In the Shadow of the Sun (Derek Jarman, 1981)

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(Screened at Cafe OTO with a live score performed by Psychic TV)

In the Shadow of the Sun exists essentially in the dead-centre of a triangle made of Lucifer Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1974), Begotten (E. Elias Merhige, 1991), and From the Pole to the Equator (Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, 1987). As one might thus expect, it is an oneiric, haunting and paradoxically apocalyptic world-creation, wholly intoxicating in the well-established avant-garde-cinematic mode of queer orientalism and yet, in eschewing a good three-quarters of the campiness we would associate with Anger or Jack Smith, the contrast between skeletal ritual masks and race/class-signifying top hats allows Shadow to approach a slight critique of the colonial “magickal tourism” so often in play. Note I do say “approach,” rather than “reach,” however there is a notable absence of naiveté within the gaze of these blown-up 8mm images.

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The use of repetition and superimposition, as with Jarman’s earlier shorts (from which some of Shadow‘s footage is evidently lifted) invokes a particularly cabbalistic reading of montage – a visual praxis of solve et coagula – that demands numerous rewatching and reinterpretation. I certainly plan to oblige.

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Slideshow On Steven Shaviro’s “Emotion Capture: Affect in Digital Film”

This link opens a slideshow of a presentation I did, a couple of months ago, on the subject of of “Emotion Capture: Affect in Digital Film,” an essay that deals with concerns over the indexicality of the photographic image in an age of digital reproduction, focusing on “Waking Life” (Richard Linklater, 2001 – one of my favourite films of all time), “A Scanner Darkly” (Richard Linklater, 2006) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004). My presentation focuses predominantly on the first two, with reference to the “CinemaScope Trilogy” (Peter Tscherkassky, 1997-2001)

(This was made at a time when I was still under the impression Anohni identified as non-binary, thus the symbol/icon/index section using her photograph is now incorrect)

Lost River (Ryan Gosling, 2015)

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Watching Lost River, I couldn’t help but get an eerie feeling of déja-vu. After half an hour or so, I realised that it’s more or less one of the film scripts I wrote in my bedroom at age 14 up till the moment where my laptop had the good sense to die forever, depriving the world of more derivative, albeit aesthetically harmonious, twaddle.

It is instantly apparent that each and every one of the characters are entirely picked from a deck of instantly recognisable archetypes but, strangely enough, not a one of them is fleshed out enough even to fulfil the required tropes. Granted, for this it makes the characters less obnoxious than the overbearingly paint-by-numbers archetype list to be found in so many films from Birdman to Calvary, but that’s but there is more than one alternative to glitzy 2D character writing that isn’t frustratingly 1D character writing. Lost River‘s aimless approach to in media res means that we’re never really given insight into any motivations, allegiances or conflicts, and the nearly-last-days universe, for all its neon cool, just isn’t interesting enough forLost River‘s lack of tight plot to be made irrelevant by immersive experience, à la Hard to Be a God.

To be sure, I have occasionally wondered what Ryan Gosling’s blu-ray collection looked like, and I’m glad to have Lost River take me from J through M (Jodorowsky, Korine, Lynch, Mallick) as well as confirm for me that he’s seen and enjoyed Stalker at least once, but I cannot help but resent him for recycling these auteurs in such a dull, privileged way. I say privileged, because there are films that have managed to borrow unmistakable elements from, say, Lynch on what seems to have been a fraction of this film’s budget and make a simple, pleasant watch. Enemy is a fine example of such a film. Lost River, by contrast, feels simultaneously somehow too simple and too complex at the same time, Gosling never quite sure what point he wants to make, but never having the nihilism of the majority of his considerably more existential influences to allow it to have no point with dignity.

It’s heartbreaking to think Gosling believed he was making something good and new with Lost River and it’s sickening to think some stupid teenager will honestly believe this is the peak of filmmaking. I certainly hope they discover the source texts for every rip-off in this film and realise how much more there is to explore than Lost River.

**

The Dance of Reality (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2013)

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Feeling all at once his most flippant work, and the one to be taken most seriously of all, Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality takes the surrealist semi-autobiographical route of the last number of Takeshi Kitano features, whilst ending up focusing considerably more on the tale of his father, abusive and hapless bourgeois communist Jaime than on young Alejandro himself. Jaime is slowly transfigured over the course of the narrative from Nom-de-Père monstrosity to a figure who might have stepped out of an Artaud-directed production of Les Mains Salles, to a figure of surprising and moving redemption.

Watching it, as I did, as the second feature in a double bill with Santa Sangre I couldn’t help but be struck by Jodorowsky’s consistent reflections on processing guilt in the face of sins of the father (and, indeed, mother). Considering his own childhood existence as the abused and alienated end result of spousal rape, it’s hardly a surprise, though made all the more poignant by his continued trend of casting his own offspring in the lead roles – The Dance of Reality being the first of his films to star three generations of Jodorowsky’s, including himself, as himself.

Genuinely funny as it regularly is, perhaps the most pleasantly amusing element of Reality is the way in which it acts as a biopic, subtly referencing – as far as I could tell – all of Jodorowsky’s back catalogue. Just as other films about an artist’s life regularly invent characters and circumstances the filmmakers assume may have influenced iconic moments in their oeuvre, Jodorowsky adds such tongue-in-cheek speculation himself. It may be true to state that Reality is not so much surrealist as it is magic-realist; symbolist, even. On this more subdued, linear plane, Jodorowsky allows his philosophy to rise to the surface with relative clarity: whether the depicted events in Reality happened in the most literal sense feel quite irrelevant to the question of whether they’re true. As is stated in the film itself, truth is the path to God – a path Jodorowsky, now apparently 85, is clearly ever more aware of walking.

Reality is not perfect, and the earlier Jodorowsky films it nods to throughout all have considerably more re-watch value and are, without a doubt, more fun. However, this is a very good, earnest and honest film from one of the true masters of psychedelic cinema. I am grateful to have finally seen this film.

***1/2

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012)

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First watched and reviewed June 30, 2015

Surreal, funny, tragic, and profoundly moving, I can’t think of any film that takes you on such a long journey in such a relatively short amount of time as It’s Such a Beautiful Day. Hertzfeldt makes perfect use of the illustrative medium and, though I usually find myself very much aligned with the André Bazin / Dudley Andrews way of thinking (that animation, by definition, cannot be cinema), the 35mm medium and bewildering and beautiful in-camera effects of which Don Hertzfeldt makes most skilful use renders Beautiful Day an exception to this rule, creating new examples of what we considered lost in the age of CGI: Cinema Magic. Old school and entirely new all at once,Beautiful Day is already an historical treasure that will surely only gain more praise and followers as time rolls on.

*****

As Above, So Below (Jon Erick Dowdle, 2014)

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As Above, So Below actually has quite a few things going for it. First things first: it’s a treasure-hunting adventure movie in the vein of Tomb Raider, National Treasure or perhaps most appropriately, Les Adventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc Sec done as a horror film, and manages to avoid pretty much all obvious references to films such as The Mummy and The Relic. Also, something that’s always rather important for the found-footage sub-genre, explanation for the constant filming is handled pretty well. Perhaps the most important distinction between As Above, So Below and a great many other horror films (or films, just generally) is the fact that it manages to establish every character as likeable and worthy of your attention and care for when they come to a sticky end. That’s a pretty winning formula, especially when you have a genuinely interesting premise thrown into the mix.

But good god, the ending. I’m going to avoid spoilers here, but the ending really is a brilliant explanation as to why so many writers like Arthur Conan Doyle made a habit of writing their stories backwards: a great and reasonably original first and second act does not necessarily guarantee your story will simply evolve into a great and original third. Sadly, As Above, So Below does come across as a pretty classic example of what happens when you have a bunch of good ideas, with no plan. I understand why many would simply write off the film on this basis (and, goodness knows, many have) but, just as good sex is not centred around the orgasm, perhaps a good film should not be centred around the ending, so I still enjoyed this film enough to give it a 3 star rating, and do feel really rather tempted to give it another half, out of admiration for its spirit.

There are a couple of funny flubs before the ending, but ones that I personally believe add to its charm (George translating an Aramaic script directly into a quaint AABB rhyme for instance) – whilst I certainly don’t consider it to be as good as other found-footage horrors like [REC] or The Last Exorcism I found this film a great late-night watch and I’m pretty positive I’ll do so again.

***