Friday, November 30, 2012


A Separation? Meh. Blue Valentine? Nope. What's that you said - Jungle Fever? Scenes From A Marriage? Kreutzer Sonata? The Puffy Chair? Flannel Pajamas? I don't think so. Even cinema verite icon John Cassavetes and his progressive films like Faces & A Woman Under The Influence take second place to this documentary (may sound blasphemous to some of you but that is the belief of many film scholars, critics & general all around know-it-alls). Its one thing to watch a "realistic" portrayal of a marriage or a relationship on the verge of destruction in a fictitious film but it’s another thing to see an actual REAL marriage fall apart right in front of you. Allan King's A Married Couple stands as the #1 film that'll make you think twice about getting married. Long after I was done watching this (courtesy of the criterion channel on HULU+) I found myself going; "was this real?" I was kinda floored. I mean, who would put their personal shit out in the open like that for the world to see? Think about it - I don't even know the subjects in King’s groundbreaking documentary yet I'll be critiquing their lives, personalities and relationship like I'm some marriage expert or something. But that's how personal and intimate this film is. It makes you feel up close & personal like you know them (and I’m sure there’s people who’ve seen this documentary that can either relate to the married couple or their young child who witnesses the fights & arguments firsthand). Immediately after watching A Married Couple I went out and purchased the eclipse box set (courtesy of Criterion) and came to discover that Allan King, a Canadian director I had never heard of, is a master of digging in to the corners and crevices of places we don't wanna go. It’s evident in his other work like; Warrendale - a sad & disturbing documentary on the poor conditions of a mental hospital for young children that would serve as a great precursor to Cropsey. His films makes you feel uncomfortable, tense and sometimes embarrassed for the documentary subjects (in the same way you might feel embarrassed for Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under The Influence or Ryan Gosling in that confrontational scene at the end of Blue Valentine) yet you can’t look away. A Married Couple is a hard punch in the stomach to all the preconceived notions & stereotypes about all the laid back, weed smoking, hippie parents in the 60’s.
And speaking of Blue Valentine; I’m sure this is just a coincidence, but there's even similar shots from A Married Couple in other marriage-related films which makes their connection even stronger…
L-R: Blue Valentine (2010) / A Married Couple (1969)
L-R: Scenes From A Marriage (1973) / A Married Couple

In A Married Couple we look at the day to day lives of Billy & Antoinette - a Canadian couple with a young son (Bogart) who's relationship is more than rocky. Apparently they volunteered to have their lives filmed for King's documentary in an effort to figure out what’s wrong with their marriage. They certainly didn’t let the cameras affect how they act around each other. And remember, this was the late 60’s where technology wasn’t were it is today. No tiny digital cameras, no techniques like the ones used in the documentary; Lynch (the filmmaker used a smaller camera and literally shot from the hip in order to make David Lynch feel more comfortable and not have a camera up in his face). Could you imagine trying to work your marriage out with of a big, noisy, clunky video camera in your face from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed? In the film Billy & Antoinette fight fiercely with each other (in one scene towards the end Billy literally tries to throw Antoinette out of their house), laugh & joke, argue over money, sleep in separate beds and casually discuss their son's future if they end up getting a divorce. The words; "fuck" and/or "fucking" are used quite often between Billy & Antoinette. Hell, at one point Billy calls Antoinette a "fucking cunt" over an argument about a vacuum cleaner. At times they look like brother & sister fighting over something stupid and other times they come off like an affectionate happily married couple. Billy & Antoinette both have their faults and "stuff" like any union/relationship/marriage - Antoinette is a tad bit naggy, sometimes annoying and a little childish. Billy is somewhat bullheaded, fussy and kinda thinks he's in charge of the marriage because he's the only one who works. Between the arguments, blow ups, break downs, crying and just overall embarrassing moments caught on film, I don't know if I could show my face in public for quite some time if I was Billy or Antoinette (after the documentary was released they managed to stay together for another ten years and had another child before divorcing). But what's most important about A Married Couple and its subject matter is that King doesn't use quirky music (there is background music, but it doesn’t really affect the mood or distort the viewers perception of reality) or editing techniques to make this documentary look like its exploiting the subjects. These are techniques many great (Herzog & Errol Morris) and not so great (Nick Broomfield) documentary filmmakers are guilty of from time to time and King stays away from all that. This is an honest, fair & balanced exploration in to the deterioration of a marriage (there’s no favoritism or bias towards one side). Clearly things have changed between 1969 and 2012 when it comes to the realm of marriage & relationships. Many old fashion values in terms of gender have died (although some are still around) and couples today have a lot more avenues to work out their problems than couples did four decades ago (I’m sure a lot of the different marriage counseling techniques today were considered strange & radical in the 60’s). So yes, PARTS of this documentary are a bit dated.
Thanks to the Criterion Collection, The IFC Center and the Toronto Film Festival, the United States is finally getting more exposure to Canadian cinema beyond the "usual suspects" (David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan & Ivan Reitman). Xavier Dolan has found a niche among young American hipsters and nostalgic French new wave lover, Monsieur Lahzar managed to nab an Oscar nomination last year and Guy Maddin, who should be mentioned alongside the "usual suspects", manages to break through to international audiences more and more with each film. My discovery of Allan King's work came at the perfect time of this mini-Canadian explosion. Anyone that's a fan of rare Werner Herzog films, 90's Harmony Korine, 1970's Cassavetes, Mike Leigh, William Greaves’ Symbiopsychotaxiplasm or the work of Shirley Clarke should enjoy this film. As I type this write-up while kinda half watching the films of Robert Downey Sr. at the same time, I’ve come to the conclusion that the eclipse series is the best thing the Criterion Collection has going for itself right now. While Criterion focuses on releasing stuff like Godzilla or re-releasing half of their pre-existing catalog on blu-ray with a slightly fancier package, their sub-label (Eclipse) continues to shine light on important & daring films that would have gone virtually lost or unnoticed.

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Monday, November 26, 2012


For a while I've wanted to do a blog entry on the use of modern music in French cinema (Tindersticks/Claire Denis, Daft Punk/Gaspar Noe, Sonic Youth/Olivier Assayas, etc). That write-up was eventually changed a bit and whittled down to focusing exclusively on the use of Sonic Youth’s music as their name kept popping up more than any other band, musician or producer in what I had written so far. Their connection to cinema is very strong yet it’s gone virtually unnoticed (unless I missed something) until now...

Demonlover (Oliver Assayas) / Simple Men (Hal Hartley)
Sonic Youth and cinema are two of my favorite things in this world. Growing up in a town like Amherst, Mass, which is the hometown of 2/3 of Dinosaur Jr. (a band that’s been very close to Sonic Youth for decades) it was almost impossible to not come across a Sonic Youth album at least once as a teenager. Even if you listened to hip-hop exclusively there's a good chance you'll still cross paths with SY as they've collaborated with everyone from Cypress Hill to Chuck D. I was listening to SY long before film consumed my life, but it was my love and fascination with cinema that made me come to love them even more. The more films & filmmakers I discovered the more Sonic Youth's music would pop up. And I’m not just talking about the numerous documentaries on the band (Kill Your Idols, All Tomorrows Parties, The Year Punk Broke, etc). I’m talking about all the different directors who have used their music in their films throughout the years- From Olivier Assayas (Demonlover & Irma Vep) & Hal Hartley (Simple Men) to Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine) & Leos Carax (Pola X). These are all musically inclined directors where music is one of the most important elements in their work. Just look at Leos Carax’ use of David Bowie in his first two films or the fact that Hal Hartley is a musician/producer himself (he goes by the alias of Ned Rifle when composing music for his films). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sonic Youth's music has been used in Judgment Night, Suburbia (which makes perfect sense as Sonic Youth & Richard Linklater are both important Generation X figures), Sorry Haters, etc. And it’s not like their music was just mindlessly thrown in to a film to make it look it cool. Their music is always used in some key scene. Even though the songs used in these two clips below were from pre-existing albums they somehow fit so perfectly…

Feature filmmakers like Mark Romanek, Richard Kern, Spike Jonze, Harmony Korine & Todd Haynes have all directed music videos for Sonic Youth (a young Chloe Sevigny even makes an appearance in an old SY video before she became the academy award nominated actress we know today)…

Additionally, Kim Gordon has become quite the actress in recent years making appearances in Boarding Gate, I’m Not There and Last Days (which probably hit close to home as she and her band kinda mentored Nirvana back in the day). She isn’t the world's greatest actress, but she gets by on her coolness...

(L-R Last Days, Boarding Gate, I'm Not There)
Olivier Assayas, whose use of music in film should be mentioned alongside other filmmakers like Scorsese & Tarantino, used their music talents to score his misunderstood masterpiece; Demonlover. It’s clear that Assayas was a true fan of their music. If you listen to enough of Sonic Youth's music you'd know that they don’t always need to rely on vocals to make a great song. They have this great ability to create these ambient/atmospheric sounds (courtesy of their experimentation with everything from analog & digital music equipment to power tools and modified guitars) which makes perfect for background music in films. Even on songs that do feature vocals, sometimes it takes minutes for them to kick in after the instrumental jam. Imagine Brian Eno with more guitar feedback. As I mentioned in my Demonlover write-up, Sonic Youth's score for Demonlover was key in creating that uneasy, tense, noir-ish vibe. Oliver Assayas even made a mini documentary on the band and how they went about making the music for Demonlover. Given their signature sound and work with Olivier Assayas I’m surprised other progressive filmmakers haven’t tapped them for more work.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

THE SCHOOL OF PERSONA (and other various movie comparisons)...

The title of this entry is a little misleading as it's not really so much about Persona as a whole, but one particular scene from the film instead. For the last 6-8 months I've been struggling to come up with a part four for "School Of Tarkovsky" and a part two for "School of Godard", but this edition came out pretty effortlessly. We all know there's plenty of iconic & influential movie images that pop up in modern films (The bandit shooting at the screen in The Great Train Robbery, Robert Mitchum's Love/Hate Tattoo in Night Of The Hunter, Jimmy Stewart going insane in Vertigo, etc)...

The Great Train Robbery (L) / Goodfellas (R)
Night Of The Hunter (L) / Do The Right Thing (R)
Vertigo (L) / Lost Highway (R)

But Persona has to have one of the all time top five greatest influential scenes/moments ever. Next to the hidden images of Pazuzu in the Exorcist, the burning house from The Sacrifice or Henry's intense glare at the camera in Eraserhead, this moment from Bergman's Persona (below) may be my all time favorite movie image ever...

Persona - Ingmar Bergman (1967)

And what's strange is that the movie itself isn't even one of my all time favorites. Don't get me wrong, it's a classic and is singlehandedly responsible for influencing some of my favorite films (Mulholland Drive, La Ceramonie & 3 Women). All you need to do is read various PINNLAND EMPIRE entries from over the years (Water Lilies, La Haine, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, etc) to know how influential Persona is. But this standalone moment holds a lot more weight to me than the overall film. It can be looked at and interpreted in so many ways. It's truly a work of art. It represents things like desire, curiosity & fascination (the way the young boy touches the screen), love of cinema, disconnection (the movie screen coming between the young boy and the woman on the other side of the screen) etc. What makes this image so great is that it transcends the typical indie/art house scene. Sure it's influenced the work of indie/art house heavyweights like Todd Haynes & Hartley, but it's also influenced shots from big films like The Truman Show and iconic Horror films like Poltergeist. Normally I feel like I'm reaching with some of these comparisons, but I think all the images below (although some have a slight variation/twist) are on point. I'm sure I haven't captured every image that borrowed from this scene so please feel free to let me know if I missed something...

Amateur - Hal Hartley (1994) / Dottie Gets Spanked - Todd Haynes (1993)
The Truman Show - Peter Wier (1998) / Poltergiest - (1980)
Poison - Todd Haynes (1991) / Europa - Lars Von Trier (1991)

Videodrome - David Cronenberg (1984) / Cinema Paradiso - Giuseppe Tornatore(1988)
The Skin I Live In (2011) / The Blackout (1997)

Friday, November 16, 2012


Unlike New York City, Los Angeles can be a tough place to pin down on the big screen. It has way too many “codes” and unofficial “rules” than any other city I can think of. Obviously NYC-based films have a lot of characters, ethnicities, demographics, various neighborhoods within neighborhoods within boroughs, etc, but there's still a cohesive bond/connection among everything in New York City. The world of Martin Scorsese and/or Abel Ferrara is just around the corner from Woody Allen’s universe which is only a few blocks up the street from the world of Jim Jarmusch who's just a subway commute away from the world of Spike Lee. This six degrees of separation-type connection between these NYC filmmakers has to do a lot with the use of the same actors (Frank Vincent, Victor Argo, Giancarlo Esposito, John Turturro, John Lurie, Steve Buschemi, Harvey Keitel, etc), similar scenarios, and a lot of the same monuments & neighborhoods. Los Angeles-based films & directors are a bit different. Everyone from; David Lynch & PT Anderson to Quentin Tarantino & John Singleton all have a talent for painting their own unique portrait of Los Angeles but those worlds seem SO far apart (which is a pretty accurate representation of L.A. as everything is so spread out over there whereas everything is so condensed, tight in NYC). The worlds of PT Anderson & John Singleton might as well be in different countries even though they're only a few miles apart. F. Gary Gray & Tarantino may have both worked with Samuel L Jackson & Chris Tucker yet you still don’t associate those two filmmakers with one another like you would Scorsese & Ferrara or Jarmusch & Spike Lee. Both Robert Altman & Charles Burnett have also worked with some of the same actors but you’d never associate those two with each other either. Even the term; “New York City Filmmaker” is more common than “LA Filmmaker”. Furthermore, very few modern filmmakers show an abstract/"artistic" view of L.A. PT Anderson has his moments but next to Michael Mann (a director we explore quite a bit on PINNLAND EMPIRE), David Lynch's exploration of Los Angeles fascinates me the most because it’s so unconventional. Lynch's L.A. & Mann's L.A. are somewhat similar (they’ve both even shot the city with a similar digital/HD lens in recent years). Ever since Crash & Lost Highway got released around the same time (two films with an emphasis on highways & roads, darkness & sexuality), Cronenberg & Lynch have become spiritually connected, but in my opinion Mann & Lynch are just as connected in that they both show that (unforced) “cool” darker side of L.A. with an emphasis on the city’s modern architecture. On an architectural level Heat & Collateral DO exist in the same universe as Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive. David Lynch's films during this period feature a lot of void, open & blank spaces, walls, (especially in Lost Highway) and an emphasis on modern architecture that’s slightly dated (both interior & exterior). Both directors explore L.A. with an abstract perspective but Mann is still a bit more straight forward whereas Lynch is a bit more out there. Heat & Lost Highway don’t exactly take place in the same city the same way Bad Lieutenant (Abel Ferrara) & Straight Outta Brooklyn (Matty Rich) take place in the same New York.

Lost Highway
Lost Highway
Lost Highway
Mulholland Drive
David Lynch is clearly trying to tell us that L.A. is a place that'll drive you mad. In every one of the three key films that we’re gonna get in to in this write-up (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive & Inland Empire), there's always a crucial scene where the protagonist loses his/her mind due to the environment around them (L.A.)...

Bill Pullman loses it in Lost Highway
Naomi Watts terrorized in Mulholland Drive
Laura Dern rushes up to the camera in the creepiest scene from Inland Empire
I recently finished reading Ashley Perry’s excellent thesis on Michael Mann’s vision of Los Angeles (with an emphasis on Collateral) and I couldn’t help but think that some of the points he makes in his thesis apply to Lynch too. Lynch's vision of Los Angeles, explored in his unofficial trilogy made up of; Lost Highway (1996), Mulholland Drive (2001) & Inland Empire (2006), is quirky & silly yet shady & uncomfortable at the same time. In Lynch's L.A., almost all the women look like old school Betty Paige burlesque dancers (Lost Highway & Inland Empire), there’s tons of male fantasy/"lipstick lesbianism" (Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive), everything is dark & everyone wears black (Lost Highway), there's always some shady movie-related business going on under the table (Mulholland Drive & Inland Empire), goblins & creepy old people come out of nowhere and startle you (Mulholland Drive) and dreams of being a big movie star are destroyed (Mulholland Drive & Inland Empire). In Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive & Inland Empire, David Lynch takes neo-noir, the psychological thriller, dark humor & a pinch of the horror genre, puts 'em all in to one giant pot and, in my opinion, makes it work somehow. The most obvious & written about connection that Lynch's three films share is that they're all psychological thrillers about someone having some kind of a mental breakdown and taking on another personality in order to escape reality. To be honest, I've never understood the whole; "those movies don’t make any sense" thing that’s attached to Lynch’s work. Yeah, they’re weird as shit, but still…the basic plot of each film is pretty straight forward - In Lost Highway we have a man ("Fred Madison") who kills his wife in a jealous rage after discovering she cheated on him, then loses his mind while on death row (I think a LARGE majority of Lost Highway is a dream). In Mulholland Drive we have an actress ("Betty") who essentially goes out to Hollywood with dreams of becoming an actress but after a failed career and a failed relationship with a more successful actress, she kills her herself. Mulholland Drive is essentially a film about how an innocent naive person can be chewed up & spit out by the "big city" (like Lost Highway, I think the large majority of Mulholland Drive is a dream as well). Inland Empire has elements of both; Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive in that it’s a look at the darker side of L.A. & the movie business (Lost Highway) and the mental breakdown of a has-been actress (Mulholland Drive). All of these stories take place in the same dark, noir-ish vision of L.A.

Lost Highway
Lost Highway
Mulholland Drive
Mulholland Drive
Inland Empire
Mulholland Drive
David Lynch surely isnt the first filmmaker to show L.A's weird/alternative/"different" side. You could credit Maya Deren, whose work took place in the 40's, as being the "first" or one of the earliest filmmakers to do so. Although her work was more concerned with experimentation of film and not so much Los Angeles, the vibe & ambiance of the city is very present in her short films. Robert Altman also deserves credit for showing LA/socal's alternative side as well - Besides The Player & Shortcuts, which were both released in the early 90's, a good chunk of his work throughout the 70's (which was a little surreal & quirky) was also set in Los Angeles.
Blue Velvet may be the single greatest thing David Lynch has ever done, but his greatest era/period of work was between '96-2006 (he also made The Straight Story during this period). Lost Highway started Lynch's L.A. fascination. It came out during this short period between 1995-1997 when movie-goers were starting to see a darker, noir-ish side of L.A. instead of just the palm trees, neon lights, Hollywood sign, blonde women with fake boobs & cocaine. During this short period we had: Safe (Haynes), Heat (Mann), The Glass Shield (Burnett), Devil In A Blue Dress (Franklin), Boogie Nights (Anderson), Lost Highway (Lynch), LA Confidential (Hanson) & Jackie Brown (Tarantino). You could even reach a little further back and throw Short Cuts & Pulp Fiction in the mix as well. Even comedies like; Swingers & Friday deserve to be included in that group of L.A. films. More filmmakers were starting to show us that issues like; AIDS (Safe) & Police corruption (The Glass Shield) weren’t just New York City problems, the dark streets of Manhattan werent the only place for a good noir (Devil In A Blue Dress & L.A. Confidential) and L.A./southern california had a genuine dark side (Lost Highway). Naturally, Chinatown predates all of these films but I can’t think of such a huge group of influential works to come out at the same time. Unlike Michael Mann's vision of Los Angeles, which is a world I wouldn’t have a problem living in, Lynch's L.A. is a world I wouldn’t mind visiting for a while...but eventually I’d have to leave.
Mulholland Drive, which brought us one of the greatest performances of the last decade (Naomi Watts), was part of a second wave of modern L.A. films to come out during another short period that produced a nice sized body of work that explored a darker/”alternative” side of L.A. These films included: Virgin Suicides (Coppola), Dogtown & Z Boys (Peralta), Mulholland Drive (Lynch), The Man Who Wasn’t There (Coen) & Ellie Parker (which co-starred 3 actors from Mulholland Drive and dealt with a lot of the same issues). As someone who's been to Los Angeles, I can honestly say that Lynch’s three films really do capture the city's vibe, atmosphere & ambience. I'm not a fan of southern California but every time I watch one of his films I'm kinda drawn to the darkness & mystery of the city…

Lost Highway
Mulholland Drive
Mulholland Drive
Mulholland Drive
Inland Empire
Inland Empire
Lynch’s "L.A. trilogy" isnt without typical shots of things like the Hollywood sign or the walk of fame but he's more interested in the darkly lit, underground nightclubs & back alleys that you wouldn’t immediately associate with Los Angeles. In Lost Highway, Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) plays Saxophone at a seedy underground club ("The Luna Lounge"). In Mulholland Drive, Betty (Naomi Watts) & Diane (Laura Hering) go to some creepy back alley theater and in Inland Empire, Nikki (Laura Dern) ducks in to an underground Burlesque show in the middle of the night. When you get through all the quirky "Lynch moments" (which should always be expected in any of his films) there's plenty nods & hints at real life moments like the OJ Simpson murder trial (which I'm convinced was the inspiration for Lost Highway) or other notorious celebrity moments like Jack Nicholson losing it and smashing someone's car windshield with a golf club in the middle of downtown L.A. (Mulholland Drive). Even the scene in Mulholland Drive where Justin Theroux's character is forced to cast an actress he doesnt want too is clearly a nod at all the times I’m sure filmmakers were bullied or strong-armed in to casting someone they didn’t want to. Just naming the film “Mulholland Drive” is an homage to the movie business as Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson & Marlon Brando all lived on Mulholland Drive at one point. When Inland Empire screened at the 2006 NY Film Fest, Lynch was asked if he ever planned to shoot a film in NYC, but I'd personally like for him to stay put. Given that the plots & themes in his three films were very similar (not a criticism) I think he's still got more to explore.

Monday, November 12, 2012


The Thin Red Line (1998)
After watching To The Wonder back in September, John & Chris (The Pink Smoke) kinda planted the seeds that led to this write-up. In Malick's latest film we see quite a few scenes of actress Olga Kurylenko spinning & twirling around in tall fields of grass like a little kid to the point where it borders on being obnoxious and you start to think - "Wait a minute, this is a grown woman. Why is she acting like this?" Olga's performance didn't bother me at all initially (and I’m still a big fan of the film). I actually appreciated her performance. I honestly thought Malick was trying to show a free spirit character but now it’s kinda getting to me (along with other recent female performances in Malick's work). I mean, it’s ok to be a free spirit and let go but c'mon now. Even free spirits can act mature. It would be one thing if this was just an isolated incident in one film but I started to think about the representation of women in Malick's post-Days Of Heaven work and I’m honestly starting to question if Terrence Malick actually understands women. Is he capable of showing them as actual people instead of light, child like, almost unrealistic angelic creatures? They're almost always crying (or at least on the verge of tears), pouting or moody. I'm no expert on women but I still know enough to know that (grown) women don't necessarily act the way they do in a Terrence Malick movie. I know I flip-flop a lot with Malick (one week I love his work, the next week I question everything he does), but that’s what I love about him. It makes for non-stop thought and conversation.

The Tree Of Life (2010)
I know Terrence Malick is "old school" (born in the 40's, southern christian, etc.) so maybe some of those opinions he has towards woman may have permanently stuck with him but I don't even know if he can use that as an excuse. It’s not like his style of filmmaking is "old school" or even dated. Since the 90's he’s been pretty experimental and progressive compared to his earlier work. So why does his view of women still seem a bit dated and naive? Like in real life, does he just have his wife skip & prance around the house all day in a flimsy sun dress like the women in his films? Actually, his view of and representation of women seems to be moving backwards. In the 70's Malick had a knack for creating female characters with depth and complexity. Sure, Sissy Spacek was a naive and somewhat angelic-looking teenager in Badlands, but her voice-over narration throughout the film gave her character depth and showed us she had some insight and wasn’t an empty human being (pretty much the same can be said for Linda Manz' character in Days Of Heaven as well). Brooke Adams' character in Days Of Heaven was probably the most complex character (male or female) that Malick has ever created. She's a good person but at the same time goes along with a plan to scheme a dying man out of his money by pretending to fall in love with him (at the insistence of her aggressive husband). But ever since Malick re-emerged in the late 90's with The Thin Red Line, women kinda come off like unrealistic caricatures.

Tree Of Life
In The Thin Red Line the one prominent female role is portrayed by Miranda Otto (she plays one of the soldiers’ wives in a few flashback scenes). Now I understand The Thin Red Line is a world war two film so no one should expect a strong female presence, but besides one voiceover moment she has no lines in the film and her most memorable scene is a flashback of her playing on a swing. And speaking of no lines, what point did the actress who played Sean Penn's wife in The Tree Of Life serve exactly? She said nothing and just moaped around the house for the two minutes she was actually in the film. And Jessica Chastain's role was kinda the epitome of what this write-up is about highlighted by a moment where she literally floats in the air. What some people may perceive as emptiness in these female characters are also heightened because they're usually paired next to a male performance like Brad Pitt's portrayal of the tough American father (Tree Of Life), Ben Affleck’s broodiness (To The Wonder) or soldiers in the military (The Thin Red Line). When you take Miranda Otto playing care-free on a swing, Sean Penn's pouty wife, Jessica Chastain floating in the air and Olga Kurylenko frolicking around like a little kid it can paint an overall shallow picture. And I'm well aware Malick isn’t the one and only filmmaker guilty of this. But at the same time he's one of the most prominent and talked about directors in recent years. It’s tough to find a realistic portrayal in film of any demographic that isn’t a white male. With women on film it’s still either some docile delicate thing or an unrealistic, cunty, man hating power boss like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada or Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl.

Thin Red Line
For reasons ranging from race & ethnicity to my own individual upbringing, I don’t really relate to the families or characters in Malick's work (although like I said in my Tree Of Life review, Brad Pitt's performance did kinda transcend race and the time period he came from and did remind me of certain characteristics of my own father). But I've been around enough women in my life outside of my own immediate family to know that "real women" aren’t really represented that much in Malick's work. And this wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the male characters in Malick's films were unrealistic as well. But Richard Gere (Days Of Heaven), Brad Pitt (The Tree Of Life), Ben Affleck (To The Wonder) and the all-star cast of The Thin Red Line all have what I feel are realistic male qualities for the most part - broodiness, trouble expressing personal feelings & emotions, aggressiveness, tough, arrogant, confidence, etc. Maybe if Malick showed tougher women or at least a little less delicate or always on the verge of tears things would be a bit more even.

The New World (2005)
Q'orianka Kilcher's performance in the New World is the one role that kinda challenges this theory of mine. Her portrayal of Pocahontas is caught somewhere in between the childishness of the female characters in Malick's more recent work (especially To The Wonder) and the hidden strength of the female characters in his earlier work. There's times when both Colin Ferrell & Christian Bale look at her and treat her like this exotic dark skinned creature instead of an actual person (and since most of the film is told from their point of view that's how the audience will look at her as well). And the fact that her character really doesn't have a whole lot of lines, yet is in a large majority of the 2-1/2 hour film, it makes her seem like this quiet female with nothing much to say. But on the other hand, there's times when she exudes strength and confidence that hasn't been seen in a Malick film since Linda Manz' character in Days Of Heaven. Malick's Pocahontas is a complicated one. She IS pretty much a child, so that kinda gives her the right to act childish and free. In the 2nd half of the film she's taken away from her home and plopped in to a strange world where she's kinda objectified so she has every right to act a little "off".
To The Wonder (2013)
Do you guys think I'm on to the something? I almost feel like this isn't my place and a woman should be writing this. I'd like some female movie buffs familiar with Malick's work to chime in on this.

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Monday, November 5, 2012


Well, we've reached the Top 10 of our favorite movies of the 90's list over at the pink smoke. And although each post is a surprise to all the contributors and we're never quite sure what the rankings will be or what movie made it, I think it’s safe to say that Mathieu Kassovitz' directorial debut; La Haine didn’t make the cut. Like What Happened Was, another great film that got snubbed which I was given the chance to write about last month, I really feel this was an important film from the 90's (and not just on the political tip). Europe, especially the UK, saw many documentaries on the subject of hip-hop but La Haine may have been the first major (fiction) release where hip-hop played a major role. At its core, the film is more politically fueled than anything else (racism, riots, poverty, police corruption & brutality, etc) but director Mathieu Kassovitz carefully places just about every element of hip-hop culture throughout the film from start to finish. Great filmmaking and a true representation of hip-hop culture are two entities that rarely cross paths but La Haine is an exception. Within the first few seconds of the film's opening we see a graffiti tag. Graffiti is an important factor in La Haine. There’s non-stop tags & throw-ups all throughout the film that usually read; "Fuck The Police". There’s a key scene where a DJ (popular French DJ; “Cut Killer”) is in his bedroom scratching the phrase; "Fuck The Police" with his speakers facing out the window. And there's another crucial scene where we see a group breakdancers performing just before a police raid. As you can tell, La Haine, which was made as a response to all the police brutality that was going on in France during the early 90's (where mostly youth of color were the victims), has a very anti-police tone. Anyone who knows anything about Hip-Hop knows that it’s very anti-police. No matter how much La Haine may be affiliated with "art house"; it’s still a hip-hop film. This aspect of the film was greatly overlooked upon its release (still kinda is to this day actually) because most film critics & film elitists aren’t that immersed in hip-hop culture and don’t know how to comment or write on it. Plus the political angle is so heavy that it’s easy to focus more on that than anything else. Critics were so oblivious to rap & hip-hop culture that they failed to call out the parallels between La Haine and Ernest Dickerson's Juice (a cult/iconic film in hip-hop). Both films are socially & politically fueled stories about a group of young irresponsible & carless teens on the run from police with scenes that highlight DJing/scratching, graffiti & breakdancing. And what’s so original about both films is that Dickerson & Kassovitz chose to intentionally NOT focus or highlight rap (obviously the most popular & recognizable element in hip-hop) and put a spotlight on the other three elements (DJing, Breakdancing & Graffiti). I'm not saying Mathieu Kassovitz tried to copy Juice (he may have very well not even seen it) but the similarities between the two films are pretty uncanny.

Was La Haine hip hop's first full-on venture in to the world of (good) art house film? I'm well aware that over a decade ago the downtown nyc modern art scene embraced films like Wild Style, Downtown '81 & Style Wars because of the graffiti aspect and Rammellzee had a cameo in Jarmusch's art house masterpiece; Stranger Than Paradise (along with commercial attempts to cash in on the Hip-Hop/Graffiti craze like Turk 182 which, in opinion, owes true graffiti artist; Taki 183 royalties), but I cant think of a true hip-hop film that got the kinda worldwide exposure & recognition that La Haine got at the time of its release (the scene where our three main characters in La Haine go to the art museum is very reminiscent of the scene in Wild Style where Fab 5 Freddy & Lee go to the upscale party full of rich artsy elitists)...

(L-R: Jean Michel Basquiat in Downtown 81, Fab 5 Freddy in Wildstyle & Rammellzee in Stranger Than Paradise)

Mathieu Kassovitz may be multi talented (actor,
writer, director) but due to his post-La Haine work, as a director he joins the ranks of other "sellout" filmmakers like Neil Labutte, John Singleton, David Green, etc. Cut it any way you want but you can’t go from In The Company Of Men to Death At A Funeral (Labutte) or All The Real Girls & Snow Angels to The Sitter (Green). It’s hard to believe the director responsible for Gothika & Babylon AD is also responsible for one of the best and most socially conscious films from the 90's. Only recently has Kassovitz returned to more politically fueled work. La Haine centers around three best friends, each of a different nationality/ethnic background, over the span of a 24 hour period, living in the midst of a very volatile time in Paris - Said (Arab), Vinz (Jewish) & Hubert (West African). Said is the small, talkative, almost comedic relief of the group, Vincent is the more angry & hot-headed of the three, while Hubert is the most level headed and is pretty much the leader. After one of their friends/acquaintances is killed under shady circumstances during a riot, Vinz gets a gun and makes a pact with himself to kill a random police officer before the day is over. During the course of the film they run from the police (Said & Hubert eventually become victims of police brutality), get caught up in a riot, steal a car, crash an upscale party and have a run-in with a gang of skinheads and an ending that highlights the pointlessness of senseless violence. Beyond the focus on Hip-Hop and social/political issues, La Haine is known for its cinematography. The cinematography is what sets La Haine apart from Juice. The two films are definitely spiritually connected but the La Haine is ahead of Juice in terms of craft (which is kind of disappointing because Ernest Dickerson is a masterful cinematographer, responsible for some of Spike Lee's best work, but it didn’t really show in Juice). The camerawork in La Haine has you going; "how did they pull that off" or will have you playing certain scenes back and a lot of the shots are long & unedited. Besides Juice, La Haine nods at other films like Taxi Driver (there's a scene early on in the film where Vinz reenacts the "you talkin' to me?" scene). Certain shots are reminiscent of Bergman's Persona and the black & white cinematography reminds me of Jarmusch's Down By Law & Dead Man.

La Haine (1995)                                                                                     Persona (1967)
This film couldn't have been made at a better time. The mid-90's was an era when hip-hop was at an all time high (in my opinion), you couldn't go to the rap section in strawberries/virgin/tower and NOT buy a tape or CD. It seemed like everything was good (especially when compared to today). DJ & B-Boy battles were expanding overseas big time to places like Europe & Asia and other countries seemed to just appreciate hip-hop just as much (or more) than Americans. Thanks to the Criterion Collection this film is more accessible to American audiences but it’s still pushed more on to the art house crowd instead of young hip-hop audiences which is really who the film is geared towards. To this day I come across countless hip-hop lovers from my generation, as well as the previous generation, who have no idea that this film exists. I can’t speak on today's generation, but I have all the faith in the world that anyone who came up during the golden era of hip-hop would appreciate La Haine very much.


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