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The Neon Demon 2016


I’ve got a fresh tampon in and I’m ready to criticize this film for being shallow.

Actually, The Neon Demon is a piece of divine for 2016. In front of the “honest” films that are soft, timid, and neutral, The Neon Demon is with the ****. It’s lofty. In the night time of a dark cinema it invents a new myth.

It even follows the order of a fairy tale; all it’s missing is “once upon a time”. It’s not a psychological horror, because Refn has never attempted to make a film that resembled reality, and you don’t arrive at an abstraction with psychology. As such it sacrifices all those scenes that would be indispensable in a psychological film (connections, exposition) to keep balance, and it’d probably bore Refn to death to shoot them.

Elle Fanning plays Jesse, with all the mystery and beauty in the world, a young girl with no familia coming to LA to be a model. Never has an actor been so carried by a director. Go see Elle in The Neon Demon and then go see her in anything else and if you don’t immediately see Refn is a genius, you and I have different notions of cinema (obviously, mines the right one).

The spirit of the film is contained in the first photo shoot sequence. The photographer is some bald aesthete, looks a bit like a thug. The set has an infinite white backdrop, so it appears Jesse steps into a space that is nowhere at all. The atmosphere was charged with premonitions of disaster. This is the scene where her character stops existing and she becomes other people’s ideas of her. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; film's not so much about the character but the idea of beauty. Jesse changes every night like the moon.

The interplay between actors is stylized and entirely controlled, particularly the dramatic moments with the other models who are trying to earn their keep. The film mostly moves at a leisurely pace, and uses colour to obtain harmony in the scenes, blue lighting for Narcissus, red for the wild-eyed girl with a knife.

Refn’s film has soft spots for sure, but like any great filmmaker, he practices his art totally and worked to satisfy himself. The critics' reaction is a witness and testimony to art. Best film of 2016 from any nation, baby.




Not seen that or Only God Forgives yet either, I liked Drive a lot when I saw it a few times a couple of years back, but I have fears that I may not like his last two. We'll see.

Best film of 2016 gets a 7/10? Surely there's a lot more for you to see yet.



Not seen that or Only God Forgives yet either, I liked Drive a lot when I saw it a few times a couple of years back, but I have fears that I may not like his last two. We'll see.

Best film of 2016 gets a 7/10? Surely there's a lot more for you to see yet.
It's got no competition for me, but maybe Malick's documentary will be good.



Bicycle Thieves 1948



People still talking about Bicycle Thieves as if it were a tragedy about unemployment in postwar Italy. But with The Third Man all the critics agreed it was trivial. It must be the subtitles. Truth is, that problem isn't really addressed in this film. It's an Arabic tale, about a man who must find his bicycle.

The bicycles the star of the film. Antonio needs it for his hustle and it's stolen on the first day, some people think that's symbolism, "justification of the ways of God to man, n'est-ce pas?" but really it's a story element: chance. In fact he sums up the film 5 minutes in when he says 'mamma mia am I unlucky or what', or words to that effect.

De Sica's greatness lies in his writing (he was a great waste management consultant too though). He doesn't listen to the cinéastes who say words are secondary in film; it takes a literary mind to move a film from the blind alley it's driven into by technicians. A true film is a story, and it's a combination of human factors and basic ideas that makes it worth putting on the screen.

Not interested in exploring films own rules, Bicycle Thieves has bad cinematography, inadequate cutting, and some happenings told rather than shown, but it's set of amateur actors are beyond criticism; an amateur is a lover, the word comes from 'love' (with all the caprices and difficulties of love). Here, the making of the film is secondary to the performance, for Eisenstein on the other hand, montage is the essence of cinema.

Bicycles Thieves isn't ruthless in its story, De Sica took it easy, he didn't make Westerns, and he didn't sacrifice art for the needs of the moment. His films made easy promises and delivered on them.




hello, movieforums? this is your errant banality speaking.

Orson Welles last film was finished a month ago. Filming wrapped up over forty years ago, you know. Silly old devil, he always manages to do things differently from other people. Anyway this has been on my mind, and I think Welles has in this century received something less than his due so I dceided deicded decided to go the movie forums in case there's anybody there I can impress with my genius.

I don’t admire all of Welles' films equally, though I think there’s something to be said for them all. The foregoing reviews are offered, in the simplest of terms and ideas, in the hope of overcoming some of the obstacles to a fair appraisal of the qualities as a filmmmmaker of the truly constructive man, the crucified artist, almost alone among the sound directors as one whose style is immediately recognizable after three minutes of film–Orson Welles.





F for Fake, 1973

F FOR FAKE
F FOR FAKE F
F FOR FAKE F F
F FOR FAKE F FO
F FOR FAKE F FOR
F FOR FAKE F FOR F
F FOR FAKE F FOR FA
F FOR FAKE F FOR FAK
F FOR FAKE F FOR FAKE

As a proof of my readiness to accept critical convention, in a review of a film that turns the machine guns on the critics, let me at once record my rating.



He wasn’t really attacking the critics I should say, but why not? It made fools of all of them. Truffaut thought it was a riposte to Pauline (Paulene?) Kael. Actually, it’s a new sort of film, probably the only really original film Welles, or anyone for that matter, made since Citizen Kane. There were, of course, good (and even great) films between Kane and F for Fake, but they could only carry cinema further along with the same grammar, which is all right, but film is a living language so it, like all such, must be continuously changing. F for Fake is a new grammar; film in the form of an essay, in the line of Montaigne, and (say) Plutarch or (say) Dr. Johnson or (say) Emerson.

Welles the magpie had come across an unfinished documentary by Reichenbach, footage from an unfinished project, some archive footage and an old science fiction film. Hardly had he touched these scraps than they take on a new meaning. What helps him, of course, to shine, is the complete freedom to say whatever came into his head, giving it all a power that would be impossible if it were a question of bankrupting a film company. It’s such an abstraction of the idea of a film. I can’t imagine how he came to think of it, let alone edit it.

Yes: I know there are other so-called abstract films. And À propos de Nice was an essay film, I see, along with night MAIL and Letter to JANE and Letter from SIBERIA jonas mekas et al.

But they’re not really, are they?

An abstract film isn’t a film similar to abstract painting, content to imitate naively a painter’s blobs of colour and balancing effects. It needn’t give form to a thought, but thought itself. Cocteau – know him? – called the cinéma a vehicle for ideas and poetry. Welles, without getting technical, presented these stories as interestingly and with as many ideas as he could. It’s not a documentary full of things TOO OBVIOUS AND ELEMENTARY TO BE WORTH SAYING AT ALL, it’s a film of ideas, and whenever it inspires other ideas it will have value. In F for Fake we all see Orson had his best work ahead of him. I guess we’ll never know.

That brings us to this business about people who find the film incoherent, or rather, thought it seemed crazy in construction, careless, tongue-in-cheek, amateurish, well that’s because it is. First things first, amateur comes from the word amator (lover), and Mister Thomas Hardy wrote ‘a lover without indiscretion is no lover at all’. Now: a film is a dream in which we all participate together through a kind of hypnosis. I’m happy to concede that some audiences may be unsuited to this collective hypnosis. In fact they resist it with all their individualistic strength and try to demonstrate their intelligence through criticism. You will remember the magic trick from the beginning of the film. I wonder if you heard (you didn’t) Orson Welles once say that magic begins and ends with the figure of the magician who asks the audience, for a moment, to believe that the lady is floating in the air. In other words, be eight years old for a moment. If the public goes out of its way to lose its childhood faculties, if it pretends to be an incredulous grown-up unable to slip into that sphere where the unreal becomes matter-of-fact, if it insists on hardening itself against the euphoria it is being offered then there’s nothing optimistic I could say about the future of film, d’you see, because it wouldn’t be true, d’you see? Do change.

That this perceptive élite should stay on its guard and suspect that Welles may be taking it for a ride, when he is giving it the blood of his veins and exhausting himself in an effort to win it round makes me want to DO VIOLENCE. The beauty of a film goes beyond the eyes and ears and resides not in the dialogue nor image. It can be badly projected and inaudible without destroying its rhythm. It invigorates and revitalizes your soul, Orson Welles is a bucket of cold (hot?) water for anyone who might be in danger of falling asleep. His film makes the darkened theatre more full of light and life than outside it and gives you that sense of illumination which from time to time lightens the heart.





THE IMMORTAL STORY

is a film by Orson Welles, released in the year of our Lord MCMLXVIII, first in good French and then in fluent English. Welles starts the task of his first colour film solemnly and darkly, the way Judith in the tent of the Babylonians adorned her face and body for the meeting with Holofernes. But he immediately and inevitably became absorbed in the process - as, very likely, Judith herself did. Frames generally have a sort of luminous clour fxfx clobls c o l o u r that suggests Welles used Matisse as a sort of model.

Once upon a time, and a very good time too, though not in my time, nor yours, nor for that matter any one’s time, there lived an old man in and old house. An old man who in his long life had heard only one story told.

A Welles film has to be watched with close attention or half the beauty of it gets missed. When Elishama, at Clay’s request to be read something ‘other than account books’, reads a prophecy of Isaiah, and Clay’s head twitches at Strengthen ye the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees. After all, Isaiah lived 1000 years ago and Mr. Clay sits in his chair of weak limbs and feeble knees.

The trouble is people are accustomed to seeing films without giving them the attention they would a play or book. In the marvellous scene where Clay, getting the better of Elishama and the prophet Isaiah, sets into motion his plan for staging a story in the real world, you get a sense of the coldness and loneliness of the old man; it’s as if he’s speaking from beyond the grave. No one, it seems, has understood the purpose of the makeup in this film, Kauffmann or Käuffer or somebody says ‘it’s his phoniest since Arkadin.’ He’s done up to look like a corpse. And Elishama, who himself felt at home in the grave, was at this moment brought closer to his employer. He says something later in the story; perhaps to a man with one foot in the grave, the pursuit of a story was a sounder undertaking than the pursuit of profit. Actually, the two behave exactly as they would have had they been father and son, but the film doesn't say that. While on the theme of makeup: as the sailor runs next to his carriage, Mr. Clay has a faint pink in his cheeks; he had strangely come to life, as if the young runner made his own blood run freer. And at the end, his hair seemed to have grown whiter, his triumph had aged him.

The scenes with Moreau are splendid, the best sort of stuff. Virginie herself looks in some sad way underestimated and wronged. She was downcast and fretful, like a golden pheasant in the moulting season. But always a golden pheasant. When Elishama first meets with her, you get that feeling that the two were alone in the house, with the rest of the world shut out. In the end she agrees to play the part of the heroine in the story, for 300 guineas (c'est une vieille dette), and offers a receipt. He declines, this bargain would be safer without a receipt.

On the veranda, Mr. Clay talks to the sailor about facts that have long been stored up in his mind. The young sailor answers his questions quietly and dully. Clay had not yet moved from the world of reality into imagination. He had on his mind more things of which he meant to clear it. Deep down within it there were ideas, perceptions, emotions even, of which he had never spoken and of which could never have spoken, to any human being except to the nameless boy before him.

The closer we get to a mystery, the more important it is to be realistic. So it’s fitting it should be dawn when Mr. Clay dies, broad daylight spares nothing. And condemned men are always executed at dawn. Elishama looked at his peaceful corpse, like the prophet Isaiah said And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

When Elishama listens to the song of the seashell as he stared off into the distance at something known only to himself, it’s the essential secret that every film needs to keep it unfinished. To finish a picture is to be through with it, to kill it, to give it it’s final blow. A most unfortunate think for filmmaker and film.

I said before a film is a dream, by that I mean the succession of real events that follow on from one another with a dreamer’s baseless conviction, a way in which you wouldn’t have imagined it for yourself, but experience in your seats as you might experience, in your beds, strange adventures for which you aren’t responsible. To weigh it down with thought or attempt to be poetic is to lose it. The poetic is not poetry. It's even possible that they're opposites. Poetry is a product of the unconscious mind. The poetic is conscious. And lots of the poetic things (tarkovsky hello hello) contain not the slightest poetry.

This is usually seen as a ‘minor film’ of Welles’. Not so. Nobody took the sonnets seriously until 200 years ago. Those cineastes always expect something (do they know what?), so they remain indifferent to the other thing that Welles gives them, which can in no way communicate with their inner chaos. What they will have, and hard luck to them, is that familiar precision of real dreams which they confuse with the idleness of daydreaming. It is impossible for anyone to feel it who does not carry within him the seeds of wonderment to which wonders speak.



Love to you all
Your proud and loving
Dad





Drive (2011)

Dear Son,

Inside this century, very few films have appealed to your old Dad as strongly as did Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. This appeal, which a rewatching has in no way diminished, was a broad and diverse one extending over almost the whole range of the film’s qualities, so that it is hard where to begin an appraisal.

It successfully combines elements which are difficult to combine and some of which are tricky to do on their own. To start with, the film deals with a dark subject, in the manner of a fairy tale, with that naive realism which allows one to believe. Refn exploits a realism of settings, people, gestures, words and music to obtain a mould for abstraction of thought - or, you could put it, to construct a castle, without which it is difficult to imagine a ghost. If the castle was itself ghostly, the ghost would lose its power to appear and terrify.

Gosling plays the driver – really, the film plays his part for him – whose rif sif ridiculous conscientiousness has led him to undertake … well almost everybody’s seen it. The film blazes with images, striking in themselves and yet continuously meaningful. Certain scenes, thanks to a rare kind of genius, succeed in pretending that they are taken from real life. The strip club dressing room in Drive, like the bedroom scene in Breathless.

I won’t go on about influences but Drive might have been expressly designed to show, against a lot of evidence, that the old vein is not worked out. With almost cynical aplomb, the director takes some of the hoariest themes in the whole Hollywood repertory and bleeds them into a fresh and genuinely exciting whole.

I would emphasize that this film is the contrary of an intellectual, or 'art' film. There is nothing more vulgar than works that set out to prove something. Drive, naturally, avoids even the appearance of trying to prove anything. The important thing here is to keep the throttle (won’t be accepting jokes there) open throughout without becoming self-consciously Bohemian or ‘mad’ or picaresque–especially that. While his contemporaries repeat themselves at declining levels of energy, and blunder through the arid wastes of experimentation Refn continues to invent as he always has done.

The film has turned out to be resistant to modern techniques of film criticism. Drive holds no interesting ambiguities, intentional or unintentional; there are no puzzles, no 'levels of meaning' within it, it just is. All the critic can say about most of it comes down to, 'look at this. Good (or bad), isn't it?' This is as much as a great deal of what passes for criticism is really saying, but with other directors - Kaufman, for instance, that notable purveyor of mere complication - it is easier to seem to be saying more.

If I were N Refn I think I would commit suicide or emigrate, rather than live in a country where I was publicly graded one step down from von Trier.



Love to movieforums and their family

from their affectionate
Dad