Long has the western genre been plagued by the Hollywood romanticized interpretations of the old west derived from popular Western fiction, including the writings of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. This traditional view of western cinema is largely composed of the iconic cowboy figure, climatic showdowns at dawn, and beautiful desert landscapes.
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The movie opens with a sword held at a forty-five degree angle pointing at the mossy ground. Then the knight holding the sword swings slowly at his opponent and severs his head and then the decapitated victim falls to the ground and the blood shoots out like a scarlet spray. Other images of improbable violence follow. Once this litany of gruesome comedy is over, there begins a perverse version of the Arthurian legend, where everything is indescribably wrong, like a film projected at the wrong speed or based on discarded outtakes. An aesthetic that never falters, up to the bloody and severely anti-climactic end, an awkward close to parallel the flying heads and reddish squirts of the first scenes.
We begin with Tarkovsky’s first feature length film, Ivan’s Childhood. It follows a twelve year old Ivan through the harsh landscapes of a Soviet landscape torn by war. He is hardened by the ugliness of war and has the demeanor of the saltiest war veteran one could find. He has seen far too much during his short existence and has gained the ability to compartmentalize his emotions in a way that is a sin against youthfulness. His loss of innocence is that of humanity’s and there will be no turning back for us as our sins are too great.
I had a hard time deciding whether or not I should try to write about Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours /≥ mnbv. It was such a moving cinematic experience that I felt an obligation to share my appreciation of the film with anyone who would listen, but on the other hand I feel like trying to reduce the experience in to a few paragraphs on with my less than stellar writing ability would be a sin and an insult to its poetic beauty. I decided to go with a happy middle ground and express my appreciation without attempting to articulate anything about the viewing experience.
La Notte follows a married couple through the day and the night that they finally realized that their love was dead. The day starts with the confrontation of mortality as they visit a dying friend in the hospital. This visitation fuels realizations in the wife and adds kindling to old fires that had long since died. She can see clearly for the first time the emptiness of their lifestyle and the complete disappearance of the love that had slowly eroded over the course of many years and many champagne soaked book release parties. She spends the rest of the evening in an isolated soul search seeking out the old haunts where love used to be tangible and in the pursuit of some sort of stimulation that might rekindle the dead passion in their lives. The passion had already been dead for a long time, she just finally came to the penultimate realization.
Not many filmmakers create their own universe in which their characters can live and breathe in accordance with a wholly unique vision. Sometimes the best directors pull this off and revisit the world of their own creation throughout their oeuvre. Tsai Ming-Liang has synthesized such a world and though it runs parallel to our own there is a sense of impending change that permeates his. The characters drift through the ruins of a civilization that they clearly don’t belong to and try to make sense of the basic concepts of human connection through the sterile concrete landscapes and humming fluorescent lights of a bygone era. They have all of the outward traits of humans but one gets the impression that they are waiting for something. They are waiting for water, waiting in quiet desperation for human connection, waiting for the next phase in human evolution (or devolution). They make no attempts of expediting the inevitable transition nor do they fully comprehend what lies ahead but they wait in silent acceptance and unquantifiable understanding that it is on the way.
“Who dare say the leafless garden is not beautiful?” Love may lose its fervor as time passes and we become more cynical and world weary, but is it any less beautiful than love that is in the springtime of its genesis? Does it matter if we are crushed by the harsh realities of existence and no longer believe in the possibility of all things? If the value of art is solely identified by the subjective interpretation of the observer then is there not an intrinsic beauty in all things?
Blow Out is one of those love letters to cinema that can only be pulled off by a cinematic talent like Brian De Palma. He is paying homage to a wealth of films that came before, but he does so in a wholly original way. He takes elements of Antonioni, Coppola, and Hitchcock and distills them in to a unique work that is entirely his own. It isn’t just the technical elements that make a De Palma film distinguishable from the films it is paying tribute to, but a frequency that resonates through his entire body of work. This frequency is driven by his infectious passion for thrillers and popcorn cinema. It permeates his work with visual homage, shared plot elements, and sound design that act as callbacks to firmly established thriller tropes while maintaining a unique and fresh vision.
Seen in a single sitting, a film like this, with all its branching paths and anecdotal asides, all its subterranean currents and linked characters, the whole verbal spill of the thing, all of it plunges down on us as the running time nears its final minutes, our journey as viewers culminating in our opportunity to stand amidst an ocean of unremitting narrative and realize that we have become surrounded by another world and have lost sight of our regular lives, the faces and events that have marked our progress a fictional fog that envelops our bodies.
The horse is immense. It drags the carriage against the perpetual wind, its eyes agitated and delirious, each step perhaps its last, and yet it keeps moving, muscles tensing and relaxing as it gallops to the portentous rhythm of hypnotic music that rises in volume and madness as its sinister vibrations signal the tremors of a fading world.