Three Colours Blue (1993)

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It’s obviously charmingly beautiful and extremely heartfelt; Binoche plays Julie’s emancipatory, taciturn selfishness perfectly. The Angelopoulos opening plays into that 90s Bourne European grey melancholy, J homeless as she self-destructs outwardly from a flickering eye to a smashed door in hospital. I loved the tightrope confidence with single images, like the strong juxtaposition of the crooked old lady and Julie blissful in the sun – to me this was a double-edged assertion of her independence and perhaps, in retrospect, a foreshadowing that she would have to open her eyes eventually. But when she does, what does she end up with? Her mother can’t help, and herself goes un-helped. Olivier isn’t any the less selfish for his devotion; the tv assault on her privacy is almost sickening to watch, a real trap. And she escapes by accepting him? The liberty was so conditional as to feel more than a little regressive.

I just would have finished the ending off differently.

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Love Is The Devil (1998)

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First time with John Maybury. A study for a portrait as much of George Dyer as it is of Francis Bacon – which is great, because Dyer’s is a fascinating story. The film this put me most in mind of was Fox and His Friends: the complex antagonism of the bonds that bind the couple, against the gaps which divide them, stretches their mental states in painful directions until one of them really snaps. Keeping GD relatively centre-stage is appealing because it bolsters the comment that FB really didn’t acquit himself well personally in this period: their sadomasochistic dynamic is cruelly inverted away from the bedroom, with FB and his cabal of cackling grotesques bullying GD into dependency and internal destitution. FB describes the liberating ecstasy of entirely abdicating one’s will in the service of another man, but the tragedy of the bigger picture is that people can’t stay irreducibly small forever.

The film’s other strength is its refraction of GD’s mental decline through improvised Baconian imagery (the artist’s estate wouldn’t permit JM the use of any of his actual work). It suggests that Bacon was a feeder, witnessing his visions vicariously. GD’s haunting premonitions of abstracted destruction – a man hunched and bloodied all over with a handkerchief hat, slipping off a beam into darkness – evokes William Blake’s sketch of soul of a flea. Other ice-bath moments of second sight include a narcotically shot nightmare (awakening No!) and a shrinking into darkness which reminded me of Glazer’s effects in Under The Skin. I could have handled more of the feverish effects, either as A Field In England-style psychedelics or Jarman’s absurd vignettes.

Jacobi is uncanny, visually, as Bacon, and revels in a revolting Capote-esque haughtiness hammed up with affectations towards tragedy. Next to Craig’s gurning fits of convulsions his painterly reveries come off a bit Simon from Spaced at times. The highlight is a patiently shot morning routine, with toothpaste giving way to polish for hair and extensive make up, figuring Bacon’s self-fashioning as congruent with his art. His shakespearian interior monologues form intriguingly illustrative if sometimes opaque interludes.

Like Jarman it’s very visual, and the script is at times a little stiff. Not sure I was entirely happy with the accents on show either.

Great score from Ryuichi Sakamoto.

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Heshel’s Kingdom (1998)

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Fist time with Dan Jacobson. Certainly clear why Sebald found it thought-provoking enough to write Aust, though DJ’s style is more level (less uniformly melancholic), despite some excursions into passionate questioning (eg. 180). Also a lighter touch (“His Britannic Majesty’s Lieutenant-Colonel Wholly Illegible” 51), with some Brysonian travel moments on 115 and 175. Some pretty devastating meditations and vignettes on 39, 104, 178, 189, etc. Overall just as elusively intergeneric as WGS, being a blend of travel writing, history and auto/biography. Plenty on witnessing, exile, photography (and representation more generally), distances (geographical, psychological, vital/mortal), religious (Jewish, exclusively) constitution of these issues, commemoration and museums.

  • Xi Unreachable history. Human creation
  • 3 witnessing for H. I can speak of him and he cannot answer. 5 task and gift of the living. 219 impossibility of giving testimony. 234 I did not know how to speak of him
  • 6 h is death before and after life
  • 7 more spatial metaphors for death 52 17
  • 8 Jewish nationalistic view of immortality
  • 12 exile at home in Lith. 35 L strange world, obscure moral. 55 to ask for a cup of tea is an adventure, alienating the familiar. 72 only world SA post exile is narrativised. 170 arty world of Lith. 181 reciprocal distance
    • 30 DJ himself feels stranded between poles
  • 13-4 vulnerability of the face to face
  • 15 looking through his glasses, Aust
  • 19 homesickness is universally similar
  • 39 historical similarity only backwards. 47 Hs emphasis on continuity
  • 51 light touch Colonel. 115 bill bryson travel 175
  • 64-5 lives set out, dispersed from point of H death
  • 67 cunning of unreason
  • 69 DJ through train window
  • 75 Lith was like a wound within me. Returning is uncanny
    • 77-8 old world like a womb fled. Dj spoken for in literature. 96 inarticulation
  • 91 holocaust hard to believe though known to have happened, “quasi-fictional”
  • 92 barrier in history
  • 94 compulsion to return
  • 98 spacelessness and timelessness of Jewish experience
  • 104 night terrors
  • 112 WGS underpopulation, 115 witnessing
  • 126 Polyvalence of place names
  • 129-30 ethics of photography. 143 nazi synagogue museums
  • 149 survivors like deaf
  • 158 spatiality of evil
  • 176 quasi revenants
  • 178 welled up a bit at the negotiations of responsibility. 180 passionate criticism of Austria
  • 189 death of a cemetery
  • 208 mundanity replaces the abyss
  • 217-9 ease of blaming victims. Impossility of secular extraction from J teleology
  • 230 dormancy
  • 234 see above

 

King of New York (1990)

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Second time with Abel Ferrara after Bad Lieutenant.

After a penitential Christopher Walken is led out of his scantily monkish cell he’s escorted through a steaming night-time New York which looms up at him through the windows of his limo. The buildings are drenched in a Gotham electric blue (check the neo-noir poster); Badalamenti synths wash through the scene and increase the sense of intimidating alienation. KoNY (paint the night) is best when NY takes on the status of a character, as towards the end, after CW has hacked away at his inner circle like Richard III (having dispensed some killer lines – “bury it with him”), when its neon blocks rear above the seedy basement and remind him that he can never win (“If I can have a year or two I’ll make something good”). CW is King in a king-of-the-jungle way: the suffocating, tentacular city is the only winner.

KonY is a predictably hard-nosed and unflinching but surprisingly sleek depiction of the drug war that pulled snarling antagonists from both side of the law into a moral black hole. CW, though, is looking at the stars after a supposed reformation and a convincing conviction to drain his nihilistic associates and partners for cash to prop up a hospital in the deprived local neighbourhood. His performance is great – there’s a subtle disengagement, which goes beyond world-weariness, in his eyes from the tense weigh-in vs Lawrence Fishburne’s psychotic henchman and previous employee. He knows the rules, and he knows the risks, but he wants something else. Definitely connected with him more than the foul, even demonic Keitel of BL, who seems to generate the town’s moral torpor rather than react to it.

Can see his stated influences in this: Pasolini in the charged visual symbolism (the madonna and the coca cola signs cast shadows); Fassbinder’s unapologetic political righteousness; Kubrick in the clean, centred headshots and the menace of elegance (first connection is obviously with Eyes Wide Shut because of the NY decadence). Also thought of Elio Petri’s Investigations of a Citizen Above Suspicion during the simple and self-explanatory shots of dripping material wealth, particularly at the beginning.

Not perfect: stretches of the action feel like high-powered bluster which drowns out the message, and there’s some dodgy acting particularly from David Caruso. But the politics are great, which leads to an unsettlingly righteous rant by CW in the home of his opposite number, and some nice touches like the continual pressure on a disingenuous local politician (there’s even an accusatory cake like the one in The Bad Sleep Well). I’ll definitely return to KonY to see CW stalking out of the subway like reheated death, swimming through the vast crowds and silent glass walls until he collapses bleeding into a cab, cops closing in like teeth.

7

The God Of Small Things (1997)

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Picked this up amid the buzz around Arundhati Roy’s new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

Title refers to the subsumption of personal grievance into the “Worse Things” that happen on a national level. The impossibility of stacking our own needs and pleas against a mass of traditional and political movements.

So Small God laughed a hollow laugh, and skipped away cheerfully. … He whistled, kicked stones. The source of his brittle elation was the relative smallness of his misfortune. He climbed into people’s eyes and became an exasperating expression. (19)

Here framed as Larry’s inability to comprehend an expression on the face of his wife Rahel, central character. Thus this disparity helps introduce friction from cultural clashes both domestic (most notably caste, religion) and international (Anglo-Indian). Successful love (even if temporary) is framed, in TGoST, as a focus on Small Things, even if (especially if) temporarily so.

The Big Things ever lurked inside. they knew that there was nowhere for them to go. They had nothing. No future. So they stuck to the small things. (338)

This also helps decode Roy’s distinctively empirical style. Nearly every chapter is introduced with Conradian scenery (HoD is an explicit touchstone, but I thought also of the peripheral isolation and partial porosity of Almayer’s Folly‘s outpost), as if the scenery imposes itself upon its inhabitants. Minor observational details stick, become extended metaphors that build into a kaleidoscopic symbolic vocabulary for complicated personal histories. Perhaps excluding the climactic final third, this modal cascading makes Roy’s novel a kind of minimalist tone poem. This irreducible, rhythmic quality sometimes threatens to rise and overwhelm the narrative (compare, as I had to, Midnight’s Children, with its narratively micromanaged tapestry of foreshadowing and callbacks. AR does do well to confound expectations, though, playing with character perspectives to reveal initially unseen truths: Balliol alum Uncle Chacko is presented as a liberal intervention into ignorant patriarchal violence (48) before being shown to hypocritically manipulate laws of property to cement his own masculine ascendency (57).). However, the tonality ties in to the running theme of childish perspective and interpretation of relationships and events, which is dominated by (sometimes inaccurately) rote-learned, capitalised concepts and phrases – Small Things take on supreme, constitutional importance.

Baby Kochamma, principle villain, serves to distort Big Things through her own personal worries as avarice and spite. She has become isolated, imposed upon by grander forces (“She viewed ethnic cleansing, famine and genocide as direct threats to her furniture” 28) but not above manipulating them to maintain her status quo. She is an agent for the conservative forces which heartbreakingly pin Estha and Rahel in their places, as when they are unable to constitute themselves as victims rather than perpetrators.

The pressure and heat warps family relations, introducing the theme of forbidden love which reacts with frailty against convention, at least until the empowering final chapter (it is the twins’ mother Ammu’s romantic rebellions that primarily compel BK to light the fuse). Untouchable carpenter Velutha is central here; his crime is one of attitude:

It was not what he said, but the way he said it. Not what he did, but the way he did it. (76)

Interesting to consider alongside The End of Eddy, in which EL’s crimes are not of action but of appearance and description. V’s horrifying punishment – the consummation of a thread of tragedy that extends from the death of Ammu (161) which ranks with Nabokov’s Luzhin’s father for cold pathos – is horrifyingly matter of fact, a weighing-in of history upon individual life, a reassertion of order through authority. It is amid these later incomprehensible terrors that the childish perspective blooms as an effective device evoking regressive traumatised responses: their families are rendered as the grieving parents of Hamelin in their plans to abscond through terrified reaction against Ammu’s condemnation (292), but they come home to roost in the History House like “Hansel and Gretel in a ghastly fairy tale in which their dreams will be captured and redreamed.” (293) Throughout, however, imagination is preserved as a precious defence-system, a flickering vestal flame:

The twins climbed into the vallom and rowed across vast, choppy waters.
With a Thaiy thaiy thaka thaiy thaiy thome. And a jewelled Jesus watching.
He walked on water. Perhaps. But could He have swum on land?
In matching knickers and dark glasses? With his Fountain in a Love-in-Tokyo? In pointy shoes and a puff? Would He have had the imagination? (211)

Roy’s style is very distinctive but sometimes distracting, as mentioned, and occasionally the fey misunderstandings feel uncomfortably persistent (childish, even). The story can verge on mawkish, if shocking, melodrama. But the telescopic scoping is handled seamlessly, with the interrelation of Big and Small events integral both to the worldview and the plot. Definitely a keen eye for detail, synesthetic description of a beautiful and broken world. The sort of book that rewards more the more you invest in it.

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Lost Highway (1997)

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Watched this a little while ago.

Lynch is great at imbuing everything with a sense of danger. Nothing is safe, like in actual nightmares, where the link between threat and warning is broken. The first half plays out like a postmodern gothic story about domestic terror, a proper eerie exposition of the power of horror that strikes closest to home. Perspective switching between swooping interior presence and static overhead CCCTV observation. Zizek said something about the two parts representing the fear of normal life and then movie mad fantasy respectively.

“I like to remember things my own way.” Definitely feeling Videodrome from the taped messages, the weird man filming everything.

“This is some spooky shit we got here.” Authority is often hapless in his movies (it exists on the same level as childish innocence and fronted normality) but that makes the empty prison feel a bit weird. Can’t escape the feeling with this one that there’s enough bad stuff being done to real people by recognisable perpetrators that the fantasies of shadowy manipulators seems a little escapist (c/ Badalamenti in Mulholland Dr., BOB)

Really tips the omnivorous pastiche overboard here. Weird cameos (Richard Pryor as a wacky mechanic, Henry Rollins basically playing himself as a prison guard), the Edgar Wright coffee-table death, ridiculous soundtrack (Rammstein?). I will say that LH has possibly the funniest David Lynch moment I have seen: Mr. Eddy beating up a tailgater Ray Liotta-style on the side of the road, frothing and screaming statistics about road accidents.

Besides all that it too often feels like a David Lynch Starter Pack. Mulholland Dr. identity crisis, Blue Velvet perversion of innocence / the sub-Hopper performance from Loggia / horror on the lawn, Twin Peaks Coop in the mirror. This time my heart wasn’t in the task of putting the puzzle together. Perhaps would have been more intrigued in 1997 but we probably don’t need this one any more.

Bill Pullman should play Ted Hughes.

“Do you like pornos?”

6

The Garden (1990)

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First time with Derek Jarman.

Gardens are claimed spaces; marshalled and worked-upon but essentially open and flowing, personal and impersonal. “I want to share this emptiness with you” says J over frenetic opening footage of a floodlit set, swimming dizzy like a memory, “this wilderness of failure.” The Garden is explicitly presented as an alternative to directed and directing narrative; a negative space of uncertainty. A retreat, a holing-up inside the mind. Yet it has a lot to say and buried themes slowly surface and coalesce.

Tilda Swinton as a Madonna, a paragon mobbed by paparazzi in balaclavas like terrorists. She burns out and is left scrubbing the rocks, sifting; isolated in a cabin with a scream and a candle. A Tiresias figure: when the tragic couple above are introduced (their story constituting the closest thing to a narrative through-line) they throw rocks into the sea idyllic, sunshine idleness like A Single Man; cuts to TS wind-battered grubbing for mushrooms. Boys fighting with pillows; TS bitterly plucking a pheasant in the dark.

Frequent use of green-screen staging like a Platonic cave: the fire of ambient scenes – Super 8 burning hurtling – projecting onto portentous women running fingers round wine glasses, a Spanish dance upon the table, later scenes of distress. Conscious revelling in artificiality. (To me this ties in with a theme of broken promises and dashed expectations, the naïvety of the couple as fragile self-representation) Later scenes of boys washing disturbed, clouds over and the eldest furiously pushes J himself and his camera away.

The Think Pink song is amazing, dazzling jingle over a backdrop of a gay rights march (in Cambridge?). A hanged Judas, gnawed tongue purple and exposed, a ponytailed suited man with a spotless motorcycle using his corpse to flog credit cards.

The seemingly more personal memories are often the best: the public school boy frantically spinning a globe on that table while old masters slap their canes or open-close books like automatons; a sprinting PE-teacher furiously blowing a whistle (later horrifyingly interpolated as a tuxedoed observer to a stoning in dresses, those paparazzi flashing. – these image bleedthroughs string scenes together and add to the aurora of nightmare)

Environmental disaster. Jesus beneath the pylons. “This year winter never came…”

Lynchian feel throughout and the apotheosis is the cafe. The couple silent, gagged and bruised as police build simian laughter; smearing treacle on the captive condemned, tar and feathers as they bellow operatically. (the main guy looks like BOB) This is horrifying.

The poem at the end is really heartbreaking, and for me redeemed any discomfort with the occasionally bald exhibition of imagery. “Old age came quickly for my frosted generation.” Jarman in his garden awaiting his death from AIDS complications, four years after the film four years after diagnosis. Writhing on a bed pushed out to sea. Turning the pages of a journal, scenes of industry, red clouds piling past overhead.

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