In Other Words, Smoking Helps

Hurrah, I have finally seen Elephant, Gus Van Sant’s award-winning 2003 film based on the Columbine school shootup. If I’d written this post last night, it would have been passionate, maybe all caps. I was a little stoned. Today, I am still inclined to post on it, but with the knowledge gained overnight that it hasn’t had the impact on me that I originally thought it had.

Strangely, I think both the immediate impact and its rapid dissipation come from the same feature of the film’s design: shallowness. Watching the slaughter of characters you’ve been getting to know for an hour or so is called Everynight TV, right? The reason you can yawn around between that and decorating and dancing shows, at the same time as you’re in IM on your laptop, is the artifice. You can recognize a Benz from the grill, and you can recognize a cop show from the music, cinematography and script cliches. You can only be so drawn into those stories, when you are constantly aware it’s Season 4 Episode 9. With Elephant, however, Van Sant presents you an unrecognizable scenario, in part by working improv with non-actors. But also by withholding dramatic devices which could be recognized as tropes: character arc, plot progression. The parts of your mind that normally turn off once they recognize the tropes, don’t turn off. You are observing more keenly. When the shit hits, you feel it more. Thing is, you developed no relationships, and you contemplated few or no concepts, so it doesn’t stay with you, like, in your heart. It stays in your brain as a masterful cinematic exercise, certainly. But you are untouched, ultimately, once the shock wears off.

And here is Gus Van Sant cutting the bugger on a FLATBED EDITOR. Divine.

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And Now I Want To Die Too

I am a longtime apologist for slow pacing in cinema. There is something about that spacious temporal environment that feels luxurious to me. In the hands of a talented filmmaker, obviously.

Abbas Kiarostami is a director whose evangelical fans include Martin Scorsese, Jean-Luc Godard, and Akira Kurosawa. His work is compared to that of Tarkovsky.

One of the most highly acclaimed Kiarostami films is 1997 Palme d’Or winner Taste of Cherry. I recently chose this for crossing-off from my discouragingly long list of cinematic masterpieces I’ve not yet seen. Here’s what I saw: a guy drives around and around on a dusty, barren hill, expressionless, occasionally engaging with strangers on the enigmatic job he offers. Well, the job becomes less enigmatic with each encounter.  But the driving does not become less around and around, the hill does not become less dusty or barren, and the expressiveness of this character does not increase.

He plans to commit suicide, and for some reason he wants to be buried in this remote, anonymous hillside hole after the fact. He’s already dug the hole, he just needs someone to refill it once his corpse is at the bottom. His prospective hole-fillers offer no interesting explanations for their refusals. I would estimate that there are 85 or 90 minutes of this movie in which the frame is the hero’s expressionless, driving face, or clay-coloured dust clouds billowing around the hero’s vehicle as it progresses along the dirt road that winds around the dusty, barren hill. The movie’s first ending is the guy in the grave, still alive. The movie’s second ending is the revelation of the cinematic device, in other words, shots of the director and collaborators on location.

Tropical Malady

I have not seen anything like this, and I would like to see more. I expect a lot of viewers would find the second half too long and slow, but I would like to be able to invent a potion that would enable anyone to quiet down to the place where you can just dream along with that second half, enjoying the alien voice of the shaman tiger ghost and the shimmering of the tree over the transfiguring cow in the jungle night.

Addendum: the first half is completely different aside from featuring the same two actors in roles that may or may not be related to their roles in the second half. It feels more conventional, in that a lot more is going on, and yet it is also unlike most things I’ve seen. It feels at once naive and worldly – not just in the innocent, near-chaste relationship between two gay guys, but in all of its facets: the dialogue, the production values – it could be amateur documentary, except for the regular sense of the poetic voice and crafty hand of the author here and there. Wow, check out that sentence. Anyway. The first half is wonderful in its own way, and I neglected to mention it earlier because the second half is kind of a show stealer.

Schlongless Trailer

The movie, while not exactly schlongfull, does contain 100% more schlong than the trailer. But I am misleading you as to the greatest virtue of this movie. The Man Who Fell To Earth? Endless marvelosity. And the pee shooting out of the pink microdress! Movies I felt, at least for a moment, while watching this: Logan’s Run, Easy Rider, L’eclisse, Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. I guarantee if you try to tally your favorite visuals in this thing, you will lose count.

A Pleasant Surprise

For some reason I thought Babel was a handheld, doc-looking political statement about terrorism. Maybe a lot of the marketing used big gun Brad, whose story would most match that description. Anyway, I wasn’t terribly interested in that, so only got around to this last night. Goodness! There is so much more to this than that. So much beauty. Technically pleasing. Some ideas to consider. My only complaint is that I didn’t feel it as much as I would have liked, and this movie seems to have the potential to make you feel deeply. I’m not sure if this is a performance problem, or a story problem. I suspect the former, since the character you feel the most for, the nanny, is no more revealed through story than the other characters. Whatever, it’s a great piece of work that did inspire me.