19 December 2011

REPRISE (May 28, 2008)

The Speed of Thought: Re-viewing “Reprise” 

 “Reprise,” Joachim Trier’s marvelous, novelistic, essayistic, bold, assured debut feature, opened last weekend, and I was dying to see it again with an audience. Sunny Saturday afternoon and a surprising sixty or so people were at Landmark Century, including a friend only a few years older than the 23-year-olds who comprise the characters of “Reprise,” and whose life is also wrapped up in music and letters and the world that is girls. Only afterward did I discover The Reader hadn’t reviewed the movie at all (in a week where its film feature advocating the stealing of an independent filmmaker’s work, which I haven’t seen written about any commercial releases from companies that advertise in their film section). I didn’t want to read Ebert’s review after seeing it’s a two-star notice; it might be as wrong-headed as his writing about Kiarostami (one star for “Taste of Cherry”), or it could be utterly convincing; I’ll stick with my pleasure in “Reprise” for now.

But I was gratified by the audience and with my friend’s reaction afterward: this Norwegian movie from 2006 is more here-and-now than any movie I might be able to see this week. “Reprise,” I wrote last week, is such a vivid, bravura, gorgeous, funny, sad, beautiful, smart (but never smug) display of cinematic fireworks, that it’s a terrible sign of the state of American film-going that it almost never saw U.S. screens. Trier and I spoke on the phone recently about some of the film’s many virtues, including a willingness to hark back to movies like Alain Resnais’ masterpiece, “Last Year at Marienbad,” which recently played the Music Box.

This movie is such a bundle of energy, a burst of exuberance, I tell Trier admiringly. “Thanks! Yeah, we’ve kind of looked at it as a bit of a scrapbook film,” the 34-year-old writer-director says. “We didn’t want to restrict ourselves too much, we wanted there to be chaos and digressions and allowed ourselves to do this because of the age of the characters and their types.” “Reprise” is thinking and digressing and contradicting itself at every turn: it’s a consciousness built on all its characters’ subconscious, like a good novel. “That’s something that both me and my co-writer [Eskil Vogt] are very interested in exploring. This idea, which is a ridiculous idea, that you can’t show thought in cinema! I think it’s rather weird. Certainly there are ways of trying to show associative, or associations of thought patterns in film. It’s something that we just find fun to explore. With ‘Reprise,’ I think we’ve gone the furthest in a way, trying to show that what we imagine, or what we wish for, or what we wish we should have said, or that thing that keeps nagging us from the past, all of that is part of several of the movements we are in. We were trying to play around with that.”

 There’s a sequence that’s emblematic for me, when the writer who’s published first is walking down the street with a woman and the voiceover observes she was the only person he ever knew who had The Ramones on vinyl and then he gets hit by a car. Three different layers of cognition going on there, and one of them is, I’m not paying attention, I’m listening to her and looking at her and thinking about her vinyl, so I’m going to walk out in traffic.

“Yeah, yeah, true,” Trier agrees. “There are several layers. We like to have sort of a [multiple] perspective on things without being too pretentious about it. I guess a lot of this was trying to use devices—I hate ‘device,’ because it sounds like a mock-contrived approach to storytelling, and hopefully our voiceover is quite integral to what’s going on—but we certainly wanted to have a multilayered, a multifaceted approach to this, in terms of having a narrating third person, almost authorial voice going on. And also at the same time using off-voice, which is closer to thought in a way, almost as if people are thinking back at other moments while they are talking to each other. For instance, [the couple] in the cafĂ©, they speak about the past, they walk in the park, suddenly we understand the park is in the present as well, we’re not quite sure what was said, but hopefully we get a sense of their reality.”

Trier admires Resnais, but he says, too, that “Andrei Tarkovsky is a big inspiration. The way that he describes in his book, ‘Sculpting in Time,’ his approach to reality is as if you… if you walk down a street and see a man, and you try to re-create that, thinking of reality as an objective truth and put the camera where your eyes [were], you film a man, an actor that looks like the man, you will capture nothing. Because what you have seen is your own thought process. You have seen that the man might have resembled your uncle or an old friend; you might have had a fight with your girlfriend that made you sad as you looked at him. I mean, there are millions of other moments present in that moment. To try to make those connections and contextualizing things is just as important as what is actually seen.”

27 November 2011

Geolocating

Aside from the Twitter feed to the right and the links below, you could sample this Tumblr.

23 November 2011

DANIEL CLOWES: MODERN CARTOONIST

"DC:MC" comes out in April 2012. Here's an update.
Book to Serve as Catalog for Touring Exhibition of Clowes's Work New York, NY, September 13, 2011: Abrams ComicArts, an imprint of ABRAMS, the preeminent publisher of illustrated books, will publish the first monograph on the award-winning comics creator Daniel Clowes, author/illustrator of the bestselling titles Mister Wonderful, Wilson, David Boring, and Ghost World. The book's publication will tie in to an international touring retrospective of Clowes's work curated by Susan Miller. The exhibition will officially open at the Oakland Museum of California on April 14 and has plans to travel nationally and internationally. The book was acquired by Charles Kochman, editorial director of Abrams ComicArts, from Nicole Aragi at Aragi, Inc., and is slated for publication in April 2012. The book, titled The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, will be edited by Alvin Buenaventura with original essay contributions by Chip Kidd, Susan Miller, Ken Parille, Ray Pride, and Chris Ware; an extended career-spanning interview with Clowes conducted by Kristine McKenna; and an introduction by George Meyer. Clowes has provided exclusive access to his personal archives for the book, which include many previously unpublished comics and illustrations, all of which are reproduced from the original art. "Daniel Clowes continues to inspire and raise the bar with each new graphic novel, and we are excited and honored to add his monograph to our list," said Kochman. "As we continue to document the great comics creators of our past such as Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, and Will Eisner, we are also looking to recognize seminal contemporary creators, as we did with our recent book on Jaime Hernandez. Alvin Buenaventura has pulled together an exciting collection of art and essays, all of which have come together beautifully to showcase Dan's considerable talents. The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist is the perfect introduction for readers who have yet to discover the genius of his work, and it is certain not to disappoint his eagerly awaiting fans."

28 October 2011

01 October 2011

THE SWEET HEREAFTER (5 January 1998)

THERE'S AN INTRICATELY DETAILED PAINTING BY BRUEGEL called "Children's Games," so dense with varieties of public experience that the scholar and translator Edward Snow has written an entire book deciphering its deceptive surfaces ("Inside Bruegel," North Point Press). He approvingly quotes Nietzsche on the concept of "slow reading": "to read well, that is, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and after, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers."
Atom Egoyan's ferociously sorrowful "The Sweet Hereafter," based on Russell Banks' novel, rewards that sort of contemplation, too, as it evokes a small Canadian mountain town in the winter calm of the weeks after fourteen children have died in a school-bus crash. Ian Holm is a city lawyer who comes to the town, trying to lure the survivors into a class-action suit that would allow the mourning parents to attempt to sate their immense loss with the small solace of cash. Instead, he finds himself caught in a hum of what is already lost, of unspeakable fluster, embarrassing grief. (His own daughter is caught in a nightmare of potential sudden death that consumes him as well.) Egoyan's past works have sometimes been regarded as games-playing, mechanistic and hermetic, closed worlds populated by neurotic outsiders seeking perverse substitutes for the comforts of family and home. "The Sweet Hereafter" is something fresh, about family and loss, mournful and riven with undercurrents of simmering rage. The film's moments of anguish are all the more powerful for Egoyan's magisterial restraint, thrillingly precise yet seemingly seen through the exacting, unjudging eye of a mute God. I ask the 37-year-old Egoyan if this movement to foreground emotions could be reduced to the banality of his becoming a father. "Yeah, I do think so," he says softly. But he sees recent opportunities to make short films and art installations as an equal liberation. "I'm not trying to cram everything into the one form. I still don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but doing side projects that are more exploratory will affect my feature filmmaking."
He also found adaptation to be a kind of relief. "Novels offer the chance for a really extraordinary collaboration. A novelist is concerned with detail and giving a sense of urgency to the everyday. That was never and will never be my strong point. I become very impatient. I'm concerned as a writer with the things that people do in broader strokes, the rituals that make up their lives, the professions that they consume themselves with, but not necessarily who they are. Russell's work [offers] amazing portraits of people. So why not take one person's strength and combine that with your own strategic concerns? 'Sweet Hereafter' is, structurally, definitely the most ambitious thing that I've done. But people are prepared to go along with it because they can imagine themselves in that situation. They can imagine what they'd be feeling if they were there. That makes them invest more, ultimately. And that means you can actually go further." To shattering effect, Egoyan does just that, parceling out what we already know, moving fluidly back and forth across months of screen time. There is a scene of brute simplicity where a husband and wife, small against mountains of white and sky so clear, bundle their beloved adopted son off to the bus, to the foreordained disaster. It is an act of simplest love, of instinctual concern, of unwitting farewell. Then there is a later shot, when the bus is lost, the most sophisticated moment of Egoyan's canvas, a depopulated Bruegel winterscape that is purest horror, yet pushes the screams of children into distance, to a deeper agony within memory -- that of the survivors, ours. Yet that parental good-bye along a slushed road in a high winter heaven is so simple and perfect, that Egoyan's work seems finally ready to move out of art houses and into the hearts and malls of the world. Egoyan is concerned how the film will be perceived through word-of-mouth. "If people think 'Sweet Hereafter' is [only] a film about dead kids," he says, "it becomes this major obstacle to them wanting to see this film. It's something that never even occurred to me as I was making it. But there's such a division between the spirit that you have going into making a film and what you now have to contend with, which is the competitiveness of the marketplace."
Perhaps it's best those concerns never entered his mind, or he would not have spun the story in such a haunting form. "It's interesting talking about this phenomenon of trying to make sense of things when you know the end of narrative," he says. "Especially when the end of that narrative is death. We cannot believe that death is simple. We invest too much into it. So we have to have conspiracy theories. We say, there are all sorts of reasons why it has to happen. The simple fact of it is unbearable. We cannot let ourselves believe that it's as plain as that. The more elaborate you make an investigation, the more you invest into the intricacy, the more you're trying to deny the simple fact of death. The narrative is over. That's Holm's speech to one of the families, 'Actions don't just happen.' There's no such thing as an accident. He's spinning out a conspiracy theory, right? To me, the most interesting part of the film is that it becomes a reconstructed narrative, where [a character's testimony at the end] shuts the door on all that speculation." That testimony may or may not be true. The character's motivations are complex and layered, but the response is framed as a simple assertion, as strong and final as death itself. Yet "The Sweet Hereafter"'s audacious warping of time, far more rewarding than a similar playfulness in "Pulp Fiction," suggests that answers never come, only healing, which we can refuse or embrace.

13 September 2011

"Girlfriend in a Coma," covered by Owen



That's like sitting on Zooey Deschanel and two kittens—without apology. Mike Kinsella, folks.

09 September 2011

Brunch

$33 eggs "There comes a moment in all hangovers when the sufferer comes to a fork in the road. To the left lies death. To the right, madness. Brunch is down there too. For let us be plain: The perfect hangover cure is a cold Coke and a swim in the ocean, followed by a nap. Brunch in contrast offers only lukewarm coffee and watery bloody mary mix, harried servers and shoe-leather bacon. It may promise redemption. It generally delivers nothing of the sort." ~ Sam Sifton on brunch

13 August 2011

03 August 2011

If you hadn't become a film critic...

"Ray Pride takes strikingly gorgeous photographs (...follow those links), though you probably know him best for his reviews and interviews for Movie City News... I'm very glad I asked him: "If you hadn't become a film critic, what might have happened instead?" [Introduction by David Hudson.]

I grew up on a couple-acre patch of green amid rolling farmland in the west of Kentucky—I spent 18 years there one week, the tired joke goes—and didn't grow up with movies. I grew up among people. People who talked. And talked. Stories were everywhere. Histories were spoken aloud. Women and men in their eighties and nineties who had sat on the lap of Civil War veterans when they were small. Legacies were alive. Everyone knows and trusts implicitly the basic, indispensable relationships and alliances and mutual associations in a town of a thousand. You're forced to, through fires, floods, illness, economic slumps. Cemeteries were filled with the names of people you knew who were the successors of the passed. A dozen identical headstones would answer to the same name.

Erasure

One night, young, I saw both Nashville on a big screen and The 400 Blows, uncut, Janus Films logo and all, on late night TV. And that was it. There was a path in the darkness ahead, like through the thicket across the way. Many movies followed. Many places followed. Jobs with stories all their own, waiting to be retold. Stories—movies—still hold weight for me in the smaller, smallest details. Things like the way someone speaks, with intonation and with his or her hands and body. The light flickering in their eyes as they recollect. A woman's hair in the breeze. Afternoon light falling across a patterned carpet. The haphazard, cumulative details of a distant urban alleyway (especially signed in an unfamiliar idiom). How a man looks at a woman; how a woman looks at a man. (Truffaut described similar vivid details as "privileged moments.") I can't imagine how my personal history, my work and travels before doing what I do now, could have led to anything other than fixing onto how stories are constructed, stories that capture the weight of community, that are oral histories widened to the scale of myth, and of landscapes, even unpopulated—especially unpopulated— that are dreams in and of themselves.

Tomcat Ridge

[Originally published in a different form, GreenCine Daily, July 29, 2006.]

18 April 2011

long nights with dreams of falling...

LONG NIGHTS (WITH DREAMS OF FALLING)
Chicago Reader Review By Achy Obejas
Prop Theatre

We are exploring passion these days. A generation of writers in their 30s are old enough to have been decimated by love at least once--and are hopeful still, but cynical, too. We can't seem to decide whether we want to be romantic or self-effacing, hold out for the real thing (whatever that is) or settle. We don't know what we want, but we're just bristling with yearning.

Ray Pride's Long Nights (With Dreams of Falling), now playing as part of Prop Theatre's "Late Night" series, is emblematic of this quandary. Significantly, Pride doesn't focus on the details of the tempestuous situation at the center of his play but on the passions and consequences that situation provokes. We never really know why Helen (Dado) and Johnny (Andy Rothenberg), Pride's two protagonists, are always fighting, but we identify, however embarrassed we may be about it, with the obsessiveness of their love affair. "I wanted to be sure it was attraction . . . and not distraction," Johnny says early on. "That it was pheromones, not hormones. One's the one that says this is the one for you. But hormones say any woman will do."

Demonstrative
Within seconds of meeting Helen, Johnny's completely sucked in. "I had to know the rest of her," he says. "I couldn't map her, I couldn't just know every tic and gesture and curve by sight--I had to make myself whole by learning all of her. And that meant sex. And love. And maybe children. And certainly marriage." Helen's got the fever too, but she's less sentimental. She knows Johnny has mistaken excitement for commitment. She knows at least part of the dynamic between them is that he wants her, and that makes him doubly attractive to her. But when he tells her he loves her, she can't handle it at all.

Long Nights is set up as a series of monologues for Helen and Johnny, with just a few interactions between them. So we don't witness many of their fights, though they report that they say awful things to each other, throw whatever's within arm's reach, and break glass over and over again. Eventually the sound of shattering glass becomes their theme song. They make up, always with long kisses and a sexual whirl, and resolve nothing.

There are times when Long Nights seems like a long night indeed--not because it's boring or trite but because it's so painfully reminiscent of our own long nights. How many of us have seen the sun rise at least once after lying in bed all night with someone we love--arguing, crying, having sex--but with whom we just can't make it work? Sometimes Long Nights is nightmarish in that way: achingly intimate, dangerously melodramatic, stubbornly real.

Pride sweetens the agony with a barrage of images more like poetry than what we usually find on the modern stage. At times, in fact, Long Nights seems a batch of narrative poems disguised as theater. But actors Dado and Rothenberg play them with a disconcerting naturalness. Each seems to treat the audience as a kind of best friend, to whom they need to confide their woes and frustrations. Dado is sensual and temperamental, beautiful in baggy clothes that seem designed to underscore her vulnerability and insecurity about the whole question of love. Rothenberg is limber, boyish, and sort of silly. He makes Johnny a likable jerk--we've all loved somebody like him. (The memory of that affair always has a way of improving with age...)

Director Mark Harrison has given Long Nights a bare-bones staging--the set is a couple of chairs, a couch, three windows hanging in the background. Though Harrison uses his actors and the space subtly and to advantage, the script doesn't really give him much to work with in that regard. Pride allows Helen and Johnny to talk and talk, but he rarely gives them a reason to move. So Harrison gives Helen and Johnny an elaborate dance: first they come close, then they back off, then they go in circles for a while, unsure of who's the hunter and the hunted.

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