22 May 2012

Trail of Robin Hood

What the fuck is this movie.

Like a flying saucer landed on Melrose and cowboys firing pistols came screaming from the ship.

Roy Rogers plays a character named Roy Rogers who helps charcter Jack Holt played by actor Jack Holt. The horse, Trigger, credited when Rogers is credited, plays a horse named Trigger. The dog Bullet plays a dog named Bullet, but is not credited, which is fucked. Several times Bullet rescues Rogers.

Within the movie they show a silent Holt movie that doesn't appear to be a real movie:

There's a line that's like "the squares are putting on a turkey shoot" and there are wagons and cars -- the movie is from 1950 and I think set in 1950, with a town, and cowboys on horses, and actors who play cowboys on television shows.

Are these people pretending or what, what is happening. What the fuck. I felt like it was a time traveling movie in which characters were time traveling without acknowledging it.

The plot of the movie concerns Christmas trees. Holt wants to sell Christmas trees cheaply "so every child can have one," but this other company wants to keep selling them for 10X the price because money. The other company is headed by a dad whose daughter does a thing that's and then and als--

Sometimes Rogers sings positive, family-friendly country songs^};"@,(.
The little girl pictured above (right) is a tough and brave badass who shoots guns and slingshots. Her dad or big brother or whatever is her bungling and cowardly foil. They're funny.

Her dad is like "you like the turkey so much you should sleep with it" (she won a turkey, whom she named Galahad, at the local turkey shoot) and the girl is like "so what you slept with a horse once" and the dad is like "I had to, it was his blanket."

I cried at the end of this movie. All these other dudes who I guess were also cowboy actors came to help. Like these dudes who were actor-cowboys in real life played within the movie actors Holt knew from his acting days. Neither in the movie nor in the 'real life' the movie suggests is being a cowboy in the 1950s considered fucking insane.

Besides that everything was simple and made total sense. The good people wanted kids to have Christmas trees. They wanted to sing songs and they wanted girls to wear dresses and cook dinner. The other people, the meanies, can go to eitch ee double-hockeysticks. (HELL!) They wanted only rich kids who could pay $8 for a Christmas tree to have Christmas trees, and they were tricksters, connivers, and saboteurs. The good guys fought the good cause; two would-be evildoers converted from the middle; and bad guys were plain as shit wicked.

The movie was directed by William Witney, whom I want to further explore in future posts, and get into how I heard about him, and discover what the fuck is going on.

20 May 2012

Bill Cunningham New York

This morning I had the goal of watching two Vittorio De Sica movies, an early neorealist specimen (Shoeshine) and a later one of glossy gloom (could not decide which one, partly the problem), but I left the apartment and discovered Los Angeles wrapped in the arms of summer. What did I do?

I watched Bill Cunningham New York instead. Another day, perhaps when there's an overcast, I'll revisit the tortured interiors of De Sica. Today, something else. The sunshine inspires locals to free themselves from the cells of their rooms, so I'll watch a documentary that's an externalized view of the human soul.

Bill: See a lot of people have taste, but they don't have the daring to be creative. Here we are in the age of the cookie-cutter sameness. There are few that are rarities: someone who doesn't look like they were stamped out of ten-million people looking all the same.

While watching the documentary I had plain and fancy thoughts. Like: 'normal' is a sketchy illusion of appearance that's purchased through familiarity. One struggles to picture strange, and knows it better upon encounter. Strangeness is a projection of the imagination, and a portrait of the human soul in conflict with 'reality.' Normality is acquiescence to a mass and delusional perception of reality.

When we dress, do we manifest a thing inside us, or are we projections of other people's fantasies that grow from their visual readings; do we attempt to tame and steer their fantasies by controlling our image, as we endlessly attempt to control our uncontrollable lives?

Bill: [asked if he wants fish at a charity dinner] Oh, I don't want anything. I eat with my eyes.

I want to dress in a way that can only be attributed to me, so that when I die and my friends want to remember me, they'll see me in a thing that sticks out in some way, some sharp image for their memories so I don't blur into a clothing ad or some random other person. My clothes are my flag which I carry to claim a land of memories.

(the dog, lol)
Bill: [editing his photo page with the art director or something] Oh no, you don't cut her arms. Are you crazed? (He: "Oh, excuse me.") Keep her hands in. My God John, where's your sensitivity? She's probably the most elegant ... woman -- or one of the most elegant women in New York. Oh you wouldn't know, what am I talking to you about that stuff? (Bill begins a laugh.) You're a lumberjack, here I'm talking dresses to you. (Bill lets out a genuine laugh. He: "Oh, are you talking to me? I was just completely ignoring you all that time.")

Thoughts both rich and cheap: a person who doesn't care about their clothes has a diminished view of their worth as a being and a physical, spatial object. The view is limited and encourages mediocrity and complacency -- buying clothes others wear because others wear them, buying whatever is easiest to buy (which is different from buying what's affordable). Seems most people transition along with shifting fashions in their social sphere. As with all else, it seems best to care all the way or care not at all. And by 'care not at all' I mean somehow really not care, in a way that either means you never find yourself in the same clothing store twice, or you find yourself an effigy of a cartoon character and in the same clothes all the time, which I think is an interesting way to crystalize a particle of your being. Seems okay to be the same person every day, every day, or to be a different person every day -- but to be in the middle, that seems like trying to be other people, for some reason.

Bill: Why the world perceives fashion as... uh... sometimes a frivolity that should be done away with in the face of social upheavals and, uh, problems that are enormous. The point is, in fact, that fashion -- uh -- you know -- uh point of fact it's-it's the armour uh to survive the reality of everyday life. I don't think you could do away with it. It would be doing away with civilization.

Bill: I think she's a poet with uh clothes. But a very fine poet.

Artistic representation is a way for one to engage with ambiguities and combat ones struggle to cope with the fluidity of emotions.

Iris: It's really hard to describe oneself because, I think, one lives very often in other people's visions. I see myself as the world's oldest living teenager. Because I have such a good time, and I try to get as much kick out of things as possible -- and all my little animals [note: stuffed animals] who by the way are very jealous of me, and so I have to give them jewelry. Otherwise they bite.

Final thoughts: it's slightly funny this man who's devoted his life to fashion dresses in such a plain way himself, a 'contradiction' as he calls it. He doesn't go to many movies, doesn't watch tv, isn't into food. His iconic blue jacket: a cheap purchase from Paris, something street sweepers wear. His bike: some generic Schwinn. His apartment: a tiny studio.

But firstly, funny to think he's made these simple things 'his' (his fashion), and secondly, you don't have to bomb a city to be obsessed with war.

What's more, his personal plain style makes him seem accessible in an industry that can often feel exclusionary. The street fashion photography of Cunningham has a human dimension the runways lack; it's not necessarily the supermodels he wants to capture, but regular people who feel super.

17 May 2012

Drugstore Cowboy

Regional moviemaking is my favorite kind of moviemaking. Maybe I don't say that enough.

Regional movies' stories exist within a mappable, real-world location. Drugstore Cowboy didn't happen in the imagination, it happened in Portland OR. The story itself becomes more specific, a little more real. Many talented and popular American moviemakers aim to capture the feeling of regionalism -- Tarantino, PT Anderson, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Alexander Payne, Richard Linklater... maybe John Waters, Jim Jarmusch, Abel Ferrara, George Romero. Moviemakers one can think of and name a city. I almost don't want to go into its global and multitudinous heritage, because so greatly do I cherish the quality that it opens floodgates.

No working American moviemaker, except maybe Charles Burnett, who still makes regional movies and made Killer of Sheep, is better at regionalism than Gus Van Sant.
It's Van Sant's instinct to tear the sheet of artifice that separates movies from reality. When I think of his movies I think of the magic of reality translated in cinematic terms. It seems like so many other movies work the opposite way.

His second movie, like his first movie Male Noche, is adapted from an autobiographical prose source. Northwest-regional poet Walter Curtis wrote the novella Mala Noche, and this movie's source is Northwest-outlaw James Fogle's novel Drugstore Cowboy, written while Fogle was in jail. Fogle is currently in jail for a pharmacy robbery committed in Seattle, in 2011 and at the age of 73. The Telegraph, covering the 2011 incident, includes an incident from 2004 in which Fogle broke through a roof and stole $10k worth of drugs. Maybe he would have gotten away too, if he hadn't fallen asleep while making his getaway.
The director of photography for Drugstore Cowboy was Robert Yeoman, second unit d.p. on William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A., and whose first feature d.p. credit is Alexandre Rockwell's Hero. He has shot all of Wes Anderson's live-action movies up to Moornise Kingdom, shot Roman Coppola's CQ, Noah Baumbach's The Squid and The Whale, and numerous other movies, including Hollywood fare.
Drugstore Cowboy is a solid movie aesthetically. These are the early days of Van Sant's career, back when moviemaking alone was the risk. Since this point he's reached further, deeper, explored surfaces for tunnels to the interior. A thing he does not do, now or then, is experiment at the sacrifice of his narrative; another thing he definitely does not do is use style to lie about his characters.

The characters lead, cinema follows.
It's a prescient drug movie -- here we find the drug-taking montage w/abstractly perfect sounds, the terrorized mother. Roller Girl's first foray into the fringes. It also draws from the well: Bob's impotence channels Clyde, Bob could be Dillon's character from Over the Edge full grown, and William S. Burroughs plays a priest named Tom. Who invented the sheriff convention gag?

Rick: Jesus Bob, no one ever told us anything about not mentioning dogs.
Bob: The reason nobody mentioned dogs is because just to have mentioned the dog would have been a hex in itself.

The protagonists are junkies, but non-junkies can relate to them by the way they attempt to hold their lives together, attempt to read the symbols of their lives, and attempt to make the moves that will take them forward. Bob isn't enlightened by the drugs he takes, his wisdom comes from knowing that what he wants is drugs. He knows he can make himself happy by obtaining the thing he desires. Like all of us. He's the leader of the group because he takes the risks. He takes risks in order to have a group that supports him.
Seems like narratives about people who rest their lives on a foundation of chaos often in the end collapse into chaos. Or else they spend the remainder of their days talking about the days of chaos as the days of paradise.

Bob: Well, to begin with, nobody, and I mean nobody, can talk a junkie out of using. You can talk to 'em for years but sooner or later they're gonna get ahold of something. Maybe it's not dope. Maybe it's booze, maybe it's glue, maybe it's gasoline. Maybe it's a gunshot to the head. But something. Something to relieve the pressures of their everyday life, like having to tie their shoes.

BONUS VAN SANT KNOWLEDGE: He directed the music video for the Red Hot Chili Peppers song Under The Bridge. Yup.

16 May 2012

Blue Steel ('89)

Kathryn Bigelow's ratio of attractive shots to perfunctory shots seems amazingly high on the attractive side.

A person can't open a door in one of her movies without a great looking shot.

No way is she showing off. These camera choices are perfect for their scenes, and Bigelow has a gift for not getting in the way of her characters. It's unusual to see such deliberate and effective style without the voice of the moviemaking interfering with the presentation.

Bigelow has a sweet little bio, something an interesting character in a Spanish novella might have: the only child of a paint factory manager and a librarian, studied panting at and graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute, accepted into the Independent Study program at Whitney Museum of American Art, graduate film studies at Columbia University, part of a collaboration of conceptual artists called Art and Language, apprenticeships under other major figures in the art world.

The determination and fortitude of Megan Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis), a rookie cop struggling in a male-dominated work place, was my favorite aspect of Blue Steel. It's always captivating to witness a character stand against inequality and injustice. It's always interesting to experience a character's fight for personal beliefs, and her fight here is double -- there's also a serial killer who carves her name onto his bullets, and Turner knows who it is before anyone else does.

We the audience know who it is before she does. The who isn't a mystery, it's not a mystery movie. It's half character study, one-quarter police procedural, one-quarter game of cat and mouse. The two quarters that make the second half don't interest me.

So when bored I stared at the visuals. And the visuals were always interesting.

If you're going to stand in the street, simply stand in the middle of the street, Bigelow will gift you with background beauty.

Man in Front of Window, Bigelow '89.

The director of photography on Blue Steel was Amir Mokri. Bigelow hasn't worked with him again. He's twice worked with Michael Bay (Bad Boys II and Transformers: Dark of the Moon), twice with D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea and Taking Lives) and four times with Wayne Wang (Slam Dance, Eat a Bowl of Tea, Life Is Cheap ... But Toilet Paper is Expensive, The Joy Luck Club).

In conclusion: Bigelow Bigelow Bigelow.

14 May 2012

Hong Sangsoo's The Day the Pig Fell into the Well

It's a bad day when your pig falls into the well.

The Day the Pig Fell into the Well is the title of a John Cheever story and the name of Hong Sangsoo's first movie, from 1996, when the writer/director was 36 years old.

Welcome to the world of Hong Sangsoo.
While watching the movie I noticed it's simultaneously true that every shot feels 'real' and 'natural' while there isn't a bad shot in the movie.

There's a precision to Sangsoo's realism that makes him unique among the international moviemaking community. He provokes the sensation of reality in the minds and hearts of his audience. One notices while watching his movies that feelings and moods typically skipped or glossed over are given narrative attention. Most notably and remarked upon, Sangsoo depicts boredom and anxiety. Sometimes in his movies the significance of a moment is a thing 'not' occurring, usually because a person is unsure about what to do, or a thing has not yet happened. Or maybe the two people aren't in the same emotional place at the right time and they need to get there or go somewhere else.
In this early movie Sangsoo intercuts scenes with a variety of setups, unlike recent movies and their frequent deployment of long takes (and a snap-zoom technique). He takes stylistic liberties -- hard cuts, leaps in time, juxtaposing edits, etc. -- but never to the disservice of his characters' emotional continuity.

He refuses to lie about his characters, who are always flawed and humanly imperfect. They tend to be emotionally self-protective, moderately selfish, quietly insecure, heavy drinkers, sexual scoundrels, subtly competitive, and/or hosts to a mess of anxieties.

A strength of his is depictions of struggle with self, as it overlaps with others' struggles with self, and how struggles accumulate and bulge through social collisions.

It's all right here in the beginning.
Perhaps because My Man Godfrey was on my mind, it occurred to me while watching this movie that Sangsoo makes 'existential screwball comedies.' Bingo?

He does that, but also more. I've not yet encountered a critic capable of whittling Sangsoo's art down to an epithet. The nature of his work resists it. There will forever be attempts to squeeze his expansive art into a few short words, great and accurate attempts like 'existential screwball comedies,' but it'll never work.

I remember a dinner scene from my life: being asked by one friend to describe to another friend Night and Day, a Sangsoo movie the one friend and I had seen together the day before. Having not yet processed the movie, and having not considered how to describe the movie to another person, I found myself retelling the narrative beats. This description lasted for several minutes and until I discerned glazed-over eyes and heard myself apologizing for the long-winded answer, saying it'd be better to see the movie and make the discovery through the movie. While true, I think I could have used the night itself as a way of describing the movie, or any random night or moment alone or with others, any piece of life. Take from life some concrete particular, like the fingers of a hand running along an arm, or a mustard stain on some napkin, and make the case that describing a thing in life is the best way to describe a Sangsoo movie, which attempts to find the best way to describe life, after all.

Sangsoo's characters are howlingly human.
"Do you have sex with your husband? I'm not saying you shouldn't..."
Can't tell you how hard I laughed at the above line, said by Hyo-sub (Kim Eui-sung) to Po-kyong (Lee Eung-kyung). The sexual jealously of a man having an affair with a married woman, over the woman's husband, made me gasp with laughter and rewind the movie -- the delivery is so naked, natural, surprising, and believable.

"I can't stand that some other guy touches you."
Sangsoo continues the moment in a way that retains the humor, while including realworld pain and sadness and awkwardness and wretchedness. He does this without dividing emotions, without separating them into different scenes or distributing them among characters to create 'types.'

In a Sangsoo movie you're unsure what emotional expressions will produce. His sex scenes are rarely instigated by romance or love. Appropriately, his sex scenes tend to feel more like sexmaking than lovemaking.

He doesn't avoid sexiness that may be an aspect of the sex characters are having ('sexiness' is subjective of course, although his male gaze seems discernible, relatable).

He depicts the act of sex. The moviemaker whose aim it is to confront the details of ordinary life couldn't shy away from sex. It'd betray his philosophy.

(I attempt to keep my blog PG-13 to avoid that "I am an adult" check; though my photos are PG-13, I assure you Sangsoo does not shy away from sex.)

The movie's use of red lights seems atypical for him:

Seems like a device Sangsoo might now consider too pointed. In this movie, occasional harmony between visual and narrative meaning felt like instances of emphasis:

Part of me wants to say his movies have become more low-key in their depictions of beauty and mystery, but really I think beauty and mystery always make their way into Sangsoo's movies, but not in the same forms. Their appearances depend on the character, what they are doing, where they are, and what is happening to them. It's an obvious thing to say when talking about other moviemakers, but because Sangsoo's movies share a central philosophy, they can seem more similar than they really are.

As stated, Sangsoo's compositions aren't simple. They feel simple. His cinematic compositions, frozen and examined at one's leisure, reveal the imprint of themes and ideas and emotions and purpose.

When passing by you on the screen they can feel 'normal,' you might miss what's impressive about them.
Sangsoo, while maintaing a looseness, has a talent for snowballing character traits, often to the dismay of the characters themselves, who can find bad choices affecting their emotional stability and interpersonal relationships.

He's an expert at drunk scenes. Who writes better drunk scenes? This movie has a great long sequence that involves a broken bottle used as a weapon and moments of true regret that result in the alienation of friends. Drunken behavior in his movies, as in real life, affords a moment of unveiling, an instance of something previously unrevealed finding expression.

Seems like Sangsoo doesn't go this 'big' anymore, but again, it could simply be a matter of opportunity. His characters' opportunities.