a brief rant on the state of film

in virtually all film circles, there seems to be groups that either adamantly insist there was, indeed, some sort of optimal era of cinema, which has long passed, and others who insist that film is doing great now contrary to this belief. well, there are also those who believe that film quality through the ages is static – but that’s a bit less fun to write about since it’s a more solidified philosophy of sorts. i would imagine – based on my personal experiences as well as social hypotheses – that most people fall into the new age camp or the classicist one, with little taking this purist view.

i would say that film is in a quite good place right now – not at the peak level of perhaps the 60s and early 70s – but it’s largely something i can’t really complain about thesedays. the amount of quality material being produced is huge; and the places where it’s being produced are nearly boundless it seems. for the first time, many countries and people are getting the ability to make films. and this is an objective fact of sorts, but it seems like an aside comment whenever a classicist discusses film, only to be brushed away with a yearning for the new hollywood days. but this fact is critical.

in 2016 alone, Toni ErdmannThe Love WitchThings to ComeAmerican Honey, and Certain Women were major highlights for me – all films by women that surely would have had a more difficult time being produced in any sort of studio system in any “golden era.” letterboxd filmmakers – hayes, tsao, medina, etc. – would be nonexistent as well, but the advent of smartphones and the internet has largely made both production and distribution possible for people that have little experience in the industry. even entire countries have experienced massive growth in the film industry. the romanian new wave of the naughts impacted the way films were made in the country, and there are more opportunities for filmmaking in iran than there were decades prior, and even areas like uganda (Who Killed Captain Alex? is surely one of the greatest films in this new era).

it’s no secret that american auteurism has, at the very least, faltered in this era. you can’t peruse through more than a couple of threads on the most recent academy awards without someone renouncing the academy and the studios for overlooking scorsese’s long-awaited and ambitious Silence. similar bemoaning over “serious, adult projects” (paraphrased from cumulative discussions, not attributed to any one person) seems to be all the rage nowadays to more mainstream tastes. a good chunk of this, in the past few months, was brought on by scorsese himself, who (although he was clickbaited into desperation-relevance-oblivion) seemed to insist that film was going downhill because these projects were dying off.

i do think that scorsese – a man who is and has always been extremely passionate about cinema – may have been misinterpreted here. but regardless of how he meant to say what he truly believed, this seems to strike a chord with many viewers. these adult projects – which span from artistic autueurist horrors (The Shining) to big-budget true epics (Lawrence of Arabia) to more low-key experimental projects with big actors (Taxi Driver) – have surely been in a shorter supply in recent years, and there are numerous economic reasons for this that aren’t really worth getting into here. but do we take this tradeoff?

my gut, along with the culmination of enjoyment i’ve gotten from film recently, says yes. At Last, Utah Feels Like Home is a greater work than anything we’ve received from spielberg in the past 10 years, 88:88 is perhaps a greater debut than any of the notable new hollywood directors, and Sleep Has Her House has impressed me more than every epic since Barry Lyndon. microbudget productions and outsider cinema have expanded to the point of where the former descriptor is irrelevant and the latter is a paradox; the scope of independent film and its ambitions are surely reminiscent of classical eras, and the availability of it is substantially more vast.

entire movements have progressed of recent times as well. while we haven’t had the 21st-century equivalent of Breathless, we’ve received the explosion of slow cinema in the past two decades, the vulgar auteurism movement, greater distribution of hard-to-find gems (Out 1 and A Brighter Summer Day come to mind), far better outlets of criticism and discussion (blogging, letterboxd, rateyourmusic, etc.), better resources for film and easier access to the more well-defined canons, etc. and sure, many of these perks are not strictly a product of films being made today; but they are very much ingrained in film culture and contribute to how we see film in a modern age.

i do think there is some stagnation at play in some areas. true innovation is more difficult to come by, particularly for film since it occurred at such an accelerated pace as it was the new medium on the block. i would argue that we haven’t received anything on the level of Breathless in terms of game-changing in the past 57 years. but it’s certainly possible, especially in such a radical and diverse cinematic climate as the one we get to experience today.

regardless the future is inviting for me.

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on the first three tao features (Centaur, Osmosis, Sleep Has Her House)

these films can be found at https://tao-films.com/.

Centaur (Niemczyk, 2015) is perhaps the most “normal” film of the bunch here in that it has both characters and a plot. films such as these are what immediately come to mind when i think of how effective slow cinema can be: niemzyck’s film is ponderous, moody, and basks in its delicate portrayal of polio. the painstaking measures it takes to show the downfalls to this disease are at once real, while the atmosphere and bits scattered throughout are abstract. it feels like magical realism in some ways, but unlike, say, weeasethekil, there is much more of a sinister undertone. the film is bent on remaining obscure in the fantasy-based department while being moving and dramatic in the more narrative-based one, and i’m not entirely sure if the contrast works. the director was taught by tarr and the influence certainly feels omnipotent throughout; this dead doesn’t particularly culminate into catharsis but i don’t have a huge issue with that. it leaves me dazzled in some respects, soothed in others, and wanting more from niemczyk all around.

Osmosis (Karabelas, 2016), unlike Centaur, has no plot to speak of, and it’s certainly unique in what it uses to fill this in instead. i can’t say i’ve seen anything like this, but it’s essentially a philosophy film, one that plays a role similar to an inverse-Walden of sorts. i do think this film has some more issues, however; the eerie music is effective at setting a mood – particularly with the evocative imagery and harsh contrasts – but it seems to clash a bit with the other elements. the music seems to set the scene for something ominous when we get more of a mulling, stream-of-consciousness film on nihilism. i do believe the lonely images throughout do a good job of just showing the narrator’s isolation, a different take towards being alone than a thoreau-type would. there are some lovely bits of dialogue throughout, but ultimately i wasn’t wowed by it. i mostly liked the imagery which admittedly is sublime.

Sleep Has Her House (Barley, 2016) feels more avant-garde to me than slow (i talked about this more in my review of hutton’s At Sea) and lacks any dialogue or characters (save for a candid animal here and there) altogether. it is, for lack of a better word, lit. when watched as barley recommends (alone, in a dark room, on a computer, with headphones on), it’s overwhelmingly soothing and hypnotic. it feels like the non-narrative equivalent to the reaction i get from a tarr film, that is, a total immersion of sort, where time is not present. barley’s film ranges from slow zooms of waterfalls, scattered shots of the night, various paintings, daytime imagery, a post-rock/ambient soundtrack at, and a dazzling ending. i was frequently reminded of shots that looked similar to those from malick’s The Tree of Life in all their abstract beauty. part of me wonders if there is something to this film other than its aesthetics and general calming nature – is barley trying to communicate something more with this piece? either way, it’s a fantastic experience.

a brief rant on American Sniper (Eastwood, 2014)

sthe below post was written as a defense of eastwood’s film in a facebook group.

 

so basically i think the film is an exploration of the american perspective of the iraq war.

clint, as i mentioned, is neither racist nor stupid. we live in the information age and anyone with a computer could tell you that there was a bunch of sketch things that went on post-9/11. a more subtle aspect about this era, however, is that people were really FOR invasion at the time – it’s only been in the last few years that people have really started to turn and see that it was a mistake, that we were lied to, etc. and i think this is what eastwood attempts to do in his film.

the intro – from CK seeing the attacks on 9/11 to him joining the army – is almost eisensteinian in its rapid, montage-based approach. it feels like propaganda – and i think this is probably because a good deal of people that joined during that time were subjected to similar sentiments (we can’t let them win, we have to finish this, etc.). we don’t get to know CK before because, as he himself states, he’s just a regular guy. a regular guy who happens to be very good at killing, but a fairly uninteresting one otherwise for the most part.

we see his gradual deterioration from proud american to proud – yet wounded – american. he is still CK, he’s not yelling and freaking out constantly, he’s just seen some stuff. more importantly, he’s thought some stuff. he was there for years and years, saw surely dozens of people he was close to die, and killed a dozens of people. and for what? that’s not rhetorical: for what?

CK is the embodiment of the traditionally right-leaning america circa the mid to early 00s. he’s upset, he’s mad, and even though he probably questions the government, he’s more upset by what’s happened from 9/11 to do anything about these doubts. he has to qualm them in some way. in many ways, his joining the army – as well as america’s decision to enter iraq – was not one done with a goal other than self-fulfillment. and when he gets out, then what? does he feel fulfilled? he appears to be empty, quiet, unmoving, static. he feels guilt for not doing more for his fellow men – and, by extension, his country – but he realizes there is nothing he can do.

so he takes up some of his time to help his fellow veterans out. both because he actually wants their lives to be better, but also, yet again, because there’s a void where there should be satisfaction. he knows – as most of us did by then – that the iraq war was a bit of a sham. they probably didn’t attack us. it was for nothing other than our fulfillment we wanted after september 11th. and i believe he also takes up this hobby because he desperately wants to connect – he wants something solid when so much of his years are dominated by doubt, both in the battlefield and in the political spectrum as to why people are battling.

At Sea (Hutton, 2007)

a lovely, patient, soothing watch. my first film from hutton and surely not my last as it’s something that clearly feels very accomplished and seems to play into a lot of the cinematic tendencies i’m attached to. there seems to be a deep admiration of technology, of humans – and, by extension, humanism – throughout the first bit, which i was pleasantly surprised by as i was concerned it could be a one hour montage of good-but-not-great shots of the sea, though it’s much more than that.

of course, making a film about the sea should involve some shots of the sea. hutton focuses on the faces less than brakhage or mekas would and i think the picturesque locales he chooses to shoot in the middle section are a little unfitting, although they all contribute to perhaps the more soothing nature that the first third had solidified. the final third feels a bit like ethnography with the local workers on a beach. i was reminded of the final section of godard’s Notre musique, it seemed like an abstract portrayal of paradise of sorts.

i’ve seen many refer to this as slow cinema. last night i also saw dumont’s L’humanite which i believe definitely qualifies more than something that’s really just avant-garde/structuralist in nature. i realize that splitting hairs in terms of genre (or, in this case, abstract movements that aren’t linked by country or runtime or even intent sometimes) is frustrating and perhaps annoying, but i do think it’s odd that something like this classifies as slow cinema.

At Sea, regardless of whatever arbitrary classification one chooses to use, is a successful experiment however. tonally i find it a bit odd, but i think it’s trying to do many things at once – contrast the beauty of man vs the beauty of nature vs the beauty of people themselves, i don’t think i’ve seen that one before. the end bit is almost impossible not to smile at as well. lovely stuff, and proof that cinema is far from dying. 8