Monday, April 30, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, April 23, 2012 - April 29, 2012


Götterdämerung (1871)


Tribeca Film Festival, all films seen in New York
Cut (2011, Amir Naderi), seen at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea
The Fourth Dimension (2012, Harmony Korine/Alexey Fedorchenko/Jan Kwiecinski), seen at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea
Death of a Superhero (2011, Ian Fitzgibbon), seen at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea
Jackpot (2011, Magnus Martens), seen at AMC Loews Village 7
Rubberneck (2012, Alex Karpovsky), seen at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea
I reviewed Death of a Superhero and Rubberneck for Slant Magazine, wrote a bit about Cut in a recent blog post, and will try to say something about The Fourth Dimension and Jackpot in an upcoming post. So watch this space, as the young kids say...

The Day He Arrives (2011, Hong Sang-soo), seen at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York
Before seeing this film on Tuesday before Götterdämerung at the Metropolitan Opera House (more on that anon, naturally), I had not seen anything by the much-acclaimed Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo. (Non-cinephiles won't care about that, but hardcore cinephiles might.) What I can glean from this lovely if slightly confounding 80-minute feature is that Hong has a romantic streak to offset his introspective side, combined with a penchant for lightly handled narrative experimentation and behaviorally observant long takes. In the end, it doesn't really matter if what we're seeing in the main character's sabbatical from filmmaking is merely a few days in his life or, say, a year (Hong deliberately blurs chronology into despairing abstraction); it's this palpable sense of existential melancholy-shading-into-terror that comes across potently.

The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962, Robert Bresson), seen at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, N.Y.
For this take on the story of the 15th-century French martyr, Bresson basically went back to the trial transcripts and fashioned much of this 65-minute film out of them, having his actors deliver the on-record lines in his usual unemphatic manner. In some ways, this is perhaps his most concentrated and straightforward work, in which he most directly lays out his spiritually inclined thematic concerns—his search for God within the most mundane of details. The Trial of Joan of Arc probably isn't the film to win new fans for the filmmaker, and some will surely object to the dryly affected manner (Florence Carrez is certainly no match for Renée Maria Falconetti as Joan in Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc, but I hardly think she's meant to be). For me, though, the film eventually builds up to a concluding immolation that carries a certain sobering charge all the same.


Götterdämerung (1876, Richard Wagner), seen at Metropolitan Opera House in New York
That feeling I got after the curtain fell on the same blue projection that opened Robert Lepage's new production of Richard Wagner's Ring cycle was akin to the feeling of seeing the end of a beloved television serial: sadness that there would be no more adventures in this mythical world of gods and humans. It has been a fun ride, spending four nights at the Metropolitan Opera House, immersing myself in this universe, basking in the glory of Wagner's beautiful music. As for the much-disputed Lepage production: Though I might have had reservations about it in Das Rheingold, by Siegfried I had become used to "The Machine," creaky noises and all; you could say I developed a certain affection toward the contraption. So I don't feel like complaining too loudly about Lepage botching the supposed moment of wonder Siegfried encounters at the top of the mountain before reawakening Brünnhilde in the third act of Siegfried, or his underwhelming visualization of the climactic immolation and destruction of Valhalla at the end of Götterdämerung. For me, the successes—especially with most of the scene-setting video projections and the way Lepage had his singers interact with them—far outweighed the duds. As I suggested in my comments on Das Rheingold in this previous artistic consumption log, I don't begrudge the cranky classical-music critics that have leveled withering criticisms at this production; they have far more context than I do when it comes to assessing Ring productions, I'm sure. But, for the most part, I was fine with the Lepage Ring. Maybe this is yet another case of critics assessing a work of art based more on its cost ($16 million, which apparently is prohibitive in staged opera production?) than on what is actually onstage; maybe this Lepage Ring will one day be considered the opera equivalent of Heaven's Gate (1980) and Ishtar (1987)—films that were greeted with scathing press upon its disastrous theatrical releases as much for their costly productions as for the films themselves. Or maybe I'm just trying to justify the whopping $700 I paid for this experience. Whatever; to me, these were good times.

The Lyons (2011, Nicky Silver), seen at Cort Theatre in New York 
A friend of mine offered up an extra complimentary ticket to see theater legend Linda Lavin in this new comedy playing at a theater right around the block from the Wall Street Journal office; having come across generally positive press for it, I raised my hand, so to speak, first and ended up being that friend's +1.

At least I didn't have to pay for an expensive ticket to see this.

Am I just getting tired to dysfunctional-family comedies/dramas in general? Where much of the spectacle lies in seeing family members being as unpleasant to each other as possible in ways that are, I guess, meant to be shocking, amusing and/or provocative? After I got home from seeing this on Wednesday night, I tweeted that Nicky Silver's new "comedy" struck me as a lesser variation on Tracy Letts's August: Osage County, swimming freely in one-quirk-per-character caricatures where, by comparison, Letts at least managed to ground his screwed-up characters and dark humor in believable situations and nuanced dialogue. The Lyons mostly just struck me as a blast of unrewarding nastiness—not without laughs, but wholly bereft of anything approaching genuine insight into family dysfunction and the ways one generation's meanness can be passed down to the next. It's too busy being "outrageous" to, you know, get at anything real.

But if this kind of thing appeals to you, rest assured that there are some wickedly funny one-liners sprinkled throughout, and that Linda Lavin is the expected force of nature as the gleefully selfish matriarch. 

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