Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): 2015

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Montage: Two and One (Jacques Rivette & Brian Eno) (video)

A new video entry in my montage series, combining movies and music. The previous entry joined two eras of horror (the first two Hellraiser films & Haxan) with duelling guitar solos from a live version of "Sympathy for the Devil." This time I have used clips of Jacques Rivette's films Duelle (1976) and Out 1 (1971) alongside Brian Eno's song "Golden Hours" from 1975.

Update (YouTube upload): 

& the Cinepoem is also available now.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Prisoner - "Free for All"

Welcome to my viewing diary for The Prisoner. Every Wednesday I will review another episode. This is my first watch-through of the 1967 British cult TV show so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes. But I will be watching the series in this order so if you are watching along with me, keep that in mind.

The last episode presented the world of The Prisoner as a cheerful totalitarian state in which it was impossible to tell the prisoners from the wardens. "Free for All" certainly doesn't run from that sense, but it amplifies it by presenting the Village as a sham democracy too. With an election approaching, Number Six is invited, encouraged in fact, to run for for the position "Number Two." Of course he has his usual headstrong plan: if he is voted in he will rip the facade from the community, discover which prisoners are biding their time until they can escape, and lead all of them to liberation. He might also get to meet the mysterious Number One and find out what's really going on. Needless to say, it doesn't work that way. The current Number Two (or is he?) (Eric Portman) stands by placidly while Six makes his incendiary speech but soon he is responding to each twitch of thought or pang of conscience with a round of brainwashing. On the previous episode, it was said that Six should not be so overtly manipulated, that he must come to provide information and accept the Village's authority of his own accord. There are no such qualms this time. Six is subjected to an ingenuously conveyed mental torture (with silhouettes of a square and circle entering the silhouette of his profile), plied with spiked drinks, and otherwise manipulated into being a grimacing tool of the establishment. This feels like the most cynical episode I've watched so far, and maybe the most hopeless.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Force Awakens: thoughts on the phenomenon (& film)

The mega-blockbusters of 2015 are Spielberg/Lucas films, but without either Steven Spielberg or George Lucas at the helm. This is a rather depressing thought. There is a sense that Frankenstein's monster has finally destroyed even its own masters (though I doubt Spielberg is weeping too hard, having executive-produced the record-setting Jurassic World, and if Lucas is - as some allege - disappointed with the direction the franchise took after selling it to Disney, there are plenty of honors and profits on hand to soothe him). For forty years, the awe-inspiring, intimidating beast of blockbuster cinema co-existed with individual filmmakers (and they were filmmakers first and foremost) who could reign it in, using the massive tentpole format to express personal visions. The Spielbergs, Lucases, and others like them were outnumbered by directors-for-hire, executing studio committees' visions of how best to market their property. But perhaps because of the idiosyncratic fact that these almost inhuman cinematic juggernauts were born out of the auteurist autonomy of New Hollywood, for a long time the art of personal expression was able to overlap with corporate desire to attract a mass audience. No longer...now Hollywood finally has what it always wanted: complete control over the major franchises, with skilled minions like JJ Abrams or Colin Treverrow to deal with rather than creators who insist on controlling their own product (not to mention taking a huge slice of the financial pie). Auteurism is dead...long live the corporation!

Wait, wait, no, that's not right. Let's try again.

The Force Awakens, the seventh episode of the Star Wars saga (the first film in ten years, and the first sequel in thirty-two) is full of sweeping vistas and loving detail. Rey (Daisey Ridley) is a plucky new heroine, more Luke than Leia as she scavenges on her desert planet Jakku and discovers an ability to use the mystical Force. Teaming up with runaway stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and the lovably hilarious droid BB-8 - easily the most endearing new cast member - she makes her way across the galaxy in a stolen spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, running into the ship's former owner, aging smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and his first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) along the way. At the forested way station of Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o), Rey discovers the lightsaber of the legendary Luke Skywalker in a striking sequence mixing flashback and vision. The film's climax sees General Leia (Carrie Fisher) lead the Resistance (confusingly fighting for the New Republic) battling the First Order, desperately trying to reinstate the Galactic Empire with the help of renegade Sith wannabe Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the Starkiller, a huge planet-turned-weapon-of-mass-destruction. The film is a lot of fun, hitting the nostalgic sweet spot by evoking old memories indirectly (Jakku obviously recalls Tattooine, yet it has its own barren, exotic flavor that somehow calls to mind Ralph McQuarrie's early concept art for the series) while also playing catch-up with old characters (when Han arrives, he essentially takes over the film for a while). The Force Awakens also plays it extremely safe by - as everyone else has already noted - very closely mimicking the dramatic structure of the first Star Wars film and resting so much of the film's appeal on familiar fan favorites like the Falcon, Han, Leia, Chewie, X-wings, TIE Fighters, the third incarnation of a Death Star, comic space-age banter, and the Empire vs. Rebellion power struggle (with the roles barely switched). This leaves the heavy lifting for the next episodes in the saga, leaving us with a sense of momentary satisfaction but also the larger question, "Why?"

There, was that better?

In truth, I find it almost impossible to discuss The Force Awakens as an individual film without dipping into the larger phenomenon. This sequel finds itself on one of the most unusual missions in cinema history, and every frame is informed by that mission. However, I did want to divorce my larger Lucasfilm frustrations from the experience of watching the movie. As such, I can report that The Force Awakens provided a good night out at the movies (and that, of course, the following write-up contains spoilers). Abrams, Kasdan, et al have crafted an enjoyable work of entertainment, more satisfying than most big-screen spectacles I have seen in the past decade. And as a bonus, many moments capture a whiff of that old Star Wars magic. Does it go deeper than that? Not really, and the ways in which it falls short and limits the experience are directly linked to the motivation behind the film and the context in which it was made. But first...why do I care?

Monday, December 28, 2015

The End of 2015, a status update: Star Wars & more (5 days this week)

Offering a strong ending to a strong year, I will be posting every weekday through the end of 2015. This allows me to play catch-up (after struggling to find Monday posts, in January I'm going to be a hit with a big backlog of posts as several long-delayed works go up simultaneously). It also allows me to continue the trend of the past few weeks, as I covered the Lynch/Rivette screenings at Lincoln Center, and to end the year with my highest number of blog posts since 2011 (despite taking a month and a half off following the completion of my Journey Through Twin Peaks series).

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Favorites - Pandora's Box (#75)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Pandora's Box (1929/Germany/dir. G.W. Pabst) appeared at #75 on my original list.

What it is • Lulu just wants to have fun. Despite this seemingly simple motivation, she holds immense fascination for us as well as the characters onscreen. Her troubled past (there are intimations of both extreme neglect and abuse as a child) drives her into a hungry, unapologetic enjoyment of the present: cheerfully embracing various lovers, refusing to be tossed off as a diversion, always eager for excitement and sensation. The first hour of the film charts Lulu's rise from chorus girl to wife of her wealthy patron, and the second hour follows her fall through a variety of different locations and situations. This suggests an epic scale but Pandora's Box is more accurately described as a series of intimate moments despite quite a few crowded setpieces (the stage production, the wedding, the trial, the gambling barge). G.W. Pabst's direction is characterized by precision and focus, avoiding Murnau's ambitious scope or Lang's towering monumentalism in favor of detail and gesture. Above all, Pandora's Box is centered around the face of Louise Brooks. Film history is littered with star vehicles, many of which probably feature those stars in a greater quantity of close-ups or even screentime. Yet I'm hard-pressed to think of many other movies so utterly defined by the screen presence at their center. Pandora's Box is based on the iconic plays of Franz Wedekind, who turned Lulu into a cultural icon in Germany, and Pabst was a widely-respected director of silent cinema. In theory, the film should not be reducible to its star. And yet whenever Louise Brooks is on screen, it's as if everything else exists as a frame for her charisma. Which is...

Why I like it •

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Prisoner - "Dance of the Dead"

Welcome to my viewing diary for The Prisoner. Every Wednesday I will review another episode. This is my first watch-through of the 1967 British cult TV show so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes. But I will be watching the series in this order so if you are watching along with me, keep that in mind.

It's Carnival Day in the Village and the idea seems perfectly suited for the bright, cheerful community. In theory, that is - in practice it means dozens of people in colorful costumes standing around aimlessly until they are told what to do (in this case, dance). If the first episode focused my attention on the mystery of the Village itself, this - the eighth episode aired and (on the advice of Christopher Yohn and others) the second I have watched - awoke my curiosity about the Villagers themselves. Who are they? How did they get there? Why do they do what they do (or don't do)? Are they like Number Six, desiring escape but having learned to bide their time until the right opportunity arrives? Or have the pleasant repetitions of the daily routine, the hospitalizations and other medical intervention ordered by the Doctor (William Lyon Brown), and the fear of violent reprisal effectively brainwashed these people? We get a variety of answers in "Dance of the Dead," but no definite conclusions.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Inland Empire & The Story of Marie and Julien (Lynch/Rivette #7)

This is the seventh and final entry in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended a double feature of Inland Empire (2006) and The Story of Marie and Julien (2003) on the evening of Sunday, December 20. This review contains spoilers for both films.

The double feature will repeat, at 4:00pm on Tuesday, December 22, the final day of the retrospective.

Throughout the David Lynch/Jacques Rivette series we have seen characters blur together and switch places, sometimes literally - replacing one another through a miracle of space and time - but often more subtly, as they shift positions of power, experience each other's thoughts and feelings, or enter a mutual dream space. How appropriate that this final double feature rotates the directors themselves into one another's territory even if the changeover is far from complete. Inland Empire still feels Lynchian and The Story of Marie and Julien still feels Rivettian. But in significant ways, the two filmmakers evoke each other's fascinations, a quality especially true of Inland Empire. Fascinated by the rehearsal process and the loss of identity inside an intense psychodrama, depicting a fluidity between worlds that go anywhere at any moment, and shot as experimentally as any Rivette film (Lynch invented random scenes the day of the shoot) Inland Empire feels like a mash-up between the psychological/aesthetic intensity of L'Amour Fou and the crosscutting narrative freedom of Celine and Julie Go Boating.

The Story of Marie and Julien does not evoke Lynch as overtly as Inland Empire evokes Rivette (although someone did describe the film to me as "Lynchian" before I saw it). However, there is an uncanny stillness and slowness to Rivette's work in Marie and Julien that recalls Lynch's touch, especially in early works like Twin Peaks that sought a mood of meditation - and occasional frustration - by drawing out moments as long as possible. Marie and Julien also falls more readily into a genre than most of Rivette's work (all the better to subvert, my dear), recontextualizing a romantic ghost story just as Lynch recontextualized the road movie, film noir, or TV soap opera. Finally, perhaps most importantly, no Rivette film holds as much stock in the ability of faith and love to achieve the miraculous. Although Lynch himself drifted away from this viewpoint in the previous two selections (the fatalist Lost Highway and tragic Mulholland Drive), Inland Empire fully returns to the transcendence of his earlier films, even more full-throated in its lack of ambiguous irony or bittersweet resignation. For the final night of a series that has probably highlighted differences more than similarities between the two auteurs, Lynch and Rivette find their sentiments strangely in sync - like clockwork.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Paradox of Twin Peaks and David Lynch: interview with Andreas Halskov, author of TV Peaks

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

Andreas Halskov's interest in David Lynch takes a multimedia approach (appropriately enough). He has recently written the fascinating study TV Peaks, part Twin Peaks analysis, part fandom study, part general television history. Throughout the year he has also been creating video essays in collaboration with Jan Oxholm, studying Lynch's effects through a close analysis of his images and, perhaps especially, his sound. My favorite of Andreas' videos so far is "What's the Frequency, David?" which hones in on, in Andreas' own words, "the conscious and the unconscious world – as if they were two frequencies on the same radio." It is precisely this sort of layered analysis that Halskov thrives upon; he has also written a Danish monograph called The Paradox of David Lynch, observing several of the seeming contradictions that define Lynch's work and lend it its appeal. Fascinated by Andreas' scholarly approach, enthusiastic demeanor, and various insights, I arranged an interview. The following conversation has been edited down from exchanges via email and phone.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mulholland Drive & Celine and Julie Go Boating (Lynch/Rivette #6)

This is the sixth entry in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended a double feature of Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) and Mulholland Dr (2001) on the evening of Saturday, December 19.

These are the films. If you're asking me for my personal favorites I would probably go with the wilder and woollier Fire Walk With Me and Out 1. But it's incredibly easy to see why Mulholland Drive and Celine and Julie Go Boating are considered their directors' masterpieces, and why they have become the go-to initiation rites for anyone hoping to fall under David Lynch's or Jacques Rivette's spells. J. Hoberman called last night's double feature, with some trepidation, a "surfeit of cinema." He's right. It isn't that films like Lost Highway or L'Amour Fou aren't intensely cinematic in their own right, it's just that these two titles are movie-movie-movies in the same sense as Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or 8 1/2. Collecting together all of the elements present in other Lynch or Rivette films, they are rich with a sense of magic - some combination of charm, imagination, reflexivity, excitement, and depth - transforming already great films into something even more iconic.

These films also form the most logical pairing of the entire retrospective, kicking off the entire concept according to programmer Dennis Lim. Mulholland Drive and Celine and Julie Go Boating join classics like Robert Altman's 3 Women, Vera Chytilova's Daisies, and Ingmar Bergman's Persona by placing young women at the center of an alluringly fantastical world. Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Elena Harring), like Celine (Juliet Berto) and Julie (Dominique Labourier), chase their own elusive memories, mix amateur sleuthing skills with a penchant for performance, rely upon talismans to guide them through a web of intrigue, and cross interdimensional boundaries between reality and dream in order to solve a murder and satisfy their dangerous desire to penetrate an aura of mystery.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Lost Highway & Duelle (Lynch/Rivette #5)

This is the fifth entry in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended a double feature of Lost Highway (1997) and Duelle (1977) on the evening of Friday, December 18.

There are moments in Lynch and Rivette where we suddenly "snap into" it, and in retrospect everything that happened before seems like preparation for the threshold experience. Lost Highway has many such moments (mostly featuring Robert Blake's dread-inducing Mystery Man) although having seen the film several times I've perhaps become more accustomed to them. Duelle has these moments too, and I was less prepared for them last night because I'd seen the film only once and remembered virtually nothing about it. Hence, while much of Duelle (especially the meandering first half) didn't do a lot for me, those moments were vivid reminders of why both of these artists are worth treasuring and why despite their countless differences - differences that this particular double feature highlights to near-breaking point - Lynch and Rivette feel complementary. Their films are like vehicles that take different roads (perhaps a Parisian avenue and a Californian lost highway) to reach the same destination: that sensation of dislocation in time and space where a vertiginous sense of the uncanny is triggered by decor, performance, and camera movement. The rabbit hole has opened up and we are falling or floating - it's hard to tell.

Wild at Heart & L'Amour Fou (Lynch/Rivette #3)

This is the fourth entry - but, technically, the third double feature - in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended individual screenings of Wild at Heart (1990) on the afternoon of Tuesday, December 15, and L'Amour Fou (1969) on the afternoon of Thursday, December 17.

If the pairing of Paris Belongs to Us and Eraserhead suggests a contrast between Rivette's ambitious sprawl and Lynch's intense claustrophobia, the Wild at Heart/L'Amour Fou double feature places the shoes on the other feet. Rivette turns his characters inward, locating most of L'Amour Fou within two interiors: the cavernous rehearsal space where Sebastien (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) directs the play Andromachas, and the distinctive apartment (as much a creepy character as Henry's room in Eraserhead) where Sebastien and his wife Claire enact ritualistic abuse, empathy, and engagement. Wild at Heart, on the other hand, blows the Lynchverse's doors wide open, rocketing Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) cross-country to experience wacky adventures with a wild cast of characters. Fifteen years after Eraserhead, Lynch's Palme d'Or-winning work is the polar opposite of his debut in almost every conceivable way.

If the clear contrast between L'Amour Fou and Wild at Heart lies in their settings, the obvious similarity is their subject: these are the directors' foremost "couples films," depicting the raw power and fragility of passionate, confused, possibly somewhat crazy men and women. But the strongest link between these movies is the role they play in the careers of their respective auteurs. Both are stylistic breakthroughs, stumbling across a form better-suited to express Lynch's and Rivette's visions than anything they had worked with before. This is generally understood in the case of L'Amour Fou, far less so with Wild at Heart.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Favorites - La Roue (#76)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. La Roue (1923/France/dir. Abel Gance) appeared at #76 on my original list.

What it is • One sunny day a train crashes in a hybrid urban/rural landscape (a countryside crisscrossed by railroads and other industrial clutter). Sisif (Severin-Maris), a virile young engine driver, rescues the orphaned Norma and decides to raise her as his daughter. Unfortunately, Sisif's delight in this "rose of the rail" is cast in a more sinister light when she grows into a beautiful young woman (Ivy Close) and he finds himself attracted to her. This horrible desire (which Sisif is determined to deny and keep a secret) drives much of the film's tragic action, but there are many other elements weighing on his body and soul too - all of life is represented (repeatedly and none too subtly) as a wheel that keeps relentlessly turning, wearing the characters down over the course of this four-and-a-half-hour film. Sounds miserable, right? Yet the film is also deeply beautiful, capturing the crisscrossing lines and plumes of black smoke in the railyards, and later the stirring, epic peaks and valleys of the Alps where an aging Sisif, slowly going blind, is reassigned to guide a pathetic little funicular engine in his waning days. The cutting is superb, with an accelerating onslaught of images clashing yet complementing one another; this is revolutionary montage a year before Sergei Eisenstein made Strike, and more concerned with accumulation than contrast. And the performances of Severin-Mars and Ivy Close are monumental in their expressiveness, capturing the subtle shifts as their characters lose their youth but never quite their vitality. La Roue was a benchmark in the silent era, essentially forgotten for decades but re-discovered in recent years. Abel Gance, fresh off the acclaimed J'Accuse and several years shy of his even more groundbreaking Napoleon, is concerned with innovative technique onscreen, but he is also deeply invested in the soul of the picture (which opens with a tribute to his young wife, who died while he was making La Roue). This is a film that recognizes beastliness and beauty as two sides of the same human coin.

Why I like it •

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Eraserhead & Paris Belongs to Us (Lynch/Rivette Retrospective #4)

This is the third entry - but, technically, the fourth double feature - in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended the double feature of Paris Belongs to Us (1961) and Eraserhead (1977) on the evening of Tuesday, December 15.

This is arguably the most paradoxical double feature of the series. Eraserhead and Paris Belongs to Us are weirdly complementary: both debut films that took years to shoot, both set in an uneasy urban location, and both unusually black-and-white (the only other monochrome title in the retrospective is L'Amour Fou). But these two films are also radically, jarringly different. Paris Belongs to Us is concerned with a very specific time and place - the opening card tells us when ("Summer 1957") and the title tells us where - and Rivette was operating within the context of a larger film movement: the French New Wave. Eraserhead, influenced by Lynch's stint as an art student and young father in Philadelphia but shot in sunny Los Angeles' lesser-known industrial quarters, takes place in a nightmare metropolis of the mind, deeper into the subconscious than even German Expressionism dared to go. Thirty-eight years later, there's still nothing else quite like it.

The Prisoner - "Arrival"

Welcome to my viewing diary for The Prisoner. Every Wednesday I will review another episode. This is my first watch-through of the 1967 British cult TV show so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes. But I will be watching the series in this order so if you are watching along with me, keep that in mind.

Patrick McGoohan certainly knows how to kick off a TV show. In a quickly-cut montage with no dialogue (the only word even printed onscreen is "Resigned"), it is established that the main character (played by co-creator McGoohan) is leaving an ominous organization - probably a spy agency - and that they don't want to let him go (packing his bags for an exotic getaway he is gassed and knocked out). The aesthetic with which this information is presented seems unusual to modern eyes. From my admittedly small sample size, many acclaimed 00s TV shows employ moody lighting or eccentric (usually drawn-out) pacing but they seldom employ the fast-paced visual storytelling embraced by "The Arrival"'s cold open. The Prisoner was made in 1967, and occasionally it's very 60s fondness for montage feels excessive, with multiple cuts covering action that could be more effective if economical. Still, for he most part I found this style much more refreshing than dated; the first few minutes got me very excited for the seventeen episodes to come.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me & Joan the Maid Part 1: The Battles/Part 2: The Prisons (Lynch/Rivette Retrospective #2)

This is the second entry in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended the triple feature of Joan the Maid Part 1: The Battles (1994), Joan the Maid Part 2: The Prisons (1994), and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) on Saturday, December 11. 

Major plot details of the television show Twin Peaks are discussed below.

On February 23, two young women live their last day as mere mortals. Joan the Maid, a 15th century French peasant, arrives at the disgraced Dauphin's court, setting a course that will crown him king within five months and burn her at the stake within another two years. Laura Palmer, an 80s American high school student, confronts her abusive father, precipitating a chain of events that will climax later that night when he brutally murders her. These worldly, sordid details are amplified by a larger spiritual struggle in which the women's lives and deaths are enmeshed. Laura rejects the evil spirit that shares her father's body (and wants to inhabit hers) by accepting a mysterious green ring bonding her to a rival spirit, ensuring salvation alongside death. Likewise, Joan becomes a war hero by listening to supernatural voices, and she overcomes her brutal imprisonment by proclaiming her divine mission, paving the way for her execution as a heretic.

Jacques Rivette's Joan the Maid Part 1: The Battles & Part II: The Prisons (1994) and David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) take opposite approaches to these two heroines. Joan observes the saint's behavior without accessing her visions (never once do we hear those famous voices) while Fire Walk With Me immerses us completely in Laura's consciousness, exposing her hallucinations and weird encounters with a ferocious vigor convincing us they are absolutely true. Both films take faith as their subject; perhaps because of their filmmakers, they address and fulfill that subject in very different ways.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Blue Velvet & The Duchess of Langeais (Lynch/Rivette Retrospective #1)

This is the first entry in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended a double feature of Blue Velvet (1986) and The Duchess of Langeais (2007) on the evening of Friday, December 10.

In spite of many memorable images, the work of David Lynch and Jacques Rivette is often defined by what we can't see: whispered conspiracies and chimerical secret societies, supernatural pathways that might exist only in the characters' heads, or buried links and splits establishing two characters as one or one character as two. Almost always, these hidden clues connect different worlds or people, speaking to these characters' hunger as they blindly grope their way toward deeper connection, spiritual or collective (a process envisioned literally in a rehearsal scene from Rivette's 1971 magnum opus Out 1). In Lynch's Blue Velvet and Rivette's The Duchess of Langeais (based on Honore de Balzac's History of the Thirteen) this impulse appears in its most basic form: the longing of one human being for another. Despite this simplicity, both films illustrate how ugly and cruel that longing can become, how easily a desire for the whole becomes enmeshed in abusive power plays. Few other double features will depict this desire as being so hopelessly futile, so destructive and dangerous.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Favorites - The River (#77)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The River (1951/UK/dir. Jean Renoir) appeared at #77 on my original list.

What it is • To call the "plot" of The River episodic would almost be an exaggeration - better to call it anecdotal, so slight are the moments it collects together like beads on a string. "Where would the world be without string?" one character asks another, defending his jute-processing business - and in this film the string is the narration by Harriet (Patricia Walters, but the voiceover is by June Hillman). A gangly redheaded adolescent onscreen, she is adult and wise on the soundtrack, offering a many-years-later reflection that carries all those brief moments along, linking them together like the titular river carries and links the boats. But boats, beads, whichever metaphor you like, those individual moments are the real stuff this film is made of and Jean Renoir's first experiments with color ensure that they glisten like pearls. A girl in white and gold dancing for her lover turned blue Krishna...a tangled green jungle through which three teenage girls tread, under a bright blue sky...the orange robes and orange flames of the Diwali ceremony set off by a glorious cacophony of reds, greens, and blacks...the overwhelming, intoxicating burst of spring: green, pink, orange, blue, punctuated by the explosion of red powder on a character's amused face. However, the film is not just visual spectacle. Despite its deceptively languorous and casual air, The River delves into war, death, grief, spirituality, heartache, displacement, the experiences and emotions big and small that define life. And at its best, the reassuring narration fades away leaving us with images that both speak for themselves and don't begin to tell us what to think as Harriet comes of age, competing with her friends Valerie (Adrienne Corri) and Melanie (Radha) for the attention of the war-wounded Capt. John (Thomas E. Breen).

Why I like it •

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Lured in by Lynch & Rivette: a retrospective at Lincoln Center (+ status update for the coming weeks)

Over the coming two weeks, I will be reviewing every double feature in the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center. Reviews will be going up as soon as I am able to write them, alongside my usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday at 7am routine. To kick off the retrospective, I am sharing the intro & a link to an essay I wrote for Fandor Keyframe (where my videos will resume in the new year). By coincidence, Fandor's head video essayist, Kevin B. Lee, also produced a new video related to the retrospective which premiered tonight at Lincoln Center, alongside a talk by Dennis Lim, who programmed the series with Dan Sullivan, and Melissa Anderson.

In addition to my pieces on each Lynch/Rivette screening, the coming weeks will feature interviews with two authors of recent Lynch/Twin Peaks literature: Dennis Lim - who, in addition to programming the retrospective, also just published David Lynch: The Man From Another Place - and Andreas Halskov, whose new book TV Peaks covers the influence, innovation, and fan culture of Twin Peaks. And before I give way to the Fandor piece, I also want to point you to James Cooray Smith's thoughtful, nuanced article on the Star Wars prequels for the New Statesman (despite the provocative title, his perspective is more exploratory than polemical). Not only is it a great read, he very generously shouted out my Journey Through Twin Peaks videos!

Ok, on with the show...

• • •
For thirteen days in December, the Film Society of Lincoln Center turns its screening room into a rabbit hole. American auteur David Lynch and French filmmaker Jacques Rivette are the subjects of a fifteen-film retrospective marked by split narratives, double characters and entangled locations. The surrealist directors are themselves defined by duality, with some viewers celebrating them as truth-tellers while others dismiss (or appreciate) them as tricksters. Their films thrive on this uncertainty, projecting an aura of dreamlike mystery punctuated by playful interludes and violent epiphanies.
It isn’t hard to see why programmer Dan Sullivan and Dennis Lim, author of the brand new Lynch book The Man From Another Place, are placing Lynch and Rivette side by side in a series of double features (although tickets are available for each film individually, the heart of the retrospective’s approach is in these pairings). The program notes feature many convergences between the cowboy and the Frenchman: “secrets, conspiracies, and paranoia; women in trouble; the supernatural manifesting itself within the everyday; the nature of performance and the stage as an arena for transformation; the uncanny sense of narrative as a puzzle without a solution, a force with a life of its own.”

The Prisoner: the viewing diary

this introduction was written before I began the series, on 12/9/15)

The Prisoner aired on British television in 1967 - 68 and became a hugely influential cult classic. It stars and was created by Patrick McGoohan and is known for its twists and wild experimentation, especially in the final episode (in which someone sings "Dem Bones" unless I've just mixed it up with The Singing Detective, or was that scene a tribute to The Prisoner?). It takes place in some sort of prison colony, a futuristic prison colony...I think?

Don't tell me because for now, that's all I know about it.

When I announced these Wednesday viewing diaries back in April, I said that I would have seen these shows ahead of time and written all the entries before the first one went up. Well, that isn't the case here - despite having the episodes at hand for months I haven't begun The Prisoner yet even as the viewing diary officially begins with this intro today (the pilot is scheduled to be reviewed next week). Should be a wild ride and I look forward to being surprised along the way!

The episodes were not produced to be viewed in a particular order (except for the premiere, the finale, and perhaps a few others in between) so they've been shuffled around like crazy on the air and on multiple video and DVD releases. Many fans have their own preferences, and I've decided to go on the recommendation of Prisoner fan Christopher Yohn and watch them in the order listed below. Afterwards, I will publish my discussions of the series with him as well as two other commentators.

Here is the lineup. This post will be updated with links as new entries go up each week, so that it can serve as a directory for the series.

complete directory to THE PRISONER VIEWING DIARY

Monday, December 7, 2015

Twin Peaks Unwrapped: discussing the Killer's Reveal

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

Last week, Twin Peaks Unwrapped hosted me again, this time to talk about the big reveal of Laura's killer. They had already covered the episodes in which this reveal takes place, so this time the discussion was entirely focused on the implications, the build-up, and various interpretations of the revelation. Ben has watched the show for years, for Bryon it was the first time. It goes without saying, but don't listen to this episode unless you've watched Twin Peaks (at least up to episode 16).

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Favorites - Late Spring (#78)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Late Spring (1949/Japan/dir. Yasujiro Ozu) appeared at #78 on my original list.

What it is • In postwar Japan, 27-year-old Noriko lives in a cozy arrangement with her father, situated perfectly between the travails of the past and the uncertainties of the future. Life is a series of pleasant household chores, refreshing excursions to a Tokyo museum or the beach (whose looming Coca-Cola sign, along with Noriko's slacks and sweater, stands as a modern/Westernized contrast to the traditionally-dressed tea ceremony that opens the film), and playful, bantering conversations with old friends and relatives. The film deceptively thrusts us into this particular moment in Noriko's life, lulling us into believing that this is how it has always been, and always could be. But in fact the situation is tenuous and fleeting. Noriko has only just recovered from an illness incurred during the harsh years of the war and in she is expected to marry. She has no skills that she could apply outside of the home (her friend, an independent divorcee working as a stenographer, chides her wanting a job of her own). But Noriko doesn't want to marry and her father, at least until he is pressured, does not seem especially eager to lose her either. They have a close bond and we sense that all the unspoken tragedies of the past - her mother's death, the harshness of the war years, the poverty and humiliation of occupation - have only forged their desire to remain within a comfortable cocoon. Miraculously, as with much of Yasujiro Ozu's work, the placid, soothing surface of what we see both conceals and suggests the storm offscreen. The film is as deeply wise as it is seemingly simple, and with that wisdom comes both sadness and acceptance. The arrival of the late spring is little comfort for those who enjoyed their hibernation.

Why I like it •

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion: the complete episode guide

A complete guide to every episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the follow-up film The End of Evangelion, and the three Rebuild films

The Neon Genesis Evangelion episode guide is rare among my viewing diaries in that all of my reviews are accompanied by lengthy chats with Bob Clark, who introduced me to the anime show a year before this viewing diary began. Unlike many of my upcoming episode guides, I had seen the series several times before writing about it; nonetheless I discovered a lot of new stuff about Evangelion on this watch-through. After seven episodes, the Japanese blogger Murderous Ink joined us to add his perspective, sometimes offering an extended commentary, at others sharing a few comments or corrections.

Also unusually, this series took a 2 1/2-year break after starting up in 2012. But here it is, finally finished and hopefully it can serve as a useful companion on your own rewatches, or - if you haven't actually seen it yet - a first viewing. It's certainly a wild ride.

Next week my next viewing diary will kick off with a review of the pilot episode of The Prisoner, the British cult classic from the sixties. I should probably get to watching it now! (So much for finishing these episode guides way ahead of time...)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Cinepoem: Emily Dickinson's After Great Pain (video)

Update 1/3: The video is finally up!!

After a very long delay I have finally found the time to assemble my newest Cinepoem video, joining Emily Dickinson's "After great pain, a formal feeling comes..." with mostly empty shots from Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring. The first minute of the video is taken up by a free-form montage/collage whose frenetic pace offsets the contemplative mood of the second half. It's also partly inspired by a dream I had about six weeks ago. The Vimeo upload follows, and the YouTube embed appears after the jump.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Favorites - The Wizard of Oz (#79)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The Wizard of Oz (1939/USA/dir. Victor Fleming & King Vidor) appeared at #79 on my original list.

What it is • In early 1939, it was MGM Production #1060, just another job for the many professional actors, technicians, and businessmen involved with its making. That August, released six days before the outbreak of World War II in Europe, it was a lavish family film, touched by vaudevillian comedy, screen-musical , and adventure/fantasy influences - an escapist treat for parents and children, whose half-cost and/or matinee tickets made it difficult for the studio to recoup its considerable investment. The following year, on Leap Day, the film's respectable nominations (including one for Best Picture) yielded two wins (both musical) plus a special award for Judy Garland. In 1949, when Frank Morgan - the wizard himself - passed away, this role was not mentioned in his filmography. Within a decade, broadcast in black-and-white on early television sets - so that even the candy-coated world of Oz took on the dusty shades of the Kansas sequence - the movie finally became the pop culture phenomenon it remains to this day. Since then, it has inspired in-depth psychoanalytic analyses, sync-ups with Pink Floyd records, and endless parodies and references and analogies from editorial cartoons to everyday speech. By sheer coincidence, as I wrote the previous sentence, another person in the room opened a backpack and discovered a Barnes & Noble bag featured the curled-up feet of the Wicked Witch of the East with text from L. Frank Baum's book (and while the original story remains a classic, it's unlikely it would be remembered nearly so universally today if not the film version which has long ago supplanted the literary images and phrases). The Wizard of Oz is truly inescapable; quite likely it is the most referenced motion picture in history, and certainly it is one of the most viewed. Yet at its core is a simple story, presented straightforwardly for all of its resonance and associations. A young girl, lonely and frustrated in her native Kansas, is apparently transported by a twister to a faraway land, where she must defeat the Wicked Witch of the West, befriend the lovably incomplete Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, and discover the truth about the fearsome Wizard in Emerald City before learning that "there's no place like home."

Why I like it •

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Evangelion 3.33

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Unlike the previous essays, the Rebuild films will not be accompanied by chats with other bloggers.

And so my Neon Genesis Evangelion coverage finally comes to a close...for now. This is the only remaining Evangelion film or episode, at least until the release of Evangelion 4.0 (or 1.0 + 3.0, which is possibly going to be the title, whatever that means). This is also the first piece of Evangelion I have watched fresh for this series. In fact, by the time I tuned up 3.33 for this review I'd seen the the entire series run at least three or four times (some episodes five or six times), watched The End of Evangelion at least four times (three of them in the last few weeks), and watched the two earlier Rebuild films at least twice. Though I did not know much lore or history when I began this endeavor, this year I explored the world of Evangelion more deeply, learning about various theories, interpretations, and opinions. How exciting, then, to plunge into new (to me) Evangelion for the first time in four years! That's ultimately the pleasure and promise that the Rebuilds hold: the opportunity to experience this familiar world through new eyes. On that front, Evangelion 3.33 delivered more than any of the other Rebuilds, and I think it would be fair to call it my favorite of the three films.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thoughts on Cooper, Windom, and Bob

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

The following meta-analysis was originally posted on my Tumblr in October, and I thought it would be worth sharing here as well. Major spoilers for Twin Peaks follow the jump.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Favorites - The Adventures of Robin Hood (#80)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938/USA/dir. Michael Curtiz & William Keighley) appeared at #80 on my original list.

What it is • Welcome to Sherwood Forest, cloaked in lush green and lit by brilliant sunlight. Through these trees parade Sir Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn) and his merry men, fomenting unrest and having a jolly time of it. Many Robin Hood adaptations, especially today, look to darken the story or give it a more naturalistic texture, but Adventures revels in its heightened artifice and sense of fun, with the emphasis on swashbuckling, colorful costumes, and the cheerful romance between Robin and Marian (Flynn's frequent onscreen partner Olivia de Havilland, who is simply luminous here). Similarly, the structure is casually episodic, collecting famous moments from the Robin legend rather than forcing everything into a streamlined narrative structure. This is a proudly traditional take on the classic story, and as such it may be the most archetypal Robin Hood. However, the film does contain several elements that mark it as a film of its time, displaying a concern for social/historical context than even many of the more "realistic" latter-day interpretations avoid. The Adventures of Robin Hood very much emphasizes the importance of ethnic strife and state persecution, continually hammering home the idea that the aristocratic Normans are oppressing the common, salt-of-the-earth Saxons (Robin, himself a nobleman but also a Saxon, sides with clan over class). The film even offers Robin Hood a solemn refugee camp to run amidst all the derring-do! As such, it's hard not to see the looming war in Europe casting a shadow over the sunny swashbuckler of 1938.

Why I like it •

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Evangelion 2.22

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Unlike the previous essays, the Rebuild films will not be accompanied by chats with other bloggers.

If Evangelion 1.11 is the pop song cover that tries to hit all the same notes (while upping the production value), then Evangelion 2.22 is the jazz version, following the same rough structure but unafraid to cut loose and go off on wild riffs and tangents. Approached in the right spirit, this can be a whole lot of fun. Anno mostly seems to be using events and images from the series as touchstones to shoot off in new directions. The first time I watched 2.22 I was mostly frustrated and disappointed by these departures. True, the film corresponds to the more light-hearted monster-of-the-week episodes of the series (roughly episodes 7 - 13) but it also overlaps with the darker, deeper episodes 14 - 19. The more playful tone of 2.22's first half didn't seem suitable as buildup for the drama; I had been expecting a big-screen version of the Evangelion series (not necessarily in plot, but in "feel"). Knowing what to expect this time, I still wasn't entirely sure what the point of the film was, but I enjoyed it much more.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Favorites - The Civil War (#81)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The Civil War (1990/USA/dir. Ken Burns) appeared at #81 on my original list.

What it is • As a commentator notes very late in the documentary, the American Civil War is an immeasurable gulf separating the "before" and "after." Remarkably, Ken Burns' 11-hour PBS opus attempts to bridge that gulf and if the ambition of this attempt is awe-inspiring, the extent to which he succeeds is even more so. Burns evokes this bygone world by employing striking contemporaneous photographs (a new medium at the time of the war), modern-day battlefield cinematography (given a meditative air by the emptiness of the locations), a few fleeting newsreels from veterans' reunions in the early twentieth century (which are among the most arresting artifacts of the series), and especially the stirring soundtrack (cycling various motifs from the 19th century and coupling them with the gorgeous, mournful "Ashokan Farewell" theme, which was actually composed in 1982). He also sprinkles the series with interviews, but not as much as we might expect (maybe a half-dozen subjects, whose input is mostly limited) - allowing David McCullough's soothing narration to do most of the historical heavy-lifting while historian Shelby Foote is given the lion's share of talking-head screentime, mostly to contributing colorful anecdotes to the film's texture. The Civil War was a rather shocking hit in 1990, racking up numbers that would have been breathtaking for a major network, let alone public television. That success is undoubtedly due in large part not just to the subject, but to Burns' treatment: creating an all-encompassing format that allowed viewers to immerse themselves in a zeitgeist.

Why I like it •

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Evangelion 1.11

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Unlike the previous essays, the Rebuild films will not be accompanied by chats with other bloggers.

We're back at the beginning. Sort of. Almost everything about the early part of Evangelion 1.11, the "rebuild" feature film released in 2008, is identical to the first episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion. The same Angel attack, the same appearance of Rei in the abandoned city streets, the same Misato-Shinji rendezvous. But there are subtle differences. The first deviation is that the sea from which the Angel emerges is red, like the LCL concluding The End of Evangelion (one of the first clues for a favorite fan theory, that the Rebuilds actually take place after the original series, in a kind of reincarnated alternate universe). There are other subtle detours form the first two episodes: Sachiel the Angel (who is referred to as the "fourth" rather than the "third" Angel) reformulates in a different, more textured fashion; the Eva does not deflect debris from Shinji by releasing its hand; the berserker attack occurs in real-time rather than flashback. As the film continues, it will stray further from the original script but overall this is very much like a recap, gorgeously animated but suffering from some of the limitations inherent in the digest approach.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Talking Mulholland Drive with Twin Peaks Unwrapped

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

This month's Twin Peaks post is actually more about another David Lynch work, although it touches on Peaks as well. The folks at the Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast recently invited me back for a second appearance (well, third technically - but the "killer's reveal" discussion is still a few weeks away, and this discussion was bumped up on the schedule in honor of the Criterion relase). The conversation lasts about 10-15 minutes and accompanies conversations amongst the hosts and with fellow guests Mya McBriar of Twin Peaks Fanatic and John Thorne, editor of Wrapped in Plastic (and of an upcoming compilation book). We discuss the genesis of the film, different interpretations, and also its links to Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me. Enjoy!

(Check out my earlier appearance on the podcast, discussing the first season)

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Favorites - The End of Evangelion (#82)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The End of Evangelion (1997/Japan/dir. Hideaki Anno & Kazuya Tsurumaki) appeared at #82 on my original list.

What it is • Welcome to the end of the world. This animated masterpiece begins in a flooded wasteland, introducing us to an array of characters who are completely isolated from one another, buried in their own grief, guilt, depression, and loneliness. We are fifteen years after a cataclysmic event that wiped out most of the earth's population, and mere days after the last of many battles with monstrous creatures (called Angels, ironically) who laid waste to this particular city and destroyed the psyches of the teenage warriors forced to fight them. (The battles with the Angels are depicted in the television show Neon Genesis Evangelion, to which this film is a follow-up.) So the scenario is already post-apocalyptic...but we ain't seen nothing yet. At least half the film is consumed by "The Human Instrumentality Project," in which the physical bodies of humanity are dissolved and their souls are fused together in a vast sea of consciousness, dissolving pain and suffering alongside individuality and agency. Shinji, the 14-year-old mecha pilot who is placed at the center of Instrumentality, must decide if he wants relief from his loneliness by dissolving his identity, or if he should seek love and acceptance the hard way, as a separate but active person. The film depicts this process through a gorgeous swirl of rich animation (mixing sci-fi action, spiritual symbolism, and psychological allegory), live-action footage, children's drawings, and other raw material.

Why I like it •

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion - The End of Evangelion, Part 3 of 3: discussion w/ Bob Clark on the film's characters

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

Foreward: Ending the Evangelion conversations

Three years ago this week, on November 2, 2012, I published my first conversation with Bob Clark on the subject of Neon Genesis Evangelion, episode 1. He was the one who introduced me to the show a year earlier and when I decided to do an episode guide (my first since Twin Peaks in 2008) I realized that it would be good to have him on board. He was much more familiar with the series than I was, and perhaps even more importantly he had a grounding in both the conventions of the anime genre and the techniques of animation in general.

We conducted seven chats to accompany the first seven episodes and then took what I expected to be a short break over the holidays while I worked on a short film and devoted my blog to promoting it. Starting ongoing series without having the end already in sight is a big risk, and sure enough nearly a year and a half passed before Bob and I got back into the flow of things by discussing episode 8 (this time, we also brought the Japanese film blogger Murderous Ink in to offer additional comments - his last contribution was shared yesterday).

That was the spring of 2014, when I was just beginning to fall under the spell of Twin Peaks again (a bigger obsession than anything I've experienced in the past decade) and so after we reached episode 16, the Evangelion project paused once again. This time I had been wise enough to hold off on publishing our discussions, knowing that I didn't want to do so until we had covered everything through the finale and follow-up film at which point I could leisurely schedule the entries on a weekly basis without any further hiatuses.

The opportunity finally arrived this spring, a year after our last pause. This time I was able to give Evangelion the attention it deserved, exploring the fandom and the mythology in a way I never had before (even though I'd watched the series several times up to that point). Bob's and my conversations grew even longer and more intense as we reached the final stretch of the series climaxing with a chat on The End of Evangelion that spanned several hours over two different nights.

The first part of that discussion - dwelling on the themes, motifs, techniques, and mythology of the show - went up yesterday. Today's conclusion focuses on the characters - specifically very brief discussions of Ritsuko and Gendo, longer discussions of Misato, Kaworu, and Rei and a very long, in-depth discussion of Asuka, before concluding with our reflections on the enigmatic Yui. Shinji, of course, figures into most of these different character sections as well.

And with that, my conversations on Neon Genesis Evangelion with Bob Clark - which have formed the core of this episode guide since its inception - will come to an end. In the future, due to logistics and my desire to quickly build up a bigger backlog, I don't plan on doing episodic discussions for my TV viewing diaries...but I am hoping to have series-spanning conversations whenever I finish a show, both with Bob and with other contributors as I go. Next up is The Prisoner, and now that the end of this Evangelion series is in sight maybe I will finally start watching it so that I'm ready to start posting the entries in a month!

Meanwhile, the Evangelion series will continue for another four weeks, as I will offer solo reviews of each Rebuild film before wrapping up with a full directory for the entire series, gathering all the entries in one convenient location. But first, here is my most extensive conversation yet with Bob, a final look at the personalities and themes that made The End of Evangelion, and the show that inspired it, so great.

Final conversation with Bob Clark (part 2)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion - The End of Evangelion, Part 2 of 3: discussion w/ Bob Clark on the film's style & story (+ final comment from Murderous Ink)

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

Yesterday I posted my weekly Neon Genesis Evangelion review, on the film The End of Evangelion. My conversation with Bob Clark was so lengthy this week that for the first time I separated it from the review (which was also longer than usual) and split it in two. Today we discuss the film's animation, visual motifs, music, mythology, and the whole mind-boggling concept of Human Instrumentality. Tomorrow the discussion will conclude as we focus on the various characters of Evangelion. Both chats will focus on the film but also occasionally dip back into the series to reference open or unresolved points.

But first, here is Murderous Ink's final contribution to the Neon Genesis Evangelion series:

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion - The End of Evangelion, Part 1 of 3: My Review (discussion w/ Bob Clark begins tomorrow)

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

From its first few minutes, Neon Genesis Evangelion has alternated between meditative stillness and frenetic activity. Appropriately then, it's hard to tell if The End of Evangelion - the feature film produced a year after the series ended - takes its sweet time or moves so fast that it leaves us in the dust. Hideaki Anno certainly enjoys making us wait, even if he isn't always to blame: the nature of this vast co-production forces us to sit through a full minute and a half of logos before the film actually begins (aside from this litany of production companies, there are no opening credits). The DVD edition makes us wait even longer by attaching the film's trailer to the beginning of the movie - a trailer which perversely features only live action; the women onscreen are the voice actors appearing as their characters in a mundane alternate universe mostly cut from the movie. Shinji is the first character we see in the actual movie, but the broken boy's eyes are hidden by his bangs in the first shot, and they will mostly remain hidden for about thirty minutes. Likewise, Shinji will barely speak in the first half of the film even though his banshee-like scream closes it with a bang. And yet while Shinji sleepwalks, the world around him collapses.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The 3 1/2 Minute Review: The End of Evangelion (video)

This video is an entry in End of Evangelion Week on this blog: every day a new post on the film will go up.

Here is my follow up to the last "3 1/2 Minute Review" video, which covered the TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion - a brief essay devoted to the remarkable follow-up feature film, The End of Evangelion. The first half of the video is spoiler-free; halfway through there is a prominent spoiler warning so that those who haven't seen the film yet can tune out.

Apologies for the poor audio quality of the narration, due to technical difficulties on my end. (update 11/18: I was able to fix the audio on the Vimeo version but not the YouTube)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The End of Evangelion week on Lost in the Movies

Since June (technically, since 2012 although there was a break of several years) I have been surveying the entire series of Neon Genesis Evangelion with an episode guide consisting of weekly reviews and discussions with Bob Clark, the Evangelion fan who introduced me to the show. This week we are scheduled to reach the cinematic climax of that saga, The End of Evangelion - a dazzling fusion of avant-garde experimentation and action anime, and one of my favorite films of all time. Not coincidentally, another ongoing series - my Friday "Favorites" countdown list - is also scheduled to cover The End of Evangelion (which landed at #82 on the top 100 list this is based on). To complete the triumvirate, I decided to create a short video on the film for my biweekly YouTube/Vimeo upload - it should be popping up by today and tomorrow. So the plan was to have three posts on The End of Evangelion this week.

That plan expanded as I realized that my discussion with Bob was so sprawling and in-depth that it made more sense to divide it into three separate entries - which will go up Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday - and for the cherry on top I am going to make a screen-cap visual tribute to the film's first half on Saturday (I already screen-capped the second half back when I first watched the movie)

So get ready for seven days of End of Evangelion coverage, starting today with this intro! Here is a schedule for the upcoming entries:

MONDAY - video essay: "The 3 1/2 minute review of The End of Evangelion"

TUESDAY - Neon Genesis Evangelion series - The End of Evangelion: my review in the context of the series, final comments from Murderous Ink & pt. 1 of discussion with Bob Clark

WEDNESDAY - Neon Genesis Evangelion series - The End of Evangelion: pt. 2 of discussion with Bob Clark

THURSDAY - Neon Genesis Evangelion series - The End of Evangelion: pt. 3 of discussion with Bob Clark

FRIDAY - Favorites entry on The End of Evangelion (capsule review discussing it as a standalone film)

SATURDAY - visual tribute to The End of Evangelion

And please share your own reflections and reactions to the discussion as the week goes along, and afterwards as well!

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Favorites - Syndromes and a Century (#83)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Syndromes and a Century (2006/Thailand/dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul) appeared at #83 on my original list.

What it is • Two doctors meet, a man and a woman: she is interviewing him for a job at the hospital. They discuss his military history, he mentions he plays basketball, she asks him to hold out his fist (I've never quite been clear on why - to test his nerves?), and she asks him what "DDT" stands for (the best he can do is "Destroy Dirty Things"). This happens twice in the movie, at the beginning and then again halfway through. The first time we tend to stay closer to the woman when the interview ends, the second time we stick mostly with the man. In both cases, we also spend time with other characters in the hospital, and in a few cases scenes are repeated, or rather echoed with slight differences. As each half moves along, however, they grow further and further apart, creating a sense of a fork in the road in which the two paths lead in very, very different directions. Oh, and I've neglected to mention one crucial detail. The hospital of the first half is a rural clinic, surrounded by sun-dappled ferns and characterized by an easygoing, pleasant mood. The hospital of the second half - despite the presence of the same characters - seems to exist in an alternate universe: it is a massive structure with white walls and ceilings, heavily staffed and located in the heart of a city. This clever dual structure provides the skeleton of Syndromes and a Century's structure, but the meat on those bones is composed of individual moments: humorous and poignant character interactions, lingering shots of people and places, near-abstract depictions of afternoon eclipses in the countryside or ominous tubes sucking all the smoke from a basement room. Syndromes and a Century exists primarily to absorb us in a sense of space, or rather two very different spaces.

Why I like it •