Lost in the Movies: Reality Cinema 2002 - 2006 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 31

Reality Cinema 2002 - 2006 • "32 Days of Movies" Day 31

Thirty-first chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
(2015 update: included Vimeo embed after the jump)

The first clip contains footage from inside the World Trade Center on September 11, and the third includes images of a violent bus hijacking in Brazil. Neither contains graphic content, but as with the Rodney King footage from Chapter 27, it may not be something people are comfortable watching in this context.
Reality Cinema

This was the age of ubiquituous "reality" - reality TV of course, but also a slew of film documentaries, a form that had never been more popular or prolific. This entry contains more documentaries than any other, from historical subjects to on-the-spot current affairs to raw cinema-verite-style concerts. Some of the non-documentary clips reflect this fascination with reality as well, from ultra-low budget "home movies" to the stylized humanism of a prolific and creative Asian cinema.

Yet there's an element of escapism too, not the old-fashioned bang-bang kind, but something more ethereal and moody - a sort of impressionistic daydream stylization reflecting the era of iPod and internet, in which inner space expanded to swallow up a whole generation. Sometimes the two trends (impressionism and realism) merge, as they do in the last clip, a sad and brilliant sequence mirroring the first clip across an unbridgeable gap of time and space. To a certain extent, today's chapter plays like a fitful waking dream, mixing fragments of memory, fantasy, and reality.

Before reverting to a more straightforward title, I considered calling Chapter 31 "Screening Reality" as a play on words, because this was a time not only of reality onscreen but filters and strategies applied to take the edge off of it.

(continued below, along with NSFW warnings)

The clips today are shorter than before, between 20-30 seconds for the most part, rather than the usual 30-45. There is a practical reason for this: I knew exactly what I wanted to begin and end with, and chronology demanded compression to achieve this. However, stepping back and viewing the finished product, I think it works aesthetically as well, because this was an era of hyperkinetic imagery, with thousands of channels and websites demanding our attention - a million distractions from the central experiences of our time. Nonetheless, some of those experiences can be seen here, particularly in the clips that bookend this chapter.

Even more visible are the forgetting, or avoiding, or transferring strategies used by people and the movies they make to reflect the unsettled feelings of the time - a time of terrorism, war, and decline in the west, of expansion and cultural confusion in the east (whose cinema, as far as I'm concerned, dominated the epoch even if it's still somewhat under-represented here). There are angry fights, tangled self-analytical conversations, loud bursts of noise and flashes of imagery, and the occasional moody glimpse at another realm, a serene land of visual bliss we can try to escape to. To contend that these films were created in this way as some kind of direct response to 9/11 would be silly; but many were created in a context fostered by that event, and they were certainly viewed, by me no less than by others, in that light.

In some ways, while this is among my least favorite cinematic eras (though I actually like the specific movies included here more than most in the last few chapters), this chapter feels the most personal. The tumultuous zeitgeist of this era still feels fresh, and completely unsettled, to me and those feelings are hard to sum up, though I once addressed them in a piece called "The Way We Weren't". Perhaps these selections also capture a sense of that state.

NSFW: profanity 0:30 - 1:00; real-life violence 0:55 - 1:20; violence 1:15 - 1:25; profanity 4:10 - 4:45.

I have covered today's films here, here, here, here, herehere, here, and here.

Visit the Video Gallery for a complete list of the chapters so far.

This is a Top Post. To see other highlights of The Dancing Image, visit the other Top Posts.


Shubhajit said...

As you'd mentioned in your comment, this compilation does comprise of a number of documentaries - 6 of them to be precise! Well, suffice it to say, I haven't really had the pleasure of having watched them. So, I'll focus on the feature films covered.

Here's what I've seen among these:

City of God - A kinetic, disturbing & affecting look at teenage & drug violence. Excellent movie!

Gangs of New York - I wouldn't club it with Scorsese's best works. However, that said, its not a bad film either. Great art direction & an excellent turn (as always) by Danniel Day Lewis, among other aspects.

The Dreamers - I found this to be a curious & enigmatic work. On one hand I loved the various discourses on & the homages to classic world cinema; on the other, I was perplexed by the excessive sex & nudity, wondering if they really played much of a role in complementing the theme of cinephilia.

Collateral - An entertaining ride, no doubt. It could have been a more memorable film had the director curbed his instincts by not going in for a cliched Hollywood climax. Tom Cruise was quite good though in a rare negative role.

2046 - Ah, what an absolutely stunning work this was! Poetic, melancholic, visually ravishing, emotionally enthralling - the movie worked at so many levels! Christopher Doyle's work as DOP in Wong Kar-Wai's films have been extraordinary to say the least.

Joel Bocko said...

Yeah, Rosenbaum commented on The Dreamers that he had been an American cinephile in France back in '68, and he didn't remember nearly so much sexual activity (for better or worse)!

I don't quite remember the ending of Collateral, but what you say here aligns with my view on another 00s thriller, included yesterday: Training Day. There's a lot of stylish, badass movies that ultimately compromise themselves by letting the dopey good guy overcome the impressive bad guy. Come to think of it, now I do kind of remember the ending to Collateral and I think I had the same impression you do.

I think - and it sounds like you might agree - 2046 is the best selection of this lot, although The World and Iraq in Fragments are definitely up there too. When I first saw it I thought it was a very enjoyable movie, stylish to the hilt, but not really as great as In the Mood for Love. Since then, I've reconsidered, and I've seen a lot of other people (like Allan Fish) reconsider as well - that perhaps 2046 is the masterpiece after all. Ironically, though, I've only seen it that once - so it's really in my memory that it's grown so much. Now that I own it I will have to watch it again. The delectable Ziyi Zhang is certainly reason enough.

STinG said...

A really great visual study towards post-9/11 cinema in the immediate impact, with the picks of 25th Hour, Gangs of New York, 9/11 and Iraq in Fragments. One such factor I would like to look in upon is how the event affected superhero films because there is a strict juxtaposition between the cheesy yet entertaining Spider-Man/Spider-Man 2 (the first being one of my favorite movies) and the dark dreary The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises.

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks, STinG, as evidenced by its inclusion in my Top Posts, this is one of my favorite chapters in the series.

You raise an interesting point, which is that in some ways superhero blockbusters - not just the films you mention, but also X2 as I recall - grappled with post-9/11 questions more openly and directly than many 'art films'. They weren't in here because my control group was my own collection and I don't have any on DVD despite liking The Dark Knight particularly. In a way I'm glad because while it would have been interesting, it would have changed the more mournful, somewhat disoriented tone of this selection. One thing about the blockbusters, I felt, was that while they often tackled the minefield if post-9/11 intellectual questions (ironic, because we think of these films as being more visceral than intellectual) they didn't really capture that feeling.

They do have moods though, and in some ways the moods are revealing. I suppose they have much to do with Sam Raimi vs. Chris Nolan, Marvel vs. DC, Spider-Man vs. Batman, but they also united the times they came out since by the late 00s country was more beaten down and full of self-doubt than it had been in the immediate wake of the attack (even in the early years of Iraq, there was kind of a self-deluding firmness or denial, as evidenced by the re-election of Bush).

What did you think of he new Spider-Man (I can't believe they rebooted it so soon)? I haven't seen it yet.

Doug's Blog said...

Excellent selections, Joel. Since it hasn't been mentioned I found The Weather Underground doc a very strong work, not least because of the themes of violence for politics purposes and the sheltered lives many of the bombers had led prior to the wave of violence they undertook.

Joel Bocko said...

Yeah, that film is a favorite I've seen at least a half-dozen times, including a screening with Mark Rudd in attendance. I wrote up the film here:


And the event with Rudd here:


And while we're at it, a couple links you might find interesting related to Kathy Boudin.

A series covering her life from a small newspaper in the early seventies:


And a TV movie loosely based on her life, starting Sissy Spacek:


I swear there was a free version online but I can't find it now.

Joel Bocko said...

And thanks for watching! Not sure if it's the period, but it seems much easier to get people watching the 60s chapter. I'm not a huge fan of 00s Western narrative film either but the docs, Asian & Latin American films were fantastic.

Joel Bocko said...

Whoops, I meant Diana Oughton, not Kathy Boudin, with those last two links. Really worth reading if you get the chance (and pertinent to today's & tomorrow's Top Posts, incidentally...)

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