Thursday, December 17, 2009

How Does It Feel?

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J.—Just wanted to drop a quick link for you all to ponder and savor.

Matt Zoller Seitz, filmmaker, film critic, and the founder of the film blog The House Next Door—a place I've haunted every once in a while—is currently in the midst of writing up a series at's new blog Film Salon considering the greatest film directors of this decade. His latest entry is especially scintillating, a consideration of a batch of directors he labels as "the sensualists": David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Michael Mann, Wong Kar-Wai and Hou Hsiao-hsien.

Here's how he kicks it off:
Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in "Stagecoach," and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in "The Third Man." -- Walker Percy, "The Moviegoer" (1961)
The poignancy of that quote comes from the implication that the novel’s hero, Binx Bolling, is so alienated from his existence that films feel more real to him than life. But certain filmmakers -- I call them sensualists -- go Walker Percy one better. Through boldly expressive shots, cuts, sound cues and music, they suggest that we experience movies as moments because we experience life that way, too.

Michael Mann, Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Wong Kar-wai and Hou Hsiao-hsien -- the decade’s great sensualist filmmakers -- accept this proposition as a given. Read a cable channel's one-paragraph schedule-grid summary of Mann’s "Ali," "Collateral," "Miami Vice" and "Public Enemies"; Malick’s "The New World" (all three versions, each of which is a different and equally valid film); Wong’s "In the Mood for Love," "2046," "The Hand" (a segment of the omnibus "Eros") and "My Blueberry Nights"; Lynch’s "Mulholland Dr." and "Inland Empire," or Hou’s "Three Times" and "Millennium Mambo," and you would never guess that the films’ directors had anything in common.

But they share a defining trait: a lyrical gift for showing life in the moment, for capturing experience as it happens and as we remember it.
This is an absolutely inspired linkage of brilliant filmmakers, and I feel compelled to add my own personal slant: all of these artists, in their own ways, have had a major influence in shaping the way I watch films these days. They—especially Wong (whose 2046 I would probably count as one of the great films of the decade) and Hou (whose Flight of the Red Balloon continues to be a great source of inspiration in my life)—have taught me to fully embrace, without apology, the sensual and the visceral in movies, as opposed to focusing on just its literary values (theme, story, dialogue, etc.). What words could satisfyingly describe the romantic frisson of two married people passing by each other in entrancing slow motion in In the Mood for Love; the sheer terror of an actress's distorted close-up in Inland Empire; or the transcendental spirit that infuses the whole of The New World? Embrace these ravishing moments, I say, and embrace filmmakers who dare to push the artistic envelope on such sensuality, the way these filmmakers have done. Relinquish some of that emotional control; that's what cinema, I've come to believe, is really all about, and why I continue to adore it so.

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