Monday, January 18, 2021

REDOUBT AND THE CREATIVE PROCESS



Matthew Barney’s Redoubt reminds me of a quote from the documentary; Pretty As A Picture: The Art Of David Lynch where Jennifer Lynch describes her father’s process and work mentality...

For him the doing is the joy. Sure, the product is important but he's very inspiring to me because the act of creating is what he so cherishes. And I think that that makes everything and every day more important - Jennifer Lynch

Pretty As A Picture: The Art Of David Lynch


I’m not going to call Matthew Barney’s art “Lynchian” just because both he and David Lynch’s work could be described as “weird” or experimental (David Lynch did not invent “weird” or “experimental”), but they do approach their work in a similar hands-on/physical fashion. David Lynch is getting up there in age now but a lot of his older film work required him to get his hands dirty. You can call Lynch weird and/or artsy all you want but he knows just as much about power tools as the average “manly man”. Rarely do you find David Lynch mentioned alongside the likes of a Bob Villa, but he is a tool enthusiast. I know I’m being stereotypical with gender roles but it’s the only way I know how to get my point across. And David Lynch does come from that old school Norman Rockwell era of Americana. It’s quietly emphasized in a lot of his work.



Not only did Lynch build some of the furniture in his films by hand, but the clanking metal noises and droning factory sounds that provide the sonic backdrop for half of his movies gives his cinematic universe an industrial feel...

Twin Peaks

Eraserhead

Blue Velvet



David Lynch also doesn’t like to discuss what his movies are “about”. I’ve witnessed him firsthand be evasive towards questions about the plots to his movies at many Q&As. He’d rather talk about the camera he used to shoot certain scenes in Inland Empire or the experiments he did with plaster to create the early prosthetics for the Elephant Man costumes.


The same could be said about Matthew Barney. Often times when asked what his films are “about” he gives a very basic & vague answer yet will talk forever about the specific brand of jelly he used coat one of his sculptures or set pieces. Like David Lynch, you can label Barney’s work as silly artsy shit, but Matthew Barney knows his way around a circular saw and could probably dominate the average human being in most physical activities.

While Redoubt is incredibly abstract and can be interpreted in many different ways (there’s really no “wrong” or "right" way to view, write about or critique this film), at the end of the day it’s about the creative process. The creative process of what? The creative process is a broad, vast and vague term. There’s a creative process to just about anything and Redoubt explores that. The film, which doesn’t feature much direct dialogue, shows everyone from interpretive dancers & experimental multi-media artists, to marksmen & hikers/outdoor survivalists. There’s a creative process to all of those things.
The beauty of the creative process doesn’t just apply to "arts" (and perhaps what the average person considers to be an "art" is limited). It all comes down to working out ideas and the reward that can come with it even if you don’t reach a final concrete answer. Remember in school when you’re teacher would emphasize showing your work on a science or math test? You might not get to the final or correct answer but, depending on the teacher, you’d still get a couple of points on the test just for showing your work.

Who better to show all this than someone like Matthew Barney? He has direct hands-on experience in many different arts as he’s an experimental sculptor, a visual/multi-media artist and an athlete to a lesser extent (a lot of his art puts him in very physically demanding/competitive scenarios like dancing, running, hiking and even wall climbing...

Matthew Barney climbing the Guggenheim in The Order

Matthew Barney working on an installation 


It makes sense that I’m drawn to the scenes in Ernest Dickerson's Juice of Q trying out scratches in his bedroom, or, and I know this sounds a bit problematic, but the parts in Taxi Driver where Travis is making gun sleeves and hollow point bullets. I’m fascinated by the creative process because I’m so familiar with it. I’ve spent a good portion of my life inside studios so Redoubt hit me on a personal level. In jr high & high school I had a multiple electives that kept me in the autocad studio printing out drawings. In college I spent five years in a studio making abstract models. And between my late teens through my mid-30s I spent a lot of time in music studios recording scratches.
From blueprints & exacto knives to records & analog music equipment - I love messy creative spaces with shit all over the place. That’s my environment. That’s also an environment that Matthew Barney shows in Redoubt. In the film it isn’t so much about the final product that the various characters get to. It’s about the doing
There isn’t a traditional plot to Redoubt which shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with Matthew Barney films. I imagine anyone who clicked on this link is already familiar with his movies. Matthew Barney isn’t the kind filmmaker that you just stumble upon. He’s someone specific that has to be on your radar.

In Redoubt we see beautifully banal scenes of nameless marksmen setting up their rifle stands and looking through their scopes for minutes at a time. Other filmmakers would focus on the person or thing getting shot or the quick mini explosion that comes along with pulling a trigger. With Redoubt, Matthew Barney makes shooting a gun less titillating and/or exciting/“sexy” and more artistic in a mechanical sense.


Throughout the film there’s an interpretive dancer who appears at random moments working out and experimenting with physical movements rather than performing a complete dance routine.


Matthew Barney appears in the film as a fictionalized version of himself as an experimental artist working out ideas in his studio.


All of these aspects drove home the idea that Redoubt is ultimately about the creative process and the beauty of it all. 
Given the many layers to Barney’s work I’m sure there’s more to Redoubt (like his other work, this film is part of a larger multi-part/multi-media art piece), but as a somewhat/sometimes creative person, the doing within the film is what stood out to me the most (perhaps I’ll need to rewatch Redoubt a few more times to catch some of the other layers).

Monday, January 11, 2021

Carlo Pangalangan Labrador's BEST OF 2020




2020:

Another Year. We’ve all had some iteration of terrible this year, we don’t need to be reminded. The only reason I bring it up is it does have some bearing on what ended up on this list. It usually takes me til March of the following year to catch up on movies I wanted to see from the previous year, then compile my list around that time. This year, since I was pretty much able to see everything as they came out and had the free time to watch them, I have a list before this current year has ended.

Another thing I would like to bring up is how we consider our End of Year Film Lists reflecting the imdb/wikipedia/google release year, but more than likely films from the previous year tend to trickle in. Take for example Matthew Barney’s Redoubt. It’s listed as a 2019 release, but I saw in its theatrical run in LA in January of 2020. There would be some confusion when looking back at my own lists because of the release year/year seen in the cinema discrepancy. How about Tommaso and First Cow? History will say they were 2019 releases, but they definitely had their (virtual) theatrical releases this year. This is nothing new, people compiling lists have been dealing with this for ages, so ultimately, it’s your list, you can include whatever you want, but also I do propose that we allow some leeway, at least with the range of a year, if people were to include releases from the previous year.

My viewing experience of Redoubt seemed foreshadow 2020, more than I thought at the time: before going to see the movie, I witnessed a car crash right outside the theater (the NuArt in Los Angeles). Fortunately everyone was ok from the crash, it was just jarring to hear that noise and being incredulous that it was happening right in front of you. In contrast, Redoubt was a mostly calming film, with no dialogue (totally my jam). It became a metaphor for our year: a quiet calm inside, and chaos reigns outside.


10) Bill & Ted: Face the Music—This is a sentimental pick. We are continually reminded with each belated sequel how unnecessary they are, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that by the end of this, I was quite moved.


9) Sonic The Hedgehog (Jeff Fowler) & Bad Trip (Kitao Sakurai)—Two road trips with plenty of commonalities, both were charming comedies with one straight man and a wild man (or wild hedgehog) getting themselves into wacky situations and along the way, revealing the kind nature of people. Both films also had great post credit sequences. And I can’t remember the last time I saw Jim Carrey this engaged in a performance, he was a delight.


8) Crazy World (Nabwana I.G.G.)—I saw this early into the pandemic, when TIFF made a bunch of titles, old and new, play on YouTube for about a week. I didn’t manage to catch a lot of them, still bummed I missed Ticket of No Return. Anyway, I was glad to catch this, an earnest delight, clearly made on a low budget but full of inventiveness and passion.


7) The Sound of Metal (Darius Marder)—This was an assured debut with one flaw I couldn’t get past. I really wish the film had the strength of its convictions to consistently show what Reuben’s hearing loss was like, and occasionally show what the world sounds like to outsiders, instead of the other way around. Other than that, Marder shows great control of mood and atmosphere, keeping the non-diegetic music to a minimum, and getting great performances out of a mostly nonprofessional cast, and Riz Ahmed is excellent as always, I wouldn’t be mad if he won an Oscar.


6)Tommaso/ Siberia / Sportin’ Life (Abel Ferarra)—Abel Ferrara probably didn’t intend to make a nesting triptych, but circumstances of this year has made it so. Tommaso and Siberia were meant to be a diptych, as the character Tommaso is writing and conceptualizing Siberia. Sportin’ Life covers the premiere of Siberia at the Berlin Film festival, peppered with clips from his previous work, musical performances, sound bites from press junkets and conferences, and oh yeah, a pandemic broke out right after, so Ferrara includes clips from the news, and the protests and riots from BLM. Watching it at the end of 2020, it feels like a summation of the year. It’s strange now to see footage of crowds who aren’t socially distanced, even the notion of seeing live music now seems so alien. And the image Ferrara chooses to end Sportin’ Life with sums up his and many others’ rage at the year that was. Sportin’ Life cannot be seen without the previous two films, or even some context of Ferrara’s career—none of the clips from his own work are identified, and, strangely enough, look like they were recorded from a tv screen. I do enjoy Abel’s journey inward, and having Willem DaFriend in tow as his surrogate. Siberia really stayed with me, and I feel of the three, it’s the one I will revisit again.


5) Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)—This is one that I really wish I could have seen in the theater. Eliza Hittman makes films that are immersive and tactile, giving you a sense of place and experience through careful choice of image and sound. Her films are often heartbreaking, and this is no exception. The scene from which the film takes its title is devastating.


4) Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg)—A film that I did not expect to hit me like it did. I’ve never had the taste for alcohol, but I have had close friends who have been alcoholics, so I’ve seen how it has ruined their lives. Vinterberg has a bombastic opening then he scales back, the film becomes quiet and almost passive like its lead character, only gradually gaining power as the stakes are raised in the drinking experiments he embarks with his friends, with really creative use of onscreen text. I haven’t seen a Vinterberg movie since It’s All About Love (one I’d like to revisit), so does this constitute a return to form? It certainly feels like a jumping off point for another movie that’s as engaged as this one. The ending was cathartic.


3) DAU (Ilya Khrzhanovsky)—For scale and ambition alone, this deserves a spot on this list. Stories about it have been infamous/legendary, a filmmaker attempted a real Synecdoche, New York. It raised a lot of questions, and even now with the films available to be seen to stream, it still remains a mystery how they were able to pull this off. The timing of the release after the pandemic gave people enough time to watch the films, and gradually parsed them over the subsequent weeks. This mysteriously stopped halfway through, so there’s still a handful of DAU films that haven’t been seen. I’ve only seen the first two releases, Natasha and Degeneration, so I can only speak to those two. Natasha was a surprisingly low key opener, sticking mainly to three locations, only teasing us with the larger world outside. I was also surprised that Khrzhanovsky was closer to Cassavetes than any of his Russian contemporaries, he really allows the scenes to play out, initially with harmless jabs, then eventually escalating to interrogation with torture. It doesn’t quite set the table for the 6 hour Degeneration, which was hard to watch in the sense of knowing that you will be spending a lot of the film’s running time with truly evil men, whose thoughts eventually manifest into violence. The whole time I was watching, I never checked the time or paused to see how far along I was, that’s how well Khrzhanovsky handled time passing: I was firmly immersed in the world.

There is a clear moment when the film turns—it’s after innocent young men leave, and are replaced by skinheads, one of whom, Maxim, is a Neo Nazi in real life. Google him after seeing this and it seems like a continuation of his characters’ fate. That is another question the DAU films bring up—how much of a character are the participants playing? And how were the sexual engagements done? Was the set up like reality tv? Regardless, Khrzhanovsky has pulled off a coup. Even if it was a spectacular failure, I would still be more intrigued by it than an adequate, risk averse film.


2) Lúa vermella (Lois Patiño)—GigaChad and Über-talented, Lois Patiño does it again. Sometimes life just isn’t fair. I’ve admired his work since seeing Mountain in Shadow almost a decade ago, and it’s been beautiful to see his work develop and expand. There is some narrative here, but I didn’t try too hard to keep up or interpret what was going on, as soon as I saw the flicker like a dying bulb, I gave myself completely to the film, and enjoyed the experience. Patiño has a way of shooting and framing that makes tangible images feel unfamiliar, each frame felt like something new. This was what The Wandering Mare was trying to do, but lacked this clarity of vision.


1) TreeTV (Marty Schousboe & Joe Pera?) & Redoubt (Matthew Barney)

Relaxing Old Footage with Joe Pera was a near perfect film, it has a natural end, and Joe Pera even acknowledges it, but then it keeps going and overstays its welcome. The best thing to come from it was the gag about TreeTV, which I’m glad they actually followed through in making, because it was exactly the thing I didn’t know I needed to see. It is 5 hours of footage of trees, so relaxing, only accompanied by ambient music; as much as I like Joe Pera’s narration, it wasn’t needed here. I feel it’s apt that since we watched the majority of movies in 2020 on our home screens, TreeTV was my favorite thing I saw. Hey, if people back in 2017 put Twin Peaks: The Return as their favorite movie, I put TreeTV as mine in 2020.

And fuck it, let me pair Redoubt with it, another mostly ambient, and wordless film. Matthew Barney has been opposed to his work not being seen in the cinema, and I was fortunate enough to see the entire Cremaster Cycle and River of Fundament in theaters as special engagements, and I was glad Redoubt was given a proper release in a regular movie theater. I’ve already given the context to the screening above, and not many people were fortunate enough to actually see one of their favorite movies in 2020 on a movie screen. It is now my favorite Matthew Barney film, it shows how much he’s grown as an artist who uses film as one of his mediums. There’s not as much cosplay here as his previous work, and the quiet moments don’t feel as empty as they sometimes do in his other films.

My two favorite films of 2020 do what I wish more films would do: less talking, and more visual exploration.



As an appendix to my list, I also wanted to include Old Films seen for the first time, these films are now some of my favorites, and unlike most of my 2020 list, I’m pretty sure I look forward to revisiting these films for years to come. Some quick takes: Street had made it to my best of the decade list that Marcus asked me to contribute to Pinnland Empire, but for years I was only going by a 20 min excerpt on youtube. One of the silver linings of the pandemic was that there were several free virtual screenings, and that finally gave me the opportunity to see Street in its 61min entirety, and it’s now one of my all time favorite films.

Wonderful Ice Cream Suit was indirectly recommended to me by John Cribbs, and it’s a crime that Disney buried it on its release and it’s not available on Disney+. I had to seek out a DVD copy of it, and it’s a delight, a wonderful tribute to a neighborhood in LA that’s now rapidly changing: Boyle Heights. Streets of Fire is often considered the start of Walter Hill’s decline, but I was pleasantly surprised that it’s still one of his stronger films. It’s definitely a kindred spirit to The Warriors, and yet another addition to the great movie year that was 1984. I want to thank Patrick Horvath for putting me on to Season of Monsters, it’s a great film that makes use of long takes, I might even say Jancsó does long takes better than Bela Tarr (who coincidentally makes an appearance in this). And finally, I'm really glad that Frank and Eleanor Perry are getting a lot of love recently, it’s well deserved. It started with The Swimmer, and more recently, Diary of a Mad Housewife finally received a Blu-ray release. Play It As It Lays is my favorite movie I’ve seen from them, it perfectly captures the floating ennui of driving through LA.

Street (James Nares, 2011)

Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (Stuart Gordon, 1998)

Streets of Fire (Walter Hill, 1984)

Snack and Drink (Bob Sabiston, 2000)

The Landlord (Hal Ashby 1970)

Wrong (Quentin Dupieux, 2012)

Season of Monsters (Miklós Jancsó, 1987)

Rubin & Ed (Trent Harris, 1991)

Targets (Peter Bogdonavich, 1968)

Play It as It Lays (1972) & Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970) (Frank Perry)

Spiral Jetty (Robert Smithson, 1970)

U.S. Go Home (Claire Denis, 1994)

Monkey Business (Norman Z. McLeod, Marx Bros., 1931)


Thanks again, Marcus, for letting me share my favorite films of the year, and I’m glad you and Scott made it through a difficult year. There’s already plenty to look forward to in 2021, see you next year!

Friday, January 1, 2021

THE SCHOOL OF TARKOVSKY: BI GAN - PART 2

 

I’m actually inspired by Tarkovsky to the point where I’m forever connected to him as a filmmaker myself - Bi Gan


The Mirror/
Kaili Blues


I did a bit more digging/watching and found some additional visual similarities between the films of Tarkovsky and Bi Gan (click here to see part one).

Enjoy...

I can always go back to Tarkovsky. That’s always going to be an influence on me. Even for this movie, there’s an element of that - Bi Gan


Nostalghia /
Long Day's Journey Into Night

Nostalghia/
Long Day's Journey Into Night

Nostalghia/
Long Day's Journey Into Night

Nostalghia/
Kaili Blues

Nostalghia/
Kaili Blues

Nostalghia/
Kaili Blues

Stalker/
Kaili Blues

Nostalghia /
Long Day's Journey Into Night

Long Day's ourney Into Night/
Stalker

Nostalghia /
Long Day's Journey Into Night

Andrei Rublev
Kaili Blues


Monday, December 21, 2020

2020: A YEAR IN MOVIES



Being stuck inside due to a pandemic (along with being on unemployment for a nice chunk of it) allowed me to stream & explore more new releases than any other year in recent memory. I enjoy going to the movie theater for the most part (I truly want them to survive once this Covid shit is over), but streaming things from the comfort of your home cuts out the commuting, long lines, ticket sellouts, and sitting next to someone you don’t want to. 
While a lot of folks were getting up in arms about the delayed releases of stuff like Wonder Woman, Tenet, Dune and other films I’m pretty indifferent towards, I did my small minuscule part in trying to support smaller theaters that were forced to get creative during these troubling times. I took advantage of my newfound free time and streamed from platforms like The Film Forum (Beanpole), The Museum Of The Moving Image (Fourteen), Lincoln Center (Deerskin), and the usual platforms like Amazon (The Sound Of Metal), Hulu (Swallow) & Netflix (The Lost Okoroshi).

The Sound Of Metal

True, some of the rentals seemed a bit pricey ($20 or more in some cases) but had it not been for immediate streaming smaller films like Dan Sallitt’s Fourteen or Abba Makamma’s The Lost Okoroshi wouldn’t have received the (deserved) attention they got this year.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

The biggest cinematic storyline of 2020 was lesser acknowledged/recognized filmmakers getting a bigger spotlight. I truly believe had things gone according to plan we wouldn’t have seen directors like Kelly Reichardt (First Cow) or Eliza Hittman (Never Rarely Sometimes Always) get their due.


Still - theaters were sorely missed in 2020. The absence of movie theaters certainly had a negative effect on my movie-watching habits. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to start a movie over once or twice due to getting distracted by my phone (I decided to not include my usual “favorite images of the year” category as the large majority of movies I watched this year were on my television or laptop).


Sorry We Missed You

This was an interesting year for me in terms of movies. Directors I usually have no opinion on put out their best work (Ken Loach’ Sorry We Missed You) and filmmakers I usually love unconditionally put out highly anticipated films that I found to be just “...ok” (Olivier Assayas’ The Wasp Network).
And while it was a bummer that the regular festivals I attend in person went virtual this year for obvious reasons, I still saw some of the best & most unique works I’ve seen in a while (Another Round & Fauna) thanks to TIFF & NYFF.

Mangrove (Small Axe)


I couldn’t come up with a standard “top 10” because there were so many great movies to pick from this year. Below are 16 standouts followed by over 30 additional honorable mentions that shaped my 2020.

So, in no particular order, although broken up in to various categories & subcategories, here are my favorite movies of 2020...



THE BEST

1-6 (ALL AROUND GREAT):
Films from 2020 that I thought were great and require little to no criticism...


7 (THE 2nd TIER) 
The 2nd tier of all-around great films from 2020. Not as great as the films listed above but still worthy of being mentioned...




8 (JURY PRIZE):
Movies made by or featuring people I am biased towards but are still excellent nonetheless...


9 (THIS MOVIE HAD NO BUSINESS BEING THIS GOOD):
Surprisingly excellent movies from 2020...


10-13 (UNDER THE RADAR):
films I loved from 2020 that may not have had the same exposure or platform as the larger releases, but are still great


14 (ACQUIRED TASTE)
I wouldn't recommend this to anyone but it's still great...


15-16 (SHORT FILMS)





HONORABLE MENTION
It wouldn't be right to define an entire year with just a small handful of movies. 
Below are some more solid releases from 2020 worth your time...

ALL AROUND SOLID:


JURY PRIZE:


SOLID/GOOD:


THESE MOVIES HAD NO BUSINESS BEING THIS GOOD:


UNDECIDED/FRUSTRATING BUT KIND OF REWARDING:






(PERSONAL) FAVORITE PERFORMANCES OF 2020:
Willem Dafoe* - Tommaso
Frances Mcdormand* - Nomadland 
David Straithairn - Nomadland 
Vanessa Kirby - Pieces Of A Woman
The cast of Sorry We Missed You
Mads Mikkelsen - Another Round
Vince Vaughn - Freaky 
Delroy Lindo* - Da 5 Bloods
Lise Leplat Prudhomme* - Joan Of Arc
Randeep Hooda - Extraction
Steve Coogan - Greed 
Riz Ahmed* - The Sound Of Metal
Paul Raci* - The Sound Of Metal






HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & OTHER RANDOM MOVIES MOMENTS FROM 2020:


The final moments of Another Round 
Another Round


Did this ever come out?: Devil Between The Legs

You guys seriously liked this?: I’m Thinking Of Ending Things

Swallow paying homage to Jeanne Dielman & Safe...
Jeanne Dielman/
Safe/
Swallow


The music in Small Axe

Chris Hemsworth beats up a gang of little kids in Extraction

The delivery drivers cuts through mid-knife fight (Extraction)
Extraction


Sorry this movie was kinda dumb (Tenet)

These were Ok, I guess: Bill & Ted, About Endlesness, The Vast Of Night, The Lovebirds, Bad Education, Shirley

The construction worker not snitching in Bad Trip 
Bad Trip

Eric Andre brining out the best in humanity (Bad Trip)

Sexual freedom & sexual repression all at once (Liberté)

Leigh Whannell remaking Sleeping With The Enemy (The Invisible Man)
Sleeping With The Enemy/
The Invisible Man

Sleeping With The Enemy/
The Invisible Man

Sleeping With The Enemy/
The Invisible Man

Sleeping With The Enemy / The Invisible Man


It seriously wasn’t that bad (Underwater)

I’m failing to see the point here (true story or not): Red, White & Blue (Small Axe)

'The fuck was this?: Capone
Capone


The guy with the rat (and raccoon) problem in City Hall

The rifle story in City Hall

The boss in Sorry We Missed You
Sorry We Missed You


The final moments of Sorry We Missed You

The talking jacket in Deerskin

A crack in the case (Mangrove)
Mangrove


Tommaso sharing with the group 

The score for Joan Of Arc

The flying saucer/drone in Bacurau
Bacurau


“Some people can’t imagine being stolen from. Too strong” (First Cow)

"This ice is totally awesome" (Swallow)

“Don’t you see my killer style?” (Deerskin)

“The car. Isn’t. Happening.” (Color Out Of Space)

“I like you, Fern.” David Straithairn (Nomadland)

Harley Quinn passing a hair-tie to Canary mid-fight in Birds Of Prey
Birds Of Prey


Imagining what Olivier Assayas could’ve done with the cast of The Wasp Network instead of making The Wasp Network...

Ruben is asked to leave (The Sound Of Metal)

Paul making peace with Stormin’ Norman doubling as a real life sendoff to Chadwick Boseman (Da 5 Bloods)
Da 5 Bloods


Wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did (On The Rocks)

Proof that black men don’t cheat (On The Rocks)

Proof that dads can be both complicated, messy and good (On The Rocks)

Rene’s presence in Boys State
Boys State


Fern contemplating taking the dog with her for literally two seconds then deciding not to (Nomadland)

The final act of Saint Maud

Giving the homeless immigrants food only to take it away minutes later (Greed)

Debt Collectors paying homage to They Live
They Live/Debt Collectors


Sadat X & Styles P’s cameos in 40 year old version 

Just the right amount of Jim Carrey (Sonic The Hedgehog)

Jack chases after the chicken in What Did Jack Do?
What Did Jack Do?



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