September 22, 2013

The woods

“I told him not to go through the woods. He just wouldn’t listen.” Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur, 1957).

September 16, 2013

Sound effects

Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012). Viewed on flawless, digital Blu-ray, this is a tribute to analog imperfection. In the early 70s, introverted British sound engineer Gilderoy (Toby Jones) travels to Italy to work on a horror picture (technically, a giallo). We see the Italian film’s lurid, black-and-red credits – an excellent simulation of 70s occult-themed Euro-horror – but we have to imagine the rest of the action from Gilderoy’s repetitive work in the recording studio. Actresses scream and scream, watermelons are smashed and stabbed (it sounds like dismemberment) and, in an anachronism given the medieval storyline, the sound of a chainsaw is made by a food processor. The dour spirit of Peter Strickland’s mostly mysterious second film is that of the reserved Englishman abroad, constantly paranoid and intimidated – a mood somewhere between Kafka and Barton Fink. His frustration risks becoming our own as a promise or threat of actual horror is never entirely fulfilled, but we can luxuriate in the carefully reproduced retro-fetishist detail of the era’s typed labels, tapes and film. As in Persona, breakdown or body-swap is signalled by film burning in a projector. All is artifice, including personality. But it needed to be weirder.

September 15, 2013

Deep River, Ontario

Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001). “I fell in love with the actress / she was playing a part I could not understand.” From my capsule review sometime in the past decade: Lynch’s theme is the use and abuse of young women in Hollywood. As in several of his other films, Lynch reveals that the strings of the visible world are pulled by a hidden cadre of evil men who seem to have supernatural powers – part-Mafia clan, part-occult lodge, these shadowy figures giving enigmatic instructions in secret rooms date back to Twin Peaks, at least. Other abiding Lynch concerns recur: doubles and ventriloquism, the inexplicable sadness of popular songs, odd scenes in coffee bars … On the fourth viewing, possibly the fifth: the red herrings and loose threads from the abandoned TV pilot are more glaring and seem impossible to absorb into any straight-forward dream/realism reading or decoding, and you notice that the break between the Betsy section and the Diane section now seems to mirror the split between the goofy comedy of the Twin Peaks series and the deeper horror of Fire Walk With Me.

September 11, 2013

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension

Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette, 1974).Blog title from Sapphire & Steel. Time plays tricks.

September 8, 2013

Careless people

What Maisie Knew (David Siegel, Scott McGehee, 2012). “They retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness.” This is at least the third film this year that could have been retitled Careless People, but perhaps the only one of the three to apply the title as an unambiguous moral judgment. Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as the monstrous parents, Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham as the fantasy substitutes.

September 6, 2013

Colour of ghosts

The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance, 2012). Introducing the soulful thug. Every improbable moment grows out of the gap between who he is (who he thinks he is) and what he does.

Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012). New wave worn on sleeve, sure, but Gerwig isn’t the Karina to Baumbach’s Godard – clumsy analogy aside – because, in the end, it feels like her film, not his. One other thing: the entire Sacramento sequence (her parents as her parents) is masterful and concise in ways that the rest of the film isn’t, quite.

Stoker (Park Chan-wook, 2013). Do the sickly green walls give you Vertigo flashbacks? For Hitchcock, green was the colour of ghosts, based on old theatre conventions.

September 4, 2013

September 3, 2013

Acts of killing

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Domink, 2007). Second time. Still the mythic deconstruction, like a film that’s all endings, and the sombre realist detail. Notice how the narrator switches perspectives and is close to both men ahead of their deaths. Casey Affleck is still uncanny as the assassin or coward: na├»ve, vulnerable, raw, brazen, resentful, unstable, his emotions largely unreadable, and his acting without any appearance of obvious strain.