Wednesday, May 26, 2010

At the net #1: On y va

by Ryland Walker Knight and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky

Ryland launches —— My disadvantage: I have never played tennis. As a kid, I never watched it. For a long time, I'd only glance at a match if it was on before a basketball or baseball game. My only interest, as it happens, was how Godard used the game as a metaphor in any number of his films. But, truth be told, it wasn't until Une Catastrophe that I started to investigate that more. So I watched Soigne ta droite (this didn't hurt the blossomed interests), rewatched that opening to Pierrot, and started to watch the game on live broadcasts. I began to learn what worked in the game and what didn't; I began to understand the acclaim for and the appeal of Federer.

Somewhere in there, I read David Foster Wallace's essay on Federer, which I don't doubt influenced my favor for both artists. Also, I saw Federer win a few slams somewhere in there. A lot of DFW's essay is about technique, and he was a player as a youth, which is why I lead with my disadvantage, but it's also about this man that some call a scientist. As recently as last week, the color commentator of the Madrid open went to commercial saying, "The passion of the south has defeated the icy precision of the master from the north." He was referring, of course, to Rafael Nadal, who claimed that tournament (I'd argue Federer lost that match more than Nadal won it) with his tic-heavy power game that, I'm told, is designed for dirt and has earned him that goofy nickname (is there another kind?), "The King of Clay."

Which, of course, is why I proposed this exchange: The French Open started today (Sunday). While awards were handed out in the south at Cannes, a different kind of dance got going up north in Paris. Roland Garros is played on clay and the big story coming into the tourney is, as it has been since 2006, whether or not Federer can beat Nadal. This presumes a lot of trouncing on the road to the final, that both will get there, that we don't have to worry about what happens until then. What I'm curious to do this week is to trade some notes on what we see (presuming we get to see much) of not just the titans but also, say, Solderling and Murray. (Also, are you into the women's side of things?)

Since you've got more of a background in this arena, maybe you can introduce some other terms and factors and style evaluations. To get us started, I'll say that though the passion of Nadal is sometimes infectious, his play seems bound up in brutish will as much as talent and the pleasure I get from watching him play is akin to those Morel movies you dig; whereas I love watching Federer play because he's both such a brain and such a ballerina, but not without punch or fire or deadly kill (or drop) shots, which might help me compare him to that plastic master Godard, but I'm not satisfied with that comparison. Whose cinema is graceful, sneaky-fast, not quite showy but confident, attuned to the body, often beautiful and often non-stop wondershowzen?

Ignatiy answers —— When I was a kid we played tennis and I hated it. I took my tennis racquets with me when I moved out and sold them to a pawn shop when I was 19, and probably didn’t think about tennis for a couple of years afterward. Now I think about tennis all the time. It’s funny how you come around to things like that. Singles tennis now strikes me as the greatest sport: the most athletic, the most dramatic. It is very simple and pure—two people, a ball, movement. I don’t know if you saw this, but today (Wednesday) there was a moment in the Tsonga / Ouanna match, very brief, where they were slipping and sliding right alongside the net, almost as if the ground beneath them was ice and not clay, very gracefully yet also very desperately. And there, for me, lies the drama of tennis: emotional desperation—the desire not only to win, but to not be beaten—expressed through physical grace.

I don’t follow women’s tennis too well, because, at the moment, it seems to me that the most interesting personalities (with a few exceptions) are in men’s singles (however, I look foward to being corrected on this matter).

As I think I’ve said to you before, I admire Federer because he is precise and also obviously human; he is like Chaplin, in that the movements of his body are able to express certain things people usually only feel, yet more articulately than most people could put them into words. Watching him play Falla today, it’s striking to see, in that kind of wide shot they’ll often use that makes the court look like a chessboard, how Falla must dash to keep up with Federer, who is merely hopping. Yet his movements don’t seem super-human (I mean this seriously when I say that there aren’t many sights more human to me than when Federer makes a shot from between his legs, which he did against Falla).

You’re right in that the French right now seems like the grand story of Federer against Nadal (who is more intense and bombastic), but there are also many subplots, and Soderling is certainly one, as is Tsonga, who strikes me as a bit over-confident (maybe it's his serves?) but whose serve-&-volley technique, which involves coming so close to the net, is kind of exciting to watch because of its immediacy.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #43

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Get big or biggest

Last Lost: "The End"

by Ryland Walker Knight

Granted, a six-season series premised on mystery could never deliver a satisfying "solution" to its "riddles." Hell, a lot of Chandler stories make you feel hollow. But the difference there, I suppose, isn't the investment versus reward thing but the kind of nuance and general philosophical arguments made by such endings, and such style. The MacGuffin as a way to get around mystery's meaning and all that. Which is why a lot of the riffing on Lost seemed excusable: in the interest of entertainment and tickling your brain, and dollars in the bank. However, artistically, you can't ask for dumber. Tug-o-war is, as most people will learn at one point, only fun for one group of people in the end.

The only excusable rationale behind the ending of Lost puts that whole "sideways" story—or "primed" as I've called it through this run—inside Jack's skull as a real flash before his eyes, before they close for good. However, everything about that story line aimed to show these characters as the characters they were on the island. This presumes a few stupid things we're supposed to simply believe in because the second-to-last scene was set in a church. For example, given the waves of relief after those flashes, it would appear that these characters are all just waiting to die while Jack hugs his dad; by extension, everything does revolve around Jack in the way he believed. That's not exactly bad writing, but here it's unchecked hubris. In fact, it's celebrated as finding some faith. And, then, all the other people are only there because the only thing that mattered in their lives was the island or what happened on the island. That is, instead of making the final escape matter the most—Kate and Sawyer and Claire can shack up in an unholy trio of bad vibes and worse life choices!—and where the fuck does Richard go from here?!—we're supposed to find Jack's "full circle" endgame poignant. Put otherwise, it's cynical and narrow-minded and not about living life.

I don't care about the implausibilities of everything. In fact, I dig the fantastic the most. The imagination is what drove the show on, and kept its fans hooked; the tease of the possible. We've all written our own branching fan fiction already with our guesses and our gchats and our weekly recaps. Lost's lasting legacy won't be that it united a record amount of viewers but that it knew how to play the television medium perfectly. It maximized sentimentality, action and wallets with a few decent jokes and a ton of bad ones. And I'd be fine with it as a goof if it didn't take itself so seriously. All this talk about "letting go" in the final season is clearly aimed at the audience, that they'll/we'll be okay without these characters, but basically it's the bullshit way out of the same predicament any great show faces. This is what makes The Sopranos so brilliant, still, because I can remember that confusion and then thrill when the screen went black and we thought Cuyler's cable had gone out but in a minute realized we'd just gotten duped into expecting a resolution we'd never feel satisfied with. I don't care if Tony was killed or not, which is why giving these characters tidy death fantasies on Lost is such an affront. Some of the best moments of Lost were the unexpected deaths. That death was never fair, even when it was expected.

Call me morbid, but I'm terrified of dying. But I think about it a lot. I heard Stanley Cavell say once that any philosopher takes up philosophy because his or her life has been shattered in some way and s/he wants to reckon how, not why. If you take a look at Lost as you should any text that matters (it clearly struck a chord with plenty, evaluations of quality aside), you'll see a lot of avenues for thoughtful engagement. But, as the finale proved, all roads converge again (likely in a pile-up). The branches I got so jazzed about at the start of this season were more like tributaries. And we know that water runs down hill, toward the ocean. Unless, of course, you're on a crazy island full of magnets and mystic shit and clackety smoke. There, the water runs to a source, a light source, a source of light—and that light's absolving in the right circumstances. That's what I'll take away: that they made it about light, and opening your eyes. I'm not exactly satisfied, but I'm also done. I'll take my flight from this fancy free dream machine. I'm sure I'll talk about it a bit more here and there but, really, I don't need to think about Lost again. Hell, I'd rather watch a Sopranos, or a Seinfeld, and laugh my butts off. Those were shows that knew how to quit and keep a carrot dangling. The secret, I'm certain, is in the comedy. Picking up pieces or sweeping junk away, you gotta love this life. Or at least laugh at it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #42

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Even in oils

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Alain à la recherche #9
SFIFF53 #6: Folles

by Ryland Walker Knight


—See cyan slathers so ciel



—So stolen, so soaring


—So wild, yes please



—Spit sardine cellophane


—Not a memory, not a dream, but both, maybe?

Viewing Log #45: Climb out, come on [5/10/10 - 5/16/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

Didn't keep a log this week, to be perfectly honest, though I did watch a number of things of varying stripes. Didn't finish all of them, watched only pieces of some, and all because I was plumb worn out from some viral crazy weight that fell onto my head and heart sometime last weekend but didn't really register until early Monday when I could barely move a muscle. Which is a long sentence to say I was sick all week. But you may have gathered that if you follow my twitter or read that diary-like tumblr I reactivated a short time ago. To give a quick gloss, I watched a bunch of comedies to try to cheer me up and I kept at the Agnes Varda despite the haze (more on her to come). I even looked at the Martel movies again, Michael, in an abortive attempt to jog my brain that only lead me to fall asleep. That was a big problem with finishing movies this week: falling asleep. When the body needs rest, you must oblige it. The body is smart, complex, obnoxious in its stubborn patterns and wills and manifestations of improper treatment. And the brain cannot function without it! Go figure! So here's some images from the week that caught my eye enough for me to hit "pause" and "snapshot" in succession. This, of course, limits me to things viewed on my laptop and eschews a lot of the hilarious television I watched. In any case, here's to a better seven days to start tomorrow.


—Like gravity


—Point at it


—Sometimes you gotta


—Sometimes you oughta


—Not like this

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Convergence for heavy sooted and wild eyed (5/13/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight

If it's all just the same...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Last Lost: "Across the Sea"

by Ryland Walker Knight

So Lost finally gives us something of a Freudian-like take on a few different histories chopped and screwed together (both biblical and classical; go on a wikipedia adventure to trace traces, maybe) and all we get, really, out of this mythology episode is the origin of the smoke monster. Granted, I really like seeing Titus Welliver and Mark Pellegrino, and their scenes are usually good, but it's mostly just dancing around ideas we already have. It's an episode to prove these writers went to college, mostly, and to keep the lid on the magic box just a little longer. That is, though we know now where these two forces (they're not really characters) came from, we aren't given any angle on the real purpose of the world surrounding them, the island.

What we do know now: That the Man in Black wants to go home because his true mom was Roman or Greek or some kind of sea-faring ancient. That Jacob was born first and that these two are in fact fraternal twins. But that this doesn't make the Man in Black any kind of inverted Esau eager to buy Jacob's birthright; in fact, he wants his own, his home. That the Man in Black killed the mom with no name, which made Jacob angry; so angry, in fact, that Jacob cast his brother into "the light" down what looks like a drain, which doused that light and gave rise to the column of clickety smoke. That it was Jacob's duty to protect this light. That, thus, Jacob failed his first day on the job. That the brothers have been playing a game of one-upsmanship since the beginning involving oppositions. That the protector of the island always sees the same cycle in part because the protector always leads the arrivals in the same direction. That people are people are evil, apparently, and prone only to corruption. That, in essence, the mom and son with no names were the original sinners and that original sin was and is a selfishness.

I'm guessing, then, that "What They Died For," will be more about these two dark forces, though it could easily be about anybody on the show that we've watched die, or it could even be more about "the light." But, to be honest, I appreciate them keeping "the light" vague. It introduces some element of faith into the show that is really about an object of faith, or makes faith directed by objects as much as by actions. Rituals matter, certainly, but that's not the aim as much as finding purpose through this devotion. That certainly seems to be Jack's "arc" so far. But faith is tricky, and Lost seems atheist, not agnostic, which leads me to worry "The End" will prove nihilistic after all. But then I remember how practically any event in Lost is milked for its sentiment and I remember my other fears that it will prove to be "humanistic" after all. That there will be a faith "in people" in the end. Of course, I'd like to believe in that. But it's only set up, here, as an end to oppositions. As if there can be a leveling (in any sense) in the end that sets things in their "right place." What I want is creation. They need to make something of this mess, not reduce it. Thankfully, though, we've seen the show's not afraid to be "unhappy" with its "resolutions" so at least we can wait for some kind of killings that matter, though that's the cynicism it seems largely unhappy with itself.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #41

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Dead wringer green

Viewing Log #44, SFIFF53 #5: The chairman dances in nets and tiles [5/3/10 - 5/9/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

  • Les plages d'Agnes [Agnès Varda, 2008] Collage, mosaic, whatever: a full life that spawns new life sans cesse in any form imaginable. Only an old person could make it and only Agnes Varda could make it and only a old person like Agnès Varda could make it so full of joy, which isn't only (or simply) happy but a complex affirmation that this life is and was and will continue to be worth living. The pacing's wrong. But then so is the word "wrong." Waves change sans cesse aussi.
  • L'opera mouffe [Agnès Varda, 1958] The affective weight of all those "quelqe uns" is surprising, given how goofy the music is, or how random-fire the short feels.
  • Du côté de la côte [Agnès Varda, 1958] Not quite a documentary, not quite a catalog, not even a travelogue, but always a rush through things on its coastal tour; the Riviera is a joke of fashionable colors and body fat. Though it calls tourism exoticism flat out, it still made me want to go there, get a tan, and run around my own brand of Eden like anybody else. Summer's near, ain't it?

  • Iron Man 2 [Jon Favreau, 2010] Doesn't mean much and isn't exactly "entertaining." Mickey Rourke's from another planet. A tad more at Thought Catalog.

  • Twentieth Century [Howard Hawks, 1934] Hawks is Hawks and film is film but I fell asleep on purpose I was so tired and it got so silly.
  • Ruggles of Red Gap [Leo McCarey, 1935] True charity. Made the claim in the car that, of all the classical Ho'wood dudes, McCarey is the closest to Renoir. I stand by it.

  • Lourdes [Jessica Hausner, 2009] As Danny wrote, the tone's the biggest curio, not whether miracles occur. Faith is an afterthought, or not entirely revered here, and some jokes come at its expense (or at the expense of dogma kool aid, made literal in the sanctioned spring's bottled water), which troubles me as much as makes me laugh. The real joy, though, is Sylvie Testud's performance, which seems to start and end at her face but, despite Testud's silent smiles and the oft-alarmed or oft-angered eyes (both subtle, both withdrawn), Hausner's not interested in the face as much as bodies and the MS'd vice we find our little lady within to begin determines a lot more. And it's not just Testud's body that matters, but also how Bruno Todeschini is rigid, near encased in his role by his uniform; or how Elina Löwensohn's gestures are the worst mask for fright this side of adolescence, which colors every bit of Léa Seydoux's unfit-for-this-outfit brand of brat huff-and-puffs. This particular interest in bodily humor, and listening to the body, is all too rare (or, I need to see different movies) so when I see a party of wounded shuttling about "destinations" I immediately think of Tati, though Hausner uses a "real place" unlike so many Tativille pictures. In that, it's more akin to Jour de fête, with all those rituals and all those recurring faces and places redetermining interactions (or actions) and expectations (or sensations). However, it's not all comedy. There's plenty of nerves and anxiety and Hitchcock toying. Danny said Haneke, but that points at an overdetermination from my eyes and there's a lot of room for possibilities in this film that feel more like Suspicion before the reveal (Fontaine's all eyebrows the way Testud's all dimples) than any blunt-brow-beating by the Austrian.
  • Hadewijch [Bruno Dumont, 2009] There's skill, to be certain, and an interest in the lead's face, but it seems like boring storytelling to push that grace note so late, and so strongly so late, so that it doesn't hold any of the weight it'd like to or like you to think it does. As with another Euro "thinker" I don't like, Haneke, the "reserve" comes off as lazy thinking.

  • Lost "The Candidate" [S6E12, , 2010] A thoroughly satisfying hour of television.

  • Le Bonheur [Agnès Varda, 1965] # One of the beautiful things. Makes me miss other beautiful things. But not so much that I seek a river to jump into.
  • The Portuguese Nun [Eugene Green, 2009] An axial cinema that makes order a source of interaction, which is nearly synonymous with interpretation as every conversation seems to negotiate terms as much as exchange information. Great cameo by the director, too, playing a director and dancing poorly. More elsewhere in a few.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Convergence for birthday complexities (5/5/10)

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Being alive is knotty! But it keeps happening!

Last Lost: "The Candidate"

by Ryland Walker Knight

I guess it was "bold" to kill off Sun and Jin right as they reunited but the main thing that was great was how the scene was shot and lit and how Daniel Dae Kim just gave up on his accent in those close quarters of The End. I guess we're supposed to take Sayid's word for it and believe that Jack's "The Candidate" after all, but that's a little disappointing; I'm glad they used the word in the primed world, too, talking about John. I guess I don't really mind that the prime timeline has a largely different history, but it gets in the way, sometimes, instead of making things easier to swallow. I guess Terry O'Quinn was great when he said goodbye to Matthew Fox with a mask-chuckle. I guess Matthew Fox, for all his shifting in place, was a-okay in this episode. I guess I wish Kate had died on the pier. I guess Sawyer may never get off the damned island. I guess I could write more, don't know if I should, but it's my birthday and, despite the thrill ride that was last night's episode, I don't want to spend any more time on Lost than necessary this morning. I guess that's because I have to go to work.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Vinyl is heavy and Vitti is forever #40

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Mint white + sideways red

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Viewing Log #43, SFIFF53 #4: The word happy is sad [4/26/10 - 5/2/10]

by Ryland Walker Knight

—Hey ladies!

  • Cyrus [Duplass Brothers, 2010] I laughed my butts off and thought all the zooms actually served a purpose in the general uncomfortable zone of these dudes' idea of comedy: one premised on miscommunication and lies and making people squirm. Jonah Hill does deadpan better than most, and maybe better than "wacky" (though his "wacky" in Superbad is pretty great); Marisa Tomei is a babe, still, and this wows me along with every other drooly idiot boy in the audience; guess that's the point, too, since John C Reilly's all wide eyes and goofy "Love! Me!" freak outs most of the way. I'd say see it in theatres if only because that'll probably mean you'll see it with a crowd and being drunk in a crowd of similarly inebriated, jazzed young people definitely added to my pleasure.
  • I Am Love [Luca Guadagnino, 2009] In one light (the wrong one, duh), this is the silliest movie ever. But in the right light, it's one of the most beautiful: everything baroque expression, an all-caps film brimming with canted angles and swoons and tilts and a score to die for all around Tilda's face. As much a film of affect as INLAND EMPIRE, but to practically opposite ends, with damn near opposite means. That is, both filmmakers score their images to sound how they look but Lynch makes mud cakes with a grin while Guadagnino crafts gourmet plates for twenty with tears. Put otherwise, all the images drip and some rack focus fast and everything's lit to look delicious. I can't wait to see it again. Wish I could see it with a Vitti (or a Tilda, hell) wrapped around me, fingers locked. I'll likely write a real essay when it comes out in wide release.
  • Senso [Luchino Visconti, 1954] I made a joke on twitter about how I was bored, then I qualified that with a (still-reductive) explanation that I did like the opening—I'm a sucker for stages, and audiences—and the abruptness of the ending, but otherwise I didn't need it or its tableaux of "hurt" or all that "hysteria." And, call me crazy, but I go crazy watching those mouths move out of synch with the soundtrack. Further: the colors are nice, no doubt, but the restoration, which seemed muddied in spots, paled in comparison with the Ray from the day before, which was crisp like new. Could be a print traffic thing, but it seemed more like a print striking thing.

  • To Die Like a Man [João Pedro Rodrigues, 2009] A real film. Maybe not as great as I want it to be, and surely hard to handle in a lot of spots, but boy does it have style. At the Q+A, Rodrigues said he wanted to structure it as a musical comedy but that it was also inspired by Raoul Walsh's Objective, Burma!, which you can sense looking at this scene, but, to be fair, Rodrigues doesn't film any clouds the way Walsh does. What he does film, though, he films especially well. And we all know I'm a sucker for films about performance, and acting, and acting in the world in whatever determination that takes.
  • The Music Room [Satyajit Ray, 1958] Caveat: got no sleep because of an airport run, so I dozed a few times. The restoration was beautiful. The film's craft was, too. But I tell you what: I'm kind of done with hubris. Doesn't feel tragic.

  • Wild Grass [Alain Resnais, 2009] # At home, looking for images. Image-essay likely coming.

  • White Material [Claire Denis, 2009] Didn't want to believe my buddies who'd seen it previously but, well, yes: this is not her finest two hours. Still ratcheted tight, and a few edits are jarring in the best ways, and murder by machete in any iteration is always terrifying, brutal, gross. Wish there were more ideas, and a better screenplay, but as it is there's just one and a kind of tired narrative structure. The filmmaking structure, however, proves its worth in its angles at end points and the camera's near hush. Every image seems stolen, as if they lucked out every time they turned the camera on and pointed it at things or didn't. The problem, though, with everything pointed inwards, is that it kind of cancels itself, proves its own null. I don't need Claire Denis to tell me about this kind of cesspool.
  • Wild Grass [Alain Resnais, 2009] Had me from the get-go all the way up and down and around its folles follies to that finale that loops and dips and scans and pushes and soars and zooms and just feels great all inside my body and my brain. Danny was right: maybe the most generous. Dense, as ever, and "typically French," as many numbskulls said walking out, but I see those things as positives. Mileage varies, sure, but when you're flying you cover so much ground!

  • Cold Weather [Aaron Katz, 2010] So much fun. Somehow didn't expect it to be plain entertaining, but it was, and I really had a fun time with it. Since Aaron's a friendly acquaintance, I know I'm a little biased, but I don't think that fraternal thing is necessarily a part of what I dug. More so I loved that it wanted to be, and rightly is, a comedy at heart. Cris Lankenau and Trieste Kelly Dunn really play off one another well, seem to have fun in every scene (even the deadpan, annoyed ones), and I bet a lot of siblings will enjoy seeing this together. Also, Brendan was pretty funny in his cameo. I hope everybody involved gets a spring board off this project.
  • Father of My Children [Mia Hansen-Løve, 2009] What a lovely little film. Shows a family resemblance to plenty of her country's best, including Pialat (elisions, candor) and Doillon (children and their brains), though her interest in ladies and the importance of being a lady dealing with the weight of men, even as ghosts, is distinctive and maybe even singular. I'll see it again and I'll see her first and I'll write more.

—Drive, die