How would you program this year's newest, most interesting films into double features with movies of the past you saw in 2014?
Looking back over the year at what films moved and impressed us, it is clear that watching old films is a crucial part of making new films meaningful. Thus, the annual tradition of our end of year poll, which calls upon our writers to pick both a new and an old film: they were challenged to choose a new film they saw in 2014—in theatres or at a festival—and creatively pair it with an old film they also saw in 2014 to create a unique double feature.
All the contributors were given the option to write some text explaining their 2014 fantasy double feature. What's more, each writer was given the option to list more pairings, with or without explanation, as further imaginative film programming we'd be lucky to catch in that perfect world we know doesn't exist but can keep dreaming of every time we go to the movies.
Celluloid Liberation Front
The Ferroni Brigade
Glenn Heath Jr.
Ryland Walker Knight
Matthew Harrison Tedford
Hossein Eidi Zadeh
WHY: Hossein Amini’s The Two Faces of January was a modest directorial debut that saw a relatively quiet North American release this past fall. But unambitious is not the same thing as unaccomplished, and Amini’s adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name is a tightly-wound, compelling bit of retro-styled suspense. Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac are well-matched as foils, whose push-pull dynamic comes from a place that is equal parts attraction and masculine one-upmanship. Another film I watched this year whose resonances are echoed by The Two Faces of January was the underappreciated Hitchcock slow-burner Shadow of a Doubt. Like Mortensen and Isaac, the relationship between Joseph Cotton’s Charlie and his niece (Teresa Wright) is tinged with admiration, familial loyalty, taboo eroticism, suspicion, and betrayal, all spiraling into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. Both are straight-up genre filmmaking at its most satisfying.
NEW: The New Testament of Jesus Christ According to John (Joaquim Pinto, Nuno Leonel, Portugal)
OLD: Magic Mushroom Mountain Movie (Manuel de Landa, 1973)
"But we possess the wherewithal - and this is something new - for intimate, solitary film-making." —Chris Marker in 1996
Pinto and Leonel's incidental, light-chasing gaze, their barring of images for long periods of total blackness - echoing the quintessential religious method of sanctification - and the film's intimations of a small-c catholicism struggling with the irreconcilability of divinity and history, make The New Testament of Jesus Christ According to John my pick for the most Modern film of the year. Pinto and Leonel, with the help of a few friends all sitting together on a porch, have created something akin to a concert film, whose dialectical subjects just happen to be the urtext of Western thought and the reflective intimacy of the film's production. De Landa's film, a collection of wordless travel sketches intermixed with popular Mexican songs and the sounds of the streets in Oaxaca—shot and recorded in the mid-70s—suggests that having the wherewithal to make personal movies isn't as new as we might think. The idea and the technology were there from the very beginning, so that the man with a movie camera encompasses a whole sub-section of cinema history. What is new is that these smaller-scale productions are in some ways becoming the norm as opposed to experimental or ethnographic outliers. There is the chance, as Marker seemed to believe, that this will free up a space for another kind of cinema, where one is "in communion with oneself, the way a painter works or a writer." But there is also the risk that what becomes ours becomes ours alone. Or, in the words of the Gospel: "He came into his own, but his own received him not."
Horse Money (Pedro Costa, Portugal) + The Ferguson Riots of the United States of America, 2014
"Those soldiers gave you a nice beating," says one of Ventura's 'nephews' in one of the earliest scenes of Horse Money. The film itself, an excursion between light and darkness, past and present, frequently finds itself chronicling abuses of authority, injustice via institutions, and furthermore towards minority figures. We never see the faces of the soldiers. Maybe that's because soldiers are soldiers, fascist or revolutionary, they all mean the same and they all commit the same acts, regardless of opposing intentions. Furthermore, the acts are towards a race, cheated and exploited for years. Watch how the soldiers take Ventura's knife in the woods (essentially disenfranchising him) and seconds later, take the ring on his finger as well. It's been said that the film's final shot, Ventura looking at a panel of his knives as his feet reflect onto them, is a sort of metaphor for "history and ancient history, and the feeling it will repeat again and again today." Perhaps this is true, and indeed the movie is constantly excusing itself from ever being labeled past or present. In this context however (and in my experience of the movie),it isn't a statement, nor a question, nor a metaphor. It is a call to arms. "Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules."
Welcome To New York (Abel Ferrara, USA) + The Sun Shines Bright (John Ford, 1953)
The United States abolished slavery in the 1860s, but in Ford's 1953 film, the blacks are still separate from white society, segregated into a lower social class, condescended to and abused as though they were material and not living. In Ferrara's 2014 film, the blacks are still separate from white society, segregated into a lower social class, condescended to and abused as though they were material and not living.
Both Wendy and Lucy and Lucy efficiently (under 90min each) offer intimate stories of loneliness in the face of economic woe. Reichardt’s Wendy is caught in the degenerative cycle of the American non-rich; unable to scale the walls of the poverty pit without shedding the weight of the bitch she loves most. Besson’s Lucy, an enslaved drug mule abroad, faces a larger Korean attack than Sony. Both directors take great pains to bring us inside their heroines’ worlds—both actresses convince us it's a place we’d rather not be.
WHY: In Bye, Bye Monkey Ferreri imagined the ambiguous end of masculinity sculpted against the phallocratic desolation of the New York skyline. Depardieu was raped by a troupe of feminist performers and played the surrogate mother of King Kong's spawn. In Ferrara's Welcome to New York he sexually assaults an African maid, in what is the most accurate allegory of the International Monetary Fund's activities, and gets away with it. If Ferreri had diagnosed the twilight of machism, Ferrara reminds us that patriarchal prepotence, despite its grotesque body and manners, has not only thrived, but has also managed to metabolize femininity (the IMF head is now a woman, yet the criminal organization she presides over remains as rape-prone as ever).
NEW: Citizenfour (Laura Poitras, Germany/USA)
OLD: Safeguarding Military Information (Preston Sturges, 1941)
WHY: I’ll probably remember my 2014 as beginning with an e-mail I received while walking back to my seat after a trip to the restroom during a screening of Alain Resnais’ Je t’aime, je t’aime at Film Forum, late one more freezing evening, February 19th. As I read it over and again, a kōan, I kept right on walking, back east across Manhattan and the river and, six weeks later, into the smaller screening room in the back of Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater for a program of Detroit artist Joseph Bernard’s Super 8 films. Six hours earlier I’d sat in a different seat in the same theater and watched a digital tape of Anne Charlotte Robertson’s own Super 8 film, Apologies—the intended original print was either lost or damaged and we were lucky that the Harvard Film Archive had been able to provide this copy, Steve Anker informed us, not exactly apologizing—a screening which led directly to my becoming a regular smoker of American Spirits for the next six months. (Robertson died of lung cancer on September 15, 2012.) Apologies and the best of Joseph Bernard’s films, Film for Untitled Viewer, share at least one point beyond their medium: both are works about their audiences. Robertson spends seventeen minutes apologizing to a camera which stands for everyone, including you, a performance from a time when irony wasn’t quite so exhausted which gropes dialectically (“I apologize to the starving children in the world; I spent the money on cigarettes instead. I apologize to the man who loves me, for losing faith in him, that he loves me. And I’m sorry that my apologies don’t seem sincere. I’m sorry that I say I’m sorry all the time. I’m sorry!”) toward precise descriptions of both the social mechanics of apology and the psychological situation of one woman. In either case, for this to work at all, you have to be at least as game as the camera, to be up for the challenge of letting yourself really be apologized to, which is another way of saying that you have to watch and listen at once with total presence and total selflessness—a strange sort of spiritual film. No less concerned with an idea of the spiritual, but a poet to Robertson’s analyst, Bernard figures the structural film as lyric, one that sings the emotional bounds of reflexivity in a perfect object betraying no distance between form and content. As such, it would be silly to talk about it as a film with an inside and an outside, depths and a surface: it’s a real experiment, a total rejection of every narrative advance that’s defined the American cinema: it’s absolutely anti-immersive (or, it’s no more or less immersive than the geometry invoked by its graph-paper backgrounds). You will be always be apart from it, which means that you will always be apart from it, forever aware of having come into contact with a film that, for once, genuinely acknowledges you as you, as opposed to simply another consciousness waiting to be dissolved for some part of a few hours at the market rate. Four months later, five hundred miles from Ann Arbor, nearly a thousand from Brooklyn, and some distance from wherever you are, America itself started to dissolve at the market rate when Officer Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown on the afternoon of August 9th. 23 days earlier, Daniel Pantaleo of the NYPD had murdered Eric Garner on a Staten Island sidewalk. You know all of this; I don’t need to tell you again. You know about the injustice and the rhetoric and the kangaroo courts and the decisions not to indict; you know the other names—Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Kajieme Powell, there are more; you know the forcefulness and the inspiration of the protests, the biggest, and the bulk, of them arranged by black women; you know the awful comedy of watching the state splinter into an ever-more paranoid police force and a gaggle of hopeless politicians forever stuck hedging or angling, ceaselessly at work on the Great American Topiary. You know that there have been no apologies, and no acknowledgments. You know that the police, happy to slap on a body camera, care only to be a passive audience to their own brutalities, patiently waiting to be dissolved into a law that absolves them of any responsibility to those for whom they are sworn to perform. And so against all of this, I’ll offer something you might not know: Khalik Allah’s video Field Niggas, which, like D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, is spiritual art for today. By “spiritual art” I mean work which examines, and celebrates, bodies as faces of being, sites of animation. Work which stands in defiance to those positionings of black bodies as only ever guilty (Brown and Garner’s dead bodies were both “justified” by petty crimes involving tobacco products) or invisible (Brown and Garner’s dead bodies were irrelevant in the face of the machinations of sham courts). Allah achieves this by means nearly the opposite of Bernard’s: he aims for an almost total immersion into some nights up on 125th & Lex, “out here.” But though he spends an hour showing, often in extreme and extended close-up, the sort of faces from which so many New Yorkers—even the most well meaning of us—tend to turn our eyes, this immersion necessarily remains incomplete, on one hand because of the practical gesture of severing voices from bodies (thus allowing for honest testimony by striking any realism from the video, since in this case, reality only means culpability, another hassle for those who already have enough to deal with) and on the other, because of the aesthetic gesture of photographing subjects in and out of a stylized darkness fulfilling everything that the phrase “American Pedro Costa” might promise, for better or worse. Bodies are sketched as they choose to exist, independently of their narration, whether internal or external. So, when confronted with an empathy born of guilt or the condescension and repulsion of respectability politics or open racial hatred or whatever else the self-conscious downtown viewer of art about the poor might bring into an audience, they don’t dissolve into these readymade narratives, they obtain, hard and self-determined and alive, if sometimes just barely. And you will have to make the choice of whether or not to be an honest witness.
NEW: Boyhood (Richard Linklater, USA)
OLD: The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
WHY: Two films that build on the simplest of cores in the most complex of ways, expanding middle class Texas town coming-of-age stories into profound ruminations on time and consciousness.
NEW: Gone Girl (David Fincher, USA)
OLD: Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992)
WHY: Great American satires that explore the dynamics between lovers and the deception / resignation / rules therein ruled by twisted femme fatales who toy with their boys to gruesome ends. Bonus to Fincher for extending the film’s discourse on the lies that make up our lives to a national scale / media critique that Verhoeven would’ve taken cynical delight in exploring himself.
NEW: Jersey Boys (Clint Eastwood, USA)
OLD: Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)
WHY: Experimental journeys through time and memory.
NEW: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 (Johnnie To, Hong Kong/China)
OLD: Golden Eighties (Chantal Akerman, 1986)
WHY: Late Capitalist romance as competitive commercialism, one with a shopping mall and one with the stock market.
WHY: Two sixteen-millimeter marvels made a half century apart, manifest as similarly epistemological considerations of fixed perspective and physical inertia, yet situated respectively at either end of the temporal spectrum. Hamlyn’s time-lapse short, condensing 48-hours of activity atop Detroit’s General Motors tower into a five-minute rush of atmospheric and iconographic detail, pits the pitiless progression of corporate America against a skyline of environmental phenomena, the building’s glass-paneled facade inadvertently reflecting an era of accelerated data consumption and industrial decline in the process. Warhol’s magnum opus, meanwhile, protracts the proceedings: Eight-plus hours of footage of the Empire State Building, shot from dusk until 3am the following morning and intended to be projected at silent speed, pushing the properties and parameters of observational cinema toward a plane of ever-present stasis. Together the pair formulate a kind of durational taxonomy of elemental urban evolution, calling to mind the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Joan and Ida: two beautiful, conflicted Polish nuns born three hundred years apart. Mother Joan of the Angels was screened at Lincoln Center in January as part of the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series and remains probably the best film I saw all year. And while I was not one of those who fully swooned over Ida, the two films would make a terrific double bill, not least because Ida is set at almost exactly the time that Mother Joan was released, in 1961 or 62. One can imagine Ida’s aunt Wanda dragging her to a screening of Mother Joan—a film about a convent of possessed nuns in seventeenth century Poland—to shake her niece out of her complacency and freak her out a little. My love of Mother Joan may have contributed to my slight disappointment with Ida: a small, concise, contemplative short story of a film which somehow became the arthouse juggernaut of the year. Where Mother Joan of the Angels is wild and strange and unsettling, Ida is calm, precise, and reassuring, but never as austere or as challenging as I wanted it to be. Pavel Pawlikowski has made much of how his film was deliberately shot in the style of the films he grew up with in Poland: shot in 1:1.33 and in gorgeous high-contrast black and white as is Kawalerowicz’s film. And although there seems to be something a little too studied about Ida (all those perfectly off-center compositions) compared to the edgier '60s Polish masterpieces that inspired it, a double-bill of these films would be, if nothing else, a master-class in black and white cinematography. Mother Joan just had better posters.
WHY: In one, a vague sense of conspiratorial intrigue unspools over a handful of leftward-rightward tracking shots, done with precision. In the other, bouquets of plastic (Technicolor petals blossoming against a pitch-black space) lead a thirteen-minute song-and-dance phantasmagoria of heavy machinery to a haunted dead end. Resnais, in a move that prophesies, if not outright answers, Pierre Arditi’s inexplicable return to life in Love Unto Death, debunks any claims to the miraculous with such unblemished gusto that it’s nearly impossible to take Raymond Queneau’s narration, spoken in alexandrines over a Henze-Webern-Boulez number by Pierre Barbaud, without responding to its mock-heroic pall. Bryant and Molzan have made something, in its peculiar, ghostly etiquette, that plays like a process film, part paranormal investigation, part detective hunt. Both films commit to a meticulous, repetitive description of events: in Styrène, in images of melding and molding and mixing; in Plasma, in the deliberateness of its camera movements and cutting style, and above all in its performers, who in their wooden, plodding declarations almost always give the impression of having spoken ten times over.
Looking back through my screening log this year I was surprised how few of the art films I saw at the New York Film Festival moved me and how the movies I enjoyed the most instead were commercial entertainments like the Liam Neeson vehicle Non-Stop. Perhaps the dawning realization that I am finally and irrevocably middle aged has inspired in me once again to embrace the cinema’s greatest asset: its capacity to manifest the impossibly fantastical dreams of a child. My favorite cinematic memory of the year was the image of the vengeful bonobo Koba shooting a gun while riding a horse. If I had seen that when I was seven, I think my heart would have stopped beating out of pure joy. Imagine! Talking monkeys killing human beings! Similarly, one of my great discoveries this year was Maurice Tourneur’s The Blue Bird (1918), based on the Maeterlinck play, about two children named Tyltyl and Mytyl who travel in their sleep to a magical kingdom with a fairy named Bérylune to discover the secret to happiness. I saw this when I was forty three and the image of the boy in the Palace of Night made me almost cry with delight.
A new face is an advantage
NEW: Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2014), co-written by Harun Farocki
OLD: Das doppelte Gesicht: Peter Lorre (Harun Farocki, 1984) + Der Verlorene (Peter Lorre, 1951)
BONUS: The Face behind the Mask (Robert Florey, 1941)
Phoenix is a fortunately unfaithful adaptation of a French noir novel Le Retour des cendres, also adapted in 1965 under the literal title Return from the Ashes by Julius J. Epstein for director John Lee Thompson. The French novel's context for the return of a disfigured survivor (i.e. a country coming out of a collaborationist regime and anti-semitic laws and measures preceding the Germans' demands, and a post-war myth of "all-resisting France") has become 1945 Berlin, the core set for a meditation upon the way Europe was (re)built. Identity as history, a metaphor of faces and masks.
Apart from the obvious Vertigo references, many quoted Franju's Eyes without a Face. As the bandage-wrapped-face-story in European cinema? Well, Petzold did not show the film to his team, but he did show them Peter Lorre's only film as director, Der Verlorene. And certainly did Farocki tell them of The Face behind the Mask, the story of a poor immigrant in New York, whose face is burnt in the fire of his cheap hotel, and who turns to organized crime in order to afford surgery. His face cannot be reconstructed, so he has to wear a mask made from his passport photo. In his 1984 documentary Das doppelte Gesicht, Farocki studied and discussed Peter Lorre as a "doubled face". Florey's The Face behind the Mask and Der Verlorene open and close the reflection, as a tragedy of masks.
In Petzold's film, where everyone is a ghost and life has deserted Germany, main character Nelly's old self - a staged return of the survivor "exactly as she was" - seems to dissolve when she stops playing along with the illusion of the mask, leaving her husband to nothingness, and the ordinary Germans to their limbo, ghosts about whom the husband said: "No-one will ask, no-one will stare." In the final shot of the film, Nelly's figure blurs into the light of a summer afternoon. The woman who wanted to act and live "as if", has disappeared. Maybe another Nelly is born, but the film doesn't really tell.
In the commentary of his documentary, Farocki called Peter Lorre's character in Der Verlorene "a man who cannot die and has to kill." He also mentioned that the French title of Fritz Lang's M in French (Le Maudit) could be translated in German as "der Verlorene" (the lost one). Lorre's character has participated in the Nazi mass murder plans and is a serial killer (a Totmacher, a death-maker). The final decision to kill his Gestapo handler and disappear in suicide come to him because he is recognized by his unrepentant handler, a man who knows how to manage a future for himself, and because he has to relive (face) the truth. No new identity is allowed to the tormenters and executioners.
Petzold stages a ruined Berlin, a cabaret and its blood-red lights, a husband with a guilty past and a purpose for the future (money), a subtle play of "knowing / not wanting to know", and the changing face of actress Nina Hoss going from night to day, from whisper to song ("Speak low"), from mask to face. But what is that light made of? What is a reconstruction built upon not seeing and not asking? Harun Farocki's films have often questioned vision, visibility, the capacity to see, the desire not to see, faces and masks. The answers belong to the viewer. As in Phoenix.
WHY: Critics said that you should walk into David Fincher's latest film knowing as little as possible, so the surprises could hit you fresh. And Gone Girl is a surprise, but not for the reasons I expected: as the first half pivoted into the second, it occurred to me that despite the gore, the creepiness, and the twitchy mood music, this is essentially a screwball comedy. How else to explain Tyler Perry as an alpha-lawyer? Neil Patrick Harris as a sexual jailor? The happy suspicion that it's all a sick joke, and that Ben Affleck's blankness is being exaggerated for laughs? The basic arc of the movie—a married couple loses their spark, becomes antagonistic, plays a cat-and-mouse game through increasingly preposterous twists, and ends up discovering what bound them together in the first place—is practically the same as the marriage rom-coms of the 30s and 40s. It's like an old Hepburn-Tracy movie if Katherine Hepburn ended up drenched in her victim's blood, and already I can tell you're intrigued.
So while critics also said that David Fincher was a natural choice for the material, I found myself wishing to see what an explicit comic like Preston Sturges would have done. Few directors in Hollywood history could so astutely critique the institution of marriage while still fulfilling the requirements of commercial entertainment, namely because, for Sturges, irony and sweetness could hold hands without one diminishing the other. Just about any Sturges would do—Rosamund Pike's backstory as the inspiration for a series of children's books is no less fanciful than Henry Fonda as the heir to an ale fortune in The Lady Eve. But in particular I'd like to see Gone Girl paired with The Palm Beach Story, Sturges's most sustained marriage chase, where Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea (blanker than Ben Affleck ever was, and to similar effect) part and unite in defiance of marital expectations. The chief difference isn't the violence or the police procedural, but the endings. In a Sturges film, the giddy pleasure of (re)falling in love is something genuinely irresistible; the man was cynical about marriage, but it didn't stop him from having four of them. Fincher, one of current American cinema's archest misanthropes, brings his most comical film to a more unsettling conclusion: that union holds, tenuously, because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.
What's a filmmaker with an ambitious imagination and a small budget to do? One answer is find a location. Alonso and Denis both use edge-of-the-world, too-strange-to-exist landscapes for maximum effect: as total expanses, flat, textured, alien, a nexus of inner and outer space where psychodramas can play out in the strangest ways. There's nothing there except for You and Them.
A pair of vaguely pervy sci-fi/horror nightmares with a similar sense of atmosphere, but what interests me most about this pairing is their approach to narrative. Both have just enough plot material to fill a short story, but by telling it visually—words are nearly absent in Skin, and overwhelmed in Look—they tap into something archetypal, and all the more powerful for making you piece it together yourself.
Two films where Old World elegance and whimsy get eclipsed by war: WWI for Fellini, and WWII (or some version of it) for Anderson. But more importantly, both are visions of deep nostalgia for a time period that their creators weren't even alive for. And while the two movies can fall into a delicate waltz, with their wit and fakery yielding immense pleasure, Anderson's film is the more ambitious and thus the more contradictory. Hotel is his most energetic comedy (and his biggest box office hit), but more than ever he feels like a tourist.
- Kijkjes in de Dierentuin [unfinished; first montage] (1936; Emiel van Moerkerken) + Im Keller (2014; Ulrich Seidl)
- Opyty po oživleniju organizma (1940; David Jašin) + En duve satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron (2014; Roy Andersson)
- 2 Everything 2 Terrible II – Tokyo Drift (2010; Everything Is Terrible!) + Reality (2014; Quentin Dupieux)
-[Joan Crawford Home Movies Compilation] (1930s/40s) + Maps to the Stars (2014; David Cronenberg)
- Hunting Deer and (1953) + Haftanlage 4614 (2014; Jan Soldat)
- L'occhio selvaggio (1967; Paolo Cavara) + Maʾa l-fiḍḍā (2014; UsāmaMuḥammad& Wi’ām Sīmāf Badraḫan)
- La guerra d'Italia a 3000 metri sull'Adamello (1916; Luca Comerio) + Torneranno i prati (2014; Ermanno Olmi)
- Place du Gouvernement (Alger) (1897; André Milhès) + la guerre d'Algérie! (2014; Jean-Marie Straub)
- German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (1945/2014; Ministry of Information) + Phoenix (2014; Christian Petzold)
- Ned med vaabnene (1914; Holger-Madsen)+ Nabat (2014; Elçin Musaoğlu)
- El árbol de Guernica (1975; Fernando Arrabal) + Timbuktu (2014; Abderrahmane Sissako)
- Diabeł (1972/88; Andrzej Zuławski) + Trudno byt’ bogom (2013; Aleksej German)
- Naḥla (1979; Farūq Belūfa) + Ṯawra Zanǧ (2013; Tāriq Taqīya)
- Saeng ŭi hŭnjŏk (1989; Cho Kyŏngsun) + Songs From the North (2014; Yu Sunmi)
- United Red Army. The Young Man Was: Part 1 (2012; Na ͑ îm Mohaiyemen) + Afsan's Long Day (The Young Man Was, Part 2) (2014; Na ͑ îm Mohaiyemen)
- Sünde mit Rabatt (1968; Rudolf Lubowski) + Die reichen Leichen. Ein Starnbergkrimi (Dominik Graf)
- Das Tagebuch des Verführers (1978; Michael Hild) + Die geliebten Schwestern (2014; Dominik Graf)
- Mannen från Mallorca (1984; Bo Widerberg) + Polizeiruf 110: Smoke On the Water (2014; Dominik Graf)
- Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 (1990; Brian Yuzna) + Ich seh Ich seh (2014; Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala)
- Depression (Focus Please) (1981; Anne Charlotte Robertson) + Akmeņi manās kabatās (2014; Signe Baumane)
- Through the Looking Glass (Jonas Middleton, 1976) + Abschied (2014; Ludwig Wüst)
- Hříšná krev (1929; Victor Trivas) + Do svidanija, Mama (2013; Svetlana Proskurina)
- Posleslovie (1982; Marlen Chuciev) + Clouds of Sils Maria (2014; Olivier Assayas)
- Petr Martynovič i gody bol‘šoj žizni (1974; Nikita Orlov) + Sosialismi (2014; Peter von Bagh)
NEW: A Million Miles Away (Jennifer Reeder, USA)
Seeing a movie in a public setting has become a once a year thing for this particular hermit. So A Million Miles Away gets this spot simply by sneaking up on me a second time at a closet-sized art gallery a couple months ago. Once I got orientated, knee-jerk skepticism (“what’s with the cutesy hearts and $$’s in the subtitles?”) gave way to familiarity (“Wait I know this. Where do I know this?”) to simultaneously joining Crystal’s plea to not stop the song.
OLD: Sodom (Luther Price, 1989)
An indestructible force of nature that compels you to dismantle it in hopes of discovering the source of its power.
Tourist destinations play host to the end of the world, heroes preserve bloodlines, despots dispatch the poor, warriors become omniscient, swords defy gravity, the Earth explodes, formality begets treachery, mise-en-scene deepens and consumes, emperors crumble, Gods retaliate, and humans challenge the limits of control. Both King Hu and Paul W.S. Anderson are crazed and kinetic auteurs unafraid of failure, in love with love, dedicated to the emotion of motion, and excited by the genuine anticipation of humans under attack. Their cinema contains the key to rebirth. Arenas may fall or implode, statues and tombs may tumble, but the imprint of action and love provides a lasting mark that leads us to transcendent dramatic spectacle, free will, and our last moments together. Oh, and “when you die the blow will come from the front.” New: Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium, France, Italy) Old: Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984) Why: Work and play, what a melodic feat, together forever, my sweet.
Because of Hollywood's unrivaled reign over our fantasy, every crime, every catastrophy and crisis seems to be destined to become entertainment. In that sense, the macabre "film" produced by the Sony hackers—with generous help from the media and a worldwide audience of gossip hungry consumers—has become the movie event of the season. I would suggest a pairing with Le corbeau, Henri-Georges Clouzot's bitter 1943 noir, made under German occupation, which convincingly shows how denunciation—even when accurate—destroys the social fabric of a community. Quite in the same faishon of what we saw the last couple of weeks, the truth telling anonymous here is initially welcomed by many, as a distraction from drab routines, or because they hope to profit from the change the scandal will inevitable bring; but letter after letter, it becomes clear that truth without the (moral) concept of visibility is terror...
WHY: "Self-portrait" is probably too reductive an interpretation for either Fassbinder's portrayal of the poet in Schlöndorff's adaptation of Brecht's play (originally written in 1918 and revised again and again through 1955) or Leigh's spotty account of the last three decades in the life of Britain's "painter of light." Both the Turner Leigh and the great Timothy Spall have created and Fassbinder's Baal are first seen out in the fields—alone. And Baal sings:
Als im weißen Mutterschoße aufwuchs Baal
War der Himmel schon so groß und still und fahl
Jung und nackt und ungeheuer wundersam
Wie ihn Baal dann liebte, als Baal kam.
As Baal grew in the white womb of his mother
The sky was already so big and still and pale
Young and naked and terribly wondrous
How Baal loved it then, when Baal came.
The word that leaps out here is "ungeheuer"—an adjective and a noun that conjures in the mind a sort of magnificent monster. Baal will eat and drink and fuck and write—even kill—to the very end, which, of course, comes early. The declaration "I can sleep when I'm dead" is often attributed to Fassbinder and, while he may not have said it first, it's most definitely his. Turner lived to the ripe old age of 76, no small feat in the mid-19th century. His moments out in the fields are spent gazing skyward and ignoring people, which at first seems odd if we're going to run with the idea that there's at least a little Mike Leigh in his J.M.W. Turner. Given his famous working methods, we assume that people—characters—are the cornerstones of Leigh's films. Turning poor John Ruskin into his whipping boy, though, Leigh suggests that even his greatest champions can get an artist all wrong. The collaboration with cinematographer Dick Pope is, at least in the case of Mr. Turner, as vital as the one with Spall. "The sun is God!”
NEW: Boyhood (Richard Linklater, USA)
OLD: Tree of Knowledge (Nils Malmros, 1981)
On Friday I stumbled upon a YouTube video of someone I knew for a few days in 1987. Watching that one-minute clip was a very Linklater-y experience for me—something akin to the cut from Celine at 23 to Celine at 32 in the opening moments of Before Sunset. Twenty-seven years were elided in a fascinating flash of memory, dream, and image. Which is, of course, the primary appeal of Boyhood. Although it’s not among my ten favorite films of the year, Boyhood has one hell of a closing shot. Mason is sitting on a rocky hillside with a girl he’s just met—a girl he wants to kiss, a girl who wants to be kissed—but Linklater leaves them (and the audience) suspended there for several seconds, meditating on and enjoying their anticipation, which is the lynchpin, I think, of our great coming-of-age stories. It’s certainly one key to the films of Danish director Nils Malmros, who was given a much deserved, career-wrapping retrospective at Rotterdam this year. (The retro was, for me, the film event of 2014.) Like nearly all of his work, Tree of Knowledge is barely-fictionalized autobiography. The director’s provincial home town of Arhus is perhaps the closest cinematic equivalent to Philip Roth’s Newark, a site of obsessive and epic-making curiosity for the artist. Here he returns to 1953, when he and his friends had their first slow dances and tormented a classmate for no good reason. Malmros shot the film over two years, catching in time-lapse the effects of puberty on his amateur cast. His gift as a filmmaker is an innate sense of the sublimity of adolescence, the simultaneous beauty, wonder, abjection, and terror of it.
NEW: Hard to Be a God (Aleksey German, Russia) [read more] + OLD: Barabbas (Richard Fleischer, 1961)
It's hard to be a human, too.
NEW: Pompeii (Paul W.S. Anderson, USA) + Twelve Tales Told (Johann Lurf, Austria) [read more] + OLD: 33 Yo-Yo Tricks (P. White, 1976)
Structural spectacle and no doubt a blast to watch.
NEW: Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan) + OLD: Commercials for d-c-fix and INKU GF-Kante (Anonymous [Peter Kubelka], 1963/65)
Slow and fast, rigid form; interior freedom in one, frantically dead still lives in the other.
NEW: Jodie Mack's cinematic rock concert: New Fancy Foils, Undertone Overture, Dusty Stacks of Mom: The Poster Project, Glistening Thrillss [watch here] Let Your Light Shine (USA) [read more] + OLD: Point Source (Tony Hill, 1973) [read more]
Making the cinema theatre come alive...and being transported into the 1970s.
A cinema's history of leftist dreams, and a leftist dream realized.
NEW: Sorrow and Joy (Nils Malmros, Denmark) [read more] + OLD: Her Sister's Secret (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1946)
Family and the ties that bind and unbind those we love.
An intuitive choice, really; something about each's segmentation of its content, the constraint and the flowing expression within and between.
NEW: Avraham (Nathaniel Dorsky, USA) [read more] + OLD: Le Ciel est à vous (Jean Grémillon, 1944)
I think these two filmmakers would have liked each other.
NEW: La guerre d'Algerie! (Jean-Marie Straub, France) + OLD: The Naked Dawn (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1955)
Threadbare voluptousness, pain and pointedness.
NEW: Gone Girl (David Fincher, USA) [read more] + OLD: The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928) + Doctors' Wives (Frank Borzage, 1931)
Love, work, and marriage. Extra bonus if viewed with Eyes Wide Shut.
More structrualist play, this time with the city as playground.
NEW: Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 (Johnnie To, Hong Kong/China) + OLD: How to Live in the German Federal Republic (Harun Farocki, 1990) [read more]
Aside from featuring two of the most obsessive characters in film history whose quest for keeping the show going on gives a new dimension to American Madness, they’re both narrated in the way bodies move in closed spaces, where work space continuously metamorphoses into stage and performance space. One can effortlessly be charmed in their sheer lunacy, their staccato choreography of bodies, and in the cocaine/booze eyes and stiff jaws of their leading stars. If it takes 4 ½ hours to endure this unapologetic double bill, probably another 4 ½ days is needed to digest it, recuperate from its orgy of greed, and come to realize that it was some horrible thing to see.
NEW: Winter’s Tale (Akiva Goldsman, 2014)
OLD: A Tale of Winter (Eric Rohmer, 1992)
Here’s how to get our hopes up, and down, by invoking Shakespeare, and a fine lesson on the basic differences between grace and crudeness. For the Bard, Time was a character, and both of these films could be said to involve temporally challenged romances. The older would have to be screened second, in part as an apology for the newer.
NEW: Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2014)
OLD: Beverly Hills Cop (Martin Brest, 1984)
An oblique comment on current American events, this double bill posits the vintage Bruckheimer-Simpson blockbuster and the modern art-house apotheosis as two aspects of a single nostalgic fantasy: In an exotic if debased wider world, Detroit remains our source of transcendent cool. Is it really so far to travel from synthy Faltermeyer earworms to fuzz-rock dirges by in-house Jarmusch band Sqürl?
NEW: Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)
OLD: Torn Curtain (Alfred Hitchcock, 1966)
Much of the discourse surrounding Fincher’s new film involved comparisons to the work of Hitchcock. While many of these observations identified familiar, well-worn templates—the icy blonde, the wrong man—there is a more specific kinship between Gone Girl and Torn Curtain. In both of these films, there is a fraught triangular relationship between a man, a woman, and the media. Both works contain pivotal scenes in which the man (Paul Newman in Torn Curtain, Ben Affleck in Gone Girl) must address a flood of journalists and cameramen while the image of his lover—Julie Andrews watching from afar in Curtain, a poster-sized Rosamund Pike dominating the stage in Girl—eats away at him. Hitchcock’s film becomes more conventional in its second half, but the way the Newman-Andrews relationship is portrayed in the beginning is, like the marriage in Fincher’s film, full of bitterness and strain, with secrets and lies shredding the bond that once existed between these people. In their most revealing moments, these two films confront the crippling fear of standing in a room with someone and having absolutely no idea what they’re thinking.
NEW: Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013) + OLD: The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold, 1957)
Large spiders and masculinity crises.
NEW: A Walk Among the Tombstones (Scott Frank, 2014) + OLD: Devil in a Blue Dress (Carl Franklin, 1995)
Two fantastic noir throwbacks—each one starring a character from a series-based novel—that deserve a sequel.
NEW: The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014) + OLD: Daddy Longlegs (Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, 2009)
Two stressed-out, end-of-their-rope parents—a widowed mother in Kent’s film, a disheveled dad in the Safdies’ film—feed sedatives to their children.
NEW: Heaven Knows What (Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie, 2014) + OLD: Roger Dodger (Dylan Kidd, 2002)
Astonishing uses of the long lens to capture the rush of action on Manhattan streets.
NEW: Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry, 2014) + OLD: We Won’t Grow Old Together (Maurice Pialat, 1972)
Two brutal films about artists—an author in Perry’s film, a director in Pialat’s film—that exhibit little-to-no interest in their protagonists’ creative process.
NEW: Actress (Robert Greene, 2014) + OLD: Fedora (Billy Wilder, 1978) + OLD: Seconds (John Frankenheimer, 1966)
How much can you trust a face?
NEW: Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, 2014) + OLD: Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945)
In his BFI monograph on Ulmer’s treasured B-movie, Noah Isenberg writes of “the inhospitable nature of the desert” and “the sheer incompatibility between Al [the main character] and his hostile environs.” This is the same struggle that Viggo Mortensen faces in Alonso’s daunting film.
NEW: The Mend (John Magary, 2014) + OLD: The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976)
Apartments as living, breathing entities.
NEW: Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013) + OLD: Claire Dolan (Lodge Kerrigan, 1998)
Two studies of female “prostitutes” consumed by overwhelming alienation.
NEW: Nymphomaniac (Lars von Trier, 2013) + OLD: Anita: Swedish Nymphet (Torgny Wickman, 1973)
Two decades-apart versions of Stellan Skarsgård—he was 22 when Wickman’s film premiered; he’s 63 now—counsel a woman regarding her sexual compulsions.
Curiosity begets compassion, all in widescreen, making the human a landscape to behold and, over time, interrogate. One’s a literal journey across country seemingly interminable (and prone to narrative eddies); the other an excavation, where words both enact and bridge distances between people inherently foreign to one another. Both are about acknowledgement, and the pain intrinsic to that process, a process of making a self known not strictly to another but to its self, of finding on a map or in the world (the same? not really) that which one might respond to with, “This is me.” Sympathy lies with the Indians here, a group routinely mocked and reified by film history, across Western landscapes, where both of these films take place (though Desplechin’s unfolds more North and East than Ford’s film), to better situate their unmoored status in the America they once knew to be home regardless of the white man, his army, and the unseen boundaries he has built around life. However, neither film is necessarily about transcendence. That just happens to be the American Dream.
NEW: Horse Money (Pedro Costa, Portugal) + OLD: City of Pirates (Raúl Ruiz, 1983)
NEW: The Blue Room (Mathieu Amalric, France) + OLD: Landru (Claude Chabrol, 1963)
NEW: Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara, USA) + OLD: The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis, 1960)
NEW: Tip Top (Serge Bozon, France/Belgium) + OLD: The Ladykillers (Alexander MacKendrick, 1955)
NEW: Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea/Czech Republic/USA/France) + OLD: Streets of Fire (Walter Hill, 1984)
NEW: Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, USA) + OLD: Electra Glide in Blue (James William Guercio, 1973)
NEW: Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, USA)
OLD: The Larry Sanders Show “Hank’s Divorce” (S3E13, 1994, written by Paul Simms, directed by Todd Holland)
Behind the curtain, everybody’s an asshole. But Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor, a true king) is one of my favorite characters ever because his fragility can be volatile, but it’s most often directed at himself, because he’s that myopic. Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton, a true manic) does it to himself as well but his split is literalized in the Birdman suit, which is inventive, and a way to keep the always-moving (without-a-cut) images more or less subjective to him, in his brain. The Larry Sanders Show is much more fascinated by appearances, false and true, and given form by cutting between the show in the show and the show that houses them both; it’s a blend of two styles particular to television, and amplified in this episode by the fact that they’re producing a clip show, a mnemonic for the audience, to remember the highlights. Because who wants to remember the lows? Especially in entertainment. Funny thing about both movies is they insist on letting real life’s lows bleed onto the stages on display.
NEW: Dusty Stacks of Mom (Jodie Mack, 2013) + OLD: The Company (Robert Altman, 2003) + NEW: Glistening Thrills (Jodie Mack, 2013)
NEW: Hit 2 Pass (Kurt Walker, 2014) + OLD: Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984)
NEW: Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman, USA) + OLD: Je t’aime, je t’aime (Alain Resnais, 1968)
NEW: Phoenix (Christian Petzold, Germany)
OLD: Europe ’51 (Roberto Rossellini, Italy)
Two women, two traumas, two worlds no longer the same. One says she can no longer stand it, the other that she no longer exists. What is it we do when the old world has spun off its axis? Who do we become and why? How does this world of harshness, duplicity and hypocrisy make us into who we are? We can try and change it or we can see it as a stage: in artificiality there lies blissful truth, an actress always sticks out from her surroundings. Either way, we must throw off old ideas, old habits and old expectations, they are of no use anymore. The new is coming, it’s just round the corner, you can even hear it: a battered singing voice growing stronger with every measure; sun streaming through a barred window, a spontaneous outpouring of love.
A conflation of nations, or an collection of multitudes, realizations and insights, celebrations and pillaging. Hallucinogens. Ichikawa's slo-mo and close ups rendering a variety of abstractions, beautiful, painful, mini-narratives clustered in Olympic events. The blazing red sun rises. And we have Bay, like Ichikawa, equally immersed in technique, or tech, of the time. The Autobots land in Hong Kong, the Chinese airforce gets their hero shot. In both you can find just as much geopolitics as athletics or CGI robots, with a difference in outcome: Tokyo Olympiad finds through sports a beautiful humanity and hopefulness, while Age of Extinction sees the beast eating itself from the inside.
The uneasy progression of morality, or: does morality require those who are moral?
Could just as easily add Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman for a triple bill. Not just treks across landscapes, but coherent landscapes, a real feel for the land and its geographical progression in any which direction. Sad or violent histories under the open skies, scurrying across barren rocks.
Any number of the Mizoguchi films I plowed through on 35mm this spring at the Harvard Film Archive would seem like valid bedfellows for Isao Takahata’s Tale of Princess Kaguya, which has the Japanese titan’s feel for female-centric melodrama and taste for spatially clarifying crane shots in its DNA. But the one that hovered in my thoughts most while watching Takahata’s latest Ghibli workhorse was Tales of the Taira Clan, a daimyo epic that was one of the two color films Mizoguchi made in his long career—though so burnished in its palette (powder blue, bright orange and rust red are about the only pigments that burn through a predominantly tannish mise en scène, at least on the print) that it might as well have been selectively painted on. Takahata’s movie, of course, was painted on, and favors a similarly delicate use of color. But the parallels run deeper than cosmetics: both films concentrate on the burden of living under wealth, with Mizoguchi’s emphasis on backroom samurai negotiations being echoed by Takahata’s attention to the procedure of an arranged marriage. In each case, the films’ protagonists—the titular spirit child in Princess Kaguya, a rare Y chromosome in Taira Clan—become unavoidable victims to these ruling class machinations despite different aims within their respective socioeconomic umbrellas (liberation for Kaguya, symbolic recognition for Mizoguchi’s neglected young warrior). Just as Mizoguchi opted for a contemplative distance to a brawny combat film that his contemporaries would have relished the opportunity of embellishing, Takahata’s serene woodblock-like compositions run counter to almost any modern animation models.
The color’s the thing… Two of the strongest films new to me this year displayed ample mastery in mobilizing their respective chromatic palettes toward a de-limiting of traditional spatial values. In both cases, this de-limiting is not merely a chance for the film-makers to reflect on the shifting psychological states of the figures swimming adrift within their frames, but a way of suggesting a series of radical, even dangerous, possibilities. The desire to re-configure the world to match our innermost wishes (or enact our harshest punishments, on self or other) is central to understanding the dialectic that pulsates within the psychedelia of Forbidden Planet’s irradiated alien foliage, or across the steel-greys and charcoal blacks of the abandoned houses in Stray Dogs. Tellingly, such possibilities appear diametrically opposed depending on the age of the films’ “inhabitants” (as opposed to “characters”): whereas the young will always seek wonder in the harshest, strangest environments, the aged or ageing (embodied, alternately, by Walter Pidgeon and Lee Kang-sheng) remain equally trapped in unending cycles of worldless mistrust, repression and violence. Had he chosen to, Tsai could even have cribbed his title from the MGM 50s spectacular.
NEW: Beyoncé (feat. Jay-Z) "Drunk in Love" Unofficial Emoji Video (Jesse Hill, 2014)
OLD: Les années 80 (Chantal Akerman, 1983)
(and an optional third and fourth: Un jour Pina a demandé [Chantal Akerman, 1983] + Rehearsal at the Peking Opera [from How Yukong Moved the Mountains] [Joris Ivens & Marceline Loridan-Ivens, 1976])
Two video works that both inhabit and present the exuberance of song and the physicality of dance.
Each exploring the compositional elements of a unified moving image (sound, image), and by separating them revealing how they interrelate.
Minimalism via the gesture—component parts treated explicitly as building blocks.
Denarrativising by focusing on the elements as components—and which also tells a story about the pieces and their interrelation.
Repetition. Rehearsal. Refined movements. Repetition.
And also: The joy of song and dance (sound, image).
The abstraction of movement.
The construction of meaning through the combination of a series of granular movements and symbols.
An embrace of the physicality of dance—in Les années 80 as a series of techniques to be mastered and appropriately timed, and individual body movements to be perfected—and of sex, represented in Hill’s video not by the sensual body-movements of Bey’s original, but by abstracted symbols that jokingly represent individual physical movements and body parts.
Both movies are meticulous, and exuberant, and hopeful; they both actively foreground the processes of their own construction; both exist in a mix of present and future tense (Akerman filming her actual rehearsal processes and collaborations while teasing a film-to-be-made-later, and closing with the sound of a Seder’s “next year, in Jerusalem…”; Bey and Jay speaking of their sexual encounters in a mix of past, present, and future tenses, and projecting this mélange into a desire-constructed future…); and both movies share a single core conceit: Love is bodies in motion, and bodies in motion is a work of love.
Drawing connections between these two films, which themselves exult in restless connectivity of different kinds (paranoia in one, ecstasy in the other), is a task that requires some restraint. Superficial details align easily enough: loveably rumpled loser-messiahs running circuits through their cities, a step ahead (or behind) the great, bad Revelation. Ample reverence is accorded to Text, and Text as Speech in particular, whether in the loopy, overlong interludes grafted from Pynchon’s novel and given wings by Joanna Newsom’s speaksong, or the dialectics of history and space written into the physicality of Manhattan and illuminated by Timothy “Speed” Levitch, breathlessly and on command. In both, a force of hazy antagonism threatens to spoil the trip, and here we come to more pressingly current matters. Miller interrupts the digital flow of his ersatz-classical performance poem exactly once, with a single still photograph: Speed’s mug shot, the charges left unspoken. Civilization, the Grid Plan, Anti-Cruise, are together a sort of abstract personal conspiracy to thwart Levitch’s self-expression, but this image vibrates with the nearness of more dire possibilities—police harassment, urban checkpoints—namely those of Larry “Doc” Sportello and his cohort. In Pynchon’s L.A., these phenomena are a bit more concrete. Police forces of the public, private, and incorporated variety have carved up, demolished, and requisitioned the social project of the American mid-century. The population, drunk on television and terrorized by the Manson Family, has retreated inward. Neighborhoods disappear in the name of economic progress, worth more razed than standing. Doctors, complicit in addiction, profit from its treatment. As a private eye, Doc, more a servant of the cosmic balance than of law and order, is punished doubly for being one hippie the cops actually know by name. Speed is a holy fool, basking in the over-awe of Gotham’s unified vista; Doc, slapstick flâneur, is granted no such vision. Los Angeles, like the Golden Fang (one of Pynchon’s names for Anti-Cruise), is compromised and elusive, subdivided into set pieces—hillside, development, marina, beach—that never coalesce into a meaningful whole. Doc bears witness simply because he’s the only one that’s bothered to look. Like Speed, he is caught up in the movements of the city’s organism, existing on and resistant to the margins of power. A picture emerges of a kind of conscious urbanism, vigilant of its multifarious oppressive forms, unafraid to walk the streets peaceably and call them to account. In 2014, the stakes for this mode of living remain high.
NEW: Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
OLD: The Reckoning (Jack Gold, 1970)
Because one is a masterclass in brutally radical, wittily engaged and engagingly muscular filmmaking: it’s about sex, class, marriage, capitalism, love, family, nationhood, identity, revenge, death, imperialism, life and careerism—and it never condescends, and it beams with an energy and love for ordinary people. The other is by Jean-Luc Godard, a man who might have once called himself a Marxist.
NEW: Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014)
OLD: I Was a Male War Bride (Howard Hawks, 1949)
Shifting gender roles in new world orders (cyber-realism and the post-WWII boom, respectively) produce gleeful mutations that stretch contemporary human logic. (Women are computers! Men wear skirts!).
Two artists coping in their own ways with the issue of presenting unconventional narrative forms. Westfront 1918, which screened this summer in MoMA's "The Great War" series, carries Pabst's late-silent-era experimentalism into the talkies. (I could just as easily cite his remarkable Pandora's Box, which I saw at Film Forum four weeks earlier.) Though his visual precision and spatial fluency are awe-inspiring, Pabst seems to be drawing inspiration in this period from literature and the humanities: he was 20 years ahead of his time in his abstract organization of material and his use of psychology to disrupt social roles and the fictional structures that depend upon them. By the time of 1931's excellent Kameradschaft, which also screened in the MoMA series, Pabst seemed to be allowing the intransigent realism of the sound track to temper his wild-eyed modernism—a career trend that would continue. 84 years after Westfront, Hong finds himself tinkering with his native postmodern anarchism, playing with ways to conceal his confrontational instincts within narrative containers. Hill of Freedom continues in the exhilarating mode of 2007's Night and Day and 2011's The Day He Arrives: though none of the films duplicates the others' strategies, each finds a way to play Hong's unnerving sense of chaos off against the relatively conservative story structures of the late-20th-century art film.
Two late-period oddities that use the basic form of a Hollywood satire as a means to explore the effects that the the integration of digital cameras into the fabric of everyday life and widespread identity commoditization has unleashed on the psyches of their characters. Extreme surveillance and media-saturation has created the sensation one is always being watched and thus always has to be performing; reality becomes a reflection of simulated images, rather than the other way around. There are striking similarities between their protagonists: two aging actresses who feel neglected by the system that once fostered their narcissism and are desperate to re-capture their past success by landing a role in a remake whose production history is linked to a major tragedy. Both are composed largely of off-kilter close-ups, with wide-angles gently distorting background space. Both are built around a self-consciously artificial mise-en-scene that calls attention to the abstract nature of DV, though Lynch's staticky cacophony is the polar opposite to Cronenberg's saturated sheen.
NEW: Dumb and Dumber To (Farrelly Bros., USA)
OLD: Other Men’s Women (William A. Wellman, 1931)
So, properly, because both movies feel free to move in any direction; to usher in as a thinly veiled excuse for a narrative a myriad of unregulated bursts of pure action and gesture. Hardly more than the sum of their parts, both Dumb and Dumber To and the Wellman feel radically complacent to be effectively just a large sum of parts, a bucketload of throwaway moments that spin in out of nowhere and bear no weight other than as signals of themselves. Improperly, maybe, because a good deal of my best memories of this year had Wellman, and Other Men’s Women in particular, as their backdrop. If I were to screen today Other Men’s Women it’d be mostly to reanimate these beautiful memories of Bologna and replay them on the screen: the people, the air, the food, the smells, the sounds, the drinking, the dancing—all the stuff of Wellman movies. Maybe Dumb and Dumber To, which I saw alone, back at home away from friends and roommates for the Christmas break, only seems like such a good companion because the Farrellys are better than just about anyone today at shepherding-in nostalgia for an era barely-vanished, for simpleton sentimentality over a freshly-passed moment.
NEW: À propos de Venise (Jean-Marie Straub, France) + OLD: Holiday Fireworks Over London (1902)
NEW: Sex Tape (Jake Kasdan, USA) + OLD: Our Happy Day (Hiromasa Nomura, 1933)
NEW: 22 Jump Street (Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, USA) + OLD: Wie es noch kommen wird (1910-14)
NEW: Adieu au langage (Jean-Luc Godard, France) + OLD: The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925)
WHY: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a beautifully shot and minimalist vampire tale. The unnamed female lead stalks the men of Bad City, Iran, a fictional and almost dystopian oil town. Filmed in Taft, California, a real-life oil town known for its pumpjacks and prison, the movie feels more like a noir western than a horror film. Amirpour plays with the tropes of horror film with a result that is neither mocking nor campy nor self-indulgent. The expertly scored soundtrack adds energy to the slow moving story. Though also shot in black and white, Begotten is caustic and merciless, a perfect compliment to the mellow A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Vaguely positioned within the realm of horror, Begotten is a primordial account of the earth's creation, opening with a scene in which God disembowels himself. The cult classic's soundtrack of chirping crickets, lack of dialogue, and gritty aesthetic is viscerally haunting. Begotten is what nightmares are made of; A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is what we wish nightmares were like.
NEW: Gone Girl (David Fincher, USA)
OLD: Still Raining Still Dreaming (Phil Solomon, 2008-9)
Much has already been said of the formal storytelling in Gone Girl, but what interests me in this particular double bill are the quiet moments in Fincher's film in which he uses the camera to move us from one murky location to the next. The connective tissue in between the closeups and the dialog are filled with slow, dark, visual exposition that strongly echo the Grand Theft Auto films of Phil Solomon—particularly Still Raining Still Dreaming. From an aesthetic perspective both films are dimly lit, digital representations of the landscapes of recession era America however the contrast here is that Solomon's piece is wholly comprised of these “in between” moments. His landscapes are those before the hero enters the frame—or perhaps more appropriately—after he/she has left. They are transitions that lead us only to more transitions.
NEW: Psychic Driving (William E. Jones, USA), seen on digital at the Viennale, Austria
OLD: Cobra (George Pan Cosmatos, 1986), seen on 35mm at New Horizons, Wrocław, Poland
NEW: The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Ukraine) + OLD: Silent Movie (Mel Brooks, 1976)
The Tribe is in no way a comedy like Mel Brooks’s Silent Cinema, however it manages to show (as Brooks’s movie did) that in cinema we don’t need words, we need auteurs who can direct moving pictures. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy is a promising future auteur.
NEW: The Notebook (János Szász, Hungary) + OLD: Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)
János Szász’s The Notebook so cruelly show us how horrifying a man is without senses and feelings; the movie slaps you in the face exactly the way Pasolini’s Salò did.
NEW: La danza de la realidad (Alejandro Jodorowsky, Chile) + OLD: Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973)
Alejandro Jodorowsky's ode to his childhood is as much influenced by Fellini’s Amarcord as it is original, one of the best depictions of a childhood drowned in the surrealism of the cinema.
NEW: Boyhood (Richard Linklater, USA) + OLD: Tape (Richard Linklater, 2001)
Richard Linklater, the best independent filmmaker in America, shows with these two films how masterfully he can handle two different situations (one movie made in real time and the other in 12 year time span) with the same theme (the effect of time on our lives).
NEW: Nymphomaniac (Director’s Cut) (Lars von Trier, Denmark) + OLD: I’m Curious (Yellow) (Vilgot Sjöman, 1967)
Lars Von Trier’s sexual odyssey is the best depiction of sexuality in cinema since Vilgot Sjöman’s masterpiece.
NEW: Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, UK) + OLD: Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
Two distinct experiments in cinema that reminds us how alienated wehumans are and how humane are those outsiders from other universes. Under the Skin is a triumphant experiment in cinema that for many moments feels like a Kubrick film.
NEW: Adieu au langage (Jean-Luc Godard, France) + OLD: Weekend (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)
Jean-Luc Godard once ended cinema with Weekend only to re-invent it, and now with Adieu au langage he says farewell to the language and I hope this is a beginning to a newer Godardian language!