onsdag 20. mai 2009

Antichrist and the cinema of attraction

Tom Gunning, a well known movie-writer, coined the term Cinema of Attraction in an essay he wrote in the 80's. Gunning states that cinema started as cinema of attraction used to showcase the film as a medium. The movies was used almost as a carny show, exhibiting strong men and bearded ladies. In this way the moviemaker showed off moving pictures and also appealed to the instinct of sensationalism. The trend in Hollywood the last ten years has been aimed at appealing to these instincts. The Saw and The Hostel movies in addition to a horde of modern horror movies are just some examples. In Europe this has manifested itself differently. Moviemakers such as Michael Haneke, Gaspar Noe and Ulrich Seidl use extreme violence or explicit sexual content, but instead of the glossy glorifying approach of Saw and The Hostel, these filmmakers draw a more complex and darker picture. Haneke uses long takes, a distant camera and deeply pessimistic stories of the human psychè to give the movie's violent sequences meaning outside of just being shocking.

Though I have not seen Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, it seems like he has "jumped the bandwagon", though this could be just a hasty conclusion since I have not seen the movie. I think it's important to make movies that have impact on people, that shocks them. It has a confrontal quality which few other mediums share. Also, the ruckus surrounding Antichrist is in a way good publicity for the movie as a medium. That movies still can create controversy and being talked about all through the world is in my opinion important. But Von Trier has in a way jumped the bandwagon. In the past, Von Trier always made highly original movies that were not occupied with trends (like Dancer in the Dark , Dogville and The Idiots). Of course, I have not seen Antichrist and this is just based on the controversy surrounding the movie, but it seems like he's taken shortcuts, instead of making highly original movies. I hope I'm wrong here, and that Antichrist is the deeply disturbing piece of art I want it to be. I ultimately find Von Trier a fascinating public person and an interesting filmmaker. Cinema needs controversial figures and themes in order to remain important as a medium and I am looking forward to seeing Antichrist. I hope it doesn't disappoint me...

mandag 11. mai 2009

Style and imagery in Godard's Prenom Carmen

Godard was a radical filmmaker, even compared to his fellow New Wave directors. His first movie, Breathless (1958) featured groundbreaking jump-cuts in editing, which made the "invisible" Hollywood editing style seem old fashioned and tame (For those who have not seen Breathless and don't know what I mean by jump-cuts: Jump-cuts are visible editing that makes movements seem unnatural (watch an example HERE). Godard always experimented with the medium, frequently referring to the process of making movies inside the movie itself (Une Femme est une femme from 1962 begins with Anna Karina saying "Lights! Camera! Action!"), character's thoughts written in text on the screen, abrupt changes of style mid-movie and political symbolism. Godard often uses uncoventional stories which can often be summarized with a sentence. It's the images and construction of the film that's important to Godard. He wants to involve the viewer on every level, forcing the viewer to ponder even minor details.

"Prenom Carmen" was made in 1983, 25 years after his debut movie "Breathless". It was made after a disappointing decade with much scorn from movie critics and critique for his support of Mao Zedong. "Prenom Carmen" won The Golden Lion at the Cannes film festival and was fairly well-recieved when released. The plot is as follows: Carmen is planning to rob a bank with her friends. She tricks her uncle (played by Godard himself) into letting her borrow his house to supposedly make a movie. When robbing the bank, she falls in love with the security guard, Joseph, and they start up a romance.

There are several things going on in this movie. It has four "layers":

1. Carmen's world. Her romance and conflicts
2. A string ensemble rehearsing (with Joseph's "girlfriend")
3. Godard himself as a character and the allusion to filmmaking.
4. Godard's imagery that compliments Carmen's feelings

The first layer concerns Carmen, her romantic life and the robbery. She is frequently naked and is perfectly comfortable being so, which leads us to believe this is a strong female character. The second layer with the string ensemble layer could be interpreted as a meta-element, alluding to movie soundtracks, but it also functions as a plot element, as we learn that the girl playing violin is Josephs girlfriend or previous romantic partner. When the ensemble is playing, Godard often cuts to Carmen's world and the music is still playing like a conventional movie soundtrack, but it often stops abruptly. It also signifies the presence of "the other", the girl left by her boyfriend. The third layer is Godard and references to movies. Godard's character is a eccentric moviemaker (like himself) who is planning to make a film. Godard constantly hints to this being a film, clearly referring to the movie "Prenom Carmen" and not the movie he is supposedly making within the film. In one scene, he appears, then claps his hands and says: Cut! In another scene, he's talking with a man. The man is about to leave when Godard exclaims: "You can't go, the scene isn't finished yet!". This could be seen as either absurd humor or meta-elements. There are other absurd moments. When robbing the bank, Carmen and her gang shoots people. While lying on the blood stained floor, a cleaning maid appears and starts washing away the blood.

The fourth layer is Godard's imagery that compliments Carmen's feelings. Recurring images are the sea rising and lowering. When the romance becomes intense, the water is seen rising. Things are cooling off and Carmen is rejecting Joseph, the sea is seen retracting.

Also Godard uses trains that which are meeting. This image is repeated till the end when they break up, the train passes each other and go their separate ways. Godard also hints to the movie as a medium through imagery.The image of a television screen, with a silhouetted hand across it is also used. It expresses an emotion, a longing or love for the screen, almost caressing it.

Then at the end of the movie, Godard inserts one last reference to moviemaking:

You can clearly see the contrasts of a movie-reel. The movie ends with a brief text: In Memoriam Small Movies.

søndag 10. mai 2009

Why you should boycott superhero movies

You're standing in line at the cinema trying to decide what to watch. And often you feel that the new superhero movie is so much talked about and done so well at the box office that you just have to see it. Today, Hollywood is churning out superhero movies like there's no tomorrow. And what do we end up with? More stereotypical movies that cater to the general public. Hollywood knows that it's smart to use already well-known brands, like superhero/cartoon characters. Superman (1,2,3,4 etc), Batman (1,2,3,4, etc), Iron man, Watchmen, Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, Daredevil, X-men, Wolverine are all superhero movies that currently pollutes our cinemas.

I am myself guilty of choosing superhero movies, just because everyone else has seen them. Well, don't do it! It's much better to choose a lower budget, non-hollywood film (if you're interested in them, of course. I'm not trying to dictate which movie you should see). You support other movie producers, instead of feeding the big Hollywood machinery. You get diversity, so "smaller movies" gets a little more capital so they can produce more movies. Or at least choose a more unique Hollywood movie. The audience is making Hollywood lazy. When choosing simple genre excercizes like Confessions of a Shopaholic or How to lose friends and alienate people, you are basically supporting Hollywood for making the same movies over and over again. This is not a new phenomena in Hollywood (remaking movies, that is), but with a more picky audience, Hollywood needs to put a lot of care into each movie.

The superhero formula is beginning to look pathetic. Hollywood buy the rights to a franchise, make a-dime-a-dozen script, spend a lot of money on effects and advertising. Voila! You have an easily sold commodity, and millions of teens standing in line to watch the effects and the image of their favorite superhero. But for us others, who do not associate ourselves with comic-obsessing teens, who like many types of movies, who often watch European and Asian movies as well and who really isn't expecting a movie revelation when watching superhero movies: don't do it! It's like fast food; you crave it, it is advertized all over, but when the meal is over you feel cheated. It's a falsely created need from smart business men that know how to create illusions.

Be proud if you haven't seen the latest Batman film or the next X-men spin-off. It's all right! On a side note, I have yet to see Braveheart. Everyone says: "Whaaat? You call yourself a movie fan, and haven't seen Braveheart?" Well, guess what; I know enough about that movie to know it's not something I will be blown away by. There are thousands of other movies I am more interested in watching that haven't made as much money as Braveheart has.

fredag 8. mai 2009


The latest movie watched is Gaspar Noe's controversial movie Irreversible from 2002. The movie, when shown in Cannes, made a record-number of people leave the cinema because of its highly graphical violence. The movie is shown in reverse chronological order, starting with the end credits and ending with the beginning.

The scene that probably made people leave the theater in Cannes, was probably one of the first scenes when the main protagonist, Marcus, finds the alleged rapist of his wife. In the following fight, Marcus is overpowered by the rapist and is just to be raped himself when his friend Pierre appears with a fire-extinguisher and bashes the rapists head in. This is done without any cuts, clearly showing the rapist's head being smashed, and it is shockingly well done (a clip can be found here, though in bad quality. Warning; explicit violence)

The film then shows how Marcus and Pierre found the rapist, then how his wife got raped and finally ends up with the happy life they had before the rape. The rape scene is also done without cuts, and is very graphical and violent. Monica Bellucci is finally being beaten to a pulp after the rape. The movie has been criticized for being pornographic, but anyone being aroused by such scenes must be pretty cold hearted. Similar critique was raised against Pasolini's Salo, 120 Days of Sodom. Such critique clearly shows that the viewer has not understood the filmmaker's motives. I can't understand people that react against filmmakers showing rape as a brutal and agonizing thing. Do they rather want a cut version that doesn't confront them? Where rape neatly fits in with escapist ideals, and just being entertainment? That is, in my opinion, much worse.

Noe's movie does suffer from being perceived as a "concept-movie" alas, the concept overshadowing the film's message. But it is also clear that the narrational devices of telling the story backwards makes for a more interesting movie, then had it been linear. When telling it in reverse, the quiet, beautiful moments before the rape seem eerie and dark. The viewer knows what's going to happen. The final moment when Bellucci finds out she's pregnant is devastating.

It's a good movie, but it has the feel of being a bit "thin". There's too little going on, in my opinion. There is a great intensity and pretty good acting, but I have trouble finding more to it then; revenge is not the way to do it. It is an irreversible act. In this instance the revenge had a tragic ending to it, and it makes the viewer ponder what's right and wrong in such a situation. It's a nicely told movie, but I think it's all a bit too obvious and I don't think it could withhold repeated viewing. But it's good enough for me to recommend watching it.

Day of Wrath and Dreyer

I recently watched Day of Wrath (1943), a harrowing tale of forbidden love set in 17th century Denmark and directed by the famous Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer. A priest has fallen in love with a much younger woman and marries her (it is implied that he forces her to marry him in exchange of saving her mother being burned as a witch). When the priests younger son appears, the young wife and he immediately falls in love and starts a secretive relationship.

Dreyer uses long takes and spare dialogue to create a lamenting, melancholy feel along with sparse use of light, creating a heavy clouded darkness. The movie is constructed in two parts: the first introduces an old woman being accused of witchcraft. She seeks refuge with the young wife, who hesitantly agrees to hide her. When the persecutors come knocking at the door, the young wife does nothing to prevent them from finding her. The burning of the witch is very traumatic for the young wife and she is further distanced from her old husband, who is one of the priests most active in condemning the witch. The priest's son can't bear watching, and appears to dislike the whole process. The second part is occupied with the romance of the young wife and the son. But when she confess to the son wanting the priest dead and he ends up dying shortly after, he starts thinking she too is a witch, just like her mother. Dreyer does imply that she might be a witch, and that witches maybe do exist.

Earlier when the priests are interrogating the old witch, torturing her to confession, she makes a threat to the leading contortionist. Later he dies, telling the old priest on his deathbed he is convinced the witch is responsible. Dreyer took this a step further in his next film, The Word, over ten years later, where he makes the viewer believe in miracles and God. In this movie he could be perceived as violently critiquing Christians, or sympathizing with them. In "Jeanne D'Arc" made in 1926, Dreyer is quite clearly condemning the priests and believers, portraying D'Arc like an icon, a Madonna, a martyr. In "Day of Wrath" the witch dying is portrayed as pitiful perhaps, but not glorified. Dreyer further imposes the notion of evil vs. pure by having an angelic boys choir singing at the witch burning. When the son dismisses the young wife at the end, even supporting his mother's claim of her being a witch, this could be seen as him trying to repent for his own sins by betraying his love. He chooses God and his father. The young wife "confesses" of being a witch, giving the viewer a sense of her wanting to die when being betrayed by her loved one.

Overall, I will say that Dreyer clearly sympathizes with the young wife, but in a subtle way. It would be too easy to paint a broad picture of evil religious clergies. Instead Dreyer wants to explore the doubts they had and portray them as humans able to make mistakes.

torsdag 7. mai 2009

The ideal movie

Defining one's own taste in movies is a hard task. Also in doing so, one is risking being perceived as close-minded. I must admit I don't have one ideal movie, some rigid sets of preconceived rules which a movie must adhere to. I am pretty fond of variation and watch a lot of different movies. But, if I am completely honest with myself there are some hidden ideals that are of a general nature.

I am very fond of brave statements and movies that challenge our outlook on life and art. Pier Paolo Pasolini is one director I admire very much for this quality. Movies that deal with moral questions, spiritual questions that are draped with mystique and carefully considered symbols and images are what I consider important. Basically, the movies that mean the most to me are not genre-excercises, but unique movies that often avoid straightforward narratives. Genre-movies could also be interesting, especially if they redefine or break with genre-conventions, but they are rarely considered favorites. I'm not much of a formalist, though I can , and often do, love a movie based on cinematography, or great bravura shots. It's often what the movies stands for politically and philosophical and how it gets this across to the viewer, that is most important to me. I like original statements, and also hold the director in high regards, in typical auteurist fashion.

I could mention some important directors: Ingmar Bergman, Carl Theodor
Dreyer, Alfred Hitchcock, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Federico Fellini, Andrej Tarkovskij, Louis Malle, Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Michael Haneke, Roman Polanski, Jean Pierre Melville. As you can see, I am both fan of dramas, art movies, horror, surrealism, stylized crime movies, science fiction and thrillers. I seldom rate comedies highly (which I admit is a bit stupid when I think about it) and I am not a very big fan of realism. I think movies should transcend real life, and think that real art lies in the manipulation of reality.

I have a great deal of respect for the medium. The movies I dislike, are movies that merely exploit the medium, being made purely for financial reasons without trying to be original. Movies that tries to exploit a trend (the recent superhero movies, capitalistic shopping movies and romantic comedies spring to mind). I am not a film scholar, though I have attended a university course in Film History. I probably won't get into technical details much in my writings, but more general musings around movies, directors or genres.