{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Friday, August 17, 2007

Movie Amateur Talk #1

I have tried, but failed to understand films as just the sequence of images, carefully shot and put together, which, I understand, a film - in flesh and blood (and bone), if not in spirit - actually is. Bresson said that a pianist presses specific keys (don't confuse this pressing with the emotional/sensual button pressing that Haneke brilliantly spoofs in the family pool sequence of Code Unknown) at right moments, for right duration, very precisely, without any emotions, but the music thus created, brings forth extraordinary sensations to us (This goes with his theory that says ‘Let feelings bring about events, not the contrary’). When someone says that the beauty of this shot was its length (Look, such a long shot !), I feel rather stupid to not even notice that simple thing. At times, I try to figure out why it is elongated or truncated thematically, but not so much so philosophically (Long shots brings truth and integrity, do they ?) and technically (how many times did they rehearse it, how the camera moved, how difficult it would have been to achieve this).

I mean to say that I have lot of times felt that the camera should have stayed there for few more or few less seconds. But the decision was purely to enhance an ‘expression’ that has emerged so beautifully at the moment that any hurry or delay might crush it like a soap bubble. At times, the decision was more of the type where I wanted the director to trust me, not to show the obvious or more importantly, not to show just only the obvious. Technically, I only find myself, to certain extend, understanding only few things, like when a switch should take place between shots. I recently saw Beau Travail where I found all the switches were as if I supervised them (please don't laugh :), actually I found the film very poetic (I am planning to write about it for a month but its becoming is more and more difficult with time). The switch between scenes, as I think of it now, is also a very strong thematic element, the choice of images that you want to sit near each other, interact and talk. There is a scene in Kinsey where after the kiss between Kinsey and his male friend, scene cuts to Kinsey's weeping wife, which is surely more of a narrative decision than anything else, but there are times where the cutting is purely artistic (I cant think of a singular good example, but Color Trilogy has a lot of interesting artistic cuttings).

Other than switching/cutting, another thing I really appreciate is composition, yes, compositions like those in Ozu's films, but again too much of it is really off-putting. Ozu's Floating Weeds (in color) was too perfect in composition that it is really distracting. Ozu didn't care about the continuity when it comes to composition (things moved from left to right in consecutive shots, and than replaced duly back to their original position so that the composition is just perfect), which is just fine, but too much of it sucked life out of the backgrounds. Also, when I talk of style it is not to do entirely with inventiveness or frenetic pacing (like Snatch or Lock Stock films) laced with unsubtle glibness, often forced. But it is something on the lines of Far from Heaven, aligned to theme, like the chaotic style of Weekend married to its theme of upcoming apocalypse, like Chungking express, free and flowing. I saw Yi yi recently where apart from the glass reflection photography, I was not even interested in any other technicality or camera work, and which is not to say that it was any bad, I was more engrossed in the film and was just not interested in camera angles.

Other movie, that I recently saw, Rebel Without a Cause, is something of a surprise to me. Actually in Rebel I noticed both, the very elegant visual design, the repetition of themes and the repetition of similar shots of the three teenagers, blend together very well visually and conceptually. But eventually I was more busy drawing parallels between Jim Stark and Travis Bickle and Jon Rubin (I felt that the character played by De Niro in Hi, Mom!, is the younger version as Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver, I think of him as a budding-Travis. Jon Rubin in Hi, Mom! is still not disillusioned, but we come to understand that he soon will be. Similarly, after watching, Rebel Without a Cause, I felt that the James Dean's Jim Stark is the teenage version of Travis Bickle, and to certain extent explains his rage, his anger against order, and his repressed sexuality too. This disillusioned male, alienated and absurd, unsure of everything, ready to try everything, rising and falling without cause, is possibly the our modern day Greek hero, the most cinematic male character).

Apart from this, I never get the grammar of long shots and the short ones, what should be used when and why. I have tried to think about few scenes as to what they might look in long shot or short shots or wide or close up, but I was not able to make any considerable judgment of one better than the other. I have considered the fast-cut introduction scene of Catherine in Jules and Jim, in long shot, but it does not give me any clues, though I liked the fast-cut sequence for its obvious show-off-y-ness and a point of highlight that our femme fatale has arrived but not so much for its technical brilliance. Also, I feel 'tricked' if I notice a long shot for its longness (correct usage: length), or a close-up shot for its closeness, as if I was forcibly made to do that. As old-school as it sounds, I am more for those ancient concepts of gentleness and neatness of an artistic expression, and as hippy as it may sound, I find myself admiring slaughter of any imposed modesty, good-nature and political correctness. As much I admire Beau Travail for its poetic beauty, I admire it more for its lack of interest in showing-off its style coda. Actually, Beau Travail is so unique because it doesn't do away with narrative cinema by rebuking, disregarding or dismantling it (there is a story in place and its not any meta-story), but by soaking the film in poetry of images that the narrative, although there, takes a comfortable backseat. And when you are into style and inventive film language, and when your preoccupation is not to prove that style works or to prove that narrative cinema is dead, film expression comes out in its natural bloom, as it comes in films like Beau Travail. Also the visual mastery of Rebel is not anti-narrative, but over-and-above-narrative, so the films works both for a novice like me and a film buff, and definitely helps an interested novice to see Nicholas Ray's stylistic genius in his strong visual power that gives narrative an extra dimension. Like wise films of Wes Anderson have a great story-book look and feel which enriches the narrative tremendously.

Aleksandr Sokurov’s Mother and Son, which, according to him is his effort to dismiss the fraud of third dimension in cinema because cinema screen is essentially two dimensional, is a very interesting film. He intentionally flattened the images to look like 19th century Russian paintings. The effect is mixed, sometime extraordinary, especially in the end sequence (note the muscles and veins of son's neck stretch in pain as mother's throat dries out for eternity) and sometimes stilted as in the places where Sokurov forcefully trying to stop the moving image to fit it in his premise of two-dimensional canvass and staying in one frame till sine-die, long after we have seen and duly acknowledged its beauty or purpose. One aspect is to work within constraints and one is to put in constraints - Sokurov seemed to try the later in few scenes - to my stone-age mind, style is not putting constraints but finding a language that suits the film. A stylistic decision (or the director's own patent style) must not force an artist to shoot a film on war or sex or spirituality the exact same way (although it interests me immensely what will be the result of such efforts, but the point is that an artist must not be a slave of style, although we know several of the greats were and are)

But to me, what stayed of Mother and Son is a thematic undercurrent of love, care, past and pain between the mother and son which is so well established in the opening scene where the son describes a dream to his ailing which she also dreamt - the common dual dream, like sharing the same mental space. It is a point where magic of the uttered word and the associated emotions overpowers the flattened images and the associated style, same as the choreographed military dances of Beau Travail that subtly gleam over narrative without any hollow spectacle of avant-garde or ostensible declaration or display of cinema as visual art, but by a heart-felt and soul-filled, may be even illogical or absurd (I am tempted to refer to Bollywood musicals here, Jaan-e-mann and the likes :), celebration of that very fact.


rash said...

what I like about Claire Denis is her idea of adaptation; she constrains the adaptation to just the theme of the source and strips everything else, hence her films are more like ideas than stories. By the way, have you seen L'intrus? It's another brilliant film.

anurag said...

I am trying to find it , but not able to. After Beau Travail, i would like to see anything by her...

Thanks for commenting and sorry for such a late reply...