Sunday, September 30, 2007
If you like art-film-at-the-multiplex movies on the Coppola-Kubrick-Lynch-Polanski-Scorcese spectrum of cinematic grandeur, you should watch Eastern Promises; nobody knows when one of these movies will be the last of its kind. An early head-on shot of Anna (Naomi Watts) riding her motorcycle confirms the film’s claim to cinema in the grand sense of wide pictures, deep dreams, and saturated color. Cronenberg shoots on film and then does digital touch-ups, but Eastern Promises looks like something from the 70s, like the print you’re watching has been shown all summer—the palette, which is perfectly composed, is perfectly textured—and the drab silveriness of the motorcycle shot isn’t Soderberg-Spielberg slick but rich and overfull, and you can imagine film stock lattices of square holes running down the sides of your vision. Cronenberg has made a lot of good movies—sick and scary ones (the amniotic/incestuous Dead Ringers is a psychoanalytic regression-event best experienced alone, and it outdoes Matthew Barney in terms of surgical instrument-fetish), stylized Cultural Studies dissertation material (think of the mallscapes of Scanners or the Medici fashion eyewear show at the end of Videodrome), perfect 80s pop (The Fly is the paradigm Jeff Goldblum charming goofball performance), and interesting failures (A History of Violence, a sort of Stephen King rewrite of Empire Falls, looks like it is made for Sunday night TV but sustains an addictive mood of dread)—but Eastern Promises is a masterpiece: its secret crime networks and rituals and codes are fascinating, but the moral underworlds beneath them are sublime; the gross-outs are metaphysical wonders (the Chechens’ knives, whose shape you will not soon forget, slice throats so cleanly that murder looks like a kind of editing of space and time); we are taken to the weird infinite yellowy bathhouse that many of us know from dreams; the story undergoes a narrative reordering too deftly executed to be called a “twist”—something more like a beautiful arc in knowledge; and the villains, who feel like old friends, may look at you later out of dreams, their faces outlined and vivid, a set of masks installed by the filmmaker, now calling on you with a horrifying power of persuasion.
Seeing the thing & also its frame II
Two nights after watching Jules Dassin’s The Naked City (1948), I can remember little of the narrative content—the plot, generic noir crime stuff, is just raw material for what is basically a spectacular editing-event, an argument for cinema as the art of style and succession. The Naked City, we are told, is the city of 8 million stories, and what’s special about the movie is the high modern freedom with which it flits through scenes out of them in a sort of filmic all-over painting. What I remember best is an image from a montage that shows us many of the many millions of things happening simultaneously one afternoon. Somewhere a theater is empty, and we see it from the right side of the balcony in a sort of View-Mastered receding view of layers of depth, and the stage, lit but vacant, is framed by bunched curtains looking like the eyes of some sort of bug face, like sunglass lenses mirrored like Japanese beetles with coppery spectra of green and purple and popped out of aviators, or like the windows of some European streetsweeper or earthmover, triangular but rounded and made friendly by the black rubber gaskets that seal them, an image of theater-as-face or theater-as-face-seen-from-inside.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Across from the Hubbard Free Library, the library of my childhood, a churchlike, stained-glassed structure of stone into whose Children’s Room a train derailed long before I ever spun the carousels, stands a large building with no obvious entrance or identifying markers, its windows boarded up, its yellow-shingled façade, an eternal feature of the Second Street of my imagination, closed to the world. Growing up, it was common knowledge that it had once been a movie theater, and that no one had seen inside for decades—this was a sort of linguistic fact in the shared story-map of the city—and I wondered whether the seats might still be there, the screen, the velveteen curtains, the lanterns, and the gently curving banisters of symmetrical staircases that might have led to the balcony and projectionist’s booth, all this preserved under layers of dust and crumbled plaster, a whole secret cinema in the darkness, the receding aisles’ perspectives there but unilluminated behind the walls of an anonymous city block.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
A natural spring
From the preface of Chelsea Granger's Rills, Runnels and Rivulets:
In early spring, when the snow was granular, dirty, and patchily melted, a little licking leaf of water flickered out of the grass at the far end of the field below our elementary school, “a natural spring,” my friend called it, and while I knew she was mistaken, and that the little twisting jet was just the out-spout of some stream of melt-water led through whatever unseen system of ice lanes beneath the snow, I envied the ease and confidence with which she named this basic feature of the world and wished to be able to use such expressions, even falsely.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797)
I do not know how it is, tho’ I am ingaged in portraits… I find myself continually stealing off, and getting to landscapes.