Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Traditional silhouette animation as invented by Reiniger is a subdivision of cutout animation (itself one of the many forms of stop motion).  It utilises figures cut out of paperboard, sometimes reinforced with thin metal sheets, and tied together at their joints with thread or wire (usually substituted by plastic or metal paper fasteners in contemporary productions) which are then moved frame-by-frame on an animation stand and filmed top-down with a rostrum camera – such techniques were used, albeit with stylistic changes, by such practitioners as Noburō Ōfuji in the 1940s and Bruno J. Böttge in the 1970s.  (Wikipedia, “Silhouette Animation”)

Say what?  The “Reiniger” is German director Lotte Reiniger, in whose entry Wikipedia also has to say:  In 1923, she was approached by Louis Hagen, who had bought a large quantity of raw film stock as an investment to fight the spiraling inflation of the period.  He asked her to do a feature-length animated film.  There was some difficulty that came with doing this, however.  Reiniger is quoted as saying “We had to think twice.  This was a never heard of thing.  Animated films were supposed to make people roar with laughter, and nobody had dared to entertain an audience with them for more than ten minutes.  Everybody to whom we talked in the industry about the proposition was horrified.”  The result was THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, completed in 1926, one of the first animated feature films, with a plot that is a pastiche of stories from ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS.  Although it failed to find a distributor for almost a year, once premiered in Paris (thanks to the support of Jean Renoir), it became a critical and popular success.  Because of this delay, however, THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED’s expressionistic style did not quite fit with the realism that was becoming popular in cinema in 1926.  Reiniger uses lines that can almost be called “colorful” to represent the film’s exotic locations.  Today, THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED is thought to be one of the oldest surviving feature-length animated films, if not the oldest.  It is also considered to be the first avant-garde full-length animated feature.

Or in other words Saturday afternoon’s Indiana University Cinema feature was not exactly your average, Disney-style kiddie cartoon.  It was okay for the kiddies though who, brought with their parents, could get in for free.  In silhouette the prince and his rescued-from-the-demon-isle girlfriend were likely just kissing, as were, later on, Aladdin and the prince’s sister.  Of the latter, in fact, with the father of the prospective bride looking on, it may not even have been quite that sultry — especially what with pop being the Caliph!

But then again maybe that was the point, with the limitations of the technique deliberately used with its also suggested exotic backgrounds to force one to exercise imagination. The two stills with this post perhaps will help give an idea. To give the IU Cinema program blurb the final word, I’ll only add that the latish afternoon presentation was different — and fun.

When THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED premiered in Germany on September 23, 1926, it was hailed as the first full-length animated film.  More than 75 years later, this enchanting film still stands as one of the great classics of animation.  Taken from THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, the film tells the story of a wicked sorcerer who tricks Prince Achmed into mounting a magical flying horse and sends the rider off on a flight to his death.  But the prince foils the magician’s plan and soars headlong into a series of wondrous adventures.  This cinematic treasure has been beautifully restored with its spectacular color tinting and with a new orchestral recording of the magnificent 1926 score by Wolfgang Zeller. 

It’s not a happy film, first off — but it is a fascinating one.  The docent at the Indiana University Cinema showing last night ended his introduction saying “the film must be soaked in.”  Soaked in . . . immersed?  Or, as I did, settling in my chair, leaving my mind open, and just enjoying the ride.  No thought, no attempt to decipher symbols — all that can come later; and, in the moment, I think the film worked.  A massively unreliable narrator (stay in his head, enjoy the ride!) and certainly not a happy one, but a film I think is worth seeing.

Here’s what the IU Cinema program book says about it:  From Robert Eggers, the visionary filmmaker behind modern horror masterpiece THE WITCH, comes this hypnotic and hallucinatory tale set in the 1890s on a remote island off the coast of New England.  Two lighthouse keepers (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson), trapped and isolated due to a seemingly never-ending storm, engage in an escalating battle of wills as tensions boil over and mysterious forces — which may or may not be real — loom all around them.  The film evokes a wide range of influences, from literary classics by Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson to the supernatural tales of H.P. Lovecraft, while presenting a story and film unlike any other.  Contains mature content, including violence and sexual situations.

But wait, there’s more.  The docent mentioned that one source of inspiration, some details of which may be in the film too (note, e.g., the names of the two men), was an incident at an actual lighthouse off the coast of Wales.  The old lighthouse brought about a change in lighthouse policy in 1801 after a gruesome episode, sometimes called the Smalls Lighthouse Tragedy.  The two-man team, Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffith, were known to quarrel, so when Griffith died in a freak accident, Howell feared that he might be suspected of murder if he discarded the body into the sea.  As the body began to decompose, Howell built a makeshift coffin for the corpse and lashed it to an outside shelf.  Stiff winds blew the box apart, though, and the body’s arm fell within view of the hut’s window and caused the wind to catch it in such a way that it seemed as though it was beckoning.  Working alone and with the decaying corpse of his former colleague outside Howell managed to keep the lamp lit.  When Howell was finally relieved from the lighthouse the effect the situation had had on him was said to be so extreme that some of his friends did not recognise him.  As a result, lighthouse teams were changed to rosters of three men, which continued until the automation of British lighthouses in the 1980s.  (Wikipedia, “Smalls Lighthouse”)

As for the seagull, well, killing one’s bad luck — the same, one recalls from high school English, as with albatrosses.  See, part of the fun is assembling pieces together after you’ve seen the film and decided you want to know more about it.  For instance the title, THE LIGHTHOUSE, as well as the movie’s initial idea came from a fragment by Edgar Allan Poe, though with just one character rather than two, which I’m not going to quote but which you can read by pressing here.  (And note the meerschaum pipe and the dog.)

We had been thinking about “point of view” (cf. December 3, et al.).  Now imagine this.  Imagine a being from another planet disguised as a human, wearing a woman-suit, or a “skin,” but functionally a sort of vampire.  Her job* is to lure lonely men, men who will not be missed, into her lair where they’ll be “transmitted” to her home world (never mind the details, they just sink as it were into a dark pool) where they’re presumably considered food(?).  Ick!  But here’s the twist.  The film is shown almost entirely from the “woman’s” point of view, that of an alien who only gradually gets used to Earth and the ways of its people — who slowly becomes an Earth person herself, at least in her own head, including becoming a victim in turn (yes, there’s some sexual satire here, but wait for the end).  As such the film moves slowly:  she’s slowly absorbed, one might say, into “Earthiness” just as in their own fashion her victims are absorbed through the dark pool into peopleburgers.

The movie:  UNDER THE SKIN, i.e., what’s beneath the Earthwoman surface, Saturday night’s science fiction fare (sorry) at the Indiana University Cinema.  To quote the catalog blurb:  Programmed by IU Cinema Lead House Manager Elizabeth Roell.  UNDER THE SKIN examines the human experience from the perspective of a mysterious young woman (Scarlett Johansson) who seduces lonely men in the evening hours in Scotland, luring them back to her strange, dark lair.  However, a string of events lead her to begin a process of self-discovery.  Contains explicit content, including sexual violence, strong language, and violence.  The trick, though, as a couple of Amazon reviewers have suggested too, is to see the movie as a kind of documentary, but one made for the aliens — to take for oneself an alien point of view and learn, with the woman, what’s going on with this strange new world.

But pay attention:  the film may move slowly, but even the smallest details are important.

*With sometime assistance by a man with a motorcycle.

One way to tell a story is through its characters.  But suppose the characters are seen more as character types, as abstracts for the most part, more than as particular individual people.  Such is the case with Monday night’s IU Cinema fare, OCTOBER or (as originally released in the US) TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD, by Russian master Sergei Eisenstein to celebrate the tenth anniversary of 1917’s Russian Revolution.  And add one more touch, that of point of view (cf., for example, the Chinese film YING XIONG, October 27 below), so that the characters may be presented objectively, almost dispassionately, from the outside — in this case literally “camera eye” — the effect on the viewer is deliberately subjective:  that is you’re not going to learn objective history from it (in fact it’s helpful to read up a little in advance on events leading up to the Russian Revolution).  Rather as one Amazon reviewer, “PolarisDiB,” put it, [t]his movie is so good, in fact, that it makes me proud to be a Bolshevik… and I’m not, not in any way or form!
As the Indiana University Cinema catalog has it:  Commissioned as a propaganda film to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, October is another of Sergei Eisenstein’s brilliant experiments in film structure and cinematic language.  The film introduced the concept of ‘intellectual montage,’ juxtaposing disconnected images to draw comparisons.  His use of montage also delivers the explosive spirit of revolt and resistance in St. Petersburg, leading up to the Bolshevik revolution.  Using non-professional actors throughout, the film is considered an ambitious historical epic and powerful tribute to Eisenstein’s creativity and artistry.  Silent film with English intertitles.  And as last night’s docent put it in introducing the movie, some people may shy away from silent films in general, thinking of them as “boring and slow.”  But this one isn’t.

This was another trip to the movies, a Sunday matinee, this one related to questions of remembering and forgetting (see October 23 below) but with emphasis on the point of view of the person who might be telling the story.  Events may be altered — or at least the way one relates them — according to the teller’s agenda, purposely in the case of this film, but it also could be just a matter of interpretation.  One of a series labeled “The RASHOMON Effect,” the film was YING XIONG, translated as HERO, directed by Zhang Yimou, and is somewhat about an actual historical event, an attempted assassination in 227 B.C. of the king of Qin who subsequently united seven warring kingdoms to form the empire that became China.  But it is a “wire fu” fantasy too, a martial arts film where fighters fly through the air as they do their deeds, and a single assassin not being enough there are at least three here, not to mention at least two or three versions of what actually happened.

To let the Indiana University Cinema explain:  In pre-Imperial China, during the Warring States period, a nameless soldier with supernatural skill embarks on a mission of revenge against the fearsome army that massacred his people.  To achieve the justice he seeks, Nameless (Jet Li) must first take on the empire’s most ruthless assassins — Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Broken Sword (Tony Leung).  Once his mission is complete, he is granted an audience with the ruler of the most powerful of the seven warring kingdoms, and he relates to the King (Chen Daoming) the tales of how he defeated each of the three of the ruler’s adversaries.  Despite what Nameless has told him, the King presumes his score with the assassins was not all it seems to be and weaves his own tale of what he believed is at play.  In Mandarin with English subtitles.  Contains mature content, including violence.

The film has been criticized on somewhat political grounds, as placing emphasis on the idea of “state,” which brings up point of view again; it is at least a film to make one think, regardless of the action/adventure aspect.  And the fights themselves are more like dance sequences, the film being amazing in places in terms of beauty, my favorite being a battle between Flying Snow and another woman, both dressed in red, within an autumn forest of swirling leaves in bright yellows and oranges, deepening as the fight ends to its own red.  Other scenes are in blues or in greens, others in more natural colors, even a couple of brief dream sequences of sorts in black and white. . .

Or, story completely aside, YING XIONG is still stunning.

I had mentioned the film myself in a post on June 26 2014, five years ago, about ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE:  In some ways I’m reminded of ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, though that may just be my own eccentricity, but like that movie ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE is sweet and beautiful yet, at the same time, ruthless and sad.  So last night, Tuesday, courtesy of the Indiana University Cinema, I had the chance to see ETERNAL SUNSHINE again.
IU Cinema blurb:  Joel is heartbroken when he discovers that ex-girlfriend Clementine has erased all memories of their time together.  As Joel undertakes the same treatment in revenge, his subconscious fights back in a surreal, dream-like journey through good times and bad, one that has Joel questioning whether he wants to lose his happy memories in order to forget the painful ones.  Michel Gondry’s direction and Charlie Kaufman’s acclaimed screenplay produced a film that is both intellectually complicated and deeply romantic. 
And so both quotations, I think, are true.  But there’s also more to ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND at least at the IU end, the film being part of a fall “themester” — a themed grouping of courses and ancillary programs and events — on the concepts of “Remembering and Forgetting,” giving this mini-blurb:  In this unusually serious romantic comedy, heartbreak leads a couple to erase all memories of each other.  But, of course, can they really?  And how would that complicate life and possible pairings with others?  And, in the talk before the screening, how can this even be depicted at all in a movie?
That is, films are great for showing things from the outside, but what of showing things that are internal — to get inside a character’s head as one might in a book?  In this case through a series of “fantasy dreamscapes” where techniques like colors or camera angles may gain extra importance.  Thus Joel can experience memories as dreams, and these sometimes then be manipulated, but not in a sense of reality changing but more perhaps as an exploration of what could be.  Or perhaps might have been.
Confused?  I know I am, but that’s not the point.  My point is I think the film is worth seeing — very worth seeing — but also probably has to be watched more than once or even twice.  Or, if failing that, at least enjoyed once as a bittersweet romance with a rather neat, with the memory erasing technique as a subtheme, science fiction flavor.

So we read other blogs too.  In particular, for film fans, there’s Nathan Scovell’s ON THE SUBJECT OF HORROR (subtitle: “All things horror movie related!”) where for the month of October we find a day by day “Horror Movie Marathon.”  Right, a recommended film with review in some depth each day leading up to Halloween.  That’s nice, you might say, but today’s selection is a particular favorite of mine, Peter Jackson’s (yes, the guy in New Zealand who later did the LORD OF THE RING films) weird and wacky, zombie film to end all zombie films DEAD ALIVE (or, to add to confusion, also known sometimes as BRAINDEAD).  For those who know it one only need mention the “lawnmower scene,” a link to which is provided as well as a trailer in Scovell’s review, to elicit off-kilter smiles of admiration.  That is, if one isn’t put off by a bit of blood and gore.

After all, what would you do if you found your home crowded with flesh-hungry zombies — including your own mom?  And, need one add, your new girlfriend threatened?  To find out, or at least for more information, read Scovell’s DEAD ALIVE review yourself by pressing here!

A bumbling pig farmer, a feisty salon owner, a sensitive busboy, an ambitious expat architect and a disenchanted rich girl converge and collide as thousands of dead pigs float down the river towards a rapidly modernizing Shanghai, China.  Based on true events.  (From IMDb)

I don’t know about how true the events are, but the movie is called DEAD PIGS, and here’s the IU Cinema’s take on it:  Filmmaker Ash Mayfair is scheduled to be present.  A mysterious stream of pig carcasses floats silently toward China’s populous economic hub, Shanghai.  As authorities struggle to explain the phenomenon, a down-and-out pig farmer with a youthful heart struggles to make ends meet, while an upwardly mobile landowner fights gentrification against an American expat seeking a piece of the Chinese dream.  Like a mosaic, their stories intersect and converge in a showdown between human and machine, past and future, brother and sister.  In Mandarin with English subtitles.  Contains mature content.

Ms. Mayfair, a Vietnamese filmmaker herself, was on campus for one of her films as well, but she also acted as docent for this one, adding, of DEAD PIGS, “So funny, so moving, very sophisticated.”  And yes, the funniness often was buried within the absurdity of the situations, though in details also, but I at least began to feel sorry for some of the characters — not always all that innocent themselves — but trapped in an overall context that, laughs aside, wasn’t likely to end well for most.  But family, and love, became stronger than than one might have thought at first and over the closing credits was a an upbeat chorus, in English, of “Everybody Celebrate” (there’s also a group sing near the end in the movie proper, but that one in Chinese).

So to me, DEAD PIGS wasn’t entirely a laugh fest, but was surprisingly good as a movie.  Or, for a little bit more of the flavor, here’s the first paragraph of a Sundance review by Jessica Kiang, from VARIETY.COM (which can be read in its entirety here):   In the Chinese zodiac, the happy-go-lucky pig stands for good fortune and wealth.  So an inexplicable epidemic that decimates the porcine population in a developing part of China still heavily reliant on pig farming, could be symbolically as well as literally disastrous, and it provides Cathy Yan’s sprawling, bouncing, jaunty debut with its darkest images.  Along the wide river that flows sluggishly to the nearby city, thousands of discarded pig corpses keep bobbing to the surface like troublesome metaphors.  But despite tracking with forensic rigor the domino effects of this sudden aporkalypse, the surprise is the light sureness of Yan’s touch.  “Dead Pigs” is delightfully uneven, eagerly see-sawing between screwy and serious, occasionally even daring to be ditzy — not a quality usually associated with Sixth Generation maestro and executive producer Jia Zhangke.  If anything, Yan’s film, with its dancing girls, pigeon-fancying beauticians, Westerners-on-the-make and spontaneous musical numbers, is an antidote to China’s weightier arthouse output, settling the stomach after too much stolid social realism, effervescent as an alka-seltzer.

It’s not easy being different — and especially so if one has what one may call “special” powers.  So, too, of films, Julia Hart’s FAST COLOR (billed as Drama, Science Fiction, and Thriller) being a last minute addition to the Indiana University Cinema’s “International Arthouse Series” with special reference this fall to films directed by women, and of which the docent declined to comment on “the way the movie unfolds.”

There was, though, a blurb, even if emailed just four days before:  In the dystopian near future of a drought-plagued American Midwest, a young woman, Ruth, with superhuman abilities is forced to go on the run when her powers are discovered.  Pursued by law enforcement and scientists who want to control her and study her powers, Ruth is running out of options.  Years after having abandoned her family, she realizes the only place she has left to hide is home.  While seeking shelter with her mother, Bo, and the daughter she’s never really known, Lila, Ruth begins to mend her fractured familial bonds and discovers how to harness her powers rather than be haunted by them.

And on Friday the thirteenth as well (and a rare one on which there was also a full moon!), I had some doubts as I went to the screening.  But I can say that I was delighted.  The docent did point out that FAST COLOR received rave reviews at its premiere at the 2018 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival; for myself I would say while there may have been plot holes as well as a possibly simplified ending (e.g., would not agents of the “evil” scientists and cops still have pursued the main character, even if having had it demonstrated that that might not be a good idea), the characters came off as emotionally true — relatable to and likeable, if in weird circumstances — and the SFX (when sparingly used) were good.  All of which I’d expect goes to good direction.

This was the classic, 1989 version, by Mary Lambert and screenplay (as well as a brief role) by Stephen King himself.  Though I think, if it were me, I might have ended the film a few minutes earlier, letting the viewers imagine the last scene.  And I thought there might have been too much suspension of disbelief asked for, not only the main premise which was okay, but also the “friendly” ghost PLUS the little girl’s 100 percent accurate prescient dreams.  But the ghost had some good lines, and the theme of “a man does something stupid, then seeing what he has done — and with plenty of warning against it — does a stupid thing again” is at least well served.

But that’s just my carping. I hadn’t seen PET SEMATARY before, but for suspense, marvelous cinematography, and some neat “down east” accents in the parts of Jud and Missy, I will say the movie is well worth seeing.  To quote the IU Cinema blurb:  The Creed family — Louis, Rachel, and their children, Ellie and Gage — is just settling into a new country home in Maine when the family cat, Church, meets an untimely death.  Convinced by a neighbor to bury the animal in a nearby pet cemetery, Louis soon learns how the ground — an ancient burial site — can change a thing.  Yet, when their toddler Gage wanders onto a busy road and is tragically killed by a semi-trailer truck, Louis is inconsolable and determined to resurrect him by any means necessary.  Based on the Stephen King horror novel of the same name, the film adaptation rights for PET SEMATARY were originally sold in 1984 to George A. Romero, but Romero chose to leave the production to finish another film, MONKEY SHINES.  Mary Lambert was Paramount’s first choice to replace Romero. She began her career in music video — creating iconic videos for The Go-Gos, The Eurythmics, Sting, and Janet Jackson.  Just one month prior to the release of PET SEMATARY, Lambert directed Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” video, which premiered to protests from the Catholic Church and a call for boycott from the pope himself.  Contains mature content.

The Goth Cat Triana, as I write this, is asleep on the chair I usually sit in — I’m inclined just now not to disturb her.  And that about says it.

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