...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Movie in a Minute (x4)

Let me take you for a quick spin around the four visually intense (intensely visual?) films that I've watched recently:

Thief of Baghdad -- Up to the minute and thought-provoking, this story about George W. Bush......okay, okay, sit down, it was a joke.

Okay, this 1940 Technicolor Arabian Night adventure story is available on DVD with a vibrant transfer thanks to the wonderful magical Criterion Nerds. Not only that, it has a commentary courtesy of Coppola and Scorsese! Marty says that the viewer has to just lose himself in the picture in order to truly appreciate it, apparently overlooking any filmmaking weaknesses. Though that's entirely true, giving your heart over to a film is lovely, there's also an edge to what he says since it seems to criticize those of us who titter at some of the dated silliness.

Look, I get it. It's admirable to make a picture full of youth and void of irony. But when you have one of the best villains, Jaffar (played with bravura by Conrad Veidt), in cinema history, you cannot have your Prince Ahmed played skinny, boring, fey, and with smears of purple eye shadow. Technically young Abu (played by Sabu) is the real hero, but when the lovers (not Ahmed and Abu, technically) don't even register in Technicolor, how is that a strength? And when a hero is stranded in the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles away from saving the day, it is never acceptable for a screenwriter to suddenly send him inexplicably to The Magical Land Where Anything Can Happen in order to finish the story. That's called cheating.

Pierrot Le Fou -- I have had a 10-year struggle with Godard that I'm trying to unwind and deconstruct. It shall rear it's head in many future postings. You can count on that. Now that time has passed I'm taking in his cinema again, not because I'm supposed to like it, but because I'm trying to find some sort of armistice here. Pierrot Le Fou has all of the stuff I love and hate about Godard.

There is no other director who loves the potential of the moving image like Godard or at least there is no other director who chased that potential to the edge of the medium like he. And Pierrot Le Fou is full of so much cinematic love and excitement. (Anna Karina co-stars and that is OK in my book, cinematically, whatever.) The early party sequence where everyone's dialogue has been reduced to regurgitating commercials......I love it, can someone just steal (pay homage) to that every year? It wouldn't be original but it would be true and false at the same time.

But amidst dabbling in painting, poetry, and fracturing all of storytelling rules, Godard's self-obsessed "characters" vomit out communist propaganda, loaded with chunks of anarchy. Sound like his Weekend? Though I agree with most of it, it comes off so proud, smug, and self-important that I almost turn into a capitalist. For a moment. But the image on screen is brilliant. And I see how he chose the opposite direction that Dylan took. Godard believes that the artist can or must be political, because if art can free your soul shouldn't it fight the forces that try to snuff out the spirit? I don't know, but 9 out 10 times it's so obnoxious that I disagree with him even though I agree with him. But 10% of the time......

There's this one scene where the two main characters put on a play about the Vietnam conflict. They stand there face to face screaming gibberish at each other. And I thought to myself, "Two individuals in costume screaming nonsense back and forth until it becomes absurd. This is War, is it not?"

So I guess Godard wins this round.

Southland Tales -- This is our generation's Dune. With its melancholy synth score, volumes of story rushed out through voice over and in-scene dialogue, heavy handed New Testament references, and stilted absurd lines delivered with the utmost monotoned severity, Southland Tales constantly reminded me of Lynch's take on Herbert's sci-fi tale. But I kinda like Dune. There's something about its moody somnambulism that I always remember wistfully.

I'm not saying that Southland is bad. Rich Kelly seems to take the impatient chili-making approach to filmmaking -- throw a bunch of ingredients into the pot and keep playing with them hoping that the end result is...well...chili.

I am glad he made this movie and I hope that he gets financial backing to continue his unusual career. He certainly got a fine performance out of his lead. Dwayne Johnson (yes, The Rock) has a great screen presence, not just because he's totally yoked, but he's got a great voice, expressive face, and is comfortable with self-parody.

If you do see this epic Venice Beach-filmed movie-thing, let me know what your favorite scenes are. My two favorites are the dancing sequences. Yeah, dancing. It was this close to being a musical about the apocalypse. How about a sequel?

Shortbus -- I'll keep this one brief. It took more courage to make this than any of the above films. John Cameron Mitchell (the brilliant sprite who made the electric Hedwig & the Angry Inch) and his co-writing cast put everything out there. And I do mean everything. Recently European filmmakers have been putting real sex on screen more often, but these films have been negative and depressing. Mitchell wanted to throw unsimulated everything up there for us to see without making us hate being human. To me, he succeeds. Do I recommend this? Well, if the thought of one man singing the Star Spangled Banner into the arsehole of another man while in the act of love strikes you as offensive or nauseating, then this is not for you.