not effectually gross, nor scary nor funny (disappointingly), though it is often riotously imaginative (if sometimes simply a big-budget bonanza of your favourite internet bilge). busdriver and george clinton are the only stars really going for it – there’s not enough music (though niki randa’s conbributions to ‘Royal’ are pretty) and the other cameos are unremarkable (tim heidecker, hannibal buress, david firth). buries some of its more interestingly serious themes. comforting and distracting at best, but too often boring, squawking and masturbatory.
the night club scene is a riot, a glittering rebirth of Drunken Angel‘s grimy bars; the drug den a terrifying dream; the conclusion a smouldering existential showdown. these scenes saved High and Low from being, for me, kurosawa’s urban Ran– an admirable but stubbornly unloveable feat. what starts as a chamber drama of passions and cinematic geometry morphs into The Battle of Algiers and then realises the potential of M.
on kurosawa’s titles for the english audience. there are the lyrical japanese gems (Ran, Rashomon, Yojimbo, Seven Samurai), the poetic sketches of human frailty (Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, I Live In Fear, The Bad Sleep Well), the glowing gothic images (Throne of Blood, Hidden Fortress, The Lower Depths). High and Low is itself a range of peaks: a tense abstraction, a trope of pulpy detective narratives, an ethical summation, a social portrait, a marlovian endgame.
it seems, as with perhaps only herzog, that every time now i watch one of his films i am left searching for someone who did it better.
my ornithophobia peaked in my teenage years and has waned slowly since, but i nonetheless thought until recently that i would never watch this film. i still cannot tolerate being near birds, particularly geese and swans in the uk, and my fear increases with the number and size of the animals. i can’t handle trafalgar square and i can’t look too long at pictures of dead birds or ostriches.
the birds in The Birds are scary but often do not feel sufficiently dangerous (see the petrol station carnage), which is interestingly analogous to a phobic response. some of the green screening is a weird marvel today, with the image-layering muffling the terror but preparing a more visceral response to the later, more physical attacks (the opening credits put me in mind of the best shot in The Duke of Burgundy). for me the most terrifying shots in this film are closeups and, particularly, the crows assembled in thick crowds on the climbing frame. as for the more bombastic swarms, such as in the central attack on the town, i think the film effectively imitates a phobic reaction to everyday close proximity to flying birds.
i have often wondered whether all the chickens in the world or all the humans in the world would win in a huge, controlled battle to the death. i picture this armageddon taking place on a large, flat landscape such as the salt flats of utah. there are around 20 billion chickens and 7 billion people on earth currently, leaving each human responsible for three birds, perhaps with a square metre of space for each engagement. there would be no weapons, while the chickens would exhibit group mentality by learning effective manoeuvres from those nearby, and any victorious humans or animals would be able to move on to aid their neighbours. after watching The Birds i have softened my position that the humans would run an easy victory (though the only chickens in the film are mentioned and offscreen).
this film itself is alluring but troubled. the characters are driven by weaknesses and insecurities that compel them together into a makeshift family. i was particularly interested in the relationship between annie and melanie in mitch’s shadow. the motivations of individuals are thought-provoking but their group hysteria is sometimes preposterous, and some of the secondary acting is off-putting. i loved the pacing at the start, though.
everyone should watch this film and agree that all birds are the fucking worst and the world would be better off if they did not exist.
This and Hereditary are the two great debuts of 2018 so far. Both handle grief within families and the way it changes our behaviour and warps us into unsettlingly inhuman forms. Both are structured ambitiously, with multiple focal characters and shifting perspectives, anticipating and manipulating your assumptions. The fact that Hereditary takes more risks, sometimes to its detriment, does not make Apostasy a safe film – there are irruptions of murky humour in the toughest moments that did not alienate me, and it plays confidently with a script that’s often limited to theological jargon and babble, running the risk of demeaning its characters, but never shaming them. The developing importance of mother Ivanna is an embrace, effectively, of the primary antagonist, which sidesteps the potential for bald vilification of their faith and community. As with Hereditary, there are plenty of angles to approach these, with doubting sister Luisa’s increasing and forbidden dependence on her mother driven by her single working class status, and with the tribulations of the family of three women being compounded by the fatherly advice and injunctions meted out by the trio of male Elders in a way that embodies constrictive christian paternalism. I read an insightful comment about the notable and frequent framing of characters with space above their heads in the shot, emphasising the space they allocate for God’s (unseeable) presence – the cinematography and editing of Apostasy are certainly notable strengths, too, with creative cutting and sound design evoking the characters’ mindsets smartly. It didn’t take too long to win me over, and it didn’t stop there.
unfortunately and eerily shortsided throughout. of the past 18 months’ creeping provincial dramas about familial trauma and the patriarchal structure of british farming communities, featuring maltreated dogs at the beginning and climaxes with shotguns in the rain, it’s the second best. but not by far.
there’s a great cut near the beginning from a flashback sequence at the waterfall, which introduces a sense of alice being separated from her past rather than rejoining it, to a shot of her silhouetted against a night skyline with a torch on the way home, which resembles bergman’s danse macabre. where the levelling showed a process of natural and moral exhumation, dark river shows how survivors can yet remain buried with their experiences.
surprise late first-period gem from antonioni. i now feel he needn’t have revisited these themes and scenes for Red Desert, though can see why he felt compelled to: there’s such cold richness in the peeling provincial sets, lunar Italian landscapes and untethered characters like blasted topsoil.
maintains sympathetic gravity despite having to reel in an initially repugnant protagonist (a kind of disaffected labouring Zampanino) on a linear-cyclical narrative line – paced excellently i might add, with antonioni not always reliable in this department in his heyday. elegant score too, and a characteristically bold but satisfying ending.
100th film post in just over a year, after a distinct lack of effort recently. letterboxd is useful but constrictive. plus it’s the summer now and i’m still spending all day in an office.
recent listening includes Snail Mail’s ‘Heat Wave’, Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, Kids See Ghosts, Songs: Ohia and REM’s ‘Harborcoat’. recent reading is My Struggle 5, The Vegetarian, and Leonora Carrington’s Down Below.