July 31, 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni, 1912-2007

Not yet another day, and already another lion of the cinema has left us. The news is almost too sad to bear. Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni, one of the true cinematic artists, died Monday at his home in Rome according to various Italian news media outlets. This news hits me particularly hard, as Antonioni is a filmmaker whose work, whose visual style, has influenced my own creative process and aesthetic taste immeasurably. There are many who consider the films of Antonioni cold, vague exercises. Pure examples of art house pretension. I strongly disagree. Of course, his films are works of true beauty. Blow-Up, L'Avventura, L'Eclisse, The Passenger, each of these I would rank as amongst the most hauntingly beautiful, meticulously composed films ever made, and also amongst my personal favorite films of all time.

Yet Antonioni, for all who would condemn him as a simple aesthete, truly understood, more so than any other filmmaker, human alienation. It courses, like a haunted, disembodied soul, through his films. I will write no more, as I am truly at a loss for words. I need some more time to come to terms with this. In the meantime, if you have never seen an Antonioni film, what better time than now to introduce yourself to one of the most pure artist of the film form. Antonioni, you will be deeply missed.

Obituary @ New York Times
An Analysis of Antonioni's Career (Senses Of Cinema)
Critical Analysis of Selected Film Works (Strictly Film School)

July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman, 1918-2007

Ingmar Bergman, one of the true pillars of cinema, passed away today at his home on the Swedish island of Faro. He was 89 years old. There is an extensive obituary over at the New York Times. Although Bergman certainly lived a long and full life, this is still extremely saddening news. One of the true giants, a pillar of the cinema, has left us, and I believe I am safe in proclaiming that there will never be another filmmaker quite like Ingmar Bergman. One glimpse at the Swedish auteur's filmography is enough to confirm both that statement and his indisputable genius. Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Virgin Spring, Cries and Whispers, Autumn Sonata, Fanny and Alexander, and my personal favorite, the metaphysical, enigmatic Persona, the list goes on and on. In his work, he combined an intense intellectual, formalist rigor with a passionate, probing religiosity (though he denounced religion in his own life). In the hands of a lesser talent, such a combination could have easily resulted in works dramatically stale and overwrought. In the hands of Bergman, the cinematic landscape was forever altered. Bergman will be missed dearly, but thankfully, he has left behind a tremendous body of work that can continue to be explored and discovered.

"Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls."*
-Ingmar Bergman

*as quoted in "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" by John Berger, Sight and Sound (June 1991)

Obituary @ The Washington Post
The Radical Intimacy Of Bergman (Senses Of Cinema)
An Analysis of Selected Film Works (Strictly Film School)

July 27, 2007

Haneke's Next Is Teacher's Tale

Michael Haneke, the Austrian auteur behind the brutal, confrontational Funny Games (he just recently wrapped work on the English language remake starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), and Caché, my second favorite film of 2005, has announced his next film. According to Variety, Haneke will film The White Tape or the Teacher's Tale, a film to be set just before World War I in a Northern German village. The Variety story doesn't go into any more detail regarding the film's plot, but a search of the IMDb boards sheds a bit more light on the film, describing it as being "story centered in a school in a little village around [the] beginning of World War I."

July 25, 2007

M (Lang, 1931)

Only the second Lang film I have seen (the other being Lang's equally masterful though completely different Metropolis), thus my limited knowledge of Lang's particular themes and motivations precludes me from undertaking a more extratextual analysis. In this case however, the film's 117 minutes are so dense (with symbolism, cinematic technique, aesthetics, meaning) a more hermetic analysis doesn't seem restricting in the least. Upon first viewing, I am struck by the incredibly modern sensibility that runs throughout, and the deft combination of procedural, social message and ironically least of all thriller. It is amazing that this was Lang's first sound film. A work that surely stands the test of time, and worthy of every bit of effusive praise it has received. Easily one of the greatest films of all time. A masterpiece. IMDb listing. Detailed thoughts soon...

July 19, 2007

The Trailer Compendium: Vol. 9

Two of the finest films based upon the tale of King Arthur and his knights, Robert Bresson's Lancelot du Lac and John Boorman's Excalibur exemplify one of the most pleasurable qualities of cinema, the ability for a single subject to be approached and examined in vastly divergent ways. Bresson's film is a spare and brutal dismantling of the Arthurian legend, while Boorman's film is an epic, fantastical exaltation of it. And though these two films surely occupy opposite ends of the cinematic spectrum, they are, odd as it may seem, wonderful companion pieces, illuminating both each other and the vast communicative space of cinema. Enjoy!

Lancelot du Lac (1974):

Excalibur (1981):

July 9, 2007

The Rapture (Tolkin, 1991)

I must admit I'm not quite sure what to make of Tolkin's challenging, unsettling film. Overly ambitious in intent, it straddles the line between underappreciated masterpiece and esoteric curio. But despite the schizophrenic response it engenders, it is also an undeniably singular filmic experience, at once starkly inaccessible and fascinating. As a study of religious extremism through the lens of born-again Christianity, Tolkin's film excavates powerful questions, reminding of the spiritual/corporeal contradictions and struggles evident in not just Christianity, but all religion. Ultimately, the film buckles somewhat under its immense aspirations. And though it isn't a horror film in the traditional sense, I must say that parts of The Rapture lingered with me long after viewing and scared me more than any horror film I have seen in a long time.

52 Pick-Up (Frankenheimer, 1986)

52 Pick-Up isn't quite the hidden gem I was hoping it would be. In my estimation it is more like 1/3rd of a hidden gem, which is almost worst than if it had been completely, irredeemably bad. The film starts off promisingly. Frankenheimer seems in complete control of Elmore Leonard's lurid, sleazy prose, and Jost Vacano's cinematography is captivating in its fluidity. There is a certain unsophisticated pleasure to be found in the brooding atmospherics of this infidelity cum revenge tale. Unfortunately, nearly all of the lurid ambiance and pulpy style Frankenheimer and Leonard build up in the film's opening third are squandered by the time we reach the film's ridiculous climax, and we are left with a film completely detached from its initial self, a film inhabiting that strange 80's action film netherworld where every nonsensical move must be punctuated by over the top theatricality and cartoon violence. The best thing about the film is John Glover's turn as bad guy Alan Raimy. He speaks with a wonderfully strange cadence and articulation perfectly suited to Leonard's seedy dialogue.

July 2, 2007

Edward Yang, 1947-2007

Filmmaker Edward Yang, one of Asian cinema's true auteurs and the father of New Taiwanese Cinema, died Friday at the age of 59 from colon cancer. There is a nice piece in remembrance of Yang over at the Village Voice. At the time of his death, Yang was working on an animated film budgeted at $25 million called The Wind, which would have curiously pared him with Jackie Chan. Many have noted that Yang was severely underrepresented here in the West. If one considers the gulf between talent and recognition, then he might be the most unjustly underrepresented filmmaker of all time. Though I have not had the chance to see all of Yang's films, I have seen what I believe to be his undisputed masterpiece, A Brighter Summer Day. A staggering, honest and beautiful work, an intimate epic, it is one of the best films of all time. If ever you get the chance to see it (most likely at a film festival) do not hesitate. One of the great tragedies in cinema is that this film, along with much of Yang's work, isn't widely available on any home video format. Fortunately, his final film Yi Yi, which won the Best Director prize at the 2000 Cannes film festival, is available on a fantastic DVD from Criterion. If you haven't seen this film, and even if you have, I urge you to go watch it.

Obituary @ New York Times
Obituary @ Variety Asia
A Fantastic Analysis of Yang's Work (Senses Of Cinema)
An Analysis of A Brighter Summer Day (Strictly Film School)