Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye to all naughts. UPDATED.

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Let's not make him LBJ 2.0; I mean, look at him!

My good friend @Cambomb is, among other things, a DJ. He spins all kinds of dance music, but in the past year he's definitely drifted towards the deeper house end of the party spectrum. I, for one, dig it whole heartedly. Today he finalized his last mix of the year (and of the decade) by giving voice and dance and movement to a current mood we're sharing.

So, yes, a pun: Goodbye to all naughts [1:07:26] (mediafire download)
UPDATE: Cam writes, "so i know the last one got fucked up somehow. heres a new one." —011210 [133mb] (mediafire download)

We needn't explain just what it means, do we? The gist is just this—define yourself by what you are. We're after an immanence here. This is the world we live in. This is the life we're given. It's a pretty good one, too, even with all the speedbumps and headaches and heartbreaks, so let's enjoy it. Really simple stuff! Really simple to say, that is, and always harder to truly embrace. One way, though, is to go dancing. Even if it's just in your bedroom, or in your head, and not booming at that house party tonight. Just feel it. Don't look at a mirror, don't look at anything in particular; get myopic, get big. Move! Burst your body in every direction!

If every sense is just a fine tuned version of touch—you touch the light of the world with your eyes, you touch the vibrations of the world with your eardrums (drums!), you touch the scents of the world with those little hairs in your nose, you touch the tastes with your tongue (duh)—then of course you should follow a tribe, any tribe, and let this beat overtake you one bar at a time until all you feel is you're feeling it. And if dance music isn't your thing, well, maybe we can change your mind. Find the vibe and have a good time. Party safe tonight! Party hearty! Party your butts off, but keep you pants on, maybe, until the time is right. See you in the new year.

Bonus beats: Beats In Space #494, the Jerry Fuchs tribute, which everybody should not just weep with but also simply vibe with, all the way from your tearducts to your fleet feet.

Make a deal with your shine blocker.

by Ryland Walker Knight

A legend

It doesn't hurt me
We block back the dark, moony
Dedicate, hound

All the men she knew
None were fair or true
So she ran away and up
And up past the board blue

Dance and flight and plain naked
alone, one's own property
purposed to light, to home, but not
done with that flipp'd flicker's flapp'n
all wind, wind post'd by you
who will not cannot shall not
sit still
in any calendar.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Convergence for pouring your plot (12/30/09)

by Ryland Walker Knight

—We need plants, we make'm (fake'm)

Keep it light.

by Ryland Walker Knight

Return run light nights 2

After I submitted that essay on Bright Star, Ekkehard asked me to give him three things that marked my year—and they needn't be strictly cinematic. But, as this year was marked by all kinds of junk and dumps (as much as true highlights) and plenty of fear and trembling and loathing to go along with flight and dance and cheer (life felt like a real Søren leveling at times), I chose to not bore this blog world with me. Thus, I kept my miniature missive to maximum light, kept it pithy and kept it to cinema. You can read my list (and so many others!) in German by clicking here. Or you can read the English I sent to EK below:
1. Any time you get to see Playtime in 70mm is a highlight. This time, it was an unofficial introduction to my stint in New York early in 2009. I saw it at the Walter Reade Theatre with Keith Uhlich, Matt Zoller Seitz and Glenn Kenny. Then we ate yummy Italian food in Park Slope.

2. The DREYER at BAM series was an education this spring. Very happy to have met those films in that setting, that is the cinematheque over the home, and to have written something about each screening.

3. Jumping back into the PFA swing of things with an Alain Resnais series was just plain fun, from the Marienbad beginning all the way through—forwards and backwards, of course—to the end, which was a film from that often-cloudy, always-jumpy second phase in the 60s, fittingly calling an end in its title: La guerre est finie.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Found Facts. Waving.

by Ryland Walker Knight

As we approach Friday: Good bye, '09.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #22

by Ryland Walker Knight

—She won't leave, year-in and -out.

Nothing's better than this, and it never ends.

by Ryland Walker Knight

—We just recycle is all

We all carry a list, some even write lists down, to remember what to watch or to read or to eat or to buy or to accomplish. But, come on, let's face it: lists are easy. And, at this moment, do you really need another list? To answer, sort of, Danny and I decided to chuck the list, mostly, to try to winnow this year's year-end wrap up in The Notebook. Today starts this new cycle in this Part I post. As we wrote over there, we switched styles and asked contributors to pair a new film (theatrical, festival, whatever barometer) with an old film (rep house, disc, you pick) seen this year. I felt mine was pretty obvious, but, nonetheless, it's easily a dream double bill I'd love to sit with in a theatre: 36 vues du Pic Saint Loup (Jacques Rivette, 2009) + The Golden Coach (Jean Renoir, 1953). I say more in the post, which you'll have to read over there, and I even propose a few other pairings. But I wrote that copy a little while ago. And, per the rules, my minimal commentary for my secondary double bills couldn't be used. So I decided not only to propose another, sixth double bill in this dedicated link-thru but also give you my complete list of double bills complete with the themes (jokes) I see emerging from those pairs:


Last week I finally saw Paul Verhoeven's 2006 feature, Black Book, and it quickly catapulted up my favorites list. In fact, I watched it twice—and the second time I made my own double bill, pairing it with Inglourious Basterds. This is another slightly obvious double bill, but the films are such different modes, and actually such different postures, that, seen back-to-back with plenty of snacks, the pairing was rather illuminating beyond the World War II "settings" we're given.

Verhoeven's less a formal master than Tarantino (whose stylistic evolution since 1994 is significant, though also almost subtle in that its tied to his editing patterns, which is inextricable from his obsession with talk), but the Dane's film is no less stylistic or dashing or conceptual. Indeed, Black Book is arguably freer, and more dashing, though it is also the more circumscribed, the more "factual" and "representational"—even, I'd say, more narrative—film. The power of Black Book is precisely that it fuses into both a conceptually stimulating and a plain entertaining master work. Verhoeven's film throws up action scenes galore, yes, and a compelling revenge yarn, to say nothing of its bald prurience (yet), and hosts one of the best performances of the decade, easy, from Carice Van Houten. In short, though it's got some bitter pill stuff, it's a fun flick.

The real rub remains that both these films are pulp objects, mash-ups maybe, of infinite sources. Tarantino makes it more obvious, of course, with direct visual quotes and a few more names dropped, but the movies motivate Verhoeven in equal measure. However, Verhoeven's not a metabolic function the way Tarantino is: Verhoeven simply uses the movies, and nods at symbols while making his own; Taratino, on the other hand, shows his hand constantly. For instance, Black Book cat calls Mata Hari in a tossed off line of dialogue, to remind us of another reason both culturally specific at the time and cinephilliacly tickling now why this Jew went blonde, while Basterds punctuates its first major scene with as big a "quote" as possible, lifting Ford's doorway from The Searchers (and others) to plant it in a southern France pastoral of 1941. In fact, nearly everything in Basterds is a quote or in quotes—especially the actors—unlike Black Book, always a cynical horrorshow, which aims to eschew all trickery just as soon as the world allows.

Which is to say that, since Tarantino the American is obsessed with charisma and Verhoeven the Euro is obsessed with sex, one film is built on rep and one film is built on bait (respectively). In fact, everybody in Basterds is obsessed with their rep, forever asking "What have you heard of me?" while all of Black Book is premised on Carice's undeniable appeal, her nudity not a tease so much as a fact of the world—men go dumb and forsake themselves for such a small cost/price.

These postures, too, help define the films' attitudes towards history. Tarantino's out to earn the right to write it as he sees fit, as if by sheer force of talent he gets that honor. Verhoeven's out to simply write a story, to given face to a certain strand, to show you how history is, in fact, written not by the winners but rather by the survivors. Further, Tarantino closes his own film off, burns it to the ground and seals it in its own skin-tomb, while Verhoeven leaves his open to scramble, its final tableau a design of perpetual defense. You get the sense that Black Book, though it's putatively inspired by true events, is a fiction invented to talk about a moment in history rather than a document, of sorts, about how some Jews fought their cultural legacy. It's that fantastic. On the flip side, it's easy to see Basterds as a-political, a complete reverie of light and dark, blood and guts, everything celluloid can capture. The trick to the double bill, if you want to have a really good time, is obvious: you save the fantasy for second. You still won't get out alive, but you might smile more while trying.


I should also say, watch the Metro Classics blog for a quick top five comedies of the decade from yours truly. I only played along because I miss those dudes, and I thought that'd be a fun way to participate. Otherwise, I have no time for that kind of thing. Plus, I like to advocate for comedy. A great comedy is rarer these daze, but, believe me, although it might appear different from an "objective" angle on the films I often laud, a great comedy will most often trump a great tragedy in my book.

What might get this list into trouble with some of you, as it has with the friends I've shared it with, is how I define "comedy." For me, it's still a structural classification as much as "did it make me laugh?" If it ends well, with a marriage or something like one, then it's probably a comedy. However, there are black comedies, too, which flip that necessity around past tragedy. The Coens are great at this: their brand of comedy is often of the "what else can we do?" variety. You either laugh or you die. Actually, you'll die either way, but at least you can die laughing. It's nihilism, yes, but not everybody can be Wes Anderson or Arnaud Desplechin. And nobody, I mean it, nobody's Jean Renoir.

Does this look fake to you?


—Laugh a little.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Viewing Log #26: No, not caprice: it takes idle time. [12/21/09 - 12/27/09]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Cargo No.4, 1
—Pride: pp.14-15

  • A Serious Man [Coens, 2009] I just tweeted: "A SERIOUS MAN is so scary it hurts. Just about the most nihilistic film I've ever seen. Like NO COUNTRY times BURN AFTER READING to the nth." And I think it's kind of good? Don't quite know yet, but I do know that to toss it off as simply just nasty is to not reckon the nasty. In fact, I'd say that's exactly what they're predicting you'll do; what they might say is a "problem" at large. I don't think they're advocating a blind eye. The scary thing is that they might be advocating a bullet brunch. Or, that some lives aren't just quiet desperation: some lives are, in fact, pointless. Whether you eat the bullet is up to you, of course, but it's a debate you have to have every day. Luckily, or so it would appear, each of these guys has "somebody to love" and that makes them choose this world every morning. I walked out desperate for life. I should probably write some more about this one. Or, at the least, have a few good talks over a few good beers with a few good men I trust and love.

  • Inglourious Basterds [Quentin Tarantino, 2009] # Wound up watching the digital copy in full. Looked good, but it was too easy to minimize while snacking.
  • Black Book [Paul Verhoeven, 2006] # On a rainy and ugly day, I thought I'd see some real struggle and some real womanhood. [click here.]

  • Inglourious Basterds [Quentin Tarantino, 2009] # Started it on my computer, then later in the day looked at the Blu Ray. Looked great, of course, but, as I tweeted, this movie demands celluloid's texture. Motes don't quite mote, and smoke won't quite curl, the same in digital's clarity.
  • 2001 [Stanley Kubrick, 1968] # Works really well on Blu Ray; so alien, such a painting. I skipped around a lot and saw some beautiful things. "Jupiter And Beyond" is something wholly new, something Avatar can't touch (in any medium).
  • North by Northwest [Alfred Hitchcock, 1959] # I dozed, but the Blu Ray's colors were out of control beautiful: all those greens popped so loud against all that grey.
  • Le chant de styrène [Alain Resnais, 1958] # Off the Marienbad Blu Ray, watched without the soundtrack, which made it that much less representational and more just a bunch of color and movement plays.

  • Black Book [Paul Verhoeven, 2006] Carice van Houten isn't only a pretty face, a total babe, but she's also a damn good (and game) actress. It's kind of crazy how good this movie is—and that I never heeded suggestions that I go see it in theatres—crazy in that way where you shock yourself at how much you love something. (The movie's pretty shocking, too, of course.) The holiday week forced me to break up the movie, which is a bummer, but it's so strong scene-to-scene—with almost every single interaction a bit of two-face; almost everything's about performance and/or artifice in some fashion or another—that it doesn't hurt the film too much to see it in pieces. It also helps that Verhoeven is such a pulpy goof who makes straight up entertaining movies. (Since I'm in a hierarchical mindset these daze as the decade winds down, I also want to say that 2006 was an especially strong year for this decade; and this movie's right up there on my list.)

  • Taken [Pierre Morel, 2008] Plenty stupid. But the right kind of calories for dinner. Kinda makes me excited for this piece of junk. Funny that Zach threw up some notes the same day.
  • The Girlfriend Experience [Steven Soderbergh, 2009] Tight little package. Sometimes funny, sometimes not, mostly a mirror for its often affectless actress and that wild time of October '08. Good lunchtime flick. My man GK kills his scene. Maybe better than I'm allowing it, honestly, in that it's got a mission and it nails it. (Cough.) I mean, it hammers her home (or not) in more ways than one, though it's also a tad one-note and defeatist.

—Get lit up already

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A conjunction of quotations #8

— edited by Ryland Walker Knight

Tod Seelie

Nobody could have predicted that Copenhagen would collapse when the truth is that rich nations fully expect to flourish in a Greenhouse future behind high walls and hard-hearted armies and think that the same billions of humans will die from climate change whose deaths from starvation, unclean water, and cheaply treatable diseases they are cheerfully indifferent to here and now. Nobody could have predicted that Lieberman would betray the Democrats yet again when they have never made him face a real consequence for his serial betrayals in the past. Nobody could have predicted that neoliberals would think unemployment is a secondary consideration to billionaires staying billionaires as a measure of whether or not the economy is in recovery. Nobody could have predicted that California held hostage to an obstructionist Republican minority would rather turn into Somalia than make anybody pay taxes for indispensable services, or that a US Senate held hostage to an obstructionist Republican minority and a handful of Conservadems would destroy any chance for healthcare reform to help millions of their suffering citizens or to address world-destroying climate change or halt the re-emergence via the fraudulent financialization of the economy of a death-dealing immiserating feudal society. Nobody could have predicted that bailed out banksters would hoover up billions in cash to save their skins after squandering trillions in ponzi schemes and then refuse to change their behavior one bit. Nobody could have predicted that sociopaths will actually behave like sociopaths and that a system that celebrates sociopaths would not be a magical paradise.
Dale Carrico


Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Chuck Dederich


There is no "rest of your life."
Allison Ahlert


Storm the Reality Studio and retake the universe - The
plan shifted and reformed as reports came in from his
electric patrols sniffing quivering down the streets of the
earth - The reality film giving and buckling like a bulkhead
under pressure - Burned metal smell of interplanetary
war in the raw noon streets swept by screaming
glass blizzards of enemy flak.
William S. Burroughs


That night a driving icy rain came up and lying in her bed, awake at midnight, Mrs. Flood, the landlady, began to weep. She wanted to run out into the rain and cold and hunt him and find him huddled in some half-sheltered place and bring him back and say, Mr. Motes, Mr. Motes, you can stay here forever, or the two of us will go where you're going, the two of us will go. She had had a hard life, without pain and without pleasure, and she thought that now that she was coming to the last part of it, she deserved a friend. If she was going to be blind when she was dead, who better to guide her than a blind man? Who better to lead the blind than the blind, who knew what it was like?
Flannery O'Connor


The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.
Albert Einstein


Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.
Ernest Hemingway


The words most charged with philosophy are not necessarily those that contain what they say, but rather those that most energetically open upon being, because they more closely convey the life of the whole and make our habitual evidences vibrate until they disjoin. Hence it is a question whether philosophy as reconquest of brute or wild being can be accomplished by the resources of eloquent language, or whether it would not be necessary for philosophy to use language in a way that takes from it its power of immediate or direct signification in order to equal it with what it wishes all the same to say.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty


What kind of beast would turn its life into words?
What atonement is this all about?
—and yet, writing words like these, I'm also living.
Is all this close to the wolverines' howled signals,
that modulated cantata of the wild?
or, when away from you I try to create you in words,
am I simply using you, like a river or a war?
And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars
to escape writing of the worst thing of all—
not the crimes of others, not even our own death,
but the failure to want our freedom passionately enough
so that blighted elms, sick rivers, massacres would seem
mere emblems of that desecration of ourselves?
Adrienne Rich


But if stars shouldn't shine
By the very first time
Then dear it's fine, so fine by me
Cuz we give it time
So much time
With me
The xx


Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.
Norman Maclean


The greatness of The River—and the same can be said of the three major films Renoir made after it, The Golden Coach (1953), French Cancan (1955), and The Elusive Corporal (1962)—is inseparable from its modesty, its humility, its consent to limitation. It places itself not above but below politics, at the level of everyday life. The Golden Coach and French Cancan are celebrations of art that cherish its pleasure without pretending they will fix our troubles or transcend our sorrows, without aggrandizing them into anything more than a good time. (Christopher Faulkner thinks the films of Renoir's late period espouse art for art's sake, what he calls an "ideology of aesthetics." This seems to me in error. Renoir's late films remain socially aware even if they no longer contest the social order.They don't elevate art above society, they see it as working within the conditions of society: they are unassuming about the art they celebrate. Faulkner is an Althusserian and his ideology rules out an art that can make its peace with a social situation it neither endorses nor presumes to transcend.)
Gilberto Perez


As she entered the car, her first impression was that she was not on the train at all. It was merely an oblong area, crowded to bursting with men in dun-colored burnouses, squatting, sleeping, reclining, standing, and moving about through a welter of amorphous bundles. She stood still an instant taking in the sight; for the first time she felt she was in a strange land. Someone was pushing her from behind, obliging her to go on into the car. She resisted, seeing no place to move to, and fell against a man with a white beard, who stared at her sternly. Under his gaze, she felt like a badly behaved child. "Pardon, monsieur," she said, trying to bend out of the way in order to avoid the growing pressure from behind. It was useless; she was impelled forward in spite of all her efforts, and staggering over the prostrate forms and the piles of objects, she moved into the middle of the car. The train lurched into motion. She glanced around a little fearfully. The idea occurred to her that these were Moslems, and that the odor of alcohol on her breath would scandalize them almost as much as if she were suddenly to remove all her clothing. Stumbling over the crouched figures, she worked her way to one side of the windowless wall and leaned against it while she took out a small bottle of perfume from her bag and rubbed it over her face and neck, hoping it would counteract, or at least blend with, whatever alcoholic odor there might be about her. As she rubbed, her fingers struck a small, soft object on the nape of her neck. She looked: it was a yellow louse. She had partly crushed it. With disgust she wiped her finger against the wall. Men were looking at her, but with neither sympathy nor antipathy. Nor even with curiosity, she thought. They had the absorbed and vacant expression of the man who looks into his handkerchief after blowing his nose. She shut her eyes for a moment. To her surprise she felt hungry. She took the sandwich out and ate it, breaking off the bread in small pieces and chewing them violently. The man leaning against the wall beside her was also eating—small dark objects which he kept taking out of the hood of his garment and crunching noisily. With a faint shudder she saw that they were red locusts with the legs and heads removed. The babble of voices which had been constant suddenly ceased; people appeared to be listening. Above the rumbling of the train and the rhythmical steady sound of rain on the tin roof of the car. The men were nodding their heads;conversation started up again. She determined to fight her way back to the door in order to be able to get down at the next stop. Holding her head slightly lowered in front of her, she began to burrow wildly though the crowd. There were groans from below as she stepped on sleepers, there were exclamations of indignation as her elbows came in contact with faces. At each step she cried: "Pardon! Pardon!" She had got herself wedged into a corner at the end of the car. Now all she needed was to get to the door. Barring her way was a wild-faced man holding a severed sheep's head, its eyes like agate marbles staring from their sockets. "Oh!" she moaned. The man looked at her stolidly, making no movement to let her by. Using all her strength, she fought her way around him, rubbing her skirt against the bloody neck as she squeezed past. With relief she saw that the door onto the platform was open; she would have only to get by those who filled the entrance. She began her cries of "Pardon!" once more, and charged though. The platform itself was less crowded because the cold rain was sweeping across it. Those sitting there had their heads covered with the hoods of their burnouses. Turning her back to the rain she gripped the iron railing and looked directly into the most hideous human face she had ever seen. The tall man wore cast-off European clothes, and a burlap bag over his head like a haïk. But where his nose should have been was a dark triangular abyss, and the strange flat lips were white. For no reason at all she thought of a lion's muzzle; she could not take her eyes away from it. The man seemed neither to see her nor to feel the rain; he merely stood there. As she stared she found herself wondering why it was that a diseased face, which basically means nothing, should be so much more horrible to look at than a face whose tissues are healthy but whose expression reveals an interior corruption. Port would say that in a non-materialistic age it would not be thus. And he probably would be right.
Paul Bowles


I once claimed that the only audience of philosophy is one performing it.
Stanley Cavell


Comedy is the summit of logic.
Jacques Tati

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Convergence for your papa bear (12/22/09)

by Ryland Walker Knight

—With gasoline!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #21

by Ryland Walker Knight

— Gotta read the labels.

Get your verdant going electric.

by Ryland Walker Knight

—When I click this...

Like Broken Embraces, you know exactly what you're getting from Avatar. Yet, with Pedro Almodovar, you only get about five great images and one classic finale sight-meld that changes perception. With Cameron's film, a visionary chunk of neon folly if ever there was one, almost every second behind those 3-D goggles got my eyeballs going gaga and groggy with gorgeous goof city grand larceny light shows of gigantic gestures all swooped and folded and lit up beyond pure spectacle into something truly immersive. I was wiped, wiping my eyes walking out of that early-AM, first-possible IMAX showing Friday morning. It's about as tiring an epic as has come out since that other great film of the decade about embodiment, Pirates 2 (and, yes, No. 3, which is more tiring but not quite as good).

By now you probably know what Cameron's movie is about (bad military, good natives; yawn), so I don't need to waste your time with the waste of time story highlights. Rather, we ought to focus on the real excuse for this behemoth: to light your eyeballs full of a frenzy. Because, it goes without saying, though everybody will/has, James Cameron cannot write for shit, has no political sensibility other than guilt, and wouldn't know how to differentiate between myth and cliché if asked in the right (pointed) way. What he can do is make a few images, and build a movie, however silly, with all kinds of cool tools. He's also been pointed in the right direction of a few bits of theory, it seems, and knows a few things not just about feminism but also about game design and, um, phenomenology. At heart, his story is about seeing as a physical action, a full-bodied embrace of the material world. Again: embodiment. I have to admit that, despite what (little) I knew about the whole "stereoscopic" mumbo jumbo Cameron supposedly invented (and the title, duh), I didn't see that one coming. Or, at least I did not expect it to be that explicit—nor for it to work.

You expect Pedro Almodovar, in a movie about a now-blind filmmaker, to make the phenomenological film that moves you, not James Cameron. But, save that final image, and Penelope Cruz's force-of-nature performance, nothing really moved me, though a few things tickled me, as much as any number of sights in Avatar. Physically moved, too: I found myself fudging the 3-D by having to shift my body and cock my head from side to side from time to time just to cope with all that gooey phosphorescence on screen. WIth Pedro's film, I just kept wanting more screen time for that goddess, no matter the narrative cost. See, Pedro's still hung up on plot. But he's only got a few of them to rely on, and the record-skip repeat of this movie is nearly tiring; or, it is whenever Penelope isn't dazzling the frame. All Cameron has to do is push a few motes forward in the "frame" (space? his term, "volume"?) and I get a thrill. That said, only a few of the compositions from the full film linger in my head. It's more about the fluidity of the space, and the visceral invitation it offers, than it is strictly about pictures. In that, I think Sicinski's onto something with that three-tweet rave (starts here) about "making plot just what it should be: an excuse to go nuts on viewers' skulls."

—From here!

Last year I had a similar positive reaction to Speed Racer, but I know that movie, though maybe more adventurous, is nowhere near as successful. It's a little too cut-out cartoony, and its timing is all off. Say what you will, and I know it's long (and there's no getting around that, of course), but Avatar never drags. It just weighs a ton for a fleet film. And that's because it expects your eyes to do things they're not used to doing. —Least of all in a multiplex! In any event, this rapture, though felt, is still nothing compared to the sheer joy of Fantastic Mr. Fox. There's a film jam-packed with detail to keep you pinballing around the frame for daze on end, every frame a treat—and all in under 90 minutes. But that's another story for another time. (Maybe later in the week.) For now, I'm just adding my ramble to the ruckus out there, getting giddy at the thought of fluorescent aerial jellyfish and all kinds of eco-electrical networks of lights to make me and you and everyone dizzy with dumb grins. What a gift!

[Broken Embraces opened on one screen, at the Clay, last Friday here in the Bay Area and will roll out to more screens on Christmas. Avatar's everywhere. Neither needs my endorsement to make oodles of cash. Though, of course, one will make yet more oodles than the other.]

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Viewing Log #25: Get on the bus [12/14/09 - 12/20/09]

by Ryland Walker Knight

  • North by Northwest [Alfred Hitchcock, 1959] # All in all, a gas. Simply one of the most fun movies of all time. And smart, too. Stanley Cavell would have you believe that this picture, by consistently referencing Hamlet, is Hitch telling you he's as good at making movies as Shakespeare was at writing plays. If you run with the idea that, as a film obsessed with performance, and whose plot spurs on from a poisoning at town's end, in a hamlet called Glen Cove, as we see "TOWNSEND" spelled on screen and pronounced "Towns-end" by Grant, then this makes sense.

  • Paprika [Satoshi Kon, 2006] # Trippy and funny and scary, as ever. I still want Soft Pack to remix the opening credits song.

  • Vertigo [Alfred Hitchcock, 1958] # Too bad the print was a 1996 restoration antique and some scenes were too dark. But, still, gorgeous and haunting, as ever. Danny said, "Every single shot is sad." And he's right. Jimmy-Scottie's the worst detective in the world and it shows right off the bat—he even says so!—"It's not my line..."—which makes us complicit in the worst case of not-seeing this side of Jim Crow. My entire body hurt walking out of this one this time.
  • Avatar [James Cameron, 2009] More to come in a dedicated post both for the simple fact that it might garner some traffic and also because I thought the thing was, well, kind of awesome. And, just watch, it'll win Best Picture. [click here]

  • Au hasard Balthazar [Robert Bresson, 1966] # Sometimes I feel compelled to immediately watch some Bresson after some Hitchcock. Can't explain it. But this movie rules, duh. I fell asleep almost instantaneously.
  • Marnie [Alfred Hitchcock, 1964] # Still so frightening. That shot of Marnie's mom ill-lit atop the stairs, beckoning her to dinner, gives me shivers as she struggles back down those stairs, one shuffle-grunt at a time. The print was beautiful. [A quick hit.]

  • Law of Desire [Pedro Almodovar, 1987] # Genuinely sad and maybe Pedro's best movie. I continue to find it hilarious how America never understood the real treasure that is Antonio Banderas: he's completely crazy. There's a reason Pedro kept casting him as an amor loco. He's so pretty that you believe he's dumb enough to follow his heart to such idiotic, devoted, mostly unrequited ends each and every time.

  • La guerre est finie [Alain Resnais, 1966] A dead-end, all dopey with dreams of revolution long since calcified; nobody works for good, or achieves much of it. All the game's a jumble. The young bend around anarchy and the old hold tight old night moves. Yves Montand just beds babes with a frown and talks around his life, one scene using one name and then another scene plying another name, eventually slipping nearer that grave he's evaded so long. His star, his guiding light so he says, is fading with the age. [Here's the final '09 recherche.]

Friday, December 18, 2009

Stop the colors

by Ryland Walker Knight

Marnie 1
—print it




Marnie 2
Marnie 3
Marnie 4
—wobbly oval,


—heed me


—queer for liars

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Alain à la recherche #8: La guerre est finie

by Ryland Walker Knight

[The Resnais series playing at the PFA this November and December is part of a broader, traveling retrospective with a concurrent run in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center and a proposed stop at the newly renovated Museum of the Moving Image in early 2010.]

Riddled with overlays of misinformation and suspicions, to say projections and reflections, that act as interpolations, La guerre est finie is close to a second person narrative, calling "you" in almost every scene, putting you into Yves Montand's cluttered head of dead ends. Before all, the title is past tense: this fight is already done. What remains are fantasies, ideals, while reality continues and refuses these so-called revolutionaries. Instead, we see a rootless man (Montand), essentially homeless and process-bound—always moving, shifting—not even tied to a name. He's Carlos to start, then Domingo (Dimanche/Sunday), then Diego and back. And when he's Diego, we gather that's his Christian prenom, he's not: he lies to his wife's friends, his wife tries to lie for him, but he can't keep things straight. In fact, despite his ability to bed the too-yummy-for-words Geneviève Bujold, the film is about his fade. Everything is not in its right place. The game is up. His war has been over, he's a hanger-on, like his fat and/or stubborn comrades—a relic, even, relevant no more. But nobody will listen when he says so, when he says things should stop; he gets stopped, and then not. The halt's not halting: even in the end it's a relay, an ill-conceived gamble that we know won't work because of that dissolve to Ingrid Thulin—so desperate, trying not to run—that just hangs there. You feel the "FIN" before it emerges. After all, you felt it at the start.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #20

by Ryland Walker Knight

—We believe you, promise.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Viewing Log #24: Exact xylophone xerox extract [12/7/09 - 12/13/09]

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Multiply. Make it happen.

  • Baby Mama [Michael McCullers, 2008] Sure, that was fine. I laughed enough. [Cough.]
  • The Hurt Locker [Kathryn Bigelow, 2008] Puts other Iraq movies to shame, no doubt, and makes Jarhead in particular, despite its strong cast and factual basis, feel all the more counterfeit. For one, it's an actual action film: its subject is action and action, here, dictates character. Pathologies dominate, but it's not a psychological film—we only see surfaces, and our visibility is poor. Still not sure if the film deserves all of its accolades since its tertiary characters and subplots are rather broad and the final "act" (so to speak) is expected, but it makes sense why it's such a favorite: terse, spatially aware, and, in one way, a very "safe" narrative structure built on camaraderie that plays to our vicarious thrill—way more than horror—at seeing these set-pieces go boom or whisk away from the safety of our hometown haunts.
  • False Aging [Lewis Klahr, 2008] A lovely little ode to relics remaining relevant, and alive, through art. Viewable here, with thanks to Matt for the tip.

  • The San Francisco Silent Film Festival's Winter Event, 2009. More to come in a dedicated post. But here's a few words on each of the films, each one a pleasure to take in, even with some beyond-brazen yakkers behind me for the Keaton segment.
  • West of Zanzibar [Tod Browning, 1928] Depraved, as ever with these guys. A hell of an ending.
  • Sherlock Jr. [Buster Keaton, 1924] # Movies inspire life, duh, on top of recording it or creating havens from it; also, "objective reality" can, without a doubt, be a lie.
  • The Goat [Buster Keaton and Malcolm St. Clair, 1921] That shot of Buster riding the train up to the camera is something special: hilarious, daring, a tad ludicrous, seemingly unreal and yet wholly real.
  • J'accuse [Abel Gance, 1919] Unbelievably gorgeous print; insane, great fantastical final third.
  • Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness [Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1927] Talking animals, and lots of them, made this a blast.

  • All of these Resnais shorts listed below are recounted and read, maybe even narrativized, over here.
  • Statues Also Die [Alain Resnais and Chris Marker, 1953] 27min, 35mm, a blemish.
  • Guernica [Alain Resnais and Robert Hessens, 1950] 12min, in English, 35mm, crisp.
  • Toute la mémoire du monde [Alain Resnais, 1956] 20min, English version, 16mm, kinda grubby.
  • Le chant de styrène [Alain Resnais, 1958] 19min, projected digitally, looked great.

  • Whatever Works [Woody Allen, 2009] Pretty damned bilious, though it tries its hand at sweet. Still, its fantasyland made me laugh and Evan Rachel Wood in white pants is a vision. Also, it's simple, and that helps. Maybe the best movie Woody's made since, um, Sweet and Lowdown? It's still such a mystery to me how little he trusts his comedy in these later years. Don't get me wrong, a lot of his 00s comedies aren't exactly hilarious, but they're always more interesting/enjoyable than those dunderheaded "tragedies" he dreams up.

  • Mélo [Alain Resnais, 1986] # For the recherche; it was just as painful.
  • Broken Embraces [Pedro Almodovar, 2009] What else? A fiction about fictions, an onion that wants you to cry so bad it chops itself, a film about a woman (or her trace) as not just fatal but fated. Almodovar's got style on tap and colors that pop and perhaps the sexiest, most beautiful lead actress in pictures—who is most game with her maestro mate—but the picture's almost rote. Nothing surprised me, though Pene always excites me, except the site of Chus Lampreve still kicking jokes like a champ. You know the tropes, and you know the wistful feelings—you even know Pene's body—by now, so the biggest pleasure to be had with the film is watching it construct itself and peel off its trappings.
  • You Can Count On Me [Kenneth Lonergan, 2000] # I've been needing this. Up there with A Man Escaped and Kings and Queen for those "it's gonna be okay" moments.

  • Beowulf [Robert Zemeckis, 2007] Zemeckis calls his motion capture company Image Movers, which is pretty perfect, since all he wants to do, it seems, is fly his images all over the map from wherever he sees fit. A truly bizarre, prurient, silly spectacle. Maybe I'm just tired, but beyond the obvious myth riffing (self-mythologizing, historicity, etc) I have zero idea why the man would make the film other than some kind of nerd macho impetus. That is, a nerd's idea of macho seems to motivate this balloon of a "cartoon" the way a bro's idea of cool seems to motivate Bay's movies. That and what I'm guessing some trumpet as cinematic freedom. Probably should have seen it in a theatre, with 3-D goggles. Phelps is a big fan, and you can read why over here.
  • Kill Bill: Volumes 1 + 2 [Quentin Tarantino, 2003 + 2004] # A few bits and pieces, in HD on Spike, while on commercial breaks from a few basketball games. Boy did it look good (Uma, too), and boy does QT know how to light a scene. But, boy, this sure is a one-note kind of movie. Also, I continually ask myself: Who did what to wrong this dude? And when? How early on?

Abrazos 2

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Alain à la recherche #7: SHORTS

by Ryland Walker Knight

—The halls have eyes

[The Resnais series playing at the PFA this November and December is part of a broader, traveling retrospective with a concurrent run in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center and a proposed stop at the newly renovated Museum of the Moving Image in early 2010.]

Though I arrived halfway into Le chant de styrène, it still tickled me into the goofiest posture possible all teeth, every limb under another, as if pushing into the chair hard enough would help release the giddy brio building up in my bones. Put otherwise, Queneau's puns (oh to be actually fluent!) and Alain's balletic geometry pretzel'd me up into a great mood. Then Toute la mémoire du monde grumbled onscreen out of focus and an odd English voice started escorting me around the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, trying its damnedest to not "do a Borges," to just present a topographical index, we can suppose. However, Alain's image-making inflects this portrait—everything's a tracking shot—with both pride and unnerved anxiety, a weird fear of the calculation of this repository. Each structure our Alain encounters seems to strike him as a possible tomb, and every system a trap, however useful it may be, for any system can ossify. Next: Guernica's a dirge. Solemn though fiery and sometimes mannered, its idea of barbarism will be further fleshed with "real" documentary work in the opening salvo (anti-salve) of Hiroshima, mon amour (still some of the hardest images for me to watch; the sexy sand-shower just prior must play a role, of course, in that reaction). Then the treasure of the night, the very rare (and neglected) Statues Also Die, whose title sounds so much more elegant in French, Les statues meurent aussi, with that "aussi" dangling, like a tsk. Talk about angry: as Rosenbaum already lined out, the final reel of this bad boy is one of the most direct anti-imperialist/anti-racist screeds in cinema—and in 1953! It's a text by Chris Marker, which is another level of cool (and smarts), which is another reason to root with it, which is (of course) really easy. It's also a fine object lesson outside of the polemic, though the political is unavoidable (I must remind myself), as we see just how loaded every thing is in these so-called aboriginal cultures; how histories are most often mythologies; how tradition cannot be ignored; how, ultimately, revolution is a dream and hardly a reality; that is, how little we fight these worlds we're locked into every day. Another way at this idea is right up front in Night and Fog: that, yes, weeds grow but scars and train tracks remain reminders, and nothing's been razed. I quickly realized I was too tired to let that movie work me over (as it always does), and I tipped out in the dark to a misty rain outside.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Represent Repertory #2: Silent sight magnified colors, wipes

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Get in line

Though the Resnais series at the PFA is ending shortly, with tomorrow night's program of shorts and next Tuesday's screening of La guerre est finie, there are still some things on the horizon to get excited about. There's a few more oh-nine sights across the bay, but more importantly, maybe (because, lucky me, I live on this side of the Bay these daze), are some things at the Castro.

First, this Saturday, the 12th, there's the all-day winter event put on by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Though there are breaks, it's a full 12-hour block of films, complete with live accompaniment, and I hope to attend each screening since I've only seen one of the featured films before (the Keaton), and that only on a television set. There really is no comparison for seeing these films in an auditorium like the Castro, as was proved to me a couple summers ago (read more here and here), even if I'd often prefer way less live accompaniment and kitschy anachronisms/laugh tracks. Not only because it's on film, and the flicker matters, but because of the size. It's a real palace in there. Further, they're showing some really cool sounding pictures that all highlight the cinema's capacity to document:

  • 11:30 AM, Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness [Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1927] A film shot entirely on location in Thailand, it's a precursor to King Kong without the stop-animation.
  • 2:00 PM, J'accuse [Abel Gance, 1919] The epic, 162-minute pacifist picture of The Great War has long been unseen in its original construction here in the U.S. so this is quite a rare opportunity to see this (equally epic) restoration.
  • 7:00 PM, Sherlock Jr. [Buster Keaton, 1924] That brisk comedy about the comedy of interpretation, and its frequent failure through projection, should shine bright. Further, it'll be introduced by Keaton's granddaughter, and there will be live foley, too, which might prove its own set of jokes both good and bad.
  • 8:00 PM, or so The Goat [Buster Keaton and Malcolm St. Clair, 1921] I've never seen this short, though it's available on YouTube, but apparently it's another identity comedy (this one of the mistaken variety), and that can only lead to good gags, and chase scenes.
  • 9:15 PM, West of Zanzibar [Tod Browning, 1928] Another Lon Chaney vehicle sure to get under everybody's skin since, right off the bat, his character is paralyzed fighting with his rival, Lionel Barrymore, and thereafter goes by "Dead Legs" as he plots his revenge for 18 years.

Hopefully I can add a few more cogent thoughts post-festival about what stung and what tickled from the day. You can probably bet on some of the same from my buddy Brian Darr, who not only writes Hell On Frisco Bay (and tweets up a storm @HellOnFriscoBay) but also serves as one of the festival's researchers and writers. —Inside, furtive, teasing tip: next summer's festival should be even more spectacular than previous years. —Further reading: the Silent Fest's blog, with notes from Brian and others.

What else? Oh, nothing but a bunch of Hitchcock. The real highlight for me and my boy Danny will be seeing Marnie on 35mm on the 17th since we both missed it during The Late Films. But there's also Vertigo the next day, and more than too many to choose from the other days, though I'll be prioritizing Preminger on the 19th for Skidoo and Bonjour Tristesse back over for what will probably be my final trip to Berkeley for the calendar year. If you happen to see me/us around town at one of these screenings, don't be afraid to say, "Hello." Even if I'm reading, chances are I'm paying more attention to other people talk around me than to the words entering my eyes.