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November 22, 2011

La Jetée (1962)

Filed under: Film Comment — Daniel Min @ 12:27 am

Chris Marker the ultimate media artist and what Alain Resnais would refer to him as the “prototype of the twenty-first century man” [1], created one of the most intriguing circular narratives into an eloquent photomontage consisting of black and white optical photo prints. La Jetée is an extraordinary installment of the science fiction genre that inspired contemporary artists into creating such works of art by reflecting the ingenuity of Chris Marker.

 La Jetée depicts France in a post apocalyptic nuclear war zone. Underneath where the survivors inhabit in their own dwellings. A soldier is picked amongst the mass to become their test subject traveling to the past and future in hopes of saving mankind. Dreams of the future where the soldier see himself at the Orly Airport meeting the hands of death and the woman who will be his significant companion during his time travel. Every shot has a meaning and every piece of artifact becomes the subject of such illustrious photo that conveys such incredible depth of beauty, especially during their visit to Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. A mesmerizing work that left me in a state of awe when I first saw this, La Jetée is ahead of its time and will influence later generations of prospective film makers and photographers over the next millennium.

Chris Marker is by far the most mysterious out of all the left bank directors associated with La Nouvelle Vague. He has worked with a full spectrum of technological medium that experimented with computers, photography, television and films (including an interactive CD-ROM “Immemory” that deals with the concept of perception and reality of memory). A former Resistance member of the Free French Forces and the U.S.A.F. Pararescuemen (rumored), Chris Marker dedication to anti-war fully developed around the time when Algeria seceded from France for its independence (A very painful reminder for the French since they lost the war on colonialism and is heavily brought up in films such as Resnais’s “Muriel”, Godard’s “Le Petit Soldat” and Pontecorvo’s documentary) and the student protest of May 1968. Throughout his career he has traveled all over the world documenting the obscurity and beauty of our planet yet it leaves me to speculate why there are very few interview or articles about him (his hermeticism is quite amusing because he often leaves a picture of a cat upon request for interviews). [2]

 Note: Last film I’ve seen directed by Chris Marker was “Level Five”. A semi documentary about a French video game programmer who is assign to recreate the battle of Okinawa, it is told through haunting memories of the Imperial Japanese soldiers and the lost memory of the Information Technician with her past lover. Unlike most well known directors his films are very difficult to acquire and hard to find online (Thank God for youtube because I can finally see his documentary on Akira Kurosawa for free).

References:

[1] http://soma.sbcc.edu/users/davega/FILMST_118/FILMS/La%20Jetee/La%20Jetee.txt

[2] http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/marker/

 

 

November 10, 2011

Psycho (1960)

Filed under: Film Comment — Daniel Min @ 11:27 pm

 

Alfred Hitchcock whom I consider the doyen of all horror film directors (maybe except for the founder of the Giallo horror genre, Dario Argento) created such an abhorrent picture that not only did I found disturbing, but outright appalling. An Englishman with a mentally maladjusted sense of humor who can properly utilize such distinctive features throughout his body of work, using countless images of birds, voyeurism, overtly sexual portrayal of women and underlying sadomasochistic male behavior. His most famous work “Psycho” definitely has all the elements to frighten the audience however some might see this film as inferior to all his other works (An argument that I would like to support had if not been Anthony Perkin’s remarkable acting).

One scene that I found displeasing was Norman Bates being in the same room with the prospective murder victim as she’s having a snack, discussing about the trials and tribulation of the human existence, falling into the traps of insanity that society deems unwelcome thus having to establish a mental institution for the mentally insane. A mad house consisting of cries and agonies of the individual such as Norman Bates who happens to be one of many ideal subject of psychoanalysis. The human imprisonment described by Bates made the audience fully aware that he himself is sick much like the distraught relationship with his mother.

The mother and son relationship that was brought forth to conclusion left me puzzled when I first saw this movie however the second screening left me curious as to whether if Hitchcock had shared the same experience that Norman Bates suffered. Overall everybody have their own reason to express some aspects of human misery from the past however society can justify for those who murder and those who don’t.

The last film that I’ve seen with Anthony Perkins is Franz Kafka’s the trial. An alluringly spectacular eye feast that left me deeply attached to his acting that became even more apparent in his portrayal of Norman Bates. His unsettling calm look will certainly unease the audience’s comfort zone and will furthermore lead us into the dark places where we choose not to look. Psycho is masterfully crafted from the hands of Hitchcock. I will be looking forward to watching the rest of Hitchcock’s works later on, especially his take on Patricia Highsmith’s enigmatic novel “Strangers on a Train”.

 The Eye of the Voyeur. . .

September 11, 2011

The Lady Eve (1941)

Filed under: Film Comment — Daniel Min @ 5:33 pm

       Preston Sturges’s Lady Eve is a delightful comedy that I thoroughly enjoy from the beginning to the end. The backdrop of an elegant cruise ship and the opulent mansion of New England were definitely vulnerable to the perpetual state of audacious adventure.  Barbara Stanwyck who played “Jean Harrington” the leading con lady of such wit and gregarious charisma (almost a resemblance of Catherine Keener) established herself as a force to be reckon with, her seductive prowess made it easy for her to manipulate the heart of the snake enthusiast [1] “Charles Pike”, played by Henry Fonda, a stoic yet somewhat of an innocent man that knows how to play his cards right (maybe).

On the S.S. Southern Queen traveling from South America, one marvelous scene that caught my eye was Jean holding up a mirror to spy at Pike, scrutinizing and performing a commentary by doing voice over for their fruitless attempt on persuading him. A scene of such caliber by Preston Sturges made me ask myself, why haven’t I watch any of his films before (except for half of “Sullivan’s Travels”(1941) on TCM during one of many endless nights, suffering from insomnia and paranoia). Jean finally caught the attention of her new lover/victim, they’re overwhelmed in each other’s arm and became infatuated with the idea of true romance, well maybe except for Jean whose goal is to swindle some of his money.

Cards are drawn from the poker deck and the game is on between Pike and Jean’s father, Colonel Harrington who is an assertive man that can operate at a higher level on the scheme of convict, demonstrated some of the most innovative ways of manipulating the winning hand, a remarkable performance by Charles Coburn that left a huge impression on me. After this pithy diversion of playing tricks, Jean felt it wasn’t right to trick Pike out of his pocket, since she is head over heels for him, thus reinforcing her father to cease from taking Pike’s loss. Meanwhile Muggsy (William Demarest) a condescending minder, found some unsettling photos of Jean discovering that she is a gold digger of a con-artist and only wants Pike for his money.

They go about their separate ways from having to hurt each other’s feeling, only to be reunited during a social gathering. Except the woman that Pike still had strong feelings for wasn’t Jean, it is Lady Eve Sidwich, a glamorous socialite with a distinct English accent (I couldn’t even distinguish between her English accent and an American one, I guess is because my ear is somewhat familiar with different variety of Anglophone). Sturges’s way of using characters to role-play, has certainly led me to believe his artistic craft in provoking excitement from the audience and flaunted some of the most extraordinary skills by creating an elaborative slapstick of a classic comedy, especially the scene with the horse (I’m no equestrian, however the way Fonda tamed that horse was hilarious).

In the end, they’re reunited just as they met before, only she is no longer Eve but Jean as Pike remembered. Sturge’s Lady Eve is a top notch screwball of a classic farce yet sophisticated in its own way, one film that I might consider on par with Sturge’s work is “Va Savoir+” (2001) directed by Jacques Rivette. Both represents the idealistic pageantry of the pratfall genre and does not come out as contrived as one would probably expect (maybe except for prospective action film directors).

 References:

[1] http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/80626/The-Lady-Eve/ – http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-lady-eve,17866/

August 28, 2011

M (1931)

Filed under: Film Comment — Daniel Min @ 11:45 pm

          M is for Mörder. The letter M that was written on the beggar’s hand which was later stamped on the murderer’s back, the letter M that attracted the underworld to take justice into their own hands. An interpretation of the ambiguous meaning between the letter M that was stamped behind Peter Lorre’s back and the one written on the beggar’s hand as if Fritz Lang wants us to examine society, that ordinary citizens of the Weimer Republic were not so much different than the actual child murderer.

The opening scene show children playing along in the backside of the alleyway singing cruel nursery rhymes as they’re getting yelled at by the elderly upstairs due to the subject matter. It juxtaposes the scene where the innocent can sing something horrible yet be unaware of the imminent danger in the post Great War era. Audience may grasp that something repugnant is bound to happen, the plot was considered horrendous during the latter production of the silent film era therefore anything dreadful involving with children must have been loathsome. The victim is a little girl by the name of Elsie who was unfortunate enough to come across the murderer (Peter Lorre). Yet we don’t know who exactly the character is because there was no glimpse of his face except for the sound of his voice until later on in the film, a feature that made a phenomenal impact on cinematic experience for Fritz Lang’s first talkie. [1] As Elsie goes missing there were series of haunting scenes of unoccupied item that can leave the viewers an impression that exemplify Fritz Lang’s extraordinary skills in the aesthetic of film.

          The manhunt had begun and Berliners have heightened their awareness including the criminals. It had gone so far that city officials were accusing each other while dispatching more policemen throughout the city. The policemen’s action can be quite tedious at time using futile techniques apprehending the murderer as if the authorities are the rightful heir to the dominant group of society whereas the civilians were nothing more than servants. Was Fritz Lang’s implication toward Germany which succumbed to the Third Reich, made it intolerable for him to produce his pictures during its era? Was he angry at Germany for permitting itself to become the victim of the advent of Nazi politics? [2] I sense that by looking at some particular scenes like the murderer getting caught by the beggar, all because of his whistling and being fervently chased down by group of thugs along with the police anticipating for some bloodthirsty justice, presents an interesting view on the moral query of human nature. Especially towards near the end of the film, when he ended up in a cellar and was surrounded by group of criminals, policemen, lawyers, mothers etc with stares of disapproval, another wonderful take from Lang’s innovative camerawork.

        The murderer testified as being the victim of mental illness and could not help himself from committing such atrocious act. A psychopathically insane child killer  no society could understand nor recognize was immune to capital punishment because of his illness. Depressingly enough, this debate is still present even in this day and age. Peter Lorre had done such a fine work delivering the murderer’s behavior as if he himself was the victim of some sort of persecution. (The result of his image for this movie was unsparingly used for anti-Semitic propaganda during the peak of World War II). [3]

         In a nocturnal city like Berlin, a city that looked so provocatively haunting, reminded me of another movie that took place in the same setting, Wim Wender’s “Wings of Desire” (1987). Unlike Wender’s work, the city is not divided and there are no angels looking overhead however both of the film shares the same melancholy black and white view of the city that subtlety remind the viewer how Berlin had gone through so much turmoil. It was a pleasure seeing “M”, this is my first time watching a movie directed by Lang and I consider him the pinnacle of such talented film director to come from Austria (Haneke being the other).

 

References:

[1] http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/feature/fritz-lang-in-hollywood/249

[2] http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19970803/REVIEWS08/401010339/

[3] http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000048/bio


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