Maya Deren

After seeing two Deren movies in HD on the Masterworks of Avant-Garde blu-ray, I thought it was time to rewatch the others on the ol’ DVD.


At Land (1944)

Just as cool as Meshes, in a way, but with less sci-fi/thriller genre imagery. Maya washes up on shore, creeps around, climbs into a meeting room, then seeks a missing chess piece, finally stealing a replacement from a couple by the beach. Continuous action across different locations, so Maya will creep forward across the board room and through tree branches, cutting between. It’s already a cool effect, but then the ending recontextualizes everything, as the chess thief Maya runs past each of the other Mayas performing different actions – more of the Meshes-style doubling. Silent, so I played “The Ship” by Brian Eno, a good musical match once I made myself stop focusing on the lyrics.

Deren:

One aspect in which the film is completely successful, it seems to me, is that the techniques, though complicated, are executed with such quiet subtlety that one is unaware of the strangeness of the film while one looks at it. It is only afterwards, as after a dream, that one realizes how strange were the events and is surprised by the seeming normalcy of them while they are occurring.

Deren again:

It presents a relativistic universe … in which the problen of the individual, as the sole continuous element, is to relate herself to a fluid, apparently incoherent, universe. It is in a sense a mythological voyage of the twentieth century.

Much harder than Meshes to get across the greatness of this one through stills, since it’s all about editing and motion:


A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945)

Dancer(s?) in the woods, moving indoors then to an art gallery and back through discontinuous editing, cool and silent and very short. Oh yeah, it was the same dancer appearing four times during a single camera pan in the opening shot, impressive.

Deren:

[The dancer] moved in a world of imagination in which, as in our day or night-dreams, a person is first in one place and then another without traveling between.


Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)

Rita wanders through different activities, flees each one: Maya knitting, a party featuring Anais Nin, and dancing with some shirtless guy. As she runs from the last one, Rita becomes Maya, wading into the ocean.

Deren was trying “to create a dance film, not only out of filmic time and space relations, but also out of nondance elements … save for a final sequence the actual movements are not dance movements.”

Deren on her films up to now:

Meshes is, one might say, almost expressionist; it externalizes an inner world to the point where it is confounded with the external one. At Land has little to do with the inner world of the protagonist, it externalizes the hidden dynamics of the external world, and here the drama results from the activity of the external world. It is as if I had moved from a concern with the life of a fish to a concern with the sea which accounts for the character of the fish and its life. And Ritual pulls back even further, to a point of view from which the external world itself is but an element in the entire structure and scheme of metamorphosis: the sea itself changes because of the larger changes of the earth. Ritual is about the nature and process of change. And just as Choreography was an effort to isolate and celebrate the principle of the power of movement, which was contained in At Land, so I made, after Ritual, the film Meditation on Violence, which tried to abstract the principle of ongoing metamorphosis and change which was in Ritual.

Anais Nin is unimpressed by the dancers:


The Very Eye of Night (1958)

Dancers superimposed twirling against a cheap black starscape. Woodwind music by Teiji Ito (later Maya’s husband) with some tinkling, chattering sections that got my birds riled up. “Her concern was with plastic development, conflict of scale, and dimensional illusion rather than with total structure,” per P. Adams Sitney.

Blazing Saddles (1974, Mel Brooks)

“What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?”

Memorial screening for Gene Wilder. I haven’t seen this in over 20 years, and probably that was a cropped, edited-for-TV version. It’s kind of a half-assed movie with plenty of stupid scenes, but also quite hilarious and wonderful at times.

Cleavon Little (Vanishing Point) dupes thug Mongo with a candygram:

Brooks probably carefully positioned the pen for this shot:

One complaint: Madeline Kahn’s Marlene Dietrich impression is so awful that I looked up how she managed to get cast in Young Frankenstein afterward, but it turns out she was oscar-nominated for this. Except for Picnic at Hanging Rock and I guess Shampoo, it was an extremely masculine year at the movies, so perhaps there weren’t enough entries.

Ends as a backlot romp with Dom DeLuise, of course:

The Day He Arrives (2011, Hong Sang-soo)

A film director is in his hometown of Seoul for a night, fails to connect with a friend, hangs out with some students and gets drunk then looks up an old flame. The film director is in his hometown of Seoul for a night, connects with his friend, they hang out with a woman the friend knows named Boram and the owner of the Novel bar. A film director is in his hometown of Seoul for a night, connects with his friend and a former lead actor, and they all go to the Novel Bar. But the movie title is the first clue that these are alternate versions of the same day with recurring characters in different situations. I lost track of the female characters, but in my defense it’s all kinda disorienting. Ah, further in my defense: the old flame and the bar owner are the same actress.

Boram with the film director:

Our lead filmmaker is Joon-sang Yoo of at least five other Hong movies, and his buddy’s friend Boram from at least parts 2 & 3 was Seon-mi Song of Woman on the Beach, which is also about a film director hanging out with his friend. The only other Hong movie I’ve seen is Oki’s Movie, which also involved variations and repetition – I’m assuming from reading some reviews that most of his movies do. Played at Cannes UCR with Elena, which I watched the day before this. Dialogue-heavy with unshowy compositions, then one zoom per scene – I started to wait for the zoom, wonder when it would come. Pleasant viewing, gets more engrossing as the day(s) roll on, but didn’t leave me with an aftertaste of joy and wonder like Oki’s Movie did.

L-R: bar owner, the friend, the actor

Quintín:

The last scene of The Day He Arrives can be seen as a correction to the scene in Oki’s Movie where a young filmmaker refuses to allow his picture to be taken by a woman he meets in the park. This time, a woman says that she’s an admirer of the filmmaker, and when she asks him to pose for a photograph, he answers that he doesn’t like to do it but he complies anyway … Over the course of the film, Sungjoon experiences the usual bittersweet encounters with women, but also finds himself in a rather hostile film milieu, where he is harassed by film students, people don’t remember him or don’t like him or the other way around. In this last scene, where an unknown woman shows she cares for his work, Sungjoon seems to feel that nothing is wrong with his place in life, even if there might not be another film in his future. Hong’s previous films were always about a guy keeping pace of his career and feeling unsure about his work, whether he was successful or not.

One More Time With Feeling (2016, Andrew Dominik)

The best possible way to experience an album for the first time: as a one-night-only feature film, with some halting interview footage and rehearsals and home stuff, but also the songs played in full, with a different magnificent visual scheme for each.

J. Bleasdale:

Cave is someone who is stronger when he is singing. Likewise, the film becomes more cinematic at this point, creating essentially standalone footage of the songs, swooping through chinks in the studio wall to sail over the city.

It’s good to know a couple basic details of the Traumatic Event beforehand since the movie doesn’t spell it out – nobody’s here to talk about that, just about the process of getting through the aftermath, through the music and otherwise. Having some knowledge of the Event makes certain conversations, song lyrics and performances unbearably moving. That feeling seeped into the album when I first played it the next day, but I’m feeling it less as time passes since watching the movie version – maybe I need to stop listening to the album for a while.

J. Kiang:

Cave wrote the songs which appear on the new Bad Seeds album Skeleton Tree before Arthur’s death but recorded them afterward, and Dominik’s film is a document of that recording … The “event,” in Cave’s own words, instantly made him into another person, into “someone else inside my skin.” So the Cave we see singing is not the same Cave who wrote the words in his mouth, and yet the songs are all, every one of them, about dread and loss and love so sharp and yearning it feels like hurt. The uncanny resonances that the lyrics contain — and always contained — can be ascribed to the fact that Cave’s songwriting has always tended toward the doomy, but he suggests, with typically matter-of-fact mysticism, it’s also partly because his songs have elements of prophecy. That thought, of tragedy foretold, might be enough to drive another person mad, but like everything else in the jetstream of an unimaginable horror, the logic of the old you, the way you think you would behave if such-and-such occurred, is simply obliterated. It’s one of the reasons, Cave explains at the start of the film, why he’s moved away from narrative in his songwriting: he just doesn’t believe any more that life happens neatly, one thing then the next, the way it does in stories.

Dominik seems interesting. I vaguely recall watching his Chopper on DVD (to check out that Eric Bana guy before his Hulk movie opened), and IMDB says he did uncredited camera work on The New World.

G. Kenny:

As it happens, Cave himself commissioned the film on realizing that once the record was to be released, he would be obliged to promote it. He is still so seared by his trauma that he can’t bear the idea of being asked by journalists about it repeatedly; so this, then, is his communiqué, albeit a communiqué mediated by another genuine artist.

Elena (2011, Andrei Zvyagintsev)

Elena is recently married to Vlad (Andrey Smirnov, a writer/director who was working on his own film when this was shooting). He comes from a cold, rich family and she comes from a larger, lazier family. He decides not to give her college money in order to keep her oldest grandson out of the military, so she kills him with a Viagra overdose in his meds cup, burns his in-progress will, and brings cash from his safe to her son. Seems like a straightforward crime/family drama, but with details I didn’t know how to place, like the final scene, where the oldest son joins his buddies outside to beat the shit out of some people.

J. Hoberman:

The movie grows ever more emotionally complex. Beginning with the image of a dead horse that Elena spots from a train and ending with a shot of an unattended infant, the final scenes seem to spring from her guilty conscience. Largely unremarkable in themselves, the revelation of an unexpected pregnancy, the experience of a routine power failure, an instance of casual teenage brutality, and the sight of a family gathering before the TV are cumulatively disturbing.

Won second or third place in Cannes UCR, in competition with Hors Satan and Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Zvyagintsev:

One of the things that I wanted to emphasize is that money changed human nature. It is especially visible in Russia, because we never had that before due to social circumstances. All of us had 120 rubles per month and then all of a sudden 20 years ago we were thrown into the world of capitalism and consumerism, unprepared. That changed us in an unexplainable way… I’m confident that this story isn’t just about Russia, it’s about human nature, it’s universal. But just in the Russian context, it’s more visible and actualized.

Uncle Yanco / Black Panthers (1967/68, Agnes Varda)

Uncle Yanco (1967)

“Above all, man is nourished by what’s marvelous.”

While in California, Agnes introduces herself to a relative, who is an awesome weirdo (it must run in the family), a painter and builder living on a Sausalito houseboat inspiring all the local hippies. She shoots and edits this encounter with her usual verve, including slates and rehearsals, capturing and restaging realities.


Black Panthers (1968)

Good images of a Panther rally protesting the imprisonment of Huey Newton – mostly straightforward reportage and interviews with lively editing. It’s less vibrant as a film than her others, possibly because her tourist crew wasn’t trusted by the panther community.

David Myers shared cinematography credits on both of these films. He’d become an acclaimed rock doc photographer beginning a couple years later with Woodstock and Gimme Shelter, including at least three Neil Young movies, a Grateful Dead concert film, The Last Waltz, Louie Bluie and Bob Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara.

Al Jarnow – Celestial Navigations

A DVD of animated shorts from a Children’s Television Workshop pioneer. I started going through this, but lost interest after a while.

Opens on a weird note:

Owl & The Pussycat (1968)

The very next film has the word “bullshit” and a crudely-drawn naked woman, so we’re not into the Children’s Television Workshop portion of the program yet.

Scratching & Painting on Film (1968)

Yak (1970) – a yak discovers the letter “y”
Tondo (1973) – a 3D geometry/motion exercise, with more naked women.
Floor Tiles (1997) – floor tile coloring fantasia.
Skeletons (1979) – a study of skeletal structure.

Skeletons:

Autosong (1976) – gentle Plymptonian perspective-morphing to low comforting rumble of manual-transmission car. I could fall asleep to this. The second-longest film on here, starts to leave the road entirely in its second half.

Four Quadrant Exercise (1975) – geometry games with blackouts in between.

Hand Trick Letters (1992) – some ugly-looking digital spelling lessons, though to be fair all computer-made video from 1992 is pretty ugly.

Rotating Cubic Grid (1975) – more geometry exercises, though more fun than its title suggests.

To be continued, possibly.

Hell or High Water (2016, David Mackenzie)

Pretty straightforward cops and robbers movie given unexpected depth by having its bank thieves rage against a local bank’s predatory home loans. Director Mackenzie (I somewhat liked his Asylum and Young Adam in the pre-blog days) and writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) fill the movie with plenty of incident and suspense but include enough time for the four leads to hang out and relate to each other, so in the climax when the killing starts, the stakes seem much higher.

Pretty man Chris Pine is the brains behind the bank heists, has even consulted with a lawyer on the subject of robbing branches of the bank that will soon foreclose on his family land, then opening a trust with that same bank so they’re not inclined to cooperate with police investigating him for the robberies. Because you see, Pine has discovered oil on the property, and after a life of farming in poverty, he’s finally got a chance to leave something to his kids. So there are some typical movie coincidences at play here, but the anger at the banking system comes through loud and clear (funny that I watched this the day after Office).

Pine’s less stable older brother Ben Foster (one of the angels in Northfork) is his partner in crime. The great Jeff Bridges plays a mumbly old, jovially racist lawman with partner Gil Birmingham (Jacqueline’s dad in Kimmy Schmidt), whose death still comes as a shock even though that’s the sort of thing that happens in these movies. Great epilogue with Bridges meeting Pine for the first time for a civil chat, each simmering with rage over the deaths of their respective partners.

M. Singer:

Sheridan previously wrote the outstanding drug-war thriller Sicario; he specializes in stories that don’t sacrifice intelligence for excitement, set in moral minefields where even relatively honest people can be undone by a single wrong step.

A.A. Dowd:

It’s quite a feat, orchestrating a crime thriller that feels at once relaxed and urgent, that delivers an endless supply of comic banter without compromising its underlying tone of elegiac regret … Viewers may find, in that grand Fugitive tradition, that their sympathies are divided, especially once Hell Or High Water begins pulling its two plot strands together, clarifying its outlaws’ motives, and building to the fatalistic finale it absolutely earns.

The Boy and the Beast (2015, Mamoru Hosoda)

Hosoda’s latest, which we watched after catching up with his previous three, was disappointing. There’s lots of incident, but we didn’t always buy the characters or situations, and the idea of a beast world that exists parallel to ours is only sorta-developed. It was maybe hurt by my recent love for Ernest and Celestine, which is also about parallel animal worlds where a grumpy bear takes on a sidekick, but Katy skipped Ernest and didn’t seem to be having this one either.

Boy and Beasts:

Very moody Boy gains a fluffy pet who hides in his clothes and isn’t important, then finds his way to beastville where chimp and pig monks introduce him to a filthy slacker Beast, who is challenging the beloved local Boar for grandmaster title after the disappearing Grandmaster Bunny (my favorite character, by far) retires. The boy is fed raw eggs and Karate Kids his way towards being a warrior by imitating Beast’s every move, then inevitably he returns to humanville where he meets his real dad and a girl tries to get him into school. And I guess the boar has also been fostering a human son (wearing an unconvincing genki hat), who crosses over to threaten the human world, turning himself into a whale after glimpsing a copy of Moby Dick (shades of Ghostbusters). Guess I don’t remember the very end since it was getting late, but one assumes the good guys are rewarded.

Also this happened, whatever it was:

Showdown in humantown: