week in review, 03/05 – 03/18/2012

This last week was devoted to midterms so I missed last week’s update (and the lack of updates in general).  The following accounts for the last two weeks.

Theatrical Viewing

Children of Paradise PosterThe Long Day Closes (Terence Davies, UK, 1992) – SF Film Society, 35mm; 2nd Viewing

Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, France, 1946) – Castro Theatre, DCP; 2nd Viewing

Time Regained (Le temps retrouvé)
(Raúl Ruiz, France, 1999) – PFA, 35mm; 3rd Viewing

Home Viewing

The Curse of the Cat People (Robert Wise & Gunther von Fritsch, 1944) – Projected DVD; 2nd Viewing

Finished Reading

Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Hidden Hand, or, Capitola the Madcap by E.D.E.N. Southworth

[The links are to my reviews at Goodreads.]

Possibilities for This Next Week

Red River (Howard Hawks, USA, 1948) – PFA, 03/20

The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (Raúl Ruiz, France, 1979) with Le colloque de chiens (Dog’s Dialogue) (Raúl Ruiz, France, 1977) – PFA, 03/23

Napoléon(!!!) (Abel Gance, France, 1927) – Paramount Theatre, 03/24


entomological absurdities

Wladyslaws Starewicz’s The Cameraman’s Revenge (Russia, 1912) is a 12 minute short that a century on still bristles with a vitality and life so modern–or to be more precisely, so timeless–that someone could have shown it to me and I could have been convinced it was, say, the latest YouTube sensation currently trending on Twitter.

The story itself isn’t much: a rather banal, très French romantic farce regarding the sexual hijinks of a bourgeois married couple.  But the wonderful, unique twist: the characters are preserved insects brought to life through the wonders of stop-motion animation.  There are many elements to savor–the casual depiction of Mr. and Mrs. Beetle’s marital infidelity, the intricate mise-en-scène, the sophisticated sight gags, a prophetic proto-paparazzi depiction, the complex commentary on both the filmmaking process and the act of film watching–but the most dazzling accomplishment of The Cameraman’s Revenge is the way Starwicz is able to so uncannily anthropomorphize these most inhuman of creatures.   This is made possible through a highly attuned sense of movement and gesture, demonstrating a precision that is unexpectedly graceful, and at moments surprisingly moving.

While watching it I couldn’t help but think of it as a the perfect counterbalance to that great artistic meditation of humanity-as-insect that is practically the film’s exact contemporary: Kafka’s classic short story The Metamorphosis, first published in 1915.  But rather than Kafka’s existential depiction of deteriorating, debased humanity, Starewicz relishes in the comical foibles and absurdities of life and love, and instead discovers within the inanimate insect form the means to explore a flipside of the human condition: its surrealistic humor.

[Watch The Cameraman’s Revenge online at Fandor or Ubu Web.]

week in review, 02/27 – 03/04/12

What a week!  It might be my record for seeing films theatrically in a non-festival context.  First viewings unless otherwise noted.

Theatrical Viewing

A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven) (Powell & Pressburger, UK, 1946) – Castro Theatre, 35mm; 3rd viewing

The Music Lovers (Ken Russell, UK, 1970) – Castro Theatre, 35mm

Freaks (Tod Browning, USA, 1932) – Roxie Theater, 16mm; 2nd viewing

Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, USA, 1932) – Roxie Theater, 35mm

Three Lives and Only One Death (Raúl Ruiz, France /Portugal, 1996) – PFA, 35mm

Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, USA, 1932) – Stanford Theatre, 35mm; 2nd Viewing

One Hour With You (Ernst Lubitsch, USA, 1932) – Stanford Theatre, 35mm; 2nd Viewing


An Evening with Claude Lanzmann – JCCSF

Looking Forward to This Next Week

The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies, UK, 1992) – SF Film Society, 03/08

Children of Paradise (Marcel Carné, France, 1946) – Castro Theatre, 03/10

And however many of the Pre-Code films at the Roxie I can get myself to!

exploring the in-between spaces

I have no idea where such expectations came from, but I’m rather ashamed to admit now that I went into Chocolat (Claire Denis, France/Cameroon, 1988) thinking it was going to be a rather conventional film, a solid if comparatively unexceptional starting point for one of the most interesting directors working today.  And while it admittedly doesn’t quite reach the highest points of her career so far, Chocolat is a debut film of remarkable assurance, and establishes Denis as one of those rare directors whose unmistakable aesthetic appears to have emerged fully formed right from the start.

What is truly remarkable, and what confirms a rather formidable confidence for a first-time director, is how relentlessly distanced the film keeps the viewer from the unfolding narrative–at first this simply seems to be indicative of the limited perspective of childhood, but as the film continues it becomes clear that something more rigorous and exacting is being undertaken: the articulation of a very particular (and extremely nuanced) type of post-colonial perspective where the member of the colonizing class subversively identifies with the colonized subject.

This is exactly what happens to young France (the name serving as a a rather uncharacteristically heavy-handed bit of symbolism), the white French girl whose attachment to her family’s dignified servant (Isaach De Bankolé) ends up superseding any feelings of identification with her parents and the comforts of the bureaucratic class that they so clearly enjoy.  This inevitably creates a precarious situation, as France is never able to fully own her privilege as a member of the colonizing class nor is able to assimilate into the colonized position, and instead becomes suspended in a ghost-like state between these two clashing worlds.

As it turns out, of course, the entirety of Denis’s subsequent oeuvre has operated within this type of “in-between” space, and while the specific locales change, the thoughtful dedication in exploring the instability, vulnerability and (occasional) pleasures and insights these places afford–both of a physical and psychic type–do not.  It is also interesting to note that throughout her career Denis has cinematically returned to Africa with almost an perfect symmetry–Chocolat in 1988, Beau Travail in 1999 and White Material in 2009, itself a fascinating repetition that itself deserves a thoughtful analysis.  I hate to admit that my students almost universally disliked it–“it just didn’t go anywhere” became the common refrain–but nearly all grudgingly had to admit there were moments and sequences of remarkable power and resonance.  And for me, it was a hypnotic film experience.