Sunday, January 10, 2010

Viewing Log #28: Shape the way you play [1/4/10 - 1/10/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Won't help to hold inside

  • The Headless Woman [Lucrecia Martel, 2008] # I don't know why people said this was inscrutable. It seems perfectly open to me. Every edit matters and, though nothing's explicit, you have all the tools/information you need to reassemble this brain, this so-called mystery. There is no mystery, in fact, there's only the frame—windows, doorways, sometimes doors are windows, even a car is a frame filled in—and our Vero is forever pushed to its side. Sometimes she gets to throng up an image, but even then her eyes are often off to one side, or looking past this box of light she's in and making brim. I'd love to teach this film in a hermeneutics seminar. We'd read Ricouer and Bazin and Borges and Gadamer. I could keep watching this movie for the next month, but I won't; I'll probably just watch it once more then wait for it to screen in a cinematheque. I watched it with headphones, which certain felt apt and enveloping, but I can only imagine it packs more punch in the dark, sitting alone. (If I'd seen this in time for our double bills, I might have entertained the idea of writing about this flick and Gertrud, or Day of Wrath. It would have been the opposite of the pairing I did come up with—a true vision of light, of lightness even (however colored by hurt)—but sometimes you need the weight to better frame what bubbles up.)

  • Up in the Air [Jason Reitman, 2009] Sure, that was fine; there were things to like. But, come on, how many condescending pats on the back do we need? I'm not advocating for some muddy road, per se, but Clooney's charisma can only do so much to make a shiny object, like this riveted thing all aligned, feel spontaneous. What's more, Vera Farmiga is gorgeous and talented and I wish to hell she would get a role that didn't flip her, however strong, into such an easy mark.
  • The Sopranos, "Join The Club" (S6,E2) [David Nutter, 2006] # The best acting the show's got. Easily one of the best episodes ever, too. Would love to talk about this show and its silly brand of surrealism with Alain Resnais.
  • The Sopranos, "Members Only" (S6,E1) [Tim Van Patten, 2006] # So good. Starts with Burroughs, ends with one of the biggest shocks in the series. I was surprised, again, at the ferocity of Junior's dementia. More inspired is the subtlety of that final segment's true structuring device: the pasta. We cut from Gene's suicide by hanging to Tony pouring spaghetti (I think) into boiling water, singing, and the episode ends with Tony gurgling in close-up as dinner continues to bubble under the image, signaling not only that this could, truly, be the end for Tony but that we've reached a definite point of no return; no matter what happens (we know now that Tony lives, duh) things will never be the same. Which, of course, goes against the whole ethos of the series finale (the whole series, really) which is all about how patterns so easily calcify while life marches on. I guess we're just talking a narrative turning point more than anything. And, again, the thing that separates this series from, say, The Wire is that its narrative is as brisk as it is brutal; i.e., its sidewinding always pushes something—some dread, some death, some delusions—forward.
  • Tyson [James Toback, 2008] Mellow Mike is an amazing human being. Hell, Iron Mike was, too. The movie may be "so-so" but its story, his story, should be heard/seen. And in monologue form, what else can you ask for? Indeed, there's some cinematic play, here, too, with all this shifting and polyphony, but the real value of the film/video is its enduring status as a love letter.

  • The Headless Woman [Lucretia Martel, 2008] So, yeah. This one. Best of the decade? Up there for sure. More soon, I trust. Until then, here's some of my favorite people/writers on this marvel (1) Martha (2) Danny (3) David (4) Koresksy [at No.2] (5) Glenn (6) Fernando (7) Sicinski (8) Nathan (9) Danny talking to Ms Martel. —Quick poll: where you at on the other two this lady's made?

  • Death Becomes Her [Robert Zemeckis, 1992] Waiting for the plumber, I reacquainted myself with a few chunks (here and there) from this barf bag of grotesqueries. Maybe Phelps and Kehr are onto something: maybe Zemeckis really is some kind of special image'n'myth maker. I remember really digging the flick when my dad and I saw it in theatres, but, now, wow, it's like brand new (though still the same?). It's almost a toilet, though a shiny one, complete with shit and piss and pissy face-making. And in HD!

  • In The Mood For Love [WKW, 2000] # Cuz of everybody's lists, and to wash that exacting movie out of my brain a bit before bed. I mean, wouldn't you rather dream about Maggie Cheung in form-fitting dresses more than eye-gouging and barn burning?
  • The White Ribbon [Michael Haneke, 2009] # I don't want to say I saw through it the second time around but I think I saw through it the second time around. I've tried again and again to be charitable to this dude's movies since a couple people I love kinda love these flicks, but, at this point, fuck it. More soon, when it opens here in the Bay, but if you want to read a pan I nod with then you should read this bit of bile from Mr. Waggish.

Tyson 4

Weisse 1


  1. Had the swell fortune to see The Headless Woman theatrically a few months ago. I was sufficiently bowled over, especially by that last shot. Best of the decade? I dunno. I guess I'm going to have to see it again, but it seems to be missing something that the stuff I'd marry if I could tends to have.

    I saw Up in the Air yesterday, and think that Jason Reitman would be an OK director in the classical Hollywood tradition if somebody would just lend him a new pair of knees. He's obviously smart. The problem is that he's not smart enough to know that the trenchant statement about American Right Now and the soppy middlebrow charm fiesta are (probably) irreconcilable modes.

  2. I'll say here that _HW_ is almost a little too perfect, but I do love a lot about it. Especially those mostly slo-mo shots.

    I dont know if Reitman's all that smart, tho. Definitely not an image-maker, that's for sure.


    Hey Ryland,

    Also saw Headless Woman a few weeks ago and was pretty fascinated by it. I loved the way each composition (and object in the frame) was sliced up or bisected/trisected as a visual shorthand for alienation, and I particularly loved that shot at the end in that restaurant/club where there's that sliver of clarity between the fuzzily translucent doors.

    But one thing I haven't been able to wrap my head around was the strange incestuous moments. I guess they're meant as another way to show that Vero is not only lost and isolated within her own life and set of relationships, but also from the basic codes of society. The incident with her niece paints this as kind of an endemic problem. But those are really loaded images for making a point that's ably made elsewhere, aren't they? Do you have another take on it?

    As always, love the site. I did actually steal your idea of writing viewing logs over at my blog (, hope you don't mind!

  4. Raj! Thanks for reading and thanks for the thoughtful comment. The incestuous pining is definitely something I should think more about. But at this moment what I took from it is just another instance of somebody demanding something from Vero that she just can't reciprocate; it says more about the niece than it does about Vero. It's also another person infatuated with this enigma of a lady. But coming from a young girl, as opposed to a older man (also a cousin, huh?), marks Vero as yet more perversely desired and set off--what is it that turns these two on? Simply her looks? Anyways, though I watched it twice this past week, I still kind of let it wash over me without building much of an argument about it. It was just pleasurable filmmaking (masterful no doubt) that I got wrapped up in the scare tactics and, yes, the geometrical dissections/intersections/convergences of Martel's frames. The frame the frame the frame.... bah.

    And, about the viewing logs: of course I don't mind. In fact, I'm flattered.

  5. Raj: "I particularly loved that shot at the end in that restaurant/club where there's that sliver of clarity between the fuzzily translucent doors."

    That's the same shot I was on about. What stuck with me about it is a combination of that sliver of clarity you describe and, if I remember correctly, this surreal sense that she's floating through the crowd.

    RWK: Too perfect might be my issue. It's so perfect it almost feels like it doesn't need to be watched. Almost. As for Reitman, his movies aren't exactly outright stupid and his images aren't exactly outright ugly, which is why he's so frustrating to me.

    And I think I may have sort of aped the log format for my blog-thing a couple months back, which blog-thing I've been needing to update and would likely have more motivation to update if I had more than 1 known follower. (Not going to say hint-hint, but was about to.)