More Bergman, Marion Davies, and "His Girl Friday"

The Serpent's Egg, or Bergman meets de Laurentiis. The conversations in this monstrosity are mostly in English, and the rationale behind that, presumably, is that the star, David Carradine, is American (he don't know German). The dialogue mostly feels awkward, which isn't totally out of place, since 'they all speak in a furrin aksent;" it does sound strange from Carradine, because he speak as if he's reading from a translation. And when he furls his brow and says things like he can't bear to live, etc., etc., you can't help but think that's suppose to be Von Sydow there (doesn't help that Carradine's shot and framed and possibly made up to resemble Von Sydow, or that his dead older brother, who's Liv Ullman's husband, is named Max).

It's interesting to look at, Bergman still shoots and cuts like a master, and there are unnerving moments a-plenty. But I can't help thinking Shame trod this ground in a more effective way, using far less money. And that final monologue, over a sea of silent, black-and-white faces, actually began to get monotonous. Glad to see Bergman work with a big budget for once, but I'd say he got better results with Fanny and Alexander.

I'm guessing Marion Davies was probably one of the most powerful actresses in Hollywood at the time, what with Hearst as a lover--I mean, starring roles in opulent costume dramas, and King Vidor to direct her several times--what's to complain about? Despite which she is such a talented, luminous persona onscreen, you don't really care how she got up there, you're just glad she did. Show People doesn't really live on its jokes, or on the premise of a comic actress who rises up to dramatic roles (based, reportedly, on Gloria Swanson's early career); it really turns on Davies, on her razor-sharp ability to mimic (and burlesque) an actor, and her amazing warmth and expressiveness. Maybe not a great comedy, but she's a great comedienne.

And saw Hawks' His Girl Friday for the umpteenth time. Realized that the first ten minutes is probably an add-on (I'm not sure about that), and the real beginning takes place in the prison press room, where they prepare for the entrance of Burns (Grant) for almost an hour. Wonder how this really compares to Milestone's version, and to Wilder's later one (from what I remember, Milestone emphasized the social criticism of the play, Wilder--or this is how some auteurist put it--inserted a homoerotic subtext). His Girl Friday's genius stroke (I'm hardly the first to notice this) is to deftly graft classic screwball to the newspaper comedy, adding a generous dose of sexual sizzle along the way.

And Grant is wonderful, Russel a joy, but Bellamy on this umpteenth viewing is a revelation. His slow delivery stands out against all the rapid-fire verbal assaults, and I do believe he steals almost every scene where Grant is ostensibly stealing the rug out from under him. You really do have to be smart and talented to play someone this dumb.


Ingmar Bergman

On a Bergman binge:

The Passion of Anna: I don't know--at one point it retreads Shame, which right now I consider my favorite of his films, and there seems to be more emphasis and heat in Bibi's seduction of Max Von Sydow than there is in Max and Liv Ullman's entire relationship. Many wonderful scenes and images and moments of acting, of course; I doubt if Bergman is incapable of making anything outright ugly. But it doesn't quite cohere as satisfyingly as one might wish for.

The Silence: his biggest boxoffice hit, mainly for the nudity and freewheeling coupling that happens in a darkened theater. Tame stuff nowadays, but I like the eroticism--as with horror, Bergman seems far more effective dealing with sex glancingly, in quick vignettes that arise from and are part of the texture of the story's narrative (big contrast with the way sex is often treated in American films: a big buildup, plenty of music, a sense of allowing you to see something shocking, and the final impression that you'd just sat through an aerobics video). Likewise, Bergman's horror seems far more effective when he suddenly roundhouses the side of your head with it, rather than devoting an entire film on the genre as he did in Hour of the Wolf.

Also interesting that while this isn't a silent film, the use of spare dialogue and sound effects in a country where they don't know the language at all only serves to deepen the moments of silence.

Finally, this seems to be some kind of turning point for Bergman, where he finally abandons religion as a panacea for anything, whatsoever--here, God is every bit as sterile and unfeeling as Ingrid Thulin's character.


Really useless thoughts on superheroes

From Atlantic Refuge:Also, Frank Miller's opus is considered an 'else-worlds' story - it's not an official part of DC continuity. The only way he had Batman beat him was by having him cheat and use Kryptonite.

I never found Superman interesting until Miller presented him as a bureaucratic stooge in Dark Knight Returns. There he was a fascinatingly conflicted character: a hero with a shameful side, a superpowered Faust who has made a pact with the government and who learns that in every bargain with the Devil you find yourself acting less and less in your interest and more and more in his. It's probably the most insightful idea ever wrung out of the man, and, to be fair, one of the better ideas ever wrung out of Miller. Maybe Supes' noblest moment was, not necessarily when his ass was being kicked, but when he hung his head in shame at what he'd done, or allowed to be done.


Spaghetti con L'Uova e Mollico

Took this from a recipe of Mario Batali's:

Heated extra virgin olive oil in a large pan. Added two garlic cloves, sliced into slivers, sauteed them till light gold, then took them out. Added five tablespoons of breadcrumbs (bread cubed and dried in an oven, then crushed in an open plastic bag with a rolling pin), sauteed that for two minutes till brown. Added half a cup of raisins that had been soaking in hot water, and took the sauce off the heat.

Cooked the spaghetti (made from bronze dies, for extra-rough surface) in a large boiling pot with plenty of salt; At a minute short of the pasta's cooking time, drained the pasta, poured it into the sauce, added salt and pepper to taste, and a handful of chopped Italian parsely and chives. Add more fresh-cracked pepper, top with the really good extra-virgin olive oil (I have two varieties, one costing four dollars, the other eleven) Serve immediately.

What makes the 'sauce' (it's so insanely simple I had to put that in quotes) is the breadcrumbs: they add a nice crunch to the pasta, and they hold all the flavors--the garlicky oil, the sweet raisin juice (the raisins hissed the moment they hit the pan, and a cloud of fruitiness rose in the air), the oniony herbs, the pasta starch.

Not bad. Takes fifteen minutes tops--longer if you don't have the bread crumbs handy.


How to order "Critic After Dark"

From: stephen <steftan@pacific.net.sg>
To: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Sent: Mon, 18 Apr 2005 18:00:17 +0800
Subject: Re: How do I order from the U.S., Critic After Dark

Hello xxxxx
Thanks for your email. The book costs US$17 and postage is US$8. 
Altogether, it costs US$25. 
Please do not send personal cheques. 
As the amount is small, I suggest you send cash via registered post. 
Send your order to: 
Options Publications Pte Ltd 
PO Box 784 
Marine Parade 
Singapore 914410 
Looking forward to hearing from you. 
Stephen Tan 


Sin City

From peoplesforum:

Saw Sin City. Could have been Robert Rodriguez's best. Isn't. Not surprised.

Was leafing through the Frank Miller books. Huge part of the problem I think is the source material--between Miller's harder-than-boiled style and Rodriguez's slavish devotion there just isn't much room left for anything particularly evocative, and we're talking about noir, the genre that's produced some of the more fascinating films or books around. He's gone Peter Jackson on us.

ChrisJ: I still admire the fact that even as he turns into a remake of Roger Corman vis-a-vis Larry Cohen--he does it saluting the Hollywood establishment with his middle finger.

I don't think Rodriquez will come close to ever making a GREAT MOVIE....but he's gotta be influencing some folks out there and we'll see something come of it.

Well, right now, I think the spirit and techniques he uses to make a movie are more interesting than what he actually does with them.

Chungking Express: I liked Sin City--it was like ultra-high-quality softcore porn, with a good amount of action and violence mixed in. Plus, the sheer escapism of it appeals to me.

The graphics, the colors--and lack of the same--had style, sure, but the editing is so off. He's cramming three major stories into a mere two hours, and they're going by too fast for any emotion to develop, or any image to sink in.

Not that the images develop into anything profound. I'd say Miller is a good artist, but a psuedo profundo writer.




And now for a little cheesecake:

Darna may be an unabashed takeoff on Wonder Woman (actually, the ostensible model was Superman), but the artist and writer of the originating strip was Mars Ravelo, an iconoclast who found popularity by breaking fashion at the time--that is, by telling stories not about Americanized characters in Filipino clothing, but about recognizably Filipino heroes and heroines. About people the readers could recognize and identify with like Rita, the sassy, smart-mouthed girl, or Roberta, the unwanted love child.

Yes--a takeoff on Superman. But this 'takeoff' was recast in Ravelo's imagination as simple squatter girl Narda (mix the letters a little) who by means of magic rises up to fight injustice. It's American-inspired fantasy appropriated and transformed into something of our own, in a setting we could easily see if we stopped by the roadside and stepped out of our car...

And Ravelo wasn't just a creator of his own works of art. Filmmaker Gerardo de Leon was inspired by Ravelo to make the great fantasy film Dyesebel  (Jezebel, 1953), which film critic Pierre Rissient once described as "Bunuelian." Lino Brocka was to base several of his early pictures on Ravelo strips: Tubog sa Ginto (Dipped in Gold, 1970) a groundbreaking film on, of all things, homosexuality; Stardoom (1971), a Jacobean melodrama (with great performances by Lolita Rodriguez as the backstage mother, and Mario O'Hara as the unwanted son--several years later, they would play lovers in Brocka's breakthrough film, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Judged and Found Wanting, 1976)); and Gumising Ka, Maruja (Awaken, Maruja, 1978), Brocka's rare (and for the first half, well-made) gothic ghost story.  

Hard to think of an American equivalent, or someone who dominated the popular imagination so thoroughly and completely: Jack Kirby, perhaps, though where's his social melodramas or groundbreaking gay comic strips? Schuster and Siegel, though even there they came up with only one major figure--Ravelo has created a dozen, at least...


Watching "Ebolusyon" (Evolution)

From a_film_by:

"Raymond P." <grimmyhk@y...> wrote:

People seem to be only halfway through this film for some reason(heh). I have a director friend who is also somewhere along the 6-hour mark...he's going to finish the rest of it in Hong Kong. Luckily, Lav Diaz is coming. The Q&A session will definitely be interesting - if anyone's left at the end, that is...

I'm on the final four or so hours, I think.

Lav can be a good talker. He provoked the shit out of the most popular festival in the country, the Metro Manila Film Festival, by calling it a 'festival of idiots.'

My problem with that was, he was really quoting ME, and never thought to give credit accordingly. Ah, fame.

He's a nice guy, actually, very approachable...if they aren't
swarming around him by then.


From a_film_by:

Henrik Sylow: I really can't believe that Miyazaki is boo'd and "Spirited Away" is being discussed as "worst films". It is one of the most beautiful animated film yet made, with a very direct social and political commentary / criticism of Japan.

What Henrik said.

Not just on Japan; here's a liddle something I wrote on the subject


Nausicaa manga

Something I wrote in the Nausicaa Mailing list, April 16, 2000:

Finished the manga (Nausicaa, of the Valley of the Wind) last week.

I've been meaning to post my reaction to it but I CAN'T.  I've just finished a thousand-page manga, a work of thirteen years, and I can't sum it all up in one lousy post.

Oh, I can give a few indications.  I think Miyazaki's manga ranks right up there with Philip Dick, with Olaf Stapledon, with some of the very best science fiction there is.  Over and beyond what I feel are somewhat overrated SF and fantasy writers, like Frank Herbert, and JRR Tolkien.

Of course, I write this not knowing anything of recent SF and fantasy writers--David Brin, Vernor Vinge, Kim Stanley Robinson. I've only sampled the cyberpunk people, like Sterling, Gibson, Stephenson (none of which have really bowled me over).

As a graphic novel, it's probably no contest (though again I write this in ignorance of practically every other Japanese manga).  I do think that Miyazaki leaves writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Frank Miller in the dust.  Maybe only Art Spiegelman is in his league, and that's because Spiegelman is working with a basically real milieu--the Nazi concentration camp.  Incidentally, I wonder what Spiegelman would think of Miyazaki...

As for On Your Mark, it was very hard for me to watch it.  It's only seven minutes long, but knowing it's Miyazaki's farewell to his heroine...good thing I had my daughter on my lap; her eyes were glued to the screen.  She couldn't look back and see her father quietly making a sodden mess of himself.

Then she goes and insists that I rewind the tape and we watch it again.

Ah, well.  But I did it, and I managed to sit through it again. Somehow.

I'm going through the same withdrawal symptoms I had after watching the films Laputa and Nausicaa.  The symptoms are familiar to me now, except they seem to be a lot worse--I'm rereading the whole manga again, and plan to reread it one more time after that.

Frankly, my family hates it when I do this; I get too affectionate and keep demanding hugs and kisses and it's too much of a bother to their busy lives.

There has to be a clinic or program somewhere for people like me...


To the Film Industry in Crisis

To the Film Industry in Crisis 

Not you, lean quarterlies and swarthy periodicals
with your studious incursions toward the pomposity of ants,
nor you, experimental theater in which Emotive Fruition
is wedding Poetic Insight perpetually, nor you,
promenading Grand Opera, obvious as an ear (though you
are close to my heart), but you, Motion Picture
Industry, it's you I love! 

In times of crisis, we must all decide again and again whom we love.
And give credit where it's due: not to my starched nurse, who taught me
how to be bad and not bad rather than good (and has lately availed
herself of this information), not to the Catholic Church
which is at best an oversolemn introduction to cosmic entertainment,
not to the American Legion, which hates everybody, but to you,
glorious Silver Screen, tragic Technicolor, amorous Cinemascope,
stretching Vistavision and startling Stereophonic Sound, with all
your heavenly dimensions and reverberations and iconoclasms! To
Richard Barthelmess as the "tol'able" boy barefoot and in pants,
Jeanette MacDonald of the flaming hair and lips and long, long neck,
Sue Carroll as she sits for eternity on the damaged fender of a car
and smiles, Ginger Rogers with her pageboy bob like a sausage
on her shuffling shoulders, peach-melba-voiced Fred Astaire of the feet,
Eric von Stroheim, the seducer of mountain-climbers' gasping spouses,
the Tarzans, each and every one of you (I cannot bring myself to prefer
Johnny Weissmuller to Lex Barker, I cannot!), Mae West in a furry sled,
her bordello radiance and bland remarks, Rudolph Valentino of the moon,
its crushing passions, and moonlike, too, the gentle Norma Shearer,
Miriam Hopkins dropping her champagne glass off Joel McCrea's yacht
and crying into the dappled sea, Clark Gable rescuing Gene Tierney
from Russia and Allan Jones rescuing Kitty Carlisle from Harpo Marx,
Cornel Wilde coughing blood on the piano keys while Merle Oberon berates,
Marilyn Monroe in her little spike heels reeling through Niagara Falls,
Joseph Cotten puzzling and Orson Welles puzzled and Dolores Del Rio
eating orchids for lunch and breaking mirrors, Gloria Swanson reclining,
and Jean Harlow reclining and wiggling, and Alice Faye reclining
and wiggling and singing, Myrna Loy being calm and wise, William Powell
in his stunning urbanity, Elizabeth Taylor blossoming, yes, to you
and to all you others, the great, the near-great, the featured, the extras
who pass quickly and return in your dreams saying your one or two lines, my love!

Long may you illumine space with your marvellous appearances, delays
and enunciations, and may the money of the world glitteringly cover you
as you rest after a long day under the kleig lights with your faces
in packs for our edification, the way the clouds come often at night
but the heavens operate on the star system. It is a divine precedent
you perpetuate! Roll on, reels of celluloid, as the great earth rolls on!


Pixar vs. Ghibli

From the Nausicaa Mailing List:

Pixar--I'm not a big fan.

I'll admit their emphasis on story and character has served them well, and their success I think shows how story and character still has its appeal, over and beyond mere technical developments, especially with American audiences (and markets with Americanized audiences).

But I feel that the characters they create and stories they tell fall into a well-defined strata of children's adventures / family entertainment, where conventional morality is affirmed, sentimentality required, and a number-of-jokes-per-minute frequency maintained.

Even Bird's "The Iron Giant," perhaps the best American animated feature in so many years, still sticks to a scenario closer in spirit to Steven Spielberg than to Ozu,or Kurosawa (who, if I remember right, admires Miyazaki's films).

That's where I think Ghibli films take up the slack, the point where most American animation pictures grind
to a stop. Ghibli projects are often characterized as kid-friendly, but I'd say Ghibli merely avoids gratuitous violence and overt sexuality; otherwise, their subject matter and what's more their method of storytelling, the emotional tones and relationships they choose to develop and define, are of the kind I'd say even the most demanding adult will be pleased to engage with--at the same time allowing children to follow and be entertained.


Critic After Dark: A Review of Philippine Cinema

It's available now, with a beautiful still from Lino Brocka's "Orapronobis" (Fight for Us, 1989) on the cover. Here's a link to order it in Singapore:


Overseas customers have to email for details--you might have to pay for shipping and handling, sorry.




Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or: Zemeckis don't get it

From Atlantic Refuge:

Buddomon: adore Who Framed Roger Rabbit -which is the masterpiece by which all other live action/animated inferiors, such as Space Jam and the loathsome Looney Tunes: Back in Action, should be measured, imho

Try Spirited Away, or Grave of the Fireflies, if you want to see real storytelling.

Jack Pantalones: He was once attached to an adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Rumor has it that his major stumbling block was the book's answer to the riddle of Life, the Universe and Everything: "42." 

Good story.

I'll watch the movie, I guess, but I was never a fan of Patch--sorry, Douglas Adams. He popularized a brand of humor that John Sladek pioneered before him, only with more edge. I'd love to see an anime adaptation of Sladek's Roderick and Roderick at Random.

Mga Bilanggong Birhen (The Captured Virgins, 1977)

From pinoydvd:   keating: Noel was Alma not wasted on MGA BILANGGONG BIRHEN, is it really good?

Sounds like Peter Weir's PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK......the movie I mean.

Heck no; it has no pretenses, unlike Weir's overblown 'experimental' film.

Alma has a small part; she's effective enough. The real protagonists are Mario Montenegro, Leroy Salvador, and, believe it or not, Armida Siguion-Reyna, who is wonderful and, believe it or not, quite beautiful in it--I mean, she practically glows. Grin

It's beautifully shot (one of Romy Vitug's best works), extravagantly produced, and quite lyrical. And it looks with equal measures of sympathy and skepticism at both upper and lower classes, unlike Oro, Plata, which tended to demonize the lower classes.

Sure, you got Ronnie Lazaro, but he feels more like a mythical figure (his name is Hermes, right?) than a real person. In Bilanggong Birhen, you feel the full weight, nobility, and flaws of all the characters, upper and lower classes.

O'Hara disowns it; he was fired near the end of shooting, and he walked away. Romy Suzara finished postroduction, and it shows: the editing is off by about a mile (every O'Hara film has precise editing--every one of them). Flawed, heavily, but still, it's great, great, great.

Nick Deocampo once said Raymond Red was around the age of O'Hara when he directed Sakay (Red was 28; O'Hara 31), which is roughly the same time period (American Occupation), tho O'Hara's production was far more elaborate. Deocampo thought O'Hara did a far better job than Red ever did.   keating: So BILANGGONG BIRHEN was also a period epic, Noel? And Armida I think she's beautiful also when she's not singing.? Grin

I'm now curious to see it. Thanks for all the info about the movie. But then Mario O' Hara shot the film 90% right? Why he disowns it?

Mario disowns it because he didn't edit it. Editing is perhaps the most unique stage in filmmaking--there's nothing like it in the other arts. Kubrick goes so far as to say he sometimes thinks he shoots films in order to have something to edit.

Editing marks a film as surely as camera moves or overall emotional tonemarks many a master filmmaker. Some of the greatest filmmakers--Kurosawa, Fellini, Griffith, Ford, O'Hara, De Leon (Mike and Gerry both), Ad Castillo--show a mastery of editing. It's not a matter of quick cuts; sometimes knowing when to sustain a shot is as important, or more so, and sometimes editing an ordinary dialogue scene is more difficult than editing an action scene (which is why Michael Bay is so recognizably not a master? Grin).

Peque I'd say knows how to edit, on the basis of the final shootout in Oro. I just think he needs a better scriptwriter, or a film that doesn't need a strong script (which is why I think Scorpio Nights is the far better film).

I like to say I know if a filmmaker knows what he's doing during when I see how the first five minutes of the film is cut. I usually get it right (or if not right, I at least know the filmmaker has some skill).

O'Hara did not edit Mga Bilanggong Birhen. It's not totally his film, but there are many things in it that are recognizably his--the tone, the shots, the performances.


Melinda and Melinda

It's the first Allen I've seen since--I don't know, Alice? Husbands and Wives? Saw parts of the Sean Penn movie and it didn't make me want to sit down and watch more.

It's not bad. Radha's very good, Farell is actually good (yep, I saw Elf), and I thought the comic part played a hell of a lot better than the tragic did--played (SPOILER) unmercifully against the tragic portion, especially when Mitchell's suicide attempt is later parodied. The closing scene is erotic--Allen still knows how to play on male fantasies that revolve around the female libido.

And hey, there was a black man in this film! Or has Allen done that already?

It's a Wonderful Life

My take on It's a Wonderful Life goes something like this: it's a nightmare--poor Stewart, wanting to get away, and the movie just wears him down, wears him down. Finally, he's shown the fundamental error of his ways, and the brainwashed soul just gives in and resigns himself--happily, which is the most chilling detail of all--to being part of a Hallmark Holiday Greeting Card moment.

Forever and ever, amen.

Stanley Kubrick should have remade this.

ted fontenot: (Bailey) ultimately chooses not to

I know I'm not in the majority on this, but I thought he made choices, plenty of choices, and he was never happy with them. I think he would have done something about it (and I don't mean jump a bridge--I think that's the one off-key note in the whole picture; it would have been easier to just skip town like he's always wanted to do), but that damned angel comes down and torments him with an extended brainwashing sequence that nearly beats the one in the original Manchurian Candidate for nightmarishness, at the end of which he comes out squeaky clean, almost ready for a Disney feature.

ted fontenot: As for Kubrick remaking It's a Wonderful Life, would that be like when Bart and Lisa found the cache of alternate versions of some old movies? In the Casablanca one, Rick and Ilsa get married with Conrad Veidt and Claude Rains throwing rice as they exit the church. Another has the ominous title It's A Wonderful LIfe--The Killer Spree Ending.

I keep imagining this sort of thing happening fifteen minutes after the end credits roll.


Film to video game

From The Clapboard Jungle:

Do Not Rescucitate: From IMDB:

Francis Ford Coppola is up in arms over Paramount's decision to produce (with videogame makers Electronic Arts) a videogame based on his The Godfather movies. In a taped interview due to air on AMC's Sunday Morning ShootOut this Sunday, Coppola said that the studio had never mentioned its plans to release a Godfather videogame. "I knew nothing about it. They never asked me if I thought it was a good idea," Coppola said. Calling Coppola's movie, "one of history's most revered masterpieces," Electronic Arts says on it website that the game, due to be released in the fall, "serves as inspiration for the game as gamers will join the Corleone family and earn respect through loyalty and fear." Coppola says that he was able to get a preview of the game. "They use the characters everyone knows ... and then for the next hour they shoot and kill each other. I had absolutely nothing to do with the game and I disapprove."

Jeff Vorndam: I can never get past the balloon stage in the Andrei Rublev game.

Jake Bren: Iconoclast.

Do Not Resuscitate: I'm told if you finish the bell in under 3 minutes, you get to play the whole thing as Kirill.  


"Ebolusyon" in Film Comment Mar-Apr '05 Issue



Rotterdam International Film Festival Review by Olaf Möller


FILM COMMENT, Published by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York March-April 2005, Vol. 41, No. 2




The festival's greatest film --- and at 10 hours and 43 minutes, the longest --- was Philippine filmmaker Lav Diaz's "Evolution Of A Filipino Family", a high-modernist epic about a family of farmers living for 15 years under a state of siege during the Marcos era. In one plot thread, a family member is hired to kill real-life filmmaker Lino Brocka; to study his target, he's given a tape of 'The Lost Brocka', a film directed by Diaz's "Batang Westside" documentarist and moral catalyst Taga Timog, but is so moved by Brocka and his vision of his country that he is unable to go through with it --- and is stabbed. In a single soul-wrenching, mesmerizing take, a long bleeding stumble to his last breath becomes an awe-inspiring testament to the idea that the power of cinema belongs to the people. That such sentiments are evoked in a work which maybe only a handful of people will see is only a surface contradiction --- Diaz'sfilm isn't meant for any market, it's an offering to the director's countrymen, who will discover it in the years and decades to come. It's a labor of love made from the passing of time and echoes reverberating faintly across history's vast plains.




With his crisp, 75-minute The Family That Eats Soil, Khavn De La Cruz (the festival's coolest revelation) provided a hyper-condensed punk-trash take on Philippine family politics. At times it plays like a de-Pasolinized version of Takashi Miike's Visitor Q, at others like an absurdist experimental bomba flick. Yet it always feels as if cinema is about to end and only no-holds-barred videomaking can save the world. More on Khavn (who these days only signs his filmless films with his given name) in an upcoming issue.


[Olaf Möller is a writer, translator and curator based in Cologne.]

Magnolia vs. Short Cuts

from pinoydvd:

keating: P.T. Anderson's MAGNOLIA

Liked it much better than Robert Altman's SHORT CUTS. Although some people are bashing this film as imitation to SHORT CUTS. Full of metaphors and allegory, still mesmerize me up to now. All the characters are unforgettable, will stuck to your mind after watching this brilliant movie.

Magnolia is certainly flashier, but the most PTA is able to do is introduce his characters in a fairly engaging manner before they start freaking out. Enter--freak out; enter--freak out; repeat twenty times, and you got Magnolia. He does excellent first acts, and excellent climaxes, but without a second act to get to know these people, one's appreciation of them is largely shallow.

Altman's Short Cuts takes its characters from Raymond Carver's short stories; they develop and grow within the film, in the space of a few minutes, even in the space of a few images, a trick both Carver and Altman, masters of multi-charactered, multi-layered stories, are perfectly capable of performing. It's subtler, more nuanced, more full.

That's probably why my favorite PTA would be Punch Drunk Love, because he has the breathing room to concentrate on one character--one that doesn't really make sense, but that's a whole other series of posts.



The Harder They Fall

Mark Robson's The Harder They Fall is a terrific, tautly-made boxing movie (with fight scenes that blow over the pathetic stuff I saw in Requiem for a Heavyweight), and perhaps Bogart's best-ever performance--better even than his much lauded Treasure of Sierra Madre. There the material seemed beyond his grasp, and he flailed more than held us in his grip; here as sportswriter-turned-promoter Eddie Willis, turning a dunce of a boxer into a heavyweight contender, the material seems perfect for his low-key style. 

This is the kind of sinking-into-the-depths-of-moral-depravity acting that William Holden got so many notices for in Sunset Boulevard, only Bogart here seems more washed up, more weary, yet more cunning with experience; when the slip begins, the descent is all the more harrowing becaue you know he should be smarter than that. Even when he faces off with his partner Nick Benko (a young and terrifically brash Rod Steiger), he makes the classic tough-Bogart remark, then backs down--precisely because he knows that's what the smart thing to do.

Perhaps his finest moment is when El Toro looks at Eddie, expecting money; you really feel Eddie's consternation, the conflict between guilt and avarice as he considers his choices. Bogart's entire performance and the story thus far has prepared for this--for Eddie to realize, to his dismay, that he has inconveniently grown a conscience. Nothing much happens, actingwise, but that's why Bogart is so perfect in it--he's a star, maybe on the downward descent at this stage of his career, making his last play as actor and artist, and he underplays magnificently. 

The ending skitters on the edge of unlikeliness and crosses over, but again, Robson and Bogart sells the material (probably better than it deserves) by handling it with wonderful deftness--the whole thing revolves around Bogart's face as he, awkwardly and self-consciously, rolls the paper into the typewriter. He's about to play the hero, against all his instincts, and it's almost as much of a pain to bear as the guilt he had carried beforehand for so long.


L'Age d'or

You can look at the pictures of Miike and Kim Ki-Duk and Noe and Haneke once too many times and feel you can't be shocked anymore, and still Bunuel's L'Age d'or has an impact. Perhaps because of all the films meant to provoke, this one is perhaps the most beautiful, definitely the most erotic.
This isn't pornography; pornography could never be half as powerful. It's shit slung at the big screen, sucked up, then squirted out again ad nauseum, to the disgust and delight of the audience; it's a man abusing himself to the most odious fantasies, his ejaculations arcing gracefully over our heads to our applause. 

The ending--what can I say, except it's an accusation so grand and vicious it takes a former Catholic's breath away. This is the kind of attack Von Trier can only dream of making, only he lacks the talent (audacity he has plenty of, but hell, I know poodles about as audacious...).



The pope

Being a lapsed Catholic and all, it's surpising how much a long-dead tooth can bother you when uprooted. The pope embodied much of what was conservative about the church and its longstanding views on abortion and homosexuality, and while he did a lot for Poland under communist rule, he wasn't quite as vocal about the role of the church in South American politics.

Basically, what I thought were his worse flaws were a failure at enlightenment in specific areas, and, a failure to be more active speaking out in areas where he was more enlightened, especially as he got older.

When the Passion brouhaha was at its height, he was at a position to speak out against Gibson's snuff flick, but he didn't. I like to think this was more a reflection of his weakened condition and current influence over the entire church (which, at best, was probably incomplete, maybe even minor), and of Gibson's tactlessness in bothering a very sick old man; maybe it was more than can be hoped for that he didn't endorse the movie. The Jewish community more or less regarded him as a friend, and I think it's significant that they didn't ask for more than that non-endorsement--maybe they would have if he was in better health.

I think he was a good man, perhaps too old-fashioned, trying to do his best in a pretty hopeless position. Many people loved him--many Filipinos especially (funny, but I can write this easily in an American forum but I hesitate to post this in a Filipino forum--mostly out of a reluctance to admit I share their feelings more than I let on). It was pretty clear the love was reciprocated, at least as much as humanly possible. I wish he could have done more, or at least rose above his biases, I suspect it's too much to have expected of him, what with the corrupt system he was the nominal head of. For some strange reason, I think I'm going to miss him.