We at MUBI think that celebrating the films of 2010 should be a celebration of film viewing in 2010. Since all film and video is "old" one way or another, we present Out of a Past, a small (re-) collection of some of our favorite of 2010's retrospective viewings.
Bluebeard's Castle (Powell) / Double Suicide (Shinoda) / Hitler (Syberberg): Or triple feature. The snow globe worlds, matted backgrounds, painting walls, rear projections, break down from Brechtian representations of sets—a transparently two-dimensional backdrop treated as three-dimensional cell, made two-dimensional, falsely illusionistic, again on-screen—into actual illusion, a purely aesthetic, abstract scrim. Not exteriorized illustrations of the characters' thoughts and dreams, their own subjectivity, illusions, the non-spatial spaces re-move the characters from any notion or objectivity or subjectivity: they become part of the design, purely exteriorized themselves, fatally and mock-aestheticized as setpieces, blind to a reality, never seen or reconstructed, of death, murder, suicide, a Romantic sublime.
Blue from the Sky (Janson) / King Lear (Godard): A similar, totally accidental double feature I saw one afternoon a couple months ago. Again it gets impossible to divvy up diagetic/extradiegetic, objective/subjective, character/diageses: in the working class Weimar musical Blue of the Sky, scripted by Billy Wilder as an early example of his plot mechanisms, characters as cogs, seemingly generated by the routines and rhythms of a mechanized city underground (and ending, in a Wilder conflation of crass capitalism and perfunctory romance, in the glory of advertising in the sky), music runs throughout, a few themes played circuitously that the characters occasionally, sometimes with nothing else to do, seem to hear, hum along to, and sing with. Sometimes the music follows them. Typical for the era, maybe, but with a few flourishes: lovers stepping out on a balcony, but the camera staying in the room, music coming on, though the protagonists are on the other side of a glass door. An indication that Godard might be the only "modern" director to follow through on what seems intuitive to a 1930s movie audience, that characters are one instrument in the diagesis of a movie-world, and that the soundtrack is part of the scene, a dialogue with the actors that they can take part in. Do the characters hear the soundtrack or does the soundtrack hear them? Is Godard adapting Shakespeare, or is Shakespeare adapting Godard? To ears not making distinctions, it's all part of a fluid soundtrack anyway.
Pyramide Humaine (Rouch) / Eros Plus Massacre (Yoshida): More reconstitutions that stop standing in for a reality and become one. In the Rouch, a spectrum of African youth in playing characters for the camera forge a new reality as they interrogate each other: characters to develop with their own answers, to become, to connect with, one another. The same happens in the Yoshida: in both, documentary filmmaking/interrogation is offered as the only revolutionary act to remake social bonds.
Doctor X (Curtiz) / Manoel (Ruiz): Kids´stories, shadow plays, games without rules but with a gridded gameboard, the scientific procedure of endless inversion making a "surrealistic," nonsensical uncertainty principle of the living dying and dead living: actors become other actors become wax figurines become alive. Exhaustively mapped, flamboyantly colored, and obeying the logic of mise-en-scène—situations seem set by the wooden, catatonic characters' position in the Max Factor world of Victorian/Clue board cliches, candelabras, butlers, sea-scruff, and wooden legs—the world-in-miniature of a child´s imagination geometrized but seeming without orientation, point of entry or retreat. A Soviet film prof. suggested Dr. X might have been a major influence on Ivan the Terrible. In Chile, where girls in uniforms fight with super soakers in the park, the ending of Manoel, a seeming displacement of various Ruiz memories—marching schoolgirls in a forest at nightfall chanting to the Virgin Mary—seems to make a little more sense.
Give the Girl a Break (Donen) / Go Go Second Time Virgin (Wakamatsu): An MGM musical and a post MGM musical. The character relationships and pursuits are so neatly schematized from the start, that the directors can take 60 or 80 minutes, mostly on a city roof, to let them think, walk around, sing, make love, imagine variations on how they might achieve their one-track desires.
Also, three favorite history films from the '90s: Van Gogh (Pialat), Jeanne la Pucelle (Rivette), Khrustalyov, My Car: the weight/lessness of history. And one from my friend S.E., who noticed not only an updated plot, but entire sequences (the camera moving to trees in a park consummation) remade from People on Sunday (various) to Rohmer's Boyfriends and Girlfriends.