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Swiss Army Man (2016)

After a while it feels like, in film, all the big themes and questions have already been wrestled with in the collection of movies I’ve seen since the time I started paying attention to them; and at a certain point the motivation to watch more and continue hunting is to find that new and interesting approach to those questions, rather than an attempt to raise more. It makes it all the more striking when you watch a story with the oldest plot line in existence that somehow makes you feel something strongly, or connects you with characters that should be cliché but somehow aren’t. The story makes you feel as if you are asking those old questions for the first time again and experiencing a new answer. This is how I felt watching Swiss Army Man (2016).

For me, the hunt and zeroing in on targets usually gets started by something very strange. I am a strange enthusiast. I remember stumbling upon movies like Upstream Color (2013), Ink (2009), and The Frame (2014) and being so happy that I had been drawn in. The story descriptions were so odd, but at the same time were about something very old and familiar to human thought and emotion. They were just told in a way that made you think about those themes a little differently.

The first scene in Swiss Army Man is enough to make you think WTF… but after a few minutes you realize you’re watching something worth your time. The morbid humor of Hank trying again and again to execute himself by hanging while trying to ignore the impressive magnitude of gas emitted from the body of a corpse named Manny hanging out on the beach is…intriguing. At that point I’m thinking either this is going to be really stupid, or incredibly interesting. And because it’s Paul Dano, I had a pretty good feeling and leaned toward the latter.

The first time I saw Paul Dano in anything was when Little Miss Sunshine came out in 2006. He played a brooding young teenager who idolized F. Nietzsche and dreamed of being a fighter pilot, undergoing a vow of silence to demonstrate his commitment. His odd face struck me, I remember. What a strange-looking dude, I thought. But his performance was fantastic, culminating in that gut-wrenching breakdown when he realizes in the bus that he is color blind and can never qualify as a pilot. He did not hold back anything in that scene; he was broken and ugly, and it gave me goose bumps to hear those sounds and see that face. I believed every second of that performance. He holds his own strongly alongside actors like Steve Carell and Toni Collette. He was incredible, and that was easily my favorite movie of that year.

Paul Dano appears in the beginning of Swiss Army Man as a withered man covered in facial hair. It kind of reminded me of Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000), only this time instead of the old, decrepit aspect that Hanks carried along, the main character carries more of a sense of new adult crossroads. The cadaver that floats into shore and begins passing gas like nothing in existence serves to take you further out of a mindset that you are watching a survival story. Instead, it views more like a message. This young man has something to discover, something to say. He’s not going to die, you feel; he has many miles to go yet. It is odd after having that thought how strong the conviction is that you can’t have a believable lone survivor story unless you start out with the character looking ancient, having tried everything possible and failed. Nothing about Hank here makes you feel like he is in danger.

Eventually Hank gives up on his suicide attempt and goes to check out the floating cadaver, later called Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe. The story takes an even stranger turn as Hank hops onto Manny’s back and rides him through the waves like a jet ski, pulling down the cadaver’s pants to get the most propulsion possible out of him…ok

Manny carries him to the shore of land where Hank is sure he will find his long-awaited rescue. He is desperate to find people, anyone at all. We get the feeling he has been alone for a very long time, though we are never told how long, or even how old Hank is; though he is obviously a young man.

After finding an old bag of cheese puffs on the ground, he regains some of his lost hope.

The real story begins when Hank starts to animate his cadaver friend out of desperation and loneliness. Manny can talk! But he must have Hank move him around into position. Soon Hank finds all kinds of ways to use Manny. Move an arm there, his head here, and load his mouth with ammo and he becomes a human BB gun. One miraculous property of his “swiss army man” is that with the correct positioning of applied pressure to the abdomen, he spurts fresh water out of his mouth! Hank can take showers with a little rigging, and is no longer in danger of dehydration. But what does the cadaver have to say?

Manny is introduced in this new form as a human being, but without any knowledge whatsoever about the world. Hank must explain how everything works, answering basic questions about life itself, love, friendship, meaning etc. And as we know that Manny is only actually animated through Hank’s imagination, Manny becomes an amplifier for what is going on inside Hank’s mind.

We all, at different points in our lives, experience things which give us conviction about possible answers to the questions that have no answer. Why are things the way that they are? Manny’s character asks the viewer to basically revisit that state of being right before you really think you know what you are doing, or what everything is about. “Why do we have to hide so much from people?” is a specific example brought up after Hank tells Manny he should stop passing gas all the time. People don’t like it. But that’s sad, Manny says, “why do people feel they have to hide it?”

Later, Hank decides to relinquish an embarrassing secret to his friend Manny that he’s never told anyone else. He demonstrates how embarrassment and fear of being found out can isolate and trap people. The constant fear and thought of “what if” compounds on itself until your world is nothing but worrying about what if and never seeing what is or what could be. Perhaps the worst fears are those which involve giving power to the opinions and thoughts of other people. Why does this fear have so much power? Why do we care so much about what people think of us? Manny doesn’t know, but he’s pretty good at showing us just how absurd the idea is.

We go further into Hank’s life as Manny discovers a picture of a beautiful woman on a cell phone. Hank tells him it is Manny’s phone, and that he must remember her in order to remember how to get home. But how will he remember? He tries very hard, but cannot remember who the woman is. Perhaps if Hank dresses up like her and pretends to be her in a role-playing game where Manny first meets the woman as she gets onto the bus that he rides every day…

Manny quickly falls madly in love with this woman he knows nothing about. Perhaps the most telling scene comes as Manny sits on the bus just a few inches away from the girl of his dreams, and does nothing, unsure of what to do. “She’s right there!” Hank insists, (playing the role of the girl, but jumping out of character out of stress), “and you’re not going to do anything?” Just as deep into the game as Manny, he betrays the reality that perhaps he is a lot more familiar with this scenario than he has admitted to Manny.

In actuality, indeed this woman is someone with whom Hank has fallen deeply in love, but has never had the guts to do anything about. He took the picture on the bus with his phone while she was not paying attention, but has never spoken to her. In his fantasy role-playing with his cadaver friend Manny, he has a chance to live through the scenario again, but this time he will say something and tell her finally how he feels.

Perhaps the most impressive feat in this film to me is the fact that I actually developed empathy and feelings for the cadaver character lol. His innocence in how he processes and learns things about the world makes you connect with him just as you would with a child, but it is in a more personal way because he is learning adult things as an adult, and not as a child. His character works to shine a light on the child in all of us who have grown up, but are still feeling like a child in many ways, simply pretending to play the part of an adult. No, you do not suddenly have all the answers once you turn a certain age. You continue to form your own answers, make conclusions, have experiences, change your mind about the world, over and over again. We all become lost at times, and we all find ourselves again at different points in our lives, if we’re lucky.

This demonstration of life, and the absurdity of life, is what I love about this film. It is portrayed in such a fresh, original way and it gets through. In the end, sometimes our reward for so much searching is something as simple as being able to fart in public, and not freaking out about what someone else is going to think or say about it.

Fittest on Earth (2015) and the Challenge of Crossfit

“Crossfit does not operate within the formalized world of sport or the corporate gym establishment. It features contests involving sandbags, tractor tires, ropes, weights and surprise challenges. It promotes itself on social media, and is rarely written about in newspapers, except in the business pages. Ten years ago there were 13 Crossfit gyms in the United States, where it started. Now it has conquered most of the world – it has a presence in Mongolia, Fiji and Kazakhstan – and there are 11,000 Crossfit affiliates. Forbes magazine valued the brand at $4bn.”  -The Guardian, December, 2015

A documentary appeared on Netflix recently and showed up at the top of my recommended lists. The name of it is Fittest on Earth (2015).

As a total documentary junkie, I tend to simply add any and all documentaries that pop up in the recently released lists on Netflix and Amazon straight into my watch lists. Subjects range from parking lots to serial killers, and I love them. While not all of them are the most high-end on the production front, the majority are executed well enough to entertain me, if not spawn an entirely new obsession cycle—like this one did.

Fittest on Earth is all about Crossfit, the fitness craze that has apparently been taking over the world for about two decades. In 2007, Crossfit put on the first Crossfit Games competition (the 2nd annual Crossfit Games is documented in another documentary available on Netflix called Every Second Counts [2009]).

For years I’ve kept up a fairly regular but always changing workout routine at home with my light and medium weight dumbbells and lots of different workout videos. My mother still has ridiculous VHS footage of me in a leotard doing her 1980s Firm workouts (Vol. 2 was the best! lol). I continued to love workout videos and rotated them, returning to them again and again even if there were some hiatuses ranging from a few weeks to a few months.

After college, moving in to my own apartments and eventually a new house with my husband, I continued to look for hour long-ish workouts that I could do at home with my little dumbbells and a yoga mat for abs stuff. In 2009 I picked up running after discovering a lovely park with a four mile trail that I still visit regularly today, even though it is a little bit out of the way now. The key with keeping some kind of regularity with my workouts has always been that I could change it up and not get bored doing the same thing all the time. I love running, but I can’t just run every day, it would drive me crazy. Some days I want to just do a workout video and just sweat it out at home, working different muscles and exhausting them in ways that they aren’t accustomed to (always resulting in lovely and intense amounts of soreness the following day).

Anyway, when I began watching this Crossfit documentary, I was just mildly interested. It was something about a subject I did not know anything about. My husband goes to a gym and has coworkers that have mentioned how much they love it now and then, but I didn’t know what it was all about.

Within the first half hour, I was watching it for the athletes being followed during the 2015 Crossfit games. The Icelandic women Sara Sigmunsdottir and Katrin Davidsdottir, a beautiful and funny Brook Ence, ridiculously strong Samantha Briggs, down-to-earth and hilarious Mat Fraser as the underdog chasing first place with all he’s got, superhuman Ben Smith, Dan Bailey, etc. All of these people were unique to me and showed a lot more going on in their personalities than I usually think of when I think of the muscle-clad, self-obsessed stereotypes surrounding the men and women who spend endless hours weight lifting and training in a gym. (Mostly this idea comes from ignorance on my part of course.) Most of the guys I have known who spent hours at a gym every day didn’t even compete in a sport, just took pictures of themselves to put online lol.

But here I’m being introduced to a group of incredibly dedicated athletes who actually heavily support each other in a sport that has gotten so popular so fast that they have become celebrities in their own right. Individuals who have dedicated years of their lives to becoming the most all-around fittest people in the world, but still able to exude awesome personalities and incredibly supportive and encouraging sportsmanship…because they know that everyone else there is going through hell just like them. And maybe that’s a big part of it.

Crossfit is not about doing so many reps, lifting so much weight, and getting so good at a single objective that you can display your ability effortlessly at a competition and win by a landslide. Not anything like that. While all of the Crossfit Games athletes have strengths and weaknesses, not one of them flies effortlessly past these challenges to get to the podium at the end of the weekend. It is a grueling and unpredictable test that tears these people apart and throws them into so much pain that they have to be hyper-aware of how they are parading their complete vulnerability, giving everything they have, strain visible on their faces, to a gigantic audience in the stands and watching from all over the world—that has to be humbling, and it must be what gives these athletes a level head when it comes to how they train, how they compete and how they view the other athletes around them.

Throughout the film, many of the top contenders at the 2015 Crossfit Games are commenting on how this person is way stronger than they are in this particular field, how they weren’t ready for this, how they didn’t train properly for that and they will need to change it up to improve. Mat Fraser knows (at least back in 2015) that he isn’t the strongest sprinter in the world. And when, in one of the workouts called the “Soccer Chipper,” a 500lb+ “pig” tore apart his biceps to the point where he couldn’t even execute a single legless rope climb, he bought one of them after the competition (in which he placed 2nd) to bring home with him to train with for the next year; it must have constantly reminded him of his failure, but more importantly given him a way to improve and prepare if it were to come up again.

And therein lies one of the most interesting facets of the Crossfit Games. You train all year round, but when the Games finally approach, you have no idea what you will actually have to do once you get there, and there is no more time to prepare. Some of the workouts are revealed beforehand, but some of them no one is aware of until the day it is time to perform them. Crossfit is about a whole new level of serious all-around fitness. Not only do you lift, run, sprint, push-up, hand-stand, swim, climb, etc., etc., but there are so many different kinds of challenges that there is no way to perfect all of them. And that is why it is a really good test of the “fittest on earth.” When you can face something you’ve never faced before, but you’ve trained your body well enough that you can adapt to that level of intensity and challenge from any and all direction…”that’s how you get batman” as director Dave Castro puts it.

I started thinking about all the times in my life when I was happiest. There is nothing like getting on track with eating right and challenging your body through workouts. There is a natural high to running that instantly dissolves anything else that may have been the center of your world a few minutes before. When you are in that place, nothing else matters and that is what life is about. Your senses are heightened and you can feel every inch of yourself working. And then you wonder why you ever let yourself slack off or get lazy. This month especially has been incredible, taking late afternoon runs through the leaves on the trail at my favorite park. It’s like I don’t need anything else and it makes me so happy, especially when I exhaust myself but am able to push through to complete a goal and get a little further or a little faster than before.

One element of Crossfit that interests me is the objective of taking your body to its absolute limit. I think of other types of competition, let’s say a dance competition, something I’m familiar with. Everything you can expect at a competition, you already have with you. You have steps. You practice them, you get them down as perfectly as possible. Eventually it’s not so much about the energy you expend, but how well you can train your body to have the proper turn-out on this step, get to this height on this step, perfect the rhythm here and there. You compete with yourself, but you know what is in front of you, you know what is expected of you, and you know exactly what you are capable of. The only thing left up to chance is the mood of the judges that day and whether they care if your hair is out of place.

With Crossfit they take their body to limits that they haven’t seen before because they keep pushing themselves further than before. One day it is a ten minute routine, then you add some backflips, then you have to do eight of them, then you have to turn around and run a million miles afterwards, etc. It’s like an ever-evolving routine that never ever feels like a routine, it just feels more challenging than you did it last time, because you’re trying to push to get more, go longer. That is really interesting, and something that I always thought was dangerous. And it is of course, if you don’t know how to listen to your body and understand your limits. But at the same time, I watch these athletes after completing the infamous Murph workout. They’re blacking out, passing out on the field, can’t move their arms the next day, getting carried out on stretchers…but then they recover and say they can’t wait to do it again next year…WHAT?! lol

And that’s where a lot of my admiration for them comes in. It is obvious that these peoples’ minds can be even stronger than their bodies. When they get to the wall that most people don’t care to push through because it hurts so much, they do it. They keep going, they keep pushing even though they are in pain.

Lastly, I wanted to comment on how awesome it is that the incredible Crossfit women are being adored for their strength and discipline, their beauty in a world culture that has been so quickly seduced by the concept that thin and soft is beautiful and feminine. “Strong is Beautiful,” as the Guardian article quoted at the top of this article states (read here.)

I know I’ve always had a hard time dealing with the fact that I was not built to be stereotypically feminine. I have big arms and broad shoulders and monstrous calves from years of stomping around on a dance floor competing in Irish dance. I’ve done all kinds of diets thinking that I could somehow alter my body in a way that is not actually possible. But when I work out, lift weights, do 200 squats and feel how much work I was able to put my body through and still feel good, I wonder how important being soft and pretty is, and why I think that would make me a better person in the first place. I look at Brook Ence and I think she is incredible looking, I hope that my generation and the generation after me can begin to look at strong women like her as their role models and start to move away from the silly dreamland for which we’ve been drowning ourselves in guilt for so many years. Nope, we can’t all be the size of Taylor Swift, but with hard work, focus, and dedication, anyone can turn themselves into a strong, healthy woman ready for new challenges, both mentally and physically.

I Do Not Have a Spot, You Have Many Spots. Touched With Fire (2015)

When I watch a movie or listen to part of a song or performance or anything that hits me as incredibly beautiful, oftentimes I run over to the piano, skipping along hopping a foot into the air as I go. Or, like now, maybe 20 minutes into a movie I have to stop the film. That’s always step one. It’s like my brain is sending my nerves a brief flash of notification that something is coming. Then I get up, I have to do something, even if it’s just to move/dance to the background noise of the fans in my computer or the projector. It feels so big, bigger than myself and everything except the last time it happened, which was just as powerful. If it’s music I’m listening to that struck me I usually have to go play a song on guitar or sing or play piano. If it is something really meaningful, I end up writing feverishly. Like now.

I’m not bipolar. I’ve met and made friends with individuals who were, mostly in college. They were fascinating to be around. But I know I’m not on the same page as them. I’ve never been to a low that was so destructive I could not progress through it; at a trudging pace maybe, but I still keep moving. I have never been at a dead stop, where the ground completely falls beneath you and there is nothing but nothing, everywhere. I’ve looked over the edge, but have never ever come close to falling in.

I do, however, have Asperger’s, and through many hours of research I understand how this fits my situation and the experiences I have of nearly unbearable joy as well as sadness, which much of the time can be more closely labeled as confusion, or a feeling of powerlessness.

Both autism and bipolar disorder are neural situations, one is termed a disease (bipolar) hitting anywhere from early adolescence into adulthood, the other a neurological difference, (at least to many), present from an early age with a wide range of manifestations and points of diagnosis within the person’s lifetime. The entertaining things to me in the film which led to me having to pause involve the neurotypical’s reaction and rationalization of the mental illness they’re dealing with. Their looks and reactions suggest that they have a sense of something being present in the mind across from them that should not be there. There is a presence that should be sedated, ripped out, in order to return to normalcy. They themselves feel a confidence so strong it is imperceptible that they are at peace in the river of normalcy, flowing along with everything around them who is also mentally healthy. There are no ugly presences in their minds.

Before I go off and get away from the point, succinctly I am trying to write in this post that people feel that individuals like Luna and Carla’s characters are ill because of the presence of something that should not be there, while they themselves are free from this presence and all other bad things characterizing mental illness.

This is interesting to me because of the truth that I feel wholeheartedly that things are just the opposite in this respect, if we’re going to compare. And I will explain.

The mother and father’s characters’ responses in the film follow logical, conditioned processes. Something is wrong. Why is it wrong. What can I do to make it not wrong anymore. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? What can I do to make it go away?

In Luna’s case, stop working and paying bills, not on medication, let’s go to the hospital. In Carla’s case, at mother’s house at 4 in the morning, must not be able to sleep, let’s go to the doctor and get some answers. Similar processes occur when one runs out of toilet paper. Where is the toilet paper, my husband must have had beans last night, I must go to the store.

In these examples, there is a presence of method to handle the situation that is continuously conditioned over and over again until it becomes so much of a habit you can’t even tell you’re in the midst of it again and again. These processes are pretty easy to understand. They make logical sense and most people are comfortable with the standard line of reasoning demonstrated. It applies to many situations.

What is invisible because it is so habitual is that this very process common to most people is a presence of knowledge, which is substantive, learned, ingrained, and part of our neural net even long before adulthood, in most neurotypicals. The simplest form of the process is learned early on, people add on additional sets of hangers-on to the stream of logic. When we think of going to the store for toilet paper, we have the knowledge of where we’ve gone to get it before, how much it costs, if that annoying cashier would be working, what our friend said about the store the other day, etc. Some of these bits of knowledge are subjective based on personal experience, others are based on what we are told by other people and how we choose to feel about them. Obviously buying toilet paper does not carry much social weight, but in the case of dealing with mental illness, as demonstrated in the film, there are social neuronets so complex and yet so ingrained that most people believe them to be as grounded as logic or common sense. Something is wrong, you go to the doctor to get it fixed: of course, no brainer, done deal. And most people seem to stop there. Their neuronet stops and they have never been challenged in any way to deal with any alternative or other possibility. They don’t have to. “Other people said this about it, and I believe them because it’s the easiest option.” And why do they choose the easiest and most acceptable path? Fear of their social appearance in a lot of cases probably. Also, it’s just, well, easier. And we humans like easier.

But here’s my biggest rub with the logic expressed through the parent characters in the film: it’s this whole illness is a presence I am free of mentality. On the contrary, these ill people are absent of, and what’s more, broken free of, the fear of venturing outside of the norm that is so potent in the neurotypical parents that their cozy boxed lives do not even have windows. They have posters of Costa Rica where the windows used to be, now covered.

Luna is living free of the fear of what may happen if he doesn’t follow the rules. His father is consumed by it.

Carla is free of the assumption that doing something like going out in the middle of the night is “not normal” while her mother is so shocked by this simple oddity that she makes it into a sign of something being seriously wrong.

I’m not trying to prove what’s right, who’s sick, who’s not etc. I’m just really fixated on the idea of presence and absence and which applies to mental illness versus normalcy. If lunacy is freedom from fear of the things they should be afraid of, like someone walking along a tightrope hundreds of feet in the air, then he is free of a presence which resides in most other human beings. What’s more, those mentally ill people cannot even fathom having this presence that alludes them and makes everyone else “normal,” and this drives them further into depression, confusion, etc. Carla’s character goes into manic mode because she so wants to figure out exactly what she was doing exactly when “it” happened. At some point this “thing” infested her body and now she must be rid of it.

Luna is a little more confident in his state of mental being, at least thus far in the film.

At the point where I paused the film he is talking to another guy in therapy at the hospital. The old guy is terrified of the apocalypse, of humankind ending. Luna looks at him and tries to explain to him that there is no reason to be afraid. He basically tells him it is going to happen whether you are afraid or not, therefore there is no reason to be afraid. I don’t know about you but that’s about the smartest and most logical thing I’ve heard from anyone in the movie so far. Lol But again, he is absent of the fear. There is no malicious presence, simply the absence of an aspect of his being that would make him acceptable and normal to everyone else.

But I think all of this resonated personally with me because of how strongly I feel  that the way people treat me or talk to me or look at me once I tell them I have autism suggests that they see that presence, that neon sign that says “I’m abnormal.” It’s like suddenly they see into my brain and see the spot that says “autism” on it. (Or worse, they look at me like I’m crazy because I don’t fit the paradigm of what autism is that they’ve come to accept). A presence. Something there that should not be there. Something they do not have. Something that makes me abnormal.

But I feel the complete opposite to this. My whole life I’ve experienced the absence in me of something which others around me have. Things that others learned early in life which have become natural and worn like a badge that says, “yep I’m human just like you.” These things are so simple that most people I try to explain it to don’t even seem to hear me. Things like what angle to hold your head while someone is greeting you so that you look polite, interested, not flirting though, not bored, not dumb, present, ready to respond… Greetings and goodbyes are inexplicably and ridiculously difficult for me. Whether or not I come off successful, I feel so incomprehensibly silly doing stuff like that. Hi nice to meet you, oh my gosh I know the traffic was just awful, how was your ride? I love your hair today, aren’t you glad it’s nice outside…Inside I’m just thinking, what the fuck...

Absence. Not a presence. An Absence. Something You Have That I Do Not. I do not have a spot, you have many spots. Some of them I wish I had. Some I’m glad I do not. Some I will never understand.

Ok, I’m going to finish the movie now then maybe start this blog post. lol

 

Spoilers

 

Ahhhhhh…, artistic genius in connection with bipolar disorder. I guess I saw this coming, lol. Luna declares to the others around him drawing pictures that Van Gogh’s Starry Night was created as what he saw from the window of his room in a sanitarium while he was manic. I don’t know if it’s true. (Luna challenges you to go “look it up.”)

The film is focused on the book Touched with Fire by Kay Jamison. Luna believes that the depth of emotion he feels is not an illness, but something he would like to hold on to. Carla feels the same until everything changes.

She becomes pregnant. Suddenly there is more to her life than feeling and being present. She must make changes to accommodate the responsibilities of being a parent, and she believes Luna when he commits to the same.

Luna and Carla make a connection with each other in their mania while in a hospital. Each night at 3 am they meet in the art room of the hospital and come up with a grand plan to return to their home, the moon. When they start disobeying the rules, their parents and doctors begin to intrude on their lives in a strong way, terrified that they indeed feed each others’ illnesses. This is an interesting tension and discussion of that question: Are they absolutely wrong for each other, or are they absolutely right for each other? Both points of view are argued and it is left for the viewer to decide for themselves.

The path of the film’s story does not change that. Ultimately it is up in the air as to whether you side with those who believe the illness to be a terrible tragedy or a gift. Obviously when a state of mind brings one to destructive behavior threatening other peoples’ lives, there is a problem and more to be observed than artistic acumen. But even this scenario, in which Luna drives his car carrying his love Carla into the river, we are left with nothing but grey area and perspectives flying in different directions. Would the existence of Starry Night be worth it if Van Gogh had had an episode where he’d almost killed someone? (Or maybe he did, I don’t know. How can anyone know for sure.)

Then the film gets incredibly medication-centered. At first I was disappointed by this, but then I understood how important of a part medication plays in not only the patients’ own lives, but in forming opinions of society based on correlative data.

I’m not a doctor, but I do have strong opinions about the use of medication in various types of “mental illnesses.”

Having experienced this firsthand, I felt an unbelievable wave of empathy when Luna made statements about feeling nothing inside and hating it, wanting the mania back, preferring the highs and lows. He also complains that he does not feel the emotion he should feel for the person he loves more than anything in the world. Doctors explain that he must get used to a “normal range of emotion.” What a depressing, grey statement. I remember detesting the way anti-depressants made me feel. I wasn’t on them long. And while people kept telling me I had to keep at it to find the balance that would make me feel good, I refused to deal with not wanting to make music, write, or getting excited about anything.

(Tangent) My life has always presented a steady influx of obsessions that are all-consuming, work their way through me as I work my way and absorb everything it has to offer, then it tapers off before something else strikes me. None of these obsessions are ever discarded, and I think this is a gross misunderstanding in a lot of people, at least when I discuss it. On the surface it seems like I am just getting engrossed and investing everything into something then suddenly discarding it. This isn’t true at all. I’ve internalized very deeply the things I take in out of passion and inspiration. They are always with me, and they build upon each other, making connections. I remember very clearly being on one of these drugs and knowing for a fact that I would take depression over feeling nothing any day. I think anyone who has ever been touched by fire would understand this sentiment from Luna. (End Tangent)

Carla ends up following a different route, taking her medication long term, and in the end the two do not stay together. They have one final meeting for a reading of a book composed of their verses together, and it is evident that Luna has remained the same as he’s always been, while Carla has “moved on” with another man and on her medication. She has chosen to steady herself. Luna’s eyes speak to the heartbreak he feels when he realizes this, while Carla’s remain sober, even cold.

I liked this film because it struck a chord with me in that it tries to demonstrate what it’s like to feel deeply, the good side and the bad side. There are similarities between bipolar as conveyed in this movie and the things I’ve studied and experienced through autism. So many times I’ve heard it said that people on the spectrum experience life like a child for their whole lives, they retain a sense of wonder about the world and an appreciation for the most minute details in life that others may miss. I think that this sense of child-like wonder is essential for creativity. I can’t imagine cranking out a piece of work that has not blossomed from any kind of inspiration on the part of the artist. (Or I should say, a piece of work that has anything meaningful to offer on a human level. Obviously there is a lot of “art” getting cranked out according to the algorithm of commercial demand.) So is there any mystery in the fact that so many artists and inventors are considered posthumously to have probably been autistic or bipolar, or whatever we choose to call all of the maladjusted forms of nonconformity? And the fascinating question is, is this part and function of our brain, this capacity for greatness and genius in creativity, available and waiting to be unlocked within all human beings? It seems perfectly reasonable to me, given what little I know about the discoveries of neuroscience connected with neuroplasticity as well as the possibilities laid out by the implications of quantum mechanics, if we dare to venture into it without safety nets. But this post is long enough I suppose, lol. Another day.

 

The Theory of Obscurity: A Film About The Residents

“If you wait until you understand enough to do something, you’re never going to get it done.”

-Penn Jillette, The Theory of Obscurity

 

Until about a week ago, I had no idea who The Residents were, but I know I’ve seen reincarnations of the big eyeball head with a top hat. As far as their sound and art though, I’d never been exposed. So watching 2015’s documentary The Theory of Obscurity, written and directed by Don Hardy Jr., was a brief introduction that got me devouring everything I could find of their work, mostly from youtube, where a wealth of their videos and live performances can be found.

As the introduction to the film states, there is certainly no “definitive” history for the art group, and no personal histories for the members. Their identities have still, after over 40 years, never been revealed.

One of the interviewees in the film makes a comment that the group can really be looked as “failed filmmakers” primarily, even before their sound. Their music, as far as I know, from the earliest time they were making it was always accompanied by film in some form. Whether it was a matter of designing and making a set, objects and costumes for a specific song, or messing around with newspaper one day then much later deciding to use it for a music video for another tune.

I was drawn in by how atmospheric and over-the-top their art is, going as far as possible into the weird and approaching a space that is subconscious and nightmarish, but pleasantly so, like the feeling you get after waking up from a nightmare; knowing you are safe, you bask in the coolness of having had such a horrible nightmare, and you dwell on it while taking joy from it. (Perhaps not with really, really bad nightmares I should say, this is just my experience.)

The film shows snippets of their videos and a great deal of commentary by those who surrounded The Residents during their group’s lifetime, including founding members of the Cryptic Corporation, but of course there is nothing so revealing in the film as to feel like we can hone in on the personality, or indeed even person-hood, of the group. They are the one-for-all, all-for-one mentality described in the “Theory of Obscurity,” which basically states that artists can more fully realize their artistic visions when they are outside and apart from the public scrutiny that comes along with celebrity. In this reality, they have the best of both worlds; they have achieved the highest of cult status with fans all around the world and a working career spanning several decades, but at the end of the day they can always go to the grocery store and the local diner without ever dealing with fans in a personal way. This isn’t to say that there is no personal connection between the group and their fans. Somehow I think it is even greater because there is a malleability in the group and their art that make it relevant to individuals in individual ways. The Residents’ work is not muddied by personal histories or personalities that tend to distort whatever the body of work the group has created. You think of big name artists and many of them now have strings and controversy attached to their work because of this thing they said in an interview, or that thing they did off stage, etc. The Residents’ body of work is untouchable and infallible in that sense.

The visual effect that comes across when I see the music video to, say, “It’s a Man’s World,” or the photographs of the members wearing giant eyeballs on their heads is hard to describe, and I think I came closest to explaining it for myself personally above, when I said they are visually akin to the feeling of waking up safely from a nightmare. The images stay with me and I am intrigued because they trigger so many individual emotions into an amalgamation that is completely different from any other artistic experience, save for certain film directors’ movies. The Residents’ visual work manages to capture emotions without story, but with abstract and shocking images. The weirdness touches on a strange human capacity to latch on to and obsess over something grotesque and distorted, but that somehow satisfies a deep voyeuristic impulse. Like something disgusting in a video your friends show you, but somehow you can’t keep your eyes from watching. Les Claypool describes it succinctly when he talks about the first Residents’ song he ever heard, Constantinople. He says he hated it, he thought it must be the music they play in hell to torment people. But as time progressed, the sound he’d heard stayed with him, somehow going from something he couldn’t stand to something he couldn’t shy away from. He describes it like a fungus. It just kept sticking to him, growing. “The Residents were my fungus,” he states, hilariously straight-faced. The next clip shows him singing with Primus a cover of that very song.

The film also touches on how it is easy to dismiss The Residents if you refuse to look beneath the surface. Like I mentioned, I latched on to the atmosphere of the music, then watched some of the visual work, finally I looked into lyrics. There is something so tragic and personal in some of their work that perhaps would not be possible without masks to cover the bareness of their souls they are showing to the audience.

Last night I watched Freak Show, as performed in Prague. The show swings you from fun and hilarious, to beautiful, tragic, morose, and then dumbfounding. The Freak Show is something that is something of an analogy for the Residents themselves, they prove the universal fascination in human deformity, but at the expense of empathy and acceptance that these creatures are still human with human hearts.

The show is divided into two parts. In the first we play the part of the audience at a Freak Show, the boisterous and funny MC takes you on a journey through the history of the freak show and then we get to see the show’s stars one by one. The second part plummets you into your own soul, showing the behind-the-scenes of a possible reality after the lights are dimmed and the curtain falls. Each freak is engaged in their own reality in extreme deficit of something anyone on the street would call a basic human need for love, something everyone deserves. But beyond this, and more painfully I think, we then get a demonstration of these pitiful creatures’ attempts to fill the void within them, to keep up the façade of life and meaning where they’ve been stripped completely of their humanity. Such uncomfortable moments make the viewer grimace in disgust at the same time that she finds the twisted image of the reflection of these vain efforts in her own heart. My personal take-away is that we are all caught in the absurdity of life and in equally vain and pitiful attempts to frame our lives with meaning. We are all caught in the freak show.

 

Like I said, I am just at the beginning of my journey through The Residents’ work, something I am excited and perhaps a little nervous about! =)

 

Criterion Blogathon: Lars von Trier

When I was in college I studied creative writing. In a short story writing class I took during my senior year, we were taught about the story arc and about the necessity for the main characters(s) to go through some kind of change somewhere in the story, they couldn’t remain stagnant. This was necessary for the reader to be engaged with the character and care about what happens to them, and to be willing to follow them throughout the whole journey.

At that time I was sure that I was going to be one of the best writers in the class and everyone would finish reading my stories and not be able to speak for a few seconds. I was going to write novels with strange and wonderful characters that everyone would latch on to, but I had another idea about what makes a “good story,” and my experiments did not go over well.

I had been studying British modernist writers like Virginia Woolf, Joseph Conrad and T.S. Elliot and was very interested in their kind of revolt against what had been done before. The stories went in a completely different direction, where the events of the stories are secondary to what’s going on in the characters’ minds. In fact, it wasn’t necessary for hardly anything to be happening, like in Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Instead, we are thrown into a troubled mind and asked to bear through all the pain and thought without much movement in any direction. The stories are a snapshot that tries to give you a look at the present state from many, many angles, turning one way and giving you beauty, the other and giving you despair. This is what I love most about Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as well. I could drown happily in his language. I don’t need to know whether the character turned left or right.

Later on I decided to write longer form narrative and quickly discovered the trap that would garner me discouraging feedback from anyone I shared my writing with, (and I promise all of this comes back to an observation on Lars, =).

As I wrote a story, I created a character and a set of events in an outline, giving me an idea of what I was going to work on at each session, but very quickly I realized that planning and guidelines only go so far when your writing starts to take control. I get into a state which I’ve read is called the “flow,” which is hyper-focused and determined in nature. Time falls away and nothing is relevant except the creation flowing out of your mind second by second. But I found that I wanted to throw in each and every idea and thought that I’d incubated in my mind my entire life. This connects to that and this, and oh this is related to this and…gee the character is talking a lot like myself

The creativity would give way to a kind of self-involved sermon fleshing out my own life and convictions on things that either directly or indirectly reminded me of them as I wrote out details in the story. Before long my 100 or so pages were very little action and a whole lot of pondering. But the pondering wasn’t necessarily organized in a way that the reader could follow. When I was younger I justified this as a snapshot literary style, like the writers I’d admired so much in college. But as I matured and read and wrote much more, I realized that this justification was invalid, and set to work re-writing and editing, and re-writing again and again… Whether or not I made improvements, it did take me a while to accept that perhaps people would not be universally moved to tears by my meandering, endless thoughts on life.

In an article published in Film Comment in the fall of 2009 titled “The Six Commandments of the Church of Lars con Trier’s Antichrist [2009],” Larry Gross calls the film a “transitional work made by an artist in crisis,” then observes later, “crisis has been a regular if not predictable feature of von Trier’s career from the start.”

My interpretation of this statement links back to the idea of creating a work that becomes more and more convoluted with the self in a way that snowballs until out of control. In Antichrist, like most of von Trier’s films, there is a massive visual talent for combining gorgeous shots with absolutely grotesque supporting concepts. And mired in these two and three hour marathons of stunning visuals are profound observations, rages, and moral lessons on life, love, society, and pain. They pile one on top of the other, connecting and jumping from one thought to the next triggered by actions and observations by his characters. When I watch a von Trier film, I get the feeling like I did in college when I found it unavoidable to engage in the act of creation without divulging every single passionate impulse that rose to the surface. It feels like a desperate attempt, indeed, like an artist in crisis.

Antichrist, in my opinion, is one of the most cohesive and contained of von Trier’s films. It is also one of my favorites.

When I first began watching von Trier films, (I think it was actually Antichrist that started me digging for everything he’s made,) it was certainly the visual stuff going on that caught my interest. Like my reading, writing, and music tastes, I am always drawn first to context, to background, to component, more so than any other aspect. I don’t really hear the lyrics of a song until I fall in love with the music. If I don’t like what I hear those first few bars, than I don’t really care what the song lyrics have to say, (many friends frown on this outlook). With Joseph Conrad or Yukio Mishima I can read paragraph after paragraph of beautiful language and writing, character action or plot become secondary at that level of mastery. Lars von Trier’s films are art films and not soap operas. They are incredibly executed visual experiences busting at the gut with ideas, sometimes downright sermonizing, but I love his work all the more for it.

In the article in Film Comment, Gross discusses his early work that I have not seen yet, including the Europa trilogy and The Kingdom TV series. The earliest work I saw was Breaking the Waves (1996), with a heartbreaking performance by Emily Watson as Bess and a performance by Stellan Skarsgard that solidified him as one of my all-time favorite actors. What is most striking to me about Breaking the Waves is that it is pretty grounded, with its feet planted firmly on the earth, and captures tragedy in a painfully real way, both with the shaky “realness” of the camera that makes you feel as nervous as the characters, and the pervasive gloomy color and atmosphere of the location itself. It is dramatic, but recognizable. It doesn’t catapult the viewer into a crazy depiction of a metaphor with a tree filled with people having sex or anything. But then at the very end, the movie completely breaks from reality with the bells in the sky, and it was jolting for me. It was the first experience of this very von Trier tendency to suddenly go to the absolute extreme of storytelling and which asks a lot from viewers, in that it departs directly and toward the need for intellectual interpretation. Von Trier is asking us, “this is not possible, or even fathomable, in real life, and has the possibility of completely throwing you out of the story, so what am I trying to tell you by throwing this at you?” He got much better at doing this effectively in his later films in my opinion, and this one at the end of Breaking the Waves is probably my least favorite moment.

I won’t go through each and every one of his films right now, though I would love to and probably will at some point. Instead I want to fast forward to his state of affairs in the last few years, including his latest work, Nymphomaniac I and II (2013). This work again ties in to the observations made earlier about throwing all of your ideas into your work as if they take over. Nymphomaniac more than any other of his films, demonstrates this, and it is up to the viewer to love it or hate it.

As von Trier fans may remember, several years ago Lars vowed to not give any more interviews or speak to the media at all after one of his comments about relating to Hitler was taken very, very badly at the Cannes film festival. Last year he “broke his silence,” as many of the headlines read by speaking out about how he was trying to get off drugs and alcohol. In late 2014, he told Nils Thorsen from newspaper Politiken that almost all of his films had been written under the influence of drugs and alcohol. For the previous few months, he’d been working very hard to stay completely sober. But now another painful transition is coming to light, he says. He admits in the article that he doesn’t know if he can work anymore if he’s sober. He states that Nymphomaniac was the first project he’d done sober and it took him an exorbitantly long time to get finished.

Nymphomaniac certainly departs from his other films in a few obvious ways, and it makes sense with this new knowledge that he managed to finish it sober. The throwing up of ideas onto the page, getting everything you ever thought about, believe in, and observed about life into the work is something that I had always been told was a very bad way to create. It is convoluted, I personally could not do it well, or in a way that anyone could care about. But in Nymphomaniac, in my opinion, the son of a bitch actually pulls it off. It is not even hidden underneath crazy visual dances squirming through metaphor and far-reaching connections. It is literally a man and a woman, conveying their wandering thoughts to each other, connecting them randomly to everything from fly-fishing, Bach, Fibonacci, Edgar Allen Poe and soul trees. It is a dry, sober discussion, and one that I was completely engaged with. Charlotte and Stellan work together again as they’ve done so many times before on von Trier films, and the relationship and familiarity and comfort they have with each other gives anything they do, no matter how outrageous, viability.

In the latest articles I’ve read, von Trier has taken to drinking a “little bit” just so he can “get to working again.” It breaks my heart to think of von Trier falling into a spiral of alcoholism again, and it would also be sad if he were to never write or create things like he has before. I would certainly hope he finds the balance to live in a way that isn’t destructive, but also taps in to that creative genius that I believe is there within him and that doesn’t need alcohol or drugs to engage again.

Hidden Gems

Happiness (1997) came out of left field at me while trying to find a certain type of rare movie. There is a combination of shocked, disturbed, and enlightened effects that create for me an experience that sticks and tends to essentially raise the bar for future films that might be aspiring toward the same thing. I’ve been through the lists of “most disturbing movies ever made.” I found some gems, but mostly I found movies with the most blood fests. A lot I was already familiar with. A lot of people thought Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) was the most disturbing movie, other lists went straight to stuff like Hostel (2005) and The Last House on the Left (1972), Human Centipede (2009). Most of these, in my opinion, do not belong on the same list because they are incredibly different from each other, but I guess everyone has a different idea of how to measure such words as “disturbing.” I don’t even think this is the correct word to use, now that I’ve looked up exact definitions.

Being “disturbed” alludes to worry and anxiety. If something is disturbing, it causes anxiety and makes the person worry. This means that the word disturbing is most aptly assigned to the strict horror and suspense films. At the moment when you see the shady neighbor see Jimmy Stewart watching him through the window, you feel the anxiety and worry as you wait for him to arrive at the helpless, wheelchair-bound Jeff’s apartment, helpless to defend himself (Rear Window (1954)), and when something makes a noise in the attic and the stupid teenage protagonists decide they should go check it out, you feel the anxiety in the anticipation of finding out what is up there. The lists of top ten most “disturbing” movies of all time which include gore fest-type movies is therefore misleading, (at least to an Aspie nerd who finds semantics interesting). So what is the adjective we’re looking for to describe movies on the top of these lists? Well, first let’s decide what movies belong there; after all in blog world everyone gets to decide what is “correct.” =)

Personally, I don’t care about how crazy the gore is, but I’m not impressed by it unless it has a purpose. Similarly for violence in general. I don’t particularly go out of my way to watch something with tons of bloody violence in it. I don’t just love to watch blood poor out of people. Which is why it takes a long time for me to root out what I’m looking for, because the term disturbing does not identify it, though I have only been able to find gems under this particular heading. As mentioned before, Antichrist (2009) is on a lot of “disturbing” lists. For sure, the themes are challenging as well as the graphic depictions. What I love about this film is how these visuals make a statement for the viewer to grapple with. The role of femininity, the divided historical perspectives of woman as evil, woman as nature, or woman as nurturer, etc. The explicitness of the content is not just exploitative. But again, “anxiety” or “worry” are misplaced adjectives to describe such effects of a film like Antichrist.

Alright, so I have a feel for the general ingredients I look for in a movie. It is not to be found in the popular, mainstream for sure. These films tend to be controversial, and a lot of people have incredibly deep negative, (or positive for that matter), feelings about these films.

So “controversial” is much closer than “disturbing” for sure. So what do we get when we google for lists of most “controversial” films of all time…

This is the first list I found, http://time.com/3637680/most-controversial-films. After looking through several others’ top 10 to 25, there are definitely cross-overs and similarities, but I think there’s a marked difference between a film’s effect being “disturbing” versus its content being “controversial.” Being disturbed is a very deep-down, visceral experience that feels more like a gut reaction, while coming to the conclusion that a film’s subject matter is controversial implies a process of thought. There is a time, however brief, where the film’s content is measured against what you believe is correct or moral, and if there is too big a discrepancy, then people will “talk” in certain terms, and sometimes fiery terms, about the film, thus earning it a description in history as one of the most controversial films of all time. The platform upon which all other films deemed controversial stands would have to be Birth of a Nation (1915). A few of the cross-overs include The Exorcist (1973), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Freaks (1932), Irreversible (2002), and Salo (1975); all disturbing, (if you count nausea as anxiety), and controversial for its content, either at the time of the film’s release or after the passing of time and changes in social consciousness.

 

There is one crossover that I would like to highlight as a bridge toward the clearing where hopefully I will find the perfect words of description for what I am hungry for in film all the time. This film is Pascal Laugier’s 2008 film Martyrs.

Spoilers

Martyrs is said to be a difficult film to watch. The abuse is shown most evocatively in the wounds on the girls’ bodies. This accounts for most of the film’s “disturbing” status, as well as it’s controversy, simply regarding the content of child abuse, though there is no rape involved. The first victim of abuse is shown running down the street escaping her captors. Her name is Lucie (Mylene Jampanoi), and later she takes her revenge on the people who are responsible for her pain and subsequent life-long struggle with paranoia and hallucinations. After escaping as a little girl, she is placed in an orphanage and finds one kind soul who becomes her one and only friend throughout her life. Her name is Anna (Morjana Alaoui). There is a time gap jump between the two of them as friends as little girls and 15 years later, when Anna receives a call from Lucie, who calls from the home of her murdered captors from long ago. “I did what I had to” she says. Anna immediately comes running to her side. Everything about her actions are selfless, she is in love with Lucie, though Lucie has way too much damage emotionally to really process that kind of feeling. Instead Lucie is haunted constantly by her experience as a child and by the hallucination of a creature that appears to be the scarred, barely human remains of a girl her age, tortured beyond recognition. To me she reminds of a “Grudge” type ghost from a J-horror film with her distorted, beastly, jerking movements and disheveled hair in her face. The film depicts this creature as a real being in physical space until the moments when it is shown that she is nothing more than a hallucination. What is convincing about her physicality is the fact that each time she shows up she wields something to hurt Lucie with. When Lucie manages to get away and run to Anna, she disappears.

Lucie barely hangs in there on the cliff of insanity until that night, as the two of them are hiding out in the house, Anna laboriously dragging bodies to the back yard to be thrown into a pit. Anna is tending to the body of the mother, when suddenly the body’s eyes open, as reflected in the mirror Anna is looking into (a really effective shot). The mother is still barely alive and Anna is compelled to try and save her. While Lucie is upstairs, she tries her best to move the mother out of the house, imploring her to be as quiet as possible, but she is unsuccessful, and Lucie finds them in the kitchen after hearing the noise of the mother’s whimpers. Lucie is sent over the edge, throws herself down and hammers the mother to sure death this time before going on a rampage on the glass around the house, diverting her energy from the source of her rage, which she would never hurt. Anna cowers along the floor as Lucie yells at her. “You don’t believe me?! How can you want to save her? She HURT me!” Finally Lucie hurls herself out of a ground floor window, grabs a shard of glass, and ends her life. End Part 1.

So we are halfway through the film at this point. There is so much blood and violence and pain going on, why am I still watching? If you’ve seen the film, (and actually enjoyed it), why are you still watching? I have seen a lot of films that fall squarely into the shocking, disturbing, and controversial categories. But many of them I don’t care to ever watch again. There are several films I’ve watched just because I’ve read or heard about their importance to film history, films like Irreversible. I was all but completely disinterested throughout. The film had no meaning for me, and I was never struck emotionally, despite watching someone go through scenes of incredible pain and suffering. The same for I Spit on Your Grave, which I watched as part of a college class on women and violence in film. We had an interesting debate afterwards, but I certainly have zero inclination to ever, ever see it again. As a woman, this is understandable in both cases. So let’s go a different direction. Most of Takashi Miike’s catalogue. Let’s look at Ichi the Killer (2001). Miike is one of my favorite directors, but it is not because of Ichi the Killer or even Izo (2004). He is one of my favorite directors because of films like Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (2006), Sukiyaki Western Django (2007), Crows Zero (2007), Audition (1999) and Hara-Kiri (2011). So now I’m getting closer.

Part of what I’m fascinated with is simply the photography, and the visual aspect, touches by a skilled director and cinematographer that may not even be noticed at first viewing, but which touch something deep in the psyche that acts like a foil for what emotion or feeling the director is trying to bring out, (much like the score, which I’ve already written about in prior posts). Like a shot of a person’s distorted viewpoint from a high ledge when you want someone to feel vertigo, or getting a shot of a woman whose face is lit by the morning sun from a low 45 degree angle at the moment when a man falls in love with her.  —Tangent–> My favorite actors all have a subtle quality in their acting; very, very slight movements of trademark expressions that can vary widely depending on the situation. Their characters always feel fresh because of this versatility. One raised eyebrow paired with a mouth position is profoundly effective when Tilda Swinton,  Stellan Skarsguard or Tom Hiddleston does it, but it also manages to evoke different, equally profound emotions between different characters and stories. It is like magic. Actors I really wish I liked because I like their movies but don’t include Tom Hanks, Nicholas Cage and Julia Stiles, simply because I find them to be flat-faced to where they always look the same.<—End Tangent—

Another important aspect to these films is that the over-the-top violence in some cases serves a purpose for the movie that enhances instead of distracts. I don’t like movies that quickly become all about the spectacle of violence. I think the least enjoyable kinds of movies are the shoot-em-up action stuff where the only cohesive element is a rehash of the same convoluted story line, manifesting in hundreds of different flavors from mafia to dystopian robots. The heart of these films is special effects and lots of violence. The film at the extreme of the pure spectacle aspect of the art. And I mean the gun movies where people simply pull triggers then blood starts spraying everywhere.

This isn’t to say that lots of guns equals a shallow movie. Remembering the appreciation of artistry in visual choreography, I love scenes like the one in the Matrix (1999) where Trinity and Neo shoot up the place at the end to rescue Morpheus. It is choreographed, cut and paced like a ballet and it is beautiful. This film also has great characters and an interesting story.

Films with almost all fighting and insignificant story pretty much only work for me in films like Police Story (1985), or basically almost anything Jackie Chan has ever choreographed. His films are shot perfectly to capture a mix of fantastic choreography and highlights of key impacts and facial expressions to tell a story purely with movement.


All of this brings me to the movies that got me thinking about a post like this in the first place. The films of Todd Solondz. Hmmm, some adjectives to describe the effect of his films… We’ve established I don’t think words like “disturbing” or “controversial” really hit it at all…

Nauseating is valid. Resonant. Kinetic. Unrelenting. Adjectives to describe the films themselves…over-the-top. Exaggerated. Thought-provoking. Naïve. Retaliatory.

The aim of Solondz’s Happiness (1998), I think, is to cram down the viewers’ throats the ugly truths of life that society chooses to bury underneath shampoo commercials. To throw in our faces the dumb hypocrisy of our taboos held up against our behaviors like a shadow puppet show. To make us think about how living together in a marriage of turmoil keeps one in good conscience and passers-by comfortable, while running away from the horror and shame-inducing possibility of divorce. His films make us ask ourselves, “Oh shit, is that me?” “Why do I think this is funny?” “Would I feel bad if someone were here and saw me laughing?”

His movies like to play with the line between uncomfortable and funny. It makes me think about my own common reactions in almost any social situation where I feel uncomfortable, rooted in my Asperger’s syndrome characteristic: I giggle, I smile, I laugh. Doesn’t have to be anything funny going on. Along the line somewhere I decided and internalized a societal truth that laughter makes it all go away…

In Happiness, laughter does not make it go away. It makes us look at ourselves, ask questions. Because the line I’m talking about between funny and uncomfortable pretty much always gets crossed in Solondz movies, more-so in Happiness than some of his other films like Dark Horse (2011).

And here we come to it. I like films that make me have the kinds of reactions that lead to questioning myself and my world. I don’t want to be comfortable too long. I feel it creeping up and I literally jump out and away to find something else to strike me, or to strike against. The more I research Asperger’s, the more I see where this nature comes from, not only as part of my personality, with which I’ve always associated it, but embedded neurologically. I want to know everything, and I don’t want anything to get in the way or slow me down. I am hungry all the time. When I found Happiness, I immediately watched all other Solondz movies I could find. Inevitably this path will intersect with another movie or director and I will go running down another path. Running in all of these directions lead inevitably to various intersections, and these are the most exciting discoveries of all.

The Danse Macabre

A little while ago I picked up a book written in the early ‘80s that is so up my alley, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read it before. Truth is, I didn’t really know what it was until my brother told me it was nonfiction, and basically an essay on the horror genre, by one of my favorite authors, Stephen King. The book is, of course, Danse Macabre.

I am a complete film fanatic in every sense of the word and my interest spans nearly any genre and country, (that I hear of and can find). I think it is noticeable upon looking at the history of posts on this site from when I first started it in December of 2013, that most of what I write about is pretty dark. Certainly not an interest that fits within the confines of horror; horror is simply nestled comfortably at the center of my interest. I like provocative, emotional films, and I tend to react with more emotion to a movie and its characters than I do to real people. Why that is I don’t know, but it continues to fascinate me…why a car crash in a movie makes you cry or makes you scared, but seeing one in real life just makes you want to lean further out the window to see if you can see anything. Or maybe that’s just me and I’m messed up.

What I love in this book, (so far, I’m only about 100 pages in), is that his discussion encompasses both books and film, and intertwines their relevance in meaningful and interesting places. I have never really wanted to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but after reading about King’s reactions and the effects those books had on him, I am very interested in picking up those books up as soon as possible, (though I have quite a few already in line).

In the past few months, I have not been very motivated to write on the movies I’ve been seeing, hence the posts coming on a more monthly basis than weekly lately. There are many reasons for this, I feel, but without going into details, I will just mention therapy for social anxiety and a possible Asperger’s diagnosis on the horizon. However, I do believe that things will turn around for the better, and relatively soon.

In the meantime, I thought, since I don’t have an essay in mind for a single movie, I’m just going to talk about some of the films I’ve been seeing in response to this book, Danse Macabre. The first couple, I watched after reading King’s commentary in the introduction to the 2010 edition. He mentions several movies, including The Descent (2005)and The Last House on the Left (2009)-(the Dennis Iliadis remake). Both were pleasant surprises.

The Descent plays on one of my most physical, tangible fears, claustrophobia. I am also drawn to an isolated, or single, setting, as mentioned many times before. The last few movies which put me in this same space include Pressure (2015), about a few crewmen abandoned in a diving bell after the ship they were on is attacked and destroyed, and Sanctum (2011), a film about diving in the deep caves and crevices of the earth that are filled with water, so not too far off from The Descent’s setting. These films feel very intimate to me, and make anything horror-inducing so much the more effective for their proximity. There is one scene in The Descent where the women are crawling through a crevice so tiny they can barely fit through, and they don’t even know where it leads! Made my skin crawl. The twist comes in the film’s final third portion as the women happen upon horrors the world has never seen, including some the world is very familiar with—those of hatred and revenge in a human’s mind. The horror aspect jumps from something intimate and psychological to the old fashioned “out there” monster horror. The classic jump scares and chase scenes abound. It is perhaps this that makes the most horrible moment much more effective, in that it is an action by one of the women, not a “monster.”

The other, the remake of Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972), made in 2009 by director Dennis Iliadis, was quite a shock. The first shock came, however, when I read an actual negative review of the original, a film that has always, from the sources I’ve been familiar with, touted the film as one of horror’s pinnacles and milestones. Perhaps it is, in many ways, but as far as King is concerned, the film is something akin to “Abbott and Costello meet the rapists.” I reflected on my initial reaction to this movie. It is graphic and horrifying, sure. I can’t remember when exactly I saw it, but I’m pretty sure I’d seen I Spit on Your Grave (1978) already for a class on women and violence in film, so compared to that one, it was kind of tame. But I don’t remember feeling like there was anything remarkable in the film as a film itself. The subject matter was a talking point, and how it was portrayed, but as a movie, kind of eh… which is why, I think, I never felt compelled to see the remake. However, I was definitely rewarded for giving it a try.

The remake is very, very different from the original in everything but the actual story itself, which might seem like the main thing in a film. But when you start looking at movies and noticing particular shots that are deliberate to evoke certain emotions, the way the cuts and scenes relate to each other, their pace, etc… there is much more to take in than the simple, and at this point trite, plot line of “revenge of the victims.” The most emotionally powerful scene in this film is when one of the girls manages to make it home to her parents while her attackers are sleeping peacefully in the guest house nearby. The rage and sorrow on the parents’ faces is incredible, and you feel it right along with them. I never felt anything like that in the original. I just felt disgust, maybe a little confusion, but this scene was enough to catapult the remaining sequences into very satisfying territory emotionally, especially in that final scene, shot in flashback.

After I watched these two movies and then continued reading, I started researching horror movies looking for ones I hadn’t seen, looking up lists like the “scariest movies ever,” or “the most disturbing movies ever.” I ended up treading some pretty mortifying territory. And I will warn you that the films I’m mentioning now are pretty much twice as graphic and disturbing as any of the American films in a “Hollywood’s top ten horror movies” list, for sure.

So first, the territory I’ve already come across and have digested in the search for the most evocative horror films. These would be movies like Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999) and Ichi the Killer (2001), to name just two in quite a few films close to my heart. (It is still mind boggling to me to think that the same guy who make Ichi also made Big Bang Love, pretty cool.)

Then there are the American cult favorites. I like the Saw movies (for the most part), and these were covered in my last post. I did notice as I read through King’s list of “good horror movies you need to see,” that I’ve never been particularly entertained by sci fi aspects in horror movies. I appreciate Alien (1979) a great deal, but do not like a movie like this as much as something like a good old fashioned haunted house movie. A part of it feels like it may be that the construction of the sets in a sci fi world throw so much detail at you that it is hard for me to process, and I can’t really hone in on the characters, much less feel something for them. Dunno, just a theory.

I’m also not a huge fan of classic monsters. (Except the creature from the black lagoon, he’s awesome.) Don’t care about werewolves, vampires, or Frankenstein’s monster. I am definitely firmly planted in the psychological horror aspect of horror movies. Serial killers are much more scary to me than a freaky looking humanoid. I’m also a fan of a good director’s use of effects to create horror in the viewer’s mind. This is something more rare and precious in the genre than anything, in my opinion. The most well known example would obviously be Hitchcock’s ability to frighten us with nearly nothing physical on the screen at all, certainly no scary monsters akin to the werewolf. He makes you see the monsters no one wants to face, inside your mind. Another earlier director famous for his technique to create terror with the camera was Jacques Turner. The most disturbing of his films, to me, bears nearly no mechanical resemblance to what we call the horror genre, but it gets inside your head. This film, and I recommend it to anyone, is The Seventh Victim (1943).

 

Oh yeah, anyway, the really disturbing movies.

Inside (2007) from France. I’m not even going to describe this to you. If you’re looking for extremes, this is on the list.

The other, which I just watched yesterday, is perhaps the most meaningful and thought-provoking of almost any horror movie I’ve ever seen. I may write on it some time, once I recover from it. The film is Martyrs (2008), also from France.

An abused young girl escapes her captives and is found, put up in an orphanage, and suffers mentally from years of child abuse, (though it is important to mention that there is no rape involved.) This troubled girl, Lucie, befriends Anna at the orphanage and they remain very close friends for years. Lucie is haunted by an entity that goads her toward taking her revenge on the people that tortured her. Anna does her best to cover for her, though she feels it might all be in Lucie’s head. When she discovers that everything Lucie has told her is true, she is devastated by the suffering she has had to endure all of her life. I won’t give away the important events in between, but suffice it to say that an interesting explanation is given towards the end of the film, and provides for something to really think over, basically giving a little rhyme and reason to what might otherwise just be “gratuitous violence.”

I guess that’s enough rambling for now. I’ll be back with a focused essay soon. =)

 

Watch and Be Watched. American Beauty (1999) and Welcome to Me (2014)

Several years ago I remember seeing a certain youtube video. It was just a young woman, early 20’s probably, with bleach blond hair and lots of makeup. She just talked about her day for a minute. Then she started in on a sensitive subject, I don’t have the slightest memory of what it was. But she gradually worked herself up to sobs, talking about this bit of her personal life to thousands of her followers. So many thoughts, judgments ran through my mind. “Why would someone do this publicly? Did she not have any friends? Should I be completely disgusted at her pathetic display…How brave she is…how dumb this is…Why don’t I pity her? Who would pity her? Etc… Basically the fact that someone was doing this publicly on the internet over-rode any amount of sympathy I may have had for her plight.

Welcome to Me (2014) stars Kristin Wiig as a young woman with borderline personality disorder who wins the lottery one day then walks into a studio to buy her own 2-hour-an-episode talk show, with her as the host. The subject? “Me” she says, unhesitating and completely confident. Her performance is one of the funniest I’ve seen in a long time. She is unbearably funny but also completely believable in her character.

Strangely, the idea for this post only came about after recognizing Wes Bentley and looking for other films he’d been in. And there was American Beauty (1999).

Re-watching this film reminded me of how potently and honestly it showed the sickness that is the American Dream, and its perversion into an obsession with beauty. But there also came to mind common themes between the two movies that I knew I wanted to examine. (I’m in no way comparing the two as films, simply subjects.)

The memory of the youtuber came to mind almost immediately after watching these two films. I’m really intrigued by the reaction I had, and how I may see things differently now, years later. The strongest emotional reaction was that of disgust, deeming the girl pathetic. Was it because I felt people shouldn’t share their emotions like that to thousands of random strangers? Of course. It would be like walking down the street when sometimes you see people fighting and yelling at each other on the sidewalk, or a couple making out and groping each other at a mall. Then I looked below at the comments people had left. People were trying to comfort her from all over the US. And she was responding to them. This was an actual support network for her. It was hard for me to grasp, and still is, but the virtual relationship she had with viewers in general was a source of strength for her, so much so that she was willing to completely open herself up, perhaps addicted to the response.

Then I thought about how easy it must be to love a crowd of people interested in you, but another thing altogether to engage with those people individually. I think of performers on a stage in front of thousands of screaming fans. The performers tell them how much they love them. But after the show they are ducking through dark hallways to try to get away before someone sees them and latches on to them, hanging off the car as they drive away. The individual is still part of the mass until they cross an invisible line that is too personal. Case and point would be the performer signing autographs. Each individual is still safely and squarely part-of-mass until the point when they may take a little too long after getting the photo handed back to them, or they try to share a little bit too much info about themselves and their personal lives. The bouncer has to come in and show them the way out, “there are lots of people in line, after all.”

That may have been a tangent, lol. Back to the movies.

The camera’s eye plays an important visual and metaphorical role in each of these films. Wes Bentley’s character in American Beauty, Ricky, is silently introduced in the film as a neighbor who films things, discreetly, specifically Jane, or “Janie” (Thora Birch). She is the daughter of Kevin Spacey and Annette Benning in the film, and friend to one of the popular, hot girls at school, Angela (Mena Suvari). Ricky films what he deems beautiful, and his concept of beauty is quite unlike most peoples’, lending himself to the reputation of being a freak. Jane is brought into his world through curiosity and finds love, as well as a common perspective on the people and perversion of beauty around them. In one climactic scene, Ricky confronts Angela after she suggests Jane is ugly, saying at least she isn’t. “Yes you are, and you’re boring, and you’re totally ordinary…and you know it.” This hit is catastrophic for Angela, whose self-image completely hinges on her being beautiful and everyone being attracted to her.

Each broken character represents another facet of broken society. The mother who has become completely superficial to hide her pain, the father who has lost the woman he loves and becomes cynical and desperate for validation, and the father who has been denied any opportunity for weakness and vulnerability, who beats his son to release the frustration of his own life. At the root of all of these is emotional suppression; desperation in the face of the unbendable law of social appearance, and the threat of losing a false identity because either one has never formed properly or it has been so distorted by other people and society that it is unrecognizable to themselves. In the end, all of the suppression is let out, and it explodes…and it is messy.

In Welcome to Me, Alice Klieg (Wiig) demonstrates complete emotional non-suppression. In fact, she is what her mother terms an “emotional exhibitionist,” taking it to the extreme of showing as many people as possible, through a TV show, exactly what she is feeling about many different things. Her struggle is at the complete flip side from the broken in American Beauty. She is always struggling to control the emotions running haywire, generally unacceptable to society. In one of the openings of her show, she explains that she asks herself why she doesn’t feel much when she is supposed to feel something, and why when she’s not supposed to feel anything she feels too much, to the point that people can’t handle it. (Not the exact quote, but that’s the best I can remember it.) I really loved this line because I recognized what she was talking about, though I would not understand the extreme swings of someone with borderline personality disorder.

When something happens or someone says something that I find hilarious and no one else really thinks it is funny, I try to not burst out laughing because it feels awkward. Or there are the more familiar and more frustrating instances when something really irritates you and makes you upset and no one else seems bothered by it and you just have to kind of bear it. These would be minor examples. Perhaps the strongest identification for this for me is when I find something incredibly beautiful, like a piece of music or something around me, and no one else seems to appreciate it. I want to smile or laugh or dance and I feel like I can’t do that.

Well Alice decides to not only dance when no one else is, but vent her frustrations, explore unscripted conversations, and reveal information that would probably be more appropriate in a private therapy session or the police station. She needs to act on what she is feeling, respond to it, address it, though she is drawn to do so in a not-so-healthy-way, including sexual interactions with any guy that shows her some degree of appreciation and attention–namely Wes’s character Gabe and a college student who likes her show and offers to interview her.

While the emotional directions contrast in the films, the common factor in each is the unflinching, cold and impartial eye of the camera. As omnipresent as the camera used to create the movie itself, the camera in each film is an open availability, even an invitation, to use as each character sees fit. As a result, the ways in which each character treats and utilizes the camera is a direct correlation with that which we are meant to know and understand for the sake of the story. Ricky feels trapped and knows people think he is strange, so he films on a small handheld, in the dark, trying not to be seen too much. He is also not seen by other people, including his parents; an invisible anomaly to the norm. Angela reacts to the camera the way she would react to anything that showed her attention; she dances and shows herself off. Jane reveals a kind of keen sense of being watched and shows connection to Ricky initially through the camera, as she smiles in a small mirror where Ricky is filming through her window, zooming in past the dancing, half-naked Angela. The camera gives us a glimpse of the mystery that has Ricky captivated.

In Welcome to Me, the camera plays solely toward representing Alice’s character in contrast to the people around her, and there is an interesting transformation that occurs by the end of the film. We learn some time into the film that her TV is always on; in fact it has been on for eleven years. The TV has become a sentient presence in her life, a comfort and a friend, a connection with the present, outside world which she is ill-equipped to connect with herself because of her mental state and the stigma around it. After winning the lottery and going to the filming of a TV show, she invites herself onstage and there is a moment when she looks into the camera and that red recording light and sees an actualization of her fantasy: the ideal form of existence that she has come to connect with her television, and herself as the ideal form of being and human life, namely Oprah.

It is the hypnosis of the omnipresence that TV offers that resonates with a viewer. We are all subject to it. Every time we see the cover of a new magazine and it feels fresh and out there, “happening now.” Any time we watch a live show or a big awards ceremony in California or the tantalizing commercials in between. They all connect us with a reality that is ultimately just projected presence now past. We do not live in the here-and-now as we watch television, but this is what we are meant to feel. When we watch that model fling her hair around after using a new hair care product, this is not something the whole world is thinking about in that moment, but this is what we are meant to feel. It is fresh, it is new, it is relevant right now and can responsibly be put in the place of all other cares we may have because of the simple fact that it demands that attention, through dazzling production value. Our last desperate attempt in America to connect with the illusory here-and-now would be the reality TV phenomenon, diluted now to a few hangers-on, their copy-cats, and a lot of music knock-offs of American Idol. No matter how determinedly we chase it, we will not reach here-and-now through TV.

Anyway, (sorry for another tangent), Alice forms a new relationship with TV through the camera and a self-actualization of what she feels is real, valid, and relevant. She ends up placing this experience above all else, including friends and family. As a result they leave her all alone for a time and after an angry outburst from her boss about the content of her show, she holes up in her home-in-a-casino and becomes utterly alone. No one is with her, no one is watching her. The withdrawal symptoms of this attention being yanked away pulls her back into the black hole of stagnancy. She no longer has an outlet for the actions that every ounce of her being tells her is necessary. To break from this pain and free the uncontrollable restlessness, she does something drastic. After this point, the plot of the film kind of falls apart, but it is still entertaining. She reconciles with her friends and family and all is peachy.

Again, as has been the trend for a few of the latest films I’ve written about, something happens in the very end that seems more relevant and important than much that has come before.

Alice returns to her home after her show is done, the home where her TV has been on for 11 years. Gabe gives her a gift, a small handheld camera, (just like Ricky’s). She asks what she is supposed to do with it, and Gabe answers “anything you want.” After he leaves, Alice films around her room for a bit then gravitates to her bed. She sits the camera down on top of the TV, turns the TV around to face away from her, and then tentatively turns the TV off. What is left is the bright red recording light of the camera in the darkness. The TV that had once been her support and friend is abandoned for the fresh placement of herself squarely in the center of her life. Instead of watching and copying her idol, she now has an addiction to being the one everyone watches. The emotional need is the same; the mode through which that need is satisfied has changed. The ending ties in to the quote shown at the beginning of the film by Michel de Montaigne, “I study myself more than any other subject. That is my physics. That is my metaphysics.”

The overall “message” and theme is not exactly a feat of profound observation on my part. It is something that has been incessantly stressed for many years; the general disconnect between ourselves and our emotions, ourselves and society, ourselves and our peers, through the illusions and expectations society has put on us, and the growing desperation for people to be able to express themselves and break free of the suppression, distorting itself to many, many an assortment of delusions.

What I’ve come to realize is that the point and fire of my personal interest and mission is to find and appreciate the countless and always surfacing ways in which people as artists demonstrate this reality that we are all already aware of. As an example, we already know that we should try to love and appreciate our friends and those that support us, but sometimes that doesn’t come alive to us until we are given a demonstration through story, myth, and legend, of what it means when this doesn’t happen. In other words, Ricky isn’t trying to tell you what beauty is, he’s asking if you see the bag, and I think the act of asking is just as beautiful as the bag.

TCM’s And the Oscar Goes To… (2014)

With the absence of filler, melodramatic music, heavy voice-over or static shots lasting more than a few seconds, TCM’s documentary And the Oscar Goes To… is a wonderful, insightful look at the history of the Oscars, from the very beginning. It highlights the environment in America through the years which have had an impact on Hollywood and the way it is run. The film is loaded with shots and footage from Oscars ceremonies and films from the 20’s and every decade forward.

A comment made by one of the actors asked how it felt to receive an Oscar in the 20’s struck me. She commented on how it was nothing like what you’d expect because there was not the tradition of “The” Oscars yet at that time. People got their awards, then kinda forgot about it the next day, nothing like what it has come to mean today, at least in the industry itself, it seems. Ever since I was a kid I watched the Oscars as the biggest thing ever. It was classy and fancy and beautiful. The climate in recent years, at least in the news, is that young people aren’t very interested in the ceremony anymore. People watch TV for entertainment and spectacle and the Academy’s efforts with poor host choices and stage material show a groping for a foothold with today’s young (ish) audience just to get people to tune in to the three hour show, beginning with the seemingly endless red carpet prowl pre-show. In my opinion, there seemed to be a nice balance hit with last year’s Ellen DeGeneres hosting. She is one of the funniest people I’ve ever watched, the material was funny and loose, but retained the “classiness” that distinguishes the Oscars from many other award shows. One of my favorite moments was the sharing of pizza with the audience, Harrison Ford nudging Ellen on the shoulder for a napkin!

As we approach the 2015 Oscars on February 22, I thought it would be appropriate to watch this newly available TCM doc on Netflix and include some of the facts, fascinating things I learned, and most enjoyable moments I had never seen before from the Oscars.

Bob Hope is the classic host everyone associates with the Oscars. In 1940, arguably one of the greatest movie years ever, the winners were published prematurely in California to the outrage of the Academy. As a result, henceforth the winners would be sealed in an envelope, only to be revealed on stage at the Oscars. As Bob Hope conveys in a following year, now the secretaries prepare the envelopes in a sealed room, then they’re taken out and shot, now here we are…

Frank Capra marked a turning point in Oscar history when he became the President of the Director’s Guild and President of the Academy at the same time. He altered the “Academy Bible” so that the Academy would have no role in labor, political or religious affairs. This was essential as the membership dwindled and the industry was being split by different labor and political interests. From then on the Academy would simply concern itself with the art and merit of its industry.


I love George Clooney’s comment about Spencer Tracy. “You always knew where he stood.” He tells about how Tracy would look down at his mark all the time, without any pretense or trying to hide it, then nonchalantly continue with his lines. But he was so no-bullshit about it that you never doubted him or his character.

 


Hattie McDaniel, first African American to win Oscar.

One of my favorite categories is the feature documentary. The category was established during WWII to document war footage. But soon after with the expanded to include an important genre of honest, and sometimes brutal and heart-wrenching, film making. Some of my favorite Oscar nominated documentaries include Inside Job, The Act of Killing, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Restrepo, and Man on Wire.


I thought I knew all the interesting little facts and tidbits about Star Wars from the hours of special features I’ve watched over the years. Somehow I missed this one. When talking about the category of sound design, the film talks about how the sound for Chewbacca were made. Essentially the crew would record a poor little bear who was hungry as they tortured it by dangling food in front of it! Poor bear…


 



Watch the 2015 Academy Awards on Sunday, February 22, 2015

Who I’d vote for: (not predictions) =)

Best Film:               B i r   d   m a  n

Actor (leading):                    Eddie Redmayne! (The Theory of Everything)

Actress (leading)                Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Actor (supporting):                   Edward Norton (Birdman)

Actress (supporting):                    Emma Stone (Birdman)

Animated FF : Have not seen =(

Cinematography:      Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski for Ida (Poland)

Costume Design:                Milena Canonero for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director:                    Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman

Documentary:                             not seen all, no fav yet.

Doc (short):       not seen

Film Editing:                    Sandra Adair for Boyhood

Foreign Language Film:            Ida (Poland)

Makeup and Hair:                             Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Music (score):                          Hans Zimmer, Interstellar

Music (song):               not heard

Production Design:                           Adam Stockhausen (Production Design); Anna Pinnock (Set Decoration) The Grand Budapest Hotel

Short Film (animated):               not seen

Short Film (Live):                             not seen

Sound Editing:                                Martin Hernández and Aaron Glascock for Birdman

Sound Mixing:                       Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten for Interstellar

Visual Effects:                                 Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher for Interstellar

Writing (adapted SP):                         Screenplay by Anthony McCarten for The Theory of Everything

Writing (original):                              Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo for Birdman

 

 

Nick Cave-20,000 Days on Earth (2014)

There is a state we keep coming back to and the more we do the more potent it becomes. Most of the time when I find the FALL in a piece of music it takes a minute, two, three, maybe six before it appears, suspends, then resolves and returns me to the ground, but Nick Cave seems to have discovered a way to lock you into that room for longer than what is supposed to be allowed. The result is a staggering trance-like experience outside of yourself and space and time and suddenly you have a new addiction. A short riff repeated over and over that builds upon itself, is self-sustaining, powerful enough to deliver more than you expected, more than you know what to do with, and in that building moment the repetition becomes a necessity. A demonstration of confronting something you can’t believe the first, second, third and even sixth time.

Searching for new discoveries in music–new to me, not new to the world–has proven relentlessly rewarding. I saw the film 20,000 Days on Earth just released on Amazon prime and realized I’d never really listened to Nick Cave. The film includes fascinating clips of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in the studio, playing through Higgs Boson Blues, Nick playing around on the piano, reworking parts of other songs and lyrics in the making. The film goes back and forth between ordinary conversation with associates and profound observations on the life and time of an artist.

I’m still in a strange awe-struck space working through lyrics and songs from Birthday Party to Grinderman and I’m a little surprised that I don’t have many words to put down here. Usually I can sit down and get into a flow of words on a film that has shifted my world in some way. I feel as though whatever energy I usually have from this is displaced and intent on taking in as much from this man as possible. Maybe some time in the future I will have more words to write on the film. But it fits, that this blog is about the short and long term effects of the cinema, and right now the effect is speechlessness.