I watch a lot of films. Mostly Friday through Sunday, after our children are asleep. Choosing them is difficult but I can’t sit through something for the sake of it: choosing well is the only counterpoint to our Supersensorium in this age of Netflix (tip: get off Netflix). Here’s three recents that shook some aspect of frisson in moi.
River’s Edge (1986). Dennis Hopper just after Blue Velvet, Crispin Glover just after Back To The Future, and Keanu Reeves a few years before Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. I chose this as a Friday night two-beer kickback from among many more in the Apple Store’s $1 related movies dustbin: it’s not a classic but it is a very good B-grade oddity, more so from cultural history than film technique. I’ve long assumed we usually think actors “good” mostly because we just like some aspect of them as the people we deduce they are from their roles. So it is with me and Hopper, that slacker Reeves and the neotenic Glover, who is perhaps not even acting. There’s a getaway scene where Glover and Reeves steal from Hopper, then hide outside behind the front gate’s hedges. Hopper emerges from the house with a shotgun, sees Ione Skye’s character in a car out front, who then flees as Hopper unloads from the front gate, and as she rolls the car away down the hill, panicking to start it, Glover and Reeves run and jump in. I’m fairly certain P.T. Anderson stole/honoured this scene by recreating it in Boogie Nights. Except for Hopper’s Hawaiians, they all wore Iron Maiden t-shirts. Suburban Americana Black Heavy Metal T-shirts are so far and away overdone, yet I’m feeling sentimental for them in 2019.
Midsommar (2019). Ari Aster’s debut Hereditary took a trope that the kids in River Edge probably spent their Friday nights watching and made it utterly new again. I’m not sure whether it’s high or low art, except that it is “good” art. There is no doubting Aster’s mastery of his craft and is perhaps evidence that the kind of trope and story don’t matter so much when a film is well made—as John Lennon said, “if you give me a tuba, I'll bring you something out of it”. I’m not a horror fan, but I’m a sure as hell an Aster fan. Midsommar delivers again, this time in broad daylight, and the young adults are once again the victims (“What might that mean?” “Don’t think, just watch!” said my wife).
Apollo 11 (2019). Moving over the giant greyness, a black speck moves at constant speed with the camera, and instead of being a camera speck it turns out to be the Lem (not Stanislaw! but the Lunar Excursion Module) which comes to be seen as a quaint black polygon somehow floating at speed closer and closer to what we then understand is the porthole of the Apollo Command Module, piloted alone for 47 hours by the loneliest man in Human history, Astronaut Michael Collins. The diminutive scale of the typography that sets the event timings increases the scope of the picture: they’re so small, this film was surely meant to watched on Imax. Unfortunately, I was only on my couch. Yet from that vantage point, the blackness of space has never been as real and unfathomable. I googled for the soundtrack artist (Matt Morton, you’re welcome) and came across a panning NTY review. I don’t seek out film reviews, but sometimes irritation is as useful as interestingness:
To begin, the concept of a film composed entirely of found or preëxisting (sic) material is a radical one. It calls attention to the material’s specificity, to its privileged authority deriving from its archival status and essential connection to history; it asserts that the material deserves to be treated as something special and invites an artistic approach that’s similarly distinctive. — Richard Brody, The New Yorker
It’s new to me that film footage material can have privileged authority, and that pre-existing footage could be radical. What are you New Yorkers sipping? I hope Ari Aster gets to be your bar tender tonight, Richard Brody, because you’ll benefit from a liberal dose of perception. Here, look at this and stop asserting:
Faith is, at one and the same time, absolutely necessary and altogether impossible. — Stanislaw Lem, author of Solaris
Ps. Marvel films are tasteless entertainment. That’s the point, right? When you start at “eleven”, where can you go? Feel free to reply and convince me otherwise.
Reading. “Fiction suspected that there is far more to people than what they choose to make manifest.” Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction by Zadie Smith.
Music. Mica Levi’s soundtrack to Under The Skin. Words will fail to grasp this. And that’s why it’s music.
Work: always in progress…
Have a great week,