Monthly archives of “November 2010

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Point Blank, John Boorman (1967)

This is a very strange movie which absolutely could not be made today, a French New Wave film made by an Englishman in California. Its narrative head games, its druggy swings from hysteria to Weltschmerz, its boredom with both sex and violence, and above all its conviction that no amount of revolutionary individualism can put a dent in the fortress of capitalist hegemony all work together to provide a devastating critique of the sixties even as “the sixties” was in the deepest throes of its self-regard. Watching this, you’d guess it had been made in 1974, not 1967. It rivals Didion’s White Album in its prescience. There are lots of moments you might use to mark the end of the dream of the sixties: Kent State, My Lai, the assassinations of King and Kennedy in 1968, etc. Add to the list the moment in Point Blank when the girl at the psychedelic dance club goes around behind the screen and discovers the bad guy Lee Marvin’s beaten to a pulp. He’s buried under a pile of film! And the girl’s screams of horror harmonize with the soul singer’s screams of ecstacy. I find it both liberating and terrifying that an aesthetic moment can be that perfectly rendered and this completely forgotten.

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Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik (2010)

The plot here is melodramatic and overcooked, but the performances, setting, and tone are so refreshing I don’t care. When feature films venture into the heart of the heart of the country, they usually leave any capacity for subtlety back home in their lofts or bungalows, but here you actually feel a degree of sympathy for, and an acknowledgment of the complexity of rural poverty. The protagonist’s dilemma–her vanished father has put the family home up as part of the bond he’s skipped on–isn’t fawned over in the usual Hollywood manner (ooh, look at the poor white trash and their terrible problems!); it’s instead simply used as the MacGuffin that gives Granik license to meditate upon and marinate in a culture we rarely see represented onscreen except in the form of cartoons. The movie hits the box office money shot force the moment to its crisis panic button with a sledgehammer in its final passages–which is too bad, because it really wants to be more open-ended than that–but not even chainsawing a cadaver can spoil the tonic of carefully skinning a squirrel in the snow not for fun but from hunger.

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The Runaways, Floria Sigismondi (2010)

The Runaways are complicated. There’s the uplifting narrative of five strong young women who wanted to rock, took on the condescending sexist music business, had a great time, and hit it big. There’s the depressing narrative of extremely young and naive girls being manipulated, drugged, and exploited by the condescending and sexist music business, which profited mightily. Then someone will inevitably pipe up and say, “It’s all about the music, man!” The music was indeed awesome, but it is not all about that. Sigismondi, in her first full-length, does a great if sometimes uneven job of embracing both the joy and the ugliness in this story. She also wrote the script, which is itself pretty darn good. This is far from a perfect movie–it indulges in too many cliches, for starters–but when you think about how easily it could have been so much worse, you begin to recognize its achievements.

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This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Kirby Dick (2006)

Just what I needed: More corporate/puritanical cultural manipulation to be pissed off about. Dick is an annoying person and is overly fond of ginning up gotcha moments, but here, as in Outrage, his basic premise and his, well, outrage, are well founded. The MPAA rating system effectively controls what does and does not appear on the country’s movie screens, and it’s run as a homophobic misogynist pro-war star chamber.

I feel sad. I think I’m going to go to bed.

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Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1974)

Completely satisfying emotionally as a love story, yet at the same time so critically astringent, there’s no way you could call it a melodrama. A lonely widowed German charwoman of a certain age and a Moroccan guest worker fall in love. The forces of hatred, fear, and misunderstanding besiege them from both outside and from within. Love wins, but not until Fassbinder’s made it clear that, as Wittgenstein put it, “love is not a feeling; love is put to the test.” Utterly convincing, fascinating to look at. This was of course inspired by Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, but does that look like Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson there, eating dinner together? No, it does not. Everyone in Fassbinder’s movie looks like a human being, which is part of what makes this picture so affecting.