Archive for December 31, 2018

Palette Lenser

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on December 31, 2018 by dcairns

Finally watched GATE OF HELL, which is gorgeous — a take-your-breath-away image every two minutes or so — but still not my favourite Kinugasa joint (which would be YOSO). I figure Japanese cinema was filtering through to the west so erratically that this and A PAGE OF MADNESS may have achieved their high reputation partly by chance, striking though they are. Kinugasa made a lot of films, most of them impossible to see with subtitles… who knows what else is out there?

John Huston bigged up his colour experiments in MOULIN ROUGE (which are pretty great — I’m looking forward to the restoration) by saying that previous movies hadn’t done anything artistic with their palettes at all, and were just gaudy — which is blatantly untrue. But he did find time to praise GATE OF HELL, which was nice of him. In fact, GOH is sometimes fairly gaudy, and certainly doesn’t play safe — there are some very bold combinations of intense hues here. (Huston’s approach in MOULIN ROUGE, MOBY DICK and REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE was to mess about with diffusion and with the colour process itself — Paul Schrader has rightly stated that the more artistic approach is to achieve a controlled palette with the design itself, with what you put in front of the lens. (But Huston’s photochemical interventions are frequently glorious.)

 

Huston was probably responding partly to the effects of a foreign film stock and processing, which gave Japanese colour a different look, or a series of different looks. And he wouldn’t have seen many Japanese films at that time, certainly not colour ones. And then there’s the whole Japanese aesthetic approach, which EXPECTS everything to be beautiful — the quest for cinematic beauty, says Kurosawa, is what keeps us at it. So GATE OF HELL is delicious to the eyes even when portraying horrors. Transmuting the horrible, or the banal, or the picturesque, into the transcendentally beautiful seems one possible worthwhile mission for artistic endeavor.

 

Also dig the way Kinugasa’s camera moves of its own volition, sometimes triggered by music more than any onscreen action — it just takes off by itself to close in on a detail, or to depart the scene altogether when it feels like we’ve had enough. It’s a restless observer.

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