Saturday, January 18, 2014

Action/Reaction

In Kenji Misumi's Sword Devil (1965), the lead protagonist, Hanpei ('Han' for spot; 'pei' for the lower social class he belongs to) becomes a practitioner of Lai (a draw-sword art; his teacher's only lesson: draw, kill, put back) midway through the film. Towards the end, a change in the lordship of the clan he belongs to means that his earlier performance of his duty towards the clan, which constituted murders of his fellow clansmen themselves, is now seen as a grand crime that must be avenged. He is tricked by various other members of the clan into coming alone to the flower-garden he has himself sowed; they propose his murder, he tells them it's on. In a grand sword-roulette that follows (and that predicts Kenji's later masterpieces with the Lone Wolf series), Hanpei takes them all one by one. This sort of a one-against-all within the same two-dimensional plane is an idea that must have inspired later manga, as well as, in no small measure, the famous side-scroller brawl in Oldboy (2003). Anyways, most of them get murdered by Hanpei's sword, but then he is wounded himself, and it is at this point that the brawl breaks down into a splendid formation within the frame: Hanpei places his sword back and bends over, his hands to his knees, to regain breath and just rest for a little bit. His opponents see this as an opportunity to gain on him, they move closer to him in scavenger-circles with much ill-intent. But as it goes with most Kenji Misumi fights, the protagonist will never accept a graceless, crowded brawl; instead, he prefers a series of dignified one-on-ones. And so the stage for a near-perfect demonstration of the sheer speed of his prowess is set. As he rests, one of his opponents makes a quick advance and Hanpei responds with great ferocity.




Saturday, January 11, 2014

2013, Logbook

Following are the best films I saw in 2013(not of 2013), ones that were first-time watches. In alphabetical order:

Eligibility: Those not included in the PH Almanac 2012; features


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Act of Killing, The (2013) / Joshua Oppenheimer
Blow Out (1982) / Brian De Palma
Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932) / Jean Renoir
Casque D' Or (1953) / Jacques Becker
Cameraman, The (1928) / Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton
Chienne, La (1931) / Jean Renoir
Conjuring, The (2013) / James Wan
Flying Circus, The (1912) / Alfred Lind
Go Go Tales (2008) / Abel Ferrara
Gladiator, The (1986, TV) / Abel Ferrara
Klute (1971) / Alan J. Pakula
Kummatty (1978) / Aravindan
L. 627 (1991) / Bertrand Tavernier
Long Goodbye, The (1974) / Robert Altman
Man There Was, A (1917) / Victor Sjostrom
Marnie (1964) / Alfred Hitchcock
M. Hulot's Holiday (1953) / Jacques Tati
Ms. 45 (1981) / Abel Ferrara
Ordet (1955) / Carl Th. Dreyer
Passion of Joan of Arc, The (1928) / Carl Th. Dreyer
Tanner '88 (1988, TV) / Robert Altman
Throw of the Dice (1927) / Franz Osten
To Be or Not to Be (1941) / Ernst Lubitsch
Two Lovers (2008) / James Gray
Underworld, U.S.A (1953) / Samuel Fuller
Unspeakable Act, The (2013) / Dan Sallitt
Yakuza Papers, The (1973-74) / Kinji Fukasaku

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Wrestlers

The Lonely (1999) / Jean Paul Civeyrac

The Wrestlers (1905) / George Luks

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Suffering of the Devoted

In a remarkable scene typical of Bauer's filmography, as Lily recovers from her operation and slowly opens her eyes to discover that she has gained sight, she sees Gregoriy in front of her and mistakes him for Vadim, the doctor who actually operated upon her and is in sincere love with her. Seeped in gratitude and happiness, she gives her heart away to Gregoriy, while poor Vadim lingers in the background, distraught at this peculiar undoing of his love. Characters apart from Lily all choose to preserve this error in recognition - Lily's only recently recovered from an operation and the mental trauma of a correction may send her into relapse. This sounds convenient, but Bauer is convinced of a universe where the devoted with suffer - this is visible in almost all his major films; his is a poetry of a world not fair or just in anyway, but open instead to the arbitrariness that is a yield of an irony-filled circumstance and often inexplicable forces of human impulse and feeling. The scene in question is a perfect example of Bauer's cinema - a microcosm, if you will - because it is full of two particularities. The first, the utter irony of the situation, wherein a man helps a woman regain physical, sensory sight which results, instead, in blinding her to his love. The second of course is inherent in Bauer's direction of scenes. Major moments or twists-of-fate in Baueur are not as much a result of events transpiring or similar apocalypses, but of the unpredictability of human movement: a posture, a brief strut across the room, a minor shuffling of position or a wrongly placed limb. 

In the scene, as soon as the operation is complete and Lily slowly begins to open her eyes, Vadim quickly moves from besides her to his apparatus in the background of the frame to fetch a comforting lotion for her; Gregoriy on the other hand moves quickly towards Lily to comfort her, replacing Vadim in his original position so to say. This movement across the floor where Vadim (literally) recedes into the background and Gregoriy is summoned to the fore leads to the central misunderstanding of the film: Lily opens her eyes, sees Gregoriy and falls in love with him. But the eccentric dance does not stop here. Vadim, grief-stricken and a loser in love, slowly saunters to the side of Lily, takes her hand and kisses it in resignation. Lily, so much in love now, is completely oblivious to the tragedy that her newly acquired sight has woven. Gregoriy, equally saddened by his inadvertent usurping of his brother's position, recedes back into the background, where he stares into a void that exists behind the frame, with his back towards us. Lily's mother, sympathetic to Vadim's situation but helpless nonetheless, attempts to comfort him but failing, turns to leave the scene, perhaps unable to bear the misfortune that resides within it. It is at this point that Bauer causes his actors to arrange themselves in what is a truly remarkable pose: Lily, seated on the sofa and in love, is exulting with happiness; her mother is exiting the frame from the right - slitting the frame right in the middle are the two brothers, placed in a two-dimensional frame to appear as if they are the same creature, mirror-images of each other, tentacles of the same organism. Their heads are bowed down in grief but it is Vadim whose face is visible to us; the insinuation is clear: it is he whose suffering will be evident to us and it is he whose physical being will become easily replaceable by that of his brother - the blocking within a frame presenting a clear account of Lily's confusion.

The Happiness of Eternal Night (1915) / Yevgeni Bauer


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Three Dead Bodies

Often in Robert Altman's films, characters who die submerge into a neighbouring water body: it's as if they dissolve into liquid and lose their material nature, significance.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) / Robert Altman

The Long Goodbye (1974) / Robert Altman
The Player (1992) / Robert Altman

The Revival of the Dead

Obsession (1976) / Brian De Palma

One is not prone to discussing the class-consciousness prevalent in De Palma’s work; the excitement of his films seems to derive as much from the perverseness of his directorial design (particularly; in terms of the central plot, the mood of the piece and the various rhythms/double-rhythms), but also, from (what seems like an) inevitable, and yet, unforeseen engagement of societal classes. In Obsession, for instance, De Palma revises Hitchcock’s Vertigo by entirely severing the original story’s connection with dreams, magic or enigma at-large, and re-depositing it instead in a world of open manipulation, schemers and hustlers – where the reincarnation is no longer the result of one man’s obsessive fantasy, but of his business partner’s (unbelievably) elaborate plan to annex the protagonist’s mind, and through it, his money. In short, De Palma airlifts Vertigo from Hitchcock’s private architecture and places it, as such, in America. Two great achievements of Obsession: the first is De Palma’s recognition of the plausibility of the central plot itself; a man obsessed with a dead lover/wife spots another woman who looks just like her and aims, through his own set of eccentric and aloof habits, to reincarnate the deceased in the alive. While Hitchcock’s film’s working class detective can hardly, in a ‘real’ world afford to devote most of his life to the peculiar pursuit of this young girl who bears an uncanny resemblance with his lost love, De Palma corrects this technicality by rendering the same plot as a holiday film. The rich businessman goes to Italy for a business meeting and spots this replica (what’s more, she works as a restoration artist, how cute!) – tells his partner to trudge on along to America while he will stay on for a few more days. These ‘few more days’ being the point of De Palma’s larger awareness (which he posits in Blow Out as a complete theory); that only a multimillionaire on a holiday can savour the luxury (as opposed to the hope-agony of Scottie in Vertigo) of rediscovering, perhaps, a lost love. In finishing therefore, this triumvirate (with Laura, and of course, Vertigo), De Palma’s point is made, i.e., only three types of people can spend their lives obsessed with the dead: detectives, rich men on a holiday and of course, at a larger level, cinephiles.

Obsession’s larger achievement is in the final shot of the film, when De Palma paints the final stroke over his Vertigo restoration – he dispenses with the wonder inherent in the circular tracking shot that captures the resurrection/reunion in Vertigo and replaces it instead with the bottom-line reality of such a complex affair: when the man and the woman enter the world-ending embrace in Obsession, she overdramatically and in a high-pitched voice, squeals: ‘Daddy! Oh daddy!’ And this is really how De Palma summarises for us the whole Hitchcock film; as some sort of a modern variation of the old Frankenstein-legend, wherein the reproduced girl is no longer a myth, and she does not see the fanatic whose obsessiveness makes her existence possible as her lover, but as her father, her progenitor and her creator ( of course, this is a terribly sentimental moment; imagine the Monster calling Frankenstein his father, but also a bit of a joke on ol’ Jimmy’s age in Vertigo) . Two other significant facts about this scene; it is set in the symbol of concrete, real and practical contemporary existence, the airport, and is thereby relocated from the dreamy, neon-lit hotel room of the Hitchcock film, and lastly, this scene ends the film (unlike Vertigo, where Scottie must suffer till he can exterminate this agent of recurrence herself). This is because the larger irony of the project – the story of a man restoring an object from the past being filmed by a man restoring an object from the past – is not lost on De Palma, and therefore, just like Scottie, he must end eternal recurrence with his own piece. How? By ensuring that the reunion scene is the final scene of his story, so that by the time the end credits begin to roll, the ghosts of an unhappy past are entirely exorcised.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Quality

From an interview with Eye Magazine, an excerpt:

Three Times (2005) / Hou Hsiao-Hsien

R. Roger Remington:
How do you define quality?

Massimo Vignelli: Quality, like Modernism, is an attitude, which means that one does not go below a certain standard. Quality is a way of living, a life attitude and a constant fight to eliminate any hint of vulgarity from one’s mind. This is a constant job of enormous proportions because the bombardment that we continuously have, the amount of seduction that we receive from life, makes this fight against crudeness a very heavy job. It’s like the devil. I suppose the priest would call [vulgarity] the devil, and call quality the state of holiness.
Quality is when you know that you have reached a high level in your work, when it really sings, when it touches you, when it responds. Quality is a level of intellectual elegance that is unmatched in other forms. When you see that there is no more vulgarity in it, you’ve got the sense of quality. So quality is something that you can achieve by continuously refining your mind through exposure to things which are the best manifestation of people that came before you, or are around you. This is what you obtain by nourishing yourself away from anything which has vulgarity in it. Quality is when you solve all of the problems that you have to solve in a way that is beyond the expected. So it is the sum of many things, and the answer to many searches. Quality is a by-product of passion, curiosity, intensity and professionalism.