The link above is to a Cracked article that has clips from old horror movies from early in movie history. The title is theirs. However, I think the clips are interesting. They are visually striking and some of them are quite artistic. Plus, in looking at them you realize that there is this whole world of lost history out there, things that many people saw that you aren’t even aware of. It’s like looking through a portal into another time and place.
Lately I’ve been diving back into the world of Michael Mann, culminating in his masterpiece Heat. I want to comment on that film at some point, but I’m still collecting ideas, putting my thoughts together. I have also been watching the show Luck, which was on HBO a couple years back. It’s a show that centers around a racetrack and the personalities that surround are a part of that world. Mann was a producer and director of the pilot. The show was created by David Milch who is one of the most interesting minds and greatest writers in television. Deadwood, a show he created, is one of the high-water marks of television for me. It is as close to Shakespeare as we are likely to see in our time. I think anyone that wants to understand our country should visit that show. Anyway, while looking up information on Luck, I found this interview with both Milch and Mann. It is short but fascinating.
As a huge fan of David Lynch and a growing fan of Nic Pizzolatto, writer of True Detective, I found the above article over at Slate an interesting read. A sample:
Some have already remarked on the fact that a street sign with the words “Mulholland Dr.” on it is prominently featured early on—indeed, there’s a big, fat close-up of it—in the first episode. Not only that, but the car passing by the sign in question is carrying the dead body of Ben Caspere, the city controller whose death sets off this season’s featured investigation, and the episode repeatedly cuts to its journey. In Mulholland Drive, the crash of the car in question set off the plot of thatmovie, and the film repeatedly cuts back to its journey. Also, we don’t know that the figure of Caspere is dead at first—he’s got sunglasses on and is sitting straight in the backseat, next to a not-entirely-un-Lynchian black crow mask, which of course will return in episode two.
One of the first movie soundtracks I ever loved, that wasn’t strictly pop music, was the soundtrack to Michael Mann’s Heat. Moby, U2, and Brian Eno do make appearances, but vocals are kept to a minimum. The music is mostly hauntingly beautiful, with occasional forays into tense discord. Rarely do film and music link up so well together. Mann’s film is full of shades of blue, modern and sleek. The music has the same sleekness, full of ambient soundscapes that recall a city in the wee hours of the morning. The music rarely tells you how to feel. It is instead full of wonder, opening the door to a higher emotional state. The same piece may be lonely, beautiful, or tense, depending on the mood that you listen to it in. Above is a Michael Brooks instrumental called Ultramarine. It is a good piece to listen to because it features several elements that appear elsewhere on the soundtrack. It has percussive textures like Brian Eno’s Force Marker, a beautiful theme like Moby’s God Moving Over the Face of the Waters, and an overall ambience to it like much of the soundtrack.
The other night I watched Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator for the first time since seeing it in theaters in 2004. I was struck by how good it was, much better than I remember it being when I originally saw it. This is Scorsese’s account of the life of Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio).
I seem to remember it mostly for its first half hour, of when it gives a kind of synopsis treatment of early Hollywood. It seems the work of a lesser filmmaker, tying to recreate a historical moment, without providing us any kind of insight into the actual moment. It looks good, but it is emotionally empty. The first section of the film almost plays more like a music video than a fully realized film with strong characters.
However, once Scorsese really starts showing us the struggle behind Hughes’s outward can-do facade, the movie really starts to become interesting. You start realizing that the same things that allow Hughes to succeed are the same things that will eventually destroy him. Hughes struggles with an extreme case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. This personality trait drives him to be a perfectionist in the world of aviation and film, cause him to later be a shut-in that can no longer function in any kind of normal capacity.
That the film doesn’t adhere to the normal biographical film structure is a huge plus. Scorsese is too smart for this. The final shot, which leaves the viewer with a shot of Hughes obsessively repeating a phrase makes the film depart on a haunted note, that hints at what is to come, while leaving just enough ambiguity to make it work as symbolism rather than just strict biography. Although Scorsese provides viewers with a possible explanation for Hughes’s insanity, he never overplays this hand either, not allowing simplification of the mystery of the human condition.
If the film follows any traditional narrative it is that of the classic tragedy, where the hero’s strengths are exactly what destroy him. Before the last moments of the film, the hero’s strengths allow him to rise for one final triumph.
Although Hughes’s demons are largely the result of a inner struggle, the film also seems to be commenting on how society tries to destroy the dreamer. Hughes dreams bigger and bolder than everyone around him and for the mundane everyday nature of commerce and bureaucracy try to bring him down. We like to tell ourselves the narrative that we reward hard work and bold ideas, but we really only reward those a great deal of the time if they fall within a pre-established order. If someone doesn’t kneel before the powers-that-be, those powers, which have the backing of the majority, will try attain retribution.
It’s also interesting that the very things that Hughes struggles with, outside of his own personal demons, are the same thing that haunts our society today, which is the unholy alliance of big business and government. When big business is allowed to corrupt our government, the results are not only bad for the individual, but for society at large. When we look at the freak power that is now the Republican party, we see these forces at work in our own time. In a way this film is not only an interesting character study, but timely as well.
I just got done writing a review of Ryan Gosling’s Lost River. The music plays a huge role in the film. Above is the theme song from the movie by the band the Chromatics who also contribute to that films soundtrack. I also posted the title song of their great album Kill For Love. They are a band I have really fallen in love with over the last couple years. There are many bands in recent years that use the 80’s as a kind of stepping off point for their sound. However, I think the Chromatics succeed where many others don’t. They are great at not only creating great mood pieces, but also at writing great pop songs, something that is trickier than it appears. And though some may view what they do as style over substance, I think they always deliver on an emotional level. Song after song they are able to create a beautiful haunted quality. And although they definitely use certain retro sounds, I believe they combine them in a unique way. If you listen to their records enough you will notice certain sonic hallmarks which identify the band as having achieved their own sound.
Last night I saw Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River, and I loved it. If you are a fan of directors like Nicholas Winding Refn or David Lynch, I think you will like it. It’s definitely a strange fever dream of a movie, and one I don’t think you would like if you are not comfortable with abstraction. It’s certainly a late night art house kind of a movie. The whole thing is visually gorgeous, with vivid colors that explode onscreen. I kept thinking of describing the movie as looking like “melting cotton candy” while I watched it. Even horrific images of things like houses burning, are darkly beautiful.
The movies takes place in an imaginary version of American, filmed in the depressed areas of Detroit. Christina Hendricks, best known for Mad Men, plays a mom that is trying to keep hold of the family home. In order to make payments she takes a job working in a nightclub, hired by an unsympathetic bank manager who also runs the nightclub at night. It is later observed that even his one act of kindness, providing employment, have malicious intentions. The club, a place that looks like New Orleans on acid, excels in acts that are full of mock blood and gore that distract its patrons from real nightmares of their days. What goes on in the basement of the club is even more sinister.
The other plot line centers around Hendricks’s son, Bones. Bones trys to help provide by finding useful scrap that can be sold. In doing this he runs afoul of the local gang lord, Bully.
The plot in and of itself may not sound like much, as visuals, sound design, and dream logic play every bit as much of a role in the proceedings as the story itself. What the camera sees, how things sound, tell you as much as the dialog and the overall story arc. This doesn’t mean that the general story arc is not clear, even if there are ambiguities, but the movie is more of a poem than a novel.
The performances of many of the main characters are great. The characters are more archetypes than fully fleshed out personalities, but in this kind of movie it helps, as it does away with exposition and allows the movie to attain a kind of dream state. You know who those people are and where they stand in the universe after only a scene or two. Particularly great is Matt Smith, formerly of Doctor Who, as the psychopath Bully. Also great is Ben Mendelsohn, who takes a Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet turn at the microphone, as the bank manager/nightclub manger. Out of the protagonists it is Christina Hendricks that makes the most impact, as she makes the most out of her scenes, and seems visually created to be in this film. Also great is a cab driver played by Reda Kateb, who makes a strong impression with very little screen time.
There are political overtones in the film, but this is not a political film in any traditional sense. Kateb’s cab driver talks about the disappointment between how immigrants view this country and the reality that they find here. One can’t help but be in disbelief of the world that in front of ones eyes, the dilapidated buildings, the seedy gas station, and know that however beautiful it all is in some strange way, due to the colors of the film and its dream like nature, it is equally horrific, especially realizing that this is all filmed in real world Detroit. The closing scene also is especially meaningful, though I don’t want to spoil it, if one thinks about the symbolism behind it.
However, make no mistake. This film is first and foremost about creating an emotional experience. Helped by this is the great music created by Johnny Jewel, and the title song by his band The Chromatics. Much like Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, which starred Gosling and also featured music by the above participants, the movie has 80’s cinema overtones, even if these overtones are more about how we remember certain movies from that period, less than the reality of those movies themselves.
This movie received many negative reviews and was booed by a large part of the audience at Cannes, where it debuted. However, I think this movie will gain a cult audience overtime. I understand how there are people that will never like this movie, as it is very unsettling and requires work on part of the viewer to interpret its many charms. However, if you love batshit insane movies that deal largely in imaginative visuals and ecstatic emotions, then definitely give this one a try. Despite all of its obvious debts to other works, it still manages to create a unique and compelling world that is worth spending time in.