With today’s onslaught of viewing options from Netflix to digital rentals, and downloadable purchases of media, it makes me stop and miss the once fashionable art of walking into a video rental store exploring the plethora of options. It’s great we have the internet and all but the simple act of holding an actual dvd in hand or going to the actual movies among an audience will always feel more gratifying. As a culture, society has adopted the notion of movie going as a universal language that will never die out because we love being entertained. I believe in some small way we can always find ways to relate or explain something through movies as its the simplest act of storytelling that connects us.
Personally, I believe the act of movie going is like going to church. There’s a reverence in sitting down quietly to introspect, enjoy, and fully submerge myself in the art form of film. Essentially, the theater is like a holy place and I’ll never forget a film instructor from college many, many, many years ago writing in his syllabus about respecting the holy place. I do recall in something to the effect of:
One shall not talk during the film,
thou shall not eat or drink in the holy place,
nor thou shall not play with any electronic devices in the holy place.
It’s the basic principle of eliminating all distractions and that always stuck with me. Some might say that’s a bit extreme or snobby but I don’t care. Perhaps it’s the very principle that shaped me into the cinephile I am today because I love tackling films, and creating thorough think pieces about my experiences while simultaneously attempting to create some kind of sense of yesterday and today’s films with my own personal touch. I’ve developed into a connoisseur of movies and cinema being an integral part of our culture, it demonstrates a need to understand what our humanity is, what’s infiltrating it, and inspiring it to be an affective communicating connection to our questions or perhaps the simple need of escapism while our reality sometimes tends to hinder certain freedoms. We can always go to the cinema to dream, and partially partake in feeding our psyches into something that may or may not blossom into motivation, inspiration, and introspection in how we relate or even change as a result of it. Ah the power of cinema. C’est la vie!
Being a cinephile living in Los Angeles is a dream, almost like dying and going to cinema heaven. I am very grateful for the people who make such programming accessible and alive with so many theaters it establishes a sense of community making it less lonely in a city so in love with itself. It celebrates itself every single chance it can get. Anything from a restoration to an ultimate classic, to experimental, to foreign, or brand spanking new I will go to the actual movies to experience it. I believe this was the biggest year for me in the sense of actually going to the movies. Each experience was unique and I’m incredibly grateful for being able to attend as many showings as I could. My most favorite and memorable experience was being able to watch VIVA with Anna Biller doing a Q&A in person after the screening at Mount Loyola Marymount University. I love when filmmakers are there in person to discuss their work. It makes it feel more intimate and I cherish that sentiment. So, without further ado ( and in no particular order) I am sharing my most favorite cinematic experiences of 2018. Most of these were not released in 2018, albeit that will be in another list to follow sometime in the future.
La Coquille et le Clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman)
UCLA Billy Wilder Theater
Provocative imagery, subversive, a fragmented visual style. Dulac was a disrupter far beyond her years. When you watch the opening sequence it just blows my mind away that this was shot in the late 1920s. The caliber of her visual style surpassed the ideals at a time when it wouldn’t probably be deem inappropriate. She questions politics, religion, and sexuality all captured in this vivid dream that melds into some impressive optical illusions.
Tommy Haines, Andrew Sherburne, 2017
Santa Monica Lamelle
An absorbing documentary of Michael Zah’s quest to save a rare film collection and the struggle in keeping history alive. An absolute must see if you’re a nerd for film preservation, historian, and lover of lost films. I came very close to meeting this man in person. If anything this film really sealed the deal in my personal fascination for preserving, archiving, film. The lengths to which Zah goes to keep this history alive is admirable and when he shares it with his communities and communities abroad it’s true magic. He’s like a traveling curator, knowledgeable in multiple facets, with his on the go museum. Profound, heartwarming, and uplifting.
Anna Biller, 2007
Loyola Mount Marymount University
Little did I know during the screening, I was sitting next to two actors from THE LOVE WITCH, which Anna Biller had to point out during her Q&A after the showing. I was a deer in headlights. VIVA delivers a refined look into the sexual revolution from a homemaker’s perspective and through her experience delivers a personal revelation. Highlighted in blatant colors of the 70s, humor, and campy fun full of retro liberation for the eyes. Biller stars, writes, and directs this magnificent triumph. All hail this cinematic goddess.
Człowiek z Marmuru (Man of Marble)
Andrzej Wajda, 1977
Armer Theater, Cal State Northridge University
The opening sequence had so much gumption, and the music really gives it an extra kick. Andrzej Wajda’s storytelling of a bricklayer in Poland while simultaneously a documentarian’s perseverance to tell his story has a very delightful meta feel to it. Historical 70’s in Poland, instability, an uprising but also the perseverance of a filmmaker’s spirit to tell a story, to find all the pieces and to make something of it for it to all collapse before it even had a chance to be something. Filmmaking is a risky trade
Luca Guadagnino, 2018
AMC Century City
My favorite horror film of 2018. The most harrowing aesthetic is its subversive tone and sound design going beyond the confines of what the original story had done. It has depth, ingenuity, and it’s bloody. Perhaps too pretentious for some but it’s power resides in risk and originality which highlights it’s uncompromising nature utilizing witches, 1970s elements, and grotesque horror to build it’s momentum in allowing it’s audience to feel the emotions of disgust, to dread, to terror, and some offbeat moments of amazement.
Spike Lee, 2018
Realizing the day I watched this film was the one-year anniversary of Heather Heyer’s tragic death in the Charlottesville attack to which the film is dedicated to. It’s a polarizing, yet formidable look into the destructive American facade unraveling its relentless history attributing certain pieces of cinema from the past baring witness to its own atrocities. I hope this films receives some recognition because it really does feel like a punch to face in the last five minutes where Spike Lee really delivers one hell of a message.
The Other Side of the Wind
Orson Welles, 2018
North Hollywood Laemmle
Felt like ZABRISKIE POINT meets Shakespeare opening a time capsule of the tumultuous 70s era while dissecting the complex business of filmmaking. It’s bumpy and challenging to follow at times but John Huston’s performance is compelling and Oja Kodar is simply electric. In many ways her beauty is it’s own aesthetic in the film. It’s fleeting, it’s gritty, it’s artsy and I feel like this would have been Welles’ magnum opus and those who resurrected and took this film to the finish line, thank you!
Alfonso Cuarón, 2018
North Hollywood Laemmle
Difficult at times, demanding your patience but also the black and white is a contrast to a vivid childhood memory film. Personal and heartbreaking and beloved who share sentiments to such a past. Something about it reminds me of a stark painting that makes you confront something you may not necessarily want to.
2001: A Space Odyssey
I’ve been waiting my whole cinephile life to witness this with my mind, body, and soul. And in 70mm print. Historic gold. It’s one of the best films to experience in theaters because the level of imagination to bring this magnum opus to fruition is downright impressive and inspiring to how far you can push the filmmaking barrier of creativity. I love stories about space and the exploration of the universe hindered with existential questions.
Ari Aster, 2018
North Hollywood Laemmle
Decadent slice of horror bordering with the clash of hilarity and nervous bewilderment. Sinister hell fire, perhaps a cult classic for decades to come. I thoroughly enjoy dissecting horror films and this was a treat with varying tricks up it’s sleeve.
And an honorable mention:
I was fortunate enough to attend the AMIA conference in Portland this year which is where film archivists share and celebrate their finds. Being a baby in this arena it opened my eyes to a bigger world of possibility. Pearl Bowser, an African American cinema pioneer had a peculiar style but I enjoyed learning about her work.
I’m excited for the upcoming year as I will be searching for more, obscure, marvelous, challenging films in 2019. It’s always a surprising, sometimes luck-of-the-draw kind of journey when stumbling across more films while trying to keep an open mind.
Marissa the Cinephile
It’s a dawning in the new age of the final girl in a genre that never dies. Everyone has something to be afraid of. Everyone has to face fear at some point, but in the mean time we can be gratifyingly satisfied by the suspense it creates in tormenting our psyches into somber submission. I must say watching a unique horror film is its own kind of adrenaline rush. As Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” And when that reality infiltrates wickedness, ritualistic power, conveyed in dance movement of the female body, you know Luca Guadagnino’s reboot of Dario Argento’s 1977 cult classic, SUSPIRIA is going to be a hot hoot to handle.
In the retelling of this insidious, violent horror story, as a culture we’re simultaneously facing an upheaval of female empowerment explicitly in films during the post Weinstein era. It’s such an interesting juxtaposition especially when you link it to the horror genre. There is always going to be a deep, dark, secret lurking in the underbelly of something or someone perceived so established and glorified, it yearns an increment of trust. The horror in that is manipulation, corruption, and the guilt of torment it generates for victims and witnesses for years to come. Here we are in 2018 resurrecting an incredible amount of dirty secrets that have unfortunately befallen on peoples’ lives. So what does this have to do with SUSPIRIA? The transference of power. It ignites corruption among a coven of witches who are esssentially exploiting young naive minds (girls) while disguising themselves as beloved mentors of dance demonstrating the sadistic lengths they’ll go to obtain such power all for their own personal gain. There’s no morality, just brutality, and a sacrificial ritualistic orgy scene that harnesses flirtation with the macabre winking a sinister eye to notorious body horror even Cronenberg might be proud of.
One of my favorite sequences is in the restaurant where the dancers and their mentors gather the night before the performance, laughing, drunk off of red wine, all becoming submissive without even knowing it. And who do we have at each end of the table? Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and Susie (Dakota Johnson) dressed quite similarly in their stoic expressions, festering with what I assume telepathic thoughts, hindering a subtlety in the tug-a-war of power. What’s also interesting is if you look at each dancer and their respective instructor, siting side by side, each bare a common mannerism, or facial resemblance and it’s kind of startling. It’s almost as if their sacrificing a younger representation of themselves, yearning for that everlasting, unattainable sentiment of youth outlasting death with magical spells and solidarity. Yet, we soon learn not everyone in the coven is on that same page, which births a triumph of conflict. Our final girl isn’t exactly who we think she is in this spellbinding, chaotic circus.
Now, the act of resistance is a powerful thing especially when there’s a frantic discourse on female empowerment and the thing that pushed me away from the very idea of SUSPIRIA being a film about feminism is again the corruption of power. I was so focused on the coven of witches that I took my distracted attention away from Susie, our main star who’s traveled to Berlin in the late 1970s to study under the direction of Madame Blanc in the renowned Markos Dance Academy where everyone seems to succumb to darkness, and eventually insanity. It was all so subtle and slick, I was astonished on how fooled I was for not seeing it immediately and maybe listening to the soundtrack for a week and a half really got inside my head, like a possessed entity drowning in a river of exploration. But, I came up for air and the ah-ha moment finally sank in! And that’s where my head’s been at all this week. So confounded by a film I love so dearly, yet want to pick apart it’s heartless soul. See, it’s cast it’s own spell on me. It’s very mystical, fluctuating, and frustrating. But beyond it all, Susie’s character is the thread of revenge intertwined into a mysterious story full of flicker and pizzazz. That’s all you really need to know and where those droplets of feminism come into play resides heavily in the acts of Susie’s character. An act of defiance among a corrupt group. And if you wanted to stretch the definition of feminism be my guest just remember feminism is about equality among the sexes, it’s a political construct, not just about praising them.
As my head continues through the course of the film and in every detailed moment of how Susie’s narrative progresses, I’m deeply bewildered by the minor nuisances that exposes some pertinent clues. For instance, when Susie and Sara go into the administrator’s office to find Patricia’s personal file making sure she’s okay because she’s been missing from the very beginning while concurrently, these administrators’ (aka witches) have temporarily taken two detectives hostage, who are also looking into Patricia’s whereabouts have acrimoniously been paralyzed by the witches. And what are these witches doing? They’re having some fun fondling their nether regions. Here’s an example of corruption of power while also giving the audience a clue into Susie’s strange persona because her reaction is very telling. As per usual a character in these circumstances would be worried, afraid, and flee the premises sensing something is morally off, but how does Susie react? She giggles. Almost as if she wants to join in on the fun, cultivating her own curiosity left me a bit disturbed and dumbfounded. This isn’t normal Final Girl behavior. This is behavior from someone in tuned with something of a higher power. Spoiler Alert! The girl summons death, an act of revenge so tumultuous, you’re essentially in an incubus of terror because there’s so much abrasive information buzzing around, it’s a damn struggle to it keep all contained. It’s out of this world wild, like a fiesta of blood and body parts exploding everywhere making it marginally over the top, but I mean this is what 70s horror was notorious for. Going off the rails with an elaborate flash of color and light that’s makes your mind feel like it’s on acid. Not that I ever want to try acid, but it certainly teeters in the same vein of a fragmented montage from a Roger Corman film such as THE TRIP, or EASY RIDER. Remember that grave yard scene in New Orleans? I think I need to lay down, sip some tea, my heart’s racing just thinking about it.
Given this is a reboot cult classic from 1977, I know there has to be a violent murder within the first act, and if Luca Guadagnino was going to be bold in attempting to top Argento’s first 15 minutes of horror then there would have to be something outlandishly abrasive. It certainly defied my expectations because I went in with no expectations and it was the best way to go into this film. So, brace yourselves for a grotesque, grisly murder that will make you cringe and possibly squirm uncomfortably in your seat. Guadagnino does this in a very tease of torment kind of way which pairs vividly well with the beloved expression of dance. Death dance is more like it. Can you hear the crunching of bones and the squishing of internal organs making bodily fluids gush from the violent impact such a force movement can have on the body? That’s just the appetizer and it’s nasty to watch. Elena Fokina (Olga) does a tremendous performance capturing the moments that lead up to such a confrontational scene. She deserves a damn Oscar. Alas so does Tilda Swinton, who plays three characters, two of which are disguised in heavy prosthetics. She’s brilliant and a damn goddess. At one point all three of her characters share a scene together, which is interesting considering we have three mothers; our Lady of Tears, Lady of Sighs, and Lady of Darkness. Corruption breeds darkness, sighing is an act of exhaling which manifests in relief, and tears reference a variety of things; sorrow, perhaps guilt? All three of these elements boil down into the final bloodbath of a scene. I feel like each character Tilda embodies is a very loose representation of all three mothers; guilt, relief, and darkness. Think about it. Madame Blanc carries a degree of doubt especially when she knows Susie is the sacrifice. Their relationship is symbiotic to an extent, because they share empathy. Mother Suspirium, the Lady of Sighs, expresses compassion, and in a sense relief. That’s somewhat synonmous with empathy right? There’s that moment where Madame Blanc doesn’t want Susie to go through what she’s about to go through, and in a sense she’s giving her an out, a moment of relief so to speak. Then you have Dr. Klemperer who’s a psychotherapist dealing with grief and guilt, who’s also been corralled as the witness to this sadistic ritual. This character can also be considered an abstraction of our Lady of Tears. And finally you have Mother Markos who is pure evil, destructive, and selfish (our Lady of Darkness). All three of these forces converge together and it’s gnarly defying all sense of reality. I’ll admit it. I was glossy eyed, seduced, possibly even spellbound by this subversive film imprinting a desirous curiosity upon my weary soul. How dare you film!?
Another harmonious aspect of this bloody charade, is Thom Yorke’s emotive singing voice swaying you into a world of eerie charm of repetitive melodies that almost feels like you’re being crushed into a mirror of madness while oddly feeling soothed and seduced. He sings about our “bodies” and “salvation” in the song titled Suspirium, which is all synchronized to elaborative, gripping piano playing. Quite a creepy soundtrack that feels as if you’re being subjected to electric currents pulsating through your body producing evocative goosebumps, leaving you comatose. Too much? There’s also a familiarity to Volk, which is essentially the death song but very much in the same rhythm reminded me of the Tubular Bells from THE EXORCIST. It’s that sinister melody, paralyzed with destruction that progresses the build up by intercutting each shot with Olga’s demise and Susie’s violent dance moves. It’s a challenging sequence that sequesters your mind into that world, almost as if the marriage of sound and editing have casted a unique spell on it’s audience. It’s brilliant! The movement and pacing of this film is beautiful albeit some may complain it drags on being a two and half hour film. It’s all part of the fun torment of enduring a horror film. Part of you for the love of God may want to end, and the other part of you is clawing your fingernails into the arm rest.
SUSPIRIA is visceral cinema where some may argue this is an overhyped art film and I love sparring with people who loathe art films because there are so many different ways in interpreting them. It’s a jigsaw puzzle for the mind, I love it. Aside from how you interpret the film, another harrowing aesthetic that achieves its subversive tone is the sound design. The sound design will plague your ears while you safely drift into a gentle slumber, only to be awakened by a heady montage of wicked torture intertwined with bellicose dancing dictating a secret passage to something scathingly horrifying. And it is quite a mesmerizing feat because Guadagnino’s care and passion is revealed in every crevice of his film. He took a bold stance and went beyond the confines of the original cultivating a story that brought more depth and ingenuity than any other kind of remake I’ve ever seen. Step aside HEREDITARY, and possibly MANDY, SUSPIRIA is THE horror film of 2018.
John Carpenter’s 1978 HALLOWEEN is like a fine flavorful, aged wine that always pairs well especially in October. It’s the godfather of slasher films along with the classic, iconic final girl trope that’s written in most, if not all horror films especially with today’s caliber of societal problems. So where does that lead us with the latest HALLOWEEN thrill of a film? A hunter and its prey? Evil vs innocence? Survival and instinct? All of the above.
David Gordon Green’s 2018 HALLOWEEN is like one of those random nosebleeds a person may have; surprising at first, then it just clears up and you move on about your day and I mean this in the nicest way possible. With that being said, HALLOWEEN has a bag full of gags and scares it just somehow falls a little bit short in the suspense department. Being this is a continuation of the original, the story is not as refined as Carpenter’s.
In fact after about a week and a half of mulling it over, I still can’t seem to make up my mind on how I feel about this but what I do know is two major themes stuck out to me; trauma and an overture of references from Carpenter’s original story. I’ll get to that in a bit, but first let’s talk about trauma.
The final girl is a character trope, she’s the last girl standing, the one who must face the killer, and tell the story in the end. Her role becomes so paramount in HALLOWEEN and yet we tend to neglect the aftermath of such an ordeal this poor soul has gone through. This resonates substantially because Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is alive and batshit paranoid that Michael Myers will be coming back to kill her 40 years later. As a woman she’s lived her life had a daughter (Judy Greer) and trains her how to be a final girl by giving her the tools and proper training. This theme is pivotal and Green hones in on this notion of trauma from beginning to end and the obsessive compulsive nature of Laurie’s paranoia. Examples of this paranoia result in Laurie being reluctant to talk to these podcast reporters, she’s there to bare witness of Michael Myers being transported to a new facility, and she stumbles upon a family dinner, probably semi inebriated and fully aware of Michael’s escape. Which leads me to a very big question of a very missed opportunity; the bus crash. As an audience why weren’t we given a scene to how it happened? Instead we’re left with the aftermath when that was a clear moment to really orchestrate some suspenseful magic. We also get that moment of Laurie in the car with her gun leading us to suspect she’s going to gun down Michael but fails to do so, or was there another ulterior motive? Unanswered questions, yet again. Sometimes, I feel just like Fox Mulder chasing the truth. I want an answer! I feel like so much of Laurie’s paranoia kind of undermines the suspense.
Being the final girl, even decades later we learn her life is a mess yet somehow structured with the anticipation of terror that’s always lurking behind her. It really presents something interesting here, because as an audience you don’t really think about the aftermath and the amount of alcohol and therapy one consumes to stay functional after such trauma. I wonder how Sally from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is doing. Laurie’s family is essentially estranged from her, and that doesn’t fully seem to bother her because all she can think about is killing Michael Myers. She knows what needs to be done in order to survive and nothing will stop that adrenaline, even when she’s thrown out of a window. She will survive. Learning to shoot, learning to fight, learning to take control. This almost sounds like an overhyped testosterone film, but as a woman in 2018 she has to be realistic and stand up for herself and not rely on the bravery of a man. Here’s where I’m going with this point, stay with me. Rewind back to 1978, when Laurie was running and screaming that Halloween night. She was screaming for help, banging on every door in the neighborhood, and no one would come to her. No one, not until she runs back to the house to face the terror all over again and then Dr. Loomis shows up to miraculously save the day. This is a striking contrast to the 2018 version, because (spoiler alert) all the men get killed off and the women survive. We have three generations of women who kick ass all because Laurie’s trauma aides her in constructing a life of caution and defense. She’s built an entire fortress of solitude with weapons and a secret panic room, there’s no doubt once Michael Myers sets foot on her turf, he’s going down. But we all know being this saga will never truly end because what Michael Myers? Pure evil. Evil never really dies. We like wishfully think it does but we as human beings have to face reality. Don’t get me started on current events, evil is always lurking.
Now travel back in time to late 1970s, John Carpenter as a young filmmaker is sharp with his execution of a story created entirely in his head is so paramount to Hitchcock’s mastery in classic suspense that it certainly becomes the genuine beauty behind HALLOWEEN, 1978. The anticipation, the evil lurking in the shadows ready to strike; it’s the equivalent of a classic jack in the box. You wind up the toy and anticipate a jolt of excitement to thrill you. That toy or in this instance character is Michael Myers, except he’s a very real monster, who wants to kill you. The bread and butter of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN lies within the theme of predator vs. prey and it’s seemingly a realistic fear. I love this quote from Carpenter, “What scares me is what scares you. We’re all afraid of the same things. That’s why horror is such a powerful genre. All you have to do is ask yourself what frightens you and you’ll know what frightens me.” This quote nails it on the head in terms of what really lacked in Green’s HALLOWEEN. And here’s my personal irony on the matter. I feel that fear itself was lacking in Green’s HALLOWEEN because so much of its story paid homage to the original yet lacked that special atmospheric ingredient that’s beloved among the horror genre; suspense not predictable suspense. This is what made Hitchcock so prominent and his films will stand the testament of time because of it. And Carpenter being influenced by him helped recreate something that blew audiences away back in the 70s. With David Gordon Green on the other hand, it almost felt like a copy and paste version of the original. This is what’s so interesting with filmmakers you can see where their influences come from just by style or camera angles, fun Easter eggs too so to speak. You see it in most of Brian DePalma’s work. Hitchcock oozes out of his films such as DRESSED TO KILL. Big homage to PSYCHO in a lot of ways. And this might be the most challenging bit of filmmaking in today’s cinema is learning how to creatively construct an original story of suspense without duplicating it so much to make it feel like the original.
The story structure in HALLOWEEN really plays out almost verbatim. If you look closely it’s like each beat is a wave of nostalgia, where today’s HALLOWEEN feels like yesterday’s HALLOWEEN with some varying differences. You have the infamous music which brings it’s atmospheric tone to life, the escape of Michael Myers, some added characters, who really don’t do much to push the story forward except bring awareness to how so many are fascinated with evil. It’s really all about the beast of a mind gone rogue and fascination and trauma attached to it, like a very warped ecosystem that’s on loop. There is nothing to Myer’s character except violence. With reason? There is no reason certainly when it’s evil and that’s the fascination with these podcaster kids and Michael’s doctor. So intrigued by the mind of evil. Evil is evil, you don’t want to coddle it and poke it with a stick to see if does something different. So what Michael Myers hasn’t spoken a single word in decades? Why provoke it? Alas, curiosity does tend to come with cautionary interjection as most characters in horror movies are fools. Fools will be fools and that sells entertainment. Oh, I love horror movies.
With all the possible corners of suspense being exhausted, probably the most gratifying scene from a cinematography standpoint is where Myers’ goes on his killing spree from house to house. It’s a tracking shot where the camera is outside the window and follows him to his next victim. It’s exhilarating to watch, yet feels like a sloppy trail of nonchalant killings where it seems like he’s killing housewives. It’s missing substance and it bothers me. If Green gave these helpless victims a moment or two that simulates a brief story of their own humanity leading up to their imminent demise then it would been more interesting, possibly even comedic. Instead Myers’ is just killing housewives instead of babysitters. At least with the babysitters, they each had some hilarity which always matches well with suspense for some reason. It sways the tension briefly which is always fun. I must admit there was about a ten second moment that captured my attention. The baby in the crib. Michael stops, lingers, and for a moment you think is Green going to pull the trigger and be absolutely ruthless? In an air of suspense you’re left to believe that. However Myers’ doesn’t kill the baby and moves onto the next room. I believe this was the only moment of suspense that deserves a brief applause or can also be considered something telling in Myers’ character depending how you look at it.
For the rest of the film, the pacing doesn’t always fully feel like it jives with the predictable suspense. It’s almost as if its rushing, rushing to the next kill, rushing to neglect a certain atmospheric tone, rushing to the big showdown. It really boggles my mind and yet I have to remind myself this isn’t Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN it’s Green’s interpretation and attempt at cultivating his own story which I understand when he brings this sense of empowerment for women all packaged up with trauma. I give him that, it makes it marginally interesting.
It’s one thing Hollywood has become increasingly efficient in is remaking movies of the past especially the ones that changed the face of cinema. There’s this sense of nostalgia attached to our beloved heroes, heroines and stories or things that go bump in the night. Devoted fans of the horror genre will bow down to their media god to see what new goodies these characters bring to life. And sometimes Hollywood falls flat on its face, makes it however million dollars and moves on, hoodwinking you. It’s the oldest, slickest trick in the book and works almost every time. Let’s hype up this trailer, bank on it and run rampant with our loot to make another not so scary remake of something that was a thrill in it’s prime. I feel as if the jig is up. With the gift and power of suspense you have to be creative with it, almost as if you’re reinventing it not recreating it from 40 years prior.
Which brings me to another out there point, did anyone feel like the ending resembled TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE? There’s always a pick up truck driving around especially when a final girl has killed and survived and so the trauma ensues. In this instance, the torch has been passed down to the next generation, who must carry the weight of it because we all know Michael Myers never truly dies. In fact he’s a metaphor for the trauma projecting on those who survive his evil doings.
Finally, as I always say, the 70s was a magical time in cinematic history which today tries so desperately to touch upon yet falls disappointedly short by barely scraping the surface. Films were actually shot on film and nothing can really emulate that no matter how hard one tries to recreate it. I can’t wait to see how they managed to create a reboot of SUSPIRA and I have a feeling I will still be chained to my love for Dario Argento’s 70s version which will probably result in my next blog post. Happy Halloween movie fans! HAPPY HALLOWEEN
I once read on the side of a building the phrase, “Create art not monotony” which I find problematic because one can also find art in monotony. Such is the case in Chantal Akerman’s, Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. I’ve never been so transfixed by someone methodically preparing veal before viewing Jeanne Dielman. Its hypnotic, mind blowing, life changing and kind of cryptic, yet I’m stubbornly at odds with it. On the surface, this is an art film where nothing appears to happen and this probably pissed off mainstream moviegoers back in its day while others praised it. Jeanne Dielman is a metronome and the rhythmic melody of her life is riveting. Now without going down the weary road of cross-eyed, mind boggling, womanhood ideologies, I can’t help but feel this film is synonymous to a Marina Abramovic performance piece called House with the Ocean View. This might seem like a stretch to some, however its predominant subject matter is about creating a work that ritualizes simple everyday actions and how that manifests in a particular state of mind. This performance was created in 2012 which was after Jeanne Dielman but is certainly heavenly knowing works of this caliber appear to resonate even to this day specifically cultivated by female artists.
So in returning to my exploration of female filmmakers, this grandiose masterpiece by Belgium film director Chantal Akerman may be challenging to the average viewer. This is a piece saying something about something and that something is ambiguous. Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles title is an address which is also a three hour and twenty-one-minute film that commands your undivided attention. It’s a film about the day to day routine of a single widow, Jeanne (played by the sensational Delphine Seyrig) raising her teenage son, Sylvain while being a full time homemaker and a secluded prostitute to provide a stable income. The story spans the length of three days where the subtlety of her routine morphs into something viscerally unexpected. As a viewer we learn in the first 10 minutes, that she’s a prostitute without actually having to witness her having sex. It’s alluded to and its brilliant, but also kicks off her daily routine from straightening the bed, giving herself a bath, scrubbing the bathtub after her bath, then preparing dinner, to having dinner with her son and as this whole regimen transpires we’re left wondering what is this all leading up to?
Essentially, this film is about Jeanne’s routine but also how that structured life falls apart. On one hand it’s about dominating every aspect of one’s life, filling in every detail of every minute of a person’s being with a task, a chore, which ultimately results in being distracted from the bigger question. Why does Jeanne need so much control? Is she someone who needs constant activity and distraction to sway her away from an emptiness and perhaps the existential shadow that lingers in her psyche? Maybe. It’s a profound depth I can’t quite juxtapose to any other filmmaker and given this is from a female perspective certainly accentuates the banality of domesticity. It makes the feminists’ label this a feminist film, because how repressing it is for women to be homemakers, slaving their entire existence catering to men. Perhaps. But the aura it leaves on me is that of a woman who is dead inside, struggling to live, yet intuitively provides, while being a mother who’s simply on her own. She has no interest in remarrying, finding love, or finding purpose within in a man’s eyes because given the time period this takes place in, most men viewed women as the domesticated homemaker even long after the war. She’s her own kind of independent woman disguised as a homemaker. It’s allusively intelligent however, the prostitution is some kind of metaphor which has hindered me from fully embracing this film. AND, I’ve been losing sleep over this because I can’t figure it out. Its been boggling me for weeks until the other night it hit me like a wave of unpredictable flash blacks, triggering something I didn’t necessarily subjectively want. Setting my personal absorption aside, the word vulnerability struck me down. Jeanne Dielman is not submissive to vulnerability which is why the ending has me confounded until I realized, Jeanne Dielman would rather destroy the things that make her vulnerable. You really see the struggle in her expression at the final seven-minute scene of the film, as she sits with herself in the dining room overcome with a reality she can no longer control. SPOILER ALERT!!! A man made her orgasm and she killed him. We’ll never know the thoughts behind this character’s actions but the mystery it provokes is tantalizing. A woman living in a detached state of mind can’t handle the onslaught of emotions provided by a heavy release of oxytocin which perhaps clashes against her rationality allowing her feel good endorphins temporarily possessing her to insanity. It’s a stretch, but its all I’ve got to explain this heavy climatic ending or simply I need to study more Akerman films. Probably the latter.
In an interview with Camera Obscura, Akerman stated, “I do think it’s a feminist film because I give space to things which were never, almost never, shown in that way, like the daily gestures of a woman. They are the lowest in the hierarchy of film images. A kiss or a car crash comes higher, and I don’t think that’s accidental. It’s because these are women’s gestures that they count for so little.” I’m sure the last sentence resonates deeply for many feminists. However, I’m certainly obsessed with the ending and wish I could find a quote or an article where Akerman discusses that. The most astonishing shot of this whole film is what happens before the climax, how everything fits within a single frame and even all the action that takes place within that one shot is incredible. Its well worth the three plus hours.
My other thoughts pertaining to Jeanne being dead inside, as you briefly learn about her back story and the tragedy attached to it it seems overwhelming for any living being to endure. Surviving grief by shutting down or simply not participating in all that life has to offer in fear of enduring the same kind of grief all over again. It’s a cycle, the dance that life is for most living beings. Contrary to Jeanne, she’s detached, complacent, alone, but still thrives to live, be in control, and take care of her son. There’s always a reason to live right? Down to how she consistently keeps her composure from scene to scene given the absence to any kind of emotion is nonexistent in her world. I don’t know if that means she’s strong from within or extremely competent in guarding herself.
The complexity of Jeanne’s life is disguised in simplicity and monotony for reasons the audience may never know except suspect there maybe a certain pain or grief or an inability to embrace her own humanity. Nonetheless, through her exterior she embraces the ability to care, giving meticulous attention to her duties, giving time to patient complacency certainly reveals quite a bit about her character. It’s a delicate balance of being woven into the present moment knowing that whatever fear she holds within is always in the background of her life. Which makes me return to that ending, as it can be interpreted in various ways. So I end with my struggle in interpreting the ending of this film with two questions. Was it all a metaphor to undermine the oppression of women by destroying man’s ability to repress women or was it simply a woman able to live a life independently without utilizing a man with the exception of using him for sex? And if that’s the case, it certainly opens the field for deeper analyzation. Perhaps, I’ll travel down that rabbit hole another day but for now my brain is overheating in this blazing July weather. Cheers for now!
I love the story of Frankenstein and while applying the loose skeletal structure of that story into Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY well, let’s just say I can feel your eyebrows rise in a curious fashion accompanied with a contorted expression across your face. Stay with me! Stanley’s probably rolling around in his grave.
First off, I’d like to admit, I’ve never seen 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, that is until last Saturday afternoon. It was unique because I got to witness the magnum opus, of Kubrick’s hefty career on the big screen in 70mm print! It was so pretty. I guess you can say, I’ve been waiting my whole cinephile life for such an event. It was well worth the wait. It’s mesmerizing how many interpretations have boggled movie goers’ minds for the past five decades since Kubrick’s ambiguous masterpiece. And through my curious findings from my “advanced television teaching machine” ranging from HAL being a gay robot, to of course the ancient old theory of NASA hired Kubrick to make a propaganda film, there’s one quote in particular that really captured the essence of what I feel stands to be the strongest and fairest of them all. Film scholar Carrol L. Fry points out, “The film repeatedly invites us to see the contrast between the sophistication of technology and the banality of human conversation.”
Humans are boring creatures. Yes, we’re capable of many profound things but ultimately we’re flawed. No matter how hard we attempt not to be flawed it just doesn’t work and because we’re so flawed we tend to create things that aren’t so flawed. It’s like that saying, “God created man in his own image.” Well, man sure as hell loves to play God and in doing so creates to his heart’s content. Back to my Frankenstein thought… man creates a form of life, in this case HAL who is far more advanced than any human. How does this compare to Frankenstein’s monster? Both creations can’t keep their emotions in check, which almost always conjures up a consequence. HAL kills people, Frankenstein’s Monster kills people. All of this stems from an emotional standpoint. Man can’t control his creations. Remember JURASSIC PARK? Same thing, it’s like Frankenstein.
Despite the film having sparse dialogue it really highlights the dullness of human conversation and sucks the emotion dry of anything becoming substantial. For example, when Floyd the spaceman in route to the moon, makes a video call to his daughter to wish her a Happy Birthday, he does not once use the word, “love”. I was waiting for it and it never came. When a parent has a child, they LOVE that child especially on their birthday. I get that everyone conveys love differently but come on!
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is a visceral chunk of cinematic history indulged for its meditative circumstance while it bathes you with its seductive, mysterious panache; Glorious orchestrated symphonies of epic proportions, glazed with ambiguous imagery, meticulous detail in every camera angle, majestic set design accompanied with exquisite costumes all stitched together by the profound thematic overtones of existentialism. Simply put it’s a film about space while intelligently lassoing questions of our existence, evolution, and technology. It’s story is divided into four parts and each of those parts presents a series of patterns such as birthdays. Again, Floyd video calls his daughter to wish her a Happy Birthday, Frank receives a video message from his family wishing him a Happy Birthday, then there’s HAL while being disconnected gives us the date he was created and then of course in the finale the birth of “Star Baby” transcends. It’s an endless cycle of our awareness of being rebirthed which is a pretty pivotal theme.
Not that there’s any correlation but, every character in this film, has a certain complacency and the irony is HAL, being an artificial creation is the most human out of everyone. “I’m afraid, Dave.” Think about it from the perspective of HAL. What does he see and what does he provide? HAL plays chess with Dave, provides information for Dave, he’s keeping the rest of the crew in a delicate cryosleep, essentially being a servant to all human commands. Who really has the power here? Is Kubrick alluding to the fact technology at some point may surpass human evolution? To borrow a phrase from Sex and the City, “Absafuckinglutely”. Humans are like fish out of water especially when it comes to space. It’s not their natural habitat and they rely heavily on the support of technology to survive. Humans are just along for the ride, exploring new territory acting like pioneers equipped with their knowledge and tools. Albeit, tools do sometimes fail and with that failure comes a moment when one is faced with their own humanity and perhaps mortality depending how dire the situation is and what one will do to rectify the situation becomes an interesting progression of life.
Such is the case when Dave dismantles HAL. He’s left to explore a galaxy alone. Kubrick winks at us with his extreme close up of Dave’s eye as he’s traveling through some super active hypnotic light speedy voyage with trippy moments of his facial expressions capsulated in a series of still frames. In a way, we’ve entered Dave’s awareness to his own mortality. Time is relative and its as if knowledge becomes static as his body rapidly ages. Yet, somehow at the end of it all, he’s reborn as a “Star Baby”. Of course, there are numerous interpretations of its significance. If I were to conjecture a guess, Kubrick’s Odyssey mimics a sort of Homer’s Odyssey. Simplifying the entire journey to the semblance of returning home after an extended length of time, or perhaps its just the notion of reverting to one’s original form. It’s a journey nonetheless that holds vital significance either from an evolutionary standpoint or to some meditative spiritual awakening of sorts. Obviously the significance is in the eye of the beholder which makes the film even more triumphantly brazen as it still upholds its steadfast reputation in 2018.
The one thing that really drove my mind up the wall was the black monolith. I feel in some ways the monolith can be surmised to something closely resembling a mirror. Maybe mirror isn’t the right word. It’s a pause, a thought, an awareness, an a-ha moment of gentle clarity? Maybe it’s instinct, a miracle, an inspiration, a déjà vu, a coincidence, all cloaked in mystery? Is it all simply reduced to the construct of intelligence? Or is it an apparition, the smoke signal to hope? Whatever it is I can’t seem to make up my mind and that’s been driving me crazy kind of like being in a monotonous black hole. Or like a dog chasing its own tail? I suppose I’ll have to shelve it along side all my other existential ponderings. Thanks, Stanley.
This film is an experience, a deeply induced minefield or better yet a jigsaw puzzle for the mind to introspect unforgivingly and patiently. Having that freedom to expand your own awareness is quite unique especially these days with the fast action packed blockbusters that corrode all the mega Cineplexes. Its simply nice not being spoon fed every plot point and instead being able to absorb its entirety in one sitting while synchronously unravel its enigmatic allure and the artistry of collaboration from eons ago. I loved it.
In the family of horror genre, HEREDITARY is like that long, lost cousin you never knew you had and then one day while eating a chocolate bar with an impassive, deadpan stare watching grandma seemingly sleep peacefully in her casket, you realize something is amiss. Sorrow, pain, tears, perhaps, an uncontrollable, emotional outburst? Why are you not sad? And yet somehow, grief is very much the catalyst that drives the unraveling of this fragile family to great dismay. Such as it is, miniature houses, clucking noises, and Toni Collete will never be the same to me EVER again. It also didn’t help, I had to pee 30 minutes, into this two hour diabolical, fire burning, possessive triumph of a thrill ride. Its so good!
The main synopsis of this film begins with the aftermath of a grandmother’s passing, as we learn she was a secretive, difficult woman, which leads the grieving family to wrestle out their emotions in unconventional ways. But what’s mysterious is in the mother’s eulogy, ” I see a lot faces I don’t recognize here today”. Why would there would be strangers at her mother’s funeral? Keep that question in mind. Toni Collete plays the mother Annie, who’s a type of multimedia artist working on miniature houses while being a wife to Steve (Gabriel Byrne), and a mother to two kids, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and Peter (Alex Wolff). As the story unfolds through some painful, life altering events, we discover this family has inherited some creepy, deep, dark secrets that torments its audience in cringe worthy ways. The filmmaker, Ari Aster leaves us deliberate clues that’s very tantalizing but also seemingly punishes his audience for having preconceived notions on how his horror movie should be conceived. It’s like a-ha gotcha! And the scope of that is beyond brilliant.
Horror is more than serial killers, torture porn, ghosts, witchcraft, supernatural forces that go bump in the night, and basically every indecent crevice that unmasks our inhumanity. Horror can also be very psychological and this film banks on that notion because it adheres to the basic structure of fear. Loss, tragedy death. We’ve all experienced it and we’ve all in someway fear each or all of these things. You see this, often times streamlined in other films, and the first one that comes to mind is Lars von Trier’s ANTICHRIST. And for those of you who have seen it, just contemplate it a moment.
The first half of this film is purely eccentric and psychological because that’s part of the setup for the second half, which unfolds into a world that’s bat shit out of control. HEREDITARY was built on a confident foundation, borrowing from the great horror makers of the 70s. Taking in some moody elements that I can see why some critics hail it as this generation’s THE EXORCIST. Even classics like ROSEMARY’S BABY, that really built some tension on slow moments, wide shots and slow pans are somehow gratifyingly more effective than close ups and fast camera movement. The more distance you have from the story and its characters the more genuinely terrifying it feels. There are also some questionable wide angle shots that amplifies the disconnection of the family as we learn throughout the story, not everyone trusts each other. This tension drives their relationships into some explosive dialogue especially in the dinner table scene which Collete nails on the head tenfold. In fact, everyone’s performance made an impressionable impact across the spectrum from physicality to emotional extremity. It’s so good.
Aside from the performances, the ambience aides this film into something relentlessly hypnotic. It sets everything in motion and surprisingly there are moments of relief provided by humor. I’m referring to the moments where Annie meets and hangs out with Joan (Ann Dowd). Joan is also a woman coming to terms with the loss of her son and grandson, who also takes it upon herself to console Annie into some supernatural journey which she wholeheartedly believes may relieve some of Annie’s emotional pain. And blowing past the skeptical attributes one associates with communicating with the dead, Aster somehow hooks his audience into the spookiness. I admit it, I too rolled my eyes. Which leads me to my next thought….
A24 employs a different breed of storytelling, as it’s primary goal is to watch movies from a “distinctive point of view”. If you’ve seen THE WITCH and were totally dissatisfied, it’s because that horror film’s focus was on atmosphere. It practically bathes in it. It’s a period piece horror flick, dealing with witchcraft and a again about a family losing control. Atmosphere invokes a certain degree of fear, because it’s a world without control. There’s sort of a pattern here. If we control what we fear, then we’re home free. If we don’t control what we perceive as fear, it opens the flood gates to unpredictability. Unpredictability leads to that powerless feeling and its essentially what makes Annie’s character interesting in how she perceives and attempts to control life and possibly everyone in her family by creating these miniature houses. Every freaking detail is a layer of structure. She goes as far as to create a certain scene that occurs in the movie ( I won’t give it away, but you see it in the trailer) which in her mind is a “neutral” perspective of the situation which totally pisses off her husband because its disturbing. Because who in their right mind would do such a thing? Someone still in the grieving process, that’s who! Aster even clues us in with one of the opening shots, which has that wickedly cool diorama box feel effect. Every detail with the positioning of the framing, the actors, paralleling to the miniature house that Annie constructs. I think that was one of my favorite shots in the whole film because he’s mirroring this perceived notion of control, and then he slow pushes the camera to reveal the actual house. I love it!
Now, the last 20 minutes of this film, is eccentrically sinister especially when trying to tie it all together, something still felt off as if it were designed to purposely discombobulate you. Well done, I’m discombubulated. There was a ton of information flying around, that my brain is still processing on what the hell just happened. And this could be an intentional ambiguous ploy, to be left in the dark and maybe that’s the point. If I had all the answers I wouldn’t be entirely satisfied and leaving enough room for the audience to venture its own interpretive conclusion is exciting to have such an option. So, I’m conflicted. I don’t want to be force fed something that’s neatly wrapped and polished, I want grit, smudgy, chaos with a flair of existential conundrum BUT I also want to know about the creepy cult in the tree house! I’ll stop right there and wrap this up.
Cinemascore gave HEREDITARY a D+ perhaps because it loosely presents itself to the conventions of an art film. Remember the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT? The proof was in the marketing, splitting the audience’s reaction between garbage and praise but really it’s all subjective. So before you go into this screening just be sure to check your expectations at the door, go in with an open mind, because this isn’t that kind of manufactured generic horror flick that major Hollywood studios love to produce. This is a rebel with a cause as it defiantly steps into an arena, holding true to its premise. Brace yourself for weathering the stormy journey of soul crushing agony because you have to pay attention to the clues even if it terrorizes your mind. Hang in there, it’s half of the fun. It will make you oh and ah while you nervously shake your leg obsessively, probably pissing off the person sitting in front of you which is always fun to observe.
And while viewing this decadent slice of entertainment, I was lucky enough to sit with an audience at 10pm where you can feel the energy of anticipation. People nervously laughed, people gasped, body’s tensed up, the inevitable sighs of dread, and miraculously as the credits rolled most people applauded. It wasn’t so bad, it was like the weight of the world had been lifted and people could breathe in peacefully again. People survived this two- hour journey of wide eye’d panic and unintended asphyxiation. Even hearing various banter as people filed out of the theater confirmed this horror flick did itself justice. I’ll never forget this one guy saying, “I’m going to watch some cartoons before I go to bed tonight.” And as I was washing my hands in the women’s restroom, you could hear people humming the song from the end credits. What does that tell you? The essence of this film nestled itself well into the confines of peoples’ psyches because its blatant imagery will haunt you and stay with you like you’ve just reluctantly won a door prize you don’t necessarily want to keep. Everyone goes home a winner, with the possibility of having a nightmare where Toni Collete crawls across your ceiling or attempts to douse you in paint thinner while holding a match. Even the simplest sound device of *cluck* is permanently associated to this film’s legacy for years to come. Quite an astonishing feat. Bravo. Bravo.