29 December 2010

Tomorrow - The World.

  Tomorrow - The World, a movie that "portrays the personal effect of HItler's chilling declaration:  'Today Germany, TOMORROW THE WORLD,'" was recommended to me by a friend to whom I showed the first several minutes of Friedlander's The Raven.  What the supposed connection was I'm not sure, though this isn't the first time I've been led to a curious film by an unusual route.

  It would have made more sense if I'd been showing Mayo's Black Legion, '36, the Warner Bros film in which Humphrey Bogart discovers several compelling reasons to not be a violent racist.  Like that film, Tomorrow investigates  how 'normal' people were transformed into ambassadors of hate through the influence of community and the power of social pressure.  Tomorrow is the more interesting movie because several fingers are pointed. 

  The premise is that an indoctrinated twelve year old Nazi, Emil, is sent to live with a suburban American family.  Emil is a really horrible kid, even outside out of his Nazi spy aspirations*:  he's a deceitful, mean kid who lies and mistreats people.  His new aunt says he's a good example of why all Germans should be killed, and the German housekeeper, whom he corners and speaks to of 'corroboration,' considers him a megalomanic asshole.  He's such a crappy person that his new family wavers between strangling him and sending him to prison.  Point is, on the one hand he embodies hate, on the other hand so much hate is reflected back at him.  And he's so young, he's just a kid.  The movie's closing argument is basically that he's too young to be held culpable, and its final evidence is that he cries over his murder attempt.

  The surrogate father is Frederic March, from Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!  Like Peck in The Omen, his journey leads to the attempted killing of an evil child.  It's interesting to consider the film as a precursor to demonic children films.  There are perhaps many Nazi in America films (The Stranger, Dr. Strangelove, Marathon Man, and Blues Brothers spring to mind).  The amalgamation of demon child and Nazi spy is an inspired film idea, undoubtedly the cause of the film's longevity, more than its philosophical handling of the material.  Like the grapefruit smashing in The Public Enemy, the sight of a young boy in a Nazi uniform continues to be unsettling; and even by contemporary standards the kid is a prick.  It's easy to imagine wanting to strangle him.

  This is copyright 1944, Lester Cowan Productions.  Germany had not yet surrendered.  I see it as a discussion about the twin problems of the perpetuance of Naziism after the war, and the veil of circumstance that both protected some genuine Nazis and condemned those morally and spiritually enfeebled by the Nazis.  Tomorrow suggests a solution of tolerance and second-chances, but the situation is one of poisoned youth and corrupted innocence, of a twelve year old boy, and I see less complexity in this scenario than in others.  It began as a play of ideals, and it retains this form in the film:  its final point is obvious, its path contrived.  It's sometimes outrageous, sometimes tedious.

* Simpsons reference:  You remember when Bart was a foreign exchange student?  He went to a miserable French country farm, and an I think Russian boy/spy came to live with the Simpsons family.  This movie several times reminded me of that episode.

24 December 2010

Silent Night, Deadly Night.

The same way you can call a delightful day with lots of relaxation and intimate pleasures a perfect day, despite perhaps the absence of extraordinary moments like lottery wins or moon landings, it's acceptable to call Silent Night, Deadly Night a perfect genre movie.  The film fully executes the splendors of its concept, and, as is often the case, the filmmakers' total conviction and commitment to the idea contributes to the film's charm; think also of Corbucci's Django and Ferrara's Ms. 45.

 This film's success is its delight in the wicked, its joyful subversiveness.  The children are sweet, Coca-Cola type doe-eyed children:  completely innocent, perfect for corruption.  The script revels in the absurdities and obscenities of its central character's descent into madness, and is tailored to the shape of their filthy ambition, his destiny as a murderous Santa.  It's reminiscent of a John Waters movie, the way it casually introduces the most insane plot elements and then uses those elements as the impetus for even stranger insanities.  The minor characters are made to pop out, be memorable.  Beyond killer Santas:  grandpa's ominous warning, mischievous sled thieves, pool-table love-makers, and a tyrannical head nun are each given humorous, indelible scenes.

"To protest the film, critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel read the credits out loud on their television show saying, 'shame, shame, shame' after each name."

What the fuck is that about, did Ebert and Siskel work for a greeting card company?  Ostensibly Christmas is a religious holiday - as I often, sometimes to my social embarrassment, forget - and certainly this Santa fellow shouldn't be sacrosanct; he just breaks into children's homes.  In fact children should be urged to see this movie, so that as they grow into adulthood they spend less money on Special Edition Christmas Oreo tins with a Limited Edition Hand Painted Santa.

22 December 2010

The Killer Inside Me (2010).

"We're kind of old fashioned.  Out here, you say, 'Yes ma'am,' and 'No, ma'am' to anything with a skirt on.  Out here, if you catch a man with his pants down, you apologize, even if you have to arrest him afterwards.  Out here you're a man and a gentleman, or you aren't anything at all.  And God help you if you're not."
It's interesting that the sheriff's example of police activity is catching a man with his pants down.  The Killer Inside Me takes the position that innocent times were a product of character crippling repression, which could rupture and contaminate the morality of a man.  Affleck is in a process of self-discovery:  he's genuinely surprised when transferred to the insane asylum, though he doesn't dispute the matter, and doesn't assert who he really is. 

It's difficult to not make some rather severe character judgements.  The homicidal sheriff, played by Casey Affleck, is horribly depraved, brutal, and savage.  He exploits the innocence and trust of a small Texas county and almost single-handedly shatters the lives of at least a dozen people.  He bludgeons a woman to near death with leather-gloved fists.  Worse, he's completely unconflicted.

But the problem with judgements is they sometimes limit a total understanding of a character, and deeper shades of truth can be overlooked.  There's an evil magnetism to this character.  The intricacies of his madness are the focus of the film, and the viewer experiences along with the town a confrontation with incomprehensible violence.  The way the local police can capture him is by understanding who he is, the spiritual emptiness of one of their gentlemen.

Winterbottom filled all surrounding roles with great actors who each help intensify and expand the scope of the story, and the performances and material are equally impressive.  The film investigates people while it investigates the crime.  You feel horrible for most of them, for even knowing the guy, and because they somehow feed the flames of his madness.   One unnerving scene involves Affleck smoking a cigar while lying on his bed, chatting with a couple men accusing him of killing five people and motivating the suicide of another.

The extraordinary accuracy in the depiction of Jessica Alba's near death is impossible to enjoy.  I wouldn't like to have dinner with a person who doesn't have to close their eyes during the scene.  Like the abortion in Enter the Void, the scene overloads me.  In The Killer Inside Me, the scene's sickness is that it enhances the theme of trust as sadomasochism (and is an example of this in a viewer-filmmaker way).  It's crucial because it exposes aspects of the character a healthy mind might not even imagine, it's a temporary window into the sheriff's dark soul.  It's the same perverse genius that makes Jim Thompson's story work.

20 December 2010

Every Man for Himself.

The number of times I willingly saw a movie in its theatrical form in 2010 is a purely fact based interpretation of my favorite films of the year.  It approximates the range of my curiosity over the year:

Enter the Void, six times
Every Man for Himself, three times
Twice: The Long Day Closes, Lourdes, Bluebeard, Fish Tank, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Around a Small Mountain
Black Swan, 1.8 times

I wish the list was trashier; or I was trashier films had been better, trashier.  I fully intended to see Wild Grass again.  My favorite glimmers of underseen America were the pickup truck, barn, and front porch conferences of Winter's Bone, the portrayal of familial politics in The Fighter, the gardener in The Kids Are All Right, and all the brilliant nuances of Strongman and Sweetgrass.  My favorite food movie was Mid-August Lunch.

Every Man for Himself is what crazy narcissists yell in mortally dire situations.  The French title is Sauve qui peut (la vie), and it means something like save your own life or run for your life; one intertitle translated Save Your Ass.  It's sort of gravely humorous in its nakedness, but also desperate and shameless.

The viewer of Every Man is given minor navigation (the title and the intertitles [Imagination, Fear, Money, Music]) for a crooked course, and so is left to explore and discover the film without guide, to simply see and experience.  It's a film that revels in the microscopic and idiosyncratic, and forgoes traditional storytelling pathways in favor of spontaneity and resonance.  Like many of my favorite films, and the ones that make me most excited, my impulse is to describe the actions of the film, moment to moment, in order to avoid constructing a personal framework for the film.  The problem is such highly descriptive stories are hard to tell right, especially when important details lie in the photography and sound of the film.

Scenes directly engage my emotions and intelligence, with all the electricity of Jean-Luc Godard's passion and skill.  He develops earlier filmic impulses and methods, themes and techniques borrowed from his earlier self, but plots a new course, and asks more from his characters.  He is both more serious and playful - indeed, the first sequence of Paul Godard and the opera singer, and then him and the bellboy, are gut busters, hilarious ideas amplified by perfect execution.  Full moments collide with impressions (sometimes punctuated by slow motion) for a blossoming revelation of the three main characters; too, some moments are strangely unexpected, because the film is both about the characters and their experience. 

Different from objective, vérité inspired films, Every Man is cloaked with the beauty and agility of cinema, the hand of Godard ever present.  His foregrounded craftsmanship generates exciting textures, dynamic surfaces:  an office scene with Isabelle, another hooker, and two men becomes a surprising sex musical sequence.  It's difficult to say the center of the film is ideas (your ideas) and feelings (your feelings) and not name those ideas and feelings, which are varied, but it's enough for me to see that the characters also hopelessly orbit the meaning of their lives in the substance of their experiences.