Thoughts On: End Of The Week Shorts #77


End Of The Week Shorts #77

Today's short: The Pervert's Guide To Cinema (2006), Jaws (1975), Russel Howard: Recalibrate (2017), Meshes Of The Afternoon (1943), Burn After Reading (2008), Fargo (1996), A Serious Man (2009)

More than brilliant and simply too thought-provoking, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema is Slavoj Zizek's presentation of a Freudian theory of cinema. He deals with pleasure, desire and reality; cinema as an art that can reveal the reality in fantasy, that which is too deeply intertwined with our dark desires to be recognised bare-faced. Though Zizek's application of psychoanalysis is initially predictable, his actual analysis is spectacular, always going a step further than you anticipate. And the sheer honesty and passion with which this is presented makes this quite impossible not to respect. Alas, I think this is limited and builds an incomplete picture of cinema (though it does well in analysis a particular kind of cinema - that of Hitchcock, Tarkovsky, Lynch, etc). Zizek often seems on the edge of Jungian analysis that would threaten to shatter his Freudian prepositions, and so this didn't feel fully conclusive, rather, a mere perspective of film. Before I begin to ramble, however, I'll end knowing I have to watch this a few more times before being able to fully grapple with it. Recommended to all.

I can't imagine that there will ever be a need for another shark movie. Jaws accidentally, subtly, brilliantly, does it all.

Whilst I would call this a classic before a masterpiece, the most masterful element of this film is the direction; the use of visual and editorial ambiguity, long shots and a busy frame that internally builds tension via sound design make for an unnaturally mature and complex approach to what should be a stupid exploitation film. The sophisticated direction that Spielberg, as most will know, developed mostly because of technically difficulties with his sharks, allows him to build a prototypically meaningful 'monster film'. This is then, very ambiguously so, about a monster that calls a man to responsibility, to heroism, to action performed with faith in ones ability to confront malevolence in the world as opposed to naive faith in an unconditional Eden. Without specificity, I don't think this narrative formulates a commentary, instead, just is this looming set of highly affecting themes that attack the senses thanks to the fact that they are brought to the screen unspeakably well. Always a joy to re-watch.

Not bad. Some good laughs to be had here, but you won't be rolling on the ground for an hour. Howard's ludicrous and loud comedy has an interesting conflict between cheekiness and obscenity, his stage presence so often uplifting some rather dark comedy. Whilst the darkness in some of his jokes/true stories isn't always as funny as he seemingly recalls it as, this is where his best work is found. Again, not bad.

Infinitely fascinating, Meshes of the Afternoon is a film I can and have watched dozens of times and always feel like I'm approaching something new each time - and simply for the fact that it is so dense and ambiguous; that it dares you to formulate a narrative of your own. Today, I'll hazard to say that this is about a woman who loses her self - not herself, but her self - in a man and so can only perceive herself as a reflection of him. She must then wake herself up, reclaim her femininity (as symbolised by a flower) and... I'm not sure what else.

What struck me about this today was also the fact that it is a Tarkovsky-esque sculpture in time that re-defines the idea in my mind. Of course, Deren is playing with loops of time, but space doesn't seem to exist here. The only tangible element of this is the fact that it is a film; thus, the form, the celluloid, within which this is wrapped, is the sculpture: no space, just time. A masterpiece.

A brilliantly and typically Coen bros. movie, Burn After Reading is just as much enjoyable as it is subtly thought-provoking. In essence, this is a film about not recognising one's significance in the world - it is also about stupidity and ridiculous aspirations. What brings about an intoxicating sense of the uncanny in this film is the serious treatment of ludicrous melodrama. The result of this is a feeling that everything that occurs within this story is too insane to have been made up - that this must be based on a true story (the Coen bros. have played this trick before with Fargo, and this is almost as convincing). This is the greatest compliment that you can pay to the tremendous, yet nonetheless light, character-work, all of which is focused on persona and personality, not depth, arc and symbolism. The end product is then a mesmerising dip into a world of chaos, perfectly tuned and honed for the screen and irresistibly likeable.

Down the Coen bros. hole I decided to go today, and could there be a better film to follow Burn After Reading?

Fargo is essentially the original telling of Burn After Reading. Both films are about intent, action and consequence; they are about a desperate fool who unknowingly awakens the devil - danger, chaos, evil and darkness beyond their measure - and cannot put him to rest. (No Country For Old Men is also about exactly this). Where we primarily take the side of the foolish adventurers in Burn After Reading, Fargo has us empathise with law over anarchism. This is then far more subtle with its dark comedy, far less intense with its melodrama, but nonetheless just as affecting to the senses and the mind. I have seen this countless times, but today this felt particularly brilliant. I think the Coen bros. are rising up the ranks of my abstract favourite directors list.

Masterful. A Serious Man is probably the Coen bros' most tonally whole and narratively/thematically/structurally complex film to date. Very much so about a man who wants answers to the unanswerable, this brilliantly captures a genuine feeling of existential loss without putting aside levity and the Coen bros' typically subtle and ironic absurdisms. Furthermore, this brings us into a dismal world without sentimentality, without a plea for empathy and understanding, instead, retains a respectful distance from which we are made to ponder coincidence and atrophy. A Serious Man then has us ask how we are to confront the violently unknowable in life, how we are to appear to be more than a mere joke before the world and its trials. Can such a conundrum even be confronted? What are the implications of us failing or succeeding to rise up to this? Here is the heart of the film, but we are dared to say so much more.

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