You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘cinema’ category.
It’s interesting how the second time around, a book or a film can have a different impact on me depending on what season of my life I’m in at the time. Steve and I recently watched Smoke Signals, an excellent indie film written, directed, starring and produced by Native Americans*. I first saw this film in 1998 and simply remembered it as a very good movie. Part road trip, part coming of age tale and with a skillful interweaving of the past into the present, Smoke Signals tells the story of a young man going to claim his absent father’s ashes. Rather than re-invent the wheel, I refer you to a very good film review written by Robin at Rusty Ring.
Lately my book and film lists include works by and about Native American people. They’re helping me to understand and put some the broken pieces of my life together. I belong to the Muscogee (Creek) from my father’s side. Native American men carry such a burden and there are differences and similarities depending on whether he is a ‘reservation Indian’ or, like my father, one who walked away from his Indian roots and tried to assimilate into White society. This film showed some of all of that.
My father died in 2002, when I was 39. In nearly 40 years, he had been more absent from my life than he was present in it. As I become more mature and compassionate, I am coming to realise where he came from and the unbearable fury and brokenness that he brought to our family. I can’t honestly say that I am ready to forgive my father, but I am coming to understand him.
Smoke Signals is a great movie, but what knocked me out about it this time around was the final scene. Here, one of the main characters recites a poem Forgiving Our Fathers.
Forgiving Our Fathers
(edited by Sherman Alexie from an original text by Dick Lourie)
How do we forgive our fathers? Maybe in a dream.
Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often or forever when we were little?
Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage,
or making us nervous because there never seemed to be any rage there at all?
Do we forgive our fathers for marrying or not marrying our mothers?
For divorcing or not divorcing our mothers?
And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning?
For shutting doors?
For speaking through walls, or never speaking, or never being silent?
Do we forgive our fathers in our age or in theirs?
Or in their deaths?
Saying it to them or not saying it?
If we forgive our fathers, what is left?
*Native American – A member of any of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. (The Native American name controversy is an ongoing dispute about the changing terminology used to refer to the indigenous peoples of the Americas and broad subsets of these peoples) I acknowledge this and for now, and in this post, use the term Native American.
Many Americans have come to prefer Native American over Indian both as a term of respect and as a corrective to the famous misnomer bestowed on the peoples of the Americas by a geographically befuddled Columbus. There are solid arguments for this preference. Native American eliminates any confusion between indigenous American peoples and the inhabitants of India, making it the clear choice in many official contexts. It is also historically accurate, despite the insistence by some that Indians are no more native to America than anyone else since their ancestors are assumed to have migrated here from Asia. But one sense of native is “being a member of the original inhabitants of a particular place,” and Native Americans’ claim to being the original inhabitants of the Americas is unchallenged. Accuracy and precision aside, however, the choice between these two terms is often made as a matter of principle.
NB: I’ll come back to this topic at some future point in a post, probably titled ‘What’s in a name?’
Steve and I went on a budget movie and dinner date the other night. First stop was the University of Exeter library for a film. When I used to work there, in another life, I cottoned onto the private viewing carrels and pretty extensive video collection spanning British, American, European and World cinema.
We saw Rebecca; released in 1940 this was Alfred Hitchcock’s first American project. Based on the Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name, it is a classic.
For dinner we had booked a table at Michael Caine’s Abode restaurant in the Cathedral Green. At about £12-15 for a starter and £22-24 for the main course, this isn’t normally a first choice for a cheap date. But we had taken advantage of an early dining offer at £14.95 for 2 courses if booked between 6 and 7 pm Monday to Friday. It was fabulous. The food was very good and beautifully presented and the service was exquisite. At no time did we feel like hoi-polloi because we were there on the early bird special. While we had a pre-dinner drink in the Champagne Bar, our waiter took our dinner and wine order. The dining room was beautiful, decorated in dark wood with bright orange notes from Gerbera daisies on the tables and details on the menu. From our table, we looked across the green to the beautiful Exeter Cathedral. As I mentioned before, the service was 5 star. Each dish was described to us as it was served and our waiter kept our bottle of wine to one side and never let our glasses get empty.
To begin, Steve had pickled fillet of sea bream with soused onion and fennel and a fennel cream sauce. I chose ham hock terrine with a grain mustard emulsion and pickled vegetables. Both were very savoury and delicious. I was a bit disappointed with my main course of Jerusalem artichoke and truffle risotto with parmesan and an artichoke broth. It was just a tad too bland for my taste, although the risotto was cooked to perfection. Steve hit the jackpot with roasted local Creedy Carver duck leg with roasted celeraic & garlic, savoy cabbage and a lightly spiced jus. The meat fell off of the bone and the vegetables were a perfect accompaniment to the richness of the duck. We shared a bottle of Le Petit Jaboulet Viognier which cost as much as our meal, but what the hay!
The early dining offer is a great idea, either to keep dinnertime business coming in at a time when folks are cutting back or to lure people in who may normally not pay upwards of £35 for a meal. The menu is seasonal, local and changes weekly. I know where we’ll be going for our next cheap date!
When Steve and I were in Brussels we did one of our most favourite activites TWICE, which is go to the cinema. The first was to see Milk at the UCG Brussels, which was pretty much like going to the UCG Anywhere only with French subtitles in the trailers and feature film.
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The film was quite good and gives a snapshot of the gay right’s movement in the late 1970′s. Though I hasten to add that his victory was not just a victory for gay rights; he forged coalitions across the political spectrum. From senior citizens to union workers, Harvey Milk changed the very nature of what it means to be a fighter for human rights and became, before his untimely death in 1978, a hero for all Americans. Milk’s platform was and is one of hope – a hero’s legacy that resonates in the here and now.
The film chronicles Milk’s foray into city politics, and the various battles he waged in his Castro neighborhood as well as throughout the city, and political campaigns to limit the rights of gay people in 1977 and 1978 run by Anita Bryant and John Briggs. His romantic and political relationships are also addressed, as is his tenuous affiliation with troubled Supervisor Dan White. Aas White and Milk’s political agendas increasingly diverge, their personal destinies tragically converge. Milk was brilliantly cast and gives a beautifully rendered flavor of the times, and an intimate vision of a man finding his place within a community and history.
The next night we went to Flagey Studios to watch the Marx Brothers in ‘A Night at the Opera’.
Now this is a seriously beautiful building which was partially listed in 1994 and was saved in June 1998 by a private Belgian group and has now embarked on a new life as a music and cinema complex.
From the mission statement:
Flagey. Home of metroculture, meeting-point of paths that co-exist, clash, merge and mingle A space for surprises, sights and secrets. A variegated crowd, always different, sometimes familiar. Some sweep by for one performance, others are familiar with its seats. Authors, contemplators, denigrators. Inspiring and aspiring Metro Flagey. The rhythm is that of words, music, song, always in movement, always enthralling. Lover of the future, passionate about the past, cerebral, theatrical, humble and discreet, drunk or crazy. It’s all about fusion and vibration.
Flagey Studios, which has been completely renovated, was one of the first radio broadcasting buildings in the world. Inaugurated in 1938, it soon gained a reputation for its unique architecture and the unrivalled acoustics of its studios. It was in fact dubbed the ‘sound factory’. This highly impressive architectural masterpiece is the work of the Belgian architect from the 1930s, Joseph Diongre. Its style is ‘Streamline Moderne’, a late branch of Art Deco design sometimes referred to by either name alone. This architectural style emphasized curving forms, long horizontal lines, and sometimes nautical elements (such as railings and porthole windows). It reached its height in 1937.
Flagey Studios is found at Belvédèrestraat 27, 1050 Brussels, or:
Before the film, we stood in a very long line over the road at Flagey Frites for two delicious, hot, crunchy servings of fresh frites dolloped with mayonnaise and aioli.
Then ate them in the Flagey Studios foyer accompanied by a Belgian beer from the little bar there.
Place Flagey by night
Nickel Tailings # 30, Sudbury, Ontario, 1996 Photo © Edward Burtynsky
Edward Burtynsky has been acclaimed as one of Canada’s most respected photographers. His specialty is photographs of global industrial landscapes, and they have been showcased in 15 major museums around the world. In a statement, Burtynsky talks about his explorations:
“Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.
These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire — a chance at good living — yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.”
Burtynsky’s work can be unsettling. He extracts beautiful, sometimes poetic images from outrageous alterations and destructions of the environment. He calls himself an artist – not a reporter – and refrains form judging what he photographs or from politicising it, wanting to “make people think harder about our planet’s future” without suggesting a direction.
Rock of Ages No. 15, Active Section, E.L. Smith Quarry, Barre, Vermont 1992 Photo © Edward Burtynsky
Last weekend I saw Manufactured Landscapes, a beautifully shot and edited film, exploring the aesthetics and social and spiritual dimensions of globalisation around the world today. Filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal follows Edward Burtynsky to Bangladesh and China as he documents the “manufacturer to the world”. There, Burtynsky, has photographed factories, huge container ports, quarries, the Three Gorges Dam, electronics graveyards, and the rapid urbanization of Shanghai.
The film presents a truly unsettling look at comtemporary existence and it illustrates how, as we transform nature, we redefine who we are and our relationship to the planet.
Last Friday I saw a documentary about Joy Division, the post-punk band from Manchester, England.
Featuring the unprecedented participation of all the surviving band members (now known as New Order), Joy Division examines the band’s story as depicted through never-before-seen live performance footage, personal photos, period films and newly discovered audiotapes. The greatest strength of the documentary is how director Grant Gee emulates the same stylistic aesthetic associated with the band, their music, their album art and the movement they spawned. Joy Division is a great looking documentary, visually compelling from beginning to end and its chock full of vintage, low-fi concert footage pulled out from the vaults.
The band – Stephen, Peter, Ian & Bernard
Two major dates bracket the film’s narrative: 4 June 1976, when the Sex Pistols played to a small audience at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester and 18 May 1980, the day Ian Curtis took his life and the eve of their US concert tour.
In June 1976 the fledgling band members thought ‘We can do that,’ and after several changes of name they became Joy Division. The revolutionary step they made was to progress from the usual punk groups’ angry statement: ‘Fuck you.’ Joy Division were the first to say: ‘We’re fucked.’
Gee traces the development of the band, their rapid progress as musicians working closely together, and the increasing depth and eloquence of Curtis’s lyrics, which draw on his fascination with Dostoevsky, Ginsberg, Kafka, Burroughs and JG Ballard. There is a particularly impressive sequence in which dark, despairing tracks of urban alienation and angst from the 1979 album Unknown Pleasures are accompanied by a speeded-up nocturnal journey around Manchester.
The middle-aged Sumner, Hook and Morris speak frankly about not being sufficiently supportive of the depressed, alienated Curtis, but recognise that they were young and immature. Their testimony is moving. The three of them are still playing together as New Order and one observer remarks that they’re ‘one of the last true stories’ in the cynical, commercialised pop business.
I’ve been looking out for this documentary since I saw Control last autumn, a film about the life and death of Ian Curtis. From a young age he exhibited talent as a poet. Although awarded a scholarship to attend the The King’s School, Macclesfield, at the age of 11, Curtis never pursued academic success.
As he grew older, his ambitions and hopes became focused on a pursuit of art and literature, eventually culminating in music. Many of Curtis’s writings were filled with imagery of emotional isolation, death, alienation, and urban degeneration. He once commented in an interview that he wrote about “the different ways different people can cope with certain problems, how they might or might not adapt”.
Ian Curtis used literature and composing lyrics and poetry to explore and express his inner turmoil, but tragically the people closest to him – his wife Deborah, lover Annike, musical colleagues and band members were unable to read between the lines and offer him a way through it.
Controlled Chaos – an article about Curtis’s literary influences
While performing for Joy Division, Curtis became known for his quiet and awkward demeanor, as well as a unique dancing style reminiscent of the epileptic seizures he experienced, sometimes even on stage. Love Will Tear Us Apart (1979) is one of the few songs in which Ian Curtis played guitar. This session was recorded in the Manchester warehouse where the band practised.
Love Will Tear Us Apart
When the routine bites hard
And ambitions are low
And the resentment rides high
But emotions won’t grow
And we’re changing our ways
Taking different roads
Love, love will tear us apart again
Why is the bedroom so cold
Turned away on your side?
Is my timing that flawed,
Our respect run so dry?
Yet there’s still this appeal
That we’ve kept through our lives
Love, love will tear us apart again
Do you cry out in your sleep
All my failings exposed?
Get a taste in my mouth
As desperation takes hold
Is it something so good
Just can’t function no more?
When love, love will tear us apart again
- Ian Curtis
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a translation of the French memoir Le Scaphandre et le Papillon by Jean-Dominique Bauby. At the age of 43, Bauby, charismatic Editor-in-Chief of French Elle suffered a cerebovascular stroke. After lapsing into a coma, he awoke 20 days later to find himself the victim of “locked-in” syndrome – mentally alert but a prisoner inside his own body, his only means of communicating with the outside world the blinking of his left eye.
Forced to adjust to this unique perspective, Bauby created a new rich world for looking into himself to find the only two things that weren’t paralyzed, his imagination and his memory.
With the help of a speech therapist, he developed a system of communication by blinking at the letters of a French frequency-ordered alphabet (E S A R I N T U L . . . .) as they were recited. This alphabet unlocked the prison of Jean- Dominique’s body which he called his Diving Bell and allows the reader to travel with him the borderless regions of freedom that he called The Butterfly.
Letter by letter, painstakingly words, sentences and paragraphs tell the story of a profound adventure into the human psyche and into the borderland between life and death. Over the course of a year, alongside a young editor, Claude, Bauby painstakingly constructed an account of his experiences that was part memoir, part confessional and part diary. The book was published in March, 1997. It received excellent reviews and sold 150,000 copies in the first week. Ten days after the book was published, Bauby died of pneumonia.
I saw the film adaptation of this book by the American artist and director Julian Schnabel. Schnabel insisted on authenticity and made it in France and in French. You can feel the French cinematographic influence strongly.
Although I’ve not yet read the book, the film does a superb job of capturing the point of view of a man locked in his body and struggling to find meaning in life – what makes human existence not merely endurable but worthy of celebration, and what is the irreducible minimum of such things that can keep us alive and how to communicate with the people in our world.
Schnabel’s interpretation avoids both pity and melodrama. Bauby was no angel before the accident and his disability doesn’t make him a saint. For all of Bauby’s impotent regrets and guilt over past misdeeds he refuses to apologize for the person he was, or the one he’s become. Realizing how his life had been less than exemplary, his stroke becomes an opportunity for redemption and allows him, if not to cleanse his soul, to discover that humanity lies in his consciousness not in material things or sexuality.
The seamless blend of cinematography and music give the film a surreal feeling – as though in a dream we witness a collage of memories, imaginings and actual dreams. The point of view switches between being inside of Jean-Do’s paralyzed body to seeing him in his life before the stroke and afterwards in the hospital. You see the world as Bauby views it while desiring to be free of the paralyzing feeling of a sinking diving bell. At other times, with his imagination, you find yourself fluttering as free as a butterfly. Mathieu Amalric is brilliant as Bauby, and he is supported by a large number of excellent performances, including Max von Sydow who gives a riveting performance as Jean-Do’s elderly heart-broken father.
In Schnabel’s words: “I wanted this film to help you handle your own death . . it is the story of all of us, who surely do face death and sickness. But if we look we can find meaning and beauty here.” Jean- Dominique’s experience is what eventually we’ll all come to in the end – spectators in our personal galleries of memories, the dreams, crossroads, transgressions, regrets, joys, disappointments of a lifetime. But these are the issues and questions that we all need to examine and ask ourselves on a regular basis – What makes my life worthwhile? Who is in my world? How can I communicate with them? Does anything need changing or updating or re-affirming? Though not paralyzed from head to toe like Bauby, many of us are in the “locked-in” syndrome – locked into our resentments and our fears, a rigidity that sours us on life and can keep us estranged from family and friends.
For me also, the film is also about what it means to be an artist. Sickness is a bit like artistic sensitivity in that it can be a source of misunderstanding and exclusion, and the artist, like the patient, is in constant battle against the outside world. To escape one’s fate, society’s cruelty and restraints, one can only rely on one’s own intelligence, creativity, and heroism. By reaching deep within himself, Bauby extends his life beyond the limitations of his body by dreaming and creating a work of art.
I found it a very captivating film on many different levels.