Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Ned: I want adventure. I want romance.
Bill: Ned, there is no such thing as adventure. There’s no such thing as romance. There’s only trouble and desire.
Ned: Trouble and desire.
Bill: That’s right. And the funny thing is, when you desire something you immediately get into trouble. And when you’re in trouble you don’t desire anything at all.
Ned: I see.
Bill: It’s impossible.
Ned: It’s ironic.
Bill: It’s a fucking tragedy is what it is, Ned.
(from Simple Men, 1991)

Scenes in Hartley’s films act as condensates of emotional reasoning, parabolas of the whole. We are given bytes of the life of the piece, its honesty to form and intention. They are epigrammatic; Hartley expertly manipulates the lead-up and the punch line.

Some scenes are very self consciously stagey, assertions of power, or depict obvious transferences of power between characters. Craft, and the mechanics of craft are very much to the fore; his pact with his audiences is based on savvy, knowledge.
‘“Distributors always wonder, Who’s going to see this movie?” says Hartley. “Earlier in my career I used to think, Well, people who are sort of like me. Probably college-educated people, who like art.”(Logan Hill). But since 1997’s Henry Fool the connect seems to have fallen away. A later film, The Girl From Monday, was reviewed as ‘…a barely contained rant…’. He thought it might bring back audiences: “When we were shooting, we thought People are going to love this. This is hip and cool. And when we finished… we looked at it and thought, This is really dense. We have a serious art house film here.”
Audiences didn’t take to it; nor was it taken as a serious art house film. Could it be he could no longer define the audience in his own image?

Let’s not forget beauty. One commentator says: “He marries stylish aestheticism and beauty with fringe and art.” His sense of beauty is both filmic and textual. And stylish! The early Surviving Desire (1991) references Audrey Hepburn in the gamine look-a-like Rebecca Nelson, in Funny Face (complete with dance sequence). In this short we also find James Stewart’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Modish style points in cinematic history. The film opens with a scene-take out of the other classic The Blackboard Jungle.

One important ingredient of his films is setting, environment. Simple Men is very much the product of its Long Island setting. “Long Island is a terminal moraine.” we keep hearing, “it is the dirt left over from a glacier.” We find this short stop from New York is also another world: the pastel colours, the empty spaces, the potato fields, woods. Even the characters are idiosyncratic: Kate the café owner as a recent divorcee is living in this limbo, as she expects her divorced husbands’ return; the sheriff is tangled and tormented in an emotional turmoil of his own. It is almost a Dantean vision. Which of the two brothers, the philosophy tutor or the petty crook, is Virgil? Each takes it in turn.
Moments of prescience: the brother’s seventy year old father, ex baseball player and now professional anarchist, is asked if he did bomb the Pentagon in’68. No, he says. Then why has been in hiding since? Because he’s good at it, he says.

Explaining his working method on Flirt he says: “…I let the characters of… cities and… cultures inform how I … interpret it.” The film uses stories from New York, Berlin, Japan: “…three different places… told in three different themes…”

We need to mention the intellectual games. That opening quotation from Simple Men is a direct reference to Schopenhauer; Jude’s friend in Surviving Desire quotes from the Bible and classics, making them sound contemporary, relevant; Jude himself obsesses on a passage from Dostoyevsky. It encapsulates everything for him; so much so he cannot move on. Here Hartley dialectically reverses the opening scene from The Blackboard Jungle so that the dysfunctional tutor is forced by his students into educating them.

In Simple Men the issue of Ned’s taking on the law is contrasted with their father’s taking on the government: the legitimacy of a government made by law, of law subject to government, is tossed around like a hot potato. But nobody eats it. ‘Knowledge Is Not Enough”, Jude scrawls on the board at the end of Surviving Desire. “There is nothing more I can say.” he says.
His characters are intellectual drifters; Bob McCabe Says: “… a few years ago they may well have… become yuppies, but… they have nowhere left to go.”

Are these middle class slackers, as he suggests, direct descendents of “James Dean-led angst-ridden youthful rebels of 1950’s cinema”?
The short, aphoristic scenes comment on our states of knowledge, how we acquire, utilise and in the end dispense with what we know: knowledge is not enough, not in isolation.

Hartley is not concerned with finding answers, so much as finding better questions.

Canadian film maker Guy Maddin won the Telluride Medal for Life Time Achievement in 1995.

He was 39.

In 2000 his 6 minute short The Heart of the WorldTwas best film, short and feature classes, at the Toronto International Film Festival, and Special Award winner with the National School of Film Critics; it also won Golden Gate Award from San Francisco Film Festival.

Many film makers concentrate on narrative, storyline, character-sketching; setting and atmosphere often seem an afterthought.
“Most films are basically illustrated novels, they have the structure of a novel…” (Isabella Rosellini, interviewed by Andrea Meyer).

Guy Maddin reverses this structure; with him we smell time, the mustiness of age. It started by accident. His first short The Dead Father (1986) would not come right until he set it in the past; then everything became possible. From dabbling cine-man, to film maker.

Although his concerns are very contemporary it seems he can best address them through an offsetting filter. Emotion, for Guy Madden, is a Canadian thing, that is, it is suppressed, yet apparent in everything.

He has a long fascination with 1920’s Silent Cinema, magic shows, fables, above all, with melodrama. His keyword is, yes, Atmosphere, and that deconstructs into, above all else mystery, drama, high play.
“I always see myself going back along the road of film history and picking up all these great and abandoned technologies and film vocabularies…”
High play allows flexibility: boom shadows, film equipment in back shots, all signs of the out-and-out amateur, he incorporates, makes use of. This could become all so very postmodern, but his work has charm, a fascination, an earnestness that takes the chill off. And the finished product is always polished and professional.
He first became known through the misted and pastel colours, and ‘mountain fever,’ of his 1992 classic Careful. His 3rd feature, Careful is “a moral tale”, “a tragedy told as if it was an absurdist comedy.” (Roberto Curti).

For Derek Hill it is “an operatic satire of characters so tightly wound by their repressed desires that even the thought of stepping outside… will set off (an) avalanche.”
This is the main conceit of the film: Careful is set high in avalanche country, where even a sneeze, we are told, could be disastrous; we glimpse cattle with voice-boxes removed, tied as if for cartoon toothache with neckerchiefs around their necks,
Some see strong autobiographical elements in his work. He plays openly with Freudian symbols: the recurring image of the one-eyed father (whether blinded by a brooch pin in childhood, like his own father), who could easily become on one level an emasculated Odin figure. The key phrase is Play: he plays with his past, fictionalised images, as much as our present-day images: one-eyed cameraman, eye glued to viewfinder; the half-seen world we only allow ourselves to see….

His Icelandic mother ran a hairdressing salon; he was ensconced there often as a child: how we fictionalise our lives.
He also has the enviable ability to attract the most stunning women actors, not only Isabella Rosellini as Lady Port-Huntly in Saddest Music of the World, but also the lovely Gosnia Dobrowolska, as Zenaida, in Careful.
He throws this away as “accent”, that is, inbuilt atmosphere, bringing an intriguing visual element to the mix. It works wonderfully.

The film that really broke his name was 2003’s Saddest Music in the World.
Chatting to film goers who “just didn’t get it”, he asked:
Did you understand there was a music contest?
Yes.
… two brothers competing with each other?
Yes.
… a wife sleeping with one who should be with the other?
Yes.
Then you got it!
Disingenuous. Pure chance of course that one brother (Chester) was representing America, the other (Roderick), by adoption, Serbia. Both Canadian by birth. Already we have a satire on Canada’s inability to keep its talent at home. But also in the rapacious Chester, America’s economic and political foreign policies; on one level we have Europe (old world values and cultural legacies) pitted against brash young America. To complicate matters Canadian Lady Port-Huntly, brewery magnate, is just as rapacious and corrupting as Chester.

Set in Prohibition times, alcohol-dry American tvs show the Canadian competition, funded by a wealthy brewery to increase sales: all losers slide into a huge vat of beer.
Visually lapidary; legless Lady Port-Huntly is wooed and won by the brothers’ glassmaker father, with a gift of glass legs.
They are shapely, and filled with the light amber beer from her own brewery, complete with light fizz.

She wears them in triumph; the effect is stunning.