Monday, April 25, 2011

woody + god

For a long while, Woody Allen was preoccupied with God - in his stand-up, in his early films, right up through Crimes And Misedemeanors - whether for real or just as a running gag. But whether or not he ever had any doubt about his doubts, it's clear enough now that he's settled on his answer....

Sight & Sound: Gemma Jones is particularly good as Helena (in "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger"). There's a foolishness to her character - in her belief in the fortune-teller - and yet she's happier because of it. You've long mocked such quackery in your films, and yet is there some envy on your part towards people who can believe in it?

Woody Allen: I don't take that optimistic view. Yes, Helena is able to maintain her balance by investing her emotions in a fake and fraudulent psychic fortune-teller, and I do believe that belief in anything is better than no belief at all. But no belief at all is the true state of affairs. If you face reality with honesty, you're facing a world that is meaningless. It's a godless universe. That's very painful and terrifying, but that's unfortunately the way it is.
Helena's infatuation with the fortune-teller is no different than somebody's infatuation with any of the major religions, which are no less specious. They all serve the purpose of deceiving the believer sufficiently to enable him or her to get through life without constantly being anxious about the terrifying and unenviable position everyone is in.

Sight & Sound, April 2011

Sunday, April 17, 2011

apr 30 - may 4 | black narcissus

BLACK NARCISSUS (1947, UK, Powell & Pressburger)
Pacific Cinematheque
Apr 30 8:30
May 1 6:30
May 4 7:00

#44 on this year's Arts & Faith 100 selection of films with some sort of spiritual something-or-other maybe going on. The A&F write-up goes like this...
This classic, brilliantly colorful film from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger follows five nuns, led by Sister Clodagh, into the Himalayas to start a hospital and school for the local villagers. The battle against the elements and the local culture proves to be a formidable one, though Sister Clodagh’s most difficult tasks comes from within—through the envious Sister Ruth and Clodagh’s own struggle with her calling and commitment.

The film’s location plays an integral role in the overall thematic arc as a battle between competing worlds. Clodagh struggles to reconcile her pastoral memory of the past with the stony heights of her present. The nuns struggle to bring their English Christianity to bear on the lives of the Himalayan villagers. Powell and Pressberger’s stunning use of color helps to underline these dualities, providing a consistent stream of beautiful images both natural and unnatural, lush and rough, pitting worlds against one another in a visual sense. These formal elements serve as fine complements to the narrative of the film, which follows the nuns as they navigate their way between their competing worlds.

Beyond the exploration of these opposing realms, the film also serves as a meditation on the Incarnation, particularly in the notion of Christ’s descent from heaven to earth, His taking on of human flesh, and His service among humanity. The crucifix finds its way into shots repeatedly—appropriate for a nunnery to be sure, but also drawing the viewer to reflect on the intersection of this narrative with the life of Jesus. Black Narcissus is no allegory, but its theological echoes are undeniable.
Here's the Pacific Cinematheque graph...
A sumptuous stunner of studio-set style and seething, repressed sexuality, Black Narcissus is one of the triumphs of British cinema, and one of the great masterpieces in the Powell and Pressburger canon; Jack Cardiff’s amazing colour cinematography, winner of a much-deserved 1947 Oscar, plays no small part in its glories. Five Anglican nuns attempt to establish a mission in a one-time bordello in the remote Himalayas, but find their faith sorely tested by climate, culture clash, and carnal passion. The superb cast is headed by Deborah Kerr as the virtuous Mother Superior; David Farrar as a cynical, sensual British agent; Sabu as the local Indian potentate; and Kathleen Byron as a nun unhinged by desire. The film’s flesh-versus-spirit battle unfolds in a deliriously exotic, studio-set India that recalls the lavish stylizations of the Josef von Sternberg/Marlene Dietrich films of the 1930s.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

apr 23 | eat, for this is my body

Not sure that the title's reference to the words of Christ should suggest that this one will necessarily be essential Soul Food. But one's curiosity is nevertheless piqued...

Eat, for This Is My Body (2007, Haiti/France, Michelange Quay)
Pacific Cinematheque
Apr 23 6:30
"Critics have invoked Luis Buñuel, David Lynch and Werner Herzog to describe the extraordinary Eat, for This Is My Body, New York-born filmmaker Michelange Quay’s taboo-breaking, voodoo-infused visual poem to his ancestral homeland of Haiti. Beginning with a spectator aerial-shot swoop into the island country, Quay’s seductive, often shocking film explores power relations — racial, sexual, colonial — through a series of symbolic, surreal sequences set in a decaying mansion."

Monday, April 11, 2011

farewell, my lovely (1975) | pulp magazine glories

Nothing particularly soul foodish about this one, but I'm a nut for both Raymond Chandler and baseball history, so I got quite a kick out of the 1975 treatment of Farewell, My Lovely - perhaps the most faithful of the Philip Marlowe screen adaptations, with a celebrated turn by Robert Mitchum in the lead role.

I love the look of the film, its saturated colours mimicking not so much the black and white glories of film noir as the lurid covers of those pulp magazines where Chandler's genre-defining hard-boiled stories first appeared.

That particular image evokes the paintings of Edward Hopper, doesn't it? The colour saturation and grainy resolution are exaggerated in these images because I was viewing the film on vhs tape, and doing my screen captures by shooting the screen with my digital camera. Not particularly true to the actual cinematography, but I do like the effect: pure pulp.

The title sequence at the beginning suggests vintage postcards of Los Angeles neon.

Credit where it's due...

I kept noticing the score, which is exceptional - reminded me sometimes of vintage noir scores like Anatomy Of A Murder, Touch Of Evil, Experiment In Terror, The Untouchables, other times of Bernard Hermann's chilling seventies noir score for Taxi Driver. Turns out the soundtrack became available a few years ago: I downloaded it from iTunes. (It's the "End Title" and "Main Title" versions of "Marlowe's Theme" you're after, and maybe "Moose Finds His Velma.")

The inspired casting doesn't end with Mitchum. In a brothel scene, one of the hoods looked suddenly familiar.  A review of the credits confirmed: Sly Stallone, a year before his breakout performance in Rocky.

For my money, Charlotte Rampling plays the fatale-est femme in all noir...

But it wasn't till the closing credits rolled that I noticed who played her husband: the only screen appearance (so far as I know) of the legendary crime novelist Jim Thompson, whose bleak pulp fictions were boiled much harder than Chandler's ever were.

"Farewell, My Lovely" was published in 1940, but the 1975 screenwriter must have been a ball fan, because he chose to set his story in the summer of 1941, against the backdrop of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.

The baseball angle also leads to the screenwriter's invention of a little black kid, probably over-emphasizing the "who is not himself mean" part of Chandler's famous mandate - "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor."

But if the kid's presence in the picture ultimately tips things the slightest bit too far in the direction of sentiment, it can be forgiven for giving us this particular little street scene...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

apr 17 | one flew over the cuckoo's nest | cineplex classic films

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
"If he's crazy, what does that make you?"
Directed by: Milos Forman
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Louise Fletcher
Plot: Upon arrival at a mental institution, a brash rebel rallies the patients together to take on the oppressive Nurse Ratched, a woman more a dictator than a nurse.

Sunday, April 17, 1:00pm

Presented in HD. All tickets five dollars. SilverCity Riverport, SilverCity Coquitlam, Colossus Langley, Scotiabank Theatre. The Classic Film Series presents one great title each month on the big screen from September 2010 to August 2011: details here.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST is available on DVD an Blu-ray at Videomatica

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Watching for... THE WAY

Edited from
Apocalypse Sheen: The Sheen clan and The Way to redemption
by Craig McLean, April 3 2011
Read the entire article at Independent Woman
Martin Sheen, now 70, and Emilio Estevez, a 48-year-old actor-turned-director, have collaborated on another film odyssey on foreign soil, though this time it has been a more enjoyable experience. The Way is about an uptight father, Tom (played by Sheen), trying to reconnect with his restless son, Daniel (Estevez, who also wrote and directed the film). The younger man, a loner and inveterate backpacker (in his father's eyes a slacker), dies in a storm while trying to walk the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage across the Pyrenees in northern Spain.

Tom, a dentist who had waved off Daniel with pointed misgivings about what his son was doing with his life, travels from America to collect the body. Once in Spain, he decides to honour Daniel's memory by completing the 500-mile trek himself, with Daniel's ashes in his backpack. Along the way, he is joined by three ad-hoc travelling companions, all also looking for meaning or fulfilment in their lives: a troubled Canadian woman, an overweight Dutch stoner and a frustrated Irish writer (played by James Nesbitt). And he is forced to look deeply at his own character, his outlook and his lack of faith -- all fuelled by visions of his dead son.

Sheen, who is still married to Templeton, has been sober for 20 years and is now a devout Catholic, having had his faith restored by a series of meaningful conversations in Paris in 1981 with Terrence Malick, the director of Sheen's breakthrough film, Badlands (1973). For Sheen, making The Way has been particularly gratifying. "The whole journey is about showing our brokenness," he says. "It's about opening up and being human. And that's what spirituality really is. It's humanity." . . .


Beautifully and elegantly shot, The Way is a straightforward and moving tale of the bond between father and son, a reconciliation between the generations. In this case, it doesn't occur on the mortal plane -- the bereaved father, closed off emotionally, experiences a gentle conversion to his late son's free-spirited approach to life. But given the firmly Roman Catholic context, the film wears its religiosity relatively lightly. Sheen is happy to view Estevez's film as more "pro-life" than pro-Catholic. "Tom is not a practising Catholic, but by the end of the film he has become a believer," Sheen says. "His faith becomes personal. And that's the most important thing about anyone's faith: it has to be personal. If it's impersonal, why bother? It's useless."

Sheen brushes away any suggestion that he might have tried to convert his son during the shoot. "No. If you're going to proselytise, you have to do it with your actions, with your life. I adore Emilio. And God's presence is very powerful in him. He may think of it otherwise, but I see God's presence in his humanity and his joy."

Opens UK May 13, USA Sep 30

Watching For... THE TURIN HORSE (Bela Tarr)

Doug Cummings is a fellow-traveler, movie-wise. His filmjourney blog is quality. Robert Koehler is a frequent contributor. Here are excerpts edited from Koehler's report on the latest Bela Tarr film, which premiered in this year's Berlinale: be sure and read the entire article, here.

The Turin Horse begins with a micro-fiction by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, reminiscent of Donald Barthelme’s short fictions placing historical figures in fictitious situations. The story simply tells of a horse in 1888 being mercilessly beaten by its frustrated owner for not budging, and how Nietzsche, passing by on the street in Turin, leapt in to shield the horse from further abuse. The incident left Nietzsche fundamentally altered, ultimately mute and possibly mad, until he died about a decade later. “Of the horse,” the story as well as the third-person on the soundtrack concludes, “we know nothing.”

The Turin Horse, the film, subsequently provides an answer to this open question, and just as suitably, concludes with another open ending: Of the fate of the aging Hungarian farmer (Ohlsdorfer) and his unnamed daughter, we know nothing. . . .

Ohlsdorfer has a bum arm and hand, so he’s badly dependent on his daughter to help him with chores, and chores are all that fill their days, with rest periods in between of staring out their home’s main window—almost certainly what farm folks in the pre-electric age would do for entertainment, with the window as a screen. . . .

The film’s most overwhelming effect is a raging wind, so ferocious that it makes a kind of strange musical sound and creates a new environment. The wind is already there in the opening shot, but soon, it’s a malevolent force that some will be tempted to interpret as either God or the Devil. (Which it would be if this were a Bergman film; fortunately, The Turin Horse is as far from Bergman as an Adam Sandler movie.) . . .

Then, he arrives. We never know who he is, a neighbor most likely, somebody Ohlsdorfer feels comfortable inviting past his threshold. In the film’s only monologue, he delivers a warning to them, that any chance for a life of “excellence” and “good” is over, chased out by nameless barbarians who’ve ruined everything. He’s a pivot point, a man facing defeat, certainly a foreshadowing of the European disasters to come, but also a universal warning of the collapse of culture. But it’s also undermined in an instant by Ohlsdorfer, who’s been patiently listening to his verbose friend, stops him, calls it all “rubbish” and orders him out the front door. The man could be a parody of every movie drunk opining about the world (or Beckett character who whips enough energy to muster a speech), seeing nothing but darker and darker prospects with every progressive swig, or he could be the kind of visionary who circulate through the worlds of Tarr’s films, phony or not, with some perception of the way the world actually is. Beyond his conclusions that any chance is dashed for the forces of good and excellence to triumph over the forces of rottenness, he’s here to deliver the word: God is dead.

This may be why, even subconsciously, some rejected The Turin Horse in Berlin, and will do so as it trots through one festival after another toward a deservedly legendary position as a key film of our time. The notion that a film would present a case for the non-existence of God is unpleasant to many people, even people at film festivals, where you’re more likely than in many other walks of life to run into atheists. There are the obvious reasons why some (many?) even hate the film. But the fundamental Nietzschean concept of life without a God is as frequently despised now (perhaps now more than ever before) as it was in the author’s time.

Sight and Sound critic/editor Nick James helpfully mentioned to me a specific reference point to Nietzsche in The Turin Horse: The man at the beginning of Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science” who observes a candle going out as proof that God is dead. The critical turning points in the film include an occasion when the gas-lit lamps in the house fail to work anymore, and a large tome read out loud by the daughter, with the passage she reads describing how the churches are being closed by the priests because too much sin has been committed. Tarr refers to the book, a pure invention of Krasznahorkai’s, as an “anti-Bible.” The fascination with this scene, both in the kind of reverential way that Kelemen lights it and frames the daughter and the book, is that the slightly inattentive viewer might actually think that she’s reading from the Bible, but just perhaps an obscure chapter that only Biblical scholars know well. It is, in fact, the third fiction which Krasznahorkai has implanted in the film - this unexpected kind of meta-fiction masquerading as scripture that’s actually a repudiation of religion.

By the arrival of day six, the storm has ended, the apocalypse hasn’t happened. But this meticulously observed choreography of human beings at work and in everyday life, absolutely materialist and fixed by the clock and the course of the sun rising and setting and rising again the next day, gives way to a disturbing metaphysic without God, a darkness that forces the father and daughter into a Beckett space of motionlessness and the elimination of language.