Monday, January 02, 2006

Short Cuts: January '06

d. Stanley Kubrick, 1962

The intro is most compelling, indeed; Peter Sellers' vocal-mimicry runs through the various stock characters of cinema, he attempts to create a sort of self-referential song, and a painting is shot through several times. The subject is art: its creation & destruction, and the difficulty of authenticity therein. Or so it would seem. The next two hours and twenty minutes masticate the blander parts of Nabokov's source material, steering clear of the lurid nature which makes the book so interesting. I do understand that Kubrick was working within a coded film industry, (kind of - he made this one in England) but surely he could have, I don't know, sped things up a bit so that the focus of the film had something to do with the novel. The aforementioned Sellers is fantastic as Clare Quilty, but practically everyone else is miscast. And any evidence of the ideas brought forth in the intro are lost to the bulk of the film. Disappointing.

March of the Penguins
d. Luc Jancquet, 2005

This goes quite beyond nature porn, stretching a 30 minute story into an 80 minute film. We're given far too many CU's of the penguins themselves: stare at the penguin's feet, look at its beak, gaze at its fur (feathers? skin? whatever). Now do it all again. I'm actually for this type of thing; the images of the animals are really interesting, allowing the viewer a for all intensive purposes complete visual understanding of the penguin. The big problem with the film, however, is the lack of science involved. A nature channel type documentary vibe would ruin the whole thing, but some simple identification would be nice. (For instance, we see a baby penguin attacked by some type of bird, and Morgan Freeman cites this as a predator of the animal, yet the bird is never ID'd. This is simple stuff, man.) Without any real knowledge gained, with the visuals waxing too much, I'm left with a feeling of what's-the-point?

The Notebook
d. Nick Cassavetes, 2004

I was biased from the start. I hate Gena Rowlands for what she's done posthumously to the work of her late husband, John Cassavetes. Post Love Streams, I have no sympathy for the woman. (Even though I dislike Ray Carney equally, go here for an explanation.) That taken into consideration, The Notebook is a hamfisted cheater of a film. For the first act, it falls into the traditional cliched class-stratified love story. She's rich, he's poor, &c. Then, toward the last part of the second act, the entire idea is dropped; anything or one keeping him from her (that's the M.O. this go 'round) is obliterated or pacified. Her only option, really, is to stay with him. But the pretense is upheld, and we get 15 more minutes of pseudo-will she/won't she dramatizing. Then, all the love between him and her that was built up in the preceding 1 3/4 hours is transferred to the couple, 50 years aged. Now, 1) it was a false love that consisted almost entirely of dry-humping, fire-stoking infidelity, and heated make-out sessions 2) James Garner and Gena Rowlands (playing the aged couple) don't really need all that, anyway. Their story is something else entirely, and the only redeeming part of the film. Consequently, I wanted a bit more of the sentimentality at the end and more understanding of why him and her loved each other so much. (Aside: there's a scene featuring James Garner and Gena Rowlands, their second to last together, that hints that Nick Cassavetes may have a little something of his father in him. Fun stuff.)

Punishment Park
d. Peter Watkins, 1971

Watkins' characters scream out against a polarized political climate, and both they and Watkins seem sincere, yet all we get is a portrait of this dichotomized landscape, and in terms that seem only to endorse the thing. Shot pseudo-doc, Punishment Park captures the workings of a Vietnam War-era, government instilled plan. That is, arrest the dissenters, draft-dodgers, uprisers, and long-haired, deny them habeas corpus, sentence them absurdly, and offer them, instead of 10-15 year sentence, 2 nights and 3 days in Punishment Park, where the cops pigs can get their ya-ya's out and the hippies are offered the illusion of choice. I write this largely from the perspective of the liberal dissenter only because the film is so clearly of that bent itself. Now, I tend to agree, politically, with the side that Watkins sympathizes, but such a slanted opinion is not great filmmaking. (Although I think Watkins would disagree, judging by his informative yet self-aggrandizing 30 minute introduction to the film.) It is a hard call to make, especially since we seem to be in a similar socio-political climate right now, but quiet moderation, not partisan shouting and name-calling, would have been the correct track for Watkins. (That is, assuming he wanted to affect some change of some sort, which, ibid. the director's intro, he did.) Furthermore, Watkins creation of the film was a sort of Stanford Prison Experiment, wherein each character had a role - really, just an opinion - and played that out against others. Even the credits read "militants," "semi-militants," "pacifists," etc. The characters, then, are to be read as simple ciphers, neither round nor deep. Yet there's something impressive about the film; the anger and frustration exacted from the viewer is rarely seen elsewhere, and the amount of thought I've put into this today must be worth something. The characters are ciphers, I think, because ciphers make a difficult problem easier to understand. Ultimately, Punishment Park is a valuable film, in that it demands reflection concerning the polarization found within the film, i.e. it requires to viewer to search himself for chauvinism as much as it itself is bi-chauvinistic, and the flaws within the film - the flaws that the viewer mulls over - are the medium by which this is accomplished .


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