Lost in the Movies: April 2016

Slowing down - status update

For a few months at least, my online work will slow down considerably.

Rover's got me. In all seriousness, the time has come to set new priorities and admit that my current behind-the-scenes blogging pace is sabotaging my larger aims more than it's helping them. While I will still be posting several times a month - primarily videos and at least a few more Prisoner pieces, including several chats - I have to pause my usual schedule for the rest of the spring and into the summer, if not longer.

For a year now, I have been posting at least twice a week (three times, if not more, since August). Especially when many of these posts had been written ahead of time I found the pace manageable, if just barely, but lately I've realized that I bit off more than I can chew. Because the video work was not created ahead of time, it didn't matter that my Evangelion and Favorites pieces were, and eventually I caught up with those too. I had almost fulfilled my maxim of "have it done all ahead of time" but "almost" isn't good enough and that percentage that wasn't complete ended up bringing everything else down.

So here's the plan for the next few months.

FANDOR KEYFRAME - This is where my pace will hopefully remain consistent and where my focus will be sharpest in the immediate future. I have one particular series of videos I'm working on right now which will be my most extensive, in-depth work since Journey Through Twin Peaks and I'm looking forward to sharing it. I also hope to start writing essays about video essays in the coming months.

YOUTUBE/VIMEO CHANNEL VIDEOS - These will take a backseat to the Fandor videos, as they already more or less have. But I'm not abandoning them and still plan to pick up where I left off (with a Side by Side analysis of The Big Chill and The Return of the Secaucus 7) sometime in May. I will probably share a video on YouTube next week announcing and clarifying my pace/approach from now on. And you can also check out my recently-composed video archive.

WEDNESDAY TV VIEWING DIARIES - The various codas to my Prisoner viewing diary - at least three more chats (one of which has already been completed, but not edited), overviews of the show's context, probably a review of the remake miniseries - will continue to appear but not every Wednesday, as before. Instead they will go up when they're ready and your best bet is to bookmark and check up on the Prisoner directory, or just keep tabs on this blog's front page or my Twitter feed, to see what's available. Once The Prisoner series officially concludes, there will be a very long pause as I watch and record my reactions to various TV shows. This feature will probably take the longest of any to return but when it does I will have weekly viewing diaries spanning years into the future for some of the most interesting and acclaimed series of recent history, as well as a few classics.

TWIN PEAKS - I will not be posting every month on this subject anymore. However, I expect that by the end of the year if not much sooner, Showtime will be re-airing the original series before the new one premieres and at that point I will unveil my new, extended, extremely in-depth episode guide in tandem with the airing of each episode. And of course when the new Twin Peaks begins, I will be right there chronicling it. So expect a temporary dip in Twin Peaks activity, followed by a huge increase. Meanwhile, here's my fully updated directory of my Twin Peaks work.

FRIDAY FAVORITES - The Favorites series will be temporarily suspended, resuming with Annie Hall only after I've written all fifty-eight of the remaining entries (which was the original plan before I got impatient to resume).

Keep watching this space, as it will be active, just less so. And when the fast pace does return, it will return with a vengeance, this time with enough of a backlog to sustain it.

The Favorites - Dekalog (#59)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Dekalog (1989/Poland/dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski) appeared at #59 on my original list.

What it is • Dekalog consists of ten hour-long chapters each loosely based on a different Commandment and set in the same apartment building, but with different lead characters and, almost always, an unexpected but naturally-emerging twist. A woman discovers a repressed neighbor is spying on her, and decides to turn the tables. A young man brutally murders a stranger and then finds himself the desperate, helpless recipient of state violence. A confused young woman kidnaps her own daughter, fluctuating between the position of mother and sister, while a father and daughter attempt to determine the contours of their own relationship, haunted by the secrets of a third, deceased family member. Also Anglicized as The Decalogue (for whatever reason I've come to prefer the Polish spelling), Kieslowski's masterpiece is yet another title on this list to blur the line between theatrical feature film and television miniseries. It appeared at the Venice Film Festival as a single movie and on Polish TV as a series of weekly episodes (in both cases, in 1989 - I'm not sure where the frequent "1988" attribution comes from, but perhaps readers can illuminate this). With their freedom from distracting subplots and big climaxes, these episodes may feel more at home in television than cinema. And in subtle ways, Dekalog does play with TV conventions. As Roger Ebert has pointed out, the potentially melodramatic subject matter - frequently pertaining to dysfunctional and/or duplicitious familial relationships - recalls the metier of soap operas. To borrow contemporary American frames of reference, the use of an anchoring location/conceit to dip into different character's stories, and explore different issues, foreshadows everything from Law and Order to Lost. But Dekalog lacks both the vanishing-horizon pursuit of serialized TV narratives and the soothing, familiar sense of repetition of most episodic shows. At its core is something that - even in this TV golden age - still feels thoroughly cinematic: the ability to let a moment linger and breathe, the freedom, despite superb and sophisticated screenplays, to rely less on narrative devices than the potency of a fleeting gesture or expression. Dekalog produces mood through decisions of photography, pacing, and performance that, despite their specificity, add up to something impossible to pin down, almost miraculous in its direct appeal to the senses.

Why I like it •

The Prisoner: A Conversation with Christopher Yohn

Now begins the final stretch of my Prisoner series, which I have really been looking forward to. With the viewing diary completed, I am initiating a series of discussions with some of the veteran viewers who have been following along. I will also be reading about The Prisoner, watching ancillary materials, listening to podcasts, and doing all the activities I avoided during my watch-through so as to preserve the freshness of the experience. However, this conversation with Christopher Yohn was conducted a few hours after watching and reviewing the finale for the first time. So at this point I still didn't have much context for anything, and was looking for...information.

Chris was happy to oblige, providing not only a wider context but his own personal perspective, as well as (drumroll, please...) the explanation for his viewing order, which I have used for the series. That said, we left a lot of stuff off the table for now, because we're planning a second discussion in about a month, to conclude this series once and for all. Until then, there was plenty for us to discuss, and for me to learn. We spoke via chat and I mostly left the conversation formatted as it was to indicate pauses and groups of thoughts. Thanks to Chris for offering a huge hand with the editing of the text. Now, without further ado, starting with the most important question of all...

1000 Posts on Lost in the Movies

This is my 1000th blog post! Well, sort of.

There are all kinds of asterisks I could append to that. At one point I had several blogs and was writing for other publications and when I consolidated everything on this, my original site, I left some stuff out. Mostly these were news/politics posts which no felt longer relevant a few months later; nonetheless, I have technically composed more than a thousand posts already. On the other hand, what does that number mean, really? Some of those posts were written very quickly in a few minutes, simple status updates to greet my readers in lieu of something more substantial, while others would take up twenty or thirty pages of print (or over an hour to watch) and required months of preparation. A few were actually written years before I had a blog, and then re-published here, and some were composed of quotations or essays by print authors whom I transcribed into online form - so they can't even properly be said to "belong" to that count in the same way. If someone wants to poke holes in this number there are plenty to be poked. Nonetheless, I'm delighted to hit this milestone and thought it was worth noting.

Not only is this the 1000th post to be published on Lost in the Movies, it was also the 1000th post to be completed - I'm actually talking to you from back in March, before writing some of the previous posts, and after writing some of the upcoming ones. Confused? Anyway, after realizing where I stood in the lineup, I felt it was worthwhile to mark both moments, despite having to wait for the published post to be relevant.

My very first post (on the Lumiere films and Michel Gondry's Be Kind Rewind, 113 years apart) was composed at a public library so it would have been appropriate to compose this at another library. In fact, I almost did, since at the time of writing I am without a computer/TV monitor (it blinked out on me unceremoniously but relatively conveniently right after I finished & secured a recent video piece). Awaiting the replacement, I was forced to catch up with post 999 in the library, but by the time I could reach #1000 the library was closed. So this is being written on my phone instead, a reflection of the passage of seven and a half years, I suppose? (Were there smart phones yet back then? I honestly can't recall, except that I certainly didn't have one. I do know that there were still numerous video rental stores, and that I rented my first blogging subject at one that has long since closed.)

With perplexing time-warped salutations out of the way, if you'd like to learn more about the history of this blog, check out my lengthy 5th anniversary commemoration. You can also leap back across the vast chasm to visit blog post #1 from way back in summer 2008, and of course the best ways to navigate these archives are my various directories, fully up-to-date as of this morning, for the first time in nine months...

Thanks for reading, viewing, and otherwise enjoying, and here's to 1000 more.

The Favorites - Civilisation (#60)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Civilisation (1969/UK/hosted Kenneth Clark, dir. Michael Gill/Peter Montagnon/Ann Turner) appeared at #60 on my original list.

What it is • "Civilisation", the ambitious white-elephant-to-end-all-white elephants title, is immediately undercut by a subtitle, just as important: "A Personal View". Civilisation: A Personal View, a 1969 British miniseries designed in part to exhibit the new capabilities of color television, does have have a broad sweep and elevated tone.  This thirteen-part documentary covers a thousand years of European history (with a quick aside for the American Revolution), primarily but not exclusively through its visual art and music, taking us from the humble surf-pounded huts on Scotch islands, where monks preserved the last dying embers of ancient culture, to the monumental manmade island of Manhattan, which by the time this program aired had arguably become, for better or worse, the center of civilization with a "z", thank you very much. But what is civiliz(s)ation? That, among other areas, is where "a personal view" comes into play. The series is not an anonymous voice-of-God overview, seeking to harmonize all perspectives and/or reflect the conventional wisdom, despite frequent acknowledgements of reputation and critical consensus. It was written and memorably hosted by Kenneth Clark, a leading British art historian, who even fifty years ago could cheerfully describe himself as a "stick-in-the-mud." Indeed, series producer/director Michael Gill - the man largely responsible for the show's memorable visual format - felt so alienated from Clark's social and aesthetic outlook that he doubted they could work together. Eventually, however, they found common ground. Although modern art is almost entirely absent from the show, and Clark at times seem to shrug off historical brutality as sadly necessary for cultural advancement, his view is actually quite firmly anchored in postwar liberal humanism. He is a proponent of internationalism and deeply weary of nationalism, vaguely sympathetic to but deeply skeptical of revolutionary fervor, too realistic to believe in or even desire a return to tradition, and respectful of if not entirely convinced by religious pieties (he was a deathbed Catholic convert - a conversion hinted in his hardly laudatory treatment of the Reformation). More importantly, the survey is colored by numerous individual quirks and passions, and presented with a personable, and vaguely awkward, singularity that endears Clark to the viewer despite any frustrations with his oversights or blind spots. At the time, the series catapulted the host into international fame and served as a benchmark for British documentary television for years to come. Aesthetically, Civilisation was simultaneously a breakthrough, with its graceful coupling of splendid imagery and direct address, and a throwback in the hip late sixties. Later programs, like John Berger's wickedly subversive Ways of Seeing (which I saw a few weeks after making this list; otherwise it probably would have been on it) and Simon Schama's The Power of Art, borrowed Clark's personalized style of presentation. They also twisted the series' stately pace and reverential attitude, replacing calm order with an experimental attitude in the first case and MTV-style flash in the second. In the UK, the show remains familiar but in the U.S. - despite its great impact on PBS in the early seventies - I think it has been mostly forgotten. Certainly I was not familiar with it when I first encountered a worn VHS box-set in 2005...

Why I like it •

The Power of the Dark Side: a visual tribute to Anakin Skywalker's vision

from Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars series (2005)

The Prisoner - "Fall Out"

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.

Well, I was right about "Dem Bones" (was I ever). If the episode has a theme song, that non sequitur novelty is it, with the Beatles' then-recent "All You Need is Love" coming in a close, ahem, number two. I had a feeling I'd heard about this before but wasn't sure if I was confusing it with The Singing Detective (which also uses the song, likely in tribute). And there it is, when Number Forty-eight (Alexis Kanner, the deranged mute deputy in "Living in Harmony", now recast as an all-purpose youthful rebel) appears at the hybrid trial/coronation/info-dump where Six is sent after defeating Number Two in the previous episode. Forty-eight's anarchic ditty soon spreads to the entire masked and cloaked delegation ostensibly there to judge him, and as they chant and sway a cheerful, swingin' Pop version of the theme emerges on the soundtrack. This same recording reappears at least three or four more times, jauntily sneering at us in our search for meaning while - if we have good humor - making us grin ear to ear. It's all a big joke, right? Right? Well...this particular recording may be a novelty, but the song itself isn't actually a non sequitur. The lyrics are based on a passage from the Book of Ezekial in which the resurrection of a defeated Israel is prophesied via the metaphor of dry bones found in the desert reattaching themselves to one another, and rising from the dust. The song was written in 1927, via a sermon delivered by the preacher J.M. Gates (who expanded Ezekial's one line about connecting bones to cover the entire human anatomy in a rolling, building catalog) to which music was added by James Weldon Johnson (or his brother), who in addition to being a notable figure in the Harlem Renaissance was the leader of the NAACP at the time of writing. By 1967, the song was perhaps mostly familiar - especially to UK audiences - as a meaningless ditty sung to pass the time.

So which is it? A sly nod to a long history of defiance and revolution? Or a cheeky paeon to individual resistance as little more than sideshow treadmill? There's the crux of The Prisoner's ambiguity, and particularly this final episode's.

Mike and Other Mysteries - Twin Peaks comment collection #3 (fall 2014)

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.

Welcome to my third round-up of Twin Peaks comments. As before, I am selecting what I consider highlights from my discussions on various forums, and under various articles, back in 2014 when I first got into the show and film again. Even being picky, I ended up with a lot of material thanks - especially in this lineup - to the other commentators who offered their own ideas and engaged with mine. While I'm generally just re-posting my own contributions, in this case they often include quotes from the people I'm responding to, so you can get a sense of the larger conversation. All of these comments come from a period immediately after I had declared that I was taking a step back from Twin Peaks. After all, it had been six months since I'd gotten obsessed with the show again and it was time to move on. Besides, what else was there to talk about?

Ha, ha, ha...

The round-up kicks off with a lengthy, off-into-the-weeds exchange about Mike the one-armed man and it concludes when I discover that "that gum you like is going to come back in style" after all - we were going to get more Twin Peaks, which was a good thing considering that my plan to depart that universe had already gone completely kaput at this point. In fact, during the time these comments were being written, my video series Journey Through Twin Peaks was just beginning to take shape; I posted the first part of the analysis just a day or two before Mark Frost's and David Lynch's infamous tweets. By sheer coincidence, I had become a Twin Peaks fanatic at the exact moment it was about to explode back into public consciousness.

Maya Deren & David Lynch: Spend a "lost afternoon" with my video essay MESHES OF LYNCH for Fandor Keyframe

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.

If I had to pick a favorite among my recent outpouring of video essays, this would probably be it. Requiring a lot of organization, contemplation, and experimentation, my non-narrated split-screen comparison of Maya Deren and David Lynch finally emerged as a video that speaks immediately and directly to the viewer but also contains a lot to unpack if they want to go further with it (to dig into this common ground, I would recommend this collection of quotes I posted to accompany another Deren video essay last summer). I've created videos on both directors before so it was a joy to join them together in this approach.

advisory: I would very much suggest listening to the video with headphones or good speakers. I use Lynch's subtle soundscape in Inland Empire (including his song "The Ghost of Love") as the backdrop and there are connections there too, even though Deren's film is silent. While nothing is explicitly spoiler-y, some of the selected scenes are suggestive and/or surprising. If you want to fly completely blind with his work, including Twin Peaks, be warned. The montage also contains violence and frightening images.

Here is the description I wrote for Fandor Keyframe, followed by screencaps of sixty-one comparisons from the video, going film by film.

"As viewers of Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon and David Lynch's Mulholland Drive have frequently recognized, there are many similarities between these two filmmakers (Meshes' innovative co-director Alexander Hammid carried on with a documentary career while Deren's later work continued with her themes and style in Meshes). An ordinary key charged with dangerous supernatural power; characters who multiply, bending space and time; an Angelino atmosphere in which daydream becomes nightmare...these are just a few of Meshes' and Mulholland's common touchstones. Others have compared Meshes to Lost Highway, with characters in high windows nearly or actually viewing themselves on the street below, or Inland Empire, which escalates Mulholland's fragmented identities in a suburban home that serves as a multidimensional portal. In fact these threads - or meshes, if you will - extend to almost all of Lynch's work in the second half of his career, from the moment Twin Peaks took a particularly dark turn in 1990 through Inland Empire's climax sixteen years later.

This video essay holds the two worlds side by side, allowing the correspondences (and there are dozens of them) to emerge without commentary so that you can draw your own conclusions. Mysterious figures recede into the distance. Ordinary living rooms are transformed into ominous, uncertain spaces. Monsters pop out in the middle of the bedroom, and, even worse, familiar faces take on a monstrous quality - suggesting that perhaps these visions of mind or magic have their roots in everyday reality. Some visual links are obviously designed and composed exactly the same but others are more poetic and suggestive, relating ideas as well as images. Are all these connections merely coincidental? Lynch was a student at the AFI in the early seventies, and even back then screenings of Deren's work were staples of such programs. However, when asked by biographer Greg Olson (Beautiful Dark, 2008) if he had seen or even knew of Maya Deren, the avowed non-cinephile Lynch said "No." (Lynch also professed ignorance when early works were compared to Luis Bunuel.)

It's entirely possible that Lynch and Deren (who passed away in 1961, when Lynch was still a teenager) are simply drawing from the same psychic well. It's also possible that Lynch was impacted by her work long ago and forgot the encounter. But does it matter? I think what's important is how the works themselves speak to one another across the decades. Watching them together, especially enveloped by the eerie soundscape of Lynch's Inland Empire, uncanny sensations and euphoric epiphanies course through my nerves and imagination. Maya Deren and David Lynch are brilliant directors not merely because of their vivid images or ability to tell a story without precisely telling a story. They are attuned to something that runs much deeper than pure cinema or pure art, something that strikes a chord deep within. They have the ability to manifest our dream lives onscreen. I hope spending this "lost afternoon" with the two masters inspires you to view these films with renewed attention and appreciation."
For the third and final time in a row, I will be posting every weekday this week.

The Favorites - Apocalypse Now (#61)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Apocalypse Now (1979/USA/dir. Francis Ford Coppola) appeared at #61 on my original list.

Due to technical difficulties, this entry is a few hours late - and my previous post on Barry Lyndon was delayed nearly a week before going up early this morning. Next week, the Favorites will return to its normal schedule of Friday morning, 7am PST, and stick with it for all remaining entries.

What it is • Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) has been given a mission that doesn't officially exist: terminate Col. Kurtz's (Marlon Brando's) command with extreme prejudice. His hallucinatory death trip proceeds down the Nung River - already a mythic, imaginary element in one of the first major films about the Vietnam War. A decade after the story takes place (and was written), four years after the war ended (and work on the film really began), Apocalypse Now debuted to controversy and acclaim. Close enough to the raw experience to capture its mood (a mood that still hovered in the air on the cusp of the Reagan era), but far enough away to mythologize this national trauma, the result is a cross-cultural epic collage. Had the film been produced in the early seventies, as initially planned, the original director George Lucas wanted to shoot it guerrilla-style inside the actual war zone. The final film lacks any such gritty, documentary quality, except inasmuch as it captures what it was like to shoot Apocalypse Now. In a way, then, the film hovers right on that precarious borderline that defined many New Hollywood classics. Is it more about reflecting the surrounding world, depicting events, circumstances, and sensibilities that had shaped modern society but had been underrepresented on the cinema screen? Or is it more about celebrating that very screen, an immersion in and mutation of the history of movies, whose primary subject is simply the joy and agony of making cinema? Such fruitful tension between the documentary and "magical" qualities of the seventh art was maintained throughout the seventies before collapsing, and essentially splitting the American cinema into two camps, shortly after Apocalypse Now. The film is the end of an era, and the inevitable outcome of its plot also echoes that larger phenomenon.

Why I like it •

The Favorites - Barry Lyndon (#62)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Barry Lyndon (1975/UK/dir. Stanley Kubrick) appeared at #62 on my original list.

Due to technical difficulties, this post was delayed nearly a week. However, the next entry, on Apocalypse Now, will go up later today, and the rest of the entries in the series will go up at the usual time (every Friday at 7am PST).

What it is • The fortune, good and bad, of Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal) - who will not become Barry Lyndon until the halfway point of the film - is framed by a pair of duels. I don't mean the mock-duel in which Barry "kills" a romantic rival, a farcical hoax intended to drive him from his ancestral home. The duel that actually opens Barry Lyndon, seen from a distance, is between his father and the anonymous assailant who kills him, condemning the unseen boy to a life of instability only exacerbated by later circumstances. The brief scene provides a quintessential example of that classically Kubrickian style, coldly distant in its formal viewpoint, fatalistic in its content. The second duel, however, is something else entirely. Photographed in a variety of close-ups and mediums (along with some striking wide shots to convey the cavernous space in which Barry and his stepson Lord Bullingdon, played by Leon Vitali, face off), this duel emphasizes the choices made by the participants, their role in shaping their own destiny. One decision in particular, which results in financial and physical disaster, may also be a true moral victory in a film hardly full of such accomplishments. None of this is broadcast in any obvious way; indeed the film's most crucial implications are often undercut by the droll narrator or obscured by the distractions (however subtly complementary) of the gorgeous sets, costumes, and locations. Many viewers conclude that the film has no emotional core and is simply a series of pretty pictures. This sumptuous, stately, and decidedly unrushed period piece was not particularly well-received on release and even when I first saw it three decades later, my perception of its reputation suggested that it would not compare to Kubrick's more vividly iconic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or A Clockwork Orange. I finally watched it during a marathon of the director's small but impressive body of work. Within less than a day, I had watched all three hours of it a second time.

Why I like it •

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