Archive for Michael Haneke

The Look # 5: Tilda and Arno overdo it

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2016 by dcairns

Orlando (Tilda Swinton) and Shelmerdine (Billy Zane) in the film Orlando Scene 54 Photo by Liam Longman © Adventure Pictures Ltd

I like it when actors break the fourth wall, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this occasional series, but I do think it’s a device that should be used sparingly. It’s clever once, acceptable twice, and more than that can start to seem smug — like the filmmakers are so pleased at coming up with this clever idea, they can’t stop doing it, forgetting that true cleverness usually involves having more than one idea.

One use that irked me slightly was Sally Potter’s film ORLANDO. Tilda Swinton, who plays both male and female in the film, is perfectly cast and perfectly suited to fourth wall breakage, since her presence is often borderline uncanny, especially when she’s not wearing comedy teeth. She knows that we know that she knows… I saw a clip of ORLANDO before I saw the whole thing, and was amused by her look to camera as Billy Zane rescued her from an equestrian accident. The look seemed to say, How can I, an art film character, be caught up in such a corny situation? It perfectly took the curse off the moment, and made me want to see the film.

But Tilda does it all the bloody time. It loses its impact, its humour and its cleverness long before the Zane/horse moment. The fact that Tilda, I believe (it’s been years) also talks to the audience actually helps, since you’re allowed to do that all through a movie — that turns The Look from a spot gag into a full-fledged narrative device. But mostly it’s just the mute look, and it wears out its welcome, rather. If it doesn’t bother you, I say this: imagine how great it would be if s/he just did it three times, evenly spaced. It would pack a wallop each time.

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Image from Eye Contact: Look at the Camera, a whole tumblr dedicated to camera-gazing!

FUNNY GAMES is a movie so repulsively self-satisfied and secure in its Important Message that it would be hard to know where to begin, but for the fact that I’m writing about looking at the camera, not about being an arrogant, not very bright prig who wants to give the audience a hard time. But I shouldn’t really be writing about it at all, since I walked out part way through. Michael “Happy”Haneke, the prig in charge, says that people who walk out don’t “need” the film, apparently believing that if you can’t bear FUNNY GAMES you are already cured of your thirst for celluloid violence. You understand that violence shouldn’t be used as entertainment.

I wouldn’t say that. I definitely felt I didn’t need the film, but I didn’t need it because I felt the idea was a stupid one, and not entertaining. Since I’m fully aware that violence in real life is not fun (for the victim), but I’m further aware that movies are not real life, my attitude to movie violence is neither simplistic condemnation (Haneke) nor simplistic enthusiasm (Tarantino). If it works for the film’s purpose and I approve of the film’s purpose, I’ll be OK with it.

Haneke’s failure to accomplish what he thinks he’s accomplishing (teaching us that violence is bad) extends to the people who like the movie as well as those who don’t. One friend praised it for being a dark thriller that tortures the audience along with the central characters, a tough movie you win points for surviving. Others praise the film’s “purity” since there’s supposedly no actual onscreen violence. Which I think is nonsense — in one moment we see a character blown away by a gunshot, though psycho-killer Arno then rewinds the movie so that didn’t happen. But it did happen, in the sense that we SAW it. And does it matter if a deadly blow happens just outside of frame, or offscreen? Do we class the forcible placing of a bag over a child’s head as a non-violent act simply because it doesn’t involve a blow or a gun-blast? This is a violent movie, about as pure as THE PUBLIC ENEMY, the only difference being we’re not allowed to enjoy it.

Arno Frisch’s looks to camera are designed both to alienate and implicate us, to make us more aware of the act of watching. OK: we get it. It’s perfectly clear, and moderately startling, the first time he winks at us. By the time he’s asking us if we think the good guys will survive, it’s old. And from the film’s wearisome, puritanical attitude, we ought to be able to answer the question confidently. To hell with all filmmakers who want the paying audience to have a lousy time.

Oh, I do think John Landis overdoes it a little in TRADING PLACES. He has too many characters do it too many times. I can allow the two leads their moments, but the guy in the gorilla suit? The real problem with this is not the individual moments, but the fact that evidently Luc Besson was taking notes. All Luc Besson knows about comedy is that if you have the characters look to camera in a very deliberate way, or at each other, you can fool the slower-witted or more indulgent audience members into thinking something amusing just happened. Luc Besson actually makes me angrier than “Happy” Haneke, which is inconsistent of me, since Besson I guess DOES want us to have a good time. My problem with him is he doesn’t want to put in the work or thought to make the fun happen, he just wants to create the hollow appearance of fun.

(Also, he’s a plagiarist.)

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Extreme Prejudice

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2008 by dcairns

Kapo 

There’s a famous and well-respected article by Serge Daney called The Tracking Shot in Kapo, in which he discusses a movie about concentration camps by the great Gillo Pontecorvo. The article centres on a tracking shot where Pontecorvo’s camera moves in on a slain woman. Daney quotes a review by nouvelle vague filmmaker and critic Jacques Rivette: “the man who decides at this moment to make a forward tracking shot to reframe the dead body – carefully positioning the raised hand in the corner of the final framing – this man is worthy of the most profound contempt.”

Daney then defines his conception of cinema by agreeing with the above sentiment — even though he hasn’t seen the film.

This might seem like an odd kind of criticism, but it has a certain kind of legitimacy. I’ve been known to moan about a 9:11 documentary called THE FALLING MAN, in which the filmmakers have put sad music in the background over interviews with grieving relatives of terror attack victims, to make it emotional. The people I tell nod: they agree with me in principle, though of course they’d be entitled to feel differently if they saw the film and found it worked/was not offensive in actuality.

Of course, actually writing a review of a film one hasn’t seen is another matter. In The Guardian newspaper, Andrew Pulver reviewed Rivette’s own CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, with the capsule summary, “…documents in exhaustive detail the relationship between the eponymous women. Dialogue is minimal and events, such as they are, are propelled by a whimsicality characteristic of its era.” It’s pretty obvious from this that he simply missed all the dialogue by SKIPPING OUT some time during the first half hour. The cheeky blighter! (Thanks to Comrade K. for spotting this.)

In the spirit partly of Daney and partly of Pulver, I thought it might be interesting to write about a few of the many films I haven’t seen and don’t like. I’m not condoning this practice at all, I just want to see what will happen and who I offend.

(Note: I found it so depressing trying to find images from these films to illustrate them that I just gave up and went for some attractive images of general angst, which kind of show how I feel when I think about these movies.)

 unwell

1) 9 SONGS. It’s hard to pick a Michael Winterbottom film that sums up the spectacular lack of appeal his work has for me, there are so many contenders. A COCK AND BULL STORY passed the time, but in retrospect I rather felt it had STOLEN the time. I quite enjoyed 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE for the smart script and playing, but for a film about the record industry it had no clue how to put across a song.

So I think it’s a safe bet I wouldn’t like this 2004 tale of shagging and concert-going, especially as I hate hate hate everything else I’ve seen by the man I call Michael Autumnbottom (I call him that because it’s the only way I can discuss him without feeling a bit depressed). In particular JUDE where they slaughter a pig for Dramatic Effect and attempt to capture a JULES ET JIM feeling elsewhere by the simple procedure of ripping off whole sequences from JULES ET JIM.

Based on what I have seen, Autumnbottom is one of the most visually insensitive directors working — constantly! — in the UK today. I just want him to stop.

glum

2) The remake of FUNNY GAMES. I walked out of the original around half an hour in. Haneke seems to approve of this, he says, “Those who walk out don’t need the film.” I think he is confusing NEED and LIKE.

He thinks he’s proving that we shouldn’t enjoy violent films by making a violent film that is supposed to be impossible to enjoy. But I like many violent films, I just don’t like films that are supposed to be impossible to enjoy. “Enjoy” may be the wrong word: I watch THE BLOOD OF THE ANIMALS in awestruck horror, Alan Clarke’s ELEPHANT imparts a terrible dread, COME AND SEE is like being punched in the heart. But there is some form of pleasure and beauty there still. Haneke’s film could achieve this beauty through its ideas, but the ideas are too painfully thick-headed and lumpen.

Some will argue that the film isn’t violent at all because (most of) the violence is offscreen, but adding up drops of blood is a ridiculous way to measure violence. The film is an endless parade of convincingly fear, suffering and cruelty, intended to teach us that we shouldn’t enjoy such things. I know that already. I only enjoy them when they’re faked, and when they are part of a film that is enjoyable in other ways.

As Maurice Chevalier says in LE SILENCE EST D’OR, “Some people think it is the director’s job to give the audience a hard time.”

not keen

3) LOVE, ACTUALLY. Isn’t the title reason enough? It’s like being lectured by a smug public-schoolboy before it even starts. Yet here we have a film which I suspect wants me to have a good time. I can’t fault it for that, the instinct is a generous one. But any film which has Hugh Grant as a loveable Blair-like UK prime minister is going to fail with me unless it has an interactive element that allows me to climb up into the screen and bloodily hatchet him to bits (and it’s not due to a particular dislike of the actor). Maybe Richard Curtis should write a romcom about Adolf and Eva next. FUHRER WEDDING AND A FUNERAL? Sorry, sorry.

Apart from that, I adore romantic comedies, just not too many recent ones.

quailing

4) I’m not too keen on most contemporary cinema from my own country (Scotland) but unlike the admirable forthright Ms Smith I’m somewhat afraid of alienating all my peers and the funding bodies who support them. And as these films constitute the film culture I’m stuck in, they’re of more interest to me than any old depressing, flat, unimaginitive cinema I might find elsewhere in the world. So I don’t rule out the possibility that I’ll take a look at even the most miserable of miserabilist Scottish cinema… at some point. But it’s rather disheartening if the only thing that draws one to one’s own national cinema is purposes of RESEARCH.

So, anything by Lynn Ramsey.

iffy

5) And I’m tempted to add, anything by Ken Loach, although I actually enjoyed RIFF-RAFF up to a point (it had funny bits) and HIDDEN AGENDA up to a point (though falsely pitched as a thriller, it was certainly an intriguing conspiracy story). But I can’t see anything making me choose to see LADYBIRD, LADYBIRD or RAINING STONES or most of the others. I tried to watch NAVIGATORS because I do feel strongly about the damage done to Britain’s rail services by rampant capitalism. But I didn’t make it past the titles. Loach, like Mike Leigh, is really not too strong on using music. My mate Lawrie used to say that a score can’t really add anything to a realist film, all it can do is detract from the realism, and while I’d be willing to admit the possibility of exceptions to this dictum, I find nothing in Loach and Leigh’s work to disprove it.

he died gargling

And I remember Billy Wilder’s preference for making a film at the Ritz Hotel Paris rather than down a coal mine. “What am I gonna do down there? I don’t leave the cinema elated…”

Of course, I agree that films should reflect social realities and enlighten as well as elate. I just don’t think that’s enough, or even a very good starting point. An entertaining film has more chance of being subversive, and therefore effective, than a piece of straight propoganda. Reflecting a fresh bit of society will bolster a strong film, but it will drag a dull one down into the depths of worthiness.

“Lacking a particular inclination, we all decide whether a film is worth seeing based at least on some minimal hearsay, because nobody can see everything.” ~ Peter Henne.

Yes, but what we must NEVER do is mouth off about the films we haven’t seen.

oops