We would have been all right if there hadn’t been any mess.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26, 2011 by nothingcanstoptheblob

So it’s probably no secret if you’ve ever asked me about Ordinary People, but here it is: I always cry at some point in the film, and yet I always find different moments. Admittedly this last weekend it was no different. I can try to cover up my vulnerability  and say: hey uh you know it was um, a tough weekend and uh, you know I had other stuff going on and oh man, you know, just some of my own insecurities were coming to a head, and like I was projecting, you know it was more me and some of my own issues. Still it was really none that, and yet the eyes welled up again. Seriously every time.

I guess I always had it in my mind that everyone I know is at some point the embodiment of Conrad Jarrett, probably more than any other literary character. Feeling lost, ignored and the worthlessness of life; but we are pretty intellectual about it and we balance our angst with affably distancing commentaries and jokes. We are in a constant state of battle for what we think are deserved amounts of recognition we need from those that we admire. Maybe we will learn more than we think from Donald Sutherland about admiration and disappointments. There are moments inside us that happen while watching Robert Redford’s Ordinary People that feels close to home in any, no, in every American home. It’s unlike almost every other movie, the tag-line is like a challenge to the audience to just try to disassociate with the film. “there are some movies your watch, others you feel.” It’s honestly not our fault that we become part of the Jarretts’ emotional plight. We are try so hard with them, emotionally squirming, repositioning on our couch; and like a little kid again, playing a video game using our body to will Mario safely over the flying turtles, press B to jump while our heads nod up and back down in synchronization. We try to will the on-screen relationships to back to life with the same intensity of those little childlike squirms and nods.

It’s kind of an odd sensation to grow and connect with a film differently based on different points in your life. Sure you may watch Seinfeld now and you get way more of the jokes than when you were in high school, but to me this is different from that, I can honestly make the following statement without a stammer or stutter. Ordinary People is so personal and touching that I have grown emotionally and actually feel more human and closer to people because of it, not once, but multiple times.

When I saw the movie the first time I was probably about 19, and my emotional experience at that time was tied to two things. First, the intensity of Conrad and Dr. Bergers’ therapy sessions. This was a first for me to see something so emotionally strong and simple like this in a film. Now after multiple watches, Judd Hirsch’s performance feels more and more like a sitcom therapist, but these moments are filmed in such a personal way, as with most of the film, to almost try to make the audience feel intrusive on these lives. More so my connection as a 19 year old, was to the distance and desire for love and approval Conrad felt with his mom, and the similarities I felt with her incessant need to keep up appearances. So yeah I guess like any 19 year old, I was having some mother issues.

When I was was about 24, the connection had changed. I understood the distance and inability to move on after losing a family member. I understood not knowing how to go about life again. My father had died about a year before to esophageal cancer. It happened so fast it was like it wasn’t happening. We had bits of hope then things got worse and then smaller bits of hope and even worse and then all again. Even though this was merely weeks not years, I had felt so relieved about him moving from what his life had become,  that I didn’t even think to worry or care about what pains I was going to have to now deal with. So after Buck dies in the boating accident, the way the family was portrayed as a group all falling into different stages of grief, so far so, that they fall apart from each other so completely, felt so devastating and honest that it was like it was written for everyone who goes through this to learn from.

“Anyway,” I’ve been working on that transition for a while now. Last weekend as my wife and I watched Ordinary People, I was struck more by Donald Sutherland’s character. His determination, they way he holds it all together despite his feelings of helplessness. His son Buck is gone, his other son Conrad is a mess and just needs a love he can’t give, and he can’t understand why his wife won’t give that attention to Conrad. He stays so strong and wise and easy about it all, he tries so hard and is the heart of the failing mother-father-son dynamic. And then, Does it matter what shirt you wear to your sons funeral?

We would have been all right if there hadn’t been any mess.

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Catfish (2010)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 10, 2011 by nothingcanstoptheblob

Vince sits in his chair on the porch of their Michigan home. He rocks back and forth on the rocker and relates a very wise yet modest maxim about his wife Angela, he has a north western simpleton-like dialogue about him, and at this point he is unaware of what is unfolding around him. His maxim is something like this… Some while back they used to ship live fish around in these big vats by truck or boat or something I’m not sure. Thousands of these bass fish in these moving across the world in big vats, but when the fish arrived the the skin would soften and everything all fused together, So what should have been fresh became tasteless. One day this guy got this idea to put a few catfish in the tank to chase the bass and stir things up, this kept the fish lively and fresh. He goes on about how there are different kinds of people in the world, the ones that sit and become tasteless and those who stir things up. Angela to him is the Catfish in his world. This not only explains the films title, but it might be one of the most oddly memorable moments in film this year.

Yaniv is a photographer living in New York and one of his photos is published in the New York Times, weeks later he receives a painting from 8 year old Abby from a small town in Michigan. They develop a simple and heartwarming friendship on facebook and through exchanging packages as he takes pictures for her to paint and she sends him his work. Yaniv soon develops a relationship with this whole amazing family and even has a more intimate relationship blossoming with Abby’s 19 year old sister Megan. Megan is a musician and starts writing songs for Yaniv and publishing her recordings on her facebook page. But Yaniv, soon finds that Megan is posting stolen songs and claiming it is her own. What was a feel-good story in Yaniv’s life soon becomes a real-life mystery that unfolds in this poignant and simple documentary.

I can see why this is on so many top ten lists this year and it’ll probably find it’s way onto mine once I actually get to watching all the 2010 movies on my list. I don’t want to give away too much about this film because that is why it works so well. What is amazing about this film is how the emotions of the situation are handled, it’s not over-the-top at all, there is a lot of subtle dignity to both Yaniv and Angela as the mystery unfolds. Angela is surprisingly graceful in the end, and there is a beautiful sense of care and great empathy that Yaniv was able to display in this odd and amazing story of friendship and technology.

The social networks and modern communication and the all of the RGB pixelated relationships that we all now have in our lives is something that is new to us, it does have it’s place in our society and we are all testing the waters of it, as technology grows so does the social ramifications of it. Through all this there is still a simple human grace in life that we often forget about as we sit alone behind our computer screens. Social networks are the jungle in which paper tigers become what I call LCD lions. LCD lions are far more dangerous, because there is so much anonymity and falsification, there is no limit to what people can do without shame and consequence. Fortunately, Catfish is the world where these felines get stirred up and learn to swim together, and people become human again.

 

Memories Of Murder (2003)

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2010 by nothingcanstoptheblob

Last night I had nightmares, it was a rough day filled with anticipation, then tension followed by an ostensive feeling of weight. Sometimes you find things don’t get resolved.

It’s amazing to me to see people out and about living their lives with a simple grace that makes everything look easy. You usually can’t see the disappointment in a person’s eyes until you have a real and intimate relationship with the emotional being of an individual, until you can relate to the thoughts that drive them and the fears that break them down. We all walk around and see the parts of other people’s lives that tell us “it should be easy.” But there will be in each of our lives a few people that we connect with much deeper than we know is possible, and it’s glory and horror at the same time. We are all the Atlas’ of our own worlds, and we hold steady, we endure, and do everything we can; we are strong willed even when we don’t feel like we can be brave. Rarely do we grow anemic and weak; but the worlds we carry change so fast and breathe and expand into immeasurable spaces. I am proud and happy with the life I have, including every imperfection.

Last night I had nightmares, into them flashed the images of death, and then that look in his face, burned into my mind. I awoke disoriented and unsure. It’s a moment that happens to us all the time when we hear a song on the radio and it weaves itself into your sleeping subconscious thoughts and your dreams start to follow melodies. My unresolved day had fused with the connection of resolutions in Joon-ho Bong’s Memories of Murder.

There was no technique to the initial investigation, and rather subtly hilarious; frame by frame gaining steam by combining two opposite emotions laughter and a dark mystery. Kang-ho Song (the Host) was the first detective, the big shot in the small town, he is led only by his instinct. He thinks rather naively that he can see guilt just by looking into the eyes of a suspect. Sang-kyung Kim plays his opposite, a detective transferred from Seoul with a sharp eye and careful technique. They are the classic detective odd-couple, working against each other in all matters as they investigate a terrible serial killer. There are some amazing shots in this film and they appear naturally and without pretension, offering some very quietly memorable moments inside the tension of the unfolding mystery.

Joon-ho Bong slowly moves this film from out-of-place laughs to an odd unfolding intensity. It’s almost as this movie understood the emotional process of my life that very day. From lightness, anticipation then crashing into tension, then the weight.

Sometimes you find things don’t get resolved, but sometimes that is alright. It can become the vehicle that helps us move into the next part of our life. We sometimes hold on to that thing or moment that is left unresolved and we will even revisit it in reflecting moments later in life, hoping for something new to happen.

Sometimes you find things don’t get resolved, and maybe we can find out that it’s better that way.

Rabid Dad

Posted in 1950s, 1956, American, Nicholas Ray on October 4, 2010 by senordustin

Bigger Than Life

Have you ever seen James Mason act? He’s pretty fantastic. He’s forever Humbert to me, so his projection of the platonic poppa was at least a little skewed from the start. Mason is kind of an odd choice for Nicholas Ray’s study of suburban american fatherhood. He’s english after all. Ray makes him every man by setting him far apart from every other man – because, who doesn’t see himself as a man apart? The villain in Bigger than Life is the experimental drug, cortisone. I agree with today’s critics who say the film would age better had its writers replaced cortisone with a fictional drug whose dangerous portrayal in the movie could not be compromised by facts.

NOTE
Actually, “frank psychotic manifestations” can occur through the misuse of cortisone, according to its entry in the Chemistry Hall of Fame. (!)

Whatever you call it, Nicholas Ray’s “cortisone” is the shit, turning the intelligent but un-actualized protagonist into the title character, a man unafraid of his ambition and ability. That sounds great! Besides making a superman of a man barely able to provide for his family, the miracle drug is also the only thing standing between him and a very early death. All the added energy provided by the $2/day pills means more time to tutor and play ball with the boy. It also gives him the guts to buy new dresses for his wife; dresses that make her look more like his babe coworker. If the film were made today, he’d probably go after the coworker directly – or better yet, one of his students. That’s how American Beauty did the re-write at least.

NOTE
There are many hints in American Beauty that its filmmakers are not unfamiliar with Bigger than Life. Cortisone could be seen as a symbolic prop for “fucking incredible mid-life crisis”.  Beauty took a different route to its traumatic ending, less campy, but also less honest to the work as a whole.

The ways that the drug improves the previously likable, modest, admirably normal Dad are seriously a good sell – he is clearly energized, his confidence is tremendous, he has good ideas that he goes after unapologetically. As a (possibly) likeable, modest, admirably normal dad, I can tell you I’d trade those descriptions for the benefits provided by “cortisone” in a heartbeat. But like any good just-say-no after school special, the glorious and beautiful pillbug honeymoon is awfully short-lived.

So, here’s the BIG question with movies like this and many other 50’s american movies I’ve seen – Is Bigger Than Life as prescient and precocious as it seems to today’s audience, or do we see more in it now, from our perspective of “understanding”? I know there are those (mostly religious, I guess) who look back on the 1950s as a time of great innocence – an innocence they’d like to return to-, but to most, the era is seen as a falsely charmed period of shallow tranquility. Smiling mother baking cakes; the Beav dreaming of holding hands with a girl that looks like his smiling mother; and dad always calm, understanding, and authoritative. There’s a feature on this DVD with the author Jonathan Lethem discussing the movie. He makes some really great points that seem evidence to Nicholas Ray’s knowing exactly what he was doing. First, he plants some “subversive” characters: a single middle-aged man and a single middle-aged woman.  These elements could certainly not be used in the same way now, but in 1950s suburban USA, something just ain’t right. Lethem’s observation that Walter Matthau’s character, the gym coach, is gay, seems to me now, though I completely missed it in my viewing, a perfect touch.  Presenting this so subtly means that the audience feels some discomfort, something out of the norm, without getting a definitive sense of why the frame is crooked.  This discomfort, along with some other hints, do make it hard to deny that Ray was after something.

The mother here is smart and strong, and these qualities in her also force one to consider the morality of the times. If she is smart and stong, why does she allow her husband’s irresponsibility – even as it approaches cruelty? She stands up for herself, sure, but she also knows her place, right up to the bizarre climax. This aspect reminded me of The Shining, but here we have an implicit criticism, not really of mother, but of the role that mother is supposed to play.  She is clearly wrong in her passivity, but something is keeping her (as I said, a smart and strong woman) from doing right. The idea of an objectionable (criminal?) patriarchal order is alluded to directly as Mason goes Abrahamic on his family. In the case of Abraham, “God was wrong,” he says. Was god wrong because of an
unwillingness to fully endorse the absolute rule of the father? Maybe, but Ray definitely paints a picture of a neat-looking middle class USA with a very troubled soul.

I know some fools who see a lot of these same types of ahead-of-the-times social criticism in the films of Douglas Sirk. His movies do make statements, but they don’t seem to transcend their time.  Bigger Than Life really does appear to hold the “1950s suburban american dream” with the same cynicism and disbelief most of us do now.  Visually and stylistically it could almost define widescreen, technicolor 50s cinema. This is getting long-winded, I know, but I find a lot to talk about with this movie. I’d never heard of it before its recent DVD release and I’ve only seen the most famous of Nicholas Ray’s other movies, Rebel Without A Cause.  I’ve taken up enough blob space for now.

War Orphans – We are all made orphans

Posted in 1950s, 1952, Clement, French on August 28, 2010 by senordustin

POV: Your Future

Forbidden Games

I hadn’t signed up for this.  I thought I was getting soft-core soap opera.  These are very different games than the kind I usually devote my evenings to.  The Rules of the Game was the film I’d planned on writing about next, but that has proved a difficult job.  So, on the recommendation of Frankly, My Dear, I queued up another depressing take on WWII France.  Not approaching the cynicism of Rules, which shows a society crumbling at the inevitable approach of terror, Forbidden Games is a look back at that terror with acceptance that what we see, we can’t understand.

To illustrate this, the director Rene Clement gives us the war through the eyes of children.  These children are impressive – seriously this has to be among the greatest child performances.  Really, the two leads, both very young, are what make Forbidden Games special.  Their relationship is unforgettable, as is the girl’s face in the final heartbreaking scene.

Just like Boudu…, Games (Forbidden not Rules, just realized that could be confusing) begins with a lost dog.  When 5 y.o. Paulette’s parents and dog are shot in a German air raid, her response is perfect – she doesn’t respond.  How could she – she’s 5.  She picks up her dead dog and wanders.  I think the screenplay hints that Paulette is Jewish – she is totally unfamiliar with Christian symbols – though, I’m not sure why it would be so coy with this fact.  I guess the writer’s didn’t want this to become the central allegory; yes, that was probably wise.  If this is true, it’s interesting to think that her indoctrination at the hands of a peasant boy well steeped in these symbols may later save her much suffering.

I’m lucky to understand war only through movies.  Which means I don’t understand.   I loved this movie for approaching this horror not in hallowed or heroic terms, but with the humility that must be our ultimate response.  The weakest episodes in the film, the slapstick battles between adults, do show that the children have nowhere to look for sanity, but the tone just doesn’t click with the whole.  For cartoonish parody, I’ll take MASHForbidden Games is best when focused on the emotional confusion of senseless violence – in the face of which, we are all made orphans.

What happens to war orphans, btw?  This may sound like a stupid question, but think of the number of children left without family in WWII.  Many Paulette’s must survive, so their stories are likely out there.

NOTE

Rene Clement is a director sort of stuck in French cinema’s limbo stage between genius eras of Jean Renoir’s “poetic realism” (is that a lame term? I’m not sure.  It kind of suits the Renoir movies I’ve seen.  I wonder what he thought of the term.  More on that next time.) and the “New Wave.”

NOTE

I like that Clement allows for a real, loving relationship to develop between the kids.  It’s true that it has manipulation, but what relationship doesn’t?  The direction, along with the dynamic performances, make their love story unique.

This is You. – Thoughts on Greenberg and Inception (2010)

Posted in Uncategorized on August 12, 2010 by nothingcanstoptheblob

I’ve hit a moment in my life where I’ve really been thinking about moments in film that reflect life with such poignancy that just experiencing the film, we have these moments of clarity(for lack of better terms), transcendence of an idea or emotion, the moments that changes the way we think and feel about life.

This is the basis of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Let me give you my quick take regarding this idea and hopefully it’s not too convoluted to follow: Inception is about the idea that we are watching a world that may or may not be a cinematic reality or a dream in the cinematic reality. In this reality/dream state the characters go into dreams to create the inception of an idea. They go into the dream state, and then take the dreamer deeper into a dream inside of a dream, and further into a dream inside of that dream; this is where the moment exists that is supposed to create the inception of an idea. Overall, I think Nolan is concentrating on the leaps that the human mind can make while experiencing a film. Think of the leaps that our minds allow, Nolan’s notion is that while sitting in the theater we experience our own understanding of a moment of emotional breakthrough inside of a dream, that is inside of another dream, that is inside another dream, that yet still may or may not be inside of another dream (depending on your perception of the film) inside of a movie. Complicated right? But the idea is that we still have that moment, and emotionally and intellectually it’s just as real as the discussion it ultimately stimulates while walking out of the theater. Our lives are rarely as grandiose as in movies and we rarely have these monumental moments in our daily lives, but because we have the mental capacity to make the leaps like Nolan is suggesting, the art of film shares these experiences and moments all the time.

While Nolan wants the audience to follow along as the movie drops deeper and deeper away from reality but still creates a real response. On an opposite level, Noah Baumbach’s recent film Greenberg does this in a more direct manner. His world is a mirror of ours; his characters feel like people we could know, he achieves a poignancy with this film where they feel like a reflection of the writer/director. Baumbach and fellow writer Jenifer Jason Leigh explore the real fears and anxieties that people go through, the imperfections and eccentricities of our personas. The film feels real, Ben Stiller is a very pleasant surprise, finding himself far from his normally wacky likability, and  as Roger Greenberg. Roger is a downright asshole; he lives in a state of prolonged post-adolescent angst confused with his intellectualism and arrogance. He’s the lost cause in his family who transfers all the condescension he receives from them onto Florence, his mind is set on not liking her, he’s hung up on his ex, and his friends/ex band mates don’t know how to act around him. Opposite Roger is Florence, played by Greta Gerwig and she is as sad as she is likable, Florence and Roger spiral into this awkward relationship that unfolds nicely, but not until after Baumbach and Leigh make us suffer all the uncomfortable moments they can conceive. Florence is the protagonist that at once you kinda hate her, but you really pull for her. She is sweet and trusting and you pull your hair out watching and hoping that she’ll wise up. I think it’s a smart way to get the audience to see her like Roger sees her, the only difference is that the audience can also perceive who Roger is while he cannot.

The moment in the film that is probably the reason I wanted to write about it comes between Roger and Ivan (Rhys Ifans). The quick backstory is they were in a band that had a chance to get signed. Roger pretty much ruined the opportunity for the whole band, due to his own social rules and eccentricities.  Ivan is recently separated from his marriage and Roger is under the misconception that they can just start from where they left off years earlier. Anyway Ivan makes a statement that is somewhat along the lines of how he had never been able to accept that his life turned out to be the way it is. I think that it is not only the key moment for Roger and Ivan but it’s a moment that a lot of our generation, at least a lot of people I know, are missing.  Highly educated people are walking out of universities, degree in hand, with no clue as to what lies ahead. Were we not always taught that this is the way to pave your future? So here we are, a generation of people who have been lead through high school, on into college, then into a life that does not resemble our parents or what we thought. We fall into jobs that we need but not really want, we struggle with accepting in between the small joys in our relationships or career, and we search for the little victories because we feel that that is all we have. It gets overwhelming, anxiety, confusion, and detachment. This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife. “You may ask yourself, my god, what have I done?”

Then one day you wake up and you think about Ivan’s dilemma and you think about your wife or girlfriend, maybe your kids or pets, and your home. Then you think about your job and maybe it’s not what you expected, most likely it’s far from it? You recount the struggles and the little victories. Your life is lying behind you in a trail of conversations and images it gets rocky and then smoothed out, rocky again. You accept that your reality is in fact, reality. You accept life is nothing like what you thought you wanted.  Inception…

You then realize that a line, a moment from a fictional film has created a yet another real moment in the intellectual and emotional status of your life. And it’s pretty cool.

The Idtruder

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 20, 2010 by senordustin

Boudu Saved from Drowning


I’ll kick off with an early film from Jean Renoir. I saw
Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game several years ago
and since I found them interesting then and I’m a sucker
for status, I’ve made a goal to watch and write about some
of his big movies here at theblob. Eventually.

The beast Boudu sulks forlorn through the paris streets. He
lost his dog. He is a perfect tramp, with a beard that
reminds me to be proud of my own hobo beard. When he
cuts his beard he loses his hoboic powers and nearly
succumbs to the pretty rich women. A good lesson. He has
the best name ever, Priapus Boudu. There is something
beautiful in suicide over the loss of a dog, isn’t there? In
fiction at least. Boudu is such a solid cartoon of man
unleashed, that it almost makes me uncomfortable to write
about. Like getting a phd in beer drinking, or something.
Writing about him puts one in opposition to him- a sad
place to be. So to keep my own priappic delusions upright,
we’ll move away from the heroic hobo. For a few
paragraphs at least.

Boudu is clearly Renoir’s hero here, but he is not the
protagonist. But then… who? The boring, impotent
bookseller, duh! Bookseller works, though, because he’s
not a simple image of repressed urges and inactivity. He is
after all the only man in paris not content to just watch
hobos drown in the seine. And he’s aware of how pathetic
he sometimes seems, making up for it with his charity. His
charity ends up creating some costly chaos. Renoir
presents the Bookseller as a man in a cage. He’s always
shot in tight quarters, entombed in gadgets and books. His
condition is neatly emphasized, in my favorite scene of the
movie, as he telescopically tracks Boudu’s voyage through
the open air of the city and its tree covered parks. Shot I
think with a telescopic lens, this sequence is short but
powerful, establishing Boudu as a force apart from the
bustle of the working class.

Boudu is id, while Bookseller is everyman. When
Bookseller drags Boudu from the water and into his home,
he unleashes some unexpected anarchy. Unexpected, but it
may not be unwelcome. The hobo has his way with
Bookseller’s wife and mistress – in the wife’s case, what
initially looks a lot like rape is never met with formal
charges. Bookseller and his family need some anarchy, but
Boudu is clearly more than bargained. That may just be
the point here: Bookseller is charitable, or wants badly to
be, but charity can be too costly.

I got boudu’d by my redneck neighbors recently. “You
guys ought to come over some time,” I say casually. So
they do, every goddamn day. J and L, fellow blobbers, got
boudu’d too when they visited us for dinner. “I like the
pole not the hole,” she says as she steals my guest’s chair.
Oh well, I’m a sucker for Boudu too. Instead of saying,
“We have guests, you have to leave,” I poured shots and
laughed/cringed at her innuendos. I almost invited the
drunken mayor of Blair Street, Billy Two Shoes, over, in
the spirit of really offending the guests. I can seriously
imagine him pinching the asses of my female guests and
wrapping his legs around their waists and kissing their
breasts in true Boudu fashion. I want the chaos, too,
Bookseller. I want it bad, but I won’t want it in the
morning, when the bill arrives; when the neighbors ask me
to buy their kid diapers or for a ride to the roller rink. I’ll
wish I could pull a Boudu and escape back to the water.
I’m not Boudu; I’m the boring, impotent bookseller.

But this movie is good. So good that I’m really looking
forward to more Renoir. I hope to make the verb “boudu”
a household term for the invasion of the id. I hope toboudu you all one day.