Monday, November 30, 2009

The Week in Review - 29/11/09

Yeah, yeah, time flies and I still don't have my new PC set up right. Maybe if my contract isn't extended at the end of the year I'll have time for some catch up. It should be a dream desktop when I'm finished.

Meanwhile, it's been a fascinating week of film and I just had to post a little on what I've seen.

  • Prime Mover (David Caesar, Australia, 2009)
  • Moonrise (Frank Borzage, USA, 1948)
  • Until They Get Me (Frank Borzage, USA, 1917)
  • Antichrist (Lars von Trier, Denmark/Germany/France/Sweden/Italy/Poland, 2009)
  • Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, USA, 1969)
Prime Mover
I saw this with reasonably low expectations, and well, I got what I expected. David Caesar ain't a bad film-maker; he's competent enough, but his films never really get beyond mildly entertaining. I actually like Mullet more than most, but this one feels like it's just going through the motions, and has that traditional flatness that most of our films of the last five years or so have suffered.

I've always found Ben Mendelsohn irritating, and I'm not sure what it is. Maybe his acting is too theatrical, but it never convinces. His role in this is pretty silly but it's really the writing of the film that lets it down. It never fully commits to full-on genre or full-on small-scale drama, trying to have a bit both ways. Speaking of which, Sarah Watts was on board as producer, and her influence with the animation is overtly reminiscent of Look Both Ways. In short, OK as a time-filler.

I can't say I've seen a lot of film noir, but this I really liked. It's unconventional (part-melodrama), looks great and has some pretty wild characterisations.

Until They Get Me
Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, my experience of silent era film was limited to Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Kops. This Borzage film displays much more complexity and drama, with themes similar to Moonrise, which screened prior. Both are about men who have killed, and are pursued by the law. The endings also have much in common, seemingly conventional, but with happiness in adversity. They make good companion pieces and demonstrate some of the breadth of Borzage's work.

This is a difficult film for me to write about, and a difficult film to watch. I can understand anyone hating this film or finding it offensive. I can also understand criticisms of the film being deliberately provocative. It certainly is the latter (and offensive, too, for that matter), but gratuitously? I don't know. It's not a film one enjoys and it really is horror, almost torture porn. I neither like nor dislike the film. I respect the effort and I also respect the so-called anti-female message, particularly for being anti-politically correct. But I dispute that that makes von Trier misogynistic.

For me, it's a film to be experienced but I don't think it will have much of a lasting impression. It's as disturbing as Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, which I think leaves a stronger impression than Antichrist. The hand-held camera is distracting at times but otherwise the visuals are mostly quite stunning. I love the opening and closing black and white. I also love the symbolism of the animals and the women, though I understand neither. Maybe others know or have researched the meaning. I don't care if I don't know, because the mystery is alluring. One senses there is meaning, even if one doesn't get it.

Easy Rider
Having really dug the Hopper exhibition at ACMI (do go see it if you haven't), I'm really looking forward to the Focus on Hopper's America. Getting into the groove, I checked out his seminal and ground-breaking Easy Rider, which has been newly restored and is getting a long play at ACMI. I have very fond memories of seeing this at the Clayton drive-in in the early 70s, and it left me with a lasting impression. Of course, at that time, I knew nothing of Hopper, who both stars in the film and directs it.

The film is credited as heralding in a new - but short-lived - golden era of Hollywood, the first of a number of independent films that were distributed by the big studios, and allowed for the rise of luminaries like Francis Ford Coppola and others. Looking at it now, on one level it doesn't seem like a 'great' film, and yet it was so revolutionary, so confronting and so encapsulated an era. I've often been critical of contemporary films that paint the 60s and 70s - the hippy era - as stylised, hip, flower power as if it was some kind of commercial fad. The rawness of this Hopper film shows it as I remember it, rough, crude and unsophisticated.

The characterisations by Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson are just terrific. There's an experimental element to the film that I'd forgotten, that might be considered a bit crude now, but reflect emerging styles of the period. The film is a blast and I've really got to see it on ACMI's big screen when it opens for two weeks from Boxing Day. And the Focus on Hopper's America starts this week (3 - 13 December).


Keno said...

Sarah Watts was on board as producer on Prime Mover. Not sure where you got this or how you came to this conclusion.

dmk said...

You didn't write about Shirin.


Paul Martin said...

Keno, I mentioned that Watts was a producer.

Dmk, Shirin I saw last week, which I didn't post about. FWIW, I liked it, even though I nodded off a bit at the start. I know that many have sneered at it, but I like what he's doing. I do prefer the shortened version, which he did for Chacun son cinéma, but this extended version really gives one the opportunity to get into a different space.

Cinema is for me, like many others, often a moving experience and I find it moving to see others moved. In Shirin, Kiarostami inverts the camera, and it's as if we're seeing the audience from the screen's perspective. The fictional film they're watching, based on an actual story but constructed for this film, is clearly melodramatic and reminded me of India's Ramayana. While this type of story can seem quite soppy to a Western audience, I understand it's cultural significance to an 'Eastern' audience.

So, in short, I liked it, but I wouldn't count it as one of my favourite Kiarostami films. I do appreciate that he experiments with the medium.

dmk said...

Well, Shirin did screen from 26-29 November.

But good to know. I fell asleep half way through, so I really need to start it again. I did kind of like what I saw, but it bothered me somewhat.

This experiment has been done many times in the past (Most notably Godfrey Reggio's Evidence), but I wondered if the facial expressions in Shirin were "real", or were they just performances? If the reactions from these women were fabricated, just a “performance”, what's the point? In Evidence (which is on YouTube, it’s only six minutes long), Reggio filmed “real” reactions, and it was amazing, but Shirin just seems fake and useless.

Paul Martin said...

I didn't learn that they were fake until after I'd seen it, and I couldn't really tell while watching, though I did wonder. I don't think it matters.

Jake said...

I think Keno was wondering where you found out that Watt was a producer on Prime Mover. I can't say I've seen this information elsewhere either.

Paul Martin said...

Jake, I'm one of those hard-core types that stays and reads the credits (it ain't over until it's over). That's where I got the info from.

Anonymous said...

I wonder whether possibly Sarah Watts != Sarah Watt.

James said...

I certainly think Irreversible is a much strong film than Antichrist. Both I never want to see again, but the raw power behind Irreversible is undeniable.

The opening scene of Antichrist is very pretentious and almost reminds me of Barney's b&w film he made in The Simpsons.

Paul Martin said...

I agree with you, James, that neither film is something to be revisited. Once is certainly enough, though I could possibly contemplate Irreversible given that I didn't realise on first viewing that the guy who got up close and personal with the fire extinguisher was not the actual perpetrator. It is hard viewing but ends on such a lovely humanistic note.

I think the entirety of Antichrist could be legitimately described as pretentious, not that I've thought of it as such. I don't recall Barney's B&W film, though I have probably seen it.