The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'cinema'
Vice Magazine is somewhat of a mixed bag, often throwing in an interesting article or two next to a lot of sophomoric cleverness, hipster self-indulgence and deliberate 'ditchtwat offensiveness. However, the most recent issue, which is film-themed, is a treasure trove of interesting articles. Such as, for example, interviews with Werner Herzog, Dario Argento, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch and Spike Jonze, an article on how the BBC's Play For Today changed British cinema in the 1960s, pieces about spectacularly goodbad Nigerian religious thrillers and low-budget Mexican crime/exploitation films and photographer Ryan McGinley's list of top 10 art films.
The Independent's Johann Hari on Quentin Tarantino: he has proved his critics right; that the violence in his film is there because, in his opinion, it's "stylish" and "cool":
The moral vision of Reservoir Dogs turns out to have been something well-meaning viewers projected onto it: Tarantino really does think violence is “like, cool.” He has been systematically squandering his cinematic talent ever since – in ways that reflect disturbingly on us, the viewers.
Violence has particular power on film precisely because it involuntarily activates our powers of empathy. We imagine ourselves, as an unthinking reflex, into the agony. This is the most civilising instinct we have: to empathize with suffering strangers. (It competes, of course, with all our more base instincts). Any work of art that denies this sense – that is based on subverting it – will ultimately be sullying. No, I’m not saying it makes people violent. But it does leave the viewer just a millimetre more morally corroded. Laughing at simulated torture – and even cheering it on, as we are encouraged to through all of Tarantino’s later films – leaves a moral muscle just a tiny bit more atrophied.
Tarantino’s films aren’t even sadistic. Sadists take human suffering seriously; that’s why they enjoy it. No: Tarantino is morally empty, seeing a shoot-out as akin to dancing cheek-to-cheek. He sees violence as nothing. Compare his oeuvre to the work of a genuine cinematic sadist – Alfred Hitchcock – and you see the difference. Precisely because Hitchcock enjoyed inflicting pain, the pain is always authentic, and it is never emptied of its own inner horror.
In today's Graun, British comedian Simon Pegg (of Shaun of the Dead fame) has an illuminating treatise on the history and mythology of zombies, of the horror-film variety:
I know it is absurd to debate the rules of a reality that does not exist, but this genuinely irks me. You cannot kill a vampire with an MDF stake; werewolves can't fly; zombies do not run. It's a misconception, a bastardisation that diminishes a classic movie monster. The best phantasmagoria uses reality to render the inconceivable conceivable. The speedy zombie seems implausible to me, even within the fantastic realm it inhabits. A biological agent, I'll buy. Some sort of super-virus? Sure, why not. But death? Death is a disability, not a superpower. It's hard to run with a cold, let alone the most debilitating malady of them all.
Another thing: speed simplifies the zombie, clarifying the threat and reducing any response to an emotional reflex. It's the difference between someone shouting "Boo!" and hearing the sound of the floorboards creaking in an upstairs room: a quick thrill at the expense of a more profound sense of dread. The absence of rage or aggression in slow zombies makes them oddly sympathetic, a detail that enabled Romero to project depth on to their blankness, to create tragic anti-heroes; his were figures to be pitied, empathised with, even rooted for. The moment they appear angry or petulant, the second they emit furious velociraptor screeches (as opposed to the correct mournful moans of longing), they cease to possess any ambiguity. They are simply mean.
To begin at the beginning, Haitian folklore tells of voodoo shamans, or bokors, who would use digitalis, derived from the foxglove plant, to induce somnambulant trances in individuals who would subsequently appear dead. Weeks later, relatives of the supposedly deceased would witness their lost loved ones in a soporific malaise, working in the fields of wealthy landowners, and assume them to be nzambi (a west African word for "spirit of the dead"). From the combination of nzambi and somnambulist ("sleepwalker") we get the word zombie.
This evening, I went to see Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. I found it quite amusing, despite having read about most of the highlights in advance. There was enough there that the online chatter doesn't quite prepare you for.
The basic concept involves, as you've undoubtedly heard, Sacha Baron-Cohen (with the assistance of a team of "producers") gulling various Americans into believing that he is, in fact, a somewhat out-of-touch Kazakh journalist making a documentary for Kazakh consumption only, asking them a few basic questions about life in America, easing them into more and more absurd territory, and then keeping just the last bits (having made sure that they signed a release form well in advance) and editing them into a road movie recounting a journey from New York to Los Angeles. Already he's possibly being sued by a group of fratboys who claim that they were induced to make arses of themselves under false pretenses (good luck with that one!) and the residents of a dirt-poor Romanian village that stood in for Borat's hometown, who didn't like being paid £3 each and then described as rapists, not to mention former unintentional internet celebrity Mahir Cagri who's pissed off that Cohen took his shtick and made it profitable.
Fact: Borat's "Kazakh" greetings are in fact Polish ("Jagshemash" = "jak sie masz", or "how do you do"), though the longer dialogue is in Hebrew, Yiddish and Armenian.
I'm still not sure how much of the scene at the end with Pamela Anderson was staged.
The latest cinematic art movement in Paris is the "pocket film" movement, which involves footage shot spontaneously on mobile phones and edited into short films, of which there was a festival last year:
Pocket movies are often intimate and engaging, and because mobile phones can go anywhere the camera gets a licence to roam. You can film on a bike, or shoot the rush-hour crush; one director has even filmed herself voting.
Film director Jean-Claude Taki says: "These days the process is more after the fact. By that I mean that we don't make out a storyboard and organise the filming beforehand, but we start with the filming which is something which becomes part of your life that you do whenever you want, then we edit. And all the time you can film stuff for the edit and that's how the film is constructed."The web site of last year's Pocket Films festival is here; there is a selection of films here (in streaming Flash). They vary from raw phone footage, some with overdubbed sound or music, to more elaborately edited works which use footage shot on mobile phones. Some of them tell simple stories, and some of them look not a world away from the sorts of things shot by artists with 8MM cameras in decades past, which one can find screened at film nights in inner-city bars.
Melbourne's Astor Theatre, the splendid, anachronistically grand art deco cinema in St. Kilda, is being sold. The Astor is famous for its decor, 70mm projector and combination of recent films, vintage classics and arthouse/cult movies, and its calendars are a fixture on the toilet doors of inner Melbourne. The owner hopes that the new owner will keep him on as a consultant to run it; though it may well go the way of the Valhalla in Westgarth, a former cult/arthouse cinema which now runs populist schmaltz like disnannies and romcoms, or else be turned into boutique lifestyle apartments or a designer shopping complex. If so, it will be a great loss for Melbourne.
The French underground explorers/guerilla art collective responsible for the recently discovered underground cinema speak to the Graun:
Huddled round a table in an anonymous Latin Quarter bar, the group's members - of whom only Lazar wanted to be named - relate past exploits: rock concerts for up to 4,000 people in old underground quarries; 2am projections in a locked film theatre; art and photo exhibitions in supposedly sealed-off subterranean galleries.
The Chaillot underground cinema is now definitively closed, even to a drill-toting and determined urban explorer. But even if the Paris police may have reluctantly (and with considerable embarrassment) decided its builders were neither terrorists, neo-Nazis nor satanists, they would very much like to charge them with some offence. "As far as we know, they've been reduced to going for theft of electricity," said Lazar. "However, we covered our tracks so well that the electricity board has apparently told them that short of digging up every cable in the district there's no way of knowing where we took it from. But they're not happy. They've seen a tiny fraction of what we do, and it's a big deal for them."
Police in Paris have stumbled across a secret underground cinema in the catacombs. The fully outfitted cinema was protected by a sophisticated alarm system and adorned with symbols including swastikas and stars of David. Its stock of film turned out to be mostly 1950s film noir, with nothing illegal or even offensive.
"The whole thing ran off a professionally installed electricity system and there were at least three phone lines down there." Three days later, when the police returned accompanied by experts from the French electricity board to see where the power was coming from, the phone and electricity lines had been cut and a note was lying in the middle of the floor: "Do not," it said, "try to find us."
There is an extensive network of catacombs under Paris, most of which is off-limits to the public, though frequented by groups of "cataphiles", who sound somewhere between the Cave Clan and the troglodistes in the film Delicatessen.
The recent discovery of three newly enlarged tunnels underneath the capital's high-security La Santé prison was put down to the activities of one such group, and another, iden tifying itself as the Perforating Mexicans, last night told French radio the subterranean cinema was its work.
Patrick Alk, a photographer who has published a book on the urban underground exploration movement and claims to be close to the group, told RTL radio the cavern's discovery was "a shame, but not the end of the world". There were "a dozen more where that one came from," he said. "You guys have no idea what's down there."
Read: The curse of coffee-table cinema, or how thanks to Disney's Miramax unit, much of "art-house" cinema is now formulaic, content-free soft-focus schmaltz designed to flatter viewers' sense of culture in a mindless sort of way.
Miramax has given the world a host of cliches about European culture - naughty French priests, macho Greeks, hoity-toity Englishmen, zany Italians - and has reduced human complexity to a bunch of hopeless stereotypes bursting with sentiment.
(See also: Working Title, Merchant Ivory) (via FmH)