Monday, August 29, 2011

Artistic Consumption Log, Aug. 22, 2011-Aug. 28, 2011

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—This was a relatively spare week for artistic consumption; blame both my efforts to come up with a schedule for this year's Toronto International Film Festival (yeah, I'm finally going—not as a critic, though, but as a paying civilian) and the weekend hurricane (of which I actually have more to say in an upcoming post) for said spareness. But hey: quality, not quantity, right? Even when it comes to art consumption!

Onwards and upwards, as they say:

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)


The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972, Rainer Werner Fassbinder), screened at IFC Center in New York
Honestly, I'm not sure I really have much to say about this much-written-about film, only the fourth Fassbinder film I've seen. If anyone could maintain a stagey, theatrical approach and make it play cinematically, it's Fassbinder, with his typically elaborate mise-en-scène brilliantly relaying all sorts of themes, ideas and characterizations through purely visual inflections. As a psychological tug-of-war between two women—one wealthy yet yearning for human connection, the other ruthless and conniving—it's an endlessly fascinating, pitilessly funny, unsparing yet strangely compassionate film.

The Future (2011, Miranda July), screened at IFC Center in New York
My admiration for the intentions behind July's latest film—a whimsical yet melancholy meditation on growing old and dealing with life's disappointments—is tempered by my impression of the two main characters—an aimless couple played by July and Hamish Linklater—as basically just walking repositories of July's brand of aggressively twee quirk, and by the frequent irritation their barely recognizably human behavior evokes in me. Am I just being too literal? With the many magical-realist touches July throws into the film (her second after Me and You and Everyone We Know, which I still haven't seen, by the way), I suppose The Future isn't meant to be seen in the same way as, say, one of those documentary-style "mumblecore" films about similarly aimless younger folk. That surely has to be the case, because no one can come off as this cut off from anything resembling the real world, right? I suppose my big question is: Is July at all aware of how insufferably self-absorbed these two characters are, or is she too close to the characters—or, perhaps, too committed to her brand of quirk—to have the necessary distance to truly interrogate them?

All I know, based on one viewing, is that, for every moment in which I was rolling my eyes (a lot of the inane never-ending conversations; the scenes with Paw Paw, the narrating cat sporting July's squeaky voice), there were other moments where genuine pathos broke through the conceits and touched upon something palpably real, and sometimes even devastating. I suppose I'll eventually give this film another shot to see if there are enough of those truly affecting moments to make this film more than the sum of its parts. 

House of Bamboo (1955, Samuel Fuller), screened at Film Forum in New York
I don't think this is a great film, but it's still a generally engrossing Japan-set crime drama with some gorgeously composed CinemaScope photography (courtesy of Joseph McDonald), interesting culture-clash elements and a terrific performance from Robert Ryan as the cold yet strangely magnetic villain opposite Robert Stack's relatively stiff hero. I must be dense, however, because the supposed homoerotic subtext between the two male leads that I kept reading about in reviews of the film (like this and this) afterward is something I didn't pay much attention to in the moment. Not that I think it necessarily adds to or takes away from the film significantly.


The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972, David Bowie)
Aladdin Sane (1973, David Bowie)
Here's yet another case where I'm finding myself slightly preferring the follow-up to a consensus classic. Aladdin Sane is, at least on the basis of one introductory hearing, a very strange album: full of extravagantly weird tunes wrapped up in a wildly eclectic array of styles. It's far less cohesive than Ziggy Stardust, but its messiness is part of what makes it more interesting to listen to and ponder than its more "perfect" predecessor. On the other hand, Ziggy Stardust can be seen as perhaps Bowie's most direct expression of his obsessions with fame and style, so that one has that going for it, at least. Both are certainly worth hearing, in any case. 


Zarkana (2011, François Girard), seen at Radio City Music Hall in New York
To a certain degree, I agree with Pia Catton, the Wall Street Journal critic/reporter who wrote a column about two months ago in its Greater New York section expressing her own befuddlement at Cirque du Soleil's continuing popularity and acclaim. I've only seen this one show of theirs, but, like Catton, all I see are a bunch of well-executed acrobatic stunts staged against the backdrop of some breathtakingly lavish and elaborate sets and costumes. It's not art, it's a glorified traveling sideshow, and those who claim that they're something more are, frankly, just being pretentious. But, notwithstanding some bland, ill-placed songs and extremely halfhearted attempts at a storyline, Zarkana—written and directed by Girard, who I know better as the director, among other things, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993) and The Red Violin (1998)—mostly delivers the goods. It never pretends to be anything other than a virtuosically empty spectacle; on that level, though, it succeeds. I enjoyed myself.


The Sun Also Rises (1926, Ernest Hemingway)
This is such a legendary work—a novel about the so-called "Lost Generation" of expatriate writers and artists in the 1920s, the kind of artists Gil Pender (mindlessly?) idolized in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris—that I don't really have much to add to the vast amounts of criticism written about it. It itself is kind of aimless as a narrative, but that aimlessness is all too appropriate to the kind of lifestyle that Hemingway so tenderly evokes in his own tough, spare style. Its final sentence just slays me, with the sense of loss and regret it so eloquently evokes in just a single line of dialogue—more affecting than all of his posthumously published A Moveable Feast, for my money.

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