Friday, October 2, 2015

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Platform (2000/China/dir. Jia Zhangke) appeared at #87 on my original list.

What it is • When the film begins in 1979, the characters are all part of a traveling performance group. They dress similarly in baggy tunics and shapeless slacks, and their songs are all revolutionary odes to the wonders of the recently-deceased Chairman Mao. Their hometown of Fenyang is shown in wintry isolation, a rural hamlet in the middle of nowhere characterized by barren streets and homes with few modern amenities. Parents, police, and the elder troop leader scold these restless young performers when they step out of line and portraits of Lenin and Stalin adorn the walls of theaters whose most risque offerings are thirty-year-old Indian entertainments. When the film ends in 1990, the characters have split off from one another: some finally settle down after years on the road, others disappear from the town and/or narrative without explanation. The performance group, last we see of it anyway, has turned into a mixture of rock guitarists and go-go dancers. Fenyang is under constant construction and televisions play soap operas while tape players boom pop songs from every household; when we visit a movie theater near the end of the film, it's showing animated sex. The older generation is absent either literally (one character's father opens a shop and sleeps there with a mistress, never returning home) or figuratively. We experience these incremental changes as circumstantial details, just as the characters would: background color to a love affair, diversion during a long tedious drive through the desert, decoration to a scene of domestic dissolution. There isn't exactly a "story" here. Instead the film unfolds like life, with long takes (there is almost no cutting within scenes and the camera tends to stand still) capturing individual incidents, sometimes years apart, which coalesce to form an overpowering whole. Personal and cultural history intertwine into a palpable experience that can only be felt, rather than than explained.

Why I like it •

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

This entry covers the Director's Cut version of Episode 21.

Origin story, flashback, even prequel - call it what you will. After twenty episodes of allusive hints toward the shared history of the characters, dropping cryptic clues about various motives (both personal and organizational), and constantly reminding us that the past which haunts the present cannot be recovered...Neon Genesis Evangelion recovers the past. And it's surprisingly effective; in fact, this is probably my favorite episode of the series up to this point. Above all, I'm a sucker for backstories - especially when we get to visit them firsthand. Motion pictures, be they cinema or television, live action or animation, even narrative or experimental, root their approach in observing moments unfold in physical reality. Just as in everyday life, movies and TV episodes give us a sense that time moves forward as a general rule. But of course memory works differently onscreen. As I wrote about Fire Walk With Me, the film which rewinds Twin Peaks to before the TV show began: "Movies have a unique and potent ability to break one of the surest laws of our existence. Time can be shattered, history unearthed, the past rediscovered."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Unfortunately, yesterday Catherine Coulson (the Log Lady of Twin Peaks and one of David Lynch's oldest friends) passed away. The news was shocking for Peaks fans who have also treasured this iconic character, whose brief appearances seemed to provide the soul of the show, as well as the extremely friendly and gracious host who always made herself available for interviews and discussions. Coulson was also a groundbreaking camera assistant in the 1970s (after getting her start in that department on Eraserhead), and according to one of her interviews she was one of if not the first female camera assistant to break into the all-male union. She will be greatly missed, and her legacy will be immense.

Last night, I spoke to Cameron Cloutier of the Obnoxious & Anonymous podcast - we had been planning a discussion (our fourth) for a while although it was unfortunate that this sad event provided the premise. Nonetheless, we embraced the opportunity to talk about Coulson (who appeared on Obnoxious & Anonymous herself last year), including her character's importance to the show and the true meaning of the Log Lady introductions. After that, we ventured into conversation about news from the set of the new Twin Peaks being shot in Washington - there may be some "spoilers," depending on your definition but we offer a clear warning beforehand if you just want to listen to the first part.

Usually I adhere to a strict Monday-Wednesday-Friday morning schedule, with entries of different series appearing at their usual times. But this event required an exception to the rule.

“Only when we are everywhere, will there be just one.”
RIP Catherine Coulson
It sucks just typing those words, but she will be very fondly remembered by so many. According to Jennifer Lynch on Facebook, Coulson, one of David Lynch’s oldest friends and the unforgettable Log Lady, has passed away today. Really bummed by this news. No idea if she had shot any scenes yet (some rumors say she had) but either way it honestly doesn’t make me feel much better. She not only was wonderful in the show, she had a wonderful personality that came through in great interviews over the year. :(

Monday, September 28, 2015

This past weekend, my "7 Facts About Fire Walk With Me" video was shared on Indiewire's Press Play, with a great little write-up from Max Winter. Check it out! (There's also some discussion on Facebook, via Indiewire and also Twin Peaks Worldwide.) Indiewire will also be sharing another of my 2014 videos soon, so stay tuned.

This video's side-by-side approach (especially its split stereo soundtrack) is influenced by Kevin B. Lee's study of Hoop Dreams and it is consistent with the work I've recently done on Neon Genesis Evangelion and Twin Peaks as well as a video coming soon (I won't say the subject but here's a clue: I'm hoping to have it ready before October 21, 2015 at 4:29pm). Here is the description published on Fandor Keyframe:
In 1979, Louis Malle visited Glencoe, Minnesota, for PBS, recording interviews with various townspeople. Six years later, he returned to film short follow-ups, checking up on the progress and/or decline of the town and its populace. The two trips were combined in the documentary God’s Country (1986), with the later interviews appearing as a short epilogue at the end of the movie. “6 Years in America” uses split-screen to directly juxtapose these two sections  of the film, allowing us to observe two eras simultaneously and reflect on what the passage of time has wrought.
The video, as well as some additional images, follow the jump:

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Place de la Republique (1974/France/dir. Louis Malle) appeared at #88 on my original list.

What it is • We open with an old man wandering slowly through a public area in Paris, the Place de la Republique where all the "action" of the film will take place. As the camera and microphone follow closely behind, his expression registers no recognition - finally, director Louis Malle asks if he knew they were filming him. Nonchalantly, only vaguely bemused, he shrugs and shakes his head...then goes on about his business. It's a perfect little opening for two reasons: because the rest of the documentary will continue this easygoing, playful sense of engagement with it subjects, but also because this sets up an ironic counterpoint to the rest of Republique. For the next ninety minutes, all of the everday, real-life passerbys Louis Malle follows or chats up will be hyper-aware of the camera and microphone, often becoming quite conscious performers. We meet old pensioners, young shopgirls, worn-out immigrants, middle-aged philanderers, and a chic wig saleswoman who defly turns the tables on director Malle. "I know who you are," she slyly remarks, before wishing him a happy 40th birthday.

Why I like it

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

In nearly every episode, Shinji has piloted the Eva to do battle with an Angel. At the end of the last battle, the Eva (miraculously achieving a 400% sync ratio with its pilot) devours the Angel and the S2 rocket which powers it. Shinji is literally taking the enemy into himself. Appropriately enough then, this episode sees a new battle in which Shinji fights the Eva - although every single word of that statement could be contested. Is he really fighting the Eva - or himself? Is he "fighting" a "battle" or is he in fact harmonizing with a greater being, or with another plane of consciousness? Shinji's physical form has disintegrated into the "soup of life" flowing within the Eva's flesh. He becomes quantum energy seeking and avoiding its own ego. How on earth can Neon Genesis Evangelion represent this metaphysical/psychological experience?!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Wednesday update: the video is up! The Vimeo upload & original message follow the jump.

Friday, September 18, 2015

My video on Neon Genesis Evangelion and Twin Peaks, which was supposed to appear on Monday, is finally up.

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Stop Making Sense (1984/USA/dir. Jonathan Demme) appeared at #89 on my original list.

What it is • An empty wooden stage, a shadow falling across it, applause faintly emerging on the soundtrack...David Byrne (lead singer and songwriter of Talking Heads) suited up in that distinctly post-counterculture hip-to-be-square kind of way, with a mixture of modesty and bravado, informs the eager (as yet unseen) crowd, "Hi. I've got a tape I'd like to play you." He presses a button on a tape player which provides the only backing track as he stands solo in the theatrical lights (in front of an audience politely seated) and stabs his guitar with the focused ferocity of a psycho killer. And there it begans - nearly non-stop music for 88 minutes as Byrne is gradually joined by various bandmates, from bass player Tina Weymouth to the rest of the original members to some backup singers and supporting musicians. By the end, the crowd is on their feet, the atmosphere is electric, and Byrne is dripping sweat after running in circles around the stage, dancing with a lamp, bending backward almost 180 degrees, and clothing himself in a ridiculous baggy jacket making him look like a child swimming in daddy's business uniform. This concert film to end all concert films - directed by Demme, but conceived and orchestrated by Byrne himself - obviously structures itself around the escalation of activity and accumulation of personnel. However, it also features an increasingly focused and fantastical style. The film begins with pseudo-documentary approach, cutting frequently to depict the crew hustling in the wings while haphazard wires, unhidden ladders, and exposed cameras and lights emphasize the technical details. Two-thirds of the way in, immersive, stylized performances, against a black backdrop, alternate close-ups with very long takes (like the one which captures almost the entirety of "Once in a Lifetime"). Ultimately, Stop Making Sense provides perfect evidence that even non-narrative films can have a strong story arc.

Why I like it

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My video on Neon Genesis Evangelion and Twin Peaks, due on Monday, has still not been released. It will hopefully go up later today. Keep an eye on this post. Meanwhile, here is Wednesday's regularly scheduled entry.

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

We begin with Shinji furious at his father for overpowering him in the Eva. It's a low moment for the young pilot, suggesting that even when he's in the cockpit of his giant puppet, he isn't truly pulling the strings. More surprise is in store...when another Angel attacks, and Shinji is gone (he's "quit" once again), the Eva refuses to active. Rei can't get it going, and neither can the dummy plug. But Cmdr. Ikari's response is extremely personal, and most likely accurate: "It's rejecting me." Only when Shinji returns does Eva-01 activate. The pilot's rage fuels an aggressive and effective plan to get the Angel outside and pound it into submission. The battery runs out, and the Eva itself takes over...rendering the "berserker" escape of episode 2 mild in comparison. Flesh emerges from the "binds" of the Eva suit, a new arm materializes where one was torn off, teeth jut out of the locked maw, and the Eva becomes not a robot but a savage animal, seizing its enemy, tearing it apart, and devouring its essence. It's an amazingly visceral moment for Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Thursday update: Here it is, finally! Vimeo embed and Monday's message are after the jump, and I may also eventually be publishing a longer, separate blog post with images from the video, further thoughts, and relevant links.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Cria Cuervos (1976/Spain/dir. Carlos Saura) appeared at #90 on my original list.

What it is • Ten spots down the line (La Vieja Memoria appeared at #100) we have another Spanish film from the seventies, exploring "that old memory" of the Spanish Civil War. But whereas the post-Franco documentary could openly address the conflict and the subsequent forty-year repression, Carlos Saura's simultaneously lucid and dreamlike fiction film is more cryptic, allusive rather than allegorical. Ana (Ana Torrent, in one of the greatest child performances of all time) is an orphan, along with her two sisters - yet she appears more haunted, particularly by the loss of her mother (Geraldine Chaplin), than her siblings perhaps because she witnessed her mother's suffering more closely. Then again, the sensitivity probably stretches further back - at one point, the family maid (Florinda Chico) reveals that Ana clung to her unnamed parent even in the womb, and the doctors had to use forceps to deliver her. The little girl continues to commune with her mother via a mix of fantasy and memory, delivered in the same limpid, straightforward key as the rest of the film. Ana's affection does not extend to her late father, whom she (perhaps mistakenly) believes she has poisoned as revenge for her mother's sadness, illness, and death. Nor does it extend to her aunt Paulina (Monica Randall), whose well-intentioned but grating discipline and attempts at affection she spurns. Just as Spain was preparing to shake off the Franco regime (the dictator himself was dying as the film was shot) and undergo an uncertain transition into a centrist democracy, Ana and her sisters struggle against increasingly desperate discipline, both cherish and fear their increasing freedom and aimlessness, inquire curiously about their family history. And at film's end they prepare to enter the wider world, less nostalgic and romantic, but also less morbid and melancholy.

Why I like it

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

We pick up exactly where we left off...the Eva-03 is on its way, and Toji appears morose. Wonder why? Everyone but Shinji seems to know who the next pilot will be, even as the show half-attempts to keep the audience in the dark. We are never explicitly told until the end of the episode when we see Toji's half-dead body extricated from the wreckage. This could have been a powerful reveal, but the hints are telegraphed too many times beforehand. Nonetheless, Shinji's stunned reaction hits home as does the NERV staffers' shock and horror as a routine test turns into something else entirely (c'mon - how many tests end up routine in Evangelion?). This crew, seemingly unshaken by the disappearance of thousands in the previous episode, is deeply disturbed when they must turn their firepower on one of their own machines...and the young boy piloting it.