September 30, 2011

Viewers of his films should not assume they understood everything

Recently I sat in on a master class given by the filmmaker Luc Dardenne. He spoke of how viewers of his films should not assume they understood everything about the characters. As members of an audience we should never feel ourselves wiser than they; we do not have more knowledge than the characters have about themselves. We should not feel assured or certain about their motives, or look down on them. I believe this. I recognise this as a first principle of art, although I have the suspicion that many would not.

-- Michael, the narrator, in The Cat's Table, by Michael Ondaatje. Jonathan Cape, 2011.

September 28, 2011

The shock of that moment

David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone (1983) is better than I remember -- or better than its reputation (I first saw it maybe 20 years ago, on US television or video -- somewhere sub-obtimal). In the Cronenberg take, it's forever winter, there are unexpected similarities to A History of Violence two decades later (a threatened small town/rural setting, a gentle everyman protagonist driven to violence), the psychic aspect is taken as real from the moment it appears, there are two Cronenbergian suicides (a gun, a pair of scissors) following similar in Videodrome, an unexpected relationship with Christianity and a related discussion about assassination ethics (if you could go back in time and kill Hitler ...) and of course a charismatic, young and mostly pre-weird Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith, who senses murder. For Robin Wood, in Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan in 1986, only here and in The Deer Hunter could Walken fully display "those properly human qualities which our culture chooses to label feminine: sensitivity, vulnerability, the overt display of emotions, gentleness, grace, a physical beauty divorced from any macho traits". The shock of that moment when he cries behind the door; the equally great shock -- a scene so rare in a Hollywood movie -- when he turns down the opportunity to have sex with his girlfriend. This sexual denial leads to his accident; his accident saves the world.

"Sexuality doesn't surface in The Dead Zone in the same way as it does in my other films, but it's certainly there. It's a very repressed, restrained and frustrated thing. Personally the movie's just like me, but filmically I suppose not ...

"The folks in The Dead Zone tend to be God-fearing characters, whereas in my other films they are not. Because many of the scientists in my early films are absent from the films themselves, although their influence remains, I think you could make a good case for saying that in The Dead Zone, God is the scientist whose experiments are not always working and that the Johnny Smith character is one of his failed experiments." -- David Cronenberg in Cronenberg on Cronenberg, edited by Chris Rodley, Faber, 1992.

September 23, 2011

Ruins of a Masonic Temple (1923-2011)


Back in March, I wrote about the post-quake state of the Crown Masonic Centre in Sydenham (link). This is what remains of it this morning.

September 14, 2011

Richard Hamilton 1922-2011

The Citizen, 1981-83: "Inspired by a 1980 documentary on the ‘dirty protest’ by republican prisoners at the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. Demanding recognition as political prisoners, inmates refused to wash or wear regulation clothing and smeared their cells with excrement. The protest lasted for five years, involving more than 400 prisoners. It later developed into a mass hunger strike. The painting is a composite image based on stills from different parts of the documentary. For Hamilton this was ‘a strange image of human dignity in the midst of self-created squalor’." (picture and text source).

It could easily have been another illustration within this.