Sunday, 13 December 2009

Nuts in May

In an earlier post regarding the DVD release of the Mike Leigh at the BBC box-set, I described this particular film, Nuts in May (first broadcast January 13th, 1976), as "loose and rambling"; a two word pairing that not only underlines the direction that these characters take throughout the course of their literal journey through the English countryside as defined by the plot, but in the practical, presentational way in which Leigh allows his story to unfold and eventually develop. In what has now become fairly characteristic of the director's individual approach to cinema, Nuts in May is an intelligent if somewhat fairly broad character-study enlivened by moments of keenly observed social-satire; where the elements of conflict, drama and humour central to our engagement with the film are created by the endearingly awkward interactions between each member of the cast, and the often uncomfortable, or sometimes absurd situations, to which they're confined.

Although it is a much lighter film in disposition than the majority of Leigh's work, either before or since, the general thematic development of Nuts in May is nonetheless an essential example of Leigh's particular ability to create moments of conflicting drama from even the most honest and basic of situations. These situations could (and indeed do) include anything from the pitching of a tent or the excavation of a centuries old fossil, to the more reflective, interpersonal moments, of which the vast majority seem drawn from the small-scale spectacle of everyday life. In taking these two characters and introducing them as a married couple, eventually revealing the minute details of their lifestyle and pursuits through the wry dialog and the interaction of the characters, Leigh is able to create something that works on several levels; not simply as a character study, or as a wider satire on a particular subculture or general ideology, but as something that establishes a number of themes germane to the broader parameters of Leigh's cinema: chiefly, the ideas of conflict and co-existence.

Despite being set within the midst of the beautiful rolling-green countryside of Dorset, on the south-west coast of England, Nuts in May has enough similarities to later films like Grown Ups (1980) or Meantime (1984), in which the domestic disputes and disagreements of different characters attempting to get along with one another is used to explore deeper, more complex themes pertaining to the basics of human psychology. In fact, Leigh himself has stated that his intention with Nuts in May was to produce an urban drama in a rural setting, so that the contrasts between characters from numerous walks of life attempting to co-inhabit a particular shared space - like the cramped living rooms and kitchens that one might find in the suburbs, or on a council estate - could be used as a springboard for the purposes of discussing more universal themes or ideas not necessarily related to plot.



As something of a departure for Leigh, not just in terms of its setting or in the basic concept of characters on the road (so to speak), Nuts in May could be seen as an attempt at filtering its drama (in both structure and approach) through two very different and distinct filmmaking forms. Most obviously, the situation comedy, or in fact, more specifically, the English situation comedy, as typified by the likes of The Good Life (1975) or The Last of the Summer Wine (1973) - in which eccentric if well-meaning characters are established and then placed into a recognisably, every-day situation - and the road movie: as our two characters become almost like guides to this strange shambolic trek around the English coast, bringing us along, as if passengers on a journey, and allowing us to share in the ups and downs of their experiences. As ever, Leigh captures this action in a way that is mostly unobtrusive, observing these characters, either in a very reserved, almost documentarian approach, or shooting hand-held from the back of the couple's car (which continues that notion of the audience as part of the drama; the brought-along hitchhiker, caught up in the narrative and along for the ride).

It is in the relationship between the two central characters that the basis for the various emotional responses to both the comedy and the drama are formed; with the obvious contrasts of background and attitude - as one character's quirks or preoccupations are played off against another wildly different character - being used in order to trigger personal associations in an attempt to make the situations more real and our response to these characters, as they move from laughable to sympathetic, all the more authentic. Unlike many of Leigh's others films for television, the characters from Nuts in May were pre-existing, with the film created around two characters that Leigh had originally developed for an earlier theatre production, in which the domestic-life of the central couple was documented in a kind of two-act, interior-set comedy of manners - more in keeping perhaps with the director's follow-up film, the highly successful and now fairly iconic television play, Abigail's Party (1977). In adapting these characters for the cinema, Leigh opens the drama up; taking his characters on the road, removing them from their protective domestic setting in which their traits and eccentricities were freely accepted, and turning them loose on the world, so that these same characteristics can be observed by both the audience and the supporting cast to better contrast the deeper psychological implications of their actions.



In this sense, the title of the film, as ever with Leigh's screen titles, has certain hidden implications, here relating back to the traditional children's rhyme: which establishes a certain generational background and the notion of a pairing between the male and female protagonists (and also, you could argue, the male and female characters that will later appear on the fringes of the narrative). However, the title can also work as a fairly obvious though no less amusing pun; the idea that the nuts in season are actually the two central characters; nuts, as in "oddballs", on holiday in the month of May (with May relating to the May Day celebrations, or the May Bank Holiday, when families often plan weekends away). The film opens with the screen title rendered in a cheerful font - brightly coloured in an almost picture-postcard parody to better make light of that once most curious of English pursuits: the countryside camping holiday - superimposed over a shot of the ferry as it arrives in Dorset with the two main characters in tow. On the soundtrack our jovial protagonists Keith (Roger Sloman) and Candice-Marie (Alison Steadman) sing their own self-composed folk song about an escape to the country, in which the improbably twee-lyrics and the yearning sense of innocence as expressed in the song's particular worldview, seems to underline the broader aspects of their relationship and the general dynamics of the trip itself.

I want to get away she said
I want to get away
I'll take you on a trip he said
We'll have a holiday
We'll be with Mother Nature
And laugh and sing and play
I want to get away she said
I want to get away

I wonder where we'll go, she said
I wonder where we'll go
I'll look around the world, he said
I'll search both high and low
The prettiest is Dorset, it has so many charms
We'll walk across the hills and dales
And look at all the farms


The contrast between these two forms, with the characters singing their song with a dual guitar and banjo accompaniment over a travelogue of images shot from the back of the couple's car, creates that perfect evocation of the escape to the country - the get-away, as it were - where couples would leave behind the toil and the strife of the suburbs or the big city and get back to nature. That Keith, in his self-composed lyric to the song, expresses an urge to walk across the hills and dales "looking at all the farms" is in complete contrast to Candice-Marie, who corrects his lyric, claiming that "linking each other's arms" is the more emotionally expressive dénouement to the pastoral evocation that they're creating. Keith's natural reaction is to dismiss the suggestion - "that doesn't scan!" - seems to illustrate right from the very beginning the sense of order and efficiency that Keith strives for; setting their holiday to a strict day-to-day timetable and preplanning every facet of the trip, right down to the most effective footwear for clambering on rocks or walking the footpath to the beach.

As the relationship develops, and the correlation between the two characters becomes more clearly defined, we can question the subtleties of this introduction, or what it says about our protagonists. When Candice-Marie sings "I want to get away", are we to see this simply as a yearning for the open road, fresh air and countryside, or is it instead a subtle hint to her dissatisfaction with the strict, know-it-all Keith? We can take it either way. Likewise, in the later scene, when the couple perform their song about London Zoo, which has the same melody, chord structure and rhythm as the song from earlier in the film, the phrasing of the lines "I want to see the zoo, she said, I want to see the zoo" / "I want to take you there, he said, I want to go with you" could hint at the fact that despite his bluster and need to get his own way, it is actually Candice-Marie who wears the trousers in the relationship, and without her, Keith would effectively be nothing. If we choose this interpretation, then the relationship between Candice-Marie and their campsite neighbour Ray (Anthony O'Donnell) takes on a different quality, as she seems to be generally interested in the young man, even coercing her husband into taking a picture of the two of them together. It also, to some extent, explains the sexless relationship that the married couple share, with the particular association between them seeming at times to be more like that of the teacher and his student. He is full of his own stuff and nonsense, older than his years. She works in a toy shop and sleeps with a purple kitten-shaped hot water bottle named Prudence.



The brilliance of Nuts in May is that it allows these characters to develop and evolve naturally, without relying on the usual melodramatic superfluities, intrusion of plot twists or creative editing to make the process more direct. The narrative builds gradually, introducing the two central characters, placing them in a situation, allowing them the time to interact with the situation, to use it as a means of developing their own characters in more detail, before another character is introduced into the situation to cause a conflict that drives the narrative further towards its natural resolution. With the arrival of Ray, and later the brash and jubilant couple Honky and Finger (played by Sheila Kelley and Stephen Bill), Leigh creates a natural chain of events that will push the characters to the very edges of their patience, once again illustrating that idea of co-existence, or the neighbourhood power struggle that he would return to in Grown Ups, or Home Sweet Home (1982).



Although the issue of class, so often crucial to much of Leigh's wok, and particularly of these early television films, such as Hard Labour (1973) or Abigail's Party, is mostly absent from the development of Nuts in May, it does find a certain parallel with the way Keith and Candice-Marie are seen by the locals, who can smell their suburban back-to-nature bullshit from a mile off. It's particularly palpable in the scenes between our central couple and the pig farmer, who seems to get an enormous amount of pleasure from informing Keith that the filed in which they wish to spend the night doesn't have a toilet, and the policeman, who, in one of the most cruel scenes in the film, stops the couple and penalises Keith for having obscured the rear-window of his car with camping equipment. There is also some hint to the nastier side of Keith, who, in angrily confronting Honky and Finger, screams to them to "get back to [their] tenements", which cuts through the audience with all the ferocity of a particularly violent racial slur. However, such moments simply add depth to the characters, never turning them into caricatures, as is the usual criticism of Leigh's work, but simply offering the different shades and aspects of a personality that makes up the greater whole.

As is often the case with Leigh's work, the richness of these characterisations and the work that he and his actors put into the creation of these fully-functioning individuals - with full back stories and carefully drawn relationships - seems to push the viewer into becoming an armchair psychiatrist, trying to "understand" these characters, their actions and their motivations. However, to read too directly into these sketches could easily take away from the immediacy of the drama, or the sheer entertainment value that comes from witnessing these perfectly nuanced performances, where those involved act and react to the situations, or to the other characters, and make it seem entirely without effort. Although plagued by eccentricities and at times downright exasperating traits, we never find these characters repellent or repulsive. We enjoy the company of Keith and Candice-Marie, even though they're irritating, or occasionally self-righteous. Even with Keith, all well-meaning arrogance and authoritative tone, attempting to force his lifestyle on the various other characters encountered during the course of his journey, and condescending in his approach to his own wife, who in turn is skittish and naive, peeking out from beneath an oversized bobble-hat and national-health glasses, and speaking in a slow, monotonous drone, each sentence posed as a question, we nonetheless feel something for these characters, and can offer empathy and understanding when the film ends on a note of quiet desperation.

In a recent interview with the broadcaster Mark Lawson for the BBC (to coincide with the release of this particular box-set), Leigh claimed that his preferred ending for the film would have had Keith and Candice-Marie camped out atop the enormous phallic erection of The Cerne Abbas giant - which would, in his mind, have been the perfect ironic critique of the couple's central relationship - but the lack of funding made it impossible. As it stands, the current ending is just fine. There's no shot of the ferry to end the film, or to wrap up this disastrous journey, so we're left with the suggestion that this closing scene, tranquil enough, but also fairly tragic in its own way, will just continue, with Candice-Marie happily strumming out a song about the need for conservation, as Keith pops behind the pigpen with a roll of toilet paper, giving some vague reference to what would have been Leigh's original title, "Eaten By A Pig".

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Phantoms of Nabua

Phantoms of Nabua directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2009:

A film about the impressions of light and memory, described by its director as an exploration on the concept of remembrance and extinction. The title, Phantoms of Nabua (2009), therefore establishes the location, and through the particular evocation of the word phantoms, defines the presentation of these characters emerging, half-formed, from the fires that surround them. The film, which runs for close to eleven minutes in duration (with credits), is part of Weerasethakul's multi-platform 'Primitive' project, which is described by it's creator as a "portrait of home." Weerasethakul states that, like the previous experiment, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (2009), this film "portrays a communication of light; the lights that exude, on the one hand, the comfort of home, and on the other, destruction." In this respect, it is a film, like much of Weerasethakul's work, that is defined by its images; which are striking, precisely because their relative simplicity - as in the way that these manifestations seem to be created from everyday objects that we might find anywhere around us at any given time - is in a complete contrast with the overwhelming otherworldliness of the manner in which they are used.

This contrast of light, of the natural and the artificial, is of particular significance in how we approach the film; creating a disparity, as ever with this director, where one line intersects another, creating drama and emotional connection from the juxtaposition of two immediately disparate forms. In his more clearly defined narrative work, such as Tropical Malady (Sud pralad, 2004) or Syndromes and a Century (Sang sattawat, 2006), these disparate forms are illustrated by two divergent narrative strands that coalesce. As we view the films, not knowing or expecting such shifts to occur, we're disarmed by the experience; seeing the switch from a level of, for example, documentary realism into pure folklore, as largely disruptive. However, when we think about these tricks again, after the initial viewing, and return to the films in an attempt to try and discover these great mysteries that lurk behind each moment, we see that the two strands complement one another on a much greater level. Certain parallels and similarities can be gleaned from paying close attention to the significance of certain objects, or the introduction of a character, their movements and approach. It also has a lot to do with location. In Tropical Malady, or more specifically perhaps in Blissfully Yours (Sud sanaeha, 2002), the location plays an important part in understanding the drama and the way that it unfolds.

Even the name of the place - Nabua - is rich in exotic suggestion; already creating the image of a jungle at night (hot and wet from the fresh summer rain) before the film has even begun. The lightning storm that introduces the film - real or man-made - also sets a tone for the experiments to follow. Already we're seeing the contrast between the natural and the artificial - both the differences and the similarities - in two distinct presentations; like the two layers of projection from which the film is made - an artificial recording of a literal projection of light on a canvas, capturing another artificial recording against the backdrop of a jungle at night. In this respect, Phantoms of Nabua is a folding of one film into another, with Weerasethakul taking footage from another installation, projecting it on a screen in the middle of a playground illuminated by a solitary fluorescent tube, and allowing the film on screen (as in - one frame within another) to captivate his characters; creating a near-supernatural atmosphere that stresses the extraordinary power of the image, and the impact on those who see it. Thus, in its purest form, it is the expression of the spectacle as it relates to those experiencing it; these lights - like the light from a cinema screen - burning through the dark.


Phantoms of Nabua directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2009:

Weerasethakul compares the project to the book A Man Who Can Recall His Past Lives, claiming that "Primitive is about reincarnation and transformation; a celebration of the destructive force in nature and in us that burns in order to be reborn and mutate." Into this we have the football match – the ball being passed back and forth in a potential representation of the shot/reverse-shot, before setting the screen ablaze. The significance here is unknown. However, these encounters of light, illuminating the pitch-black canvas of night - (obscurité, oh ma lumière) - tell a story. Each object tells a story. In introducing the film and explaining the significance of the fluorescent tube that lights the area directly above the goalposts where the action plays out, Weerasethakul writes: "for an economic reason, most of the houses in Asia are illuminated by fluorescent lights. Even though these lights make the skin look pale, even dead, for me they relate to home, to being home." If each object can be read on such a level, revealing more of Weerasethakul's personal intentions, then we can better appreciate the importance of how each individual object has a meaning, and how each part of this installation can be seen together to create a greater whole.

It goes back to those two original contrasts; the lights that exude the comfort of home or destruction, which are apparent throughout. So the fluorescent tube, with its recollections of home, and the fire which destroys the screen, are explicitly underlined. But then how do we interpret the light that burns behind the screen? This alien-light, reminding us of the strange lights that danced in the trees in the second part of Tropical Malady - or the lights from Steven Spielberg's science-fiction masterpiece Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) - which defy classification, but affect us, emotionally? Is this flickering light, like the light cast from the reflection of a mirror, a destructive force, numbing those that experience it; or is it an altogether more wholesome light – a light that allows these characters to transcend, beyond the primitive tribal rituals of football, or the creation of fire, or the past-violence of Nabua itself, and becoming more like the monolith from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – a harbinger of greater change.


Close Encounters of the Third Kind directed by Steven Spielberg, 1977:

Phantoms of Nabua directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2009:

2001: A Space Odyssey directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1968:

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Visiting Uwe

Visiting Uwe (subtitled: The Uwe Boll Homestory, 2008), is director / presenter Fabian Hübner's sit-down chat with the notorious German film director Uwe Boll; a contentious figure, best known to most viewers for his continually derided videogame adaptations, such as House of the Dead (2003),BloodRayne (2005) and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007).

Although the current vogue amongst cinephiles of the World Wide Web is to dismiss everything Boll has been involved with, not even agreeing to approach it from the perspective of the so-bad-it's-good variety of cinema's guilty treasures, Hübner's film presents itself as a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the artist as a middle-aged man; offering Boll the platform to defend himself against the criticisms and accusations that have been thrown at him throughout the course of his career, while also giving the audience a chance to get to know the man behind the myth; establishing a personality beyond the provocation, or the outlandish stunts that have been used to undermine the integrity of Boll's work or the legitimacy of his filmmaking intent. It also allows Boll the opportunity to elucidate on the topic of film, something he seems genuinely passionate about; and although many of his opinions run contrary to my own, I was nonetheless surprised at how interesting Boll could be when discussing his cinematic likes and dislikes in this relaxed and impartial environment.

Presented in sparse black and white and cluttered with elements of split-screen and inter-titles to keep the individual segments of conversation on track, Hübner's fifty-minute film is the kind of documentary in which the actual filmmaking apparatus is allowed to intrude upon the scene; making the process of recording this "event" - the meeting of two filmmakers for the basis of cultural curiosity - a kind of film about filmmaking in its self. Of course, we can assume that this particular aesthetic - very hip, but also deliberately nostalgic; looking back to the period of cinéma-vérité or the nouvelle vague for the purposes of fly-on-the-wall observation - is part of Hübner's general modus operandi as established by his work on the web serial AVANT*GARDE (2008), the particular decision to conduct the interview with this approach in place has a more interesting effect than simply appearing cool or cutting-edge. Specifically, it reinforces the image of Boll as a serious filmmaker largely by framing him against a background of the general paraphernalia of his profession: film cameras, microphones, light-stands and monitors, etcetera.

By placing the filmmaker in this environment, Hübner is able to legitimise Boll's opinions; misdirecting the audience away from the obvious points of controversy and disarming us with a constant reminder of the difficulties and dishonesty of cinema production at its most bare and basic form.


Visiting Uwe directed by Fabian Hübner, 2008:

In the first part of the film, we have a sort-of credit sequence, in which we see Hübner leaving his apartment, heading to the airport and boarding a plane to his required destination. This sequence is somewhat unnecessary; edited like a low-budget hip-hop video and scored by some generic emo-rock band - which is hardly representative of the film as a complete piece of work. From here, a brief wander around the Boll family kitchen stressing the importance of the cappuccino machine, before the two men (and Hübner's accompanying camera operator) get down to the business at hand. From this point on, the film is structured primarily around a series of back-and-forth interview sequences inter-cut with more general scenes of Boll showing the interviewer (and the audience) around his home and offices.

Although on-paper, such a description could call to mind something as vacuous as Cribs (2000), the MTV-produced series, wherein a variety of tasteless celebrities encouraged the cameras into their homes and played up to a crude "nouveau riche" persona, the location and the particular emphasis on the objects found in Boll's home, and more specifically his personal archives, help to further develop the reality of the filmmaker away from the hype and the hatred, to create a more human portrait, in which the man, with his hopes and aspirations, is given a kind of perspective by the framing of Hübner's film.

In this sense, I'm reminded of a quote by Jean-Luc Godard that I've used before: "Objects exist, and if one pays more attention to them than to people, it is precisely because they exist more than the people. Dead objects are still alive. Living people are often already dead." It seems apt given the further significance of the subtitle, The Uwe Boll Homestory, as in the "home-story", as in every home tells a story (perhaps?), which gives the film its added weight. These objects that we discover - film canisters, posters, sleeves for forgotten VHS cassettes, promotional material, trailers and teasers, etc - define the Boll persona; reaffirming it, again, away from the negativity or the endless complaints of gamers of the "Uwe Boll destroyed my childhood" variety, and convinces us that the line between a director considered great and a director considered to be (essentially) without merit, is faint.

When Boll pours through the archives, finding the original 35mm print of his first film, the spoof comedy experiment German Fried Movie (1991), or treats the director (and again, the audience) to the newly edited trailer for his then-most-recent film, the Vietnam War drama Tunnel Rats (2008), we begin to see the emerging image of a man who lives for his work, is proud of it, and more importantly, sees it as a real privilege to be able to make a living in a profession that he's dreamed about since the age of ten.


Visiting Uwe directed by Fabian Hübner, 2008:

In approaching the film in such a way, the audience can see Boll as a filmmaker first and foremost. The notion of the director as the most hated in the world "ever" becomes subdued, and we can see and ultimately accept a man who is passionate about what he does and confident enough in his own opinions to know exactly what he wants, regardless of what anyone else might think. He's been nominated for three Golden Raspberry awards thus far (unfairly, in my opinion, but such "awards" are meaningless from any perspective), but when he discusses the nature of cinema, and how in the grand scheme of things it is genre cinema that prevails over the art-house, we buy every word of it. When Boll dismisses Tarkovsky as "refined tedium", Hübner rolls his eyes (no doubt) in tandem with the audience.

However... does Boll have a point? When Little Miss Sunshine (2006) or Juno (2007) can bring in blockbuster style box-office on a $9 million budget, is there really a growing audience for something like Silent Light (Stellet licht, 2007) or The Man from London (A Londoni férfi, 2007); or are these films destined to play to the same niche audiences - never breaking out of the art-film ghetto? In describing the situation, Boll defines his position: "You have to be realistic; in the USA, 90% of people have never heard of Fellini, Antonioni or Bertolucci. Now, you could tell them about La dolce vita (1960), or Marcello Mastroianni, and perhaps a few would understand the reference, but they don't really care."

Statements like this are bound to provoke a response, but is Boll correct in his opinion that the films of John Ford will endure beyond the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard? After all, people like Hitchcock, Kubrick and Leone, who were often dismissed by the majority of mainstream critics at the height of their creative success, are now seen as absolute masters of the medium, more so than any erstwhile-hip, avant-garde deconstructionist or poet of the silver screen. He also points the finger of judgement at directors like Michael Bay and Eli Roth, who are in the position to make challenging, subversive work with a relevant social and political message, but instead produce insipid, generic nonsense designed to woo fans or score points at the box-office.

Whether or not we agree with Boll's statements, there is no denying that there is an element of his personality that seems intent on challenging his detractors by offering them fodder, either by taking on his critics in a boxing match, or through statements of knowing self-deprecation; claiming that his career will be over in fifteen years, or that the secret to winning an Academy Award is to produce the film that kills the most Nazis. It would seem to be part of the Boll persona; this notion of playing into the (negative) expectations of the critics, and then backing away from it, doing something quite radical and arguing your case from the perspective of a misunderstood genius in a way that makes the whole thing appear to be some kind of situationist-inspired stunt. How else can we explain the career trajectory of a man who is set to follow a serious, documentary-style drama about the situation in Darfur with a film called Zombie Massacre?


Visiting Uwe directed by Fabian Hübner, 2008:

Hübner's film is broken up into a series of specific talking points: "idols", "cinema", "art-house", "filmmaker", "critics", etc, in which the filmmaker attempts to draw a more clearly defined picture of Boll and his particular reputation. His answers to these questions are often surprising, from his admiration for Orson Welles, who Boll describes as "the most interesting director ever, not only as an artist, but as a person as well" before reeling off a list of films including Macbeth (1948) and F for Fake (1972), to an interest in the work of John Ford, Lars von Trier, Martin Scorsese and Luis Buñuel. In describing his inspiration for becoming a director, Boll talks about seeing Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) while still in elementary school, and assuming that the life of a film director was comparable to being a ship's captain - like Trevor Howard, steering his crew into uncharted waters in search of new adventures. It explains some of the reckless ambition evident in Boll's work; the image of this small-town kid, pulling together enough money to make a film, setting his sights on Hollywood, and then using tax-breaks and independent investors to set up his own production company operating out of Frankfurt by way of Vancouver. He now has the kind of control and freedom of independence that most directors can only dream about; even though the situation has its downsides - he's generally despised and pre-judged on every film, with the vast majority of critics pre-rating his work a 1/10 on sites like the Internet Database months before the movies have even been released.

For the most part Hübner keeps his distance, allowing Boll to present his side of the story with only the most minimal of argument and interjection. If anything, this could possibly be described as the film's biggest flaw, with the interviewer never forcing the interviewee to explain his opinions in any kind of greater depth. It would have been interesting to see how Boll, as a fairly headstrong and confrontational character, might have worked with a more aggressive approach, but then there's always the risk that the proceedings could have become another adolescent piece of Boll-bating; complaining about the supposed Ed Wood quality of films like House of the Dead or Alone in the Dark (both mediocre films at best, or worst), but offering no real insight or sense of critical worth. Instead, Visiting Uwe positions itself as a rare insight into a genuine pop-culture phenomenon; a director who in less than a decade, has established a reputation as being one of the worst filmmakers in contemporary cinema, and yet, despite the constant protests and online nitpicking, has continued to work prolifically and independently, tackling everything from horror movies, to action films, to state-of-the-world polemics, and even a low-brow comedy.

In this respect, Visiting Uwe is of interest mostly for the perspective that it offers in placing Boll's diverse and often eccentric career choices into some kind of greater context; illustrating that the roots of a film like Postal (2007) can be seen in the German Fried Movie, or how something like Stoic (2008) or the soon to be released Rampage (2009) can be traced back to his earlier exploitation films, such as Amoklauf (Run Amok, 1994).


Visiting Uwe directed by Fabian Hübner, 2008:


Postal directed by Uwe Boll, 2007


Stoic directed by Uwe Boll, 2009

Occasionally the infamous Boll bitterness creeps in, dismissing the criticisms of BloodRayne start Michael Madsen by shifting the focus on to the actor's alleged alcoholism, as well as presenting a lengthy rant against the aforementioned Bay (which had to be censored for legal reasons). However, even here, when Boll reacts with the unfocused venom of a spoilt Victorian child, we can see the tragedy of the man behind the legend. That level of bitterness that runs deeper than any kind of stunt or simple attention seeking; the kind of bitterness prevalent in someone who has achieved so much by their own limitations but still not enough to gain the respect of their public and peers.

Personally, I respect Boll. I can appreciate the work that he puts in to his films. As someone who tries, on occasion, to wear the hat of a film director, I know how hard it is to get funding - to a get a film off the ground without giving away control to the producers who care only about financial success. When you're from a small town, with no family or connections with the industry, such attempts to get a film made, and more importantly released, is an uphill struggle. As Boll protested in a 2007 interview with Chris Kohler of the website Wired; "You should admire that nobody else did what I did in the last ten years. Not one filmmaker out of Germany was able to raise money. All the German money went to the Hollywood studios; I was the only guy doing it. I did one movie after the other, not anybody else. I do my own distribution, my own project development, my own financing and everything. Nobody else did that. But in the opinion of the Boll bashers, I'm a talentless idiot! And you see it exactly the same."

At the end, can we even be sure of the motives for making this film, for interviewing Boll and allowing his personality to dominate, either as a work of ironic opposition - "Boll sucks so we think he's cool", etc - or a private joke between two men smart enough to know how the industry works and how both could benefit from the obvious publicity. Either way, Visiting Uwe is a fascinating interview that works well, precisely because of its unique position. Right down to the title - first name basis, as if visiting a friend; and indeed, between the more important stuff, there's some playful humour between these two characters which feeds back into the feeling that Boll is pulling the strings; manipulating the events to his own advantage, to create his own legacy and his own persona that defines it - like a modern-day Andy Kaufman – which, for me, makes the experience all the more rewarding.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Shame

A key example of Bergman's unparalleled ability to create a kind of cinema of alienation through the rigid and meticulous focus on characters interacting; albeit, not simply through the unblinking point-and-shoot interchanges of dialog, but contained within the seemingly inescapable boundaries of a situation that they've been confined to. In this respect, the confines are further illustrated by the practical presentation of the film itself, with those tightly composed images of faces, acting and then reacting to the events as they unfold, and the always brilliant interplay between light and shadow, which, as ever in Bergman's work, manages to maintain some vague semblance to the natural light that one might expect to find illuminating the area of your nearest windowsill, and yet still managing to offer an obvious visual representation of a kind of conflict that is necessary in a film so preoccupied with the clashing of personalities and ideas.

The most obvious and natural conflict at the pure beating heart of the drama is in the particular reliance on a certain kind of character-type: i.e. an individual with a singular point of view that is at odds with the world around them. In much of Bergman's work, this inability to see eye to eye with other human beings - even on such an intimate or entirely personal level - leads his characters to seek solace and escape; burying their heads in the metaphorical and creating a kind of block that allows them to break from the true psychological horrors that plague them. Alongside these particular concerns we find a number of parallel themes that would be further refined and developed in the series of films that Bergman produced during the same period of creative activity as the film in question, with projects like Persona (1966), Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen, 1968) and The Rite (Riten, 1969) continuing the idea of characters existing in a world in which the boundaries between the symbolic and the real, performance and actuality, have become blurred by the perspective of the filmmaker.

In keeping with such deconstructive ideas, this film, Shame (Skammen, 1968), offers the central depiction of war as a literal nightmare that explores (or exploits?) the psychological disintegration of its two central characters. It is in this presentation that the progression of the conflict and the breakdown in society becomes the perfect mirror to the breakdown of the couple's relationship; with each escalating scene of violence or atrocity creating the perfect visual, meta-textual reference-point to a jealous glance or a derisive put down, which wounds the fragile ego as fatally as a bullet to the head. It's a novel approach, with these two characters at war with one another and at war with themselves, further represented by a landscape of cold uncertainty, violence and turmoil. With this in mind, Shame is probably not the easiest of Bergman's films to appreciate on an immediate level, though it remains, nonetheless, one of his most fascinating; especially when we compare it to the similar elements presented in the subsequent Bergman-directed psychodrama, A Passion (En Passion, 1969).


A Passion directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1969:


Shame directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1968:

As with that particular film, Shame offers a story about characters in retreat; in retreat from themselves and from the world around them. In Shame, the idea is given a further charge of dramatic weight by an approaching civil war set to eventually destroy the walls of cowardice and self-preservation that these particular characters have put up to protect themselves from the harsh realities of the world beyond. However, as the walls begin to crumble, these characters begin to show certain elements of their true personalities that have remained hidden or disguised during the idyllic years spent safely hidden away amongst the island community; as the escalating horror of the world itself becomes secondary to the crippling emotional suffocation and psychological collapse of these characters as they strive to escape, both literally, as in from the horrors of war, and metaphorically, as in their own emotionally suffocating relationship.

There are, as one might expect, a number of other, more complex themes developed alongside this central concern, with the usual issues of jealousy, adultery, guilt, impotence, a lack of communication and the inability or unwillingness to see the world for what it truly is all featuring as motivating factors at various points throughout; allowing the audience to appreciate, or at least better recognise the sense of dehumanisation - as the machines of war destroy everything, including the human spirit - and the particular way in which these characters cling to a hope for a return to civilisation, when the actual chance of any kind of palpable reconciliation is plainly impossible. Of course, we can criticise this obvious reading as naive or simply skimming the surface of what is quite clearly a complex and exhaustive piece of work, it still, nonetheless, becomes immediately clear even from this initial single splinter of the film's true meaning; which could, in all honesty, be as simple as what is defined by the experience of viewing the film and the odd, accumulative aspect as each scene builds in intensity, until the rage and frenzy exhausts itself, leaving only a tattered, tired scream.


Shame directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1968:

As one might expect from Bergman (and especially the Bergman of this period), Shame is an outstanding piece of work, both as an experience in the cinematic sense - as in to immerse yourself in the spectacle of the thing - and on a purely technical level too. The production design, editing and cinematography are suitably harsh and gritty, creating a very believable situation, though one that is again filled with a very deliberate form of cinematic abstraction that is formed by the use of the high-contrast black and white. Even so, these elements of artistic/cinematic expression never overwhelm the grain of realism that is filtered through our obvious experiences with TV war-reportage or the conflict in Vietnam, which is used as a kind of shorthand to many of the more confrontational or harrowing scenes featured herein. In presenting these sequences, Bergman is able to sidestep any potentially fatal moments of melodrama or shock-tactics, giving us the torture and insanity of war, without turning it into some kind of after-school polemic.

The film is also notable for what seems like an increased budget - or at least, increased by the standards of many of the filmmaker's more iconic pictures, which generally involve small groups of characters drifting in and out of a tightly-structured chamber-piece framework - with Shame instead offering the audience unforgettable images of aeroplanes spitting machine-gun fire and shells across the tiny island community, a procession of military vehicles stretching back through the village as far as the eye can see, thousands of extras, explosions and costumes, and all to establish this cold and nightmarish world that seems to exist beyond the clearly-defined boundaries of context and time. The fact that Bergman chose to leave the setting of this film a mystery is one of its most interesting aspects of the film and the one that makes it more fascinating to re-evaluate from a contemporary perspective; as the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, or the continual reports of North Korea flexing its Nuclear weight, remind us that potential future conflicts are still lingering on the horizon.


Shame directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1968:

Although the threat of civil war and some of the more heart wrenching depictions of abuse and degradation might suggest the era of the Second World War, the cars and costumes and central political or personal ideologies are all very much a post-war, 1960s affectation. No information about the war is given, other than the fact that it has split the country in half, and that both sides seem to be employing a regime of violence and threat to manipulate the locals into assisting their own particular cause. The fact that the actual war is seemingly secondary to the war that erupts between the two central characters is, again, a sign that Bergman is using this metaphor to externalise a largely internal story; with the inner-battle between two characters being projected out, against the landscape, and resulting in further elements of interpretation that sets the scene for that previously mentioned Bergman film masterpiece, A Passion.

At the end of A Passion we have a vague and enigmatic scene that not only contextualises the whole of that particular film - and the fate of its two central characters - but also the whole of the film in question. Quite what Bergman was suggesting by this break between the two is ultimately unknown, though naturally one always can speculate as to why things happen, and for what reason. Perhaps this final notion is something that is only truly felt when we watch the two films together, and can then begin to see Bergman's perhaps cruel mocking (or understanding, perhaps?) of his principal characters, and the subtle line in which one painful nightmare bleeds into the next.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Le vent d'est

Two voices. One French, one American. A political tract concerning the issues of Communism in the workplace and ideals of freedom and equality, post-May, 1968, is recited back and forth over an obscured image of bodies slumbering in what appears to be a garden. The image is pastoral and idyllic in presentation, suggesting an almost abstract quality devoid of time and place. After a series of static images that simply observe these scenarios - largely with no real movement within the frame - we see a small group of actors preparing themselves for a film. As we continue, these actors, who speak Italian and are dressed in period costume, wander through this idyllic location as the narration goes on to discuss a cinema of revolution and the history of politics in cinema dating as far back as Sergei Eisenstein. Through this, the filmmakers are able to reflect on the notions of politics and history in both a cultural and cinematic sense; creating in the process a film that collapses elements of genuine historical fact, and superimposes them over the struggles and issues of the present day.

Two voices. Both French. The film here is one of a handful of collaborative efforts between the filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, who under the creative banner of The Group Dziga Vertov, would produce a number of essay-based films that looked specifically at contemporary political issues from a Marxist/Leninist perspective. Unlike Godard's more socially aware films, pre-1967, The Dziga Vertov Group would reject conventional filmmaking practices altogether; focusing instead on a deconstructive approach that relied heavily upon the use found sounds and images that were cut together with the appropriate use of voice over and ironic screen-titles that not only offer some kind of background to the events unfolding, but also worked against the audience, distracting and disarming the viewer from what was happening on screen. This makes the viewing process even more difficult, with the already weighty bombardment of spoken information and the miscommunication of the two voices already alienating those of us unfamiliar with Communist manifestos or the working conditions in Europe in 1969.

Despite the general ideology of the Dziga Vertov Group, which was to reject the claim of authorship that Godard and his generation of critics had previously helped to define, the images of Le vent d'est (The East Wind/The Wind from the East, 1970) are typical of the man who gave us La chinoise (1967), and later Le gai savoir (The Joy of Learning, 1969), with the pastoral settings suggesting elements of the final act of Week End (1967), while the continual punctuation of high-rise apartment buildings and the wheels of industry that feature in the second half of the film call to mind a similar devise used in the earlier 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle, 1967). However, whereas those films had used clever visual metaphors and deconstructive film techniques to tell stories as a means of conveying socio-political satire, they did so with a vague semblance of narrative.

Here, the film is mostly a continual stream of thought over some beautifully composed images. Naturally, there are numerous other devises used that are typical of Godard's work, both before and after his period with the Group, such as the use of repeated images (or motifs), looped dialog (so that the same words or phrases are repeated a number of times throughout), inter-titles (here, illegibly scrawled in marker pen), the presentation of the camera as part of the proceedings (the "general assembly", as Godard puts it) and the natural facade of cinema as presented by print damage, spliced frames and deliberate mistakes (the deconstructive notion of cinema as truth).


Le vent d'est directed by the Dziga Vertov Group, 1970:

Without question, the images of the film are simply astounding, and are easily amongst the most beautiful and provocative scenarios that Godard has ever created; with the single image of these ancient, anachronistic figures, Bergman-like in their presentation of white gowns against green hills, wandering through these glorious fields being a particularly astounding sight, eventually giving way to the more aggressive, deconstructive images of mass graves, construction and the general process of film production itself, pushing us back towards the direction of Week End. However, despite the brilliance of Godard's filmmaking and the range of his ideas, Le vent d'est - like many of these Dziga Vertov Group films - is incredibly difficult to recommend to a potential audience, despite the obvious quality of its production. The continual bombardment of voice-over narration - delivered in a flat, rapid fire Parisian (American?) accent from an unaccredited voice actress - reminds us that this is a visual essay, presented in the form of a radical, experimental film. As a result, most viewers will find the film a complete chore; more so than any other Godard film, all of which require a certain level of cooperation from the audience, but tend to reward our efforts with an element of human concern.

Even when presented in such a way as to be completely obvious to the point of almost agitprop sloganeering, Le vent d'est nonetheless retains some level of ambiguity; drawing parallels between the two winds - the east and the west - and the voices on the soundtrack, with Godard and Gorin again using the film to investigate the present day struggle by way of the past (a past as represented by the cinema itself). The film isn't to be approached in the conventional sense, but rather digested in two or three single sittings, with any real attempt to interpret the film, or pick up on every single topical reference, really requiring a lot more energy and perception as illustrated in this post. Arguable, the film is dated in the political sense - having now become a period piece that looks at a specific era in twentieth-century existence - however, it is also a truly uncompromising work from a collective of filmmakers attempting to communicate something radical through the medium of film. Even if you disregard the experience, you have to marvel at the presentation of Godard's images, and the conviction of his ideals.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Pravda

Essentially a travelogue of images of the Soviet Union, coupled with a voice-over narration explaining the current political climate of Eastern Europe, delivered by an unaccredited North American voice actor who presents his findings in a formal, matter-of-fact approach that suggests the dictation of a letter. Again, this is a filmed essay; an investigatory piece looking into the whys and wherefores of certain socialist issues of class and employment, and how such factors contribute to a recognisable way of life. This involves everything from cars, jobs, homes and industry; all presented as a rolling collage of images that repeat themselves throughout the course of the film, as the discourse on the soundtrack continues.

Although it has some merit as a period piece, this is probably one of the least interesting films from The Dziga Vertov Group; the outlet for filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin to analyse certain Marxist-Leninist concepts within the cinematic medium, resulting in a collection of films that are either mildly interesting or completely forgettable, depending on the tastes of the particular viewer.

Pravda (1971), the title being the same as the leading Soviet / Russian newspaper, previously referred to in Godard's own pop-art science fiction film Alphaville (1965), in which the translation, "The Truth", is used as an ironic comment on the part of the filmmakers to the images and ideas on screen, works towards an often slyly amusing contrast between the pictures we see and the voice we hear underlining the intentions of the filmmakers in their quest for understanding. It is presented as a collection of seemingly found images, conspicuous in their typically bold, Godardian use of colour and composition, combined with the use of still photography, archive footage, TV clips and jarring bursts of music. The filmmaking devises are all emblematic of Godard's work, both before and after his time with the Dziga Vertov group, and show the definite stamp of authorship that belies the group manifesto and their rejection of the auteur-based cinema that Godard helped to define.


Pravda directed by The Dziga Vertov Group, 1971:

Unlike other films produced by Godard and Gorin during this highly productive period, Pravda simply doesn't hold up to repeated viewings. Projects like Un Film comme les autres (A Film Like Any Other, 1968), Vladimir and Rosa (1970), Tout va bien (Everything is Going Well, 1972) and Ici et ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere, 1976) (the latter produced from the remnants of an aborted Dziga Vertov project that conspires to pick apart the failings of these particular films) managed to overcome the limitations of their political ideologies and the complete disregard for the recognisable conventions of film-making to show the evolution of Godard from a too-clever-for-his-own-good cinephile into some kind of continually probing film poet; mixing words and images to create deeply felt investigations into love, war, death, religion and the complexities of the human condition. Pravda, on the other hand, is simply an information piece. Unless you're incredibly interested in 1960's politics or montage-film-making then there's very little here to keep us interested; with the continual collection of images and constant reliance on voice-over narration to supply information and opinion eventually becoming tiring, even from the perspective of a dedicated admirer of Godard's work, such as myself.

Although films like Vladimir and Rosa, Tout va bien and Ici et ailleurs are incredibly exhausting experiences, filled with dense thought, expressions, and rejections of conventional film-making, they nonetheless reward the viewer with a style and conviction that is unlike anything else presented in contemporary cinema. Later, Godard would reject many of these Dziga Vertov films as a naive attempt to make sense of things, while the filmmaking techniques would be refined through the creation of the films made in collaboration with Anne-Marie Miéville, such as Numéro deux (1975), Comment ça va? (1976) and the twelve part television series France/Tour/Detour/Deux/Enfants (1978) - some of the most probing, challenging and fascinating works of Godard's career.

Pravda is the Dziga Vertov group at their most obvious; there's none of the bold film-making experiments of Vladimir and Rosa or the daring aggression of the flawed Wind from the East (Le vent d'est, 1969), with the whole thing instead becoming a largely quaint collection of sounds and images. As a result, it will probably be of incredibly limited interest to the majority of viewers, Godard appreciators included.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Blue

A film born out of the artist's own invalidity, as the onset of AIDS robbed him of his most valuable and necessary commodity essential to his craft - chiefly, the gift of sight - and enthused by a sense that the end is drawing near; that time is passing like the memory of the great waves, or those half forgotten encounters, which ultimately remain more meaningful than any legacy that may or may not exist. That Blue (1993) describes for the benefit of the audience the filmmaker's own individual response and reaction to this particularly tragic situation, recited over a saturated blue image that never changes or relents, will possibly pose a problem for those seeking more conventional drama, or indeed more conventional cinema.

Although one can trace a line from Blue to many of the earlier films of its director Derek Jarman, simply by listening to the soundtrack and the ideas that are expressed therein, the decision to place these particular discussions against a single image of nocturnal blue seems like an incredibly audacious move, even by the standards set by Jarman's previous experimental features, such as The Garden (1990) or The Last of England (1987).

However, what initially seems like a novelty when discussed without the boundaries of context or clarification, eventually reveals itself to be a quite deliberate and remarkable stylisation used to evoke the perspective of the filmmaker and the deterioration of his sight; as the painful lesions on his retinas leave only a vague impression of light's soft illumination pulsating through the gaze of eyelids, too sore to open. The use of the colour blue, both as an artistic choice and as a concept that lends itself to certain creative associations, like as blue as the sea reflecting the sky, or blue like the heart that wails in mourning, work as a kind of shorthand to explain the sensation of sightlessness, or the feeling of the human body in the late stages of disease. The sensation of staring at this empty space filled only by colour, not blue like the moon, but blue like Picasso, becomes a sensory experience. Our eyes, transfixed on an endless image of cool blue, calming blue - the blue of winter or the blue sleep - as the voices on the soundtrack recount this story, suggesting the images that the ailing filmmaker was unable to create.

Although often fragmented by poetic expression, wordplay, quotations and personal reflection, the dialogue of Blue offers the most honest and straight-forward narrative of any of Jarman's work, relating specifically to the difficulties faced by the individual living with AIDS, the loss of his friends and loved ones, the loss of his sight and the realisation that life will soon be lost, like petals to the breeze. In this respect, the film is an important document, expressing Jarman's thoughts on and experiences with the disease at a time when the hostility surrounding the so-called "gay plague" was at its most frenzied, and combined with an already fierce criticism of the British political structure and its views on homosexuality, which found an outlet in previous films such as The Garden or Edward II (1991).


The Garden directed by Derek Jarman, 1990:


Edward II directed by Derek Jarman, 1991:

What ultimately reinforces Blue as a relevant work is its detailed description of the illness from the perspective of someone attempting to survive it. The lengthy dialog about hospital visits and medication, as memories, fading like the sight, are suggested by the subtle use of sound and music; or the continual asides and interjections of the actors John Quentin, Nigel Terry and Tilda Swinton, who offer their voices alongside Jarman's own to flesh out this dialogue, or to further establish this implied world as it exists in the dark of our imagination.

The prose throughout is beautiful; rich in detail, honest but self-deprecating. It's tragic, without descending into mawkish sentimentality, and remorseful without succumbing to wanton self-pity. In discussing his illness, Jarman pulls no punches as he talks about a virus that "rages fierce." Later, he talks about the toll this illness has taken on his body and the side-effect of being one of the many statistics, slowly dying, watching others die, but unable to do anything about it. He says - "I have no friends now who are not dead or dying. Like a blue frost it caught them. At work, at the cinema - on marches and on beaches. In churches on their knees, running, flying, silent or shouting protest." The particular suggestion of death as the blue frost - everything blue, for better or worse, like the images on screen - is the central theme that runs throughout, as the coming to terms with death is contrasted with life's rich memories, finding expression, perhaps for the final time.

In the closing verse, after the horror stories of hospitals and deterioration - the continuing high-wire act between life and death - peace is found in a half-remembered sexual encounter, which, for one brief moment, offers a reprieve from the suffering; as sweet memories - personal (we assume) to the author, but nonetheless recognisable to the viewer, despite the specifics of sexuality - calm the fires of outrage and ennui.

It is one of Jarman's most remarkable evocations as a filmmaker, made all the more astounding given only the suggestion of the image; as soft music combines with the lapping of waves and the caw of seagulls, as pebbles crush underfoot. The sex is passionate and intense, though Jarman speaks of it as a voyeur, looking back at a specific time and place; a blissful moment, un moment de bonheur, drifting through the memory like a cloud. The notions of time and time passing are reinforced in the final word, which moves us, precisely because of its simplicity, being the perfect counterpoint to the complicated soundscape of thoughts and fears, or the beauty and richness of Jarman's text as it unfolds on the screen.


Pearl fishers in azure seas
Deep waters washing the isle of the dead
In coral harbours amphora spill gold across the still seabed
We lie there
Fanned by the billowing sails of forgotten ships
Tossed by the mournful winds of the deep
Lost Boys, sleep forever
In a dear embrace - salt lips touching
In submarine gardens, cool marble fingers touch an antique smile
Shell sounds whisper, deep love
Drifting on the tide forever
The smell of him
Dead good looking
In beauty's summer
His blue jeans around his ankles
Bliss, in my ghostly eye
Kiss me on the lips
On the eyes
Our name will be forgotten
In time
No one will remember our work
Our life will pass like the traces of a cloud
And be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun
For our time is the passing of a shadow
And our lives will run like sparks through the stubble.

I place a delphinium, Blue, upon your grave



Blue directed by Derek Jarman, 1993:

Naturally, there will be viewers who balk at the idea of watching a plain blue screen for close to eighty minutes. Needless to say, there is already enough criticism about Jarman's supposed audacity to "release a radio play with visual accompaniment" on various sites around the net: but such reactions are to be expected when a film or filmmaker strays so far from convention, even if such experiments are made out of necessity, rather than choice. But the use of blue, essential in creating a mood that we can associate with the feelings of sadness and regret, is beautiful, and far more rewarding than any of the cluttered, conventional mise-en-scene currently on display at any local multiplex. It doesn't deserve to be denigrated simply because it refuses to compete with the figures in a frame, shot/reverse-shot, close up to wide shot conventions that we've come to accept as the requirements of the moving picture. If one, as a filmmaker, is encouraged to express their ideas visually, or to offer a visual experience for the viewer that is unique to the medium, then Blue is as valid as any other work in which the visual design is intended to stir emotion or response.

Like much of Jarman's work it is a film worth returning to; where the impact of the drama is intensely personal, but in no way private. It is open to the projections of an audience, who can read into the filmmaker's own thoughts and meditations and try to take something away from the experience. Whether it is the plight of the dying man, reduced to painting in broad-strokes, away from the complexity of his previous work, rich in visual splendour; or the simple fact that life and love hang in the balance – the dream, where everything dies. That life must pass "like the traces of a cloud", or that in the face of death, it is the combination of the mundane, new shoes in a shop window, and the memory, a life that runs "like sparks through the stubble", that we cling to. Where the chiming clock-like sounds and sustained notes, meshing with a continuation of seaside reminisce, lingers during the closing credits, suggesting... an elegy.


Éloge de l'amour directed by Jean-Luc Godard, 2001:

"The measure of love is to love without measure"


If ever I dreamed of my dead name
High in the heart of London, unsurpassed
By Time for ever, and the Fugitive, Fame
There seeking a long sanctuary at last

I better that; and recollect with shame
How once I longed to hide it from life's heats
Under those holy cypresses, the same
That shade, always, the quiet place of Keats

Now rather thank I God there is no risk
Of gravers scoring it with florid screed
But let my death be memoried on this disc
Wear it, sweet friend. Inscribe no date nor deed
But may thy heart-beat kiss it night and day
Until the name grow vague and wear away.

- Wilfred Owen, With An Identity Disc


Blue Monochrome by Yves Klein, 1961: