25/06/2017

End Of The Week Shorts #11



Today's Shorts: Labyrinth (1963), A Daring Daylight Burglary (1903), Hunting The Panther (1909), The Spirit Of The Beehive (1973), Dawn Of The Dead (1978), Oldboy (2003), Braveheart (1995)



Labyrinth is a surrealist short from Jan Lenica, a significant artist who changed the face of Polish animation in the 60s. 
With an incredibly unique style, this film seemingly explores freedom and tyranny as it follows an angelic figure, a suited man with wings, into a city where he confronts evil to no avail and later witnesses puerile and lewd spectacles before being captured, his mind infected, and then destroyed. This short has been compared to the Icarus myth, but is clearly a reversal; instead of flying too high, our figure flies too low, only to be consumed by darkness, leaving this narrative a pessimistic critique of charity and good intentions. The manner in which this idea is captured through the aesthetics is quite penetrating and so is something I'd certainly recommend.



An impressive early example of multiple location linearity in cinema, A Daring Daylight Burglary is one of the first archetypal chase/action shorts. In such, it follows a burglar who, as the title suggests, daringly tries to rob a house during the day before leading police officers on a chase. 
This is a significant film as it is one made by Frank Mottershaw whose films were an influence on Edwin S. Porter who would go on to release the first American western in this same year, the famous Great Train Robbery. In terms of structure and pace, Mottershaw's film feels much more mature thanks to a stronger sense of space and time jumps as well as a surge of energy gathered in the final few shots - though, this may just be a result of the varying frame rates (which may or may not have been corrected in the version I saw). Moreover, A Daring Daylight Burglary has a much stronger sense of realism thanks to the use of real locations, distinguishing it from a tradition of sensationalised and romantic retrospection that begun with Porter's first western.



This is a film by Alfred Machin, a prolific French filmmaker who was quite significant in the the nineteen-teens thanks to his work during WWI as an operator in the Armed Forces Cinematographic Services. This documentary-esque short (there is clear fictionalisation within) pre-dates his work in WWI, however. Employed by Pathé, Machin travelled all over Africa recording film of people, animals and their practices.
This is then, especially by modern standards, a highly unethical hunting film that sees a panther caught in a trap, poked with sticks and then shot at close range before being skinned. Quite like other shorts in which Machin would document the hunt of animals such as giraffes and hippos, this is then a form of spectacle and an extension of early cinema scenes which would simply document life (which would of course be dated by this point - which explains the expansion into more exotic and dangerous regions). 
Most likely inspired by his interest of animals, Machin shot many of these movies in his early career and would go on to own exotic animals, such as a chimp that would star in a few of his narrative films once he owned his own production company. Almost by some macabre sense of karma Machin would go on to die in 1929 due to injuries he sustained after being struck by in the chest by a panther he owned.



Instantaneously recognisable as a masterpiece, The Spirit Of The Beehive is a beautifully shot film with a heavy reliance on pure cinematic language and the image. 
Despite its allusions to the Spanish Civil war, which add great depth and a poignant social commentary to this narrative, what struck me most was another level of subtext that explores childhood, maturity and imagination. In such, as we watch our protagonist, the young Ana, naively trudge through profound contacts with ideas of good, evil and the grey haze that embodies the two concepts, there is a tremendous sense of resonance thanks to great performances as well as highly metaphorical and symbolic writing that ingeniously incorporates the most complex elements of Frankenstein into this film. 
All in all, The Spirit Of The Beehive is a brilliant cinematic experience that I'll surely be diving into again.



Seen as a straight zombie movie, Dawn Of The Dead is good fun, but objectively a pretty terrible movie. The direction is ok, just like the editing, but the acting and the script are so incredibly dumb at certain points that it's ridiculous. And the zombies... just bad. The main flaw with this movie is then the awfully designed narrative that has no real conflict and shallow characters that only manages to give us some bursts of spectacle to be immersed in. 
However, as most will be able to tell you, Dawn Of The Dead also serves as a poignant commentary on commercialised mindlessness and destruction - and it explores these themes pretty well. For this, Dawn Of The Dead is not only a classic zombie movie that had an immense cultural impact as part of a changing American movie industry, but is also one with, somewhat ironically, a bit of brains. 
All in all, this movie has significant redeeming factors and is intermittently quite a fun movie, but nonetheless suffers from a lot of dumbness - again, somewhat ironically.


A flawless film that really didn't need the remake - which I've not seen in full, so don't really have a valid opinion on. 
With his newest feature, The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook certainly proved himself to be one of the most interesting directors working today. But, the Vengeance Trilogy, which Oldboy is apart of, is an example that Chan-wook has been making great films for well over a decade now. As the most sensational film of the trilogy, Oldboy is edited and directly masterfully with great, though over-the-top at points, performances all round.
What stands out most about Oldboy, however, is the story which, looking past the plot twists on numerous re-watches, is very intricate and darkly profound. In short, Oldboy is an exploration of inhumanity and isolation - a crushing aspect of existence that can leave people only wanting to be numb. The manner in which these themes and ideas are explored is entirely exceptional with some unforgiving dark humour.
All in all, I think it's safe to say that Oldboy is probably a masterpiece - one that maybe isn't for everyone.



A tremendous epic, Braveheart is a movie I've seen from beginning to end about 3 times now - but have seen to the half-way mark about a dozen times more than that. What this of course implies is that this is quite a long movie (just over 3 hours) with an awful lot going on within - maybe a little too much. The only faults with this film in my view are then its somewhat bloated nature and over-abundance of plot beats and characters. 
Despite the plethora of notorious historical inaccuracies, this is an all-time classic and a near-perfect movie when viewed with the right amount of time and energy. What stands out most are of course the action scenes, which, much like any great battle scene that somehow makes it to a screen, are a tremendous and quite rare feat - and there are many in this movie. Added to this is a performance of a lifetime given by Mel Gibson, who, no matter what he does or has done, will be the guy who made Braveheart. 
All in all, what more can be said other than that this is a brilliant movie that everyone has to see at least once.



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24/06/2017

Africa Paradis - Transportive Mediocrity

Quick Thoughts: Africa Paradis (2007)


This is a film made by Sylvestre Amoussou, and is the Beninese film of the series.


Africa Paradis is a weirdly transportive movie. Not only is this a sci-fi(ish) film about a world in which the West essentially falls and Africa unites as a world-leading power, but Africa Paradis feels so much like a movie directly from the 90s - even though it was made in 2007. To better define this movie, it feels like a very mediocre movie from the 90s (a class of film I seemingly have a weak spot for). I then found this oddly entertaining and was, quite unexpectedly, left wanting more.

Starting with the positives, this is a very amusing film thanks to its use of light satire. What's more, the direction is fine - never anything spectacular - just like the performances and writing. Moreover, the characters are all well constructed and probably the most compelling aspect of this movie. The real downfalls of Africa Paradis come with the dumb action scenes and jarring soundtrack. However, concerning the narrative, this is an ok story that is just a little too sentimental and simple. As could be guessed, this is a highly political film that essentially means to comment on immigration by depicting an alternate, reversed world in which French people struggle to immigrate into African countries such as Benin and find work. Whilst this is an interesting concept, however cliched, and the narrative handles the perspective of an immigrant somewhat well, the wider commentary is nothing more than a call for open boarders and more lenient immigration laws. This is certainly nothing profound, nor nuanced and complex enough to really be considered and pondered upon too deeply.

So, all in all, this shouldn't really be a movie you go to see for its subtext, rather its characters and weirdly immersive narrative. Whilst many people probably won't like this, if you're interested in world cinema, certainly give this a go.


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23/06/2017

2012: The Curse Of The Xtabai - Skin Deep

Thoughts On: 2012: The Curse Of The Xtabai (2012: Kurse a di Xtabai, 2012)


This is the Belizean film of the series made by Matthiew Klinck.


This is an awful movie, but a very... unique cinematic experience. It is the first major full-length movie that has been '100% made in Belize' and is centred on a curse that suddenly plagues a small town, many people stricken dead for unknown reasons, leaving a group of students to venture into the forest to find a cure.

A Creole-language film, The Curse Of The Xtabai can be understood quite well without subtitles - and this was one of the more amusing elements of this film as it did keep my mind active in the duller moments. Beyond this, the director, Matthiew Klinck, has some degree of competence and shoots some strangely beautiful and weirdly effective sequences, but the quality of this film's direction and cinematography undulate significantly. The acting is consistently bad though - as is the script. Actually, the script is probably the worst aspect of this movie, just about beating out the horrific soundtrack.

What makes this script so terrible isn't really the complete lack of sense, tone, atmosphere, drama, verisimilitude and character. These elements (or the lack of them) actually work with the alien cinematic approach that the director takes as you do get the sense that this is just supposed to be a dumb movie that doesn't take itself too seriously; a Belizean remix of The Blair Witch Project and Predator. What takes the fun out of this is the allusion to the folklore that is completely out of place, making this film seem like a 10-year-old Sam Raimi was once told a Belizean bed time story and then given a camera for the first time.

The underlying tale that this film refers to is of the Xtabay or X'tabai. This is a story that follows two women, one that is promiscuous, a prostitute who sleeps with anyone who asks, and another who is beautiful and austere. Xkeban, the promiscuous one, is, however, an honest, humble and self-sacrificing person that, in the archetypal fashion, serves the poor, sick and homeless. On the other hand, Utz-Colel, the virtuous woman, is cold, full of pride, disgust and disdain.

One day Xkeban is found dead after villagers follow a sweet scent to her home. Here, Utz-Colel proclaims that there shouldn't be anything so sweet coming from such a vile being and that such a perfume should come from a body like hers when she dies. As you could guess, one day, Utz-Colel dies, a virgin whose corpse emanates a disgusting smell. Embodying the Tzacam cactus flower that grows from her grave, Utz-Colel surmises that she met such a foul end because she was unlike Xkeban, whose sins must have came from a place of love. And so, by calling upon evil demons, Utz-Colel moves back into the realm of the living so that she could seduce men, becoming the X'tabai. However, her nature had not really changed; she was still cold and corrupt of compassion. So, when she attracts men, she kills them, disguising herself in tress, even as trees or, some say, as snakes and other animals.

Whilst this isn't the most profound of parables, it conveys an idea of internal worth with clarity and so is a thousand times more intriguing than the incomprehensible narrative that we're given by The Curse Of The Xtabai. There are allusions to themes of selfishness and destruction within this narrative, but the manner in which they're implemented into the script is below an amateur level. With some grip on their story, the screenwriter could have used this folklore and the tropes of horror to produce an interesting commentary on a vast number of things - most directly, promiscuity, envy or charity - as to expand on this legend. However, using a cheap reference to a 'scary story' to give this narrative a Belizean texture that's only really skin-deep (what lies beneath is a lot of influence from dumb-but-fun American movies), The Curse Of The Xtabai really sullies all of its initial elements of cheap fun and dumbness. In such, with just a little bit of effort and thought in the scripting process, this could have been a much more respectable film, but, as is, it's a bit of a let down.

All in all, this is a bad movie that you may be able to have some fun with if you go in completely blind (though, at this point, you can't - sorry), but it ultimately shoots itself in the foot with its cheap attempt at capturing and projecting complexity and depth from its own culture.

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Every Year In Film #13 - Poor Pierrot

Thoughts On: Poor Pierrot (Pauvre Pierrot, 1892)


Two lovers meet. A third man, Pierrot, comes to sing to the woman, but is scared off by her lover.


Made by Charles-Émile Reynaud, this is not only the first known movie to operate with perforated film stock, but is also one of the first ever animated and narrative films. Reynaud built toward these innovations, much like many inventors of these days, seemingly from his childhood. In such, he was raised by his father and mother, home-educated in painting by his mother, and mechanics by his father. This lead him into many apprenticeships as a young kid; he would work with optics, industrial design, precision engineering and also photography. However, one of his most significant meetings would come in 1864 when he went on to become the assistant of François-Napoléon-Marie Moigno, otherwise know as Abbé Moigno, a Catholic cleric, an educator, writer and lecturer of science. Working with Moigno, Reynaud had to operate the magic lanterns that would accompany his lectures - and such must have sparked an interest in projection that would come into play later on in Reynaud's life.

However, a year after he started to work for Moigno, Reynaud's father died and so he moved to Puy-en-Velay with his mother. It's here that his late father's cousin educated him in chemistry, engineering and other sciences. This would eventually lead to Reynaud working with Moigno again, however, this period of study was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, which Reynaud served in as a nurse. After a period of retirement in which Reynaud tried to overcome the lasting trauma that his experience in the war had on him, he would be called upon by Moigno where he continued to work with magic lanterns in courses taught to students. After a few years of this, Reynaud would begin to significantly contribute to film history.

It was then in 1976, a year before Muybridge would shoot and project some of the first major moving images, that Reynaud produced his prototype praxinoscope. This is yet another device to add to a lavish list of pre-film inventions with crazy names. The praxinoscope was then an improvement upon devices like the early stroboscope, phenakistoscope, daedaleum and, most directly, the zoetrope. Remembering the early Every Year post on these devices, these were all mechanisms that would feature elements with moving images on that would rotate behind slits of some kind:


There were always three major problems with all of these devices, however, and Reynaud began to solve them all. The first problem with devices like the zoetrope was that they were too simplistic and impractical; they were mere toys. In such, to view the moving images, you'd have to bend down and look through the slits...


It's this fundamental restriction, which was largely a technical one, that deeply impacted film for years to come; for about a decade after the Lumières, films were seen as short spectacles and so, in certain respects, were simply more complicated zoetropes. However, this is a tangential idea that we may come to explore at a later date.

What Reynaud initially did to combat the impracticalities of pre-filmic devices was to invent the praxinoscope.


The similarities between the zoetrope and this device are obvious, yet subtly significant. Instead of using slits that act as a shutter of sorts through which to view fluid moving imagery, Reynaud used mirrors. Because each mirror was angled individually, the difference between one reflection and the next would have, in an around about way, acted as a gap or shutter between them. This is exactly what allowed for the the reflected image to be crisp and fluid - all without the arduous and intricate mechanics of actual shutters and stop-start mechanisms.


This is a significant device because it not only made the zoetrope a more practical idea with easier access, but approached light (reflections) in a more nuanced, yet ingeniously simple manner - which would later become pivotal to Reynaud's innovations.

In 1977, Reynaud patented this device and began to sell it commercially - which was met with much success and acclaim. However, despite being a significant improvement on the zoetrope, the praxinoscope was still, quite clearly, a toy. A major reason as to why the praxinoscope was still a toy comes down to its scale. Understanding this, Reynaud's next endeavour was the praxinoscope theatre.


This initially began as an extension of the original praxinoscope. In such, Reynaud designed a small theatre around his device with backgrounds and a peep hole...


Expanding upon this, however, he wanted to project his moving imagery in a similar manner to which he'd project magic lantern slides for Moigno. And it's here where the use of mirrors became an irreplaceable design choice. With a simple use of lenses and lights, Reynaud would bounce light from the mirrored moving image onto a screen...


This would then allow Reynaud to project his circulating, gif-like sequences with a background setting provided by a painted magic lantern-esque slide - all for dozens of people to watch at a time. You can see each of these elements by studying the above image, paying attention to the two projectors, one for the background and other for the praxinoscope image (whose own background was black so that it could be superimposed onto a setting). As is clear, with this, Reynaud solved the second major problem with pre-film devices whilst eradicating the first problem. In such, he made the device practical and accessible to numerous people at a time, increasing the scale of his spectacle.

It's this increase in scale that gives arts greater complexity and in turn leads to forms being respected as significant mediums of storytelling. But, as one of the most forward-thinking filmmakers of this entire era, Reynaud recognised that a looped sequence of movement wasn't a viable form of storytelling.

This is something so incredibly significant because, by this time, the only forms of 'film' were scientific and spectacle. In such, around the 1880s and 90s you had figures such as Marey, Muybridge and Demenÿ working on the study of motion itself. Added to this, you also had Friese-Greene, Le Prince and Edison rushing to produce the first viable form of spectacle cinema (Edison would win this race with W.K.L Dickson and the kinetoscope). What all of these endeavours lacked, however, was a narrative. Figures such as Muybridge and Marey were only interested in a few seconds of movement, never any form of storytelling, and the same can be said about Greene as well as Edison and Dickson; these figures were clearly more preoccupied with technological innovation rather than innovation in storytelling during the late 1800s. In such, you do not need complex moving imagery lasting at least an hour to put across the points that these figures were trying to make, as well as satisfy their intentions - which is not really cinema as we know it today.

Reynaud then distinguished himself from all of these figures because his innovation was clearly focused on bettering the content of devices such as the zoetrope as well as improving the manner in which audiences interacted with them. It's exactly this that we can see as the guiding force of his simplistic, yet substantial decision to project his praxinoscope strips and later out-do himself yet again.

It is in 1888, after quite a few years of producing and modifying praxinoscopes, praxinoscope strips as well as praxinoscope theatres, that Reynaud decided to confront his realisation that these short, cyclic images were not sufficient ways of telling stories. He did this with a patent of his Théâtre Optique. Reynaud's Optical Theatres' main intention was to extend the dozen-or-so frame cycles of praxinoscopes into something much longer through which a story could be told. So, as many people were at this point, Reynaud decided to approach film as opposed to solid static plates. However, he was not going to dive into the huge technological mess of photographing the real world with photographic film. Instead, Reynaud mimicked the form of film strips with his own flexible gelatin plates that he painted on and then fixed into cardboard and fabric, creating a reel of his own 'film'. These would then need to be perforated so that they could be spun on an outer frame.


The perforations on this film would be on the segments between each frame and would simply serve as holes that the sprockets on the outer frame (look to the largest upper circle of the diagram) would use to move the film. However, these original designs were modified with outer spools so that Reynaud could both move the film around the mechanism better, but also inject in his light system. You can see this here:


In the simplest terms, light would then be reflected through the film strips made up of up to 700 frames as it spun around the system. This light would be bounced off of mirrors and onto a translucent screen that simultaneously has a background slide projected onto it. To have a better practical understanding of this image, check out this brilliant visualisation:


What isn't visualised here is Reynaud's later use of sound. He would often animate his films to scores that would be played live, as well as inject synchronised sound effects, such as buzzers and drums, into his narrative through electronics (these effects and sounds have been injected into modern 'prints' of his films).

So, what we are seeing here is the establishment of sound in cinema - which, spoilers, did not just pop out of nowhere in 1927 - as well as Reynaud solving the 3 major problems with pre-filmic devices. He firstly made the devices practical, then took them out of the home, giving them a greater scale through projection and various attributes such as backgrounds and, finally, Reynaud found a way of telling actual stories through images; extended narratives in shows that would last up to 15 minutes. This, as anyone could recognise, was a huge jump in cinematic sensibilities, which is of course represented through our subject for today: Poor Pierrot, or, Pauvre Pierrot.

Made in 1892, Poor Pierrot was one of Reynaud's initial works to be publicly and commercially screened in Paris - which of course pre-dates the first Lumière screenings. However, on the note of the Lumières, with the rise of Cinématographe in 1895 came overwhelming competition from both the Lumières and their imitators. So, despite new films, modifications with colour and sound design as well as experimentation with mirrors, Reynaud's Optical Theatre was doomed to fail, and performed its last show in 1900 - a point at which over half a million people would have seen Reynaud's work.

The reason for this decline was quite simple. Though Reynaud had solved the 3 major problem with pre-filmic devices, his solution wasn't practical enough and the scale wasn't great enough to compete with the advancing complex motion picture photography and projection (which had of course caught up with him in the 3 years after he began the Optical Theatre). With Reynaud's decline, longer form narrative cinema was lost for a few years, but cinema nonetheless evolved past Reynaud's ingenious invention that was unfortunately too perfect as is; it simply couldn't evolve any further.

In the following decade, Reynaud moved on from his Optical Theatre to work on a stereo-cinema, but this never amounted to much. So, in 1910, depressed, financially ruined and almost entirely forgotten, Reynaud discarded almost all of his work, including his precious films and equipment, into the river Seine. He would then go on to die in a hospice during 1918 at age 73.

All but two of Reynaud's films were thrown into the Seine, Autour d’une Cabine and Pauvre Pierrot. It is through these films that Reynaud is then remembered as the founder of animated film and narrative cinematic storytelling who significantly contributed to cinematic technology as well as its publicly perceived image. Without much more to be said, I'll leave the importance of Reynaud to be articulated by one of his surviving films...


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Au Hasard Balthazar - Cinema As A Religion

Thoughts On: Religion, via Au Hasard Balthazar (Balthazar, At Random, 1966)

This is a post that very lightly touches on Bresson's film. For some quick thoughts on this film, click here.


The following, the title of this essay, is an idea I've been thinking about for quite a while, but have been refraining from writing about. Firstly, this is because it sounds like a frivolous and rather silly idea that would take some careful articulation to do justice. But, secondly, I had not yet seen Au Hasard Balthazar. This is a movie I've been wanting to watch for years, but have only just managed to find, sit down and watch. In doing so, it has become an immediate personal favourite and one that has really lit a fire under me to pursue this idea.

So, as the title suggests, I've been contemplating cinema's textures and qualities as a kind of religious body. By this I do not mean to suggest that there is a God, certainly not one of cinema, that needs to be prayed to - nor are there rules, doctrines or particular hierarchies and divinities (beyond maybe personal conceptualisation). The parallels I mean to draw between a religion and cinema as a holistic body of art is a simple one predicated on the nature of stories as a medium for the sharing of ideas and values.

We all, arguably and in a certain sense, have some kind of religion. This is a common idea that is often used cynically to suggests that T.V, material objects or certain celebrities have become a form of pop religion. Whilst I understand that this can be a valid form of critique as many 'pop deities' are useless, vapid and, frankly, stupid, there is an impulse or sensibility in all people that clearly has them drawn to 'religion'. It must be said, however, that I use this term very loosely. In saying 'religion', I do not really refer to an idea of God or even an entity of superhuman power - as most definitions will outline religion to be. I instead mean to imply that most people are bound to some form of hierarchy, an ambiguous one that often transcends realistic, tangible comprehension, that provides reason or purpose to an individual. As suggested with the allusion to 'pop deities', these figures, their provisional reasons and purposes, may be ridiculous and harmful - just as many sects and interpretations of actual religions have the capacity to be. However, the paradigm stands as a poignant, self-evident and strong one nonetheless.

With that established, we only need to recognise that all forms of religion come with some body of narratives and stories to begin to see my point of 'cinema as a religion'. In such, all established religions have texts; the Bible, Qur'an, Guru Granth Sahib, etc. Mirroring this, all other forms of 'religion' have texts too. If T.V is your religion, then your texts are the T.V guide (if those things are commonly used anymore), more specifically, the T.V shows you watch. If the internet is your religion, then the sites you use that provide you information and entertainment are your religious texts. If science is your religion, then the texts are the lectures, papers and text books. If a sport, say for instance, football (soccer), is your religion, then your texts are the statistics, matches and written histories. We could go on establishing hundreds, if not thousands, of alternative religions, but what all of them have in common are individually voiced, yet archetypal, narratives that each teach fundamental lessons and philosophies about the human condition.

This is something that, in my view, has been overlooked throughout the world and history. Religion, philosophy and thinking have seemingly always been bound to entities that govern us all - if not, huge sects of populations. This often occurs through education, religion and government. All of these entities are perceived as established and true mediums through which people may unite under common ideas, beliefs and practices. By suggesting a more ambiguous definition of 'religion', I am then essentially asking the following: Why are there so few recognised structures that act as uniting concepts of philosophy and action?

The reason for this seems to be an obvious one: my distinction of religion is far too arbitrary. Religion, education and government are institutions that are often protected and managed by a collective idea of a country. In such, these are often state-run entities or are sympathised with greatly by states. You only have to consider the function of taxes and law in respect to the mentioned entities to realise how they are managed and sympathised with as significant pillars of human dedication. It is for this very reason that all arts and entertainment can't, and won't (and probably shouldn't), be recognised as traditional religions. After all, we cannot all claim that T.V is our religion and expect to have national holidays and for our industry to be tax exempt (among other things) - the effect on the world would, after all, be catastrophic.

However, there is another answer to be given to our question, Why are there so few recognised structures that act as uniting concepts of philosophy and action? The second answer is actually a contradiction. The fact is that alternative entities, arts especially, have almost always been considered significant elements of society through which education, thought, politics and philosophy have ran through. After all, why would any art form, whether it be painting, writing, dancing, songwriting or filmmaking, ever confront censorship if they weren't universally recognised to be, under our current interpretation, 'religions'; pillars of education, philosophy, morality and ideas?

There are then only a few entities that are protected and governed by states that serve as archetypes of thought, morality and action because people need to have as few distinct categorisations as possible so that these institutions can all be best managed. However, I nonetheless question this notion. I don't so much question why there can't be a plethora of religions recognised by states - T.V, sports and cinema being amongst them. Instead, I question why any religion (not so much government and education) is supported in the manner it is.

Whilst I respect religion as a medium through which people find structure, reason and purpose, whilst I can respect elements of its humanly fundamental content that teach stories and ideas, I don't respect the form that religions assume. In such, I think that dogma, especially when it concerns ambiguity, is reprehensible. When people do not have definite answers, they should be truthful and suggest their ideas, their personally sourced answers, as exactly what they are - no disguises. For there to be a 'word of God', one that is often translated through parables, metaphors and content that must be interpreted, is a huge fault of thinking and propagating ideas. Not only are we suggesting that ideas are inherently true on only belief and with no evidence by doing this, but we are providing 'answers' through constructed stories with no direct clarity - only a plethora of mines and catch 22s that tie indoctrinated subjects into a web. In such, religion often associates authority with ambiguity, and that is the biggest problem, in my view, with the whole phenomena.

If ambiguity is a device or tool that humanity is to wield responsibly, it must be done so with clarity. In such, though religious texts have profound answers and guidance within them, to mask these with authoritative references to a benevolent god is to treat people, religious followers, like complete fools who cannot handle the truth - that truth being that, though humans have a lot of great ideas, we're not sure if this is what 'God' said, designed or wants.

This is a significant reason as to why I'm suggesting that cinema can or should be seen a 'religion'. Not only does cinema have countless narratives that can contain profound, life-changing messages within, but cinema, especially in the modern age, is a somewhat democratic and an entirely transparent entity. In such, everyone knows that cinema is a constructed entity once they hit about age 6 and realise that people don't actually die for real in films. This means that the use of ambiguity and answers by cinema is a relatively ethical one (relative to religion - there are of course ethical conundrums concerning cinema). No matter how full of verisimilitude and seeming reality a film is, we all know that 'cinema' is made by people and industries. All other religions have their human touches, their prophets and founders, but always refer to something intangible, a god, to deceitfully appeal to an inescapable authority that cannot be rationally argued against due to its basis outside of reality. What's more, cinema can be contributed to by any and everyone. Whether it is with your phone's camera or through your free blog on the internet, everyone has a potential voice when it concerns cinema. And this is so important as it fully embraces the idea that human ideas come from people - not some constructed deity. However, whilst it is certainly true that the market place for film is heavily weighted toward big-budget American cinema, anyone can quite easily find a plethora of directions towards a more diverse cinema that isn't entirely weighted down by Hollywood's influence if this is what you seek and are concerned about. Moreover, anyone can make films and change the landscape (even to a minute degree) of cinema, inserting into the vast, ever-evolving body of text their own chapters.

What I am then imploring with an idea that cinema can be your religion is nothing at all radical. You do not need to change your birth certificate, drop other religions, start or join a film society or go pray at your local cinema - and I think that is a major advantage of cinema as a religion; there is no real form or structure if you do not want it. With an idea such as 'cinema as a religion', all you are recognising is the cultural influence of stories, moreover, the powerful ability for cinema to articulate them. This is the crux of all religions; it is the substance of the stories they tell - a lot of everything that surrounds that is just bullshit. Recognising that cinema may be one of your 'religions' is simply a way of grappling and taking control of this entity and what it provides to you. In other words, seeing cinema as a 'religion' is simply a means of recognising it as important to all of humanity as well as personally significant to you.

A note I then have to touch on before concluding is the film that spurred me to write this: Au Hasard Balthazar. Whilst this is a subtextually religious film, one that you may say entirely corrupts my idea that cinema is a purer or better religion than others as it differentiates itself from the traditional archetypes, it can be interpreted and understood without this given subtext. What this film then does is, in my view, transcend dogma, using its intertextual nature to refer to age-old ideas instead of allowing them to engulf it. Another film that manages this in a different light for me was The Seashell And The Clergyman. This is a seen to be a feminist film, but I simply don't view it as such. What this suggests is that cinema can also act as an ideology - and maybe that is a part two to this initial claim. Nonetheless, what lies at the very heart of all we've discussed is this ethical use of ambiguity to tell stories and impart knowledge, philosophy, morals and ideas.

In conclusion, if you choose to consider cinema as a religion, what you are recognising is its capacity to provide meaning and purpose to people through stories. An extension of this may - this probably will not directly apply to all people - an extension of this may be that you appreciate more, or have better hopes for, the structure of the world-wide cinematic industry than any other religion; you believe that these stories are provided and voiced in a manner that is overwhelmingly more accessible and pliable (in that it can evolve and change as cultures do) than any traditional and established religion.

So, to end, I simply leave you with a question I always do: what are your thoughts on this subject?






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Au Hasard Balthazar - The Silent, Voidal Archetype

Quick Thoughts: Au Hasard Balthazar (Balthazar, At Random, 1966)

The troubled lives of people from a small town are seen from the perspective of a continually abused and exploited donkey.


Profound and emotionally charged to an almost torturous degree (in the best way possible), Au Hasard Balthazar is a masterpiece above masterpieces. There is so much that could be said about this film, but, in my view, there are only a handful of things that really need to be articulated - the rest of the film speaks for itself better than most would be able to speak for it. In such, all that has to be noted is the incredibly poetic and intricate manner in which Bresson brings to his screen life's simplicity through a donkey. He juxtaposes this archetype with the complexity of humanity - often its worsts shades - to reveal its absurdity and utter unawareness to a degree that is entirely flawing. His commentary on humanity is then one that comes from ourselves; the audience being made to look at themselves and humanity with sudden clarity - whether it be subconsciously felt or consciously perceived - all thanks to the looming presence of a personified void. Balthazar is then much like all suffering, silent archetypes - one of the most symbolic and recognisable being Jesus - as he acts as a dark mirror and an ambiguous, shadowed reflection that demands humanity to question itself. However, it is because he lacks a voice and because he can never articulate what he 'means' to reflect that he exudes such deep profundity.

Au Hasard Balthazar is then not only one of the most tremendous examples of a pure cinema, but is, certainly in my view, one of the greatest stories humanity has ever told; one that has, of course, been told time and time again over centuries, but never with such articulation.

UPDATE: For more on this film, follow through to the next post.





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21/06/2017

Bullhead - Coincidence & Reason

Thoughts On: Bullhead (Rundskop, 2011)


This is the Belgian film of the series, made by Michaël R. Roskam.


When talking about Belgian cinema, you are, in a certain sense, discussing two different national cinemas under one name. This is the result of a lingual and political divide that separates the 3 major regions of Belgium, those being the Flemish region (or Flanders), the Walloon region and the capital region centred around Brussels. This is quite evident in Bullhead as, though it can be considered a Flemish film, it features characters and settings from the French-speaking Walloon region as well as the Dutch-speaking Flemish region.

With that said, Bullhead is a devastatingly impactful film. In fact, this is one of the most affecting movies I've ever seen. When I saw this for the first time I had to stop the film mid-way through and just sit in silence for a while as, frankly, this movie really fucked me up. This all comes down to the powerful application of its themes as well as the incredible performances, great direction and articulate cinematic language. The only real downfall of this movie is that the drama and the emotion hit their peak around the 45 minute mark which leaves the following half an hour a little bit of a haze - especially on a first watch; I was still a quite zombified. This means that the latter half of the second act is a little sparse of emotional depth, yet too dense with plot details, but gives way to a stronger third act. So, what the film subtextually struggles in managing is its two meeting genres; those being crime and drama.

In fact, there is quite the divide between these two elements of the narrative that aren't very well linked by the overall subtext. Starting with the crime elements, Bullhead is a partially political film that depicts aspects of the 'hormone mafia'. This is a colloquial term for the organised crime industry that (in Belgium especially) deal with livestock growth hormones. As with drugs, the mafia exploit the legal ban on these substances which, by EU law, cannot be used by farmers all across Europe. Because the use of growth hormones will increase livestock sale profits exponentially (it is reported to be by anywhere between 10 and 100%), this is a significant underground industry that is run and managed by, to put it lightly, not the most legitimate of people. When, in 1995, a government livestock inspector named Karel Van Noppen began probing this industry and group of people, he was assassinated - and this is the basis of this movie.

However, though there is this political tie-in embedded within Bullhead's narrative, this isn't really a significant element of its narrative - at least, not in my view. Because there are no real subtextual ties between the crime elements of this film and the dramatic aspects, this reference to contemporary Belgian history and culture is seemingly a way in which the writer and director, Michaël R. Roskam, gives this film a Belgian identity. And this is an interesting element of Bullhead as Belgium has a long cinematic history that stretches as far back to the pre-film era of the 19th century through figures such as Joseph Plateau, who invented the phenakistoscope (a figure and subject we've touched on before). Following this, a few significant figures came out of the 20s and 30s such as Charles Dekeukeleire and Henri Storck - look to a film such as Combat De Boxe by Dekeukeleire for example. It was in the late 80s and 90s, however, that the Belgium film industry really picked up after a few significant features, such as Man Bites Dog, put the industry into the international spotlight. Bullhead is then a contemporary example of a strong cinematic industry that has continued to expand with links to France, Germany, the U.S, UK and more.

      

Moving beyond the background and crime elements of Bullhead, however, we'll move into spoilers to discuss further the subtext of this narrative. So, if you've not seen this film and don't want to have it spoiled I can't refrain from recommending it with the only caveat being that you may want to go in prepared. That said...

**SPOILERS**

Somewhat masked by its hardened facade, Bullhead is an incredibly intimate movie that delves deeply into themes of alienation and existential momentum. In such, through our main character, Jacky, this narrative ultimately asks a question of coincidence and reason. Was it some meaningful decision of fate that has the one girl Jacky would fall for as a young boy be one with a psychotic older brother who would go on to utterly destroy his life? Or, was this simply a tragic coincidence?

Whilst this initial question is one that is seemingly simply answered, Bullhead's narrative bookends Jack's life with the same failed romance, implying that maybe it was more than coincidence that had lightning strike tragedy twice. And even if we are not now left struggling with this question of coincidence and reason, we can certainly understand that this is what Jacky struggled with his whole life. A significant portion of his humanity was taken away from him when he was mutilated; not only can he not have a family, but he feels directly alienated from women and even some men. Added to this, Jacky can't even experience genuine human emotions as, without natural testosterone, he feels that his emotional masculine attributes are as synthetic and distant from himself as the drugs he takes are.

This has uncanny ties to the fact that he is a farmer that uses growth hormones on his livestock; he, as he suggests, becomes like the animals he raises. It's this ambiguous and unnerving fatal phenomena that pervades Jacky's life that make this narrative so affecting. He, in many senses, becomes a direct product of arbitrary chaos; the alien nature of the universe, time and causation seeps into his body and tells him to somehow walk in this new skin. This internal corruption is an archetypal idea in storytelling and is usually captivated by an exploration of good vs evil (the good of the universe vs the evil of the universe). However, there is an incredibly unique approach that Bullhead's narrative takes as it transcends a direct exploration of good, evil and morality by encasing this in a mind-and-body-morphing tragedy.

The conclusive paradigm that Bullhead then so perfectly explores is one based on the incomprehensible disorder of the universe anthropomorphising itself through a helpless figure. In such, it takes to the extreme an idea of people being determined and controlled by factors out of their reach and leaves its protagonists with only an inkling of control that he nihilistically, yet understandably, uses to end his life. Such is the shock and trauma that can only really be observed through this narrative as, after all, what more is there to say after all is said and done?

Despite the final line, I'll end by asking, have you seen Bullhead? What are your thoughts on all we've talked about today?

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20/06/2017

I Won't Come Back - When Home Calls

Quick Thoughts: I Won't Come Back (Ya Ne Vernus, 2014)


This is a film shot in a variety of countries, made by an Estonian filmmaker, but will serve as our Belarusian film of the series.


I Won't Come Back is a pretty terrific film. Up until the third act, I was eager to write that this is a perfect film with no true flaws; it is incredibly shot with simple, reserved cinematic language, strong characters, some great writing and a truly compelling narrative. This falls apart ever so slightly with the climax of the film as it moves through its final act, however. In such, there are a few too many plot beats squeezed into the final 20 minutes that are not handled very well by the structure of the narrative as well as its tonal arc. I Won't Come Back was nonetheless a highly resonant film that is brilliant in many ways.

The greatest aspect of this movie is its exploration of home, not just in a material sense, but an existential and emotional one. We see this through our main character, Anya, who is an orphan that develops into a secluded, yet highly intellectual, young woman. Her emotional seclusion is emphasised when she becomes a lecturer's assistant in grad school. In developing a relationship with the lecturer, she seemingly attaches herself to some kind of father figure with links to a disintegrating family (which he is clearly on the periphery of). This implies that Anya not only has a deep-seated affinity for broken homes, but also unreliable figures - which explains why she is so emotionally secluded. This comes to a crescendo when an old friend from her orphanage shows up at her house and asks her to hold onto a package for him - which contains drugs. He is quickly arrested and the police are about to take in Anya, but she manages to escape. From here she pretends to be a prostitute so that she can be brought into a police station where she fakes a new identity, claiming that she is only fifteen. This leads to her being put back into the care system - which emphasises that she is attached to an unhealthy idea of a broken family and home as her singular point of return as well as all she knows or is comfortable with. However, it's here where she meets a younger girl who she eventually has to run away from the care home with, leaving the rest of the narrative a road movie in which they try to get to the younger girl's grandmother's house in Kazakhstan - all of which sets up new themes of responsibility and reason.

Without delving into spoilers, it is the exploration of attachment and responsibility that makes this narrative so poignant, its end point being a restrained evocation of finding and establishing new beginnings; a new concept of home that Anya's life may revolve around so that, when home comes calling, which homes and pasts inevitably seem to, her life isn't devastated. And so, it is because of this profound exploration of, to reference the famous line from Magnolia, a past not being done with you, that I can't help but recommend I Won't Come Back.

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19/06/2017

Inception - Lessons vs. Stories: Why Exposition (Sometimes) Sucks

Thoughts On: Inception (2010)

This is a film we've covered before, link here, but will be looking at in a new light.


Inception is a significant film for quite a few reasons. Primarily, however, Inception is a huge big-budget blockbuster that had the courage to be quite complex and multi-faceted. And despite this, Inception was a significant success and already is considered one of the greatest films ever made. What adds to this significance is this meeting of the success, the blockbuster and the complexity. There are dozens of films that I could name that are more complex than Inception, and quite a few of them would be considered all-time greats - consider for example Persona, 8 1/2, Last Year At Marienbad, Blow-Up, The Seashell And The Clergyman, 2001: A Space Odyssey or Meshes Of The Afternoon. However, whilst many of these films are more complex and profound than Inception, Nolan's film manages to transcend the line between the cinephile and the average movie goer - something that very few movies manage to do whilst being starkly challenging.

For this, it is nearly impossible not to respect Christopher Nolan. However, if you've been reading Thoughts On posts for a while, you'll probably know that, whilst I respect Nolan, I don't admire him to a degree that is so high. There are quite a few reasons for this and the first was inadvertently explored with an early post on Human Cinema.

"Human Cinema" is a phenomena you see across almost all films, but is particularly noticeable now that we are in the modern digital age. In short, when we look to films such as The Avengers, Transformers or Batman, we see films that we're told are all about huge alien robots, gods, superheros, supervillians and vigilantes. However, the confounding paradox that arises in high-end fantasy digital cinema is one centred on realism. Not only do filmmakers shy away from fantasy for the sake of reality (realism), but they often focus their narratives on the normal - which often translates to relatively boring, average people. This philosophy obviously comes from the idea that people want to see/learn about themselves through cinema. However, for this to directly translate into us having to sit through movies centred on Bruce Wayne rather than Batman, Sam Witwicky instead of Optimus Prime or a plethora of sub-characters in the form of government agencies, the police, the army or the average citizen in place of the marketed protagonists and the only real reason we came to see this movie, is kind of absurd.

We could delve deeper into the phenomena of Human Cinema, but suffice to say that Nolan employs this in many of his films - the Dark Knight trilogy being a perfect case. However, layered onto this are two more key problems. The first is the projection of fantasy and the second is a plain old vanilla problem.

Starting with the latter, almost all of Nolan's films have great concepts within them - a film like Inception is a brilliant case study for this. As we covered in arduous and infuriating detail in the previous post on Inception, there's a lot lacking in Nolan's projection of 'the dream'. In the simplest terms, Inception lacks the surrealism and the fantasy inherent to a very similar film, Paprika. Again, without delving too deeply into this, Nolan simply betrays an idea of sci-fi and fantasy in focusing on plot as opposed to story and the world in which it exists through films like Inception. When we add to this the latter problem, that being the "Vanilla Problem", we see this betrayal of fantasy for realism begin to pervade not just Nolan's script, but also his direction and thematic projection through film language. When looking at a film such as The Dark Knight, we see this overwhelmingly. Not only is the focus of the story too human-centric, but there is also too much of a focus on plot - added to this, the manner in which Nolan captures this all with direction is very bland.

So, when I look to Nolan's body of work, I see something lacking in many ways. I'll repeat again that I think Nolan is a significant filmmaker that, especially in 2010, shows (showed) the world that cinema, even at its highest ends, can be more complex and challenging. But, there is another key aspect of Nolan's cinema that I think reduces his significance and stature. Before we delve into this, I don't write these critical essays to just say that Nolan or a certain filmmaker is bad or lacking. I think if we reflect on the figures of modern cinema, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, we can both learn from them and learn how to design our own idea of cinema that they may fail in capturing. And with that said, we'll continue...

An intriguing element of Inception is that this is a story centred, almost entirely, on exposition. If you question the motive of every line of dialogue, you will find that an overwhelming majority of it explains, directly to an audience, something that is happening or has happened. There are then two main motives of all of the dialogue in Inception; 1) It explains the movement of the plot and the concept of the film - everything to do with dream machines and levels of dream spaces, or, 2) It explains Cobb's backstory and his inner conflicts.

This in itself would seem really bad to most movie goers as exposition is often seen as a necessary evil that should be kept to an absolute minimum. I agree with this idea, but I don't entirely subscribe to it. Exposition, whilst it can treat your audience like a bit of an idiot, is an amazing tool for world building. We can then grow to see exposition as both a good and an evil - not just a necessary evil. Good exposition is then a medium through which you can tell an audience something that imagery either could not, or if it did, would not be as engaging or fun as it being told from a character's mouth through dialogue. Some of the greatest uses of exposition can then be seen through films such as Fight Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.


In Fight Club, we are constantly being told information that is somewhat tangential to the plot, or information that characterises certain figures - for example Tyler and The Narrator are characterised by their constant monologues explaining their philosophies and predicaments.


In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, we are also given information, especially in the first act, that is tangential to the plot, but nonetheless interesting and a means of better getting to know Ferris.

What both of these film begin to show is that good exposition is fun exposition - it builds worlds and characters. Through Inception, we see a use of exposition that probably is more densely packed than even Fight Club, and whilst it builds a world and explains the plot as it moves, it doesn't do very well in characterising Cobb or injecting some fun into the narrative.


It is this scene, in which Cobb explains how dream machines and architecture works, that is the most awe-inspiring aspect of the movie on a surface level and in terms of its exposition. This is because, as in Ferris Bueller and Fight Club, it gives the audience information that enriches the story, instead of exposition that merely moves the plot along. But, what happens as the plot progresses is that this scene is forgotten; it turns out that it only explained Ariadne's role and wasn't there to foreshadow something in the second or third act. This great scene was then a simple block of information, little more. It is exposition like this that is a means to an end that is 'the evil' of storytelling. To understand this, we'll have to delve into the problem that lies at the heart of this topic.

When we ask ourselves why we want to tell and be told stories, we can often come to the conclusion that we want to learn something new or experience something different. Because of this, we can go to movies looking for one of two things; for an entertaining experience or an intellectual one. Because we are discussing complex movies through Inception, we are going to focus on the intellectual experiences we may seek out. In such, we come to a realm of filmmaking that, through metaphors or direct exposition, means to teach us something about, or connected to, the human condition. This is what we find through the films mentioned when referencing movies that are more complex than Inception...





However, would the likes of Kubrick, Fellini, Deren and Bergman consider themselves lecturers and teachers? It is possible, but what supersedes this idea is almost certainly that they are storytellers and artists. Hence, we have a line drawn in the sand that separates lessons from stories. So, when we consider ideas of meaning and exposition in cinema, we come to a conundrum. What is the motivation of meaning and exposition if it is not to teach?

The answer to this question can be teased out when we break down the idea of a 'lesson'. There are some lessons that we can all go to school for; we'll learn about history, science and mathematics. Other lessons cannot really be taught in the classroom; lessons pertaining to art and philosophy. This can be considered to be true in all disciplines, but it takes an individual endeavour, voice and exploration to progress in philosophical thinking and artistic practices. As implied, the same may be said in the highest forms of science and mathematics - consider the creativity and individual endeavour of figures such a Einstein. However, whilst you can be guided and taught by others to a certain degree in the disciplines of storytelling and thinking, there are elements that simply cannot be taught, only learnt through experience.

Because of this, there is a paradigm that splits sciences and arts apart. Science can be learned quantitatively, with facts and figures, whilst art can be practised with a degree of facts, figures and rules, but has often to be executed with the use of personality and subjective perspective. In turn, science can be consumed and taught in a quantitative manner - one based in facts and rules - whilst art has to be consumed and taught with ambiguity - no real lessons, just implication, symbolism and metaphors. What we are then seeing with art is the means through which it is 'learnt' mimicking the means through which it is consumed. In such, the real lessons in how to create art are gained through experience and practice and so the 'lessons' that art means to teach must be given in the same manner - with reliance on an audience who will use their own individual experiences and practices to interpret a narrative.

When we consider such an idea and turn back to our assessment of meaning and exposition, we see that the tools of storytelling that give it direction and purpose should not aim to teach a lesson in a scientific or mathematic manner, but imply a 'story', a narrative of experience, through which personal interpretations can be drawn. What this then means is that stories are not lessons; stories instead mimic, to a certain degree, the lives we live and gain experiences from; lives that inadvertently or indirectly teach us lessons. When we look to Inception, we see themes of family meeting ideas of control, the unconscious and the dream, which has the potential to provide a great narrative through which we can experience and learn something about the human condition. However, Inception is not a very profound film as it does not handle its themes and subject matter very well.

The reason why this is comes down to the fact that Nolan's exposition builds a world, but does not put us in it very well so that we can experience and draw our own meaning. A story like Fight Club does the opposite; the exposition is not only fun and interesting, but it builds worlds and characters that hold inherent lessons and ideas to be explored within them. This is good exposition. Bad exposition misconstrues storytelling as a platform through which to teach direct, pseudo-scientific or mathematic lessons - and this is exactly why exposition often sucks. Good exposition is another form of storytelling that implies indirect and ambiguous lessons whilst bad exposition is a misplaced lecture.

The final idea I then want to touch on before moving towards conclusion is how bad movies with good intentions are constructed. To explore this, we'll actually start with a T.V show. I happened to catch about 10 minutes of Orange Is The New Black recently.


I've never seen this show before and was simply in the room when somebody put it on the T.V, which means my opinion on the show isn't an incredibly valid one, but those 10 minutes that I saw were horribly written. I have no idea about the episode number or season, but what characterised every moment of what I saw was blatant political exposition with reference to a lot of leftist, female-centric ideas - everything from long dicks to girthy dicks to shaving to the patriarchy and social dominance hierarchies to sexual identity to culture, language, ethnicity, maternity... it goes on. Some of these are compelling and intriguing themes or topics, but the manner in which they were written into the show was awful - and the reason why I stay away from T.V shows in general. Everything about the dialogue and plot all came from a writer, or writers, trying to teach a social studies class to the world under the guise of a story. Their intentions may have been good, but the product was dog shit.

We see this paradigm in bad movies too. Examples of this would come from films like the recent Batman V Superman; the politics and the thematic intentions were transparent, unprofound and terribly implemented into the movie. This was all because, like in those 10 minutes of Orange Is The New Black, there was no sense of cinematic storytelling and no ambiguity; the story did not construct a narrative and a world which we, almost independently and with slight guides by the writer, step into and learn about ourselves through. Again, we have this in Inception too. Nolan is too focused on expositing a backstory and a concept that there is never the time nor means for the audience, and even the writer, to actually explore what their significance is.

So, to conclude, stories are constructed worlds captured by cameras and put into a screen. The best stories, like the most important and profound of our experiences on this earth, are narratives we walk through and draw lessons from. The world provides no real exposition; we can be told tangential facts that make the journey through life more interesting, but it is experience and action that truly matter - the same must be true in cinema. Inception is ultimately a sparkling example of how this complex and important side of cinema can be approach, but not entirely reached.

So, to end, I turn to you. What are your thoughts on all we've covered as well as Inception itself?






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End Of The Week Shorts #10

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18/06/2017

End Of The Week Shorts #10



Today's Shorts: A Dog's Life (1918), Phyllis (2011), Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998), Pas De Deux (1968), Serpico (1973), A Jihad For Love (2007), Hook (1991), You, The Living (2007), Sing (2016)



A fun Chaplin picture. Though it is not as emotionally charged as The Kid or City Lights, nor is it as action-packed as something such as Easy Street or The Great Dictator, this contains many of Chaplin's signature narrative elements - all of which are applied well. 
Time then flies by as The Tramp stumbles haphazardly through a romantic tale of serendipity, one that is focused on the divide between material worth and a human worth. We see this in the key scene in which Purviance's character is introduced; though she can reduce a full bar to tears with her song, she only manages to keep her job through a promise of prostitution. This paradigm is reversed in the relationship between the dog and The Tramp - it is a simple friendship based off of camaraderie with no ulterior motive or plans. Because there is this pure sense of friendship, one founded on inner substance, they save each other's lives and so, with the bar singer (who The Tramp sees the human side of), are seemingly granted a happy, humble life by the forgiving world of Chaplin's romantic universe. 
It is then the "dog's life" that is a simple one, one that is not guided by self-serving motives and so seemingly deserves, at the least, that happy, humble living.



Phyllis is an experimental Nigerian film that critiques certain Nollywood movies (Nollywood being one of the most prolific film industries in the world). In such, it follows a vampire who is obsessed with Nigerian films and sells wigs to feed her powers(?) - that bit, I'm uncertain about. 
This abstract narrative then comments on the terrible weaves and wigs that some Nollywood stars wear as a means of critiquing the manner in which women are portrayed in these films. In such, Phyllis utilises striking imagery to depict the artifice of bigger budget films and suggest then negative effects of this on audiences - namely, impressionable young girls. 
Say what you will about the subtext, Phyllis is an undeniably surreal film that, though it is not made very well, is a very interesting watch.




Incomprehensibly chaotic. 
It goes without saying that Gilliam goes above and beyond with every technical detail of this film. And for that, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is a huge triumph and an indisputably remarkable film. It captures an altered reality both through its narrative and formal design in a manner that I've never seen brought to a cinematic screen before, leaving it an impressionistic masterclass. 
I am torn, however, on the quality of the story. I never found myself locked into what was going on and so possibly need to re-watch it, maybe was subjected to a cluster of finely crafted anarchy, or just sat through empty nonsense. So, without really knowing what my opinion is on this film... I suppose that's all I can really say.



Despite the unfortunately lacking soundtrack, Pas De Deux is a truly exquisite experimental short. It uses is a rippled stroboscopic effect with black and white cinematography to manipulate a couple's dance into movements through a fractured spacetime to conjure a mesmerising dream of motion. 
Building upon simpler shorts like Canon, which features a similar effect in its final phase, McLaren then demonstrates an immense skill to experiment with film form in an ingenious, yet instantaneously rewarding and aesthetically rich, capacity that, unlike many other experimental films, doesn't simply rely on concept.



A tremendous neo-noir based on a true story, Serpico captures the nihilistic, the fatalistic and the futility of the policing milieu, one entirely embedded in corruption, in 60s/70s New York. 
With an all-time-great performance by Pacino that sees him entirely disappear into his character, Serpico holds a plot and subject matter of astounding force. The only downfalls of this film are centred on elements of sound design and ADR performances which deteriorate elements of drama. But, beyond this, Serpico is a significant New Hollywood feature and undeniable classic.



Though it gets pretty repetitive and banal at points, this is a fascinating documentary that explores the divide/relationship between homosexuality and Islam. In such, it paints several portraits of gay and lesbian Muslims who either struggle with their faith or hold fast to it with alternate interpretations of holy texts. 
Its strongest elements are those that delve into this confounding meeting point of religion and sexuality as well as those that depict the real struggles of homosexuals who have fled their country and gone into hiding. This would be a far more remarkable documentary if it managed to sustain these elements and push deeper into the controversial subject matter instead of jumping from figure to figure. Nonetheless, A Jihad For Love is a pretty well-made documentary with some technical draw backs that is quite absorbing.



The gold standard of the family fantasy film. Whilst it has faults and its fair share of cheese, Hook is a brilliant film. The script is perfect, Spielberg's direction is on-point and the performances by Hoffman and Robinson (Hoffman in particular) are stellar 
The main flaws with this movie are technological and have ties to Julia Roberts', Tink. In short, the special effects (of which there aren't too many) haven't aged too well and there is an inescapable artificial aesthetic imbued into the sets through the flashy cinematography that is sometimes a little too vibrant and colourful for its own good. Added to this, the insertion of Tink into this narrative is pretty essential, but simply isn't executed very well. Giving edge on the technical front, you can still criticise Roberts' performance as well as the direction in her sequences - and let's not forget the questionable plot beat that has her explode into a human-sized fairy. 
With all of that said, the best family films will have an inevitable hint of cheese and artifice to them and the fact that Hook manages these elements so well to provide an enormous amount of joy and fun makes it one of the greatest ever made.



Absurdly brilliant and quite possibly a new personal favourite, You, The Living is a narrative City Symphony focused on the inhabitants of a Swedish city (Lethe). With silent films aesthetics - simply shot types and some strong mise en scene - this is a ridiculously immersive and subtle dark comedy that has no internal structuring that makes much sense, but pulls together to produce a surprisingly profound commentary on society. In such, You, The Living is focused on mundanity and dissatisfaction in the modern world. 
My favourite aspect of the movie features a jaded psychologist who says (paraphrasing) that the people he deals with are mean, yet demand happiness, and so aren't worth talking to, which is why he just prescribes them pills. And such, speaks to both the tone and sensibilities of this film's commentary on humanity. It is equal parts beautiful and nihilistic, leaving it poetically inert and freakishly meaningful.



Bergman would sigh. Tarkovsky would groan. Kubrick would roll his eyes. But, this is a good pop blockbuster animated movie. 
It executes its formulaic script and characters very well with some catchy tunes, good animation and a plot that does gain a lot of emotive momentum as it works its way towards a finale. To criticise this as anything other than a simple family movie would be pointless, so, for what it is, Sing is actually pretty great - and I've seen it about 10 times thanks to my family, so I can confidently stand by that claim. There are some huge plot holes and sequences that make no sense as well as a cliched subtextual drive, but it's good fun that holds up.




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