Monday, January 29, 2007

Index of Film Reviews

It's only a small addition, but you may notice there's a new link at the top right of this page to my Index of Film Reviews. It's pretty basic, but allows access to reviews of films I posted on the blog, as well as older reviews and comments posted at places like IMDB and At The Movies.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Week in Review

  • The Last King of Scotland (Kevin MacDonald, 2006)
  • The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)
  • They're A Weird Mob (Michael Powell, 1966)
  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Tom Tykwer, 2006)
  • Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios, Pedro Almodóvar, 1988)
  • Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (¡Átame!, Pedro Almodóvar, 1990)
  • A Spanish Labyrinth: The Films of Pedro Almodovóvar (Mark Allinson, 2001) - 10% read
THEATRE (my very first time - I'm a theatre-virgin no more):
  • Don's Party (Williamson)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

David Lynch's Lost Highway

Some readers will know that Lost Highway is my all-time favourite film. I don't know if any other film can top it for me. That's not to say that an even more brilliant film cannot be made. But some kinds of magic can happen only once. Perhaps.

The Fred meeting Mystery Man scene (above) was part of the trailer that piqued my interest to see the film in 1997. That scene remains possibly my favourite scene from any film ever. Seriously twisted - mind-bending stuff!

I first saw Lost Highway around November 1997. I keep my movie tickets, but the Kino cinema in those days did not have the film title printed on them and I hadn't yet set up the film database I have now. This film left me in an altered state of consciousness; I left the cinema that Friday evening in a daze and it took me quite some time to come out of it. Some would argue that I'm still in it. Who am I to argue? Film will never be the same for me.

I spent many hours discussing the film with my significant other, as we tried to unlock the mysteries of what we had just seen. I had signed up an internet account six months earlier, and that weekend was the one when I really discovered what the internet was about. I spent most of it on Yahoo (remember, this was pre-Google) searching for answers. By Sunday afternoon, I was pretty confident that my understanding was in the approximate ball-court of Lynch's intention. It would take a second viewing to confirm it, though this was two years later at a screening at The Astor.

Lost Highway was my first exposure to Lynch. After seeing it, I hired on video (how quickly technology is moving; this was pre-DVD) every earlier film he'd made, as well as all 30 or so hours of Twin Peaks episodes(the first two seasons being my favourite TV series of all time). Lynch is, in my opinion, without equal, and remains my favourite director. His work is rare, if not outright unique, among commercially released cinema in its abstraction and its artistry. I consider virtually every piece of his work (with the possible exception of Dune) at least brilliant, and many as masterpieces. Other favourites include Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

I mentioned in my Year in Review how during 2006 I became a committee member of Melbourne Cinémathèque. During the year I volunteered for the task of printing 100 copies of each week's film annotations as they appear on Senses of Cinema, for distribution at the screenings. When Lost Highway came up, there were no reviews appearing at Senses of Cinema, so I volunteered to write an article. The result was my first serious film review. Serious in the sense that it was of a considerable length (over 2,000 words) and that it had an public audience of serious Melbourne cinephiles. The following was that review as distributed on the evening of October 4. Also screening on the night was the great Lynch classic, Eraserhead.

Lost Highway (1997 USA 135 mins)

Prod Co: CIBY 2000, Asymmetrical Productions Prod: Deepak Nayar, Tom Sternberg, Mary Sweeney Dir: David Lynch Scr: David Lynch, Barry Gifford Phot: Peter Deming Ed: Mary Sweeney Mus: Angelo Badalamenti Sound: David Lynch, Sasumu Tokunow Prod Des: Patricia Norris

Cast: Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Blake, Robert Loggia, Gary Busey

Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is a man with an identity crisis. He may or may not be who he appears to be and may have committed a terrible crime. David Lynch describes him as “a kind of a regular guy. He’s smart and he could be someone in trouble – a lot of trouble”1 and “lost in confusion and darkness, where fear is in the driver’s seat”.2 Thus begins the dark, mysterious journey of Lost Highway.

Lost Highway is perhaps Lynch’s most ambitious and least understood films, and a favourite among many of the fans of his work. Its mysteries are so dark and seemingly impenetrable, that even if you don’t understand them (and due to the use of various devices3, no-one can understand them fully), you can thoroughly enjoy the experience of not understanding. The mysteries linger long after the credits have finished rolling, an essential part of the experience.

The film’s genesis was simply the evocative two words of the title4 that were used in a novel called Night People by Barry Gifford. The words intrigued Lynch who developed some initial ideas that were further developed with Gifford as co-writer. Their previous collaborations include Hotel Room, a short TV series (directed by Lynch, written by Gifford) and Wild at Heart (written and directed by Lynch, based on Gifford’s novel).

Lost Highway contains many secrets – secrets that both Lynch and Gifford are reluctant to divulge. According to Gifford, “things happen in this film that are not – and should not be – easily explained”5. Lynch has always been hard to pin down about specifics of his films. He wants viewers to make their own interpretations and has been variously quoted as saying: “I don’t like to talk about things too much because, unless you’re a poet, when you talk about it, a big thing becomes smaller”6, “a mystery is like a magnet. Whenever there is something that’s unknown, it has a pull to it… when you only see a part, it’s even stronger than seeing the whole”7 and “If things get too specific, the dream stops.”8

Even the two writers have different interpretations of the film and did not discuss in detail the meaning. Says Lynch:

“Barry may have his idea of what the film means and I may have my own idea, and they may be two different things. And yet, we worked together on the same film. The beauty of a film that is more abstract is everybody has a different take… When you are spoon-fed a film, more people instantly know what it is. I love things that leave room to dream and are open to various interpretations. It's a beautiful thing. It doesn't do any good for Barry to say 'This is what it means.' Film is what it means. If Barry or anyone else could capture what the film is in words, then that's poetry.”9

Lost Highway opens to the imposing sound of Deranged by David Bowie. Car headlights illuminate road lines passing at breakneck speed in the night, as if in flight. A frenetic mood is immediately established10. Cut to Fred quietly at home, drawing painfully on a cigarette. Every breath is an effort. A sense of numbness pervades – this is not a man in control.

The door buzzer goes off, and a voice on the intercom: “Dick Laurant is dead”. This scene was based on a real-life event involving David Lynch, in the Hollywood Hills house depicted in the film (which is his sound studio). One morning he awoke to the door buzzer and those words came over the intercom. The front door is not readily visible, and Lynch had to go to the far side of the house but could see no-one.

Video tapes start arriving on the doorstep. The first shows the outside of the house. Fred’s wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette) says vacantly, “must be from a real estate agent”. “Maybe,” says Fred blandly. There’s a silent tension between the couple and a gloom intensified by long takes and visuals of long, dark hallways that appear to swallow people whole. Words are sparse and hang in the air like a thick, toxic fog – no marital bliss here.

Interestingly, Michael Haneke’s recent Hidden (Cache) – a very different film – pays homage to Lost Highway. In Haneke’s film, video tapes similarly arrive on the doorstep of the Laurants. In one scene, the door bell rings, but no-one is there. Like Lost Highway, there is a suspicion of infidelity.

The tapes become more sinister, and a morbid sense of unease grows, before the film takes a critical, mind-bending left turn. Something happens that completely defies logic. In prison, a warder says to the captain, “This is some spooky shit we’ve got here.” (The film is full of terrifically black humour and dialogue).

Lost Highway’s sub-title is “a twenty-first century noir horror film”. Lynch liked this description because the film crosses various genres: noir, horror, thriller and mystery, if not others. But mostly it’s a mystery. CIBY-2000’s marketing described the film as “a psychogenic fugue”, referring to an actual condition. This description appealed to Lynch, though he had no knowledge of that pathology when he made the film.

Lynch, started as an artist before accidentally falling into film. According to Lynch, “many of the things that you subconsciously use in painting, you use in film.”11 Lost Highway is like a work of abstract or surrealist art. There are various layers of reality, fantasy and abstraction that are not immediately differentiated. The film switches effortlessly and inexplicably between alternate realities, between hyper-realism and mundane, and musically between the beautiful compositions of Angelo Badalamenti, coarse industrial sounds and the heavy metal music of Rammstein.

Sound is an important component of a film for Lynch, who is highly involved in this aspect. “Half of the film is picture,” he has said, “the other half is sound. They've got to work together. I keep saying that there are ten sounds that will be correct and if you get one of them, you're there. But there are thousands that are incorrect, so you just have to keep on letting it talk to you and feel it. It's not an intellectual sort of thing.”12 The film has a killer soundtrack, which was produced (uncredited) by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. One track is by Marilyn Manson, who appears in the film as a porn star.

No-one does sex and violence like Lynch: the mutilation of a victim (glimpsed in flashes), the tailgating incident with Mr. Eddy, the death-by-coffee-table, Alice’s first meeting Mister Eddy, the Death Valley desert sex scene (which was truly sublime). “You will never have me”, says Alice. And the story unravels into a sense of lost control. There is a bizarre fleeting reference to the Wizard of Oz – events whirl past as from within Dorothy’s Kansas tornado.

Casting was brilliant in Lost Highway. For Pullman, it was perhaps the performance of his career. Usually playing everyman roles, he splendidly depicted a man confused and in crisis. Arquette was perfect for the role – sassy and just a little bit nutty. Robert Blake (Mystery Man), asked by Lynch to just be himself, was creepy, enigmatic and added an unexpected sense of menace. Lynch cryptically described his role as “a hair of an abstraction.”13

Robert Loggia missed out to Dennis Hopper in playing Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. Loggia exploded at Lynch after waiting a long time to audition on a hot day without getting the opportunity to try out. “I thought there’s not a rat’s arse chance that I’m gonna be in [Lost Highway],” he said, “because David Lynch has got to remember that happening and not want a damn thing to do with me. But paradoxically, I think, my berserk meanness or junkyard dog, ferocious, rabid attitude made me for what David had in mind for Mr. Eddy.”14

During filming, the actors had trouble making sense of what Lost Highway was about. Lynch said little about the meaning of things and divulged only as much as an actor needed to know to play a particular part. Sometimes an explanation would be given one day, only to be confounded by contradictory information the following day.

Lynch has many trademark devices commonly used in his films. Some of these appear in Lost Highway:industrial sounds, very long takes, times of sparse dialogue, distorted reality, fire and smoke, the colour red, song or music as a small part of the story (Fred is a saxophone player), singers playing roles (Marilyn Manson, Henry Rollins), quirky characters and situations15, the supernatural , glimpses of unclear nightmarish images, lack of distinction between reality and dreams or imagination, unclear motives and outcomes, timeless retro style, revelations of the dark underside of seemingly normal situations, characters that lead dual lives, lack of easy explanations, and the use of actors outside their normal comfort zones.

Lynch makes anything but stereotype films, yet uses many of the hackneyed devices of Hollywood, but in a distorted, stylised or exaggerated manner – sort of out-Hollywooding Hollywood. “The whole thing is the idea,” says Lynch, “and ideas are the best thing going.”16 “It's all just fantastic,” says Gifford. “It's sort of beyond black humor. Because we had this freedom of being in a fantasy world, more or less, we could do anything. If spaceships came down, which they practically did, it wouldn't be out of context, given where we're at. That's a tremendous structure; I don't know if everyone understood it once we sprang it on them.”17

There are many mysteries in Lost Highway:

  • Is Renee having an affair?
  • Are Fred and Pete the same person?
  • Are Alice and Renee the same person?
  • Did Fred actually leave prison?
  • Who is the Mystery Man?
  • How can he be in two places at the same time?
  • Who made the video recordings? Was it the Mystery Man?
  • How did Pete hurt himself?
  • What happened ‘that night’?
  • What is real? What is not?

If the film resonates with you, you’ll be asking questions long after the film ends. It is the ambiguity that Lynch’s films afford that makes them so enjoyable, and what makes his work truly unique. Lost Highway defies description – it defies the laws of logic and narrative – it can only be experienced. Or, as Lynch said, “They come out with a strange, fantastic feeling and they can carry that. It opens some little door or something that's magical and that's the power that film has.”18

This is mind-altering cinema – a true masterpiece and the work of a genius. Arquette has said, “You feel David in his movies. It’s another universe he takes you to… it’s like an alternate reality; it’s close enough to our own to be really disturbing.”19 And, says Lynch, “I keep hoping people will like abstractions, space to dream, consider things that don't necessarily add up.”20

THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS! I normally abhor spoilers but include them here as an exception to the rule. I have discussed Lost Highway with many people over the years – most people liked it a lot, but hardly anyone understood it. There are some critical keys to understanding the main mystery of Lost Highway. First I want to present some of those keys, and then I will give my take on what those keys reveal. I do, however, recommend that you only read ahead once you have seen Lost Highway, and allowed yourself quite some time to digest it.

The keys:

  1. Fred says to the detective: “I like to remember things my own way”. This gives an insight into Fred’s mind.
  2. Just prior to the identity swap, Fred has a vision of Pete on the front lawn where something distressing was happening.
  3. In Andy’s house, Pete sees a photo of Renee and Alice together. Later, only Renee is there. This is perhaps the biggest clue.
  4. Pete has flashbacks that include the crime scene.
  5. Two realities: at the start, Fred’s life is so mundane – this is reality. In Pete’s world, everything is fantasy – all the interactions are like a bad Hollywood movie. For example:

  • Mr. Eddy's car gets smashed up but with no visible damage
  • Alice’s instructions to Pete to rob Andy
  • Andy’s death
  • Fred’s sex life was mediocre and unsatisfying; Pete’s was pure fantasy. After sex, Renee gives Fred a consoling, but condescending pat on the back. “It’s OK,” says Renee but Fred retreats in silence. There’s nothing erotic in this relationship. Pete, on the other hand, “gets more pussy than a toilet seat”.

Gifford has said, “any kind of explanation is going to be inadequate, because a film is made to be seen.”21 However, there is a fairly straightforward answer to what happens to Fred. He never left prison. When we last see him in prison, he is ‘losing it’. Everything from this point on is fantasy. Pete is everything Fred would like to be: young, virile and desirable. But even in his deluded state, Fred can maintain the fantasy for only so long.

1 Interview with David Lynch on Lost Highway DVD

2 Chris Rodley, Lynch on Lynch, Revised ed. 2005, p.243

3 Some devices appear to have no particular meaning, red herrings perhaps. They are like the abstractions in our minds, the rantings that make no particular sense.

4 Mulholland Drive was similarly inspired by the two words that make up the title. Incidentally, the tailgating scene with Mr. Eddy in Lost Highway took place on Mulholland Drive.

5 Rolling Stone magazine, March 6, 1997, as quoted at The City of Absurdity: David Lynch’s Lost Highway

6 Rodley, p.227

7 ibid, p.231

8 Quoted by Brad Stevens, Discovering David Lynch`s Lost Highway

9 Quoted by Frederick Szebin and Steve Biodrowski, Cinefantastique Volume 28, Number 10, April 1997, posted at LynchNet

10 Lynch has said that the opening sequence came to him when he heard this song.

11 Interview with David Lynch, Lost Highway DVD

12 Quoted at The City of Absurdity

13 Rodley, p.229

14 Interview with Robert Loggia, Lost Highway DVD

15 Lynch is the source of inspiration for a flood of TV and film quirkiness that seems to be proliferating since the mainstream success of Twin Peaks. None of these imitators come close to the sublime and non-self-conscious achievements of Lynch.

16 Interview with David Lynch on Lost Highway DVD

17 Quoted by Frederick Szebin and Steve Biodrowski, Cinefantastique Volume 28, Number 10, April 1997, posted at LynchNet

18 David Lynch Biography, IMDB

19 Interview with Patricia Arquette, Lost Highway DVD

20 Quoted at The City of Absurdity

21 Rodley, p215

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Week in Review

I'm going to introduce a new feature to this blog by borrowing a leaf from the book of Matt Clayfield at Esoteric Rabbit. I see more films in a week than I can write about (seeing as I do have a full-time day job). The Week in Review allows the opportunity of a little shorthand, documenting the week's cinema-related activities that may promote some discussion if anyone is so inclined. Any and all comments are welcome. Without further ado, here's the past week's digest.

  • The African Queen (John Huston, 1951)
  • Dreamgirls (Bill Condon, 2006)
  • Stone (Sandy Harbutt , 1974)
  • Various short silent films (Georges Méliès, 1895-1908)
  • Dark Habits (Entre Tinieblas, Pedro Almodóvar, 1983)
  • What Have I Done To Deserve This? (¿Qué He Hecho Yo Para Merecer Esto!!, Pedro Almodóvar, 1984)
  • Matador (Pedro Almodóvar, 1986)
  • Law of Desire (Le Ley del Deseo, Pedro Almodóvar, 1987)
  • Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know (Jennifer van Sijll, 2005) - completed
  • On the History of Film Style (David Bordwell, 1997) - 10% read
  • A Spanish Labyrinth: The Films of Pedro Almodovóvar (Mark Allinson, 2001) - started

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Old Joy

Photo: Will Oldham and Daniel London, Old Joy

This is a low budget independent film directed and co-written by Kelly Reichardt that recently had four screenings at ACMI. Maybe it’s the seasonal vacuum of quality cinema one expects this time of year, or the film has some reputation preceding it, or the fact that I saw it at its final ACMI screening on Sunday – I was surprised at the huge turnout. ACMI’s smaller cinema 1 was packed to capacity.

Old Joy is a quietly accomplished film. Poetic and observational, aspects of it remind me of different films. The observational aspect reminds me of Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, particularly the capturing of seemingly meaningless passing details. The poetic nature and cryptic relationship dynamics reminded me of the quietly confident nature of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Iklimer (Climates, 2006), my favourite film at last year’s MIFF.

Like Climates, the film is a nuanced reflection on a disintegrating relationship. The premise is simple: two thirty-something friends from college, Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (Will Oldham), meet up after a long break for a weekend camping trip to a secluded spot in the mountains.

There is tension between the characters, and the film observes this without giving clarification for the causes or any resolution. Mark seeks permission to go camping from his expectant partner Tanya (Tanya Smith) who appears not overly happy at the idea.

Mark’s character seems quietly introspective (he’s meditating in the garden when Kurt’s call is made) and doesn’t talk a lot. When Kurt first suggests they take Mark’s aging Volvo station wagon rather than Kurt’s beaten up old truck, there is a hint of someone who is a hanger-on, an idea supported by Kurt borrowing ten dollars from Mark.

For Mark, the outing seems to represent an escape from domestic life while for Kurt it’s another adventure. While neither appears to have progressed materially in life (nor particularly inclined to), Mark has concerns about family, home and security while Kurt seems to have changed little since college days. Close friends at college, they have drifted apart and Kurt is keen to bridge the divide that time and circumstances have created.

In the absence of dialogue, we get a sense of what goes on in Mark’s head by the radio program he is listening to in the car as it travels out of the city. This is a very clever device that adds a subtle and interesting layer to the film. Discussion of the war in Iraq and other social issues are heard on a talkback station. Simultaneously, there are interesting shots of passing urban, urban fringe, industrial and then rural landscapes as the duo gradually progress on their journey. The scenery is nicely photographed avoiding the cliché of being postcard beautiful (which would have been an easy trap to fall into with the natural splendour of the Oregon mountain ranges).

Some may find this boring; I found it fascinating as it captures the quiet minutiae of life that are usually overlooked in mainstream films attempting to overwhelm the senses. It’s consistent with my belief that everyone’s life is worthy of a story and reminds me of Matt Riviera’s 10 Thoughts on Watching and Appreciating Film. Point three: If a film is slow get into the Zone. For me, I didn’t need to get into the Zone; I was right in there with it and enjoying the ride.

The meandering music of Yo La Tengo (who also contributed to the vastly different Shortbus) really added a nice ambience to the road journey. The dialogue, mostly by Kurt was also interestingly idiosyncratic but believable – including egocentric ideas about the basis of the universe. My interpretation of the dialogue was that Kurt was trying to appeal to the intellectualism shared during their college days and hadn’t really moved on in life as Mark had with his ‘real-life’ concerns. Kurt notes an uncomfortable gulf between them.

The title derives from a dream Kurt has in which a woman tells him that “sorrow is nothing but worn-out joy”. Sorrow is the subtle theme of the film. By the director’s minimalist approach, we are left to trust our own instincts as to what has happened in the past (in terms of friendship), what has been lost and what may become of the protagonists.

I found the destination of the men, Bagby Hot Springs, quite uplifting. It reminded me of drives I had taken to places like Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne or, more recently, to Stephensons Falls in the Otway Ranges. The latter location has special nostalgic significance on a personal level as it was at this place that the recent photos of my late son Abhi were taken, as posted with my review of Volver.

Of some interest is that the film was co-produced by Todd Haynes, director of significant films like Safe and Far From Heaven.

If your idea of a night out is a visit to the local cinemaplex, forget Old Joy. If you happen to get the opportunity to see it, don’t expect a masterpiece or anything profound. In its own quiet melancholy way and oozing with authenticity, it is a beautifully poetic rumination on human relationships that ends as subtly and ambiguously as it starts. It leaves a quiet resonance in the mind as one leaves the cinema or even now as I recall it. If hope it comes out on DVD as I’d like to buy it.

Official site / IMDB

Dir, Ed: Kelly Reichardt Rating: Unclassified Duration: 76 min Genre: drama Language: English Country: USA Release: 4/1/07 – 7/1/07, ACMI Scr: Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt Prod: Joshua Blum, Todd Haynes, Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy, Neil Kopp, Mike S. Ryan, Anish Savjani, Rajen Savjani Sound Des: Eric Offen Phot: Peter Sillen Prod Des: Morgan Currie Mus: Yo La Tengo Cast: Daniel London, Will Oldham, Tanya Smith

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

Ivana Baquero as Ofelia in Pan's Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) is a fantasy, an adult fairy tale by Guillermo del Toro and his most ambitious film to date. Like his earlier Devil’s Backbone, it is set during the Spanish civil war, when the fascist regime of Franco was in power.

It initially evokes Tim Burton’s works of fantasy like Sleepy Hollow. But while Burton’s imaginings are often either children’s fairy tales that accommodate adults or vice versa, Pan’s Labyrinth includes a dark and occasionally brutal layer of plot realism that precludes pre-teens. Think of it as an adults-only version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or Alice in Wonderland.

The style and texture of the film are gorgeous. The sets are beautifully detailed. The cinematography is wonderful with sumptuous use of colour and lighting. There are lots of shadows – as you might expect from a film about the underworld.

Perhaps the most captivating aspect of the film is the array of fantasy characters and creatures that inhabit the underworld, especially the Pale Man (played by American mime Doug Jones, who also portrays Pan). Del Toro claims the dark and perverse works of artists Goya and Arthur Rackman were the inspiration for the characters. CGI, animatronics, special effects and makeup are all used to better than usual effect.

Del Toro states that he makes human stories with horror or fantasy grafted onto them. I found Pan’s Labyrinth primarily a fantasy film with a human story woven into it. The film works better on the level of fantasy – it is both more interesting and more engaging. The human story relies too much on stereotyped characters that don’t quite stack up against our expectation of reality. Think Cinderella and her evil step-mother and step-sisters.

I find the layers conflicted. On the one hand the realism layer looks excellent. But the characters are caricatured. I reconciled this by remembering that this is, after all, a fairy tale. But it requires a mental adjustment – a conscious effort to overlook a perceived inconsistency that interrupts the natural flow of the film.

I have a problem with the violence, mostly surrounding the character of Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). It is much more graphically brutal than required. The director’s stated intention is to depict fascism as a greater evil than anything the underworld can produce, but I don’t know if that justifies the level of grisliness. It precludes children and yet the fairy tale plot may be too naïve for some adults. So there is an internal discord within the film.

In Harry, He is Here to Help (2000), Lopez gave such an accomplished and nuanced performance depicting character ambiguity, so his one-dimensional character in Pan’s Labyrinth appears to owe more to the film’s writing and direction than his ability. This was perhaps a waste of Lopez’s talents. The acting performances were generally quite good. Eleven-year old Ivana Baquero as Ofelia was mostly convincing (except for one contrivance during the scene with the Pale Man).

A defining element that has many a film screening in Australian arthouse cinemas is not that it is actually an arthouse or independent film, but rather that it is in a foreign language. Timur Bekmambetov’s Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor, 2004) was for me just another Hollywood horror flick, in Russian language with English subtitles. Perhaps Pan’s Labyrinth is a little more imaginative than Night Watch, but still somewhat in this category. It’s certainly visually arresting, but visuals alone are not enough to carry a film.

I find it interesting that Pan’s Labrynth was produced (uncredited) by Pedro Almodóvar, who also likes to mix genres (typically comedy and drama). Like Almodóvar’s films, the mix doesn’t quite work to the degree aspired for.

Overall, I found Pan’s Labyrinth a fascinating visual and visceral experience. In spite of reservations about the violence and despite its flaws, it has many interesting aspects that make it worth seeing.

Dir, Scr: Guillermo del Toro Rating: TBC Duration: 112 min Genre: fantasy/horror/drama Language: Spanish Country: Mexico/Spain/USA Release: 18/1/07, limited Dist: Hopscotch Films Prod Co: Tequila Gang Prod: Guillermo del Toro, Bertha Navarro, Alfonso Cuarón, Frida Torresblanco, Álvaro Áugustín Sound Des: Miguel Polo Phot: Guillermo Navarro Ed: Bernat Vilaplana Prod Des: Eugenio Caballero Mus: Javier Navarrete Cast: Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, Alex Angulo

Official website / IMDB

Further reading: interviews with Guillermo del Toro
The Guardian interview
Q&A session at Embracadero Landmark
The Evening Class interview

Monday, January 01, 2007

On Film Criticism

Happy new year, for whatever that may mean to you. I'm not big on things like Christmas and New Year. They represent the most significant holiday season, which means I can get to lots of films. Unfortunately, as usual, there's a vacuum of good films right now.

I haven't seen a film for 6 days, so I've resorted to DVD. I've watched Pedro Almodóvar's All About My Mother and Bad Education as part of my research and education. Volver really got me started and these two earlier films have confirmed my observations. I want to see his earlier works to see how his films have evolved. To this end, I have taken out membership at ACMI who have an extensive library of DVDs, videos and 16mm film available to loan. I plan to write an article on the films of Almodóvar in the near future.

Now, for the main purpose of this post. A couple of posts on other film blogs have recently caught my attention. Ray Young on Flickhead has light-heartedly listed some points about film criticism that resonate for me. Summarily they include:
  • I don’t normally read film criticism or reviews
  • A film’s subject matter doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s all in the art of film, the craftsmanship and storytelling.
  • Reviews or critiques should never be read before seeing the film
  • The need to know what a film is “about” before seeing it is an open admission of a closed mind
  • The movie is over even before it started

For more details, check out the page at Flickhead. Ray's position is closer to my own, but contrary to Jonathan Rosenbaum's defence of spoilers.

And over at Last Night With Riviera, Sydney film blogger Matt Riviera has provided a highly enlightening list of 10 Thoughts on Watching and Appreciating Film. To summarise:
  1. Every film is a masterpiece
  2. You are half of the viewing experience
  3. If a film is slow get into the Zone
  4. If a film feels shallow go in overdrive
  5. Get a second opinion (from an unlikely source)
  6. Your assessment of the film is already obsolete
  7. Clear your mind (and the rest will follow)
  8. Read between the lines
  9. Take a break (there's a world beyond the screen)
  10. If any of these approaches get in the way of your enjoyment of the medium, then disregard them entirely
I highly recommend a visit of these sites for further readings. I basically wanted to bookmark the sites for myself but am open to further discussion here.