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 •

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episodes 25 & 26 - "Do you love me?" & "Take care of yourself."


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.

Even if it had just stuck to the teenagers-fighting-robot formula and alternating-action-and-contemplation style of its early episodes, Neon Genesis Evangelion would have been an excellent series. The first six chapters of the saga offer rich characterizations, stunning visuals, and an intriguing mythology which are enough to sustain our interest. Enough...but Hideaki Anno had so much more up his sleeve. The introduction of Asuka, a fiery personality who startlingly alters the tempo and tone of the show with her dynamic introduction. A series of deceptively straightforward yet clever monster-of-the-week episodes in which we can almost believe that Evangelion has settled into its routine. And then things get truly weird. The appearance of genuinely avant-garde sequences like Rei's vision or Shinji's escape from inside an abstract Angel, moments of bold visual and conceptual exploration that are barely contained by the surrounding genre trappings. Character moments that dive deeper and deeper into their despairing hearts, suggesting things may not turn out well after all. Spectacular meltdowns. Dazzling montages. Unbroken still shots and stretches of silence. Titles flashing across the screen, voices cascading across the soundtrack, samples of sublime classical music juxtaposed against images of visceral violence. Whispers and hints of a tangled mythology unraveling and reassembling before our ears and eyes like the Lance of Longinus as it is hurled beyond the limits of earth's atmosphere.

And then finally...these episodes, ideas and images and sounds so wild and sensorily overwhelming that they can't be even be contained within a single unit of the show, spilling out over the final forty minutes of Shinji's journey from the empty streets of a seaside city to the echo chambers of his own entangled consciousness. For twenty-four episodes Shinji has been told - and told himself - not to run away. Now as space itself folds and expands and disintegrates, running away is no longer even an option. There's nowhere left to run, no surface to run across, he is everywhere and nowhere.

Welcome to the Human Instrumentality Project.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Creators of Laura Palmer (+ a status update)


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.

I thought this would be a good week to fully share the graphic I made a month ago for Tumblr and Twitter, a photoset of images and text outlining the various creators of the character of Laura Palmer for Twin Peaks, and what we know they contributed (click on the images for large, hi-res versions). If you want to share these images as well, I've also included various compilations (2 sets of 4, 1 set of 8) for easy sharing (if you only share some and not all of the individual creator images, please include the above picture with my name and site, or provide credit some other way - thanks!). Incidentally, I've also uploaded an image from my Side by Side video comparing Neon Genesis Evangelion and Twin Peaks, but I'll link it here rather than display it since it doesn't quite fit this image template!

This would also be a good opportunity to offer a brief status update since the past month or two has been chaotic, with some ongoing projects and incomplete videos that finished only after I announced them here - there have been a lot of October posts that were updated days or even weeks after they were posted. First of all, last night I finished my out-of-order rewatch of Twin Peaks. It was a fun and illuminating process and I would love to hear anyone else's ranking of favorite episodes! If you want to share or read the reviews individually, you can check out the Tumblr tag. I will also probably be re-sharing them a day at a time on Twitter in November.

The posts for my last three videos for YouTube, as well as my last video for Fandor, all went up before the videos themselves were ready, as placeholders/announcements. I have linked the Side-by-Side video above; additionally here are Idylls of the King (Cinepoem), Symphony of the Devils (Montage), and - just in time for October 21's Back to the Future Day last week, Welcome to Hill Valley, a video tribute to the time-travel classic. I believe that now I'm in a position where all of my YouTube videos can go up right on schedule (as last week's 5 from Fandor teaser did) but I've been wrong about that before so we'll see.

Finally, a word on upcoming posts. I have a lot of completed material awaiting publication here or elsewhere this fall. First, there is the Out 1 video essay collaboration I created with Covadonga G. Lahere this summer, which will eventually be shared alongside several other new entries, concluding the Melbourne International Film Festival's video project that began last year in anticipation of the upcoming Jacques Rivette boxset. There is also a guest post I wrote for Welcome to Twin Peaks, chronicling the creation and purpose behind my Journey Through Twin Peaks videos, which has been put on hold (likely because of the exciting spate of news from the Twin Peaks set) but will hopefully see the light of day at some point.

Meanwhile, I have participated in two more interviews on the Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast - a guest spot to discuss the killer's reveal (it should be posted some time in November, after their coverage of episode 16), and a short appearance to discuss Mulholland Drive in light of the forthcoming Criterion Collection release. I have also been invited to talk on the Sparkwood & 21 podcast, along with other long-time providers of listener feedback, so keep your ears tuned for that.

With all that in the pipeline, I still didn't have anything ready for today! So this Monday let me share one of my favorite posts that hasn't yet popped up here, "The Creators of Laura Palmer"...

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Favorites - Raging Bull (#84)


The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Raging Bull (1980/USA/dir. Martin Scorsese) appeared at #84 on my original list.

What it is • Jake La Motta  (Robert De Niro)slowly punches his way to the top in the 1940s, and quickly falls to the bottom in the 1950s. Most of the film chronicles his boxing career and troubled marriage as a young man, with the infamously overweight De Niro only clocking in for the final half-hour - but all the seeds for his downfall are planted during that long period of hunger, aggression, and paranoia. During the eight long years between the opening fight and his championship bout in 1949, the Bronx Bull's life is frequently a mess. He is abusive to his first and second wife (whom he seduces when she is still a minor), frequently frustrated by missed opportunities and his own missteps, and resistant to the criminal milieu around him, which demands he must take a fall before he's allowed to get his shot. But there's a prize to keep his eyes on and somehow that holds everything in place and gives him a purpose. Only after he is crowned middleweight champion of the world does everything begin to crumble. Raging Bull is often described as a tale of redemption, but that's a stretch given what we actually see onscreen and how it's structured. Jake's attempts at reconciliation are pathetic at best (the same old "let's be pals now" routine he gave his first wife at the beginning of the movie), his self-awarness still seems incredibly dim, and the world around him is pretty unblinkingly unforgiving - at least in the two or three post-downfall scenes we get. Better to call this a tale of survival ("You never got me down, Ray"), of a man who is still standing after fifteen gruelling rounds with his most brutal opponent: himself.

Why I like it •

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 24 - "The Beginning and the End, or 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door'"


Note: The Back to the Future video I announced on Monday is now up, just in time for today (the "future" day that Marty McFly traveled to in Back to the Future Part II). Happy Back to the Future Day! Now back to another sci-fi story taking place an alternate version of 2015...

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.

This entry covers the Director's Cut version of Episode 24.

In many ways the last (semi-)conventional episode of the series, "The Beginning and the End..." wastes no time reminding us how far the characters have fallen into doubt, despair, or destruction. Following an explicit flashback to her childhood trauma, Asuka is discovered lying near-comatose in a tub, naked and exposed to the sky in a derelict apartment building whose roof has been torn off (no "unfamiliar ceiling" this time). Rei, or rather Rei III, floats through the fog of her life/lives wondering who she is and for what purpose she has been sent. These are familiar human questions all the more confusing when you are a cloned person containing the soul of...a goddess? Possible answers flash before our eyes with dizzying speed and it is difficult to grasp any of them. Anyway, even Rei is more alone than she's ever been because her "spares" were just destroyed by Ritsuko. And Ritsuko's isolation is made physically explicit as Gendo Ikari visits her in a cold, metallic space where she he has been locked away as punishment for her betrayal. She reveals that she has been sleeping with the commander and joins the rank of broken souls that seem to clutter his dedicated path (Cmdr. Ikari refers to Eva-01 as "Yui" - his "dead" wife - further hinting at what that path may entail).

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Favorites - Schindler's List (#85)


The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Schindler's List (1993/USA/dir. Steven Spielberg) appeared at #85 on my original list.

What it is • Oskar Schindler arrives on the screen with an aura of glamor, charisma, and mystery, as superficially charming as he is morally bankrupt. All around him the Jews of Krakow - rich and poor, old and young, cynical and idealistic - are stripped of their property, huddled together in ghettos, herded into work camps, and executed on the whims of their German occupiers. Schindler's concern is to get his enamelware business going, taking advantage of the war (and the possibility of Jewish slave labor) to make a fortune which he can then spend on lavish parties and the best in consumer goods. It would be easy to set Schindler up as an instinctively despicable figure, but instead Spielberg and star Liam Neeson encourage us to enjoy his company, to see the world simultaneously through his eyes and through a wider lens which perceives the suffering he is oblivious to. This is a risky gambit (it would have been easier to focus the film through his eyes entirely OR to make a docudrama about the horrors of the Holocaust) but one that ultimately pays off as these two distant worlds come crashing together, and the awakened Oskar discovers the humanity of those around him, and of himself.

Why I like it •

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 23 - "Rei III"


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.

This entry covers the Director's Cut version of Episode 23.

The final stretch of Neon Genesis Evangelion presents a cascade of revelations. No longer are we leaping from episode to episode, battle to battle, against the backdrop of slowly unfolding mysteries and suggestions. The feeling is that we are building toward a climax, as characters die physically (Kaji), spiritually (Asuka) or both (Rei). Although in Rei's case is it "both"...or "neither"? The preview at the end of the last episode informed us (in a disarmingly cheerful delivery) that Rei was going to sacrifice herself to save Shinji, and indeed this is what we appears to happen in the battle with the sixteenth Angel. Just as the previous Angels infiltrated the minds of Shinji and Asuka (in the first case ambiguously, in the second case with a clearly destructive purpose), so the latest Angel literally crawls inside Rei's skin on the way to her mind.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Twin Peaks Out of Order


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 post will be updated throughout October as new entries appear on Tumblr and dugpa, where they are being cross-posted. All entries contain SPOILERS for the whole series.

I am re-watching Twin Peaks out of chronological order, from my least favorite episode to my favorite episode, probably to be concluded with Fire Walk With Me. Partly this is just a fun, different way for me to watch a show that I’ve viewed a total of 5 times (with some individual episodes being watched at least twice that amount). The series obviously has its ups and downs, but this way it will only get better as I go along. I already have the overall plot pretty firmly in my head, so I don’t need to worry about continuity.

I will be writing down brief reactions - a capsule paragraph or so for each - over the next month (I hope to watch 1-2 episodes a day so I can finish in October; had I planned better, I could have done an episode a day starting on October 1 and ended with Fire Walk With Me on Halloween…oh well). Eventually, when Showtime re-airs the series I hope to do an extensive non-spoiler episode guide (as well as an accompanying spoiler post for each episode) compiling everything I’ve written and/or gathered on the show so far, plus some new observations.

I’ve already spent a lot of time thinking about Twin Peaks as a whole, seeing how each piece adds up to something bigger. This is one way for me to look at them from a new perspective.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Favorites - Miraculous Virgin (#86)


The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Miraculous Virgin (1967/Czechoslovakia/dir. Stefan Uher) appeared at #86 on my original list.

What it is • We are in a wartorn European city. The war is not named, and I don't think the city is either, although the film was shot in Bratislava (emphasis on the "Slovakia" in Czechoslovakia, thank you very much). Out of nowhere, a beautiful, mysterious woman named Annabella (Jolanta Umecka) appears. Is she a flesh-and-blood refugee needing to be hidden from the nationalist authorities who will deport her? Is she a metaphorical muse, inspiring the artists who flutter frustratingly around her like moths to the flame? Or is she the moth and they the flame, their desperate desire a threat to her own identity and security? The film unfolds through a series of fluid, graceful poetic gestures - surrealism expressed not just through the imagery and the subtle, evocative soundscape but also the way this imagery is revealed and explored. If other films of the Czechoslovakian New Wave express surrealism through screenplay or editing, Miraculous Virgin utilizes camera movement to pleasurably disorient our senses.

Why I like it •

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 22 - "Don't Be."


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.

This entry covers the Director's Cut version of Episode 22.

You've heard the term "mindfuck"? Perhaps it was coined specifically for Asuka Langley Soryu. Not only does she experience a monstrous psychic invasion in this episode, she also characterizes it in explicitly sexual terms. "Don't come inside me!" she screams, and in the Director's Cut version of episode 22 she opens the episode, in flashback, by propositioning Kaji and yelling angrily, "I'm an adult! So look at me!" He won't, but the Angel will - orbiting in outer space it captures her Eva in a cascade of blinding light, accompanied by the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's "Messiah." We may be reminded of a particular antecedent in religious art: Bernini's Ecstacy of Saint Teresa, with its highly sexualized image of the gasping saint being pierced by heaven's arrow, wielded by an angel who seems to be mounting her. Or rather, we may be reminded afterwards - at the moment the immediate impression is too viscerally overwhelming to take in much more. Because if Asuka is being mindfucked, so are we.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Montage: Symphony of the Devils (video)


Update (10/18): The video is finally up, two weeks later! Good grief. At least it made it in time for Halloween.

BEST EXPERIENCED IN STEREO WITH HEADPHONES OR GOOD SPEAKERS! This montage explores horror films from very different eras by pairing each film or series with a different guitar part in the Rolling Stones' live version of "Sympathy for the Devil" from Madison Square Garden in 1969 (featured on the 1970 album Get Yer Ya Ya's Out). Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), a silent horror/documentary by Benjamin Christensen, is paired with Keith Richards' raw, earthy solo that opens the instrumental (as well as his louder licks when Mick Taylor comes in, before he mostly fades into background rhythm). Hellraiser (1986) and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), 1980s gore extravaganzas by Clive Barker and Tony Randall, are paired with Mick Taylor's fluid, passionate solo that dominates the passage. Sorry for the late posting, but at least it's up in time for Halloween!



Friday, October 2, 2015

The Favorites - Platform (#87)


The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Platform (2000/China/dir. Jia Zhangke) appeared at #87 on my original list.

What it is • When the film begins in 1979, the characters are all part of a traveling performance group. They dress similarly in baggy tunics and shapeless slacks, and their songs are all revolutionary odes to the wonders of the recently-deceased Chairman Mao. Their hometown of Fenyang is shown in wintry isolation, a rural hamlet in the middle of nowhere characterized by barren streets and homes with few modern amenities. Parents, police, and the elder troop leader scold these restless young performers when they step out of line and portraits of Lenin and Stalin adorn the walls of theaters whose most risque offerings are thirty-year-old Indian entertainments. When the film ends in 1990, the characters have split off from one another: some finally settle down after years on the road, others disappear from the town and/or narrative without explanation. The performance group, last we see of it anyway, has turned into a mixture of rock guitarists and go-go dancers. Fenyang is under constant construction and televisions play soap operas while tape players boom pop songs from every household; when we visit a movie theater near the end of the film, it's showing animated sex. The older generation is absent either literally (one character's father opens a shop and sleeps there with a mistress, never returning home) or figuratively. We experience these incremental changes as circumstantial details, just as the characters would: background color to a love affair, diversion during a long tedious drive through the desert, decoration to a scene of domestic dissolution. There isn't exactly a "story" here. Instead the film unfolds like life, with long takes (there is almost no cutting within scenes and the camera tends to stand still) capturing individual incidents, sometimes years apart, which coalesce to form an overpowering whole. Personal and cultural history intertwine into a palpable experience that can only be felt, rather than than explained.

Why I like it •