (344).

Friday, October 26, 2012

disposition matrix links

---Behind the US Targeted Killing Program

---"What has been created here - permanently institutionalized - is a highly secretive executive branch agency that simultaneously engages in two functions: (1) it collects and analyzes massive amounts of surveillance data about all Americans without any judicial review let alone search warrants, and (2) creates and implements a `matrix' that determines the `disposition' of suspects, up to and including execution, without a whiff of due process or oversight. It is simultaneously a surveillance state and a secretive, unaccountable judicial body that analyzes who you are and then decrees what should be done with you, how you should be `disposed' of, beyond the reach of any minimal accountability or transparency.  --Glenn Greenwald

---"There’s a rhetorical consensus in Washington that, as Romney said at Monday’s debate, the U.S. `can’t kill our way out of this mess.' It’s spoken so often it’s a cliche. But in practice, killing appears to be the mainstay of U.S. efforts: nearly 3,000 people have been slain by drone strikes, according to a Post online database, including an undisclosed number of civilians. And the security agencies are preparing for even more."  --Spencer Ackerman

---"the Dr. Seuss economy of death"

---Power of Quiet

---"Many here ask, nodding toward the sky, has America not learned the lessons of Iraq?"

---"most nonfiction movies now work backwards, starting with a conclusion (be it left wing or right wing) and then looking only for the footage that supports it"

---“We all want everybody to vote. But we want an informed voter . . . Voting is a privilege. How easy should it be? . . . Why would we make it any easier? I want ’em to fight for it. I want ’em to know what it’s like. I want them to go down there, and have to walk across town to go over and vote.”

---"As inequalities increase in Britain and across much of the world, so does the criminalisation of protest"

---"White Privilege Wedding" --Anne Helen Petersen

---The Miles Davis Story

---"Video Studies of the Western" --@filmstudiesff

---trailers for The Central Park Five, Empires of the Deep, Iron Man 3, Lay the Favorite, and A Good Day To Die Hard

---"Let’s say the price of food doubles in the next twenty years. The Arab Spring will seem like a pep rally."

---"What parts of the digital world do you want to see appear in the physical world?"

---"that probable severity of climate change remains masked; by industry, by politicians, and by a beltway media that diligently parrots their platforms. Which means all of us back home continue our fossil fueled-march towards a warmer, weirder world, oblivious, and surrounded by climate silence."

---a Bruce Willis property damage supercut

---"5 Reasons Why Now Is The Greatest Time for Filmmaking"

---"When I started writing, I realized that I was learning stuff about films. I was reflecting on cinema, and I was asking myself questions that tried to frame my personal approach to filmmaking, and the more I was writing, the more I knew what I was lacking. The more I wrote, the more I understood that there was a lot that was lacking."   --Olivier Assayas

---"This is the first generation of people that work, play, think and learn differently than their parents.  They are the first generation to not be afraid of technology.  It is like the air to them."

---How Daniel Day-Lewis stays in character

---You Don't Own Me  

Monday, October 22, 2012

"The logical extension of business is murder": Cosmopolis

"Any assault on the borders of perception is going to seem rash at first."  --Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson)

"If you have a strange sensation while watching Cosmopolis, a dreadful remove, it's because you are experiencing the end of the world as theory." --Daniel Kasman

"I think David [Cronenberg] liked the takes when I had literally no idea what I was doing.” --Robert Pattinson

"Eric’s in-dwelling in the super-rarefied world of abstract finance gives him the illusion that the material realm is irrelevant, archaic." --Cornel Bonca

"Eric Packer’s world, the world of digitization and cyber-capital, transcends linguistic representation. DeLillo facilitates this point through Packer’s running commentary on language. `The cool universe of digitality has absorbed the world of metaphor and metonymy' (Baudrillard 188). Language, according to the protagonist, is currently incapable and utterly inappropriate for expressing the current situation, which is marked by simulation, hyper-reality, and ever-increasing speeds of change."  --Stuart Noble

"He looked past Chin toward streams of numbers running in opposite directions. He understood how much it meant to him, the roll and flip of data on a screen. He studied the figural diagrams that brought organic patterns into play, birdwing and chambered shell.  It was shallow thinking to maintain that numbers and charts were the cold compression of unruly human energies, every sort of yearning and midnight sweat reduced to lucid units in the financial markets.  In fact data itself was soulful and glowing, a dynamic aspect of the life process.  This was the eloquence of alphabets and numeric systems, now fully realized in electronic form, in the zero-oneness of the world, the digital imperative that defined every breath of the planet's living billions.  Here was the heave of the biosphere.  Our bodies and oceans were here, knowable and whole."  --from DeLillo's novel

"The visual style of the movie comes from the dialogue. It wouldn’t exist if the dialogue wasn’t there or there was less of it, or if the dialogue was more, in quotes, realistic, or whatever those critics are thinking. There was one critic who said `The dialogue is making me think kill me, kill me now, I can’t take any more of this,' and I thought, `Yes, I’d be happy to kill you now, no problem.'”

"[Edouard Carmignac] felt that it [Cosmopolis] was absolutely accurate, that he works with people who are exactly like Eric Packer in terms of their abstraction. They live in this weird bubble where they are disconnected even from the way that normal people buy things and sell things, let alone from basic social interactions with normal human beings." --David Cronenberg

"I write as I can in the rhythm of interminable weeks
monday: empty storehouses a rat became the unit of currency
tuesday: the mayor murdered by unknown assailants
wednesday: negotiations for a cease-fire the enemy has imprisoned our messengers
we don't know where they are held that is the place of torture
thursday: after a stormy meeting a majority of voices rejected the motion of the spice merchants for unconditional surrender
friday: the beginning of the plague saturday: our invincible defender
N.N. committed suicide sunday: no more water we drove back
an attack at the eastern gate called the Gate of the Alliance

all of this is monotonous I know it can't move anyone"
--from Zbigniew Herbert's "Report from a Besieged City" ("a rat became the unit of currency" is the novel's and the movie's epigraph)

Cosmopolis’s grimness — and it is hell-dark, a near Miltonic vision of greed, chaos, and soul-squandering — is, it turns out, an altogether apt reflection of its theme, which is the remorseless momentum of post-Berlin Wall capitalism, of a New World Order that has no symmetrical foe aside from “terrorism” and which is wedded inexorably to technologies of such seamless, speed-of-light efficiency that it promises the very transcendence of the physical, an escape from mortality itself into the dream-realm of the cybernetic. As Eric Packer, Cosmopolis’s dread anti-hero, would have it: `He’d always wanted to be quantum dust, transcending his body mass, the soft tissue over the bones, the muscle and fat. The idea was to live outside the given limits, in a chip, on a disk, as data, in whirl, in radiant spin, a consciousness saved from void.'"  --Cornel Bonca

"Where do these limos go at night?" --Eric Packer

"Where do the ducks go in the winter?" --Holden Caulfield in J. D Salinger The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

“Computer power eliminates doubt. All doubt rises from past experience. But the past is disappearing. We used to know the past but not the future. This is changing.  . . . Time is a corporate asset now. It belongs to the free market system."--Vija Kinski (Samantha Morton)

"Life is too contemporary." --Didi Fancher (Juliette Binoche)

"The subjects of the talks, as well as the mise-en-scène in general, principally dances around the severe abstraction late capitalism has introduced into life—or, at least, into the life of a very rich man, where numbers and screens, his head of security's warnings about threats to his life, and, ultimately, the unrest that percolates through New York as the film goes on, all remains at a distant, intangible remove. The world is reduced to virtual communication and personal relationships to theory, each talk . . . an intellectual negotiation for the purpose of cerebral play."  --Daniel Kasman

"My prostate is asymmetrical."
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know." --Eric Packer talking with his wife Elise (Sarah Gadon)

"A specter is haunting the world, the specter of capitalism." --a red LED ticker display

"The logical extension of business is murder." --Eric Packer

From DeLillo's novel: "The speed is the point.  Never mind the urgent and endless replenishment, the way data dissolves at one end of the series just as it takes shape at the other. This is the point, the thrust, the future. We are not witnessing the flow of information so much as pure spectacle, or information made sacred, ritually unreadable."

"People will not die. Isn't this the creed of the new culture? People will be absorbed in streams of information."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

screen links

---Pulp Fiction (The Cool

---Prometheus VFX Reel

---Bartyzel's "The Real and Fictional Horror of Rosemary's Baby"

---Interiors--spatial relations within Psycho

---"Secret cinema is Banksy style – no one knows who he is."

---100 Ideas That Changed Film

---Joan Didion's essays

---The A-Z of Simon Pegg

---robot revolution

---"I can't help but feel like you have, in some ways, made a movie about the act of criticism.

Absolutely. If you're going to make a movie about the viewing, and ultimately the production, of terrible, hard-to-watch content, it's hard not to take the opportunity to use it to comment on watching, critiquing, and making films. We tried to keep it under the surface, so it was never preachy or in your face, but I certainly wanted that to be there to be dissected and digested by the sorts of people that enjoy such things."  --C. Robert Cargill discussing Sinister

---I Cani's "Wes Anderson"

---"Drones permit the police to surveil people at all hours of the day and, apparently, at 1/30 the cost of other forms of aerial surveillance."

---"The story of this film just happens to resonate with the story that we have been hearing for months. It is the story that justifies the sanctions upon Iran (with increasingly frequent references to the threat of nuclear war in the hands of the same ‘crazy’ imams and their minion Mahmoud Ahmedinejad). It is the story that drives Bibi to throw his hands up in frustration as POTUS—thus far—refuses to invade Iran. It is the story that confirms the political and moral weight of American Empire. And as importantly, it is the story that reaffirms the decisions made by the CIA on behalf of American Empire. It validates the CIA’s existence, it valorizes its supposed competence.  It is the fantasy of a CIA that has probably never existed—and certainly not now—as we recall the incident of the CIA agent who shot two Pakistanis last year, whose story was covered up by an embarrassed US—at least for a few days."

---John Carter's commentary track of the damned

---Cloud Atlas featurette

---"There was a notion that May '68 failed and it was a rehearsal for the actual revolution to come. That's what kids were obsessed with, and they were convinced it was possible, that one generation had the power to turn society upside down. And it was a fact. It was not a dream or perceived as utopian, because not only we believed it, but the authorities also believed it. The cops on the street believed it. The headmasters believed it. Everybody was kind of scared. There was a certain level of antagonism that made things electric."  --Olivier Assayas

---100 Masters of Short Animation

---"a pretty strong indictment of the gullibility of the population to be won over by the anti-intellectual and anti-elitist. It’s a satiric statement about our desire, especially in chaotic times, for a charismatic person to step up and become someone onto whom we can project all our hopes and dreams."

---@jeeemerson's analysis of the opening shot of The Player

---"Vertigo, a movie that, according to Thomson, `has a helpless guilt, the first admission that voyeurism may undermine you, and that acting is a metaphor for all of life.'”

---trailers for Holy MotorsThe Body, Tchoupitoulas, Bad 25, Breaking Dawn 2, Alter Egos, and Jack Reacher

---"the pressing implication of the picture is to say, oh, please, don't let's peddle the old lies about good entertainment, movie stars and a great evening out – this is a frenzy, bent on sex and violence, and we are growing older as we watch ... Art is not a recreation, a consolation, a pastime, a business (though it is all these things); it is the stone on which your knife is sharpened."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

stultified consumerist links

---"We're going out there, and we're gonna violate some rights."

---True Skin

---A Message for Mankind

---the Spielberg/Lucas/Kasdan story conference about Raiders of the Lost Ark

---"real punk (as opposed to its commodified byproducts), is innately liberatory, counterhegemonic. Punk is about freeing oneself from cultural malaise and consumerist stultification through an aesthetics of negation and DIY practice. Despite its deep recuperation, some ambient punk spirit still animates rebellion in those who pick up its mantle.

Punk can’t help but be a dead thing, a museum of gestures and affects, made glossy and `historically significant,' shot full of aesthetic meaning and thus deprived of any aesthetic force. `What would it be like to see this flier on a telephone pole in my neighborhood, having no context for it?' the book wants you to ask, yearning, nostalgic for a time before you were born.

The inescapable cliché: punk rock changed my life. My first friend in college was made on the basis of a Screamers T-shirt (the famous image of Tomata Du Plenty’s exploding head which graces the cover of Punk), and I’ve been in punk bands since I was 17. Punk led me, via Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces, to the Situationists, who in turn led me to theory and politics. But none of this has to do with some innate nature of punk rock."

---Johnson's pitch reel for Looper

---"Doom and gloom"

---"There are at least two problems with Room 237’s depiction of criticism. First, it is an activity that often comes across as outré, freakish or crackpot. (Witness the range of theories proposed.) Second, and more important, film criticism here is a largely apolitical, hermetic activity that moves inwards, carving out a self-enclosed space, the space of a cognitive puzzle, a puzzle to be solved based on clues well hidden by a genius filmmaker. (Prominent mention is made of Kubrick’s 200 IQ and his prowess at chess.)

Spotting hidden references to the Holocaust or to the genocide of Native Americans is not in itself a critically or politically reflective activity. The Shining (while being a wonderful film, for many reasons) simply does not engage with these weighty historical traumas. It is not “about” them in any meaningful way. And neither does it have to be in order to be a great film. But when Room 237 represents film analysis in a manner that treats it as little more than a clever puzzle-solving exercise, it gives no hint as to the social value and political/aesthetic worth of this public activity. It never intuits what is truly at stake in the activity of paying close, analytical attention to films."  --Girish Shambu

---Partysaurus Rex and Gypped in Egypt

---Eclectic Method The Future

---behind-the-scenes footage

---A Handy Tip for the Easily Distracted by Miranda July

---"The energy industry is worried that it will be presented in a critical light"

---"Sometimes  . . . the long take is an exigency demanded by time and money. It can yield artistic advantages, too, by building suspense (as in A Mere Life) or surprise (as in The Charm of Others) or both (as in People’s Park). It can also be a mark of virtuosity, a quality prized in most artistic traditions. A well-done long take can be like a sustained aria in an opera; its confident audacity can make you smile."  --David Bordwell

---Why Obama Now and Elizabeth Warren: All of our Daughters

---Pull My Daisy

---a deleted scene from In the Mood for Love 

---Check Please!

---trailers for Alex Pandian, Gangster Squad, Hitchcock, Tarantino XX, and The Last Days 

---The King of Cool

---Joe Mantegna's top 10

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"This scent and this soap is what gives me hope": a discussion about Damsels in Distress

After enjoying a crab cake dinner at home, B. smeared Nutella on some Moravian sugar cookies and I sipped some tea as we attempted to come to terms with Whit Stillman's latest. 

FD: What did you think of Damsels in Distress?

B: I was looking forward to a new Whit Stillman film because I enjoy the smart banter of his other movies.

FD: Something was off about it, though.

B: After rewatching the Criterion edition of The Last Days of Disco (1998) last night, I realized that the most problematic thing about Damsels is its lack of realism. Everything in Last Days was plausible, but Damsels was uneven.  For instance, Violet (Greta Gerwig) has fun discussions about language that sound like the previous films, but then there's this ridiculous thing about Thor (Billy Magnussen), one of the fraternity brothers, not knowing colors. It's almost as if Stillman decided to take surreal leaps, but I couldn't figure out why they were there. The end of the film reminded me of the end of Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You (1996).

FD: At times, though, Stillman takes an absurd conceit, such as Violet's love of scented soap, and stretches it so far, it becomes funny.

B: But that did not seem so absurd to me. As she says, "This scent and this soap is what gives me hope." A scent can pull you out of a depression. I couldn't figure out what weird animosity Violet and her gang has towards men who tend to lie, smell bad, or behave stupidly. Whole dorms do not stink.

FD: The movie takes place at a make-believe Seven Oaks college that appears to be patterned off of one of the seven sisters, a once all-female but now co-ed Ivy League school. The story principally involves the romantic travails of a tight-knit group of young women who work for a suicide preventation center. As in Metropolitan (1990), they admit an outsider, Lily (Analeigh Tipton), into their midst (they have all names of flowers--Rose, Heather, etc.). Bunched together, they tend to walk in a group back and forth across the neo-classical campus with much overt backlighting emphasizing their hair.

B: The seven sisters may a reference to the Pleiades, which goes along with the neo-classical aspect. I believe that there are 7 girls and 7 guys emphasized in the storyline, and I just kept feeling like I was missing something.  I don't think a school would allow a group of girls to run a suicide center without training.

FD: I've read that Whit Stillman suffers from depression, so perhaps the girls try out cures that work for him, such as dancing, smelling scents, eating donuts, watching New Wave films, and so on.

B: But those are ridiculous.

FD: Terms like "ridiculous" are way harsh, Tai.

B: Yet, I liked the mood of Damsels a lot. As in Stillman's previous trilogy, Damsels is intelligent, often philosophical, with much talk about relationships. There were good set pieces with Violet, such as her journey to the Hotel 4 to ultimately find soap.

FD: Violet kept heading into the woods in the rain, or to the Hotel 4, like Jesus going off to the wilderness to learn some new truth.

B: Ironically, even though she tries to help people the most, Violet is often the most depressed. She's also acerbic like Kate Beckinsale's character Charlotte in The Last Days of Disco. I like that about Stillman's movies in general. His characters tend to say the wrong things.

FD: I was bothered by the therapeutic bent of Damsels. It's as if the movie kept exhorting us to cheer up. Also, I missed Chris Eigeman, who I understand is too old now, and, besides, he had a role in Gilmore Girls.

B: Don't you dare denigrate The Gilmore Girls.

FD: With his ironic smart-ass manner, Chris anchors the trilogy of earlier films. In Damsels, Stillman includes a Chris-like tough-talking editor named Rick DeWolfe (Zach Woods) of The Daily Complainer as one person who sees through Violet's pretensions, but such figures are in short supply.

B: Rick gets lost in the movie.  He shows up as a foil, but then he goes away.

FD: What did you think of the beanball keepsake scene? [Violet hangs on to a beanbag and a rare misspelled handwritten note as she mourns a lost romance with Frank (Ryan Metcalf).]

B: It's the kind of things that girls do. They keep stupid things to evoke a relationship. Other aspects of the film I didn't like--I didn't get the whole suicide theme. Why did people keep jumping off Robertson Hall?

FD: The jump will not kill you. It will only maims you. [At this point, B. leaves the dining room. She returns with an emory board, a cuticle trimmer, and a nail file. For some reason, she starts to give herself a manicure.] The two-story Robertson Hall provides the scene of one of the movie's more problematic epiphanies.  In this scene, Thor suddenly runs across campus, leading Heather (Carrie MacLemore) to think that he will commit suicide.  So, the gang runs after Thor (another example of the relentless side-to-side movement of the characters) as he dashes up the stairs of Robertson Hall, and then bursts out onto the balcony to find . . . a rainbow.  Thor has finally learned to distinguish the various colors that he never knew before because his parents had him skip kindergarten, so he says, ecstatic: "Red, orange, yellow, blue! Hallelujah, Lord God thank you! Education! We can set out to learn the topics that we find difficult. Thank you!" He weeps with joy as Heather cuddles up to him. So, what's wrong with this scene?

1) It's not believable.
2) The implied Biblical reference to the rainbow as a covenant from God is pretentious.
3) The rainbow itself looks like a cheap special effect imposed on a neo-classical landscape.
4) One still can't tell just how much of an idiot Thor is.
5) Consequently, it's hard to share in his religious joy and thanksgiving.
6) One is left with the impression of a movie straining mightily for its characters' redemption with this scene's uneasy mixture of intellectual contempt and wonder.

B: Yes. I kept thinking that there was some joke there that I wasn't getting.

FD: Why is The Last Days of Disco (1998) so much better?

B: Every character introduced is there for a reason.  The ad guy brings clients into the disco, and it turns out that he was supplying info for the assistant District Attorney. All of the characters return. All loose ends were covered. There's foreshadowing and preparation, but in Damsels I couldn't tell what the plot points were.  Why was Jimbo (Jermaine Crawford) in the movie?  What was the point of including the editor of the newspaper? In The Last Days of Disco, even the minor characters like the leopard woman mattered. Last Days had an elegiac feel, but I don't understand the tone of Damsels. It starts with Violet wanting to start a dance craze, and much later she succeeds. Is that what the movie is really about?

FD: Also, you can tell that the dialogue is much sharper in Last Days.  It's a delight now to see Kate Beckinsale's ferocity and Chloe Sevigny's sleepy soulful quality so early in their careers. Also, the disco music neatly contrasts with Stillman's erudite approach. His cool intellectualized aesthetic benefits from the flash and shallow propulsiveness of the strobe lights and the disco beat.

B: I agree. The vapid lyrics juxtapose well with the intelligence of the characters. Also, each film of the trilogy (including Barcelona (1994)) mostly sticks to a narrowly defined time. Disco takes place in the early 80s. Stillman structures Metropolitan around one debutante season.  For Damsels, we have no sense of the seasons.  It's timeless but not in a good way.

FD: It's backlit and very preppy.

B: That's all we know.

FD: Still, Metropolitan is one of my favorite films.

B: I agree, but Damsels lacks focus. It's like a bunch of colorful fragments that don't coalesce into a coherent design.

FD: Distress suffers from the extraordinarily high expectations raised by the rest of Whit Stillman's oeuvre.

Friday, October 5, 2012

total dissociation from reality links

---Plurality

---The return of Droney

---a Looper commentary and 6 filmmaking tips from Rian Johnson

---the "con that social media has discovered: cause a problem, then market the solution"

---an excerpt of Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

---"How large a step is it from that denial of our full selfhood to the wry passivity with which we observe global warming, economic collapse and a new freelance nuclear age as portents of an end to a world that is beyond us? Pioneers of film, such as D W Griffith, Chaplin and Abel Gance, hoped that the movie would make a single population in the world angry or moved enough to share liberty and opportunity and end war and intolerance. But perhaps it has made for a society of voyeurs who associate their own hiding in the dark with the safe futility of dealing with the screen's frenzy. So the world is chaotic and nearing ruin, but not for us – not yet."  --David Thomson

---Brian Eno's Scape

---online college film courses

---"an economy can’t grow if it can no longer afford to burn the fuel on which it runs"

---Reel Islam and A Thousand Times No

---"I can't stop thinking about Room 237"

---filming Rocky Horror Picture Show

---behind the scenes of Paths of Glory

---"Why are so many works perpetuating the stereotype that liberal arts programs cater to Peter Pan boys and girls and sad-sack professors, none of whom have the emotional intelligence to deal with life's problems? Part of it could be recession-era scapegoating. And part of it is that the cultural heroes of the moment are largely start-up kings like Mark Zuckerbergs and Steve Jobses who dropped out of college to pursue fortune. You can see similar strains of thought in Scott Gerber's recent Atlantic piece critiquing the liberal arts curriculum for inadequately preparing entrepreneurs."

---"Total Cinema as a total dissociation from reality." --J. Hoberman

---"From that point forward, through November and December, Boniadi and Cruise were practically inseparable, and she was soon head over heels in love. Cruise overwhelmed her with the intensity of his affection, and he apparently liked it to be on public display. Once, says the knowledgeable source, he even complained that she was not sufficiently demonstrative: `I get more love from an extra than I get from you.' Virtually their only time alone, though, was in the bedroom. The rest of the time they were surrounded by the entourage. The degree of control Boniadi was subjected to by Cruise and the organization was mind-boggling, according to several sources. For the first three weeks she was isolated and not permitted to communicate with anyone. Despite the fact that her parents were deeply worried, she was allowed to tell them only that she was in New York on a special Scientology project, never that she was with Cruise. (Her father, who is not a Scientologist, lives in London.)

If Cruise found fault with anything she said or did, according to the knowledgeable source, he immediately reported it to Tommy Davis or a member of the staff, and she would then be audited about it. This process started with the first words she ever spoke to him, `Very well done,' about his receiving Scientology’s Freedom Medal of Valor. Evidently that was not sufficiently doting; according to the source, her `Very well done' implied that Cruise was her junior. She spent two to three hours of her day, every day, purging herself of `negative thoughts about Tom.' Though the first month on the project was bliss, by the second month Boniadi was more and more often found wanting. Cruise’s hairstylist, Chris McMillan, was brought in to work on her hair; in addition, says the source, Cruise wanted Boniadi’s incisor teeth filed down."

---trailers for documentaries about The Clash and the Rolling Stones, Stoker, Not Fade Away, Seven Psychopaths, The First Time, The Lone Ranger, and A Good Day to Die Hard

---a Tarantino interview

---the New York locations of North by Northwest

---notes on The Fifth Element

---lastly, social media-wear 

Monday, October 1, 2012

10 Notes on Looper, Schopenhauer, and Reciprocal Nature of Violence

1) "‘Does solving a problem by finding the right person and killing them ever work? Or does it create a self-perpetuating loop of violence?’ And that to me is not a theoretical, time-travel question. That’s a real-world question.”  --Rian Johnson

2) Looper's straightforward vision of the future: more homeless, more graffiti, more guns, no middle class.

3) I thoroughly enjoyed Looper, in part because I am a huge fan of Johnson's Brick (2005), and since both movies share the same director, writer, star, and cinematographer (Steve Yedlin), watching Looper felt like returning to a Dashiell Hammett-influenced noir sensibility that suits me exactly.

4) Rian Johnson's influences when making Looper: Casablanca (especially in the way Joe's moral compass shifts, as Rick's does, from being purely selfish to compassionate for others), T. S. Eliot's The Four Quartets (given the film's four movements), La Jetee, Brian De Palma's The Fury, Twelve Monkeys, Back to the Future, Witness (especially in the film's latter half), North by Northwest, (specifically the crop-dusting scene), some French New Wave films including Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

5) "The most powerful form of time travel is memory. Every day ... we'll kind of go off in our heads and revisit moments in our lives, and wish that we had done them differently." And time travel stories can also be a warning, "the same way that Frankenstein stories are kind of a cautionary tale, sort of a 'yes, you think you want that, but it actually wouldn't help, it would actually make things worse' ... you think you want to revisit the past, but in reality you should just be living in the present." --Johnson

6) Take the off-repeated fundamental scene of the movie.  Looper Joe Simmons stands out in a field with his blunderbuss (a big gun) and waits by a tarp.  Abruptly, a hooded man (and it is always a man) from the future appears on the tarp kneeling, whereupon Joe shoots him, and then rapidly disposes of the body in an incinerator. One can analyze this blunt scene as:

a) a cynical reflection of American foreign policy, especially in the way the man's hood is reminiscent of the atrocities of Abu Ghraib.
 
b) the final debasement of the iconic Hollywood cowboy and/or the hitman, with no need to aim, no flair, no razzle-dazzle gunplay. Joe might as well be in a slaughterhouse. The monotony of Joe's killing makes it so evocative, its everyday dreariness.

c) a variation on Nazi concentration camp techniques, with the incinerator substituted for the ovens.

d) a reminder of how future technological advances in surveillance and identification will make it nearly impossible to dispose of bodies, hence the need to send the victims back in time.

7) Most important, the looper lives under the constant existential threat of killing his thirty-year older self, a practice known as "closing the loop." The future crime syndicates like to clean up loose ends by having the loopers kill their older selves. Now, to return to Rian Johnson's quote about the significance of this movie: "Does solving a problem by finding the right person and killing them ever work? Or does it create a self-perpetuating loop of violence?" Given that the loopers often end up killing themselves, one can assume that Johnson meant for the viewer to note the reciprocity of the killer and victim, which reminded me of the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and his all-encompassing theory of the will.

8) According to Schopenhauer, the will is the fundamental animus that drives man's existence and ensures his survival.  Man's will guides him, forcing him to pursue whatever might satisfy it.  Yet once sated, the will always finds a new object of desire, thus trapping man in a never-ending series of desires. The problem is, people suffer from the "principle of individuation," or the inability for them to see beyond their individual selves. Man cannot see that every other creature is a part of himself, a part of the will, so when he harms others, he harms himself, in effect "closing the loop."

9) As Schopenhauer wrote, "Deceived by the knowledge bound to its service, the will . . . fails to recognize itself; seeking enhanced well-being in one of its phenomena, it produces great suffering in another. Thus in the fierceness and intensity of its desire it buries its teeth in its own flesh, not knowing that it always injures only itself . . . Tormented and tormentor are one."

10) Through his repeated images of executions and through the encounter between the older and the younger Joe in the diner (where the younger Gordon-Levitt version says "Why don't you do what old men do and die"), Johnson keeps returning to the blind, delusional nature of American violence, ironically in the midst of a smart, stylish, and pleasurably vicious science fiction film.  As he says, "The thing that’s interesting to me is not `Would you go back in time and kill Hitler?' but `Would you go out and kill a man whose death would profit you right now?' And that’s something that is directly and morally applicable, unfortunately, to our times, and to being a human being."