Thoughts On: 2019


Shorts #106

Today's shorts: The Farewell (2019), Romance of the Western Chamber (1927), The Boatman's Daughter (1935), Street Angel (1937), Lost in Thailand (2012)

A tremendous film, one that finds success in patience, in taking moments to let scenes sink into characters and thus reflect their depth to the audience.

With good portions of comedy and heart, The Farewell presents a touching exploration of what it means to let go and hold in, to let go fear and anticipation and hold in one's own doubts. This is a tension imbued into familial dilemmas and their often existential weight, and we are allowed to carry and release them across this narrative. With nothing bad to say about The Farewell, I can only recommend it.

Though this silent film presents a somewhat fractured narrative, it is given support by some fascinating deployments of robust montage that introduce a counterpoint to the theatrical feel of the cinematic space.

Romance of the Western Chamber tells a tale of anxiety, of grand gestures that fail to hold a light to the individuated, mature person. Romance, then, emerges as a product of personal struggle, not ingenuity: the gaze an affront to action; desire meaningless without devotion. The final scene that encapsulates this ethical turn of the narrative, yet it comes as something slightly too little, quite late. It is this that leaves the narrative feeling fractured; an hour spectacle juxtaposed with a momentary investigation of a character's psyche. That said, Romance of the Western Chamber holds much of intrigue.

A timid romance whose script is maybe more affective than the final cinematic product.

There is an attempt within The Boatman's Daughter to expose the frailty of a woman and an elderly man in a harsh world of capitol. Their dignity and sovereignty hangs in the balance, the vessel keeping them afloat riddled with stopped holes ready to fail. Alas, though this is evident when retrospectively recounting the fabula, the potentially harrowing experience of this narrative is dulled by the awkward dialogue and use of performances.

Street Angel is a very busy film, characatologically loud and vocal with its politics. This tells a story about an eccentric band of downtrodden outcasts who struggle to escape their cacophonous, oppressive urban milieu. The musical component of the film in juxtaposition to the realist elements make for a unique narrative blend; a film grounded in melodrama with a clear drive to present life in the shadows of a city filled with skyscrapers.

A rather insane comedy imbued with too many plot beats, Lost in Thailand doesn't feel like a positively exhausting in-a-few-days crazy adventure. It rather feels like a rollercoaster ride with many forced emotional ups and downs, moments of realisation and re-workings of friendships. Exhausting it remains, but this is not a noteworthy achievement. Some laughs are to be had, but the caricaturing can be painful and often childish.


Shorts #105

Short Thoughts: Escape Plan (2013), Rambo III (1988), Rambo (2008), Days of Being Wild (1990), Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914)

Silly, and yet not that fun. Escape Plan simply lacks character; it functions something like a Sherlock Holmes narrative without stakes. We are left wondering how Sly and Schwarzenegger (and this is unquestionably who appears on screen - acting not required) will be pulled along a half-clever script full of bad dialogue and much nonsense it hopes you look past. The entire background of the world is wholly questionable; whilst it is established that the prison space is 'evil', why are we put on the side of convicts, and why are we to accept all the murder? The lack of logic is very distracting.

Not much more can be said. This is watchable, but not something you find yourself particularly wanting to watch as it unfolds.

Rambo III is a step-down from parts I and II. The series never ceases to take itself somewhat seriously, but there is little of substance in this third part. Whilst nothing about the first two films is particularly ingenious, they balanced theme, character and action better than this. Rambo III is a confusing tribute to Afghan freedom fighters with somewhat cheap melodrama and too much going on in the realm of political commentary without nuance and particular insight. We do get to see a tank crash into a helicopter though - and without one drop of CGI. The writers of modern day action melodramas (like the Fast & Furious films) think they're brash and ludicrous on the page, but Rambo III goes to show that the likes of Hobbs & Shaw is nothing - aesthetically speaking - too new.

It's a Rambo movie, but it's not. More blood, more guts, more violence and decimation and then some CGI. Characterisation (of the titular character alone) is well defined, yet character arcs and their motivation are meandering and ill-justified. Political context also gives way to thematic debate--nothing of great calibre. These are common traits of the Rambo film, but intensified and brought into the late 2000s. What changes most significantly in Rambo is the presentation of the titular character. He is elevated to the level of archetype here: a reluctant, pessimistic hero. In elevating J. Rambo to this status, this narrative contrives a sense of wholeness and completion, but lacks failure and stakes (a key structural beat of the previous film). This leaves Rambo front-end heavy, overflowing with action and melodrama emerging from the interior of an archetype, but rather light in the ass.

Days of Being Wild feels like the work of a filmmaker who has yet to come into his own. The technical aspects of the script and montage are mired by a lack of substance in the realm of character. Though this tries to say much about time, its persistence, its solid yet abstract nature, its formlessness that shapes ones personal history to sometimes devastating effect, it lacks affective impression. The structuring is obnoxiously obfuscated - likely in an attempt to conceal the shallow, ill-defined paths characters walk.

Days of Being Wild impresses with its conception of time and abuse - both cyclical and droning ripples through space and time - but does not do too well in other respects.

There is a subtle genius embedded within Chaplin's comedic sensibilities. It emerges most famously via his narrative constructs and gags, but Kid Auto Races at Venice allows him to demonstrate a rare Keaton-esque conception of the cinema screen as a window into a version of reality. Most of Keaton's best jokes - the screen sequence in Sherlock Holmes Jr. being of particular brilliance - were conscious interrogations of the realities a screen can present. This play with the screen as something of a window of diegesis is almost as old as the cinema itself, and Chaplin makes a fine go at not only muddying the line between documentary and narrative, but does so with an acute yet subtle understanding of the frame as the audience's eye - thus the world it shows the only world extant to the audience. How he plays in and perturbs it is first and foremost warmly amusing, but, secondly, a demonstration of a rather nuanced conception of cinema and its relationship with the spectator.


How It's Made - Movie Machine

Thoughts On: How It's Made (2001-19)

A consideration of the value of spectating moving picture machinery.

What is the greatest T.V show of all time? You may have your answers, but there is only one correct response: How It's Made. The show is so good because it not only reveals the manufacturing process of everything from eggs to disc brakes to tequila, but it captures a strange dance of construction; it makes engrossingly explicit the state of something's existence. There are many ways one may define art, and many feel very similar. A definition I have always clung to concerns communication; all other definitions I have found use of complexify, and thus reduce back down to, this basic idea. This is true of the definition of art as a process of making engrossingly explicit the state of something's existence.

Perceived a certain way, How It's Made is a meta-work, one that overtly discusses the being of aspects of nature - or rather, technological artefacts. Yet it operates on a fundamental level much like a movie. Replacing the technological artefact - a can, balloon or spring - in a narrative is the abstract concept of a theme. A theme is that element of nature that a narrative (inherently mimetic) requires to exist; it is that which is dramatised, given mode, logic and style. In respect to this, movies can be considered machines of sorts that not only make explicit, but engrossing, some element of being - a theme. That said, 'explicit' as a descriptive term must be used with caution. In regards to cinema, a theme is no simple entity; difficult to define, maybe impossible to perceive in its truly fundamental form, a theme cannot be explicit like the construction process of a basketball. Or maybe it can? How It's Made reveals how a basketball is contrived, but it does not attempt to explain he game of basketball or even the significance of the ball, culturally, historically or existentially. Furthermore, it does not make explicit the chemical composition of various polymers nor answer and solve questions concerning the relationship between science, reality and human. Why do these elements - science, reality, humanity - in tandem produce the technological artefacts we are so interesting in seeing made?

With consideration, one can suggest that the explicitness of that which engrosses in art is never quite fully lucid. Yet, the documentary has a greater sense of lucidity in regards to its thematic content or item of interest than a cinematic narrative. So, again: themes are never made explicit in that they are bared and understood as a process wholly and fundamentally. Alas, a good narrative is an affective one. Affect demarcates the reception of theme; when one feels touched, it is because they understand; photogénie and lyrosophy cycle; theme is made explicit to the senses, to the unconscious and corporeal intelligence. It is this output that is produced by the movie machine via the process of making a theme engrossingly explicit. That said, it must be mentioned that art forms differentiate in various ways, and one key manner in which one can separate, say, cinema and music, is considering the haptic function of thematic revelation, of affect, explicitness and, indeed, ambiguity. Put simply, theme is received and transmitted along unique systems between art forms. Comparing the book to performance to cinema to music makes this obvious. A book holds its themes in syntax, performance in the language of the body, cinema, in visual communication systems and music along sonic planes and vibration. Each transmission-reception system effectively produces affect, but the character of thematic processing is wildly different. To exemplify: all art forms can produce a feeling of joy. Alas, to perform joy, to narrativise joy in a novel or on a screen, or to make music out of joy, are emphatically different processes. Music, on one hand, will teach one's body and senses joy, but provide little to consciousness. A book, a scientific textbook or even a novel, can make far more tangible a description of joy as a theme, subject or topic.

I find myself writing about this as I have struggled of late to find a reason as to why films should be written and spoken of. Despite the struggle I remain in love with movies as machines. It only makes sense that they be spoken of as machines that make explicit theme via affect. Abruptly, then, I will end, leaving a loose definition of the movie machine among the above lines.


Shorts #104

Short Thoughts: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), War For the Planet of the Apes (2017), Dave Chappelle: Sticks & Stones (2019), Bill Burr: Paper Tiger (2019), Parasite (2019)

All at once silently esoteric and boisterously thunderous, Beasts of the Southern Wild uses distance to great effect. We are not allowed too close to characters - there is a silence that prevents this; we can only know so much as we weave between unpredictable happenings. We are also repelled by characters' booming personalities; they make queer a story of survival, of grounding one's feet in the soil and remaining strong. This consistent juxtaposition of the silent and harsh keeps the audience at, at least, an arm's length from character interiority and, in the end, makes rather impactful the final symbolic gestures the narrative makes with its beasts. Successful this film's distance management is then at generating affect. Alas, the clarity of this affect is the problem of this narrative for me. The feelings this generates are cloudy and left a haze despite being strong. This narrative is then easily turned away from. Easily forgotten? I do not know yet.

A crisp end to the prequel trilogy that follows in Dawn's footsteps by falling into the philosophical and ethical mires of civility. It is then this trilogy's greatest strength and complexity that the apes not only become more fundamentally human, but grow to understand their own 'humanity'. Humanity's folly indeed creates them, and humanity indeed destroys itself over the course of this extended narrative. Alas, ape civilisation, too, is broken and continues to break despite its achievements. And maybe that is the element of gold about this part of the trilogy especially. It is not the presence of humanity--which, due to the trans-species, post-human narrative is a quality defined as something near-natural and a product of consciousness and society--it is not that the presence of humanity determines success and is that which should be celebrated, but that the successes of the inherently troubled humanity must be celebrated - because who knows when it will fail next. Dark, but warm.

Not a masterpiece, but it secures some sense of peace within itself. Funny, yet not clever, but seemingly - and maybe entirely so - honest. Unassuming, even humble, despite its opinionated and rather sharp facade, Chappelle's comedy exists in a closed bubble. What is said is done with; jokes like moods and judgements come and go, eventually dissipating in amused chorus and witty loops. As implied: peaceful, or at least, at peace, in a weird way.

Oh no...

A dud from one of my favourite comedians. Forget funny for a moment, what about originality? Burr spends a seriously significant proportion of the hour either rehashing uninspired rants that were in circulation between 2013 and 15, reworking old points and reviving already used up premises. I found myself scratching my head, asking myself, haven't we heard a better version of the First Lady segment? He even throws out a story he was once filmed unable to tell without breaking down whilst telling. This is a strange throw-away special that I can't see being anything but weird to anyone who has seen a lot of his work. That said, the material that felt fresh (all 15 minutes of it) was a joy to hear... and... this was pretty painful to write.

Bong Joon-ho has created a stupendous work of intelligence and deep drama. Though previous works of his such as The Host, Memories of Murder, Okja and Snowpiercer are good (Okja less so than any other), Parasite reveals a complexity and sophistication of a much higher level in the character department. The thematic concerns across these films have in common a rather overt socio-political critique, but it is Parasite that uses these themes as a place of departure. It explores more than caste: the terror of flirting between the social classes and the perturbances of character that this excites.

Deeply engrossing, subtly and brilliantly impressionistic, smooth, humorous and grounding, Parasite is a truly fantastic film; a world cinema staple in the making.


Crawl - Mid-Level Monster Movie

Quick Thoughts: Crawl (2019)

An estranged father and daughter are trapped in a gator-infested homed during a flood.

Crawl is an effective mid level monster movie and thriller. There's much to enjoy and a little to scratch your head about. The set up and general logical construction of the narrative is not egregious in any way, which is to say, this is in the most basic of ways, quite believable. This matters because this film centralises a game of logic, of trying to figure ones way out of a situation; if the characters act stupid, why should the audience forgive them. And whilst characters are drawn out as rather clichéd and simply written, the representation of a father daughter team trying to survive is grounding and engaging.

Onto what the film lacks. Firstly, thematic weight; Crawl isn't trying to build a narrative of incredible substance despite some efforts to capture a sense of pride and persistence - which holds some affect. Next, the monsters, or rather, alligators. The gators look like huge Nile crocodiles, they move far too slow and are too clearly a device in a narrative. Though some of the kills are enjoyably silly, the unrealistic rendering of the alligators is something that audiences will inevitably find too obvious. Second to this, though lead characters are put in danger and are even maimed across the narrative, they appear rather invincible in all of the scenes in which they aren't being chewed on. That is to say, the damage sustained by characters has no real lasting dramatic weight as a bite may give a character a limp in one scene, but won't stop them fighting or swimming in another.

In total, Crawl lacks a needed impressionism. We do not feel characters pain and the severity of their circumstances enough. This is not a lifeless film, but, it rather desperately needed better storyboarding and more time put into the visual-linguistic construction of scenes and maybe less put into CGI. That said, I enjoyed this quite a bit.


The Mustang - Self-Redemption

Quick Thoughts: The Mustang (2019)

A self-isolating convict seeks reformation through a wild horse taming and training programme.

Though lacking a touch of needed subtlety and hush, The Mustang is a poignant tale of redemption. It constructs a somewhat transparent allegory between man and animal, depicting the taming of wildness as a process of belated individuation. In addition, this is so much so about moments that shape lives, about the ease with which a house that took a decade to build can be knocked down. Digging for the foundations of character, The Mustang achieves success in its method of representing subjectivity. I found this to be particularly highlighted by the horse that is played (somewhat metaphorically) against the reforming convict. The horse is given character, and supplies character, without humanisation. That is to say that the horse stands as a character without being personified, without the script treating it as a person. This nuance and clarity of realism supplies the narrative with something rather unique and affecting. This achievement sits central in the film's dramaturgy, the place upon which all complex characterisation is built. Before noting the films slight shortcomings, the beauty of certain images must be commended. Motion is where the cinematography team find near perfection. It is in unclichéd and deeply affecting shots of horses in motion that then emotionally stir whilst seemingly symbolising the all important element of persistent, fluid transformation and change across the narrative.

These details make for an easily overlooked film well worth seeing. However, this isn't flawless. The drama bears too much melos, which is to say the script, direction and performances do not manage the fictional melodrama and realism brilliantly. Without balance here, photogénie around the human subject is tinged and unclarified. There is then something of a distance embedded in close ups and intimate stretches of narrative put in place by an element of clear contrivance that seems to have no place in the film. This downfall ripples quite far out. It effects the aesthetic texture of the film and depersonalises the cinematic space ever so slightly. Furthermore, there is an explicit element of the realism that feels unnecessary and forced. What, we are then left questioning, is the necessity of emphasising contextual facts and the rest real-world truth of the story? As implied, however, I think this is a rather wonderful film and a very impressive directorial debut.


Shorts #103

Short Thoughts: Zombieland (2009), Carnival of Souls (1962), Tokyo Drifter (1966), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

A rather brilliant film composed of sharp characterisation, great world building, sublime narration, but betrayed by its own logic. The opening is light and fun, the slow build of character relations is well paced and nicely set along a journey into their intimate inner-worlds. Alas, the third act sees so much fall apart. The opportunity for spectacle in the fair is missed and the character decisions motivating the move into that part of the world is entirely unjustifiable. Why turn on all of the lights and machines and then be surprised when 1000s of zombies swarm? Why crash your car into a lake in response to this? All tension meant to be produced here falls flat leaving the narrative on a dull note. However, the rest of the film remains in tact - though, I'm not sure of the necessity of a sequel.

Though this suffers from weak direction and editing, there are sparks of competence about Carnival of Souls. It is a film that does not work. Alas, the silent, somewhat impressionistic, sequences of the film imply that this may have found so much more success as a straight silent film. After all, so many problems are found in the dialogue and sound-montage; choppy performances would be hushed and the cacophonous and often confusing (due to the blundering lack of distinguishment between diegetic and non-diegetic organ music) sound design would be less intrusive. If put in the hands of a Jean Epstein maybe the gothic horror would work and the meandering and obtuse narrative would find itself more enigmatic and thematically compelling. That said, the neighbour character pretty much ruins all of intrigue about this clunky psychological horror. I don't know if Epstein would be able to save this entirely.

Though I was consistently confused and rather unsure what was going on with plot and character arcs, I thoroughly enjoyed Tokyo Drift.

Character is reduced to an aesthetic immersed in a world of style; a flurry of colour pallets all balanced and contrasted in fluffy light to perfection. They operate in a musical drama exuding thematic statements like items of fashion. The result is a truly New Wave kind of cinema that steps, leaps and bounds from cinematic norm to deliver a form alien and unique, yet in some way functional. What conclusions can be made as the narrative closes are lost on me, but Tokyo Drifter is as striking as it is immersive.

The CGI continues to date, but the narrative is always surprisingly incredible. I have written about this film and the others in the prequel trilogy to no end, so I have run out of things to say. But, I'm always left in awe. This trilogy as a whole is one of the greatest achievements of modern American cinema, and the opening film is flawless. Astounding.

The CGI of Maurice and select shots of Caesar still blows me away. The narrative, still incredible.

An intricate navigation of the line dividing family and society, of moral optimism and moral discrimination, of trust and betrayal, Dawn is so deep and simple, profoundly human, and incredibly weaved. I felt less of a disdain for the human characters in this narrative than I have previously. There are scenes with them that could certainly be thrown away, but so many make tangible and visible the battle raging within Caesar; a contemplation of the good and the bad in humans and apes (in conscious, intelligent beings), of how to operate and communicate the lessons of that battle. Whilst slightly more faultable than Rise, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is astounding.

Shorts #102

Short Thoughts: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019), The Lion King (2019), Fast & Furious: Hobbs and Shaw (2019), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), Chappie (2015)

Whilst I wish I didn't see this, images of DiCaprio's stellar performance and the feel of the tamer side of this world stick with me. This is an utterly pointless psuedo-exploitation film of the Manson movie sub-genre bloated incredibly by the egoic stylings of the horribly present Tarantino - a vortex of cringe and pretence so devastating he defies description. If it wasn't for the extended DiCaprio scenes, this would undoubtedly be the worst of the director's cannon. He is the only performer that stood his ground on set, not bending to the splurging auterism cock-blocking all other artistic expression in this 3 hour slow vomit. If only DiCaprio could have been dealt a better Tarantino script to lead.

An embarrassing reminder that part of the reason for cinema's existence is to make money. I thought Aladdin was shameless, but The Lion King has no excuses and escapes all the blame. How? I don't know.

Better than any Fast & Furious film I've ever seen.

Stripped of Vin Diesel's ass-eating performances, Hobbs & Shaw does well to boil the cast down, letting much of the Fast & Furious series' pop-star scum and mediocrity simmer away. Less a cockeyed off-shot of a self-encapsulated genre, Hobbs and Shaw is a spy thriller, somewhat reminiscent of an early Guy Ritchie film in parts - in other parts, this is a cinematic Rock affair. That makes this as fun as it is ridiculous--albeit a little stilted. Idris Elba's performance could have been better managed, but his character provides some of the best slow-motion spectacle that I actually was left wanting more of. Enjoyable.

A mess that only the late 90s could provide.

Semantically confusing, too political, equal parts conscious and dreaming, this is a rather bluntly incisive teenage (translation: naive) melodrama. I imagine this can only become more of a cultural embarrassment as the years pass. The music, the fashion, style and the taste... yeesh. I can only hope this comes nowhere near an accurate representation of anyone's high school experience. That said, through the chaos comes some levity and light enjoyment.

I don't know exactly why I avoided this when it was first released. Chappie surprised me. I found the film to be heartfelt and, when coupled with District 9, a rather eloquent and affecting documentation/contemplation of trans-human metamorphosis.

Blomkamp's sense of humour needs to be a little reigned in here as it is in District 9, but I cannot recall a film that I have found to be so crushingly hilarious after the viewing. For reasons unbeknown to be, explaining the car theft scene put me in fits. It cannot be ignored, however, that the casting choices made in this film were a big risk that didn't really pay off. Despite this, as a technical and thematic achievement, I believe Chappie stands strong: a touching bookend to District 9.

Shorts #101

Shorts Thoughts: Us (2019), I Think We're Alone Now (2018), Dawg Fight (2015), High Life (2018), The Meg (2018)

A longer review is certainly necessary, but Us... hmm... I'm not sure. The score and soundtrack of Us makes the film; in fact, maybe it oversells it. I then found the austere opening making promises (tonally and atmospherically) that weren't really fulfilled.

Not a straight art-house thriller/horror, Us has may genre inflections that make it distinctly--let's say American. The comedy works at times and the horror aesthetics do, too, but characterisation doesn't go too far in my view. Without many stakes, Us is then quite unaffecting. But, worse than this, Us appears slightly pretentious in my view. There is an awful lot that could be postulated and proffered when it comes to subtext, but, whilst I see many ways of reading this film, none of them enhance the filmic experience or resonate with the narrative as whole. More needs to be said, but Us left me dissatisfied.

A rather fascinating film, I Think We're Alone Now is quiet and subtle; it doesn't attempt to do much at all beyond slowly build character and assert something rather simple.

This constructs a post-apocalyptic narrative that is essentially about the failures of Utopianism. Presented here is a question of: What if humanity got to start again in a somewhat grim Garden of Eden? What should become the priority, painting the garden in brighter colours, or planting the seeds for a tree of knowledge of good and evil? These questions are explored with an uncanny feeling of originality that is only somewhat perturbed when sci-fi genre elements become more prominent and drama intensifies. But, beyond these minor limitations, I Think We're Alone Now is a brilliantly angstily contemporary post-apocalyptic film well-worth watching.

Formally speaking, Dawg Fight hasn't got much going for it. However, it successfully tunnels into a world erupting with the bitter and ugly truths reality doesn't care to hide.

All too easily could you suggest that Dawg Fight glorifies and buffs over a world with much texture. There is, however, a genius in the boisterously naive posturing that the camera indulges. Behind the facade of a Rocky-esque narrative is a story of minor success and, above all else, a discovery of how small one's world truly is. One has to be able to see past much of the strutting and talk to realise this, but defeat and shame prowl on the edges of the realism; the world is bigger than we think; we, too, are smaller than we can conceive of; cover your eyes and march forward. $25 to lose a fight in the backyard. 25.

Aesthetically derivative of Tarkovsky - more an achievement than anything else - yet tonally dry, High Life is unfortunately lifeless. Its dull sense of character and story make drudgerous the thematic journey Denis attempts to take us on. That leave this too abstract and seemingly depthless a rumination on death, sex and life.

Not much can be said for the performances and script. Robert Patterson calmly falls into a mould of a silent French character archetype, yet is left half-baked - the script fails him, the camera oversells him. The rest of the cast only provides trouble with their clunkily constructed and delivered dialogue. The only light in this film are the shots of a baby taking her first steps. Not much more is to be found here.

Not as fun as it wants you to believe it will be. Whilst individual characters provide somewhat comical caricatures, too often do they come together to create a mess. Whilst entirely undermined by the absurd melodramatic monster-horror-spectacle, only our male and female leads' bond creates something worth watching

What would have made this work better is, put simply, less smart-assery. Those strains of plots lead by Rainn Wilson's dumb billionaire typify elements of self-consciousness emergent from the too-present sci-fi sides of this story. Why not make the giant shark 100ft bigger? Why not let there be 3 of increasing size? Why can't Statham's final gratuitously stupid kill have been the first? More stupidity required.

Blog News

The shorts are coming back. I've been on holiday for some time - also trying to figure through a few things, and so the work on the blog has slowed. But, for those who are still eager to read, I have news: the shorts are back. For 100 weeks straight (ish - maybe we missed a week, I'm not sure), we released 7 or more reviews every Sunday. Over those weeks, more than 800 movies were reviewed. You can view the list of them all here, and you can see the shorts in their entirety here.

I stopped with the shorts as 100 weeks felt like a nice round number - and I grew somewhat tired of them. In truth, I hit a bump with film and writing in general. Such is life, and life goes on. And, as it happens, so will the shorts. But, the format will be different now. I have decided to release the shorts when I have 5 in the bank. At least one series of shorts should appear each week - I do not feel like releasing them on the same day each week as of now. That may change. I hope you enjoy the shorts.

All the best, and thanks for reading.


For The Love Of Photogénie

Thoughts On: Photogénie

Further consideration of the morally enhancing image.

Photogénie. Photogénie. There isn't a more eloquent and abundantly adaptable and meaningful piece of film theory. Despite all the image's failings, all the spectator's scepticism, photogénie stands tall as the irrefutable reason why the image, whether it moves or not, is nothing but lovable. The fact, not the concept, of photogénie has impacted my being tremendously. I can tangibly trace it, a biological reaction in my body, back through my life. Absurd it may seem, but much of the genuine love I have experienced is pinned in images, has flourished through images. Many of those images I keep to myself, but there is a series out there to be shared: those in the cinema. I have loved, I suppose I love, cinema - certain corners and pockets, images and moments. Sparks of photogénie define this, possess me and hold me true to myself. It then seems to be so that I feel truly myself when awash in photogénie, faced with my very own capacities for empathy, yearning and gratitude.

A recent photogénic trip has taught me that that great existential result of photography's and cinema's inception fuels and gives the deepest complexities to photogénie. The photographic image put space and time in the hands of man. We bottled, in some way, reality. What this means, we cannot fathom. Yet in part I believe photogénie allows us to understand that the image has taught us to love anew. It goes beyond likeness, the image bears part of the soul, and it is no metaphor that we encapsulate and hold central in our lives preservations of the moralised human being.

The preserved image may be contemplated, loved, fallen into, can exude photogénie, precisely because it is parts human, parts material: plastic in the artistic sense we may say. The plasticity and humanity that facilitate photogénie are so necessary precisely because existentialism requires a slight evaporation of the present. To understand ones existence, or to at least make the subtle attempt, one is required to conceive of time and being as something greater than the present. Humanity exists through all incarnations of time, in a mental 4D space. Yet, it is through preserving some slice of the past that the plasticity of art opens a gateway to the existential plane, and thus photogénie - and of course, its sensory cousin: lyrosophy. Only in preservation, in a mode of existential consideration, can humanity be absorbed. What an accessible ritual photogénie allows this to be.

It is without intent, more so enamoration, that I try to give further voice to the phenomena. Existentialism via preservation; lyrosophy and photogénie; self to love.


What Is Character?

Thoughts On: Agonists in the Cinematic Space

A question of a seemingly obvious element of story.

There are an array of impossibly simple questions one may ask of cinema: what is drama, the 'cinematic space', cinematic time, why does cinema mean, etc? These questions fascinate me most for the raw and fundamental lines of inquiries they inspire and necessitate. I have returned recently to a question of character. In my thinking, I have come upon the idea that a character is more than subjectivity, that they have a litany of uses, many of which exist outside of a conception of a character as a human or person. A character is a tool of storytelling in this respect. Alas, what do we really mean when we say 'character'? How do we watch a film and point out these entities, and how do we justify and make sense of this demarcation?

One may be urged to suggest that characters are those beings which a story follows. This may hold to be true if we think of protagonists such as Ferris Bueller or Dumbo; the story indeed seems to recount their being - their story. But, there is a complication here. Firstly, what is a story if it tells a character's story? And secondly, what about all non-protagonists? These two questions are pertinent as the assertion that a story follows a character leads to a fractal conception of a narrative or story: stories are composed of layers of stories, a network of different character stories. This definition of story is fascinating, but it rests in opposition to the initial assertion that story follows character. On the one hand we are suggesting that characters are a tool, on the other, that stories are stories that tell stories. It is easy to become confused. One primary reason for this is that we are trying to use character as a means of defining story. Story requires its own definition as it appears to sit in some place higher than character in the construction of the cinematic space - which is to say that it has elements independent of character construction where, in my belief, character does not necessarily have elements independent of story. This formulation will be clarified later. Let us then start by separating character and story by realising that stories (a term that is now a slight thorn in our side because it lacks definition) are served by character and that there are various classes of character in accordance to their place in a narrative.

If we return to a term we used without question, we will find a good place to start. Protagonist. All protagonists are characters, but not all characters are protagonists. It is because of this, because we recognise characters in order of their significance in the narrative, that there are different classes of them. Nonetheless, their is still something connecting the protagonist, deuteragonist, tritagonist, antagonist, etc. I have explored this idea elsewhere and concluded that it is 'agonism' that defines and binds all of those entities we may be so inclined to call characters. Agonism roughly relates to action, and thus that eloquent and all encompassing phenomena we know as drama. An agonist is an actor in the dramatic sense - a being that performs actions, not a performer embodying character. Because characters are related to drama, their place in the cinematic space quickly becomes evident. Before that, some clarification.

Character is agonism. Therefore, a character is action of some kind. I would not be so quick to reduce character to physical action, however, as abstract action existent in the psyche seems to be a valid means of identifying character. Character--or rather, agonism--then includes, but is not limited to, (physical) actions, traits and consciousness. The traditional character thus has a physical place, is identifiable and is aware. By identifiable, I mean they have being (traits). By traits I then mean they are actions, in that they are--are composed of traits. I say 'traditional character' here because, of course, not all characters require all three attributes, but, seemingly, require at least one. One may think of a setting or an element of a setting to be a character - for example, the dilapidated city gate where the (other) characters converge in Rashomon. The structure has no consciousness and does not act, but it is an essential element of drama thanks to its traits, which may be read as having thematic implications. Some agonists bearing traditional visages, such as figures used in exploitation films (e.g. The Last House on the Left), seemingly have almost as little consciousness as and even less distinctive traits than Roshomon's city gate. Other agonists, take the majority of the cast in Slackers for example, have very little physical presence or significance, yet exude consciousness. Alas, the traditional character has these three distinctive elements making them a character. A hero such as Frodo is then forced by story and world into action. His actions, as mediated by his consciousness, alter his subjectivity. And thus his characterlogical traits transform, signalling a heroic metamorphosis of being and a becoming of a traditional agonist.

One of the most significant results of an agonist's composition (their share of action, consciousness and traits), is their ability to enact transformation. Character is change - an aphorism that surely belongs on a screenwriting guru's blog if it already doesn't. Character is change. I mean this both simply and otherwise. A character often has an arc that motivates and structures narrative. Alas, they are more than a structural motivation. Deep in the fabric of agonism is a flux of drama and theme, of that most fundamental reason for the being of a cinematic space. Agonists are agents that serve a role in translating that from the unknown into materiality. Both mimetic processes and tools of a storyteller, pneumatic and logical, agonists are one of the most explicit means of transforming Tao to Logos, a unknowable way to a spoken word. This cites the agonist's place as a process related to theme because, indeed, one of the most basic transformations a character can incite is one in the thematic discourse of a narrative.  Whether aiding the succession or transformation of narrative, a character, be it a tree or a troll, impacts theme, moulding and shaping a vesicle from Tao (the unknown) into ineligibility. The complexities and qualities of a character as constructed emerge from this understanding. Before making any note of this, however, let it be made explicit that the actions (physical or otherwise concerned with trait and consciousness) are defined by transformation. The actions making up the agonists all lead to transformation: the state inciting transformative action may then be the best definition of agonism. That said, let us not seek clarity just yet. There is mud in the water.

A character can present itself as a voice of narrative, of theme - sometimes of a writer's or director's very own consciousness. Such explains the phenomena of exposition, visual or spoken. As an agent or means of clarification, agonists enact transformation (and succession) and simultaneously bare their chests to the whims of consciousness. That is to say that the reasoning for an agonist's transformation is most vulnerable to the realities that suppress narrative. Stories are written, are made, contrived - so are characters. There are elements of autonomy in the construction of narrative that escape the grips of the conscious creator, but whilst all the decisions an artist makes during their process are not understood to them, many are interpreted and considered intentional, possessed or understood. Characters are entities most easily possessed. I do not care to delve into seemingly depthless swamp that is this issue of reality suppressants in the cinematic space. Alas, it must be made note of before an attempt is made to shine light on the fundamental being and purpose of character.

We come now, then, to the conclusion. A character, an agonist, is an entity of action and being. Because they are action, they are tools in the construction of narrative, primarily serving the purpose of transforming the cinematic space and its thematic discourse, they have a deep relationship with drama. Whilst it cannot be overlooked that agonists are tools that are manipulated, in part by conscious creators, agonists articulate those flares from Tao that a story means to translate. In this, we not only find a useful conception of character, but see also its function. We then know and understand a character as action because we explicitly see and feel them committing transformative acts in the cinematic space, altering and translating the meaning of a narrative. To further contemplate the function of characters beyond this fundamental definition, we could turn back to our theory of objective and subjective impressionism and therefore the objective-subjective wheel - ideas I will leave as self-evidently related to our conclusion here.


Once Upon A Time In Hollywood - Layers & Mess

Thoughts On: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

An alternative historical account of the Manson murders.

The endless tiring layers that cushion and cause to swell the existence of Tarantino and his films has me questioning everything non-cinematic about cinema: the egos, its audience and the endless opinions. Why must it all exist? Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a trite yet simple film in need of distance and silence to be looked upon with anything more than a stupefied gawp. It can only be processed properly as a projection of a particular bulging ego attempting to re-manifest the exploitation film in the present day. Thus, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood makes no sense; it has sensibility, however - sensibility of a debased and unattractively elementary character. With lowly spectacle mediated by a consciousness aware not of itself, but of its liberties, this film is inevitably - by design you could say - incohesive. It is in all its cracks and through all its spillages that it successfully operates as an irrational exploitation of concept. Most intriguingly, alas, the concept exploited by Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is equally the director's caricature and his alternative history. This impacts the characterisation. Characters should not exist in the exploitation film, yet they almost do in this film. Agonistic entities are imbued with the ego of their creator and thus tied to the concept of the film as subjects - a queer byproduct of a celebrity directing an exploitation film. The final fold of the messy situation comes with the fact that there is a failure to secure proper measures of intimacy in this film. Thus, it does not work in total as an exploitation film - it is an aberration, a manifest of a culturally significant ego; a confusion at best. Hopefully Tarantino will retire soon so his filmography can be made sense of.


Blue Jay - Narrativising Laughter

Quick Thoughts: Blue Jay (2016)

Estranged exes meet in their small town.

Why do we laugh? It is uncanny that we do not describe laughter as an emotion, that we furthermore do not have an emotion that really describes the state or conditions of laughter. Elation, joy, rapture, jubilation come somewhat close, but ultimately pale in describing not only the true feeling of laughter, but its range, depth and complexity. Laughter is an action, and the English language can only conceive of it as such. Blue Jay, among other things, dramatises this predicament. It is only drama that can do justice to the condition of laughter. Such is profoundly fascinating as it exemplifies the idea that cinema (as a dramatic art) is its own form communication, that it exists as it can enunciate what other forms of communication cannot.

Narrativising laughter in space and time, Blue Jay constructs a deeply touching story of nostalgia and loss. Brought to the screen by the director of Paddleton - a sombre and poignant film - this captures the souls of its characters rather beautifully. Ghostly and incorporeal, the characterisation of Blue Jay emerges from an abyss between present and past, in a realm of possibility and 'what could have been'. The black and white cinematography manifests this realm, making it almost palpable. Somewhat faux and contrived, the black and white cinematography lifts the spaces inside the frame with hints of what I can only describe as melodrama. The black and white aesthetic does not only mute and calm the space of Blue Jay, it layers onto it an intentional and overt nostalgia; perturbing the space ever so slightly, the monochrome spectrum of light produces an ethereal and lost atmosphere. We then do not exist with characters in a town, in a room, in a moment of intimacy and reflection, but between present discomfort and an ambiguous past. Here the 'what could have been' that defines characters so painfully becomes spatial and tangible. It is that which imbues close-ups of Sarah Paulson in particular with warm photogénie. There is an awkwardness surrounding the perfectly cast Mark Duplass that stretches through the temporal aspect of the cinematic space. He is then imbued with a photogénie not of the present, but one that is realised as having briefly passed. How incredible it then is that, between our two characters, we are again lost between present and past. The screenplay understands the predicament all too perfectly, yet does not embrace it fully. It sparks it with life with laughter - the only response to the uncanny, to the unfathomable 'what could have been'. So though I cannot come to describe just how, laughter makes sense of all that is ambiguous, lost and ungrounded in Blue Jay. This is a beautiful film that I cannot help but recommend.

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The Strange Thing About The Johnsons - A Student Film


The Strange Thing About The Johnsons - A Student Film

Quick Thoughts: The Strange Thing About The Johnsons (2011)

A father is tormented with a perverted relationship with his son.

Having recently experienced the astounding Midsommar, I had to investigate the only Ari Aster film I have not seen. The Strange Thing About The Johnsons is a student short, and though it is praiseworthy, it does not escape this description. It was likely not meant to be seen by so many people, but The Strange Thing About The Johnsons is an almost gaudy familial horror. Its intentionally abrupt and shocking material lead to the short going viral and, seemingly, it kick-started a highly impressive start to a feature film career for Aster. What makes Hereditary and Midsommar so impressive is their maturity - especially in juxtaposition to The Strange Thing About The Johnsons. The melodramatic touches of this short - performances, elements of sound design and the action-violence - devalue the themes at hand. The film then struggles to take itself as seriously as it maybe needs to. More absurd than it is tuphlodramatic, The Strange Thing About The Johnsons is not allowed enough time for the satisfactory depths of characterisation to be reached. Sat with characters, their shame, pain and perversion, for longer, we could feel the narrative more. Without this time to feel characters and story, the horror elements feel like spectacle - their impact, short punchy, and not emphatically meaningful. There is a play on an archetypal story held central in this narrative and so it does not appear entirely meaningless, but the direction does not secure the story enough nuance and pull to work as well as it could.

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Aladdin - Unbelievably Shameless


Aladdin - Unbelievably Shameless

Quick Thoughts: Aladdin (2019)

A remake of another Disney classic.

The epitome of pointless, Aladdin is as shameless as it is tasteless, a bastard, heaving montage of mediocrity sprinkled with pinches of magic and verisimilitude so infinitesimal you could only go blind trying to stare through the glaring shit that beams from the screen as you try to find it; a panoply of failure and naive intention, Aladdin encapsulates an amateurish and foolhardy conception of narrative and cinema of absurd and searing intensity: a disgusting waste of effort and resource, Disney should be sanctioned for such a flagrant and foul disposal of garbage lucrativity.

There's little point bemoaning the existence of Disney’s latest showcase of decorum. It is only with disbelief that I contemplate the pre-dystopian madness that is these Disney remakes. Disney has indeed fallen, and seems that it only wants to continue to do so. This is a dark time for the company.

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Midsommar - Moral Beauty In Psycho-Symbolic Horror


Midsommar - Moral Beauty In Psycho-Symbolic Horror

Thoughts On: Midsommar (2019)

A bereaved young woman travels with a group in which she may not belong into a community no one may belong.

Ari Aster rides the wave of acclaim set in motion by Hereditary into a horror film of what could be greater psycho-symbolic depth. Hereditary enjoys a greater depth of character than Midsommar with the twisted and dark pool within its mother and son archetypes flourishing on screen with intense power. Likely a result of its teen-adventure-goes-wrong horror genre tropes, Midsommar contains more object-archetypes (caricature-ish teens reduced to pawns of theme) than Hereditary, and furthermore has less focus on the exploration of subjectivity. This makes for a less intimate film, one with more space for spectacles of horror. Alas, the pockets of spectacle in Midsommar are utilised rather ingeniously. Imbued with photogenie, the horror of this film doubles as symbolic, which makes obvious the utility of symbolic spectacle. Examples are found in the pounding of flesh and bone, the destruction of the human body, the extinguishing of life, much of which is shot with serenely bright colours, angelic tones, slow motion and with intimate distancing. Photogenie is imbued into this horror by not only the meaning framed within these images by the lighting and frame-rate, but also the surrounding narrative and world building. The destruction of life, the amoral decimation of normal social codes and customs all then formulate the oppositional perspective or philosophy embodied by the 'strange place' the teens wander into. Uncoincidentally, these anti-parallel moral motions--exemplified best by the symbolic spectacle and its horrific photogenie--move with dramatic friction against our main character and object-archetype. Midsommar then finds itself to be a film about tragedy and recovery - much like Hereditary is. Alas, afforded to Midsommar are those crucial elements of intimate photogenie that both repulses and pulls. Hereditary contains its share of photogenie, but it is almost entirely repulsive. The blue, purple, yellow and black colour pallet of Hereditary, the twisted, expressionist shadows, the guttural and intestinal tone, generate a truly unsettling atmosphere. Midsommar takes a risk, and one may recognise this as conceptual spectacle, in being a horror film that takes place almost entirely during the day and in bright sunlight. The pen of the filmmakers then has no place to draw the imagination (except perhaps in linguistic barriers, the audience most likely not able to understand the much-spoken, little-subtitled Swedish). With the frame bereft of shadows, horror is required to be physically and totally curated within the eye's reach. In addition to this, the filmmakers must work both with and against the inviting atmosphere generated by the aesthetic scope of the film. So, whilst the explicitness of the framing (how close and unflinchingly it dares to stare) repulse, there are ecstatic moments of magnetism developed by the narrative and aesthetics. The ending of Midsommar then left me silenced.

Manifested by the narrative of Midsommar is, as suggested, a tale of recovery that juxtaposes a frighteningly communal - communal to the extent of amorality one will see - means of living against a lonesome and tragically isolated, yet socially enclosed, means of being. The 'strange place' visited by our group is then without many barriers, at times operating as a single organism gliding from a state of life to death with an obsession with preserving a conception of sanctity doused in a search for natural beauty and constructed purity. The visitors are harsh, their lives impaired and impregnated by barriers. There is then an awkwardness about the opening hour or so of this narrative that I have heard described as slow and boring. Alas, the slowness of the opening is the result of the awkward impossibility of the social barriers dictating the functioning of the lives of the young group. There is nothing trite about this; in fact, I would argue that this was established with optimal affect. And in contrast to all that is found in the strange place, the opening appears as incredibly brilliant. The culmination of all of this thematic drama is a shot. A shot. A shot of Florence's Pugh's face wreathed a mountain of floral plumes, her mouth ajar, her reaction to the realisation of the narrative's final thematic suggestions unspeakably profound.

I will remain ambiguous. Much more could be expanded upon and made explicit in this discussion of the brilliance that is Midsommar. But, I will end by saying that I found this to be an extension of Hereditary that may just outshine the former film. Seeing Midsommar was certainly one of the best cinematic experiences I have had the pleasure to be lost in this year. I highly recommend this film.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home - Going Through Changes


Spider-Man: Far From Home - Going Through Changes

Thoughts On: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Peter Parker tries to take time out of his life as a superhero and go on a school trip.

Marvel, as flat and somewhat lifeless as it was three years ago, has ramped up and hit a selection of peaks via hype and new directions recently. Thor: Ragnarok was something new that sparked a sense of world and tone much like Guardians of the Galaxy did three years prior. Black Panther generated much hype and, in my opinion, was quite fulfilling, following a character on a slightly more classical story of kingdoms. Black Panther wanes slightly over re-watches, Ragnarok holds. And then came the Infinity War films. As hyped as they were, they were the culmination of much of what we've come to know as just Marvel; they weren't incredibly fulfilling in my opinion, especially with re-watches.

Spider-Man: Far From Home emerges from a weighted and belaboured cinematic universe that has tunnelled deep into its narrative capacities. As a result, it had to face many challenges and is somewhat successful in two key respects. Before discussing these, the limitations. First and foremost, the Marvel aesthetic is a somewhat ugly one. It was ground down to its most basic and uninspiring elements in Civil War, and Far From Home adopts this without much alteration. There is a texturelessness to the frame, the lighting on subjects harsh and isolating; the background distanced and seemingly trapped in a green (blue, silver) screen.

I have made this point previously, but one can see the terrible Marvel aesthetic best exemplified by their posters - of which Far From Home may have the worst. The faces of character are blasted with a sharp key light and then top- and/or side-lit. This puts rather drastic shadows on parts of the faces - you see this on the left side of Gyllenhaal's head and under the chin of Holland - and a halo or gleam around the edges of the head.  It looks particularly terrible on the poster as the background is brightly lit and coloured and features locations. The poster is too busy and the lighting on the separate elements fails to integrate and formulate a cohesive image. The eye is left with separate elements, wondering why they have so so obviously composited together.

The poster represents an extreme example of bad lighting and image composition. It carries over to the film. This was particularly obvious to my eye as part of the film is set in London, and all too often it is painfully clear that actors stand before a green screen projecting places I see often. A related issues concerns the wire and physical stunt work, much of which is rather unconvincing. This leaves Far From Home without much spatial and aesthetic verisimilitude: much of the film looks fake. Minorly, this criticism transposes over to performance and lighting. Especially across early scenes that set up the narrative, performances and writing feel incredibly staged - at times, it is as if characters talk to the audience without looking down the lens. All of this is a consequence of the film's management of its dramatic approach - an issue we will not delve into.

That said, it is worth discussing this film's positives above all else, namely, its rather ruthless and daring confrontation of looming issues the bloated cinematic universe imposes. To start, the biggest question that Far From Home had to answer was related to Endgame. How will, after the major events of the previous films, a rather confined element of this universe carry things on? Somewhat ingeniously, Far From Home decides not to in very many respects. I will not delve into major spoilers, but the writers decide to not take this part of their job very seriously at all. There is part of Parker's character that feels pressured to grow and step up across the narrative considering the previous fallout. Alas, the doom and gloom that is aimed at with darker elements of Endgame is pretty much lost on this film. It makes a light game out of pretty much all the tragedy the MCU struggled to crescendo toward. Cast aside and made fun of (often rather successfully - the opening montage and song is uncannily brilliant), the weighted drama of the MCU is used to radically effect the fabric of the world.

This brings us to the second related technique used by the writers. We saw this in Endgame, and we see it again, but radical choices are made highly flippantly in regards to character and world. Endgame gave us Banner/Hulk and fat Thor. There's more surprises in Far From Home. So not only is comedy used to change the dramatic path of the MCU, but daring and flippant world and character building choices are made that profoundly change preconceptions of what these films should do going forward. In Far From Home, we then have a light high school comedy that interrupts half an avengers film, and something quite far from the familiar Spiderman narrative (a world unenclosed spatially and temporally) with a comedic adventure. With these two techniques we see Marvel changing, attempting to breathe new air into their universe. The question we may want to ask is then where do they want to take things?

This question cannot be dealt with without sufficient spoilers and, indeed, anyone who sees the film will ask it. So, I will end after a brief discussion of what Far From Home does by emphasising that all that is good about Far From Home is highly trans formative and that I not only see Marvel re-branding and building a new definition of a comic book movie, but anticipate them striving in rather radical directions in the future. Whether this works or not is up to audience speculation for now. That said, what do you think of what Marvel are doing different and the direction they are heading in?

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Minding The Gap - Explicitly Humble


Minding The Gap - Explicitly Humble

Quick Thoughts: Minding The Gap (2018)

A group of skateboarders try to become adults.

Minding The Gap is an incredibly impressive and layered documentary. It is highly developed and nuanced if one cares to bear how raw and explicitly awkward and naive it too often appears. I find myself using this term too often, but this film has courage--much. It celebrates minor success with pure amazement and optimism, and looks upon tragic stupidity and traumatically real clichés with a paralysed horror and confounded eye. Better than any documentary that comes to mind, Minding The Gap--I must reuse this word--explicitly reveals a cycle of woeful failure pass from one generation to another, be shed and consume those coming being bitterly welcomed to the real world. The last thing I will say of this documentary is that it feels, is assembled, functions, as if it should be thrown away, as if it is not worth remembrance, but this struck out at me. As humble as it is explicit, Minding The Gap is a true achievement in my opinion.

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I Am Mother - Sci-Fi Ltd.


I Am Mother - Sci-Fi Ltd.

Quick Thoughts: I Am Mother (2019)

A sentient robot mother is tasked with the re-population of Earth.

Fascinating not necessarily as a story or character study, I Am Mother is inquisitive as it is dramatically limited. Sci-fi has one major thematic convention that is almost universal; the genre consistently questions humanity via the non-human (most often, technology or aliens). The questioning of humanity is primarily ethical and/or psycho-biological. One may then draw up a vast list of sci-fi films and find that they all ask how 'human' robots, aliens or even humans are or who has spiritual and bodily superiority (often in an evolutionary or Darwinian context). Sci-fi is rather unique as it is one of the only major genres that has such explicit thematic conventions that are so consistently investigated. Such places a limiting factor on the genre; despite its diversity of character, and world, narrow ranges of plot and theme catalyse the boiling of narratives down to highly familiar elements. So, though sci-fi fascinates me incredibly, it is rather easy to become jaded when immersed in the genre. Sci-fi thrives of touches of originality in character, world, and--hopefully--theme. I Am Mother lacks such a touch. The conceptual underpinnings of the story are its selling point. Though the brink of a post-human world has been explored much by dystopian sci-fi, few deal with robots repopulating the world. This is touched upon in a film such as WALL-E, but I Am Mother stands as a mix between Dogtooth and 2001. It therefore explores both the common human-robot evolutionary race alongside themes of conditioning and social engineering. There is something fleeting original about this, but I Am Mother doesn't do much of particular coherence beyond re-assert a humanist conception of human being. That is to say that it degrades pure logic in the realm of ethics. Its answer to a question of one life against five is to seek a third option: courage, heroism, the stuff of humanity. This is said, but one does not feel it to the degree that they hear it. Such is I Am Mother's limitation.

There are some interesting parts of this film that, given slightly more complex characterisation and a more singular focus on character psychology as opposed to a spectacle of winding plots, could have been emphasised as a means of complexifying the subtextual discourse. What jumps out at me is then the mother-daughter relationship. This sits in the centre of the narrative's symbology. Technological mother births human child; the individuation of the child requires the destruction of the tyrannically rational mother imago and an aspiration of motherhood bound by Anima-tic sense as opposed to digital logic. There isn't much feeling places into this archetypal drama. This has much to do with the slight ignorance the camera's eye has to the femininity of its space. That it is to say that this narrative has clearly been construed to eliminate male figures capable of particular impact. Why is not made clear as the theme unfolds. The introduction of a third female between the mother and daughter then feels like something of a loose end - a meandering and unengaging strand of the narrative that has some importance, but not enough. That is to say that Swank's character felt like an agent of the plot, less an addition to the film's discourse. In the end, a little more could be spoken of I Am Mother. It was interesting to see the manipulation of subjective impressionism do its work in this film; the rendering of an object (robot) with subjectivity as a means of unstable character development and ambiguity revealing, albeit common. And the referencing to Blade Runner with origami was, potentially meaningful, maybe just cute. Beyond this, I can't regard this with much acclaim, but may recommend it to sci-fi fans.

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Fight Club - Archetypes Stupid, Consciousness Evil


Fight Club - Archetypes Stupid, Consciousness Evil

Thoughts On: Fight Club (1999)

A return to that thing we all know about but can't talk about... can't talk about.

Having found myself increasingly lost in very many respects of late, rewatching Fight Club was a somewhat uncanny experience. I did not experience the narrative and its symbolic-semantic structures shift or reveal themselves in a new light. Rather, the pneumantic strains of the narrative felt more personally relevant. Therefore, I cannot provide a particularly new articulation of the film's discourse on apathy, nihilism and the self. I can again present an outline of these thematic notes, but what I'd like to attempt today is to describe Fight Club's narrative structure as similar to a psychological and cosmological structure pertaining to an archetype-ego, unconscious-conscious dichotomy.

Fight Club is such a tremendous film precisely because it is a romance. It is a romance of a biting, self-reflexive and, for lack of a better word, teenage character, but, it is a romance nonetheless. Therefore, Fight Club presents a story about a man who is not just afraid to fall in love, but is afraid to experience a becoming of meaning via consciously traversing betwixt disparate ego planes. The Narrator is then a subject archetype trapped in a coming of age tale, one that challenges him to shed a symbolic virginity and manifest a hero of change from within. He enters the cinematic space about to destroy an anti-Christ and anti-hero of his unconsciousness' rendering. With the gun in his mouth, we (later) know that he learns that his journey, the meaning of this particular phase in his life, is encapsulated in a destruction of self (not of the world) and his union with an Other, a mirror, of feminine, Eros-tic character. Tyler is the part of himself he must destroy. He manifests as an anti-hero because the egoic reversal The Narrator assumes is so necessary is such a painful one. As he discovers in his innumerable help groups, he requires love to love, emotion to emote. Alas, he can only simulate this, thus stimulate his sense of life and being with a lie. Truth lies in a genuine relationship of earnest emotional and loving exchange. Marla is both that which makes The Narrator conscious of this and the opportunity to find fulfilment and to fulfil. Tyler emerges as an extension of The Narrator's yearning for simulation over experience. He simulates destruction, the destruction of his physical body, others, societal structures and manifests, not the destruction of that which is dead in his spirit and his world perception. These are all dramatisations of the struggle to traverse betwixt the ego planes, to shake ones depression, nihilism, apathy and become a minor hero of ones own writing by establishing a relationship with that which calls out the good in you and questions that which is not.

Much more could be said about Fight Club's thematic discourse, but I feel an adequate amount of discussion has been had. It is experiencing this breath of narrative and simultaneously reflecting upon those elements of dialogue and character that easily fall prey to derision - those aspects of narrative that one may understand as ideologically frank and teenage-esque - that I found myself somewhat embarrassed. How does one reconcile with the apparency that what they find meaning in is, under the eye of a critical mirror... stupid?

This is a question of rather piercing personal importance. I, like most I'm sure, struggle to act upon inspiration or to engage passion and drive for I am certain that what I wished I cared for so dearly is not worth much at all. There have been periods, interrupted now, in which I found myself blissfully dumb and naive, able, then, to engage passion without reserve or self-question. Consciousness invades, however, and the clichéd self-doubt manifests as a genuine wall, as paralysing as it is ominous. This wall is made of bricks of my own effort, laid by fruits of my own journey. Such, one may say, is life. Fight Club captures the essence of this manifest; the film is apathy, it frames social being on the one hand as repulsive and personal being on the other as embarrassment. It is The Narrator's consciousness that then does battle with his self, which is dramatised via archetypes.

Here is the key dichotomy of narrative that resonates outwardly in my opinion. Archetypes are manifests of the personal and the true; Marla and Tyler are embodiments of just this. One may point to Tyler as the Shadow, Marla as the Anima, but names are not particularly necessary - it is function that matters. As described, Tyler is The Narrator's Other side who primarily provides a simulation (partially an experience) of an alternative life of the monster within; Marla is The Narrator's supra-personal Other, a mirror that provides a tangible alternative life. Both confront apathy, both require destruction - Tyler more so of the world, Marla of the damaged self. This emphasis of the archetypes is somewhat fascinating, but it is not the point of note at present, rather, it is the intersection of the clichéd and teenagery elements of Fight Club's discourse and the apparent profundity provided by the archetypal underpinnings of the narrative.

The brooding, smart-ass, sometimes eye-roll-inducing components of Fight Club are often consequences of the bend in cinematic space that Tyler creates. Take, for instance, the many monologues, rants and asides he takes. As much as they formulate the style and feel of the film - are those elements which some may point to as entertaining - they are insipid. This is not due to bad writing, however. It is The Narrator (therefore Tyler) that is stupid. With earnesty--I believe--this is captured diegetically. One may also see weakness, in the writing of Marla's character. Indeed, she appears at passing moments to be a mere agent of sexual spectacle and crude humour. Is this bad or honest writing? My mind drifts to the egoic films of Woody Allen and Tarantino here. When is writing honest, and when is it terrible? This is a question I cannot answer at present, but may lay down some track with via Fight Club.

The honesty of Fight Club's narrative construction, its writing, is found in its ability to present the archetypes as stupid as they truly are. Revelations through a surface-reading of Jung may leave you to believe that the collective unconscious and the archetypes are mystical elements of cosmological profundity and unfathomable depth. In my view, the archetypes are and are not profound. Their profundity emerges from their simplicity, which, in a way, is to characterise them as... stupid. But the archetypes are only stupid because consciousness is evil.

To be inspired is to rather freely engage with the (and one's own) archetypes. Bad writing and its demonstration of archetype possession are evidence for this. Bad writing, of many things, consists of a writer's own egoic, self-satisfying projections: the anima/animus they wish they had (and doesn't exist) under their own finger tips; the hero they think they are and will be; the utopia they believe should be, etc. These projections illuminate not just the writer's fickle consciousness (a defining point of 'bad writing'), but their--often blundering, overconfident and semi-conscious--archetypal obsession. What makes this writing bad is the spectator's unforgiving consciousness. Consciousness does not have a good relationship with the depths of unconsciousness. This appears to be an unspoken axiom of many schools of psychoanalysis, and it is particularly relevant in the field of film (art) criticism. When bad writers reveal their transparent selves, the conscious spectator reacts with repulsion; their honesty is repugnant, their writing bad. This same energy is that which, it seems to me, fuels apathy and a feeling of meaningless existence: an embarrassed, repellence of evidence of the archetypal.

There is a strong link between our assertion that melodrama positions art as embarrassment and this concept of the archetypes as stupid, consciousness as evil. What is true is embarrassing, therefore, certain modes of art are embarrassing. The difference between embarrassing and bad art is difficult to distinguish. And all because the conscious spectator is filled with the potential to repel--that furthermore the artist's own consciousness is often highly dubious and questionable--and that, lastly, the archetypes are stupid. They exist as a naive substrate of existence, profoundly true, but far from glamorous. They sit in the cosmos, a projection of Tao, bared and naked, a body in a war without a shield, without armour, without any action of self-defence. They press through narratives so often in such a way. Laden in consciousness, the archetype often perseveres as stupid. But, its stupidity is what gives it motion; its softness to consciousness' hardness. And it is the softness of water that erodes the hardness of rock.

Greater articulation is hard to come by--I may have to try this again elsewhere. Alas, I will attempt to surmise by suggesting that Fight Club dramatises the cosmological attrition; the softness of the archetype, its existential bared nakedness, and its silent battle against the evil of consciousness. The development and refining of The Narrator's character presents the acceptance of one's own stupidity, narrativises the lashes of consciousness and the fatigability of the archetype manifest, illuminates the embarrassing courage of an earnest and productive relationship with those organs of the collective unconscious.

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