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Walkabout is gorgeous and interesting and brought us David Gulpilil, so there are a lot of things to like about it.

One of those things is its very noticeable and visible editing and this post is gonna be mainly pictures, because half the point is to let the images speak for themselves.

But a few notes.

Manifestos have been written over whether editing is the true essence of film, and what the point of editing is, and what it actually does. Most editing is as unobtrusive as possible, because what it's doing linking the events of each shots and if it draws attention to itself it's overriding the narrative. The rules have been around since the birth of modern cinema: Don't break the 180. Preserve spatial relationships. Don't insert random shots. Cut from establishing shot to medium to close. When cutting dialogue keep faces at the same distance from the camera. Don't use still images. Don't use obvious fades or transitions. Essentially, use classic continuity technique to deliver easy familiar rhythms that help the viewers follow the action.

This clip from The Holy Grail, for instance, keeps the focus on the jokes and is mainly organised around where people are in relation to each other. The few abrupt edits are to highlight Arthur's magnificent contribution to the scientific method and to hit on the thump of the support being knocked out.

In contrast, a lot of the editing in Walkabout calls attention to itself, and in doing so, calls attention to shot choices and the relationships between shots. In linking two shots or images (let's put sound aside for now) editing is basically the conjunctive tissue of a movie, the ands, buts, sos, fors and so on, dictating what kind of relationship two statements have. Are these two shots in sequence because of movement, action, space, character, idea, theme, mood, or something else?

But images have different ambiguities to the written word, especially when they follow in sequence. The kind of relationship two shots have can often be up for grabs, especially when someone is cutting on theme, image, and mood, instead of narrative continuity. It is the gap between two shots that produces the meaning.

There's not a whole lot of action in Walkabout. There's barely any cause and effect -- the father's murderous decision is choppy and meaningless. It has a listless, dreamy feel. Cutting on image and theme and mood, as Nicholas Roeg (dir, DOP) and Antony Gibbs (editor) often do, subsumes standard narrative to the force of story, of myth. This kind of editing really exploits the mystery and power of images.

It has some very definite points to make about people's relationships to each other, and to the land, and frankly can be a little didactic. Some of its arguments may be obvious in the below, where I've picked some cuts that interest me and given the images immediately on either side. But there's also a hell of a lot of suggestion, of ambivalence, multiplicity, potential.

And of course, it's difficult to convey in still images. Much of the power of Walkabout is in the cumulative effect of rapidly-cut similar and dissimilar images, where spectres from other parts of the movie or other portions of the land or other ideas erupt into the action on screen. These are not always cuts to the character's mind's eye or point of view. These are cuts into imagination itself. Pictures and ideas colliding seemingly of their own volition. Walkabout is so compelling when it allows images to dream together.

like a million images don't look at this on your phone I warned you )
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You were just doing your thing, looking forward to a good psychological drama. You'd heard a bit about this but the whole narrative's pretty over the top, right? Then wham! THIS IS TRUE in face-punching sans serif stuns your critical faculties and lets you know the score. You look it up on Wikipedia and wow, it does seem to have actually happened, and it was awful. Your heart starts to sink but it'll be okay, you've taken on tough movies before and ultimately, it is just a movie, it's not a big deal, and Dreama Walker is extremely pretty.

You can't see much with all those close-up details of the objects in the room but you can trust they mean something because the director wouldn't do it otherwise. It does get coy with framing and focus, but you know you couldn't handle that information anyway, it's too nasty.

It's too claustrophobic and greasy and exhausting, and when you start to question why someone would do something like that you remember the simple parameters laid out at the start -- busy day, bit of guilt, power imbalance and the answers come pretty easy. When there's an elision three-quarters of the way in you wake up a bit and ask, really? So you check Wikipedia and find out you have to go along with it -- this Really Did Happen.

But there comes a point where you have to say, this is enough. This is too disturbing and watching has become untenable. And it hears you, and it cares about you, so it steps back and gives you a long take in a car, sitting close on a gumshoe driving in to save the day. You take a deep breath and watch, and are glad to be reassured that the police are really just trying to help. After all, they work hard, they catch the bad guy and the assaulted woman gets protected and eventually sues. That's a good outcome.

The credits roll after some text reminds you again about how it was a true story. Sure it was unpleasant and you didn't like watching it; gosh, nobody would. It's not like you wanted to see Dreama Walker's boobs, at least never like this, but now you're down with this bit of the film conversation. And it's true, so these kind of stories need to be told, and you supported an indie movie in these tough economic times. The movie needs you, really.

It sure couldn't do it without you.
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I finally got to watch All About Eve the other night. So much fun.

My favourite part of the movie is for once not the gay bits. Of course I loved the delicious eroticism of Harrington's obsession.

I loved how Baxter overplayed Eve's devotion, the single-mindedness of her chest-heaving yearning to bang/be Margo.

But it was something else that really got me. For the first half of the film Gary Merrill's Bill Sampson has basically been swanning around, all superior and annoying and sexist. He leaves Davis's Margo after they have a shattering fight about her insecurities; Davis is just magnificent when she tells him, heartbreakingly, that she can't let her surrender to him because the terms are too high. In that moment, in her fear, her insecurities are all she knows. They're who she is.

Then Eve starts twisting the screws and Margo freaks out and Bill runs right back to her. The second he reads about Eve exploiting the very insecurities he decried he runs right back to Margo because he knew how devastated she would be. He appears in her living room and gives her a massive, passionate, comforting hug.

Then he says stupid 50s man stuff, but fuck it, it's romantic as HELL, and it's so necessary, such a restorative fillip that gives us the strength to go with Margo right through to the end, because he REALLY LOVES HER, HE REALLY REALLY DOES, FUCK YEAH! \o/
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I wish I had more time this week to talk about Dog Day Afternoon, one of my favourite movies and surely one of the great American movies of the 70s, as self-contained as The Godfather is sprawling. It starts with the classic piano beat of Amoreena, a quick shot of Sonny's car tucked in in between dogs and billboards pointing out that for all of the police and drama, today's events are just one moment in the hustle and bustle of New York life, and will be just as quickly forgotten.

I wish I had time to talk more about the amazing sound design. Jesus Christ that awful telephone ring that drills down into your brain like a jackhammer; the clicks and clacks of ordely banking that are disrupted when Sonny makes his move; the pock of tennis balls through the opening tune; the chopper blades and engine that drown out the radio chatter; the hoarse cry of Attica man!; the retort of a shot that sends people screaming and fleeing; the obliterating scream of a jet engine.

I wish I had time to talk about how important queerness is to the plot without being some kind of prop for it, or the portrayal of the media, the greatness of every supporting character from Chris Sarandon and Penelope Allen right on down to the pizza delivery guy, or a thousand other things, including how prettily framed Pacino is in this movie, at the height of his wide-eyed beauty.

I wish I had time to rhapsodise about how precise and efficient and helpful Lumet's direction is, how it lays out the bank and its surrounds for us with clarity and hilarity. This skill seems to be essentially forgotten these days, but Lumet's direction in the bank is a marvel. The bank is a well-organised space that so perfectly set in our mind that a recent episode of Bob's Burgers, of all things, was able to recreate it, triggering instant recognition.

We never go big in the bank. The camera always sits at a natural height. The second we go outside it's all overheads and helicopters, all those barriers and the people that seep through them like molasses, those guns that can only with great effort be reholstered. Oh, the irony of that overkill because you know the smallness of what's going on inside -- two people are falling apart, sure, and that's a big deal, but the situation is so tiny.

Speaking of falling apart --
you got it man )

Check out more entries in the series here.
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This entry is my first go participating in Nathaniel R's Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, and I'm sorry you guys, I think I am going to go overboard because there are so many things I want to say about this amazing movie.

Somehow I never knew Singin' in the Rain was a comedy. The first time I watched it I started out at half attention, mostly missing the homage/parody of the movie star arrivals, as well as some great hammy acting by Kelly, who spends so much of the movie throwing his giant vaudville smile out there. I missed the way he strides in, tooth-first, setting Don up as 99% performance; that bitchin strut is a definite contender for Best Gif.

Then it went and punched me in the face with a great series of gags, contrasting image with voiceover:

Our parents' society friends; rigorous musical training at the conservatory of fine arts; the finest symphonic halls; sunny California.

I'm a sucker for that kind of thing. Instant love. But it's all about the voiceover and the dancing. Can't Best Shot that. Can't even Best Gif that.

Always dignity. )
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When people ask me who my favourite author is, I usually say Patrick O'Brian, because it's an impossible question, and because it's basically true. I recently read his 1953 pre-Aubrey-Maturin book Richard Temple, which is excellent -- if typically abrupt at the end -- a really contemplative and dissociative portrait of the life of a young painter. It has plenty of those delightful O'Brian surprises where really important stuff happens between words in the most overlookable places (for instance, the surprise gay: He and Gay had always got along well together, but it was only in the last year that they had been such close friends, drawn together, it must be admitted, by the abominable vice of sodomy.).

Towards the end, and after several periods of greater and lesser moral and financial dissolution, Richard has an encounter with some of his older work.

Let's read it now. )
I love O'Brian's writing for its ineffable intimacy, this kind of rhythmic stepping through characters' psyches. His writing seems so clinical -- and indeed the above passage is probably the most clinical of the whole book -- but that objectivity, that commonsensical mundanity, is such a lie. His books are entirely bent around his protagonists (slipping sweetly between them, in the case of Aubrey and Maturin). He is such a generous writer, so evidently delighting in their passions and joys, from which he draws terrific humour and pathos.

There is less joy and humour in Richard Temple, perhaps because Richard is extraordinarily, and unknowingly, lonely, despite the intense attachments he forms with a succession of men and women. He is recounting his life to himself while he is interred in a POW camp, trying to hang on to his identity in the face of torture, but this backward-looking sets up an essential foreignness, a distance, a search that meanders and loses its way. The Richards of school, of France, of London, of Churleigh, even of Germany, are strangers, connected more by a happenstance of space-time, and less by any concrete Richardness. There is something really curiously hollow at the centre of this book and character, a space in which buzzes about the sneaking fear that connection is impossible, that will is empty, that encounters with people and art are never transformative because there is nothing to transform; a terror with which I empathise keenly as I get older, uglier, and boringer. So I love the above passage for how vivid and visual it is and how forgiving about the past, for how Richard is able to pull a kind of shocking, beautiful unity into being, to sit contentedly with himself if only for a moment.

Certainly Richard Temple is not about any such fucking pablum as "how passive resistance can be a form of courage and what it truly means to be a hero", as the blurb suggests.* It's an excellent book though, if not as comforting as our dear old friends Aubrey and Maturin.


* True heroes, Channel 9 and Telstra have taught me over the last couple of days, are people that can swim really fast, or perhaps do other things fast. Our great nation is currently undergoing the developmental anxiety and trauma of realising that there are other people, who also have heroes, and that our heroes sometimes do not swim as fast as those other heroes. Thus indicating that we have turned five.


Apr. 28th, 2012 10:23 pm
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my primary take away from The Avengers is being impressed. Impressed at the quickness and cleverness of the extremely efficient script: Avengers would not have been the a hardest movie of the last year to write, but it would have been one of the hardest to write well, and it is written very well. Star Trek, the other recent ensemble-of-icons adaptation/reborquel, did a great job introducing characters with flair and giving everyone a hell yeah moment, with humour. Avengers does all this, but think of everything else it has to manage. It needs to generate equalities and equivalencies in status and power between 4 superheroes, some of whose set-up films were seen less than others, some of whom have less obvious roles and purposes in the oncoming conflict than others. It needs to (did it? I don't know Hawkeye and Black Widow from Adam but I assume they're important to the comics) incorporate two lesser, more human powers, who had seconds of honestly forgettable screentime in previous films, as major characters who can carry arcs. It needs to locate a strong organisational pivot around a character, Nick Fury, who has the built-in pull of an eyepatched SLJ, but who was really just previously just some guy that you saw if you were also interested in reading copyright and humane society disclaimers. The only place it really struggled structurally I'll put under the spoiler cut along with more general discussion.

Joss threw in a couple of neat camera tricks, mostly playing with reflections, which is not really thematically relevant but oh well, but mostly kept things pretty neutral, generally avoiding the standard chaos of present-day blockbuster action. Certainly other action directors could learn from the gorgeous Serenityesque floating shot that tracked the action of the major players in the climactic confrontation. Beautiful clarity!

I loved the way it moved the pieces around on the board, often delaying maximum superhero deployment. Robert Downey Jr was always genius casting for Iron Man, but imagine how distracting, how completely beamed-in-from-another-movie, that scenery-chewing, dominating, obnoxious charisma could have been. Instead they turned it into a plot point! In fact, a character arc! Instead of trying to force these characters together they split them off into interesting pairs, giving just about everyone at least two major relationships.

slightly spoilery for characterisation, minor plot points )

Mostly though, very impressed, with its visual and verbal wit, its care and efficiency, its devotion to examining interpersonal and group relationships, and its cameo appearance of Enver Gjokaj. Never change Joss.


Sep. 26th, 2011 10:09 pm
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If you are within a foot of James Dean you will turn gay.

East of Eden screentests with Newman and Richard Davolas.

Oscars 2011

Mar. 6th, 2011 12:17 pm
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What a boring Oscars that was. However, possibly the first Oscars I had a legitimate stake in as I had seen all the BP nominees and Have Opinions on them.

Said opinions being rather pedestrian so here instead is a ranking.

1. Black Swan
2. Toy Story 3 - another film with an astoundingly stellar last half hour
3. Winter's Bone
4. The Social Network - So well put together, and so cold. And such an AWFUL last line.
5/6. The Kids Are All Right - the least epic of all the crop of darlings, with some mighty fine actressin' (and actorin') that makes these very personal crises compelling.
5/6. The Fighter - made me care about boxing. Unlike The King's Speech, can harness performance to a story engine that feels like it actually has stakes.
7. True Grit - even lesser Cohens makes for awesome funtimes but in the wake of Deadwood an ornery mumbled western doesn't feel as unique an achievement as their other work.
8. 127 Hours - Franco is game (unlike at the Oscars - BURN NOTICE!) but Boyle is such an insincere mess.

and then way beyond the black stump....

9. The King's Speech - warm milk in the form of a movie; enjoyable in the moment, pointless and nap-inducing after the fact. Firth is great, but he ought to have won last year's A Single Man. Who else could have projected such organic, minimalist feeling into Tom Ford's gorgeous, glossy, rigid frames? No-one. Who else could have played a stuttering dude who sits in front of mouldy wallpaper? Any British actor. Hooper's directing win is ridiculous in the face of the skill it must have taken to turn what is largely three long conversations and a bunch of typing into a driven, exciting movie (The Social Network).

Okay so I did have opinions.
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A recent tipple of Gosford Park and Remains of the Day and some very favourable reviews led me to give Downton Abbey a go. I will now sum up the experience in two and a half minutes:

Elaboration, with pictures:

Just like Nanny used to make. )

But to point this out is to misunderstand the show. These people aren't real because reality doesn't attach to people in Downton Abbey but to itself in an oroborousian freakshow. Its gestures towards complexity are an excuse, a feint. It is pure simulacrum, representation for the sake of representation, a reference only to its own vision of Edwardian England, which equates historical accuracy with a house of things gorgeously arrayed, and assumes both projects ends in themselves. Steven Loyd Wilson notes that the show avoids criticism from a modern perspective and historical apologia, but of course it does: Downton Abbey's Edwardian ara needs no apology: everything was beautiful, hard work was appreciated, physical and emotional wounds were sutured by rich, caring strangers. Ultimately, the whole thing is as comforting, validating, and empty as the South Downs-iest, Garbaldesham Road-iest vision of creamy old England you could ever conjure.

Black Swan

Jan. 25th, 2011 01:32 am
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I take back what I said about Black Swan being old-school Hollywood camp. The excess is there, yes, the big female performances, the heavy-handed symbolism, the archetypes -- stage mother, aging actress, temptress, seducer/abuser.

But it's too interior a film to be camp in that sense. These figures are not unruly women, they're categories filtered through a mind under increasing strain. Watching it again I see how completely Nina's psychotic break overwhelms and dictates the movie. Cracks appear early, before the pressure really starts to mount. The paintings move the first time you see them. Her shadow haunts her in the subway (embodied and reflected) before she even hears they'll be doing Swan Lake.

cut for length and spoilers )
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well last year was meant to be a year of writing, but I have never been able to get into the habit when it actually means something; I need to learn how to hold myself accountable but how do you hold yourself to account when you find yourself so boring?

The two times I managed to post with any vigour were attempts to understand the frustrating mess of disappointments that is Inception and purge the overwhelming push-pull of Broderskab's narrative conceit and dense sensuality. Beginning with Live Free or Twihard, I also had a series of enjoyable conversations over in the threads of the AV Club Supernatural reviews.

Nevertheless I must, I must write! I must watch and think and read and think and write in proportion or else I will get kicked out of uni, and then the dear knows what I will do.

2010 ended up being about movies. I saw more non-English language movies than I usually do, I checked out some of the classics, and I had a bit of a fitful nostalgic trip down Disney lane (Pocahontas is skeevier than I remembered even though Miss P herself remains the hottest of all the Disney girls, and Sleeping Beauty even more perfect than I remembered). It turns out I can recite and sing the entirety of Robin Hood along with the movie. Hey, if this academia gig don't work out, maybe I can take that on the road!

Of all the movies I saw for the first time this year there were quite a few that stick in the memory.

movies, yo )

Thus ceaseth the opinions. FOR NOW! Hopefully.
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So Brotherhood (Brodeskab) you guys, I don't even know where to start with this movie.

I could start with the heartwarming scene where the two attractive white guys bond over the creation of awful, just simply vile racist Neo-Nazi propaganda and proceed to distribute it with the sweet, guitar-accompanied abandon that sees young lovers in other movies frolicking in autumnal drifts.

I could start by comparing it to Brokeback Mountain and Einaym Pkuhot, two other recent, stunningly acted movies about the intense homoeroticism of a repressive, masculinist culture.

Or I could start with David Dencik.

Let me start with David Dencik. )

Man, I am so glad to purge my thoughts on this, I haven't been able to think about anything else for a whole day now.
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All Christopher Nolan's movies are about about reality, self-deception and our shadow-selves. Some of them are pretty great: Memento was just about a perfect movie, lean and purposeful with a conceit that doesn't feel like the joke's on you. As the years have passed his stuff has become more bloated, substituted thought and meaning for glossy cleverness. The more I think about The Dark Knight the more I resent how thin that patina of philosophical depth was, how little that movie had to offer on the nature of myth (which wouldn't be a problem except that's what the thing claims to be about).

I read as little about Inception as I could but I couldn't help seeing the effusive praise. I got pretty excited, and here are a whole bunch of words about how that excitement was justified. Just kidding! I need to try to break down the ways this movie failed because this thing could have been, and should have been, so much better.

Spoilers! )