On High in Reds Tomorrow

this was originally published 9/21/2017 on filmmines.

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a popular liszt tune fades in. slow panning shots of an idyllic world; both microcosmic in its effect and isolated in its geography. gorgeous colors that are crisp yet run into each other, overlapping against their own god-given beauty. for all intents and purposes, it feels like the opening to a lynch world – one is immediately reminded of Twin Peaks or Blue Velvet, neither without their sharp turns from suburban gardens-of-eden to nightmares, horrific murder, evil so unimaginable to their protagonists that it feels like it cannot possibly be of this world.

while sirk’s magnum opus All That Heaven Allows features little of the ear-decapitation and intricate drug trade routes of his long-lost influencee, his work still contains every bit of the contrasts that lynch would later go on to investigate. how could a world so appealing, so normal, so tolerant, turn on ME like this?

of course, Heaven was not the only one to challenge the idea of white suburban normality. nicholas ray was also big on the idea – his seminal films Rebel Without a Cause as well as Bigger Than Life both approached the world of change brought about by the 50s, emphasizing the tension created by generational gaps and regressive movements. however, sirk challenges this idea in an inverse way: is it right for people to be segregated depending on which age or era they belong to?

but sirk’s film is not without its nuances in regards to its attack on these upper class sensibilities. from the very first party scene in the film, we see an old man and a younger woman, revealed to be romantically involved, and nothing is ever made of this distinction verbally or formally in the film. sirk – both here and in Magnificent Obsession – is aware that people have the capacity to accept, to love, to progress. his filmmaking is often perceived as sappy to some extent, with his traditionally sweeping happy endings in his more romantic melodramas, but more than anything he finds great hope in his characters, even those he does recognize as the “villain” in the melodramatic scheme. these socialites at the country club can accept age gaps in relationships, and this is already something to be celebrated.

with regards to its melodramatic roots, as illustrated by belton in American Cinema/American Culture as well as williams in Melodrama Revisited, sirk’s hero is at the center of suffering. in fact, with the heavenly scenery and studly rock hudson at the beginning (with aforementioned knowledge of sirk’s tendency towards melodrama), one wonders if it will be ron kirby or the town itself that will be cary’s inevitable downfall. cary’s daughter kay is set up as particularly modern – her feminist sway as well as psychological knowledge certainly points her in a progressive and understanding ability, though sirk eventually sweeps this out from under us as the film progresses by showing her to be as bitter as the rest of the world.

even as more and more characters succumb to their rejection of the relationship – the men because ron intimidates them with his defiance and attraction, the women because they feel jealousy for cary for being independent and having ron – sirk’s own rejection of their intolerance never feels cold and bitter, but accepting and understanding. at the end of the day, sirk understands that people are not perfect, people will be swayed by their prejudices because they were raised in and grew up with prejudiced people. the social constructs that the town attempt to use to box cary in are tools that have surely just been rearranged ad infinitum since the emergence of what we know of as society, and sirk realizes this, but he is desperately trying to make a call, a shout. his mode for this cry for love is melodrama, one that always seems to fit the story. whether it’s the dark rooms and the lights that illuminate faces at every angle, or the cut from ron falling in the snow to a chapel, sirk’s campy pathos are always there to compliment his own moral motifs.

sirk consistently makes clear his issues with the family and the socialites, but not always his issues with cary and ron. at one point we overheard ned speaking about romance: “the basic values of sex attraction between a man and a woman are…” (he gets interrupted by their presence) “oh, mother and harvey!” it is established quite frequently that cary and harvey are meant to get together, both overtly and in little moments like this that are more subtle. but the reasoning is never stated; their chemistry is frequently off, and though harvey has surely done nothing “wrong” he simply isn’t who cary prefers. a message whose social implications even today are widely relevant as far as consent is concerned.

speaking of consent, cary’s violent rejection of howard at the party is another not quite as bold statement about the right for a woman to choose. in this world, overrun by capitalism and freedom, why are these well-off women so pressed for choices? why must everything be decided over and over?

still, the film wants to say more. sirk always had so much to say in his films, there’s such a strong sense of passion coming from each of them. cary is depressed, or at least shows many signs of it (a few being her constantly looking into nothing, dodging eye contact, and dodging commitments). at one point early on, in her first scene with ron, she awkwardly changes the subject a couple of times. distraught with her own repressed heartbreak, and eagerly perplexed by ron’s comforting smalltalk, she finds herself quietly overwhelmed. it is an incredible scene whose subtleties are unlike anything else from a studio era film; there’s a million emotions in her hesitance. there’s also a triumphant line where cary says to ron “two people that love each other, that want to get married. why is that so difficult all of the sudden?” i shouldn’t have to explain the implications of that.

All That Heaven Allows is not without its melodramatic tropes. as would be expected, according to williams, the first tense music in the film is when mona thinks of new gossip. but this doesn’t come as a surprise; for the entire film up until this point, cary is quite aware of the taboo relationship she has with ron. where ron embraces it with his friends, cary shies away with hers. is sirk making a statement about this? is he condemning her? he thoroughly understands her position, but then again, he understands everyone. we’re talking of the man whose ex-wife turned nazi and took his child from him when she found out he had married a jew, and then he went on to make A Time to Love and a Time to Die, a beautiful film from the romantic perspective of a german soldier in wwii. you couldn’t make this up.

there are, however, parts like this (sirk possibly passing judgment on cary) where i wonder how much sirk is trying to subvert the melodramatic tropes he’s often known for. while it’s quite unrealistic that a rock hudson would end up in real life with a jane wyman (not that this is any less realistic than most hollywood romances), their supposedly star-crossed romance hardly features immediate lust and love. many romantic embraces are burdened with questions. questions of what people will think, of how cary will adapt to her new life, or how her children will react and adapt. furthermore, these characters can never return to innocence. their rejection of the normal, modern world is one which would require more ignorance than bliss, especially after the heartache cary and ron both endure throughout. there is no garden to return to in the illuminated town we saw in the opening – it’s been turned into a land of horror. the only escape is social progress, moving on, shifting paradigms.

sirk’s film may be a melodrama, or it may not. he may judge his characters with the tender hand that a parent does, or his authority may be more forceful. but at the base of it all, he understands. he understands every one of them. he understands cary’s reluctance to tell her children about ron because he knows how much pain she has seen. he understands ron’s frustration with cary because he too wants to have that innocence, to not succumb to toxic norms. he understands ned and kay – ned’s anger at his own mother trying to forget his father, and kay’s anxiety that she has in her own relationship that she projects onto cary. he understands the town – those who gossip, those who assault, those who comfort. make no mistake, he doesn’t always condone it, but he has this boundless empathy that is just so admirable. and behind all these improbable relationships and symbolic deer and unbridled pathos, there’s a film at the core whose virtues are far beyond most films that come out even today.

The Emoji Movie reviews reviewed

as i mentioned in my “current state of film” post, there’s a level of fatalism among film fans on the nature of the medium which i simply cannot get behind. i addressed the reasons why there, so go check it out if it matters. but i feel similarly about film criticism. yes it has propagated everywhere to the point of where i have starting running this page (i have no formal education in film in any way), but seeing this as a net negative is a bit too pessimistic for my liking. because there really are so many talented writers and even when i go on letterboxd i can find a great review by someone i’ve never heard of.

anywho, with the positives out of the way, we can get to the negatives. it’s become trendy to hate on rottentomatoes for their binary metrics, but i don’t really have an issue with that. they have average ratings, user ratings, community reviews, links to the peoples’ in-depth reviews, quick quotes, etc. whatever conclusions people choose to make about Spring Breakers having a lower RT score than The Avengers are their own.

i suppose i have not yet gotten to the negatives, so here we go: rottentomatoes have an extremely low standard for what constitutes valuable criticism. perusing through their qualifications for critics, i’m led to this page. there are a number of kinds of ways you can become a critic on this site. for printed critics (literally printed; newspaper stuff), “Print critics must be currently employed as a film critic at a Tomatometer-approved publication for a minimum of two calendar years to be considered for individual approval.” similar standards exist for broadcast critics. for online critics, “Online critics must have published no less than 100 reviews across two calendar years at a single, Tomatometer-approved publication, and all reviews should have an average length of at least 300 words to be considered for individual approval.” finally, for video critics, there are a few more rules and regulations. first, a resume must be submitted with their qualifications. then they must give their written manuscripts of reviews in addition to their videos. the critic must demonstrate professionalism and a high standard as well. finally, the critic must have at least 20,000 subscribers on whatever site they use. rt also says that all critics must have at least 2 years experience in some capacity as critics.

additionally they have some tidbits on becoming a “top critic” which is primarily based on monetary circulation, as well as a literal disclaimer of how, even if these qualifications are met, the person may not get to be a rottentomatoes critic.

so with all of that out of the way, let’s get to addressing how terrible of a model this is for anything artistically relevant.

to become a print, broadcasting, or online critic, your only bet seems to be at a tomatometer approved critics site. i could make this extremely in-depth and go through all of them but rest assured, this is fully intended to marginalize critics that are not squarely within some sort of monetary status quo, especially considering their other regulations. for an online critic, reviews must exceed a 300 word average length. this is flat ridiculous. at this point in this post, we are well past the 500 word length; if i want to read a critic, this is the absolute minimum i would tolerate for their actual reviews. but this is more of a business nitpick than anything contributing to my actual thesis so moving on.

becoming a video critic and becoming a top critic is almost entirely dependent on literal popularity, that is, who has the most subscribers and clicks respectively. this is absolutely not respectable in an artistic oriented scenario. from a business standpoint sure, it makes sense, and rt is doing great on that front i am sure. but we don’t go on rt for great business models, we go on there to get informed opinions about film. or at least we should, since that seems to be the thesis of the site – aggregating all these people from different walks of life that are passionate about a certain medium. it’s not until you get to a section whose title is “THE FINE PRINT” that we discover, even if we do have a bunch of clicks, we might not necessarily be published if we suck at reviewing. are the red tomatoes – excuse me, flags – popping up yet?

the reason why i have to address all of this before i start picking off individual reviews is because i have to explain why this is a business model which anyone interested in film should be extremely leery of. it is set up in such a way that populism rules out over anything resembling quality, and if that is the case, you get what you click for. i am not here to argue that the critics consensus is always wrong or that you shouldn’t trust critics – i am all for people reading criticism to get recommendations, warnings, and insight – but rottentomatoes is definitely not a reputable place to go for any of these things.

and that’s a problem. everyone knows this site. it’s advertised in promotional trailers. your parents look at it to see if they should go see a movie. rt is very much a populist site inhabited by populist reviewers for a populist viewpoint. and if your impression of the film industry is to look beneath the surface to find great works, similarly, your impression of film criticism would be to look beneath a hub like rt to find great criticism. this does seem to be a bit of an outlandish concept – when i said i would skip out on The Revenant because a critic i liked at slant didn’t like it, i was met with confusion due to its rt percentage. but why would i care about publications i have no interest in already, as opposed to a critic i have read plenty on?

with all of this in mind, we can be brought to The Emoji Movie. a movie i have no interest in, and no desire to defend. it is, most likely, not a very good movie. but i will go through this film’s RT page and try to illustrate what i said above.

keep in mind, during the course of this, what you think of when you hear the word “critic.” it surely arouses many negative views; some see them as towering and unforgiving, others see them as artsy and pretentious. they are rarely any of these things, the good ones at least, but they are commonly not perceived as being unprofessional, silly, immature, etc. finally, keep in mind that i do not and have not ever expressed my desire to be called a critic; my standards for some dude writing a blog or doing a video review are substantially different than those for a critic.

so let’s get to the fun part teased in the title. as of 7/27 at 9:48 pm like central time or something, The Emoji Movie has a 0% on rottentomatoes, with 0 positive reviews, 22 negative ones, and an average rating of 2.2.

alex welch of ign movies: actually his review isn’t embarrassingly bad. it’s extremely straightforward though, which takes up the bulk of the review, as well as some obvious parallels to The Lego Movie. but i do like what he has to say towards the end, comparing its shortcomings to other films’ ambitions and showing how it falls flat. but there’s really no meat on this review. it’s fine, passable even. this is about the lowest standard i would have for a critic, especially one published on the go-to aggregate site.

roger moore of movie nation: haha yeah now we are in embarrassingly bad territory. i’m not going to comment much on this, you can skim through it for yourself. absolutely not someone who should be influencing significant critical trends.

don kaye of den of geek: like the ign review, this is just kind of basic. obvious parallels to The Lego Movie, other kids animated films, a whole bunch of filler at first detailing the plot, a couple of decent insights. but particularly there’s no meat to this. i’m neither wowed by kaye’s thesis nor his writing style nor anything really.

mara reinstein of maramovies: i’m seeing a trend here. like the other not-total-crap reviews so far, it’s a couple of insights met with a lot of exposition, only this one seems to take some sort of weird moral highground that made me immediately assume (correctly, i might add) the reviewer must be some grumpy older person.

johnny okelsinski of new york post: oh yeah like all of these reviews have had terrible clickbaity/quippy/punny titles that are completely unfunny and this is no exception. but this review is actually pretty bad otherwise too. terrible puns (“lol but he’s making fun of a movie with bad puns so it’s fitting xD”) that contribute nothing to anyone’s thesis, this weird elderly bitterness throughout, and…oh what it’s over? yes readers, at a length 176 words, mr okelsinski’s review is complete. with nothing really to say this time – at least he summarizes the plot yet again for me. absolutely not acceptable, in any way, for me. and it shouldn’t be for you either.

michael sauter of film journal international: i actually really dig this review. it has a strong hook to begin with, he gives me enough information to the plot that i’m at least interested in going on, and his analysis is fine (i’m not expecting rosenbaum tier insight from someone reviewing a silly film like this). no clickbait, bad puns, and his review feels personal. no real complaints.

katie walsh of los angeles times: her review is snarky but it has its own style to it that i kinda vibe with. but the tone is a bit too bitter, condescending, and unprofessional for my liking, particularly the last bit (ironically, the one highlighted on rottentomatoes), where she announces that spending time talking to someone face to face or reading a book (regardless of quality, apparently) would be a better use of time than this film. “meh,” in your words, ms. walsh. moving on.

mike reyes of cinemablend.com: hahaha oh boy another bad pun man in the vein of the bad puns of the movie hahaha i just can’t keep up with these. anywho, that aside, this is purely ebert-worshiping right down to its structure. early hook, a bit of plot exposition, obvious criticism with a neat insight here or there, obvious conclusion. everything about this review is boring.

glenn keenney of the new york times: this review took up another one of my free nyt articles so i’m already mad at this dude. terrible title doesn’t help either. this review otherwese is dece, and i mean dece. too short, that’s for sure. there’s some actually funny bits, and the dude clearly doesn’t like it. but i would like to know why these things are bad. there’s no description to anything; we just take the new york times at face value, i guess.

lindsey bahr of associated press: there is a special place in hell for people that use quotation marks around movie titles in the current year. barring that, this is barren. i commend bahr for having found a style that sticks out but one can present more to me with that style. and less exposition. the procreating emoji line made me chuckle though. but why is this considered top critical level? is this the zenith of criticism? i don’t care how good or bad or meh the movie is, this absolutely should not be the standard one strives for in criticism.

jordan hoffman of new york daily news: this review is the laziest thing i’ve read in a while so i won’t bother going in depth w it in response also haha clickbait haha poop haha cool top critic badge tho

alissa wilkinson of vox: idk how you can miss the irony of denouncing an emoji film for being a giant ad while also, like, being a mainstream critic, but whatever. i like parts of this. i like tying in the story outside of this movie back to it, and wilkinson makes good points. glancing through the length, i got a bit more excited. but it’s a lot of baseless griping, exposition, and pictures (surely not an advertisement for anything though). through it all, it does have what i want from a good review: wilkinson’s definitely got the analytic eye and the ability to communicate her thoughts, but this is way too weighed down. still, it’s acceptable.

vadim rizov of av club: man i really can’t get enough of these titles. otherwise, this review is passable i suppose. he communicates that it is overly corporate and cliched and doesn’t bore me with exposition. barebones but tolerable.

john defore of hollywood reporter: i got excited when there was just a basic title but then he had to make a Lego Movie comparison so bleh. this is another decent one. contradictory of course – praising The Lego Movie and joking about how everything is ad-infested (speaking of which, adblock counts 38 ads on this page alone) before railing on this one for being corporate requires a bit more explanation for me to take it at face value.

owen gleiberman of variety:  i really dig the hooks of this review as well as the personality of it. but there’s a bunch of exposition that drags the review down and seems to come out of nowhere which is a shame as i was enjoying it up until that point. the snark also gets upped as it goes on, to obnoxious levels. decent insight here and there. tolerable maybe.

tim grierson of screen international: okay the structure of this one is all over the place. i have no idea what grierson is doing, and he does a great job of convincing me he feels the same way. the first and last paragraph are great, insightful pieces, and everything else is either convoluted or OTT exposition i don’t care about. not sure what to make of this one.

emily yoshida of vulture: oh boy another OTT title about how bad this movie is. i honestly thought this was more of a videogame journalism thing but no, it’s very common in mainstream film publications as well. anywho, yoshida is on some weird stuff here, and if she’s being ironic, it’s hard to discern any of it. i do like that she is able to voice why The Lego Movie is better. actually this review is pretty good. i totally get what yoshida got out of this film and why she thinks it’s bad. well done.

david ehrlich of indiewire: is there like an antonym for clickbait yet? cmon millennials, you don’t work, at least make up new words like you’re so good at Ha Ha. actually you know, reading these reviews, i’m surprised that nobody has really mentioned how insulting this film is to its younger audience with the whole “words are uncool” thing. just an observation. to ehrlich’s piece, i commend how in-depth he is with his criticism, and his takedowns feel earned, though not all that well-written. but his actual criticism is fire.

alonso duralde of thewrap: the title. ugh. comparisons to The Lego Movie. ugh. like so many reviews from the start of this rundown, this is just a bunch of words and exposition that don’t come together to really say all that much about the film. and this reviews is absolutely as unfunny as any bad movie i’ve ever seen.

scott mendelson of forbes: hahaha i mean it’s not exactly unexpected but i mean the fact that forbes opens by saying that this is a studio product aimed to make money primarily and it shouldn’t be faulted on that ground is maybe the funniest thing i’ve encountered in this journey. oh wait, nevermind, there’s a box office section and a review section. still kinda funny. mendelson calls the first section of the film an obvious allegory for gay closeted kids; i have never seen this in the other reviews or anything like it. and it isn’t really added onto here. i see a typo here and there. but then after his homosexual subtext stuff he just kind of says nothing. very confusing review. but not really bad.

matt singer of screencrush: oh boy. unprofessional, unfunny, exposition abounds, although nothing of substance does. the brain expanding meme made me chuckle, though.

matt prigge of metro: while the content of this review is harmless enough, oh mannn. terrible title, terrible humor, elitist “i hate the youth” vibe, AND putting movie titles in quotes? also this reads like a reddit post and you all know i hate reddit. get this out of my face. get this person off of rotten tomatoes.

and with that, we have concluded.

while there are some quite good reviews to be found here, the majority of them teeter on “i suppose i would read this if i had no other input” and “i suppose i would not do that,” but with plenty that seem to belong on r/movies surrounded by upvotes for unfunny quips rather than on the most well-established critical aggregate to have ever existed.

please, not for any debate on whether or not a tomato matters as a metric as opposed to a solidified number (metacritic), at least consider what you are doing on this site when you go on it. are you trying to find critics you like? not actually a bad idea, i found a couple myself doing this. are you trying to get an informed opinion on a film? i would highly suggest that you seek out individual critics you can read for your own benefit rather than the benefit of rottentomatoes and their click-fetish that any site that big has.

‘Rameau’s Nephew’ by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen

michael snow’s mammoth 4.5 hour exploration on text, language, structuralism, and time is surely one of the most unusual projects i have seen yet. while many structuralists seemed to limit each of their works to somewhat singular goals (kubelka) or at least thematically overarching content (frampton), snow’s project seems to try to be about everything at once. in many ways, this feels like an extremely long godard film – not the first way i have felt this way about snow, but moreso now than ever (the fascination of language, of male and female, film, the joy of experimentation, etc.). i believe snow is more interested in his formalism though while godard is a bit more of historian in many regards, although i still feel as though there are many comparisons to be made.

so what exactly is this…thing? in many ways, it’s the greatest hits of structuralist/formalist avant-garde, given in many short film type formats throughout. these range from a couple of minutes to around 30 or so at the longest, and there are 24 (or 26, depending on who you ask). these sections aren’t numbered or anything, just separated by bright flashing lights (made more complicated later in the film where one of the short films in question features its own bright flashing lights). the appeal to this is going to be limited to maybe a few thousand film enthusiasts, so unlike stuff like hutton’s At Sea i can’t recommend this to pretty  much anyone. that said, i did end up liking this a lot myself.

i’ve always been pretty big on snow. Wavelength in many ways is the structuralist masterpiece, a film which posits so many questions and does so much with so little and it really is a fusion of minimalist art and the actual structuralist movement going on in the 60s. few films have really explored space as La region centrale has, and certainly none have been as smart about it as that one. and *Corpus Callosum is everything digital avant-garde should be: trashy, explosive, colorful yet washed out. even though he has his own themes and roots, snow seems to love exploring a number of territories, and that’s very clear in this long, long microcosm of his own career.

RNbDTtDYbWS is at its best when its pacing is quick as snow’s ideas don’t take too long or too much concentration to really get the general gist of what he’s going for. in the first half of the film or so, similar to how he played with sets in Presents, he plays with the physical concept of location. in one rather extended scene, some actors play out a little scene while the camera slowly turns upside down and inverts itself multiple times. combined with the godardian use of showing the film set and the actors reading off their lines, it seems to illustrate the fraud of cinema and art as any sort of realism. but this concept continues on. in another scene, it’s simply a static shot of a man playing drums on a sink, which is equally silly although the camera remains in place the entire time. later, the camera shoots several characters waiting on a bus, and the background changes while the characters stay in the same place. in another scene, the characters are constantly moving while the background is constant.

this general toying with space – and similarly nuanced toying with words – is what i like the most about this film. what i don’t like is how long certain sequences are; while snow’s one-note filmmaking can be excused more in such projects as La region centrale where the entire film has a singular goal of sorts, when the film changes directions, tones, and ideas every few minutes or so, certain areas can be trimmed down substantially without any major effect being lost. and even still, a three hour structuralist epic is hardly any less impressive than a 270 minute one, especially if the editing is tighter.

while snow is like godard when he explores language and puns, he doesn’t seem to want to either go for nor attain the emotional heights of even godard’s experimental work. even in more minor avant-garde godard films, there is deep pathos that runs through his projects; the sadness of a man on the ship in Film socialisme or eddie constantine’s mulling on america in Germany Year 90 Nine Zero. this isn’t even counting his truly emotional work such as Notre musique or Nouvelle vague, and i don’t think snow even tries to go for this. in regular structuralist films that last between around 5 and 50 minutes this is fine, but when your work is extremely long and overstays its formalist welcome as is, i think some problems arise, and snow’s overt brechtian sensibilities get the better of him in this way i think.

while it is a film that is sloppy in many ways, it is also ambitious like few others i have seen. i’ll still take the more childlike brakhage films and the hybrid works of filmmakers such as jack chambers, but i’m glad i saw this, and i hope to check out the rest of snow’s filmography at some point. while i think it lags behind his three great films, it’s still worth checking out solely if you have an interest in snow’s work as is.

monthly highlights of february

these are things that i liked that are either under the radar or maybe underrated. i want to highlight some of these lesser known films as we all know that To Be or Not to Be is a lovely film for most people (on that note, a brilliant first watch for me), but perhaps others are not on peoples’ cinematic axes quite yet.

tlw

The Love Witch (Biller, 2016) is a strikingly beautiful film that has all of the polish and ruggedness of the olden genre-flicks it imitates. its femininity pumps through its celluloid veins, threatening to clog it occasionally but otherwise it flows smoothly throughout, giving it a sustainable life and energy that seems to be lacking today. the clogs come in its somewhat bloated runtime and a bit of the more preachy elements, but overall it far and away succeeds at what it attempts to do, and seems to already be a cult classic of sorts by way of inspection. 8

shhh

i discussed Sleep Has Her House (Barley, 2016) in a previous post, but it’s still lovely. 8

lh

L’Humanite (Dumont, 1998) is another marvel of slow cinema, one that isn’t quite up to the personal favorite level for me (occupied by masters such as sokurov, diaz, tarr, and akerman) but it is, nonetheless, a moving experience. i get vibes of both bresson and loach from this; the austere, understated touches that frequently occupy a bresson piece (along with the theme of crime and redemption), and the more insightful portrayal of the lower class that i’ve gotten from loach. an absorbing, emotional experience. 8

atsea

i discussed At Sea (Hutton, 2007) previously, more lovely stuff. 8

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.

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.