Archive for Abel Ferrara

Listing slightly

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2012 by dcairns

“Oh no… can you imagine how sarcastic that coroner’s going to be THIS time?”

I try to avoid writing lists, mainly. I used to make to-do lists, but it seemed to be a way of putting off doing things. And I used to make lists of favourite films, which is perhaps an OK way to start thinking about films, but runs out of value pretty quickly.

But for some reason I bought Sight & Sound specially for the Critics’ and directors’ poll this month. Actually, more the directors’. A good list there works as a sort of map of the filmmakers’ head. Just agreeing or disagreeing with the choices isn’t enough, I want to learn something about the person. That’s why my favourite last time was Bryan Forbes, because he included his own movie, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND. Tells you a lot about him.

Forbes wasn’t asked back, but my favourite lists were those Guillermo Del Toro (FRANKENSTEIN, FREAKS, LA BELLE ET LA BETE), Mike Hodges (all thrillers, all on the verge of noir but not quite typical), Richard Lester (visual comedies and period movies), Edgar Wright (from DUCK SOUP to THE WILD BUNCH) and especially Terence Davies (lots of cineastes listed SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, and one doesn’t doubt their sincerity, but with him it really means something). Also Bong Joon-Ho (CURE and TOUCH OF EVIL and ZODIAC) and Abel Ferrara (A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, THE DEVILS).

I also like the mysteries: Charles Burnett is the only filmmaker to list Henrik Galeen’s THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE and doesn’t amplify; does Rolf de Heer really like FEARLESS that much or did he feel the need to list a film from an Australian (the film is good, but is it that good?); Andrew Dominik’s list is all-English language and all post-1950 — his choices are all great, but doesn’t he feel any embarrassment?

Atom Egoyan claims to have listed ten films that have had “the most dramatic impact on the artform,” as if his personal feelings didn’t come into it.

I find myself in favour of goofy lists. I don’t want the overall top ten to change that much, but it gets boring to see the same names again and again. In the critics’ poll, Ian Christie lists RW Paul’s THE “?” MOTORIST, Geoff Dyer has WHERE EAGLES DARE, and they’re obviously quite sincere, and the Ferroni Brigade has PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (“We don’t believe these are the ten best films of all time, but we are convinced it would be better if they were,” begging the question, WHAT would be better?). One of Alexander Horvath’s choices, NOISES (anon, 1929) cannot be located using Google or the IMDb (“While it should be pretty obvious that these are the ten greatest films of all time, I still wonder if anyone will agree”). On the other hand, Slavoj Zizek, as always, tries a bit too hard to be interesting.

Creating an alternate list to the top ten ought to be fairly easy — just sub in an alternative choice from the same director or era or country or movement or genre. But in fact, the list is pleasingly stuffed with sui generis oddities — no other Dreyer film really compares to JOAN OF ARC (some may be better, but none are like it), CITIZEN KANE stands unique in Welles’ oeuvre even if one prefers CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, VERTIGO is a uniquely strange Hitchcock, LA REGLE DU JEU a uniquely strange Renoir, and Vertov offers only one obvious candidate. Ozu, Ford and Fellini made enough masterpieces for credible substitutions, though 8 1/2 still seems summative.

I know my favourite film: HE WHO GETS SLAPPED (ten years ago, Mark Cousins listed this: now, I don’t think anyone has). And then PLAYTIME and 2001 are the most amazing films I know. Beyond that, I’d surely have to have Powell, Welles, Sturges, Kurosawa, Keaton, Hitchcock, Russell, Lang, Fellini… oops, that’s eleven already. This is a silly game, I’m not playing.

Iguana dance with somebody

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2012 by dcairns

For good old Jenny Leask.

It’s taken me rather a long time to catch up on the Herzogian renaissance. Since at least as far back as SCREAM OF STONE (1991) and probably back to COBRA VERDE (1987), his dramatic features had been somewhere beyond disappointing, with INVINCIBLE particularly unsatisfactory. Oh, his documentaries had continued to be terrific (apart from WILD BLUE YONDER, I thought, which had the most fictional elements), and had even improved with the addition of more humour and self-awareness, but I was starting to doubt whether he’d ever make a good fiction film again.

The ones that seem to have possibilities are RESCUE DAWN (leap-frogging from a successful documentary into a dramatic remake), MY SON, MY SON, WHAT HAVE YE DONE (a fact-based story given a dramatic makeover) and THE BAD LIEUTENANT: POR OF CALL NEW ORLEANS, which is the odd man out in many, many ways, since it’s based not on fact, but on the title of an Abel Ferrara film Herzog claims not to have seen.

I’m sometimes rather conservative about renaissances. I haven’t seen a new Woody Allen film since DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (but bits of SMALL TIME CROOKS convinced me this wasn’t the one) so I haven’t yet formed an opinion as to whether his form has been returned to, or his mojo has turned up. I saw THE PIANIST via somebody’s BAFTA screener, so I became convinced that Polanski was rallying late in life without outlaying any cash on the chance of it. While CARNAGE strikes me as very minor, it was funny and just about satisfactory (and very skillfully made).

One shoulder UP.

So, I had some doubts about Herzog, but we popped BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS in the Panasonic and gave it a spin. It probably helps that I’m not a fan of the Ferrara — not that you have to be Catholic to get it, I’m sure, but I certainly couldn’t warm to the particular form of redemption on offer. Herzog’s, after an equally wild ride, is more muted, more incomplete and more realistic, which is a surprising place to reach after the kind of trip he’s taken us on.

Unpicking what was an extremely enjoyable experience for Fiona and I, I do wonder how much of it is truly a Herzog film. Kudos to William M. Finkelstein for the propulsive/picaresque screenplay, which carries off the trick of seeming scattershot while being tightly organized, and to Nic Cage for a performance that aspires to Kinski but achieves… Nic Cage. Herzog, for much of the film, seems like he’s being professional rather than animating the film with added mania of his own, except for the lizard-cam stuff, which he apparently shot himself, and maybe this moment — I’m assuming the dialogue is scripted but was the Lynchian breakdancer present in the screenplay?

Finkelstein, I see, is an old hand at cop TV, which explains the credibility and the effective taut/loose balance, so maybe we can assume that some of the real crazy stuff comes from Herzog, Cage, and the rest of the fine cast (good to see Fairuza Balk, Eva Mendes continues to impress, we fell in love with Shea Whigham and his “Whoa yeah” performance).

Cage is a fearless actor, and we should probably all stop being mean about the stupid moves he pulls in bad movies, because they’re a necessary consequence of the mad brilliance he achieves in good ones. That’s the way I feel after seeing a good Cage film, anyway. The trouble is, I feel the opposite after seeing a bad one, and there are so many bad ones. If he stopped trying to enliven crud and confined his abilities to movies with a smidgin of value, it’d be much easier to overlook things that don’t work, like his hair.

THE BALD BAD LIEUTENANT PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS offers N.C. ample opportunities to be weird, and without researching the effects of every narcotic known to man, it’s hard for me to say whether what he’s doing has any basis in actual human behaviour. But I loved his lopsided walk, presumably a result of his character’s spinal injury (plus I suspect he’s been neglecting his physio) and the way his delivery deteriorates as the film goes on, as if he were huffing helium and numbing his jaws with dental anesthetic, which seems quite possible. His smile comes on slow and then drops fast as if the effort of maintaining it were too much for his soul to bear. Strange and nameless facial expressions cavort across his sagging countenance as if auditioning for a permanent position there. Is he smiling at that iguana, just grimacing, or is it love? We may never know.

Channeling Timothy Carey.

The idea of a completely unfaithful remake following relatively shortly after the original seemed strange at the time, but I sense a franchise — every ten years we can have a different BAD LIEUTENANT with a different star, director and city. Suggestions?


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