Sunday, December 7, 2008

French New Wave

Third paper due in my Film History course
Original due date: December 2nd, 2008
Pictures added for blogging purposes
I am not particularly proud of this paper. Maybe La Pointe Courte and Contempt bit though.

Some critics have said that the French New Wave should have been called a tidal wave. Spawning from the mid to late 1950s, the French New Wave developed a new type of filmic language reminiscent of Italian Neorealism. The young pioneers, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette, started as critics contributing to the André Bazin founded Cahiers du Cinema, a critical film magazine. They had a profound admiration for Hollywood studio directors like John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray and rejected the conventional style of modern French cinema. Through criticism and editorialization, they developed the auteur theory in that the director was the author of a film and applied this philosophy of filmmaking to themselves. But before these filmmakers really made their mark, a few noteworthy cineastes smoothed the way.

Agnès Varda's first steps in film were directing La Pointe Courte (1954). Prior to this, she was completely ignorant of the cinema world and had only seen several films in her lifetime. What she lacked in knowledge of film, she made up in knowledge of photography. Since 1951, she worked as the official photographer at the Théâtre National Populaire and had a vast understanding of film compositions and aesthetic. Her ability and desire for more led her to enter the world of cinema.

Varda grew up near Sète and was familiar with the area, but when doing some photography in La Pointe Courte, a small fishing village just outside Sète, the idea for her first film came to her. "The tension between recording and creating reality, between the objective and the subjective, documentary and imaginative invention...was a problem that occurred to her" (Smith, 4). Still photography left too little to reaction and did not offer the dimension of time, especially the damage it causes and these thoughts led her to her first film. With less than 10% financing than other French films being produced at the same time, Varda set out to make La Pointe Courte using a cast of Silvia Monfort, Philippe Noiret and actual fishermen from La Pointe Courte, a mainstay of Italian Neorealism of which she was oblivious to. In order to stay on budget, the film was shot silent and sound was added in post and everyone was unpaid. Of the 10 million francs required to produce the film, only 7 million francs were made back and used to compensate the cast and crew according to Varda in an interview featured on Criterion Collection's DVD release. Under the reluctant aid of Alain Resnais, the film was edited together and invited by the critic André Bazin to screen at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival.

It is undeniable that Varda produces stunning images. The mise-en-scène of each shot is structured and beautiful, especially the scenes with the couple which are recreated in Bergman's Persona (1966). The couple emotionlessly recites their lines over cuts of structured shots framing the two faces. As critic Alison Smith says, "Any still from these sequences supplies, first, a striking image where human figures are dramatically lit and arranged around intriguingly shaped marine debris, and secondly an image which has, in itself, a certain narrative content" (20). The cohesive ambiguity of these shots mimics the poetic dialogue between him and her, often skipping around over the central issue as to what they are going to do.

The chapters of the film are "jerky and uneven" (Varda, Criterion Interview), structured after William Faulkner's Wild Palms. Alternating between the fisherman and the couple, each chapter briefly touches upon the narrative then distances the viewer and cuts right back to the other story. This juxtaposition of scenarios highlights the clash between a private and social life not mixing. Authenticity and realism were principles Varda wished to portray. Quoted saying her interests lie in "the very premeditated and reconstructed aspects and the documentary style, real life, things caught in the moment" (Criterion Interview). Viewing a world through a subjective lens with a focus on the real thing is a two part movement in contemporary society. "One part conceptualizing and ordering the world and the other is accepting the world as it is...these shape the visual arts" (Criterion Interview). With these ideas and La Pointe Courte, Agnès Varda pioneered a new kind of cinema shot quickly, cheaply and naturally earning the name "Grandmother of the French New Wave" and moving on to make a more well-known French New Wave film Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962).

Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) uses an innovative flashback technique often regarded as some of the best editing at the time, particularly the first 30 minutes of the film. Resnais considered himself a film editor first. The story follows a French woman visiting Hiroshima to film a movie. She meets and falls in love with a Japanese man and the two find relation in past horrific events, the bombing of Hiroshima and tragedies in Nevers. Resnais uses brief flashbacks sequences intercut in the present day story to suggest a brief flash of memory. Hiroshima Mon Amour was first going to be another short documentary, but when Resnais feared recreating his 1955 Holocaust documentary, Night and Fog, he seeked out Marguerite Duras to write a screenplay for him.

It can easily be said that Hiroshima Mon Amour is a very difficult film due to its theme. Two lovers are drawn together and share past stories that bind them yet separate them at the same time. Hiroshima Mon Amour is an untangling of memories to say the least. Set against post-bombing Hiroshima, the film quickly sets the mood with ambiguous passionate embraces covered in presumed sweat and soot and then moves through memories of a city visited. The French woman shares her memories with the Japanese man and he only accepts that she understands nothing. John Ward puts it that "the girl only knows Hiroshima as a public event...she is an intruder into his tragedy" (18). Just as he only savors the beauty of the French word Nevers, neither can understand the horrors that the other has experienced.

This separation of the characters is documented at the cafe when both sit at different tables and are only able to stare at each other even while she is being hit on by a suave Japanese man. There is no speaking between him and her and only the sound of water fills the track. This water represents the rain to him which is a fear of those in Hiroshima since the bomb, whereas the water to her represents the Loire River and the ties to a past love affair with a German. Again, this separation is emphasized in the train station when an old Japanese woman sits between the French woman and the Japanese man. She is speechless, alone with her thoughts while he is conversing in Japanese with the old woman. The conversation is in Japanese and she cannot understand it.

Hiroshima Mon Amour might not directly belong to the French New Wave, but it is certainly influential enough to have been a part of it. Its innovative style and structure influenced many of the most prolific directors to the French New Wave. These filmmakers admire the film and have celebrated its originality.

Claude Chabrol was the most copious contributor to the French New Wave making almost one film a year. He is labeled as the most mainstream director of the New Wave since his Hitchcockian debut, Le Beau Serge (1958). His most personal film, Les Bonnes Femmes (1960) "is one of the most striking and successful manifestations of a central unifying feature of the early New Wave...: the tension between the stylised and the naturalistic, the formal and the documentary" (Wood, 39). The film's Parisian world may be highly consciously constructed but it always relates back to the real world.

Released the same year as Godard's Breathless and Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player, Les Bonnes Femmes easily lost some attention it deserved. The film follows four Parisian shop girls looking to escape their monotonous daily routine. Each has a distinct personality, thus, each receives a different episode to the film. These episodes and the girls are joined by a central theme. According to Robin Wood, "the theme that unifies the film is the discrepancy between dream and reality, the inability of the girls' environment to provide a means of realising their undefined yearnings" (43). Each girl yearns for a different life; Jane only wishes for a good time, Ginette dreams of being an Italian singer, Rita wishes for social advancement through her bourgeois husband, and Jacqueline awaits an anonymous motorcycle riding lover. The girls' desires continually increase in sensitivity and increase the chances of pain all the way to Jacqueline's desire for true romantic love. French audiences had to dig a little but there was a relatable reality hidden here.

Truffaut's career in film began, similar to that of other popular French New Wave directors, as a critic. His essays were published in many journals and magazines most notably Cahiers du Cinema. Early on he fell in love with US cinema and directors like Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock and began to develop the auteur theory. In a denouncement to French cinema of the day, he set out to create a new type of film in the footsteps of Agnès Varda, Alain Resnais and other similar directors.

Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim (1962) was a staple to the French New Wave. It incorporated newsreel footage, stills, freeze frames, panning shots, dolly shots, lightweight camera equipment and a voice over narration. Raoul Coutard, who frequently shot Godard's films as well, worked the cinematography and was behind the fluidity of the shots even using bicycles during the postwar scenes. Like his first film, The 400 Blows (1959), Jules and Jim was a major critical and popular success. Audiences accepted the style of the French New Wave. "[The films] spoke intimately and directly to the emotions of their audiences and were exuberant and exciting in their technical virtuosity" (Monaco, 38).

Jean-Luc Godard had a prolific career in the French New Wave. His film Breathless (1960) started it all. Contempt (1963) was Godard's most expensive and probably most accessible film. This film is capable of holding up in any era of film and this is due to its imagery of classical mythology. A screenwriter struggles to adapt Homer's epic, The Odyssey, for a demanding American producer and director Fritz Lang while handling his wife falling out of love with him. The film uses an at-the-time radical widescreen format and vivid coloring which does wonders throughout the film, but especially towards the end on the Mediterranean locations. Adapted from an Alberto Moravia novel, Godard created a beautiful story of marital problems and commercial filmmaking full of artistic merit.

Like many Godard films, Contempt boasts a lengthy domestic dispute. Raoul Coutard, the cinematographer, and Godard collaborate to make wonderful use of the cinematic space in the couple's apartment flat. "Space was an issue," (Criterion Interview) said Coutard in an interview but the resulting images are spectacular. Often times, the characters are calling off to each other in different rooms emphasizing the distance and separation between them that is present in their conversation. Likewise, when the two are in frame, "the discord between Paul and Camille is further stressed by the fact that they are repeatedly separated within the frame by doors, partition walls and objects of furniture" (Morrey, 16). Furthermore, Godard innovates again with a scene in which the two are separated by a lamp and the camera continually pans back and forth between the two's conversation to create one of division and contempt.

"Contempt is an exercise in cinematic metaphor - specifically, Hollywood" (134) said James Monaco. Contempt looks at the relationships in filmmaking between the director, producer, screenwriter and even the film itself. At the end of the credits, as the tracking camera turns towards us, the audience, Godard gives us a quote from André Bazin: "The cinema gives us a substitute world which fits our desires." Following this and personifying it, Paul and Camille, who is naked, lay in bed and are shot through red and blue filters. "What Godard and Lang are going to give us is something quite different: not a substitute world but a real cinema, not a reflection of our desires but a challenge to our intellects" (Monaco, 135). This is what fascinated the French New Wave auteurs and Godard was able to address this relationship to film.

The French New Wave addressed a new generation of filmmaking. It looked at modern cinema and was able to analyze and adapt to form this new filmic language while simultaneously forming critical theories. Social and political upheavals were regular as was the break from convention in editing, style and the narrative. Just as earlier auteurs have influenced the French New Wave artists, the French New Wave has continued to influence the world of cinema.


Coutard, Raoul. "Interview on Contempt DVD." 2002 The Criterion Collection.

Monaco, James. The New Wave. New York: Oxford UP, 1976.

Morrey, Douglas. Jean-Luc Godard. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2005.

Resnais, Alain. "Interview on Hiroshima Mon Amour DVD." 2003 The Criterion Collection.

Smith, Alison. Agnès Varda. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1998.

Ward, John. Alain Resnais. New York: Doubleday & Company Inc. 1968.

Wood, Robin and Michael Walker. Claude Chabrol. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Luis Buñuel

Second paper due in my Film History course
Original due date: November 4th, 2008
Pictures added for blogging purposes

Luis Buñuel's career as a filmmaker spanned several countries and five decades. Economically, he was a competent filmmaker producing films minimally, cheaply and efficiently. Bypassing technical inhibitions, he created simple films completely laden with social and political satire pushing the points of controversy and pioneering substance and metaphorical attributes to the art of cinema. Undoubtedly and deservedly, his influence among parallel and future filmmakers stretches as remote as his home country and as timeless as he was timely. Like many working in cinema, Luis Buñuel’s upbringing dictated to a large extent as to what his films would entail. A thorough understanding of his background is necessary to fully grasp the auteurist qualities that distinguish him among other auteurs of the time.

Luis Buñuel was born in Calanda, Spain in 1990 to a young mother aged only 18 years. His father was thirty years older than his mother; an interest addressed in several of his films. Buñuel grew up in a strict and disciplined Jesuit faith shedding his religion at the young age of 16 after repeatedly being reprimanded and removed from the establishment. He has been quoted saying “Thank God I’m an atheist” defending his affirmed life-long atheism. The institution of religion takes center stage, and sometimes not so evident, in several of his films. He also has a love of animals and nature which was briefly demonstrated in his early 20’s when he was a vegetarian.

As a young boy, it was immediately apparent Buñuel had a gift for thought and was successful academically. He studied at the University of Madrid starting in engineering to his father’s request, but soon realized he had a passion for the arts which led him to befriend other famous Spanish artists such as painter Salvador Dalí and poet Federico García Lorca. In a lifelong national struggle for placement, Buñuel first moved to Paris and, eventually, he and Dalí collaborated to create two surrealist films, Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L'Âge d'or (1930). The father of cinematic surrealism then entered the filmmaking world. A more detailed understanding of Buñuel’s life draws confirmation that his rebellious, radical lifestyle is evidence as a form of counterculture and subversion, heavily present in his works. “…he was always a heretic who resisted and he was also a powerful shifter whose meaning changed according to which particular hegemonic system he was trying to subvert” (Kinder, 3).

Viridiana (1961) was released in Buñuel’s native Spain with a good 30 years of filmmaking behind it. Having been long exiled in Spain, Generalissimo Francisco Franco invited Buñuel back to shoot Viridiana which was written and intended to be produced in Mexico entirely without supervision. Accepting the invitation, Buñuel returned to Spain and as noted by Robert G. Havard, “Shooting began…and, as is customary with Buñuel, progress was swift” (69). The quick production yielded a Cannes Film Festival release where it won the prestigious Palme d'Or but it went without controversy.

Viridiana was a sly, subtle attack at the institution of religion and received a ban in Spain for 16 years. Although heavily labeled as blasphemous, Buñuel fails to acknowledge that he intended this message saying “I didn’t deliberately set out to be blasphemous, but then Pope John XXIII is a better judge of such things than I am." The scenes like the dog behind the cart and the hidden knife in the crucifix were simply things he found in Spain.

The film itself moves along rather rapidly and employs jump cuts to highlight points of humor. Sayings like “everyone will have some work to do” are intercut with shocked and disgusted beggar’s faces. The beggars serve as a rambunctious ensemble insulting each other and resisting Viridiana’s guidance. The comical demeanor and opposition of the religious convention eventually end up in violence as demonstrated by the hidden blade in the crucifix. “The cross containing blades…suggests that the religious dogma which drives Viridiana’s ministry can easily become a dangerous weapon” (Higginbotham, 113).

Viridiana fears losing her Catholic values and decides to care for beggars in an effort to change the world around her despite her callous brother. "You can't save everyone," he tells her after purchasing an abused dog from an oblivious owner which is proceeded by another equally abused dog. With this, Buñuel states that an instinct to do good is inevitably in vain and calamity certainly overwhelms. In one notorious scene, the rampant beggars indulge in a feast accompanied by Handel's "Messiah" and parody Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” After destroying the dining hall, the beggars attempt to rape the hospitable Viridiana and, ultimately, a wager is needed to remedy the situation. This further emphasizes Buñuel’s belief in the futility and cynicism of the institution of religion by creating an absolute mess from an attempted good deed, even mocking a sacred event. “This film has been sufficiently dissected for there to be no further need to explain the evidence showing us that Buñuel is no longer anticlerical-he is an atheist …, he will mine the very foundations and not merely the secondary aspects of that most holy and bourgeois society that oppresses humankind” (Kyrou, 74).

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) has a minimal plot. Six affluent characters living in Paris are attempting to dine together several different nights, but each night’s dinner is interrupted in a bizarre way. “Partly because of the minimalism of the plot, our attention is drawn to the way the story is told, the narrative discourse, which is rich and complex” (Kinder, 12). The narrative takes on a precise structure to convey the plot to the viewer. The film can be broken into three distinct acts each of equal length and parallel to the other. Speech drowned out by urban noise like a cocaine discussion and why prisoners should be released from jail, omitted information like the officer’s train dream and why the woman hates Jesus and oedipal subplots like the Lieutenant’s patricide and the Bishop’s revenge are all analogous scenes. Instead of a single linear narrative, Buñuel uses this paradigm to organize the serial action of the characters and twist the creative innovations hidden deeper than the syntactical constructs.

In Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Buñuel’s bourgeois characters have an air of narcissism which is demonstrated with technicalities and the dialogue exchanges. In one scene, four of the six main characters are guests in the remaining two’s home. They are casually waiting for their friends to return and partake in informal drinking. A discussion of a proper martini mixture is brought up and Mr. Thévenot proceeds to pompously narrate his recipe and recite appropriate mannerisms while drinking. Mr. Thévenot concludes the conversation stating that Don Rafael knows that you must only sip a dry martini and, then, invites the chauffer in to offer a drink. All in one continuous shot, which is important for the immediacy, the chauffer enters the house, swiftly downs the martini and is invited back out just in time for Mr. Thévenot to begin his degradation. “That was precisely the way not to drink a dry martini,” said Mr. Thévenot directly. The rapid consumption is highlighted by zooming in on the chauffer and singling him out as the others began judgment. They continue on to say, “He’s a commoner. He’s uneducated.” They are placing themselves above others boosting their own egos and self-image. The characters are products of a capitalistic, bureaucratic society and strive to reach the top only to look down on those below themselves.

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) was Buñuel’s final film and in it he was able to employ all that he did technically. Like most of Buñuel’s films, the camera was merely used to document the action and was never the focus of any shot. He let the actors move through the space and he precisely follows the movement always setting up perfectly balanced two shots varying in angle and zoom depending on the flow of the conversation. This is an effective technique in that it draws more emphasis to the actors, dialogue and ideas hidden in them. “Buñuel’s technical mastery of his medium has become so flawless in Desire that the most disordered arrangements of time and place cause not a ripple in the flow of ideas the director wishes to convey” (Higginbotham, 190).

Sexual desire and political violence are central to That Obscure Object of Desire. The film’s opening immediately demonstrates the imbalance of power between Mathieu and Conchita. Mathieu’s servant finds a bloodied pillow and wet panties in a disordered room and Mathieu, reluctant to respond, simply writes off the ‘clues’ executing his power in an incident he obviously had lost power, the rape of Conchita. Through the film, this sexual struggle shifts to and from Mathieu depicting a female opposition representative of two forms; there are two actresses that play the role. Conchita says she loves Mathieu and gives herself to him yet she restricts sexual relations as in one scene Mathieu strives to remove a chastity belt of sorts. Mathieu cannot accept this and struggles to control the relationship.

Similar to the battle of sexual power, shifting of political power also controls the film. One critic says, “The political and the sexual are not so far apart for Buñuel, as arenas for power and repression” (Russell). Several times in the film, terrorist groups attack, shifting power from the established government, firing guns, detonating explosions and generally wreaking havoc in residential and commercial areas. On a more personal level, power shifting is demonstrated when terrorists rob Mathieu and his chauffer of their car. Even in the end of the film, when the two begin a petty argument, an explosion interrupts and ends the narrative that sees no end. It is fitting that an enigmatic political dispute ends the film and, thus, Buñuel’s career.


Havard, Robert G. “Luis Buñuel: Objects and Phantoms,” Luis Buñuel: A Symposium. Margaret A. Rees, ed. Leeds: Trinity and All Saints’ College, 1983: 59-88.

Higginbotham, Virginia. Luis Buñuel. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979.

Kinder, Marsha. “The Nomadic Discourse of Luis Buñuel: A Rambling Overview,” Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Marsha Kinder, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999: 1-27.

Kyrou, Ado. Luis Buñuel: An Introduction. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.

Russell, Dominique. “Luis Buñuel,” Senses of Cinema. March 2005. . October 28, 2008.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

a new direction

Today I was thinking about the lack of effort put into this project. I have come to view a 'review' of a film as more of a burden than a pleasure and think that it is time to add another layer to The Movie Club for Kids Who Can't Read Good. I think we should make it a group collaborative effort. I propose, in addition to what we are already doing, we get together and all watch a film together and then discuss the film immediately after. This requires each of us to gather information before viewing the film to create the most knowledgeable and intelligent discussion. We have all gone in different directions and I know mine is aimed at film, but I think all of us would have great insight on each film and cause each other to defend and alter our own view of a film. It would be cool if we could each then contribute to a full synopsis of the film and, maybe I am going out on a limb here, post it on this site. Tell me your thoughts.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Kicking and Screaming (1995)

As a college student hoping to never enter the real world, Noah Baumbach’s directorial debut speaks directly to me. A Generation X comedy, Kicking and Screaming, follows the four postgraduate friends contemplating the next steps. Grover’s plans are pulled out from underneath him as his girlfriend decides to study in Prague, Otis finds himself incapable of flying to a Milwaukee grad school only one time zone away, Max cannot find anything better to do than crossword puzzles and sleeping with Skippy’s girlfriend and Skippy, completely lost, returns to school for another year but cannot bring himself to do any of the work. Chet, a tenth year permanent student, only imparts paraphrased wisdom upon the four lost postadolescents as a roaming camera smoothly captures the actors’ witty conversations; Baumbach has identified influence in the loose and experimental Jean Renoir. Lacking a strong narrative web, Kicking and Screaming relies more on the characters and subtleties which is evident in Criterion’s supervised release that includes a crossword puzzle of notable quotes from the film. The connective tissue of this film is the relationship between Grover and his girlfriend, Jane. Suitably, the film uses five strategically placed flashbacks instigated by black and white stills of Jane which prompts the action. The final scene, stylistically intact with the rest of the film, resolves the narrative beautifully as each enters the world, kicking and screaming.

8 - steven

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Viridiana (1961)

Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana was a controversial, irreverent vision of a group of beggars exploiting a vacant manor owned by a virtuous, novice nun. Viridiana leaves her Catholic convent in order to visit with her remaining family member, her forlorn, fervent uncle played by Fernando Rey. After a failed seduction, drugging and rape, the dejected uncle hangs himself with his adopted maid’s daughter’s jump rope and the estate is inherited by a contemplative Viridiana. In fear of losing her Catholic values, Viridiana cares for beggars in an effort to change the world around her despite her callous brother. "You can't save everyone," he tells her after purchasing an abused dog from an oblivious owner which is proceeded by another equally abused dog. An instinct to do good is inevitable vain and calamity certainly overwhelms. In one notorious scene, the rampant beggars indulge in a feast accompanied by Handel's "Messiah" and reenact Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” After destroying the dining hall, the beggars attempt to rape the hospitable Viridiana and, ultimately, a wager is needed to remedy the situation. Long-exiled Buñuel creates a sly ‘fuck you’ to his native Spanish government and the Catholic Church. Although banned in Spain, Viridiana gained worldly recognition and went on to win the prestigious Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Viridiana is not so much an attack on religion as an institution, but, rather, an indirect attack on its futile functionality in connecting repugnant souls.

10 - steven

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)

I think that Michael Cera is such a naturally comical actor and he asserted that in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Unfortunately, that's about the only thing I enjoyed in this film. And maybe some of the music. I was somehow led to believe that there would be some substance, depth, and charming quality to this film, but all I found was forced humor, over acting, and a heaping pile of ridiculous jokes targeting the easily amused and recreational film goers. Each scene tries to outwit the next with the same desperate joke one after another. Dim-witted, incompetent, or absent-minded characters, band mates and Tris, or the humor that comes along with this are not appealing to me in the least bit. Regrettably, this film is getting placed near the other worthless attempts at a comedy mixed with a sweet and magical meeting.

4/10 - steven

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Brown Bunny (2003)

For the most part, the first 70 minutes of Vincent Gallo's deeply personal film, The Brown Bunny, are about as boring to me as the life of a motorcycle racer traveling solo across the country. Often five (plus) minutes go by without a peep in an isolated country side containing just a bit of windswept hair. Bud Clay, played by Vincent Gallo, creates a suffocating atmosphere of loneliness and loss as he juggles his sexual tendencies between prostitutes and his lover. Gallo's pretensions are mostly concealed by a reflective, poignant, and emotional story, but this only reveals itself toward the dying minutes. The final scene tries to give retrospect and make up lost ground, but, unfortunately for Gallo, a BJ could not fully redeem this film. There isn't much more to say as there isn't much here.

6/10 - steven

Monday, September 15, 2008

Gummo (1997)

Harmony Korine's directorial debut can be characterized as a hyper realistic view of unrelated vignettes depicting a poor white-trash population recently struck by a tornado. In its wake, the tornado leaves a small populace acting on impulse often in a juvenile and immature way. Making up about half the film are aged montages paired with a detached narrator serenely speaking of suicide, homophobia, prostitution, sexual abuse, euthanasia, or one of the many other issues covered in this film. The other half loosely follows two boys on a quest to rid the town of feral cats profiting at a local butcher shop with the mutilated animal carcasses slung over their shoulder in a garbage bag. Other single scenes include a drunk man(Harmony Korine) hitting on a gay midget, a man prostituting his Down Syndrome sister, several drunk men wrestling with a chair, and two boys 'killing' another boy with bunny ears in a junk yard in which my favorite line is spoken with absolution by a 7 year old cowboy. "It smells like a pile of bullshit!" Gummo is a beautifully shot, idiosyncratic, bleak, and sometimes humorous examination of a community stuck in a spiral of all kinds of bullshit.

6.5/10 - steven

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Kids (1995)

Kids follows a sexually active, substance-dependant teen, Telly, as he tries to deflower any and every virgin he meets. He submerses himself into this lifestyle with a group of equally aimless friends. Chloë Sevigny’s character, Jennie, is the extent of depth in this film. She mistakenly finds that she contracted HIV from Telly in her first sexual experience and spends the rest of the film reacting and attempting to prevent another demoralizing blow to a young woman. There is a lot of raw and shocking material that crosses new controversial boundaries and offers brutal visions of a life misled. Though an honorable attempt at an important issue, this film misses what it may have been aiming for. Harmony Korine’s script focuses too much on the excesses and not enough on the characters involved, thus leaving the film shallow, rather disturbing, and overall ineffective.

5/10 - steven

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Good Will Hunting (1997)

This film was rather overwhelming to me. I didn’t know quite how to take it. I previously had some familiarity with Gus Van Sant and I knew it got some national recognition through the Academy Awards. Being the auteurist I am, I expected a Van Sant work I had seen before like his later films - Elephant, Gerry, and Paranoid Park. This made me rather skeptical at times and left me expecting something that I was not getting. Once I put this preconception aside, I found this to be a deep and profound film, not that other Van Sant works are shallow and superficial, because surely they are not. There were some very potent scenes. One that particularly stands out to me is Williams’ lengthy monologue in the park which is full of realization and vindication. The scripting of Damon and Affleck is full of intelligent ideas, powerful dialogue, and deep characters which converge to form an intellectual film about self-realization and abandonment. Although it was easily predictable, Good Will Hunting had a compelling impact on me.

9.5/10 - steven