Sunday, September 18, 2011

Change of heart, plus VIFF notes (near identical to Alienated in Vancouver post)

Sorry, folks: I've decided to not bother with this other blog, either. It must seem vain and self-contradictory for me to even write about it here, but the decision to give up blogging (for now) is a big one for me, part of a fairly substantial life change I seem to be undergoing. So I'm going to explain why at some length, for anyone still peeking in.

I had thought that it would be a good idea to start a new blog that allowed me to focus strictly on film: one of the few reliable perks I've had from my writing is getting into films I've written about free (theatres are a lot less of a hassle to deal with than concert promoters and/or bands). Cinema is a constant companion for me, something I do love, and it seems like a more than worthy cause to support Vancouver's arthouse cinemas and festivals. Plus it's a lot easier for me, now that I'm stuffed away in Maple Ridge, to access film (via screeners, torrents and matinees) than it is for me to attend music events.

However:

a) I am not making sufficient money at present via writing to support myself. I had hoped that this might change this year - I actually paid my rent for one month with proceeds from the Georgia Straight this summer, a first-time-ever accomplishment for me that made all the work I've done seem briefly worthwhile. But it didn't last; assignments since have been highly sporadic. There was a time when it seemed like using this blog and other "free writing" projects as a way to build a name for myself ("exposure") was wise, but the amount of exposure I've been able to get is at this point insufficient to justify the continued endeavour.  

b) ...particularly since I am now unemployed with no stable sources of income.

c) The experience of film has changed for me greatly in the last few years. Rather than sharing arthouse and cult fare with sophisticated cineastes in the city, my selection criteria now mostly centres around trying to enterain my Mom. We watched the Samuel L. Jackson - Eugene Levy buddy comedy The Man today; it was highly entertaining, and it was great to see my Mom laughing aloud, rather uproariously, but certainly not the sort of film I have much to say about.

d) When not watching film with my Mom, my one friend in Maple Ridge is more of a Batman Begins kinda guy than he is interested in extreme horror, punk cinema, arthouse fare, or docs - my usual staples. We have managed to find a middle ground, so that when we do get together, we share films that both of us find vastly entertaining (and thanks to him, I've caught a few excellent movies that I *never* would have seen otherwise, like the delightful Candian dark comedy with Woody Harrelson as a mentally challenged, but morally righteous wannabe superhero, Defendor, or Henry Selick's disturbing but fascinating non-children's film Coraline. But again - tho' I'm enjoying them, these sorts of films are not what I would normally want to write about, at least not without either monetary or academic recompense of some sort. But between my Mom and said buddy - I watch almost no other films lately, outside class.

e) To the extent that I will be writing about film in the next while, it will likely be as a component of taking Film Studies at UBC. I'm not entirely sure about that course of action, either - I'm enjoying it, thus far, but wondering if I'd not be better off working on improving my CV re: teaching. In either case, the two classes I'm presently taking are more than enough for me to feel satisfied with my output, writing-wise. (Ironically, one of them will see me writing about The Dark Knight later in the session... but at least it will be in AID of something, y'know?).

Finally:

f) With so much uncertainty in my life as to what I want to do and what I should do - where to look for work (not a video store!), what course of study to pursue in school, watching film and writing about it free just seems like a vast distraction that will do nothing to soften what is starting to seem a pending existential crisis. The VIFF looms, and I have the opportunity to cover it, but with so many other things that I need to devote thought to, it seems intimidating and oppressive (imagine that!) to make time away from my studies, my Mom, and my search for work (such as it is) to watch films and write about them. I need to do something different with my life than I have been doing.

That said, I have to highlight a few VIFF recommendations, for old time's sake.

Cinephiles who liked Linda Linda Linda and the vaguely Fargo-like The Matsugane Potshot Affair will want to check out My Back Page, the new film by Nobuhiro Yamashita. I didn't get a chance to finish the film - Mom lost interest, which should not discourage any serious cinephiles out there (tho' don't bring your Moms). It's compelling stuff, the most serious of Yamashita's films that I've yet seen, looking at a chapter in Japanese history that I have not seen widely represented in cinema previously: the student radicalism of the late 1960's and early 1970's. The main character is an idealistic and sincere young journalist who gets involved with a morally questionable radical, who may not be what he seems. People who enjoyed the Baader Meinhoff movie that came out awhile back, or Koji Wakamatsu's excellent United Red Army, also about radicals in Japan, will probably value this film a great deal. I'll probably check it out myself, so I can see how it ends!

Also of note: a film I have not seen, one of those legendary "unseeable" films by a master of American cinema, Nick Ray, is screening: We Can't Go Home Again. Hopefully some film writer in Vancouver will do justice to this film - because it's a highly significant event, that this film has been finished (?) and released. That said - I haven't seen it and know little of it, save that I will be going.

The final two recommendations are absolutely relevant to my current life experience: Roadie (not the Meat Loaf film!) and Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse. Roadie, which I have not seen, deals with a middle-aged man who has been working as a roadie for the Blue Oyster Cult returning to his hometown, where his mother is beginning to show signs of dimentia. A life crisis ensues. It helps that I'm a Blue Oyster Cult fan (and what a PERFECT band to choose for this film); those of you who do not know their first three albums are directed to, oh, "ME262" - prior to their radio success with "Don't Fear the Reaper," they were consistently brilliant (which, say what you will about their later output, is inconsistent at the VERY best, though the band have continued recording and touring and keeping the machine going). But whether one is a BOC fan or not, this is an inspired topic for a feature film indeed: at the end of the day, despite the energy we pour into (and get out of) rock music, what is it really worth?

The Turin Horse is relevant in that apparently Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr is saying goodbye to filmmaking - he has declared that this will be his last film. I was able to preview this film the other week. I have one peeve, that I need get off my chest: the film begins with a narrated anecdote about the last lucid days of Friedrich Nietzsche. You may take your pick as to whether this narrative takes poetic license or simply gets it wrong; it repeats the tale - apparently unsubstantiated - of Nietzsche embracing a flogged horse in the streets of Turin, then has the philosopher collapse into silent madness afterwards, tended to by his mother and sisters, his last utterance supposedly being, “mutter, ich bin dumm” (“mother, I am stupid”).


Attempts to Google that phrase, which, despite having read a fair bit on Nietzsche, I have never encountered before, lead only to pages about the film, so I'm guessing it was contrived for the movie. But what really irritates me is that, presumably for the sake of elegant storytelling, no mention is made of Nietzsche’s final letters, written after the disturbance in the streets of Turin. He wrote several, and some of his “madness letters,” which he mostly signed “Dionysius” or “the Crucified,” have passages that are in fact quite moving (“Sing me a new song: the world is transfigured and all the heavens are full of joy.”) (See the selection of his 1889 letters in translation at http://www.davemckay.co.uk/philosophy/nietzsche/).

None of this will be of much significance to anyone but the most ardent Nietzschean, however, since the film is really interested (shades of Bresson’s Au Hazard Balthasar) in what happens to the horse - something, as the narrator points out, that is not known. The first images are of the horse and driver fighting a windstorm as they labour towards a rural farmhouse. There the driver, paralyzed in one arm, and his daughter struggle with the tasks of daily living - boiling potatoes, drawing water from the well, chopping wood. Wind howls outside, on a near-apocalyptic level. The first hour of the film is in this vein - in a rather gorgeous black and white similar to Tarr’s previous films, with very slow, utterly compelling camerawork, as usual. Mostly we hear the sound of the wind howling on the soundtrack; occasionally, droning chamber music of organ and strings, by previous Tarr collaborator Mih├íly Vig, swells on the soundtrack. (I should note that I am a fan of drone music and do not mean the term “droning” pejoratively; the score here is a bit Terry Riley, a bit Tony Conrad, and quite beautiful). About an hour in, a stranger comes in to ask for alcohol and offer philosophical exposition about how he is avoiding town, because it has become debased and ruined, with everything that is excellent beaten into submission or at least silence, the grasping hands of the takers finally having destroyed everything. There is an implied indictment of the great, the excellent, and the noble for their complicity in their own disappearance - they could have at least put up a fight (which presumably The Turin Horse is a final attempt to do). The death of God and the evils of capitalism appear to be referenced. Though the driver dismisses his visitor's claims as “rubbish,” they read as a heartfelt polemic against the state of things from Tarr and co-author Krasznahorkai - one which I find most sympathetic at present.

More happens in the film, but need not be recounted here - those wishing an austere communion at the church of cinema, for whom the names Bresson, Bergman, and Tarkovsky have resonance, are urged to see it, while those who don’t understand what I’m talking about are duly cautioned. It is a shame that Tarr is embracing silence himself, but after the disappointing reception of The Man from London (which I admired), it is good to see him going out on as strong a film as this.

One final note: the film is being identified with a movement I had previously not heard of, Remodernist Cinema, calling for a return to spiritually ambitious filmmaking. I’m all for it.

The VIFF catalogue is online here - happy browsing; enjoy the festival. Good luck.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A new blog... with nothing on it yet.

Name's Allan MacInnis. I've previously blogged on the site Alienated in Vancouver, and written about film and music for a variety of publications. Decided that it was time to re-focus my energies, blogwise, and do something entirely devoted to arthouse cinema in Vancouver. I may be adding other writers to this blog, as well - haven't quite figured out how to do that, yet!