Pablo Berger’s BLANCANIEVES “Never take your eyes off the bull”

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© 2014 by James Clark

      It seems a bit strange, wanting at the outset to dig into a rather complex point of film design, for a film virtually no one has seen. But, as never before with this series of film finds, we are about a film disclosure that entails a much-deserved rebirth, in the wake of the extreme failure to thrive that was its fate back in 2012, when it attracted (ignored) kudos on the part of a handful of critics but received no serious distribution. Blancanieves came forward as, alas, the second (by mere months) silent film of the 21st century (after Michel Hazanavicius’ enormously popular and acclaimed comedy, The Artist). Both Hazanavicius and Pablo Berger, the writer/director of our film here, worked independently to mine crucial currents of sensibility that could be startlingly accentuated by bringing body language to very intense levels in silent black and white filming replete with special filtering of the grey scale and a cast of masters of dance and mime. But whereas The Artistbanked upon the copious rich windfalls forthcoming to largely mainstream domesticity, Blancanieves had a far darker and deeper story to tell.

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Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’AVVENTURA “I feel as if I don’t know you…”

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© 2014 by James Clark

 Some years back, I wrote an essay on L’Avventura (1960) as usefully clarified by Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000). There the thematic wonderment centered upon a tidal wave of social exigencies shattering intimations of integrity which would cut across the grain of mountainously firm and venerable laws of survival.

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ALAIN RESNAIS and ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD “Why would you be afraid?”

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© 2014 by James Clark

      The intricacies of Anton Corbijn’s film, A Most Wanted Man(2014), come down, it seems to me, to the readily ignored grace note of solitude. (For that matter, Jonathan Glazer’s Birth [2004] also exposes that elusive treasure.) In the Corbijn film it is only intimated by the disaster in its absence and the rumor of its presence in the sailing we hear about (once) but never see. On having, over the past four years, gathered together what sometimes seems to be a filmic mountain of exigencies painfully including that possibility of quiet, I think it is time to pay specific attention to three films from the dawn of contrarian go-for-broke, quite well-known but not widely enough cherished for their daring—namely, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Marguerite Duras’ India Song (1975). Generally understood as instances of a filmic tsunami of ennui and distemper triggered by a World War palpably obviating the allure of the kind of heroics which had served for so long as a cogent grace note, the choreographic imperatives of those hugely alienated creations have been substantively overlooked—in itself a powerful revelation of the hardness of the crisis they address.

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TIFF SELLS THE MOVIES—MARKETING DESIGN STRATEGIES

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© 2014 by James Clark

Film festivals are remarkable in many ways. The approach I want to explore a bit is the marketing apparatus one can dip into in order to post some semblance of “success” with a varied population.

The chess game shown above was part of a first weekend midway along a span including the TIFF headquarters and the concert hall where  A list celebrities would be on hand to  show and promote their latest venture. Like chess, winning in the festival wars takes a certain kind of smarts. While we’re examining this matter as pertaining  to Toronto, let’s begin with the year’s tagline, “This Is Your Festival.”

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Francois Truffaut’s ‘Jules and Jim’ (1962) “It’s a confused and self-indulgent play”

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© 2014 by James Clark

      Jules and Jim (1962) is a staple of the French New Wave and thereby we brace ourselves for a monsoon of flip self-congratulation. In doing so, however, we should not close the door on valuable surprises.

The prime mover of this filmic flare-up, Francois Truffaut, turns out to be, even by movie standards, very volatile. We might best clarify our concern here by noting a moment from the DVS’s supplementary programming. The man who coined “auteur” (only to have a posse of such colleagues outstrip his daring and lucidity) is giving a TV interview whereby he wants to maintain, to a not fully won-over host, that his film is all about “two wonderful men and a wonderful woman.” After flashing a quietly smug smile at the recollection of how thrilled was the novelist, Henri-Pierre Roche, to have his original version of the narrative forming the prototype for the film, Truffaut proceeds to assure us that the questionably odd fusion of moods he brings our way is absolutely true to the writer’s purpose. Here is the helmsman’s rendition of the heart of Roche’s autobiographical work, an account which a perusal of the original writing would clearly contradict. “This story, with its shocking situation, is never scandalous or indulgent, because it is a tale about morality. But this morality doesn’t come from the outside world. It’s invented by the characters as they go. And never out of self-indulgence, but out of necessity… All this must have been very painful back then. Yet fifty years later, it enchants him…” Under further questioning, the ingratiating man of the hour warns us not “to believe it too strongly… It had to be filmed like an old photo album…”

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ARCADE FIRE—DON’T DREAM OF MISSING THEM!

 

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c. James Clark 2014

Many rock and roll bands pride themselves on a punchy rhythm section. Those Montreal-based, world-renowned rockers, Arcade Fire, true to their Surrealist captivation, take percussive fire to startling dimensions! Their numerous pistons, deftly digitalized, do not simply get your toes tapping but transport the listener’s whole body into a dynamic  thrust such that the subsequent incidents (vocal and instrumental) play out as enacting a saga of proceeding, no longer part of the normal, mainstream, rational world. (The comprehension may be incisive for some and quite dull for others.)

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ANTON CORBIJN’S ‘A MOST WANTED MAN’: “I don’t sail…”

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© 2014 by James Clark

      Spy stories tend to get enmeshed in fulsome displays of overt cleverness and irony. Overt irony. Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man (2014) excitingly thinks outside the industry’s box.

Getting to the nub of its protagonist’s grubby accomplishment entails no small measure of mucking about in the narrative’s most murky moments. One of the most rewarding brownouts occurs when our protagonist, German agent, Gunther Bachmann, gets together with Martha, an American security expert based at the Embassy in Berlin, at a scuzzy bar at his home base of Hamburg. The picture of executive composure and sanguine fitness, always seen in a tastefully minimalist dark suit, she addresses her colleague—unkempt, overweight, insomnia-enshrouded—with, “Tell me which way you’re headed…” He sketches for her what she is well aware of, an Islamist terror ring prominently supported by a self-styled progressive fund raiser for humanitarian relief to displaced, innocent, warm-hearted Muslims. Bachmann’s immediate point, though, is that a more obvious and far less professional enemy of infidels, recently arrived in Hamburg, would be more effectively dealt with as a means of shutting down Abdullah the stealthy dealer of war bucks than as a jail-bound illegal small-fry. In the midst of his lobbying that simple dresser hopefully not simplistic, Bachmann becomes irritated that one of the drug-addled habitués of a place Martha responds to with, “Can’t do any better than this?” (no doubt mischievously  chosen by our personally sloppy but professionally formidable and witty charmer of a guide through a minefield that can cut down the best of them) is beating the shit out of a lady friend. He goes over to the attacker and levels him with a heavy blow (not bad for a chain-smoker). But the lady insists, “It’s OK,” and the peace disturbers are quickly peaceful with one another. Martha tells him, “Now I’m really impressed…” But did either of these hawk-eyes consider the simplistic implications of such goodwill, staring them right in the face?

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RICHARD LINKLATER’S BOYHOOD “I just thought there would be more…”

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© 2014 by James Clark

Boyhood (2014), seemingly in its trailer to be nothing so much as a Disney cash cow, is a uniquely forward-looking movie. Joining a roster of contemporary films on the case of what the old Surrealists referred to as the “more,” it is decidedly and thrillingly distant from “art” films as we have come to know them. Strikingly estranged from those blue-chip sagas of horrifyingly rugged individualism with their burdens of physical carnage and emotional massacre, it dares, in the confines of the Lone Star State, to convey the subversive phenomenon (shocking in iconoclastic circles because apparently rather conventional) of slow, uncertain maturation toward something new. Adding to its pariah status within the orbit of very tough love is its gusto for discovery about how mainstream domesticity fosters, however willy-nilly, migration away from mainstream domesticity.

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JONATHAN GLAZER’S BIRTH “That’s all I want….Peace…”

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© 2014 by James Clark

We’re at a prenuptial event in a large drawing room on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, possibly at that very coveted address, Park Avenue. A string trio in concert-hall-orthodox tuxedos proceeds through a rather precious prelude by way of coming to clarity for the melody of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” (a composition implicated in the mad, incongruous love pairings of the Shakespeare comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream). 

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ANNIE CLARK (ST. VINCENT) AND THE SLIPPERY ROAD TO THE NEXT THING

Sometimes we learn more from what disappoints us than from what excites us. For instance, there is a pop music phenomenon, recently lauded by the Smithsonian Magazine (and awarded, by them, an America Ingenuity recognition, in Performance Arts), who calls herself St. Vincent and fetchingly distributes a melange of lush melody and abrasive, often cornball jingles.

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