Sunday, December 29, 2019

plato's cave one hundred (being a film journal)

Lila Avilés - La Camarista (The Chambermaid) - 2018
Stars Gabriela Cartol as a hotel maid in Mexico City. Beautiful and sad.

Takashi Makino - Tranquil - 2007

Takashi Makino - Inter View - 2010
Overwhelming visuals and slightly overpowering soundtrack.

Herschell Gordon Lewis - Blood Feast - 1963
Mr. Lewis even outdoes Ed Wood with his films. Craziness beyond crazy and beautiful on the eye.

Kathryn Bigelow - Near Dark - 1987
Similarities to The Lost Boys, but lacking for the most part the 80s datedness. Near Dark is extremely raw and frightening, with both Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen giving some mind-blowing performances. Hard to imagine more dreadful scenes than what Bill Paxton presents to the audience, one of the truly great actors of his generation. Other aspects that make it a great one are the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream, and cinematography by Adam Greenberg, who was responsible for The Terminator, Ghost, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Solid film.

Bi Gan - Long Day’s Journey Into Night - 2018
Really stunning film with some of the best photography I have seen in the last few years (shot by Yao Hung-i, Dong Jinsong, and David Chizallet). The last 59 minute shot was just spectacular and really must have been difficult to shoot with so many variables that chance could have shifted out of their favor. Dream like qualities, almost surreal at some level. This might sound ridiculous, but I really had a problem with the director interview when he mentions video game aesthetics.

John Schlesinger - The Falcon and the Snowman - 1985
One of the few Schlesinger films I didn't enjoy.

Clint Eastwood - Richard Jewell - 2019
Saw this on my birthday. Tragic story told very well by Clint Eastwood and acted well by Paul Walter Hauser.

Nanfu Wang, Zhang Jia-Ling - One Child Nation - 2019

James Gray - Ad Astra - 2019
For some reason I didn't expect much from this film but it was really quite impressive. From the music by Max Richter, to the visuals to the performance by Brad Pitt. One of the better space films from the last decade.

Diao Yi’nan - Black Coal, Thin Ice - 2014
Very much love this film.

Stan Brakhage - I Take These Truths - 1995

Stan Brakhage - The Cat of the Worm’s Green Realm - 1997

Stan Brakhage - Yggdrasill: Whose Roots Are Stars in the Human Mind - 1997

Stan Brakhage - “…” Reel Five - 1998

Stan Brakhage - Persian Series 1-3 - 1999

Stan Brakhage - Chinese Series - 2003
Rewatching all of the Brakhage films presented on the Criterion By Brakhage: An Anthology. Going through each set in reverse chronological order. The last set features some truly wonderful works from straight on hand-painted films to hand-painted films in which he collaborated with Sam Bush (who collaborated with me, on this, much as if I were a composer who handed him a painted score, so to speak, and a few instructions - a medieval manuscript, one might say - and he were the musician who played it) to hand-painted films mixed with photography in which he says he was inspired by Phil Solomon and Nathaniel Dorsky to pick up a camera again, and my god could Brakhage shoot water (I believe he meant Solomon when he said "Phil" in an interview on The Cat of the Worm's Green Realm). Also included is a film he purely shot, and his last film which is hand-scratched. Such perfect work.

Lorene Scafaria - Hustlers - 2019

Tony Kaye - American History X - 1998
Not sure if this film has dated that well.

Jonathan Demme - Something Wild - 1986
I like to watch this every few years. Ray Liotta's performance is quite memorable.

James Mangold - Cop Land - 1997
Great cop film, Stallone really gives a great performance here, as does Liotta. Could watch endlessly.

Philip Kaufman - The Unbearable Lightness of Being - 1988
Perfect film.

Sofia Coppola - Lost in Translation - 2003

Terry Zwigoff - Bad Santa - 2003

Leos Carax - Holy Motors - 2012

Lukas Feigelfeld - Hagazussa - 2017

Andrew Haigh - Weekend - 2011
Beautiful film from Haigh who also directed 45 Years and Lean on Pete.

Lav Diaz - From What Is Before (Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon) - 2014
Directed, written, photographed and edited by Lav Diaz. Very much in the tradition of Béla Tarr but more grounded in the everyday. Will take some time to digest.

Lee Chang-dong - Poetry - 2010

Thom Andersen - Los Angeles Plays Itself - 2003
One of the great documentaries which attracts one endlessly to take in the light.

Mike Hodges - Get Carter - 1971
We see in this film Jack Carter (Michael Caine) reading Raymond Chandler, which gives some kind of clue into the plot that unfolds in this film. Wolfgang Suschitzky's constant abstractionist photography is unreal, in some ways pushes the viewer to move through the fog for a clear reading, or rather to just bask in the abstraction.

Tamara Kotevska, Ljubo Stefanov - Honeyland - 2019
Beautifully shot and edited, yet so very difficult film to watch.

Plato's Cave, being a film journal for the art of memory, gets to 100 at the end of 2019 and will start at 101 for 2020. Next posts are personal best of the decade and best of the year.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

plato's cave ninety nine (being a film journal)

John Sayles - Matewan - 1987
Classic 80s film. First time I saw Chris Cooper, Will Oldham or David Strathairn. Kevin Tighe plays one of the most intense heavies ever in film history. 

Arthur Penn - Night Moves - 1975
Perfect film engaging in the classic Chandler/Hammitt plot confusion.

Mati Diop - Atlantique - 2019
Strangely psychedelic Senegalese crepuscular voodoo aberrations drenched in Popol Vuh inspired soundscapes by Fatima Al Qadiri and white eyed black magic subtly shifting through the night. Orbiting a comparable cosmic world to Jean Rouch's film Les maîtres fous from 1955. Beautiful film for the entire family.

Richard Donner - Inside Moves - 1980
One of those great examples of early 80s or pre-80s cinema, with that 70s feel but a little more plain in style with some hidden ghost pepper chili sauce giving the film some kick. Written by Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson, cinematography by László Kovács, music by John Barry, starring John Savage, David Morse, Diana Scarwid, Amy Wright, and the city of Oakland California. Just a fantastic film that revolves around friendships in a local dive bar. Savage shows his heavy actorshippe in some scenes that honestly leave you breathless.

Quentin Tarantino - Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood - 2019
Second time watching this and as equally moved as the first time, or more. The subtleties of this film contribute to a je ne sais quoi cinematic magic, like the shot of Brad Pitt driving through 1969 Hollywood which in its striking velocity reminds this viewer why he goes to the cinema. Or Leo snorting, stuttering, coughing,  and later cursing himself for forgetting lines. It would be easy to dismiss the film for the Bruce Lee scene or the ending violence which was of course gratuitous and misogynistic, but don't these qualities give the film's "true grit" and character? Tarantino entwines worlds of 1960s cinematic mediocrity into a film that is in no way mediocre. I heard Amy Taubin say Tarantino's obsession with shite cinema and bad TV made the film less appealing, and pointless in a decade that was so rich with good cinema. To disagree with her slightly, the period of 1969 finds us heading quickly towards the 1970s film culture where abjection ascends to a cinema that has yet to find its equal.

Safdie Brothers - Uncut Gems - 2019
Exorcist beginnings move quickly to an onanistic experience. Soundtrack more onanistic than picture, with no sound to image relationship, and I will make a "point never" to listen to the soundtrack on its own. Made for an onansitic culture quickly forming a circle jerk together to celebrate and rejoice in this mind-bending coitus interruptus. And after all that we find our hero is the victim of a nihilistic ending.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

plato's cave ninety eight (being a film journal)

Bo Hu - Man in the Well - 2016
Beautifully shot short film by the Chinese novelist and film director Bo Hu, great to see this on the somewhat big screen of my apartment.

Bo Hu - An Elephant Sitting Still - 2018
My good good friend Bea recommended this highly and she was right as rain when she said it was a superb film.  Strikingly original photography with stunning depth of field and a near monochromatic / muted palette. Very nice (at times) soundtrack which really adds to the pacing of the film. Subtle and strong stories so expertly acted by this cast all making it a film to watch over and over. It is such a shame Mr. Bo Hu is no longer with us to continue his wonderful oeuvre.

Carl Franklin - Devil in a Blue Dress - 1995
Still trying to see all the Franklin films, this was a pretty solid one by him.

Jia Zhangke - Ash is the Purest White - 2018
Great film, would like to see this again as it has many layers to spend time with.

Jonathan Glazer - The Fall - 2019
Amazingly strange and beautiful short film, that you would expect from Mr. Glazer. This film really offended my pup Leviathan, who made a big stink and got angry when it was on, a sign it was a good film perhaps?

Craig Brewer - Dolemite is My Name - 2019
Great comeback film for Eddie Murphy.

Martin Scorsese - Italianamerican - 1974
I had the laserdisc of the 3 short Scorsese films while in college and would watch these 2 over and over. I had not really seen since the 90s, but found I remembered much of the details from it. As an example; whilst I do my own cooking, Catherine Scorsese's advise comes to mind (which could mean daily) where she explains she keeps a towel in her hand during cooking because she is always wiping. Perfect documentary.

Martin Scorsese - American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince - 1978
Such a powerful film, one that would get viewed over and over by this viewer when a youngster, and not only because of being fascinated by Mr. Prince as a character, but by Scorsese's direction which can be so graceful, like the moment when he motions the camera man with a subtle hand gesture to pan during a dialogue, something so small gives a strong impact.

Tommy Pallotta - American Prince - 2009
Revisits Mr. Prince.

Julius Onah - Luce - 2019
Strange to see Tim Roth play a bourgeoisie sort of gent.

Scott Z. Burns - The Report - 2019
Was an ok film perhaps worth watching to see Adam Driver.

Viktor Kossakovsky - Aquarela - 2018
Stunningly beautiful film about ice and water. A profound immersion into this world full of not only lushness but also tragedy as we watch with horror as trouble comes to some men racing along the ice.

Martin Brest - Beverly Hills Cop - 1984
Watched this often as a 9-10 year old, but not since then. The film is quite solid with the exception of the rot gut music which often brings down these 80s films. Bronson Pinchot is perfect as the art gallery salesmen, and wouldn't it be wonderful to experience that in a New York City gallery rather than the blank looks one gets from the models in Gagosian and the like? I like 48 Hours more but Eddie Murphy's range here as an actor is more noticeable. As a kid his SNL James Brown hot tub bit really shaped my youth, and films like Coming to America gave this youngster some good dialogue to thrown down in the high school parking lot like "If lovin' the lord is wrong, I don't want to be right."

Don Siegel - Invasion of the Body Snatchers - 1956
I love Siegel's films but for me the Philip Kaufman remake is much better. Worth seeing though.

Jamie M. Dagg - Sweet Virginia - 2017
Very attractive cinematography by Jessica Lee Gagné. Pretty good quiet film with some scenes that are completely cinematically powerful, moments you only find in life when watching a really good film. My wife kind of makes fun of me for liking Jon Bernthal, but the guy really has a strong presence in film, a mixture of classic anti-hero mixed with raw American old school machismo? not sure but he does a good job at it. The rest of the cast is solid: Christopher Abbott, Imogen Poots, and Rosemarie DeWitt.

Martin Scorsese - The Irishman - 2019
Second time with this film, one of the best films seen in the last few years, just perfect. Anna Paquin's performance here is stunning on second viewing, how many performances does one see so strong with so few lines of dialogue.

Noah Baumbach - Marriage Story - 2019
Not a Baumbach enthusiast, but enjoyed the film. An online friend had recommended it and the subject matter obviously was intriguing, and honestly anything with Adam Driver is worth watching. This viewer (meaning myself) joined the many millions of Americans growing up in the 70s and 80s with parents divorcing at an early age and going through custody issues. I think the second or third film I saw in the theater was Kramer vs. Kramer, which I honestly don't remember the details of but it resonated through my childhood. Driver and Johansson gave their all in this film, both performances at moments hover perhaps pretty close to the area of ham, but the ham never gets really cooked and the innocence they bring to the film brings these performances into some area of near perfect beauty? I am thinking mainly of the scene that gets heavy in Driver's new LA apartment where there is a severe emotional breakdown. Both quite powerful actors who make this film extremely watchable and I would certainly watch it again.

Ki-young Kim - The Housemaid - 1960
At the offices of The Art of Memory we are coming up with a list of Asian films we have either sat down with and loved, watched and don't have a clear memory of, heard of and want to see or never heard of and want to see. More on that later but The Housemaid seemed like an appropriate film to watch as a sort of beginning of an informal study. Most of the films on the list are 1980s to present, with the exception of Japanese classics from the 50s-70s, yet this film has the unbelievable date of 1960 considering how cutting edge it is. Extraordinary film with levels of surrealism and early experimental cinema (Buñuel, Deren, and that rich history), class conflict and an intense fascination with desire and perversion. Strange thing about the film is on top of the just gut wrenching ending, the director tacks on some moral advise as a finale, which I assume was forced on him by studio or government. Beautiful film.

Karyn Kusama - The Invitation - 2015
(partial rewatch)
Attempted to watch this last year and couldn't handle the film and turned it off. Here we go with a second try at it, considering that Kusama's film Destroyer had moments of beauty and I liked her Criterion intro to the Korean film The Housemaid. The Invitation has virtuosity in direction, stunning low-light photography, and it is generally just a well put together film. The way the film revolves around the architecture of the Hollywood Hills house and its relationship to nature, is rewarding if you are interested in that sort of thing (which I am), but I think where the problem was for this viewer that the characters for the most part are just unbearable to spend time with. An exception was when John Carroll Lynch shows up as the scumbag (a character he does well, like in Zodiac), not only bringing dread but also a touch of a touch of comedy if you grew up with him in Fargo where he mentions to his wife Marge Gunderson "You got to eat a breakfast, Marge." In The Invitation, the main female character and new boyfriend (from Game of Thrones) are just completely oppressive and honestly I can never tell if these things are intentional or if I am just a sensitive person, but my gosh when those two were on the screen I wanted to fast forward. The film ends with anther story suggested, and I think that other story would be more a film I would be interested in, perhaps Kusama will make that film at some point.

Martin Scorsese - The Departed - 2006
This Scorsese film I never liked but it was on and I sat in to give it another (3rd perhaps?) chance. Has moments here and there but really hard to identify that signature Scorsese style.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

to magnetize money and catch a roving eye

Mysteriously around 1994 I obtained the Jim O'Rourke double CD Disengage, which includes Mere and the perfectly titled A Young Person's Guide To Drowning. At that time this listener was 19 years old, new to experimental music, and putting more effort into listening than formulating the words to describe what I was listening to. I remember a random chap on the train in Boston asking me what I was listening to, me with my headphones and portable CD player spinning Disengage, coming home late at night in a cold miserable Boston evening. I said Jim O'Rourke's Young Person's Guide to Drowning and got a pretty strange look in return. "What kind of music is that?" he asked and I really had no idea how to answer. I remember saying "it could be described as a music of quiet noise", to which he replied "aren't those two two things contradictory"?  I had to think a second and agreed that possibly those words didn't belong together but in a way it was a perfect description of what I was hearing. That year was really opened up sonically by hearing Giacinto Scelsi, Aube, Merzbow, Caspar Brötzmann, The Ruins, Gastr del Sol, and Keiji Haino, many of which randomly my dorm neighbor lent me, an interesting ex-military art student who dressed like he just got back from the Gulf War. The fellow had great taste and all his CDs smelled strongly of wood, later I figured out from the storage shelf he had. Very strong memories for a now approaching middle aged listener.

Jim O'Rourke later entered my listening world when I got hooked on Andrew Chalk and Christoph Heemann's work together as Mirror, where he contributed here and there. I had not noticed in the years between that he was basically in every issue of The Wire magazine and was as close to a pop star as one could get in the experimental music scene.

And in 2019 we find Mr. O'Rourke at a creative peak with a new 4 CD set released by the French label Sonoris which over the years has issued out great release after great release including box sets of Kevin Drumm and steve roden.

The first disc in the set is perhaps one of the best things I have heard from Mr. O'Rourke. Beautifully abstracted music consisting of slowly shifting and resonating sounds which are extremely dark in nature, and offer an overwhelming feeling that can be described as being similar to the music and ambiance of a Tarkovsky film. The listener perceiving the disc is immersed in a world not unlike the driving section through Tokyo from Tarkovsky's Solaris (where I believe Mr. O'Rourke lives), or the hand motivated train in Stalker traversing the explorers into The Zone. Sound worlds crafted by Tarkovsky, Bach and Eduard Artemiev - filtered, stretched, remembered and unremembered by a truly original artist. "Unremembered" in a way where the artist's own mind manipulates sounds from his/her past onto tape with fragments that are unconsciously inspirited by what one has absorbed over the years, where transformations have been made partially by the mechanics of ones own brain, an alembic filter of experience and influence. One finds oneself within this slowly drifting world where melodies that would take a second to experience are shifted into many minutes, disrupted by extremes of sound like clamors and glitches, or scratches and blatant melodies. So perfectly moving throughout your headphones or the speakers within your physical space, shifting ones perception from here to there and back again. An ideal world the inspired listener finds oneself in, a place you would never leave if that where actually possible.

The disruptions are brilliantly heard again on disc two where the rain and drone of some darkly beautiful world are shredded into oblivion nine minutes in with a dragon-like feedback that slowly dissipates into a glowing atmosphere of place, taken over again by the rain that so soothed the listener minutes before. Later we find this field-recording-based beauty further shifted electronically like some Hafler Trio filtration devise turned not up to 11 but lower to 3 where subtleties overwhelm the foreground and situate ones mind in a labyrinthian place. Yet, memories of each section of the labyrinth are not clearly remembered and they trigger no words into ones consciousness, but dreams of emptiness are instead triggered, dreams that have no connection to a humdrum life but from perhaps another life or another dimension.

Disc three begins with a noisy and almost Musique concrète obliteration of bird calls where slowly emerges a transcendental melody as mysterious and sublime as a winter light, which encourages the birds to make their presence more plain and a period of bliss is achieved. This shifts to distorted dragging-like sounds accompanied by a heavy bass Dantean movement of ground, with almost imperceptible bird screams disoriented again by a heavy shifting ground. Towards the middle of the disc we find backwards layers further situating the listener in a perceived chaos and disorder. Later on  in the recording waves of sound powerful enough to elevate and drop a ship at sea move the listener away from the chaos into what can only be described as deep sea where the the dweller Leviathan finds himself peacefully sleeping for a stretch of time before being awoken by an ending of sonic nihilism, of a high pitched variety.

Listening to this new release, I am also re-reading one of my favorite HP Lovecraft stories from The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft by Leslie S. Klinger: The Music of Erich Zann from 1921. The story has always been a great way in lending a description of certain experiences that drone music can offer a listener:

I have examined maps of the city with the greatest care, yet have never again found the Rue d’Auseil.... I have delved deeply into all the antiquities of the place; and have personally explored every region, of whatever name, which could possibly answer to the street I knew as the Rue d’Auseil. But despite all I have done it remains an humiliating fact that I cannot find the house, the street, or even the locality, where, during the last months of my impoverished life as a student of metaphysics at the university, I heard the music of Erich Zann..... That my memory is broken, I do not wonder; for my health, physical and mental, was gravely disturbed throughout the period of my residence in the Rue d’Auseil..... But that I cannot find the place again is both singular and perplexing; for it was within a half-hour’s walk of the university and was distinguished by peculiarities which could hardly be forgotten by anyone who had been there. I have never met a person who has seen the Rue d’Auseil.

Attempting to locate oneself within the drone described by the author Jim O'Rourke can be (beautifully) pointless, as this place is alien and beyond ones understanding. Memories of this particular world of sound, from one second to the next, are like the obliteration occuring when water is poured over a watercolor drawing. Sharp lines become warped and blurred, ghostly melodic occurrences dominate and confuse us, and attempting to understand the music of Erich Zann seems often times futile. If even for a second vision appears clear, then feedback arrives and obfuscates beyond all measure.

plato's cave ninety seven (being a film journal)

Robert Eggers - The Lighthouse - 2019
Written by Max and Robert Eggers, dialogue inspired by Melville and lighthouse keeper's journals. Starring Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, and Valeriia Karaman. Black and white photography by Jarin Blaschke, also responsible for The Witch. Music by Mark Korven and sound design by Mariusz Glabinski. Striking film that wanders in and out of worlds related to Samuel Beckett, Stanley Kubrick (2001), Ligeti, Penderecki, Alvin Curran, Ingram Marshall (Fog Tropes), Sascha Schneider, Herman Melville, John Ford, and David Lynch..... The crazy distorted and overexposed screaming of Pattinson as he enters the light, was heavy early-Lynchian (The Grandmother, Eraserhead) with bits of Twin Peaks meets Curran's Maritime Rites. Superb. Watching Defoe go in and out of focus as he shouts about his under-appreciated lobster meal was one great joy to take in.  Astonishing how Eggers can make a popular film with ingredients that are so obscure to most of the viewing audience. Very nice film.

Errol Morris - The Thin Blue Line - 1988
One of the best documentaries ever made? Did this film give birth to the Making a Murderer or podcasts like Serial?

Victor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive - 1973
Have seen this many times always on a monitor. Projecting it really emphasized the color pallet as a character in the film. This and The Quince Tree Sun (Dream of Light) are my favorite two Spanish language films, I wish there was a Criterion Blu-ray of Dream of Light.

Amy Holden Jones - Mystic Pizza - 1988
Sat next to Lili Taylor in a Brooklyn restaurant after hearing her on Maron, pretty cool. Went home and watched this film with her as I had not seen it. Matt Damon's first film. CT pizza is really pretty spectacular.

Lulu Wang - The Farewell - 2019
Didn't find this film captivating.

Alex Ross Perry - Her Smell - 2018
Reminded me very much of Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love, the way that sound (avant'garde in nature) is used as a constant mood instigator or a mood-fucker to use proper film talk. Elisabeth Moss is heavy in this film, she can transform easily from one character to another. Ultimately had trouble with the film though, felt too heavy handed most of the time but worth watching for the most part.

Penny Lane - Hail Satan? - 2019
My wife came up with a big list of films from this year we had not seen so we are going through as many as we can. Interesting subject matter here for this viewer. I read Anton Lavey's holy bible when I was a kid and thought it was fascist nonsense. I understand these Satanic Temple cats distance themselves from his Social Darwinism. The head of the order Lucien Greaves is quite striking and could easily be a movie character.

Bong Joon Ho - Parasite - 2019
Memories of Murder is perhaps my favorite Korean film, just spectacular. I quite liked Mother, but not to the same level. Parasite, in terms of seeing the film once, is equally as impressive as Memories of a Murder, and one can see why Bong Joon Ho won the Palme d'or. So far, Parasite and The Irishman are this blog's list of Best films of 2019, it would be hard to choose one over the other, and I can imagine re-watching over and over both of these films. For Parasite, what one notices initially is the complete originality of the film. It is difficult to think of another similar film or other influences besides just what comes out of Bong Joon Ho's own deviant mind. I made sure to not read up on this film before seeing, so I basically knew nothing about it except that there was a Loachian commentary on class inequalities. So the ending of the film was like a kick in the face, and completely overwhelming. I think the most memorable part of the film was when Geun-se (the crazy fuck with the bloody face) ascends the stairs from the basement, grabs a knife and wreaks havoc into the backyard. His last words of "Respect" (which he also mutters earlier in the film) completely overwhelmed this viewer, the extreme gravity that comes from this actor's face and voice, was almost unlike anything I have seen in a film. There are many lower depths to this character, from fleeing loan sharks and death, to confusing the viewer as to whether he has his proper wits about him (is he in fact a half wit)? The director of photography Kyung-pyo Hong also did Burning, The Wailing, and Mother. Really stunning look to this film. The above still of throwing water on a urinating man was so bloody beautiful. How the hell did they make that shot work so well?

Christian Petzold - Transit - 2018
Perhaps I shouldn't have put this as I didn't finish, I loved the actors and the feel of the film but couldn't get into the story and turned it off.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

plato's cave ninety six (being a film journal)

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen - Fargo - 1996
Pancake's House.

Kelly Reichardt - River of Grass - 1994

Alan J. Pakula - Klute - 1971

Elliot Geisinger - Klute in New York - 1971

Roger Vadim - Barbarella - 1968

Steven Soderbergh - The Laundromat - 2019

Jan Troell - The New Land - 1972
The sound design of this film almost could feels like it could have been done by Henning Christiansen.

Martin McDonagh - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - 2017

Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life - 2011

Jan Troell - The Emigrants - 1971
Embarrassed it took me so long to finally see these 2 films. Have had them on my best films ever made list for so long without actually seeing them. I knew they would be great though.

10.28.2019 - 11.9.2019
Vince Gilligan - Breaking Bad season two - 2009
First few episodes.

Carlton Cuse, Graham Roland - Jack Ryan season two - 2019

James Bridges - The China Syndrome - 1979
Once a year kind of film.

David Michôd - The King - 2019

Jennifer Kent - The Nightingale - 2018
A fantastic film.

Steven Soderbergh - Magic Mike - 2012

John Schlesinger - Sunday Bloody Sunday - 1971

Jonathan Lynn - My Cousin Vinny - 1992
Rewatching this getting in the Joe Pesci mode for The Irishman.

Jean-Marc Vallée - Wild - 2014

Kelly Reichardt - Old Joy - 2006

Hiroshi Teshigahara - Woman in the Dunes - 1964
Once a year type film which I can now do as I purchased the blu-ray. Perfect score by Tôru Takemitsu, and some really unique and sublime macro photography by Hiroshi Segawa.

Ken Russell - The Devils - 1971
One great film, had only seen bad VHS copy beforehand, so powerful when projected and just full of bizarre business, not unlike other 70s surrealistic films but with the kitsch level dialed way down.

David Lynch - Blue Velvet - 1986

Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Jon Nguyen - David Lynch: The Art Life - 2016

Peter Greenaway - Windows - 1975, Water Wrackets - 1975, Vertical Features Remake - 1978, Intervals - 1969
Various films on Criterion. Never got into Greenaway but gave these a go nonetheless.

Martin Rosen - The Plague Dogs - 1982
Richard Adams story.

Carlos Reygadas - Silent Light - 2007
One of the most handsome opening shots perhaps in recent years, a 4.5 minute shot of a landscape via a slowly moving camera somewhere in the transition of night and sunrise (perhaps doctored with the camera). Somehow even on a second screening the rest of the film doesn't excite in the same way but there are many great shots throughout. Kind of reminds me of Ordet somehow, fantastic cinematography by Alexis Zabe (Florida Project, Post Tenebras Lux).

Ingmar Bergman - Shame - 1968

Bong Joon-ho - Okja - 2017
Cute pig and kid relationship.

Jee-woon Kim - A Bittersweet Life - 2005
Beautiful film with one of the most intense urban action sequences I can remember, a white knuckle ride that happens about halfway through the film and then continues again in the end. Superb film.

Elia Kazan - A Face in the Crowd - 1957

Martin Scorsese - The Irishman - 2019
After reading Mr. Scorsese's New York Times essay dismissing super hero films I was really hoping his new film would overpower those films into oblivion and reinforce the idea that there is a distinct difference between films made for children or man-childs and those for adults. His new work surely did succeed there; it is a brilliant, mature, deep and highly entertaining film with so many layers it invites multiple viewings.  His best film since Goodfellas and it was really nice to see so many references to that film (the babysitter from the end showing up as Hoffa's wife for one), and references to shows like The Sopranos (Steven Van Zandt as the crooner). Such a classically told film, but mixed with a sort of cutting edge bite like the deaths of each minor character announced in bold text over each character's introduction. I got nervous when Pacino showed up that he would hoo-ha and do other bits of non-acting (like in his Salome) but he really just was great here, funny, depressing, subtle when he needed to be, and vulnerable. De Niro was beautiful throughout, especially when entering old age and later approaching death, but more than anything I was overwhelmed with Joe Pesci, perhaps one of my favorite actors. His elderly bread eating with wine was extremely moving and more so was his stealthy movements through the frame, or his face static with just so intense a look one would run in horror if in his presence. Something as simple as offering cereal to De Niro before his unspeakable deed had so much weight. Also, the score by Robbie Robertson was just brilliant, and I loved the end credits sound montage. There was a fear for this viewer that the structure of Goodfellas which was later exemplified in Casino, a structure that has much to do with the use of music, would be further seen here, but instead the film had a really fresh quality to it much to do with Robertson's music, but mostly just a clear indication that the director and editor (Thelma Schoonmaker) are true artist that are constantly changing and advancing. Also the dp Rodrigo Prieto shot one beautiful film, his previous cinematography includes Argo, Babel, Silence, Brokeback Mountain, and Amores Perros. Last thing is - I was glad to see many other heavy filmmakers come to Scorsese's defense when he questioned the qualities of Super Hero films. Their overwhelming presence in the dialogue of contemporary film enthusiasts (if they in fact are enthusiastic?) has resulted basically in someone like myself completely not wanting to talk about film with anyone outside my close circle of friends. It is about time someone with influence came along and made the point that these films that are really nothing more than the results of popcorn salesmen having wet-dreams. Wet-dreams that come from watching bad Disney films, and completely lack imagination and grit. Being inside the mind of a man-child is in these days ubiquitous, from looking at the internet, to going to work and especially interacting with the bloody smart phone. But you really ask yourself when seeing or hearing about these films; can one not even go to the cinema without being completely overwhelmed by this monoculture? The Irishman is coming from a total non-monoculture place and one really hopes it sways our contemporary culture into a more rich and mature frame of mind.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

opus mors (the act of hearing with one’s own ears)

OPUS MORS by Jacob Kirkegaard caught my attention initially because of the relationship to Stan Brakhage's 1971 film The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes, a relationship I formed in my mind when I saw the postmortem concept of the work, but was later confirmed by Mr. Kirkegaard in a letter in terms of being an influence. It should be said that having followed Mr. Kirkegaard's work since his 2002 collaboration Soaked with Philip Jeck, everything by him warrants the utmost attention, especially if presented with such beyond lovely packaging, but the Brakhage relationship gave OPUS MORS a strong flash on my radar, and better than that initial interest, the release gave complete and utter satisfaction upon listening which is becoming more rare for this listener these days.

I first came across the Brakhage film my second year of film school, and my first exposure to his work. The influential filmmaker and teacher Saul Levine showing it warned of the content and perhaps this 19 year old kid was a bit nervous of a 32 minute film of cadavers being dissected? Yet not long after the film began a new way of seeing was initiated, and in a way a new method of interacting with not only art, but also with the world in a way that is not unlike the experiences of the great ascetics like St. Francis (this I should say is coming from a non-religious person). Looking back, part of the initial draw of Brakhage's film (one needs something initially to grab onto) was the deeply rich colors of Brakhage's photography, like a muted vividness with reds the like I had never seen (shown on a 16mm print).

Brakhage's work was initially also a bit tough for a youngster because of the lack of sound. The idea of watching film without sound was something that was "unheard" of for a neophyte like myself.  Today it is quite normal to see the opposite in the avant'garde film tradition in what could be described as music videos for sound artists where music is there to accompany pretty pictures or the pretty pictures are there to accompany pretty music. The rawness and almost asceticism of works like The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes is more of where this listener is coming from when engaging with a work like OPUS MORS. Through this exposure to asceticism, the viewer (with patience) finds themselves after a time (perhaps the unease and boredom needs a minute or two to dissipate) to be completely in a environment outside of their mind, full of lushness and perhaps slowly navigating toward a state of emptiness? Black walls lacking articulation slowly reveal complex details that are beautiful and in a way incomprehensible, not unlike Plato's Cave. And then as slowly as a subtle light reveals this magic, blackness beyond black again takes over one's vision and the memory of details reverberates through your consciousness.

Jacob Kirkeegard's OPUS MORS is very much in tune with works, often long form, that hover someplace between deep asceticism and unknown pleasures. The second LP as an example is basically field-recordings of "a full autopsy starting with opening the corpse, following the removal and slicing and cutting open all the organs and brain, to finally returning all the organs, closing and washing the corpse". There is a concentration on this disc, in Kirkegaard's words, on the "timbre" of the body. Much like Brakhage's film, with only the ears here at work (instead of the eyes) we are slowly taken from a state that is potentially quite uncomfortable as a spectator, to a meditation-like place where the subtle tone-color projecting from the LP via the speakers has almost psychedelic like qualities, strangeness in a way that relates so strongly to first hearing kosmische music or the painted light of a Brakhage film. The acoustics of the autopsy room commingling with the acoustics of my spacious living room was magical and mysterious, having a conversation that is in a way quite over my head but nice to bear witness to. The sound of my dog chewing a bone as Kirkegaard concentrates his microphone on the cleaning of the body by the medical examiner/pathologist had a very nice Cagean quality, but also intriguing as my pup Leviathan generally is uncomfortable with music I listen to but here he found himself in total peace with the sounds emanating from the speakers.

One reason in often returning to a work of art over the years (repeat listens or viewings) is upon initial exposure, the structure of the work is somewhat unclear, but the importance of its meaning is felt at some unconscious level. Over the years of interacting with works that fit this description, one finds the initial mystery of the structure to be just as beautiful as the structure that emerges or sometimes does not emerge, not unlike multiple readings of a Raymond Chandler novel with a somewhat nonsensical plot line. OPUS MORS enters your perception with about as an intense of a drone LP (I played it very loud) as one can experience. Mr. Kirkegaard explains the beginnings as "two ambient recordings made inside two morgues listens within the slow and deep tones from the facilities that keep the corpses cold." This sounds like a description of a space listening to a space, or sound worlds within sound worlds within sound worlds, not unlike his 2006 recording 4 Rooms recorded in deserted rooms inside the 'Zone of Alienation' of Chernobyl. Honestly with the number of drone recordings one can listen to in 2019, it is hard to really find a recording that speaks so clearly. It is like the experience of someone hard of hearing suddenly being able to clearly hear details. LP 1 OPUS MORTURARIUM we get into this highly articulated world of droning sounds with in sounds within sounds within sounds, where sound that can almost be described as minimalistic mud, becomes like a bathing light that gives warmth to one's experience as a listener, similar to sound healing work done by a skillful shamanic practitioner who can with such ease entice your mind into journeying to a place so clearly outside of itself with what seems like simple or even non-existent techniques.

This sound healing effect is also strongly present in disc 3 OPUS CREMATIO where mechanical drones vibrate so powerfully in my listening space that time is something no longer until it is disrupted by a quick transition to shoveling and static. Side B situates the listener in a wavering back and forth place somewhere between pulsing static and a warm drone where a nonphysical sense of emptiness and lack of presence is so beautifully perceived.

Concluding this deeply thought out and composed structure of the four LPs we find the last LP OPUS PUTESCO made up of of two tracks - decomposition internal & decomposition external, recorded at a forensic study facility with measurement microphones placed above decomposing corpses, and vibration sensors placed within the corpses. Rain and flies merge with what could be described as sounds never experienced. The listening pleasures that come from the level of artistry and skill of this LP is like a bit of cake that comes after a perfect meal. Not unlike the master field recorders and composers Yannick Dauby and Chris Watson, the construction of this final LP is like imagining a conductor guiding a large orchestra through a blissful score where the violins are flies, the percussion drops of rain, and the bass is decomposition. The lushness of the sounds discovered by Mr. Kirkegaard really boggles the mind here, like being temporarily in the mind of someone who truly hears and sees the world in a way that you know you are not capable of.

Here we are in Mid November and this release is clearly the best of 2019 for this listener. This site is really not about music/sound reviews, but here are some words that attempt to convey the feelings and emotions that Mr. Kirkegaard's set fires up within me, and why it will be amongst my favorites in the years to follow and constantly spinning and spinning on the player and traversing the walls of my memory.

*blog title suggestion in a letter by Jacob Kirkegaard

Friday, October 18, 2019

plato's cave ninety five (being a film journal)

Joe Talbot - The Last Black Man in San Francisco - 2019
The construction of this film was a tad jarring much of the time but successful in the way that it portrays a dying (or dead) city and lovingly documents the atmosphere of an eccentric old house with an apocryphal history. Quite a unique film that works most of the time.

Howard Deutch - Pretty in Pink - 1986
No thank you to John Hughes and his crew of melon farming Leviathan deniers, I just came by to see some Harry Dean Stanton.

Carol Reed - The Third Man - 1949
Endlessly dense film with many layers to investigate over repeat viewings. Joseph Cotton as an anti high-falutin writer of genre fiction is one of the great film characters, engaging in some humorous discussions with Sgt. Paine (Bernard Lee) and Crabbin (Wilfrid Hyde-White). Also a superb role for one of England's finest actors, Trevor Howard. Carol Reed's opening narration also endlessly fascinates, and one can obsess on his subtleties in diction.

Bennett Miller - Moneyball - 2011
Another example of how one can hate sports and men who go about sports, but love films about sport, sports and the men who go about these activities.

Ric Roman Waugh - Shot Caller - 2017
Very good film on second viewing. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has great screen presence and is a fine actor.

Amy Heckerling - Fast Times At Ridgemont High - 1982
Once a year kind of film with a great cast including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker, Sean Penn, Ray Walston, and Robert Romanus, who plays one of the great screen sleaze-bags. For this viewer a character like Damone is what makes this a film that works on numerous levels and the Velveeta sleazes in a Hughes film reasons to not bother with them. I remember I first started listening to Led Zeppelin's Kashmir after seeing this film.

Alan Metter - Back to School - 1986
A film I enjoyed as a middle schooler, hadn't seen since then, has some good jokes.

John G. Avildsen - Joe - 1970
Second time watching this and for the most part I can do without the majority of the film but I really love when Joe (Peter Boyle) and Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick) move their focus to the village and get into some real strange hippy business and even what Boyle calls an Or-gee. Films showing an outside view of beat and hippy culture can be really fantastic, like A Bucket of Blood. Photography is nice and dark too, and red, like someone accidentally put a red filter in there or developed the film wrong.

Antoine Fuqua - Equalizer 2 - 2018
Not a film I liked much but any Denzel film I will watch.

Jordan Peele - Us - 2019
If I am honest with myself, I didn't care for this film. Had some moments though, like Elisabeth Moss' deranged performance.

Vince Gilligan - El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie - 2019

Vince Gilligan - Breaking Bad season one - 2008
I am no television scholar but perhaps the contemporary wave of cinematic television started with The Sopranos (1999-2007), The Wire (2002-2008) and Breaking Bad (2008-2013), all children of Twin Peaks (1990-1991). Maybe some viewers wouldn't agree or have no interest in the relationship between cinema and television, but for someone like myself growing up watching and being irritated by the majority of television in the 70s, 80s and 90s, these 4 great shows separated the shite of The Cosbys and Beverly Hills 90210 from the long form cinematic experiences that had layers of poetry, literature and were often times on the level of fine art. Breaking Bad was in a way so engaging because the trajectory of Walter White could not be expressed in a 2 hour film, his madness needed flowering or unflowering over many hours, where the experience would be full of nuances. Another initial observation of Breaking Bad was that a viewer coming to this show with a love of experimental music, field recordings, sound design and drone music, would find the sound/music here not much different than what he/she was hearing when listening to artists like Akira Rabelais or BJ Nilsen. The sound work interacts with the picture in a nice Bressonian manner, and gets into the world of abstraction with the activity (pleasure) of hearing sound that is full of texture and ethereality warping reality quite severely. The followup film El Camino I found to be a really strong sequel to this great masterwork and Aaron Paul is as excellent as always. Planning on watching again soon and the rest of the seasons of Breaking Bad.

Ang Lee - Brokeback Mountain - 2005
Superb Ang Lee film. Reading the short story recently, one can see the script by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana is a virtuosic expansion of a work that excels at brevity, there is even a book on it. And of course, Heath bloody Ledger!!!

Andrew Dominik - Killing Them Softly - 2012
This is one hell of a film that I love to watch over and over. Purchased the book Cogan's Trade (1974) by George V. Higgins many years ago but have yet to read. He also wrote The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970) which was made into another raw Boston crime film. There were quite a few memorable indie films from around 2012, there was a certain feeling in the air that is exceedingly attractive. Some other films include (and many with a touch of the 1970s about them):
  • The Place Beyond the Pines (also with Ben Mendelsohn)
  • Animal Kingdom (also with Ben Mendelsohn)
  • Starred Up (also with Ben Mendelsohn)
  • The Drop (also with James Gandolfini)
  • God's Pocket (with a memorable role by Richard Jenkins)
  • Out of the Furnace (also with Sam Shepard)
  • Mud (also with Sam Shepard)
  • The Grey
  • Rampart
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • Under the Skin
  • Margaret
  • Shame
  • Prisoners
  • Enemy
  • The Hunt

Anthony Mann - Raw Deal - 1948
More of a fan of Mann's westerns, had not seen in a while, has some great moments, John Alton was really one of the great photographers.

Alfred Hitchcock - The Birds - 1963
One of the best Hitchcock films for this viewer. For many years hardly a week would go by without playing a film by old Hitchcock and if possible a read from Truffaut's Hitchcock/Truffaut (still have to see the Kent Jones film). Moving to SF at age 21 the city was very much under the influence of films like Vertigo and The Birds. These were the heaviest of the heavies for a young San Francisco wine drinking Robert Musil reading Jay DeFeo worshipping potato eater:

  • The Wrong Man (Jesus what a film)
  • Vertigo
  • Rear Window
  • North by Northwest
  • Shadow of a Doubt
  • Lifeboat
  • Rebecca (also by Daphne du Maurier)
  • The Lady Vanishes
  • Strangers on a Train
  • Foreign Correspondent
  • The 39 Steps
  • Notorious
  • Saboteur

Alfred Hitchock - Shadow of a Doubt - 1943
Henry Travers and Hume Cronyn engage in some good frank talk on Inee (Indian arrow poison) and other matters of killing, crime and the like. Strange undercurrents of incest, closeted homosexuality and other business discouraged in 1940s America. Near perfect film, sometimes as a viewer one can get sick of the Mid-Atlantic accent to be honest.

Philip Kaufman - Invasion of the Body Snatchers - 1978
Very strange brief cameo of Robert Duvall playing a priest up to no good.