LARS VON TRIER’S NYMPHOMANIAC “I don’t think this is for you…”

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© 2014 by James Clark

Lars von Trier’s archipelago of a movie, Nymphomaniac (2013), spreading across about five hours and ranging toward us in two (time) zones of ticketed statement, could, if aptly engaged, be one of those “trips of a lifetime.” But it takes us to a place as far as you could go from relaxation.

It shows us a protagonist, Joe, a woman we’d hesitate to call an ordinary Joe; and yet, when all is said and done, we might conclude she has failed (though certainly not without giving it an exceptional shot) to get out of the rut we all know, at some level, we suffer from. Does her one-girl-assault upon that citadel of the constrictions of intimacy inadvertently whisper to us (and here perhaps the length of the exercise proves its worth)—whispering being an odd concomitant of such high-volume (would-be) subversiveness—a far better (but, alas, an even more daunting) approach?

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FRANCIS BACON AND HENRY MOORE ABSORBING TERROR

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 c. Jim Clark

Two British artists, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore, thriving within the mid-century avant-garde, have been linked in an exhibition (2014) organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Ashmolean Museum of London. Bacon’s bona fides as a loyalist of the grimmest wing of Surrealism have never been in doubt. But the tortured figuration of Henry Moore’s sculptures has tended to encourage more Stonehenge blissing than I-Mean-You-Baby stepping on expensive shoes. But you know, this extremely valuable exercise makes quite a powerful case for those temperamentally remote practitioners unwittingly setting up a correspondence by which to usefully explore a carnal hotbed of subversion and liberation. The photo above juxtaposes a Moore figure, undergoing not all that terrible deterioration, with a Bacon illustration of emergency-ward-level deformation for life.

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FEDERICO FELLINI’S LA STRADA (THE ROAD) “Anybody with a weak heart better not look…”

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© 2014 by James Clark

Pasolini’s angry bid to undo not only modernist cinema but modernist culture may be an annoyance; but it’s also a golden opportunity. A special aspect of this windfall is Giulietta Masina, coming to us along those sightlines as the Antipode of the lumpen amateurs Pasolini would favor (not quite getting what Bresson was up to with that angle). Pasolini’s rather systematic but flamboyant notion of gender unwittingly shines a spotlight upon the supposed more natural and efficacious sense of integrity a quorum of female historical players possesses (to be supplemented by the coercive efficacy of the few teachable males on the planet). His sincerely longing for interpersonal decency, while happily installing mass regimes of bestial indifference, redirects our view to those of his filmmaker contemporaries who pursued their muse in resisting being sideswiped by traditional rationalism, including Italian neorealism. As such our examination of the case of Pasolini’s film output—a probe looking for signs of the wherewithal to counter being mired in half-measures—takes on a very welcome complement, namely, the films of Federico Fellini, which bring us to his muse and wife, Giulietta Masina.

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PIER PAOLO PASOLINI’S ARABIAN NIGHTS “The truth lies in many dreams”

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© 2014 by James Clark

Jep, the erratic protagonist and man-about-town of Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (2013), could be described as a man who has experienced a thousand and one Arabian nights. His embrace of “vibrations” does, very markedly, include a rich sense of irony and a strong sense of self-criticism. Not for him an educated playboy’s satisfaction in soaking up the fruits of a liberal historical momentum. During a lull in one of his parties, he sits with his rather glum and confused housekeeper and pronounces, “This wildlife I’m surrounded by…they’re my people…” [I’m stuck with them; and they keep me away from serious literature].

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GREAT MODERN FILMMAKERS

RATHER HAVE THE BLUES is delighted to celebrate 4 years of film brilliance.

Robert Altman; Michelangelo Antonioni; Darren Aronofsky; Daniel Axel ; Malik Bendjelloul;Ingmar Bergman ;Budd Boetticher ;Catherine Breillat ;Robert Bresson ;Louis Bunuel ;TimBurton ; Leos Carax ;Lee Chang; Henri-Georges Clouzot;Joel and Ethan Coen;Denis Cote; David Cronenberg; Lee Daniels; Jacques Demy ;Federico Fellini;Cary Fukanaga;David Gelb;Jean-Luc Godard ;Michael Haneke ;Jessica Hausner ;Howard Hawks ;Michel Hazanavicius ;Tom Hooper ;John Huston ;Wong Kar Wai;Abbas Kiarostami;David Lean;Ernst Lubitsch;David Lynch;Terrence Malick;Arthur Miller;Bennett Miller;Pier Paolo Pasolini; Nicolas Refn;Kelly Reichardt;Mark Romanek;Gary Ross; Paolo Sorrentino; Quentin Tarantino;Hiroshi Teshigahara;Dalton Trumbo;Lars Von Trier;Billy Wilder; William Wyler;Jia Zhangke

PAOLO SORRENTINO’S THE GREAT BEAUTY “My heart’s in the highlands, my heart is not here”

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© 2014 by James Clark

 What can we bring to an ambitious film masking its ambitions in many ways? This question becomes especially pressing in face of the ultra-sophistication inherent in an order of modern Italian cinema, generally perceived to be inexorably receding into oblivion. The peculiarities of such a dilemma might never have staged a counter-thrust without the deft cinematic archaeology of Paolo Sorrentino as disclosed in his film from 2013, The Great Beauty.

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NICOLAS REFN’S VALHALLA RISING “What do you see?”

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© 2014 by James Clark

When we come to a film as bizarre as Nicolas Refn’s Valhalla Rising (2009), we are, perhaps unbeknown, placed within large demands to get to the bottom of its expressive design. The work appears at first glance to be a study of sorts concerning the ways of Nordic tribes in the late medieval period (say, 1000 AD) where a pagan (Viking?) ethos finds itself troublesomely confronted by the clerkish circumspection of bands galvanized by Christianity. At the outset, we are put on notice, along such lines, by this signage: “In the beginning there was only man and nature. Men came bearing crosses and drove the heathen to the fringes of the earth.” Judging from the Scottish dialect of the non-heathens here, we would seem to be dipping into the ethnology of early Britain. (Valhalla Rising was in fact filmed in Scotland, spilling our way as concentrated a swatch of disturbing atmosphere as you’re ever apt to see—unremittingly dark and damp and stark, with winds close to blowing the cast off of the planet, reminding us of the inclement features of Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, filmed in another weather hell, Canada.)

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SPIKE JONZE’S HER “I can feel we are together!”

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© 2014 by James Clark

After Theodore, the protagonist of Her (2013), completes a spate of ghost writing in his capacity as writer #612 at Beautiful Handwritten Letters, Limited, by putting himself under the skin of client, Marie, fondly reminding her husband to tell her about “one little thought you had today,” his supervisor comes along and tells him, “That’s beautiful! You are part man and part woman. The inner part is woman. It’s a compliment.” It’s also a distortion, of a film narrative far too subtle to fall effectively into the template of Southern California Lotus Land, sometime in a future whereby LA is as rife with pungent office, hotel and condo towers as Shanghai (the actual site) is today. Theodore is an expert in linking spouses and all manner of significant others, on the basis of touching those homespun strengths that bring the ordinary into the realm of the heart warming. He was married to a woman (now in the process of divorcing him) whose idea of writing played out to more weighty concerns. And, for the lion’s share of this lamb’s crossing our path here he has devoted considerable, perhaps surprising, energies to pursuing the interpersonal prospects of joining with a computerized operations system (an OS) designed in such a way as to deploy its informational resources toward evolving to infinite heights of discovery, especially as pertaining to mood. As such, this “Samantha,” as she calls herself, becomes the second woman in his life who brings him into a range of problematics where he performs badly—but not, as with his ex, Catherine, hopelessly.

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“If We Had Wings”: THE COENS’ ‘INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS’

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© 2014 by James Clark

 Two folksingers, Jean and Llewyn, at a time (1961) and place (Greenwich Village) supposedly welcoming to their calling, are in a coffee house discussing her imminent abortion. She’s married to Jim and theirs is a musical partnership beginning to be noticed for their undemanding lyricism. Llewyn, on the other hand, was partnered with Mike Timlin (not, perhaps, a successful baseball relief pitcher), until the latter committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. That defunct duo’s one and only album, “If We Had Wings,” was not without generous hooks and telling harmonies. Of late Llewyn’s been a soloist, and Jean, who tells him a bit earlier, “Fuck you, you asshole! Everything you touch turns to shit! I miss Mike!” [Perhaps he was the reliever, picking up the starter prone to losing his stuff], asks, “Do you ever think about the future?” Llewyn calmly retorts that her notion of progress being the suburbs and kids (unequivocally from Jim) is not for him. “It’s a little careerist and a little sad.

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“We’re mass communicatin’”: THE COENS’ “O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?”

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© 2014 by James Clark

Approaching a film with such a plethora of reckless screwballs as displayed in the Coens’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), we could iterate the boys’ Surrealist agenda as to self-distortion and attendant (absurdist) humor (which they delight in pretending to be apple-pie folksiness). Or we could catch them up in yet another dangerous stab at satire of American regional foibles (prone to self-indulgent distemper). But there is something quite wonderfully special lurking within this hayride and it prompts me to begin with the film’s one and only instance of dramatic subtlety.

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