Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast etc.) directs Scarlett Johansson in a movie about a woman (alien) prowling Scotland for men--I'm in on so many levels, not the least of which is Glazer's amazing way with film.
Zizek is back. Available today via iTunes and on Netflix I think, is the latest documentary from Zizek, The Perverts Guide to Ideology, directed by Sophie Fiennes, an exploration of cinema and "the mechanisms that shape what we believe and how we behave." It's pretty much the same format as the earlier PG to Cinema, but this time the focus is more on ideology itself. You know what you are going to get with Zizek, a marxist philosophical view of everything, but I find the man perhaps at his most insightful when he tackles what is going on in culture via cinema, coca-cols and chocolate eggs and much more. Any philosopher who tackles The Sound of Music, casually mentions religion as a means of harnessing sexual desire and then takes the film as an important ideological treatise and notes that Climb Every Mountain was censored for its Catholic propagandist tendencies in his native Yugoslavia when he first saw the film, is worth listening to as far as I am concerned. Complexity and the unseen depths of things are what I always take away from Zizek's cultural critique and that is always more than enough.
Reading through some blogs this morning and came across a reference to a 1938 movie called Sex Madness, which like the perhaps more familiar, Reefer Madness, is a quasi-documentary film pointing out the dangers of unbridled sexual activity and the dangers of STDs particularly Syphillis. Its a moral prescriptive story about new values, or lack of values and morality around sexual activity and the young, and features a 'concerned citizen,' Paul Lorenz, who is on a one-person crusade against immorality. Of course the protagonists are up for any kind of sexual activity regardless of the cost and consequences--'wild' parties, lesbianism and premarital sex all follow.
The form of the film, which was 'educational' allowed things to be shown that were forbidden by the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. It's less than an hour long, but it is an insightful peak into a period in history where new moralities were challenging old ways--it's after the giddy and dizzying heights of the Jazz Age, when new attitudes to gender, class, sex and sexuality and social norms were pushing the world into directions many felt uncomfortable with the direction things were going and reduced everything down to a simple moral equation rather than wrestling with the complexities of new social relations and finding ways to address both the opportunities and challenges of such shifts. Funny how not much has changed in that regard. One of my favourite 'pick-up lines in the film comes courtsey of a suave 'cowboy/flamenco' guy who is preying on a naive young girl swept up in the idea of an independent life and career, "lets seal our friendship with wine-sparkling, bright...it rids the mind of worry, fills the soul with hope..." very smooth--this first drink leads to champagne a wild party and then... it happened, a life ruined. Unfortunately, of course, nasty things can and do happen to people when their minds are blurred and their eyes are blinded by things they desire, but the films heavy-handed and one-sided treatment of the issues is what makes it worth watching.
Morality and moral choices are so simple for some people, it's just a case of always knowing right from wrong--I find it usually much more complex, especially in times of change, when we find ourselves at the frontier of new human orderings and what is emerging has yet to be named and defined. You can watch the whole film here.
A group of deserters are captured by two men and forced to help them search for some 'treasure' hidden in a field. The English Civil War, 'magic' mushrooms, alchemy, what else do you need? This looks fascinating, its on Amazon instant and iTunes.
I like Lana Del Rey, and her this short film produced by Rick Rubin and directed by Anthony Mandler (who has directed a couple of seminal Rihanna music videos) is quite a trip to say the least. It is a 'tale of redemption' told to the music of Body Electric, Gods and Monsters and BelAir-worth 30 minutes of your time I think, its got a littel bit of sexual stuff in it, so if that's not something you're comfortable with don't bother.
"In mourning it is the world which has become poor and empty; in melancholia it is the ego itself." Freud
I've been a bit off-radar of late, recovering from a nasty bout of walking pneumonia, so posts have been sporadic and few and far between. I meant to write about Gravity a few weeks ago but didn't have the energy. I haven't had much luck with films this year, I have generally felt underwhelmed by most of the films I have even bothered going to see. I went to see Gravity because I think Alfonso Cuaron is an interesting film-maker, I thought Biutiful was amazing, for instance.
There is much to like about Gravity, in spite of so many things that aren't great--the crappy dialogue, that feels so inane at times it is almost laughable, drawn from a hardly revolutionary storyline (marooned in space-sacrifice for another-self-discovery etc. etc.), and central characters whose very lack of depth is perhaps the most starkly realized against the blackness of space.
But it might just be that those very elements are what makes Gravity so interesting. Counter to most space movies Cuaron cultivates a very different view of space--it's black, boring almost, no exploding galaxies, fiery planets for him--just endless blackness, cold, stark dark, nothingness, with occasional marauding grey rocks wreaking havoc on frail humans and their machinery. The earth, in contrast, glows with a beauty that lingers in the frame of the film, it is everything that space is not, and it glistens. Space is also dangerous for many reasons--its lack of oxygen, of gravity, our lack of knowledge of the dark wildness of its uncharted territory, where elements hurtle through the universe with little reagrd for the fragility of humans and their machinery.
There is this other aspect of space as well, or at least, how the characters are meant to navigate it that I think figures here. There is a contrast between the man made world and practices where everything is static and fixed--and movements are made between fixed positions--the astronauts are even 'fixed,' attached by umbilical cords to the machines they walk around. These fixed points become interrupted by the actions of space--all those fixed things are now threatened by a marauding pile of space rocks which cause the destruction that initiates the story. After the event, George Clooney's character tries to help Dr. Stone (Bullock) by getting her to keep focused on fixed points--whether it is the Chinese shuttle or the earth's horizon, this is what will keep her sane and ultimately get her home. So there is this juxtaposition between fixed points and moving lines, between different types and relationships with and to space, and the moving line represents danger, it's destructive, ripping apart everything in its way. Smooth space versus striated space are how Deleuze and Guattari differ them. Striated space, in this film, is earth space--organized, broken up by systems, by fixed points if you will. Smooth space is something else, it is occupied by events (the calamitous space rocks of this film?), and is the domain of what they call, nomads. They also argue that striated space is characterized by an 'anxiety in the face of all that passes...' I won't labour on this, because I am only vaguely aware of their theory and I don't want to misinterpret too gravely. It just seems to me that when watching a film we are invited to consider the environment in which the story takes place and the environment Gravity seems to explore is how we negotiate and handle space, and how different spaces interact with each other.
I was so bugged by George clooney's character at first that I could barely reflect on it. He seemed such a parody of both himself (or at least our pop cultural perception of his actor self) and a macho pilot/astronaut, down to his smooth way with the ladies and particular kind of american machismo, that I paid scant attention. But then there is his end. Hopefully this won't be too much of a spoiler if you haven't seen the film (but you can work out most of the plot from the trailer so I won't feel too bad) but essentially his character sacrifices himself for Dr. Stone and makes a final choice for himself that I found very compelling. Un-anchored from any fixed point the astronaut has one last choice to make, he can either use his last bit of oxygen to try and get himself back into a position where he can get back into the earth's orbit, back into gravity's pull, which is what Dr. stone begs him to do, or he can go to the stars. Death is the result of both options. if he chooses gravity the pull will eventually trun into a fall and that fall will cause him to burn up, but at least he would be burning up in the confines of the familiar, the known, the earth. Instead he chooses the stars, and floats off never to be heard from again. If you like, he chooses the danger of moving space, where nothing is fixed, where there are no points to aim for, he chooses the unknown, the abyss, the beauty of the stars.
Maybe I'm reaching too far, and I don't like to impose too many theoretical ideas on a film, but having noted a lot of feminist critique of the film and to Dr. Stone as a female character bound by gender functions and representative of a particular status quo, it seemed to me that an unmined aspect of the film might be linked to the peripheral character who chooses space, who chooses the void, rather than earth.
My friend Pete is fond of using Paul's comment about the kingdom of God, that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female," and it seems to me that Clooneys choice in this film represents that space, that new environment--the fixed points are removed, it is new space, it is dangerous space. And, to revisit D+G, they called smooth space the domain of nomads, whose 'primary determination is to occupy and hold it.' Maybe the 'Jesus space' is smooth space, stripped of the fixed points, the striations that hold us captive to a lesser sense of ourselves, because our anxiety is driving the decisions we make rather than love driving.
Dr. Stone returns safely to earth, but where she lands is very primal, it is the middle of nowhere, and she lands in water, a re-birth of sorts for both her and the earth perhaps. There are no fixed points of human creation, just the natural world in all its unbroken and wild beauty, and opportunity to re-think 'earth-space' now that she has learned the lessons of smooth space?
I seem to have grown a little cold toward cinema in the past couple of years, I think it is the market-driven nature of much of the product, and as I have said before, television is, and always has, worked for me, so I don't mention movies that often here. But I watched The Grandmaster, an epic tale of the life of Ip Man, master of Wing Chun style of kung-fu. Ip Man is also well-known via one of his star pupils, Bruce Lee. This story is biographic and follows Man from the early 1930s in Southern China to his Hong Kong years and eventual death in the 1970s. It's a beautifully shot film, poetry in motion is a trite saying, but it does capture the lyrical and fluid play with image and story that director and writer Wong Kar-wai achieves in this film. If you are not a fan of martial arts, it might be that you wouldn't choose to watch this film, but as much as it is about MA it is the way the story is told that really captures the imagination. Wong Kar-wai is a masterful film-maker, he thinks nothing of devoting time to the sight and sound of a foot finding its balance on the floor, or of the flow of arms attacking and defending in sync with rain that is falling all around the fighters.
The Grandmaster is not an action movie, it's a philosophical tale, ultimately about a man who chooses a path-peacefulness, rather than ambition or vengeance as his opponents do, about the choice to control rather than give in to lust. As one wise old teacher asks his volatile student, "why must a knife be in a sheath?" Because it's real power is ot in its sharpness, but in its concealment, but of course, his student doesn't want to be concealed, or to conceal his power. The film is full of stuff like that, it's slow-moving, tender at times, and again, magnificently shot, should be seen.