Archive for Terrence Malick

Andante

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on July 15, 2014 by dcairns

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I was curiously unenthused about seeing TO THE WONDER — my fear was that the bad reviews sounded, for once, fairly reasonable, and tied in with the least interesting aspects of TREE OF LIFE — the Sean Penn stuff, in other words. Reviewers complained that the characters and situations in TTW lacked specificity, and specificity is the very thing we are always telling our students at film school that they ought to go for. You only achieve the universal through the specific. Chaplin became the great everyman of his age by playing an eccentric tramp with specific costume, walk, mannerisms.

Yet Sean Penn never convinced as an architect because there was no detail about the job to suggest Terrence Malick had done any research or cared anything about architecture. Clearly he was just a stand-in for the filmmaker, only Malick didn’t want to make a film about a filmmaker but he wasn’t interested in anything else.

Seeing TO THE WONDER seemed like it might be unrewarding as an experience and writing about it probably wouldn’t be much fun either, if I found myself parroting other reviewers. Probably I should have gone anyway: I loved the boyhood stuff in TOL (and the dinosaurs — dinosaurs are always good) , and it’s always easier to surrender to a movie on the big screen.

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On DVD, TO THE WONDER is resistible for all the reasons critics suggested — fading out the dialogue, Malick robs his scenes of what they’re about. The mannerism of women wading through cornfields touching the crops in a wistful way has hardened into cliché, although at least Rachel McAdams has the good grace to look awkward doing it.

When Malick fragmented his stories into glittering mosaics, I was still onboard, because he still HAD stories. I’m not certain TREE OF LIFE has a story but it has some strong scenes and juggles disparate elements in an original way and the emotion behind those evocations of childhood feels really strong and genuine to me. I guess TO THE WONDER should be evoking pangs of past relationships, but instead it felt like a bunch of beautiful shots — and we know Malick can produce beautiful shots, it feels like that’s easy to him, and it was a relief whenever he (rarely) offered up something that wasn’t stunning. It isn’t magic hour all the time, dude. That’s why they call it magic hour.

Malick has made enough great work to be allowed a failure. To other eyes, it may be a success. But I hope he gets back into narrative, and allowing scenes to play — a very useful weapon in one’s armoury.

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The only fresh insight I flashed on was in a pre-coital moment with Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko scored to the Second (Andante) Movement from Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto, a favourite piece of mine. And as the dying notes sounded I flashed on how the Third (Allegro) Movement begins in a sort of dainty stampede which would be appropriate backing to a Keystone Kops chase. It was immediately clear than this film could not contain a speeded-up sex romp cut to this music, and Malick duly switched scene and score and didn’t Go There. A pity. A sense of the ridiculous is precisely what the film lacks.

It’s not absolutely necessary to me that everything be funny. But TO THE WONDER is clearly missing something, for all it’s sincerity and gorgeous photography and elegant music/sound design. It’s really lacking humanity and a feeling of reality. Plus leave the bloody curtains alone:

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The Monday Intertitle: Comin’ Thru the Rye

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on October 21, 2013 by dcairns

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From Pordenone Festival of Silent Film — RAGENS RIKE, or THE LAND OF RYE. This late-silent Swedish rural drama of love thwarted/fulfilled, begins with a figure standing, centre-frame, waist deep in a field of the titular food crop. A dissolve repositions him further in the distance, and another diminishes him to little more than a smudge.

And I am astonished to find this sequence of shots in 1929, since it will be repeated exactly in Kon Ichikawa’s AN ACTOR’S REVENGE (1963) and again in Terrence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD (2005). And yet it seems not that likely that Ichikawa saw Ivar Johanssen’s film, or that Malick saw either, though of course it is possible. Maybe wheatfields naturally evoke diminishing jump-dissolves in a film-maker’s mind, the way the centre aisle in a church always makes them want to do tracking shots?

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The film is beautiful. Two student competition winners provided the live piano score, without benefit of having seen the film first, and they did a fine, sensitive job. The movie contains a great drinking contest scene, with blurry impressionistic effects to simulate drunkenness, lots of romantic outdoorsy stuff that the Swedes seemingly loved, and a great intertitle, very late in the story, which I can’t show here as I don’t have a copy of the film. The village is in turmoil due to the results of a single romantic problem. “The prophet” — a kind of heretical preacher admired by the lower village, is asked for help. He cuts to the quick: “You’re so stupid! Let the boy marry the girl and everything will be fine!”

Of course, being a Swedish movie, it takes another twenty minutes or so for this to get sorted out.

Id Entity Crisis

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2012 by dcairns

Made it to two press shows at EIFF yesterday, followed by Filmhouse’s screening of THE FRENCH CONNECTION, with a Q&A with William Friedkin afterwards, chaired by Chris Fujiwara, the festival director. More on that later. And that was followed by the Art College’s film show, which was followed by a couple pints of Guinness and a probably unwise glass of whisky. Today my mouth feels like it’s had British people holidaying in it.

My first press show was SUN DON’T SHINE, a rather fine lovers-on-the-run movie from writer-director Amy Seimetz. While the influence of BADLANDS hangs over it — poetic, floaty tone, achingly beautiful cinematography, dark underpinnings — the characters are somewhat different. While Malick’s ’50s runaways were psychopathically detached and ill-educated, Seimetz’s are just plain dumb. He (Kentucker Audley) thinks he has a plan to get them out of trouble, but from what I could grasp of the set-up, it wasn’t a very good one. So he’s Ollie — the dumb one who thinks he’s smart. She (Kate Lyn Sheil) is mentally and emotionally a baby: she knows she’s not smart, but she’s not capable of grasping how dumb she really is. So she’s Stan. She also has the best dumb-person line I’ve heard in years, delivered in warm and dreamy tones: “You’re good at planning. I’m not real good at planning, I’m better at being spontaneous.” Yeah, you have a real talent for doing the first thing that pops into your head. That’s a gift.

Although my easy response to stupidity is to laugh at it, but Seimetz also creates sympathy for her screwed-up leads (and her actors are thoroughly convincing), and her ending is really beautiful. And, while most movies go to far in trying to push things to the furthest possible extreme, this one hangs back nicely and keeps things credible. Really a little delight.

“If I stand behind this doorjamb does it freak you out? Have you seen AUDITION?”

Less successful, for me, was LOVELY MOLLY (not to be confused with Sidney Lumet’s LOVIN’ MOLLY), from Eduardo Sanchez of BLAIR WITCH fame. This mines the fertile, post-ROSEMARY’S BABY terrain of “is she crazy or is it supernatural?” and sustains it for maybe the first half, thanks to Gretchen Lodge’s thoroughly committed perf. But the balance is off — unlike BLAIR WITCH (which I haven’t seen since it came out, but liked just fine), this one is about serious stuff — drug addiction, mental illness and child abuse — so the more generic elements are a lot less scary and ultimately provide an excuse for the film not to frighten us. While the film keeps the rapist ghost and mental breakdown stuff in balance, things are good and disturbing, and as the madness explanation comes to the fore, there’s still at least the possibility of deep unease, but then the return of the paranormal craziness cuts the legs from under that. Maybe in the Bible Belt the thing will play differently, because to them, the Lord of Darkness is just as real as abusive fathers and heroine, but it didn’t convince me, and if we’re meant to take that side of it seriously then it’s a very reactionary vision.

The found-footage camcorder stuff is back in there, but it’s only a small part of the movie, thankfully. Strikingly unconvincing, though — the red dot and “REC” sign in the top corner? Really? Come one, Sanchez, you practically invented this shit, haven’t you noticed that camcorders don’t record that? Also, we see shots of the character’s camera, and its little screen doesn’t look anything like what you’re showing us.

There are some decent scares and some anxious moments, so diehard fans may get some kicks out of it, and the cast are very good indeed. But as the horrors mount up, the supporting characters’ failure to call in the shrinks becomes progressively more ridiculous — the ambition to create a proper character-led movie is hamstrung by the way people keep doing silly things for the sake of the plot. Which is where setting up any kind of division between plot and character will get you into trouble.

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