There is no denying that Roman Polanski is a polarizing figure. Contesting his polarizing persona is like arguing that humans don’t need air. Though there is no denying that Polanski’s actions and indiscretions have provoked cries of contempt and hatred, it is important that we make a distinction between “Polanski the man” and “Polanski that artist.” “Polanski the artist” is composed of his oeuvre, beginning with his feature debut, Knife in the Water (1962) and leading to his more recent release, Carnage (2011). “Polanski the artist” is a brilliant man who achieved success with the Apartment trilogy (1965’s Repulsion, 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby, and 1976’s The Tenant), as well as with his masterworks Chinatown (1974) and The Pianist (2002). “Polanski the artist’s” career displays a penchant for existentialism and absurdity, so it is a wonder why Polanski has not received universal acclaim for Carnage, which not only epitomizes his signature style, but also manages to find humor amidst the bleak and depressing subject matter.
Author Jose Gallegos
Aided by a wealth of film history, film icons, and film genres, Hollywood has taken to rehashing and reconstructing past cultures and films for new generations of film audiences. With this recent phenomenon of remakes and reboots, superheroes have dominated the box office, iconic serial killers have (pointlessly) returned to the big screen, and musicals-based-on-Broadway-musicals-based-on-movies have unfortunately become more popular than their predecessors (one word: Hairspray).
Beyond their entertainment value, films have become time capsules, representing the cultural context from which they were created. For instance, Hollywood films of 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s masked a repressed American culture that was incapable of dealing with its burgeoning sexuality; the Neorealist films of the 1940s and 1950s responded to a broken Italian nation; and the New Wave films of the 1960s and 1970s created radical and dynamic cultures out of dead European national identities. American cinema of the 1990s and 2000s has been marked by a postmodern culture, with such filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino at the helm. This culture manages to reappropriate and remake old cultures, rehashing them into accessible units, such as Glee cast recordings, pastiches, and horror movie remakes. For the most part, this is a dead culture, yet every once in awhile, a filmmaker comes about and offers a shining beacon of hope. For this culture, one of those glimmering hopes is Wes Anderson.
In the 60’s and 70’s, new filmmakers challenged the conventions of classical Hollywood cinema. They were labeled the “New Hollywood” filmmakers, and they included such notable directors as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg. This “New Hollywood” created new standards and practices for filmmaking, but as their films became more and more mainstream, the void of “Alternative Cinema” would need to be filled by others. One of those filmmakers defined his own alternative cinema in terms of “trash” and “perverse,” making sure that it would remain “alternative” and never become mainstream. That filmmaker was John Waters.
In the span of seven years, Sarah Polley has evolved from a relative unknown, to “that girl in Dawn of the Dead,” and finally to an indie darling. She made a huge impact with her debut feature, Away from…
In the international film community, Spanish cinema is almost always partnered with one name: Pedro Almodóvar. Born and raised under Francoist Spain, Almodóvar’s film career developed during a time of political and cultural shifts: Franco and his dictatorship were dead, censorship was changing in Spain, and Spanish film lovers were getting floods of new international films, including pornography. These shifting power dynamics were not only responsible for the changing face of Spain, but they also created the Spanish auteur, one whose zany plots and saturated colors gave birth to strong female characters. Almodóvar’s creativity has spanned over four decades, finding its strength and perfection in the late 90s/early 00s with All About My Mother (1999) and Talk to Her (2002). Yet it is his early film career that spawned kitschy masterpieces, such as his second feature, Labyrinth of Passion (1982)
Belgian director Chantal Akerman has etched out her own style, one that depends primarily on hyperrealism and minimalism. Initially drawing influence from Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou (1965), she set out to create a cinema just as dynamic and subversive. However, a trip to New York and a chance viewing of the film of Michael Snow and Andy Warhol proved to leave a greater impression on her than the New Wave iconoclast. She created her masterpieces in 1974, with Je, Tu, Il, Elle, and in 1975, with the fantastic Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, firmly establishing herself as a minimalist director. Yet as with any artist or director, time evolves and, in some cases, completely alters a person’s style. Looking at Akerman’s most recent endeavor, La Folie Almayer (2011), it is evident that Akerman is not the same director she once was. Her style is not the same, and if anything, her adherence to cinematic conventions and clichés has prevented her from exploring the issues and characters that made her the subject of feminist film studies. Akerman’s style is a ghost of what it once was, showing traces of the greatness that she once had, but will most likely never duplicate.
Robert Altman’s film canon is marked by subversive comedies, mainstream oddities, and taught dramas. His film style is not discussed in terms of his cinematography, which still deserves merit (for great cinematography, look to his wonderful 1977 film, 3 Women), but in terms of his brilliantly crafted characters, which are embodied by equally brilliant ensemble casts. Throughout his nearly sixty-year career, he has spawned some of the most brilliant works imaginable, reaching his peaks in the 1970s and the 1990s. The 1980s for Altman is a strange period, one that is often considered by his fans to be his low point. Yet it is in this low point where we find one of Altman’s little seen masterpieces: Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982).
Having found traces of the auteur theory in my own blood, I have dedicated a majority of my academic career toward using the auteur theory. Even some of the reviews I have written have elements of this theory engrained within. There is no way to avoid this in my work, as the roots of this theory are too strong. The only course of action I can take is to marry my love of the auteur theory with my recent dedication to film reviews. With that, “Auteursday” was born.
“Transcendental” is a term that often gets clichéd with nature and self-discovery. Yet the term encompasses numerous connotations. It looks towards man being separated from society and discovering him/herself beyond the conventions that contemporaneous society sets out for him/her. Emerson and Thoreau popularized the term in literature, creating a new movement for writers to emulate and from which they could draw inspiration. Yet transcendentalism is not merely a literary movement, but a visual movement as well. In modern filmmaking, Robert Bresson developed a transcendental cinema, creating masterful works over the span of fifty years. Contemporary filmmakers such as Terrence Malick and Hayao Miyazaki have taken the reigns from Bresson, (although the latter director pits his films into the fantasy genre) and have created masterpieces in their own rights. “Transcendental” has become a filmmaking term that only refers to independent and art house films, yet with the brilliant debut of Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, we can hope that transcendental cinema can pierce into the mainstream.