Monday, July 25, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log, July 18, 2011-July 24, 2011


World on a Wire (1973)


Five Dedicated to Ozu (2003, Abbas Kiarostami), screened on DVD at my apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y.
I'm taking part in a "directrospective" of Kiarostami's work over at this site run by one of my roommates, so a proper review of this will be forthcoming.

"Prince of the City: Remembering Sidney Lumet," all films screened at Walter Reade Theater in New York
The Offence (1972, Sidney Lumet)
The Pawnbroker (1964, Sidney Lumet)
Honestly, I could never really work up much of an interest in The Pawnbroker, which is about a Holocaust survivor (played effectively by Rod Steiger) who has developed such a cynical view of humanity that he has basically shut himself off from any meaningful human relationships. It felt too much like filmed theater at the start, and even when Lumet tries to jazz it up stylistically with fancy editing tricks, even those felt too much like Alain Resnais-lite for me to find it all that interesting. Plus, what is up with the Quincy Jones score, which often works at cross-purposes with the material in ways that seem almost counterproductive to the fundamental seriousness of the material?

The Offence, which Lumet made in Britain, is a more impeccably crafted work, and a lot more engrossing both in style and substance. It's a somber examination of what led Detective Sergeant Johnson (a gritty and intense Sean Connery) to kill a suspected child molester during an interrogation; it doubles back and forth in time to explore the circumstances, psychological and otherwise, building up to that fateful moment. In some ways, it anticipates Lumet's last film, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), in both its temporal hopscotching and in its final shot, in which a tragic event becomes engulfed in a bright white light before the end credits roll. Is this Lumet's way of suggesting a subtle spiritual dimension to these two films—the possibility of a higher power that will ultimately be the judge of these troubled human beings?

World on a Wire (1973, Rainer Werner Fassbinder), screened at IFC Center in New York

Having already seen the film during its North American premiere run at the Museum of Modern Art last year (I wrote about it briefly at my blog here), I went to see this again mostly to accompany a friend of mine from East Brunswick, N.J., as he had been dying to see Fassbinder's fascinating made-for-TV science-fiction epic for a long while. It remains an impressive achievement, though this time I found myself less fascinated by the sci-fi and philosophical aspects than simply by its human and formal elements. Apparently one can always count on Fassbinder to find endlessly inventive ways to stage, frame and shoot a scene; his mise-en-scene rarely lacks for inspiration. His frequent use of mirror reflections is especially interesting; I really ought to do, like, a video or image essay about Fassbinder's use of mirrors in World on a Wire.

Plus, thanks to this film, I now have this stuck in my head:


Helplessness Blues (2011, Fleet Foxes)
With maybe a couple of exceptions, this Seattle-based American indie folk band doesn't really do a whole lot in this sophomore effort that they didn't already do in their even finer 2008 self-titled debut. It's still a pleasant listen, though...and in its two longest tracks, "The Plains / Bitter Dancer" and "The Shrine / An Argument," both featuring suite-like structures and fairly abrupt changes in time signatures and styles, Robin Pecknold & co. show a greater lyrical and musical ambition than anything on Fleet Foxes. Their sounds retains a charming retro quality that satisfies this particular old soul plenty.

Lucinda Williams and Amos Lee, seen live at the Beacon Theatre in New York 
Terrific show overall, with Williams on generally fine form (with the exception of a few bum high notes in "Hot Blood"), and with about half her set devoted to songs from her 1998 album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road—still her best to date.


The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (2011, Amon Miyamoto), performed at Rose Theater in New York
As a theater piece, Amon Miyamoto's adaptation of Yukio Mishima's famous novel is loaded with dazzlingly imaginative stage effects...but, rather than just being empty flash, they are all put in the service of conjuring up an interior portrait of a deeply obsessive, neurotic character, obsessed by the elusive beauty of the titular temple for reasons that not even he himself can quite fathom. Though there is some voiceover narration here, Miyamoto, for the most part, trusts the material and his actors to suggest a lot of what Mishima explains, psychologically speaking, in his book. Still, a knowledge of the book—a book I started but didn't finish in time for the Friday night performance I went to—would probably be helpful in fully appreciating Miyamoto's achievement here. (This, by the way, was an all-Japanese production, so it was performed in Japanese with English supertitles.)  

No comments: