FARO DOCUMENT

This is a documentary by Ingmar Bergman about the island of Faro. It is, frankly, as miserable as you can imagine.

It’s like a compressed version of the decades-long British “Up” documentary skein – footage from different eras repeating staging, schoolkids interviewed on a bus found years later so we can see how their dreams died. An island slowly being choked off by neglect. Bergman lived and worked on Faro on and off for forty-odd years. Articles about Faro tend to cast it as an enchanted island. Apparently very few people on Faro saw it that way. But there is a sequence in the middle, where dozens of people come together to thatch a barn in a traditional style, that does approach magic. One of the old men overseeing it explains how the local reeds are used to waterproof the structure, showing how the rain runs down the fold of the reed. Of course, during that whole piece, there is this exchange too:

Temporal Grammar

Marker discusses cinema with technical confidence and a lucid, inclusive conception of its nature and relationship to the other arts. In his review of Henry V, he positions cinema as the inheritor and destiny of both theatre and painting, come to ‘finish their conquests, and fulfil their prophesies’.

…The preamble to his essay on Jiri Trnka’s Prince Bayaya pushes aside the false opposition of painting or cinema with a vision of cinema as the art of time and movement…

Marker locates the nature of cinema in the perpetual conflict or exchange between space and time. These two dimensions are reconciled in his notion of a temporal grammar of film shots, where long shots correspond to the past and close-ups to the present. His analysis of Dreyer’s film, renowned for its use of extreme close-ups of the human face to carry the drama, goes beyond conventional psychological readings to correlate the close-ups (along with the minimal, austere decor and costumes) to a tangible experience of historical events made to seem eternally present…

Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, Catherine Lupton (UK) (US)

SHIN GODZILLA

Finally got to see SHIN GODZILLA, made last year by writer/director Hideaki Anno, whose name you may know from NEON GENESIS EVANGELION.  It is recognisably Anno from the top – the staring, dead animal eyes of the creature at the top of the movie could really only be his touch.  SHIN GODZILLA, known elsewhere as GODZILLA RESURGENCE, updates the original by adding the bureaucratic nightmare of the Fukushima reactor disaster to its core theme.  And it works brilliantly, imagining the response to the emergence of Godzilla as paralysed by procedure and politics, much as the response to Fukushima was.

It’s an extraordinary illustration of what you can make when you toss all the tired filmic conventions of saying it emotionally and learning and hugs and the hero’s journey and making sure everyone’s crying and just telling the story you want to tell without diluting or breaking it.  SHIN GODZILLA is a peculiarly pure experience.

SHIN GODZILLA (UK) (US)

(originally written 2 May 2017, recovered from morning.computer)

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK

People do not talk about this film enough. Is it too resistant to analysis because it is so much? Does it overwhelm the viewer, or drain the viewer? Does it defeat a close reading because it says everything? It’s a novel on the screen. I bought it on digital the day it was available. This blu-ray has a bunch of extra stuff. But I mostly wanted it on the shelf, like a favourite novel, there to dip into or spend an evening with. Trying to study its pieces and then getting swept away in its orchestral storm.

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (UK) (US)

ANIARA

This film apparently came out a couple of days ago. This clip is amazing. It appears to be a scene where Holly Herndon & Mat Dryhurst’s SPAWN AI goes full nihilist speculative-realism. Of additional interest — and it does explain some of these scene’s lines – it appears to be based on “a science fiction poem written by Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson in 1956.” I would like to watch this film, I think.

Whispering Pages

A still I grabbed from an online copy of an old Aleksandr Sokurov film. I’d love a decent copy of this on Region 2/Region B, but I’ll live with 720p just to be able to watch it.

Eastern European Movies Dot Com

I’ve been buying a bunch of DVDs and Blu-Rays lately, of films I couldn’t find on any streaming service. And then Nika just fucking tweets about this service. Eastern European Movies has loads of amazing stuff. Nika, thank you. As soon as I can see past the next few weeks of work, I’m going to immerse myself in this site. The pricing goes from $3 for a day of streaming to $100 for unlimited use of the site forever.

Also, goddamn, look at this poster:

HARD TO BE A GOD

HARD TO BE A GOD is an insane film.

Here’s the deal.  In the future, scientists from Earth are inserted into a humanlike society on another planet to observe it.  So far, so Star Trek, right?  It’s based on a Strugatsky Brothers novel from 1964. The Strugatskys were brilliant — you’ve heard of STALKER, based on their ROADSIDE PICNIC.  Anyway, this guy is inserted into the place as Don Rumata, a regional ruler. And he and his fellow observers are their to study a society in a permanent medieval dark age, where an Enlightenment/Renaissance never seems to happen. It’s a stuck culture.

Because it kills anyone who learns how to read and write.

There are no framing shots of Earth. We’re immediately immersed in the medieval village, in all its muck and slime.  I have to note that it is beautifully shot in monochrome, with a deep, rich range of greys.  I should also note that if it were in colour it would be even more astonishingly gross.  The past was pretty disgusting, and HARD TO BE A GOD really wants you to know exactly how disgusting.

The camera is an extra in the crowd. It pushes its way into scenes.  Characters look into the lens.  Into our face.  Because, as Don Rumata is a secret observer from Earth, so are we.  

With a big, eccentric and charismatic turn from Leonid Yarmolnik in the lead, we lurch and stagger through this terrible, time-locked world that kills its brightest, leaving it to the depredations of the venal clubs of mediocrity.

Director Alexsei German’s films were mostly about the Stalinist era, and it’s not hard to see HARD TO BE A GOD as a Stalinist allegory.  I was, here in 2019, also put in mind of recent comments about “the end of the expert” and “the death of expertise.”

The film is an immense experience, sometimes exhausting, often awesome, always surprising.  And caked in muck.  There’s nothing quite like it.  You would appreciate it, I think.  It needs to be seen.

HARD TO BE A GOD (UK) (US)

24 FRAMES

Good meditative film, very much in the zone of Things I’ve Been Thinking about: 24 FRAMES, the last film by Abbas Kiarostami.  He was thinking about the relationship between his two passions, photography and filmmaking.  But he starts with a painting by Bruegel the Elder.  It’s, obviously, a still image, filling the screen. And then the smoke coming from the chimneys begins to move, and the birds hop along the snowy branches and the painting breathes.  It’s limited, clever and tasteful animation.

(I work in comics, and I work in animation, and I work in film and television generally, so, yes, it would seem obvious that I would be interested. But I’ve also been in a k-hole of thoughts around slow cinema and the black-and-white image for a year or two now. God knows what that will output as.)

It is, in fact, 24 frames.  Frames that are still, and then move.  Until you can no longer tell the difference between a still and a long take.  24 frames per second, of course, is the speed of analogue film. It is mesmerising.  There’s a whole lot to unpack about the frame itself, about the screen as window – and the windows on/in the screen and the image – (-and, maybe, the panel?-) – and it is generally a lot bigger, conceptually and textually, that “a film about 24 frames” would suggest.

I bought a goddamn Blu-Ray drive to watch this.

I loved it.

24 FRAMES (UK) (US)