Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Viewing Log #66: 2010

by Ryland Walker Knight

There will be more words as we trade up calendars, including a number of other wrap-ups, but I wrote this one a couple weeks ago and it's highly unlikely I'll see much to add to it. And even though some of it may be redundant with the coming lists (and the viewing log series as a whole), I wanted to share this summary of sorts of my year. It's a preferential ordering, but it's certainly open to revision and it's certainly open plain and simple. I know a lack of rules aggravates some readers/friends, but this is my blog and I say to hell with rules. These are the films I saw (for the first time, though I watched some more than once) this year that left something in me worth transcribing (or translating), even if that's just some glib toss-offs as we have below. Besides, it gives you all the more freedom to press and volley or scoff and move on to something more, I don't know, serious. At any rate, here goes nothing.

  • A Brighter Summer Day — I don't doubt an aura built from rarity fed my enjoyment, but I also know, for a fact, that this was the best lit and unlit film I saw all year.
  • Film Socialism — The best argument yet for any and all forms of digital images and non-linear leaps in editing and structure. Also, the best argument I've seen that most of us are illiterate in more languages than words can encompass—presuming, of course, that images are their own language—since JLG makes words into images at all events and overlays.
  • Winter, Sarabande, Compline, Aubade — Hard to choose because they're all so similar, which points to how hard it is to watch more than one at a time, but if I had the skills, I would love to make little things like these.
  • Let Each One Go Where He May — One of those 'perfect' movies that's not quite perfect so it becomes more perfect. Also, it's about a lot of stuff I'd love to make movies about; especially the last scene/shot.
  • 36 vies du Pic St Loup — Because I saw it on film.
  • Wild Grass — I hope I have this much fun when I'm 86.
  • Angel Face — The best ending of any film I saw all year. (Except for maybe that one just above.) And sexy in a complicated way, the way sexy is.
  • The Small Black Room — Since I can't lob more hosannah's at their ballet movie, or any number of favorites by these dudes, I'll reserve this spot for this little number, which plays host to at least four amazing set pieces of paranoia.
  • La Captive — Perception gets grained into people.
  • Close-Up — Perception gets people ingratiated, and not.
  • Landscape Suicide — Perception kills.
  • L'enfence nue — Yes, life is hard. Could easily be paired with the Yang above for obvious reasons but could also be paired with the Akerman.
  • The Last Picture Show — Yes, life is sad and everything ends. But growing up, like sex, can be fun. (That is, after it's stopped being terrifying.)
  • Ruggles of Red Gap — A lesson in decency and in laughter.
  • Father of My Children — A lesson in decency.
  • Irma Vep — Scratchy gem full of footnotes and confusion and jokes about all of it; unending and unended, too.
  • Orlando — Sometimes the right face can sell the same joke 18 times. And videotape matters.
  • La France — This is how a fairy tale works, I'm fairly certain.
  • Bluebeard — Girls have problems with all kinds of narratives.
  • Boarding Gate — Sometimes the right lady can sell the same desperation to a bunch of different men and get herself across the globe. Sometimes that flight's just flight, though.
  • The Women — A mile a minute to nowhere but the start of more calisthenics jokes performed as/during calisthenics.
  • Everyone Else — Raspberries on the belly are never just for fun!
  • I Am Love — Affect porn, brought to you by soft focus and close-ups.
  • Unstoppable — Pure adrenaline poem to the proles!
  • A Letter to Uncle Boonmee — Pure melancholy poem to the peasants!
  • Lourdes — Indeterminacy isn't a reason to hide; nor is prayer a cure for fear. We're all tourists, just like Tati said before.
  • The Holy Girl — Hiding behind a wall and/or a uniform, listening—to the sounds in the thickening air—is just another kind of pretending to live.
  • To Die Like A Man — Always already acting sounds tiring, doesn't it?
  • Alamar — Dudes, listen.
  • Make Way For Tomorrow — Kids, pay better attention.
  • The Headless Woman — Ladies, listen, you better pay better attention!
  • Fin aout, début septembre — Guys, get writing already. Do something already.
  • Utamaro and his five women — Men, stop looking.
  • Bell, Book and Candle — CraaAAaaazy! And funny.
  • Shutter Island — InsaaAAaane! And poignant.
  • Macgruber — Pshh. Insanely funny, more like it.
  • A Perfect Getaway — Wherein the title reflects the experience to a P.
  • Jackass 3D — Wherein the title defines the subjects to a D.
  • Enter The Void — Wherein the title is the title and boys will be boys.
  • Gamer — Wherein the title should mean more amid all that boys noise.
  • The Portuguese Nun — Love's gotta start somewhere.
  • Dodsworth — Love's gotta stop somewhere.
  • The Ghost Writer — Taut and paranoid, just like you'd expect, with a kicker final shot after a shot (that one with all those hands passing the note) that teeters on unintentional hilarity.
  • Cold Weather — Crisp, minor, yet mobile and of a milieu. I've seen siblings talk like that. I also like that, at heart, this A.K. wants to entertain people; this movie's a comedy, not a caper.
  • Greenberg — Old dudes trying to be young dudes.
  • The Social Network — Old dudes trying to understand young dudes.
  • Sauve qui peut (la vie) — An old dude toying with understanding and trying and film and ladies.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Viewing Log #65: Mostly silent nights [12/20/10 - 12/26/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Squash sandy

  • Speed Racer [Wachowskis, 2008] # The candy looks awful crisp on that BR disc. Wish it was shorter, but I still really enjoy all its leaps and plastic, its freakout lightplays.
  • Double Team [Hark Tsui, 1997] So many accents and so many twists! If you're tired from a lack of sleep and you're eating some serious mac'n'cheese alone on a Sunday, this is your best friend. Helps to like JCVD and HK action styles and middle-period-towards-later-period Mickey Rourke.

  • The Expendables [Sylvester Stallone, 2010] A grand goof that's not quite goofy enough since it wastes a few of its muscle-clad talents outside the action arena and spends far too much time trying to build emotions into everything. I wanted a full-on camp classic, basically, but more of those wishes later, with a sparring partner of my own.

  • I watched a lot of basketball this week.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Conjunction of Quotations #12

— edited by Ryland Walker Knight

smart is dead
Hugo Alexander


She seemed divided about herself and her image right from the beginning. She claimed she never knew she was to do nude scenes in “Ecstasy,” though people on the set said otherwise. On the breast issue, she researched the possibility of glandular augmentation, but later insisted she would never do anything about them. (Hers were perfectly fine except by the increasingly grandiose mammary standards of Hollywood.) She never mentioned her Jewish background, but assisted in the war effort and in later life congregated with fellow European exiles. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about changing your name or your breasts or your hairline or your voice or your accent, or with suppressing your ethnicity and background, but with Lamarr the process involved whittling away parts of an identity without quite finding a new one to inhabit.
Molly Haskell


Capitalism is a male construct.
Tilda Swinton


There is no why for my making films. I just liked the twitters of the machine, and since it was an extension of painting for me, I tried it and loved it. In painting I never liked the staid and static, always looked for what would change the source of light and stance, using glitters, glass beads, luminous paint, so the camera was a natural for me to try—but how expensive!
Marie Menken


My, and I suspect Nathaniel's, basic concern is with the frame-rate and whether a DVD is capable of emulating his 18fps rate. And of course in electronic modes there is no black out between frames, which is really the fundamental difference between video generated images which are constant and traditional filmic projection in which half the time the screen is black.
Jon Jost


We’ve had a loss of the sense of the frontier. We have to reclaim that.
Peter Thiel


I'm not so fond of Foucault, it's because he's always saying, "During this period, people thought 'A,B,C,'; but, after such and such a precise date, it was thought, rather, that '1,2,3'." Fine but can you really be so sure? That's precisely why we're trying to make movies so that future Foucaults won't be able to make such assertions with quite such assurance. Sartre can't escape this reproach, either.


Kevin Harlan


Like sittin' on pins and needles
Things fall apart, it's scientific
Talking Heads


But architecture couldn’t hold him either. Philosophy, he was forced to realize, was his supreme gift, yet when he returned to philosophy in 1929, his mind never settled there. Still, much as he hated Cambridge, he instinctively knew that college life, and the relative freedom it afforded him, was more conductive to his work than a life spent on the Russian steppes, tending an endless line of human misery. But because he couldn’t settle on anything, the young men around him couldn’t really settle, either. And so this, too, was his legacy: to leave them and, later, philosophy deluged with his huge half-conscious will, which, like a sweeping flame, sucked up all the oxygen.
Bruce Duffy º


The bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him "personal." Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
T.S. Eliot


It must be done with mirrors
my head that rests on nothing in mid-air.

Where is my body
where oh where?

I can see the stones
hidden in the hands.

O bring back my body to me, to me,
O miracle bring it back
before the mirrors break.
Maya Deren


The perfect page, the page in which no word can be altered without harm, is the most precarious of all. Changes in language erase shades of meaning, and the “perfect” page is precisely the one that consists of those delicate fringes that are so easily worn away. On the contrary, the page that becomes immortal can traverse the fire of typographical errors, approximate translations, and inattentive or erroneous readings without losing its soul in the process. One cannot with impunity alter any line fabricated by Góngora (according to those who restore his texts), but Don Quixote wins posthumous battles against his translators and survives each and every careless version.
Borges º


What is a wedding? Webster's Dictionary defines a wedding as "The process of removing weeds from one's garden."
Homer Simpson


I feel like Gene Wilder is my Marlon Brando or something. He just presents you with an array of emotions and leaves it up to you to decide. You know, when he played Willy Wonka [in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971], there was always something slightly terrifying and angry and sadistic about that character, all of which you would imagine might take away from the magic of it. But there was something about how he played it that let you see how this guy living alone in this place, as Wonka was, could have been affected by all of that, how it would have affected his emotional state.
Ryan Gosling


He's the engine that stirs the drink.
Charles Barkley, on Rajon Rondo

Viewing Log #64: No mad dream weaver [12/14/10 - 12/19/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

—They come reversed

  • I Know Where I'm Going! [P&P, 1945] # ...and I know who's going with me. Also, this part (h/t, DC). Silly distinction but: maybe my favorite of P&P's (ironic) propaganda era?

  • The Bad and The Beautiful [Vincente Minnelli, 1952] Love the cast, love the photography, bored by the story. Probably the best shot of somebody driving crazy in a movie, and there are some arrangements in certain frames that tickle the eye, but it's a lousy script peopled only by rote hubris.
  • Spy Game [Tony Scott, 2001] # Could have hinged an entire film on the two minutes spent skipping over how Redford throws away Pitt's love object (that lady's hardly anything else) into that Chinese prison; instead, Tony goes for the cheezeball atonement angle that doesn't resolve the mud of intentions. Along with the consistent sentimentality, there's the stuck-in-a-room-of-exposition staple, but the film's fun enough to breeze through all of that. At my most generous, I'd argue it's about Hollywood actors as liars, preying on their audience's willful blind eye to fantasy. At my least, I'll call it kinda simple compared to the other dreams T.S. gave us last decade.

  • I Am Love [Luca Guadagnino, 2009] # Yep: again. This time on BluRay. It looks fabulous, and the details are there. This time, of all three times I've seen it this year, I paid particular attention to the mother-daughter relationship as the bridge to Tilda's/Emma's actualization. More pointedly: somehow I hadn't thought about the daughter's haircut as prelude to Emma's and felt rather chagrinned. Guess the first couple of times I was too busy looking for the (air) quotes and marveling at Tilda's face.

  • Film Socialism [JLG, 2010] There's a common, let's call it, "lay complaint" that Godard speaks in code. Here's the first movie whose constellation of associations might just fit that bill for most of its audience. That is, despite the (simple?) pleasures afforded by its construction, the film demands a lot of familiarity with a lot of things and not just with JLG and his pet projects. Though I'm not fluent in all the languages required to enter this hermeneutic circle, I like to think I'm approaching fluent in the language of the image et du français (not to mention "Philosophie und verstehen"), which helps my entry, but I'm still barred. Or, I am at one arm's length. Or, I need more visits to this well. Or, etc. Still love that digital, though! Still love that editing, though! (Still, thanks to M.S. for the "proper" subs and for the salient review.) Some day I'll watch it again on a much larger screen; some day I'll catch up. Until then, I'll hold tight my own understanding of it as a, um, crie de resentiment or something.

  • Fantastic Mr. Fox [Wes Anderson, 2009] # Appreciates, seriously.

Fore, not aft
Wed to the window

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Convergence for your metabolism's liaison in light (12/15/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight

Terry Evans

Starts here

Monday, December 13, 2010

Viewing Log #63: You stab yourself [12/8/10 - 12/13/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight


—Though I did see some movies this week and though it was not ideal to battle insomnia with seven straight episodes last night, I barreled through Season Four in the past few days. So that's what I'll talk at below. But I did want to note that I saw that stupid ballerina movie, and I actually tried to like it, but I don't know how I could like it. I also watched some of Domino again, and it's wholly stupid, too, but it's not really aiming for anything profound; its main fault is its sentimentality; but that's almost an endearing through-line for Tony Scott now. In any case, they make a funny pair and it should be no surprise that the one that commits 100% to its lunacy (that is, doesn't try it on like a costume at arbitrary lengths) is the one that wins. But enough. There's bigger idiot winds to brave against.

No, it's not

Suffice to say, I was compelled. At this stage, I am drinking some kind of kool aid. However, compulsively entertaining as this season was, I must air some complaints. My major complaint, in the wake of what I wrote last week, is that the show simplified Betty a little too tidily. Sally was complicated almost to replace (rather than refract) what seemed to go on in her mom, but that's a different kind of relationship to a television character than I was looking for; and I was perhaps too easily skeezed out by the idea of people making that scene/those images of Sally's, um, transgression at the sleep over. Which is another way of saying that there was a lot more about work and about Don's sex life in this season than I'd anticipated. Yet, all that fed one of the best things about watching Don's trajectory: the tension in him between acting and being*.

Don is tired of acting. But Don's impulses at being, at responding to himself, are the most confused actions he takes. It's what got him into the pickle of a relationship with Anna Draper, before all, even though that was the first bit of acting he had to do. But even that sentence gets at what a mess it can be to delineate these two strains of behavior. That is, they're always woven.

Recognizing what idea feeds another idea and how we have responded or will respond or are responding is about as difficult an element of becoming a person as I know of. And that's all this show's about at bottom. That's part of the joke, of course: advertising is selling ideas to people, and the show does a great job to feed certain fantasies, as all mass media entertainment can (and more often does, duh). That's why I want to see Betty's complications instead of her press-button immaturity. I want to know there's more to that creature. It makes me feel shallow. I think that may be the point.

Even more fascinating, however, was Peggy's role in this season. She's really given a lot to do, for a lot of reasons, including sex and power and both at the same time and telling a lot of boys to shove it, even Don in a way; and the fantasy that this little lady lived and thrived back then in the mid-60s is one I want to believe as well. This one makes me feel something close to proud, some might say inspired, and I dont doubt that's the point.

That's bullshit
—That's bullshit

Just as Joan's continued abasement at the hands of the writers continues to baffle me. Not that she can't stand on her own. Not that she doesn't have plans and dreams and boobs worth dying for. But one phone call to Vietnam in the finale is nothing compared to that whole birthday episode Peggy gets. Don't get me wrong: Joan gets to turn down Roger, she gets to flare up at Lane, she gets to do all kinds of Strong and Powerful acts. But they're forever undercut by what motivated them or what is consequent to them. There's got to be another avenue for her than another sign post that says sexuality was still circumscribed (and chastised, as highlighted by the Sally masturbation fallout), as well as circumscription for certain kinds of sexy ladies, in this era.

Which is why Don's choice of Megan over Faye is so sad, I suppose. We're reminded of his limits, of his inability to separate trains of thought; or, we see his rationalizations play out. We see she was right: she failed "the kids test" and Megan passed it better than should be expected. Faye was so appealing precisely because of the compliments Peggy gives her the same way Megan is so appealing precisely because she's allowed wrinkles and background the way Jane was not. (And because she never gives off that ugly gold digger pony bride vibe.) All these confusions in Don of course make me question my romantic confusions but I also have the luxury of some truly valuable time spent with professional that have helped me better understand all the strands woven through my life. Naturally, I'm still not an expert on myself, nor living, but I do take pride in how much attention I pay to differences that make a difference. I can see that California is a safe place for Don, a place where none of the expectations of New York matter; I see how he sees "a fresh start" not unlike his ex-wife; and I see how he conflates certain forms of happiness into a ball of expectations nobody will be able to make good on in the long run. When he figures out how to return to himself, once and for all, we might not have a show to watch anymore. But we also may not get there at this rate.

I spy

* = This construction is Martha's, I feel compelled to note, and it also describes some of the fun of the show where Weiner got his start, the irreplaceable Sopranos, which I feel compelled to mention in part because I can see how I've drawn a parallel between Betty and Carmella because I realize that my attraction to both of these characters is just that they are so complicated at times, just like anybody, though they can also be obtuse imbeciles with no grip on how to behave as adults.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Viewing Log #62: Indivisible has a lot of "I"s [11/29/10 - 12/7/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Cartoon chuckle

—Though I did watch Broken Embraces again with Martha (ahem), and Prisoner of Azkaban again with Haz, I didn't watch much else last week besides the third season of Mad Men. So that's all I'm going to talk about here.

Call the kids

On my first night in Brooklyn last week, after an unexpected and unwelcome tour of the west side, I went to dinner with some friends. Talk turned to movies and TV, as should be expected with this crowd, and I brought up my recent plunge into Mad Men in part because I watched an episode on the flight and in part because I wanted to talk to one of these four people in particular about my reactions and assessments so far. Unfortunately, we two were the only people familiar with the show and the talk was short. Fortunately, it afforded us a private set of words to gush with: when I said, "What about that dance Pete and Trudy do at Roger's wedding?" we both lit up and shook our heads with delight. And we both agreed, out loud, turning to our friends, that it's one of the rare shows that gets markedly better as it goes along.

This is not a result of simple familiarity. Sure, we know these characters more/better by the time this third season gets started. But there's a tone, a dynamic between expectation and action, that sets this set of thirteen apart. The biggest factor is the show's sense of humor. The ridiculous is an easy target but when you mix horror into that you get a messier laughter. Disbelief is a basic reaction to absurdity and laughter's an easy way to paper over uncomfortable social interactions but I don't think that's the only thing that motivates the jokes and laughs in this show. (And yet, what else can you do but throw up your hands and laugh when somebody beautiful and smarmy gets his foot cut off and his foot blood sprays across a crowd of slack-jawed drunks?) I'm fairly certain there's some poking fun at certain characters going on in some of the jokes—and it's mostly these men the show makes fun of; you see Pete, above, eating cereal and watching cartoons while Trudy's gone—but there's also a dry wit and there's also a righteous "aha!" every now and again, like when Joan smashes that vase on her self-pitying dolt of a gorgeous husband.

Put another way: for all the damage done, this season was fun. Especially the finale. (Save, of course, that late-night scene when drunk Don calls Betty "a whore" and means it.) If this show's really about television as advertising—that is, how television's medium advertises fantasies and sets up expectations of a world you want to join—the same way The Sopranos is about television as therapy—as a perfect arena to get advice on how not to live—then this season finale did the best job selling me my American dream: to build something successful of my own, using talents I'm proud of, in a world beset by vultures.


Yet it's also telling that one success is met with another failure, as happens with Don's home, though that nuclear dissolution could hardly be a surprise to anybody with a brain. The show remains replete with tidy plot points. The surprises aren't the arcs, though Duck's new role in Peggy's life is a wrinkle I didn't expect until "Seven Twenty Three" (3x7) started with all those "awakenings" (again, the bluntness!). This is the most curious aspect of Weiner's world, I'm finding: one step forward is always meted by another step back. It's hard to say who's ever getting ahead—to the point that you think that isn't the point here. Then again, when "happiness" is the point, and when the show's selling us a world where happiness is a fantasy or at least fleeting, getting ahead may only be as simple as dealing with unhappiness better than the next guy or gal. And maybe that's the American they're selling so well at this moment: we deal with things, sometimes better than other times, and we find ways to live. Living, here, isn't just meeting an image of yourself or what's expected of that image (ie, buying something or fucking somebody); living is balancing on your own two feet in the role you've chosen.

A different friend said, "Don wants his children to be children," when I said, "This Grandpa character's a trip." And I think he was correct. Don wants everybody to fall in line, really. It'd read more autocratic and asshole if it weren't tempered by the love he so clearly holds for every single person he has a relationship with, even that senile Grandpa; however, lies rot bonds and/or lies sever ties. Proof positive that love is never enough, and money certainly is not. When Ruby shoots Oswald on live television and Don tells Sally that "nothing" happened, Sally knows it's a lie. It's those lies than doom Don. Because it's admirable in some ways to want your children to be children and nothing else but it's ignorant to ignore (look at the root!) your daughter's burgeoning brain powers. One can hope Don learned this when he groveled for Peggy, in a truly affecting scene thanks to some wet eyes and smart dialog, but I'm not holding my breath. In fact, I'd be surprised if Sally and Bobby and Lil Gene are anywhere near as big a part of Season Four as they were in Three. (Am I wrong? Don't tell me?) At any rate, the kids are hardly as interesting as their mother.

Rag bets

Betty Draper, soon to be Betty Francis I suppose, is probably the most interesting character of all. But I am forever at a loss at how to articulate why since I'm just so damned involved in finding out what she'll do next in her myopia-mirrored-mired life. Makes me think another shoe will drop soon. For all of Don's lies, he's pretty dependable. Betty, on the other hand, seems stuck inside her competing emotions, playing a role she doesn't know the stage directions for, counting all her chickens before they hatch (which last season made literal, which continued this season with her dad's arrival). So I'm quick to hold back judgment. And I'll withhold it yet longer still because Betty's mostly a child and the charitable person would have you believe children can learn things, like how to grow up, as they attempt to rudder their pursuits of happiness.

Walter falters

After all, we are a young country.

Convergence for your silver eyes (12/8/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight

Lasts longer

Table it