Marley

E40. That was the seat number. The Holy Grail. By now I am so baked I don’t know what is up. I’m in the mezzanine level of the State. The movie starts in five minutes. Please take your seats. I feel safe that this will be a gentle film. I am in disguise – beanie and spectacles. I am bent.

I thought it would be a good idea to see Marley stoned. This had always been the tentative plan. I was fortunate enough to procure a bit of weed and rolled myself a nice little spliff for the occasion. I decided not to take the train in. I didn’t think I could face Town Hall platform late at night. It was bad enough in my vulnerable state after my near meltdown during Rampart two nights earlier. So I drove in.

It was a Monday night, the public holiday. I figured parking would be easy in the CBD. Sure enough, I found a spot on Pitt Street, up from Market, a one-minute walk from the theatre. My plan was to arrive early, blaze up in the car so to minimise my public stonedness, walk straight through the foyer and take my seat and wait for the lights to dim. Quite aware of how painfully shy I get in the realm of the ganja, I wore a disguise. I donned a massive beanie, the closest thing I had in tribute to Rastafari headware, and some highly reflective non-prescriptive spectacles. If I can’t see them, they can’t see me.

The zone was still metred. Aware that marijuana wreaks havoc on my gross motor skills, I didn’t want to be reading street signs and negotiating coins and parking metres. OK, I’ll get out, pay the metre first, come back to my car, wind all windows up, and toke some reefer. A good plan. I reclined my seat a little, waited for an old couple to walk past, and surreptitiously lit my spliff. Within a few minutes I had myself a serious Dutch oven. Could people tell? Were the police gonna tap on my window? It was rather quiet that night on Pitt Street. I’d be alright.

I waited till about 9:20 and made a beeline to the State. The foyer was packed. Sheesh. I avoided eye contact. But I needed a beer. Yes, a beer. I joined the queue and breathed. Nobody see me. I’m here for Bob, that’s all. Sir, if you want to take your drink in, you’ll need a plastic cup. Hmm. I imagined my clumsy attempts to pour my Peroni into a plastic cup in that crowded cinema, dousing the lady beside me. Getting thrown out of the State. Nah, I’ll scull it in the foyer. It’s alright.

The theatre doors were yet to open. I stood in the middle of that foyer, people swarming around me. I reminded myself of that Dave Graney song Rock and Roll is Where I Hide. As I staved off an impending psychotic episode, the doors finally opened. I nodded to the usher as I flashed my iPhone ticket and with great determination found E40. I removed my coat and placed it in my lap, leant forward and waited. At last I was safe.

Marley was phenomenal. I had no idea what a warrior he was, that following an assassination attempt, he literally sang for his life. I had re-watched No Direction Home, Scorsese’s great film on Dylan, a week earlier. But this was something else. For Dylan, it really had been just about the music, the poetry. His mission was an exploration of creativity. He’d always denied his political agenda. “I’m just a song and dance man.” But Marley was almost the opposite, fighting for change, using song as a conscious means for peace. Both were outsiders, struggling with identity. But I had not realised the extent of this for Marley, that he was the child of a black mother and white father. I knew little of the Rastafari movement, and how integral it was to the use of cannabis and to the emergence of Reggae. There was no separating Bob Marley from the music, from the ganja, from the religion. He was all and more.

And I also got Reggae. It’s fucking sexy.

I had caught the Woody Allen doco that morning. I adore Woody Allen as a filmmaker, and it was a sheer pleasure to be immersed in the footage and excerpts of his films and interviews with his collaborators. It was a standard chronology of his life and career. But Marley was an enlightening and profound experience. I’ll attribute that to Kevin Macdonald. He’s assembled a fascinating story – faithful to its subject – the time, the man and the music – beautifully paced and filmed. And, yes, I can also attribute some of that to the ganja. The Rastas say it is a spiritual act, a sacrament that cleans the body and mind, heals the soul, exalts the consciousness and facilitates peacefulness. But most of all, and like the potential of cinema, it opens people’s minds to the truth.

On The Road

Back-slapping, homoerotic, sycophantic, man-love, bromance sometimes on the road but mostly in little rooms in shaky close-ups.

I was bored. Like the book, the story is all over the place. Literally, of course. But I think this movie proves that some novels are not going to translate well. The whole thing seemed like a representation of the novel. A wax figure. There was no story. I felt no sense of where this was going, no sense of a beginning, middle or end, I had no investment in the next moment, I didn’t give a fuck about any of the characters, no nothing. The book is like that too, and that’s probably why I’ve had to put the book down and pick it up months later. It’s a sprawling ramble.

The film is too literal. Especially the characters.

There’s a sycophantic hero worship of Dean Moriarty, both in the the novel and in this film. It’s fine in the novel – there’s no other way to represent him but with description. I mean, the quote is: “The only people for me are the mad ones…” To do the same in a film is to set up for a fall. It’s like fictional rock stars depicted in film. They never ring true – only generalised stereotypes. Who can fill this man’s shoes? I’ve never seen Garrett Hedlund before, but something bothered me. I could not help but feel that here is a pretty Hollywood actor from the Midwest doing his best impersonation of the description of Moriarty, to be tougher and cooler than he actually is. It reminded me of Val Kilmer in Tombstone with a touch of Christian Slater. His deep voice seemed like an affectation. I may be wrong there. But the permanently confident smile, the backslapping, the twinkling eyes all seemed to be external representations of the character. We have Dean/Neal on the surface, but no gravitas. Oh, for a young Jack Nicholson.

And that begs the question – where are the Steve McQueens, the Jack Nicholsons, Dennis Hoppers of today? Who can fill this man Cassady’s shoes? He needs to be inhabited from the inside, from his essence. I was amazed to discover this:

Nolte is one of the most underrated actors in cinema. I mentioned Nicholson before. Now, here’s something interesting – Ken Kesey met Cassady around 1962 when Kesey was writing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Did Kesey base Randle Patrick McMurphy on Neal Cassady? Apparently so.

Dean Moriarty and R.P. McMurphy are the same person. Ha!

I wanted to like this film, but suspected I wouldn’t. It’s a shame, because who’s going to have a crack at it now? As I mentioned before, this film was too literal. I’d like to see a movie inspired by On the Road.

It’s called On the Road. There’s cinematic gold just in the title! I want to see open spaces! I want to see the stars at night, I want to sit on freight trains at dawn across the prairie, meander through Momument Valley, I want to be free, in the open, wind in my hair. This was captured in the first five minutes when Sal Paradise hops the back of a pick-up truck. The glow of a cigarette cherry in the breeze at dusk. Lovely. Then never again for the rest of the movie. Those are not the boring bits! Put them in! That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? In a film of On the Road, I’m hoping to feel the cinematic experience of Days of Heaven, Y Tu Mama Tambien, even The Brown Bunny. I want Easy Rider, goddamnit! Isn’t the jazz and the language and the stream of consciousness that Kerouac pumped into his book the soundtrack and spirit of being free physically? I could have had two hours of shots of cars on the road over staggering landscapes to all kinds of music. Give me Koyaanisqatsi on the highway. Give me something to meditate on. Don’t give me this literal representation of a seminal novel. Don’t put page on screen! It don’t work.

Milos Forman didn’t with Kesey, and look what happened there – they created a fucking masterpiece.

Just the Wind

Riveting, shocking.

Ahh, now this is cinema. Just got out of the matinee of this Hungarian film and I am feeling a little awe-struck. I posted earlier today about Mabo, and I couldn’t help but think if only it had been given this treatment.

This is a rather bleak story, told in a very minimalist way. A family of Gypsies in rural Hungary is living in fear and paranoia after a string of murders in the local neighbourhood. This film reminded me of the two Elephants, by Alan Clarke and Gus Van Sant.

Screendaily in Berlin had this to say about director Benedek Fliegauf’s second film, Dealer: This is a test of endurance for misguided audiences seeking pure entertainment. Those accustomed to Hollywood and others’ over-stylised view on drugs culture, replete with flashing guns and/or flying punches, will find it like a trip to another planet that you will never want to visit again. Those with more down-to-earth first knowledge of drug sub-culture will not be shocked by its despondent mood nor its forbidding length and instead appreciate Flieghauf’s remarkable achievement.

The same can be said for Just the Wind. Most of the movie is silent, the camera following its protagonist as they walk through the woods. But it pulls the audience in with the constant threat of violence. And the result is enthralling. Check it out for some compassionate, intelligent, gripping cinema that doesn’t tell you how to think.

Next chance to see it – 4:30 Sunday June 10.

Whores’ Glory

The Price of False Illusions

For the first 15 minutes of this film, there was nothing that I was watching that distinguished it from being a documentary or a piece of cinema verite fiction. There is no narration, the action unfolds through glimpses of natural human interaction. But I began to doubt the reality of some of the scenarios. Not because what I was seeing didn’t seem authentic or natural, but because the people being filmed displayed no awareness of the camera. For example, when two customers were being shown through a brothel, they continued to speak candidly, even though the camera at times would have been only two feet away. At no point did they say, “Hey, what’s with the camera?” Later in the film there is a tracking shot of a young prostitute pacing through the corridor of a crowded Bangladesh brothel. It’s reminiscent of the classic kitchen-restaurant sequence in Goodfellas (and Swingers for that matter). She never looked at the camera, but maintained her anguished intensity, like a good actress. Logic told me that they must have been told to ignore it. Therein lies a fundamental paradox in documentary – once you put a camera in a room, things cease to be real, but pretend to be real.

I went with it. This is not a criticism. I trusted that despite the possibility that some things were potentially staged or re-enacted, I was still privy to a real world, real human beings, and a real portrait of life. I’ve read that Glawogger has been criticised for this, and I love what he says in response.

It would be horrible if it would be objective! There is no such thing, it’s just a huge big lie. If anyone says it exists it would bore the shit out of everybody. Filmmaking is like an art. You have a stand-point and the view of the world and you show it. Everything else is nothing. So, what’s the talk about being objective? It doesn’t exist. You can’t depict reality without interference, without making a craft of it, without showing it through your eyes. It just doesn’t exist. It’s a myth.

The director Michael Glawogger must be influenced by Fred Wiseman, who shoots hundreds of hours of footage before cutting it into 90 minutes. An inevitable (or conscious) narrative emerges. The story is told in the editing, not in the frame. Like Wiseman’s films, the cinematography in Whores’ Glory is stunning. Every frame is beautifully composed. Some shots looked like Nan Goldin stills. It’s no surprise he has a background in photography. A lesson for filmmakers. You don’t need to make your fiction look like documentary. Throw ‘cinema verite’ out the window. Because, like I said, here is a documentary that looks like fiction. There was no jerky hand-held motion – all the camera movement was fluid, with smooth tracking shots and gorgeous framing. An incredible sequence in a Mexican bar with an old woman selling roses, and just as she exits the frame the camera pans around to hold on a band just as they begin to play, perfectly composed of course! In true documentary form, it’s about capturing the moments. The madam yelling in a rage was priceless. You never see human behaviour like this in film acting. Why not? Is it too real? The Mexican man cruising in his car whilst delivering a monologue – everything he said, in all it’s depravity, was perfect. It could not have been scripted better. The retired Mexican prostitute describing how to fellate with ice – pure gold. This concept of captured moments was perhaps epitomised by the shot of a pack of four dogs fucking. The camera held on these animals for over a minute. Now, that may seem indulgent, and not at all servicing the narrative, but it is this kind of audacity that makes me trust a filmmaker – I sense he wants me, the viewer, to think for myself.

I later read that Glawogger shot this on 16mm. “It looks a little warmer for me and I don’t really in an artistic way like the over-sharpness of digital imagery. Imagery is your paint, it makes something of a film if you do it this or that way. And also I always enjoyed the restriction of not filming everything or from every angle without even knowing why and how. So, I like to think about it, I like to create an image of my film and the restriction that film has is something valuable is something that works for my process of working. It’s very easy to become irrelevant if you come to the set with camera already turned on and you film everything all the time. It’s really hard to stay relevant these days.

It’s so reassuring to have a filmmaker devoted to a philosophy. Love it, love, love it. It reminds me of Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice, a fantastic discussion.

http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice.html

Everything I’ve discussed so far is in regards to the filmmaking – the form, and not the content. At the risk of repeating myself, I believe when it comes to art, form is everything. It’s not what you tell, but how you tell it. But this is a film about prostution.

There is beauty in the most tragic moments and there is aggression and boredom in the ordinary. There is hope in war and war in hope. Films that offer resolutions are nothing but bad art, because they cannot truly explore the diversity of the human soul.”  – Michael Glawogger

The content. What can I say? There is an irony to the exchange, which ties in to the documentary form itself. What is real and what is fantasy? A prostitute pretends to herself it’s not real while pretending to the client that it is. These women are actresses.

This film only leaves me with questions. I thank Mr Glawogger for making it. I believe his intention is to open our eyes, our awareness. Being privy to this devestating world was saddening, confronting. I was left with very little hope. In fact, that seemed to be the consistent theme – a lack of hope. These girls are trapped for life.
What disturbed me most was the attitudes of the men. And if there is a solution to this problem – and in my opinion it is a problem – we need to examine why men’s attitudes are the way they are. Why do Bangladeshi women need to be married off by the age of 20? Why are the men so horny? As one man said, if it weren’t for the brothels the men would be raping women in the streets, and if not women, goats and cows. Really? It seems that brothels and prostitution are a symptom of a greater problem, not a cause of the problem. If there were a genuine human need for this kind of exchange, why are the men so disconnected from intimacy? Why are the women involved so broken, so in need of love? And that is what is missing in this whole business – love.

 

He’s Playing My Song

Reflections on Cafe de Flore

It’s almost a cliché to put a Sigur Ros song in your movie, or Pink Floyd. When Scorsese did it in The Departed, I thought he’d ruined Comfortably Numb. It’s always a risk to use famous music for sequences in films – there is just too much personal attachment for the individual. It’s like Forrest Gump using Simon and Garfunkle – sorry, that belongs to The Graduate. Next, we’ll have our children finally watching The Graduate and say, ‘Oh, that’s the music from Forrest Gump!”

Where was I?

I watched Cafe de Flore the other night. It is an amazing film. I will have to break it down on a few levels. I’ll begin by talking about the direction. Brilliant. My first thought was that this guy must do music videos. There was a confidence and style I do not often see in a feature film. It was like a 90-minute rock video. It is beautifully, and somewhat self-consciously photographed – many close-ups, slow-motion. The colour grade in the Paris scenes is sumptuous. And it’s dark – literally. I haven’t seen lighting like that since The Godfather. The editing is choppy – many shots are no longer than a second. This movie is designed to be a visceral experience.

But it is the sound design that makes this film. And no doubt, sound/music is this director’s primary focus. It is an extremely dynamic soundscape – in places very noisy and then suddenly to silence; heavy breathing or humming used to score a montage. And then there is the music. I said earlier that it’s a cliche to use Sigor Ros in a movie. This is somewhat inaccurate. It’s more a cliche for aspiring filmmakers to fantasize about utilising the dreamy soundscapes of Sigur Ros to underscore their profound montages (I speak for myself). In reality, it probably costs a fortune. But this is Jean-Marc Vallee, and it only dawned on me after the film was over that this was the same man who made C.R.A.Z.Y. back in 2005. I only saw it once, but that film has stayed with me as one of the best films of the decade. Vallee fought for the rights to Bowie’s Space Oddity and the Stones’ Sympathy For the Devil, amongst other awesome rock tunes. These songs are not cheap, and for a low-budget film from Canada with no international stars, those rights would have been a massive proportion of the budget. This is where producers crack down on directors to get music that “sounds like” what is in their head.  But it is a testament to Vallee to have stuck to his guns, because it paid off, and C.R.A.Z.Y. is a modern classic.

Back to Cafe de Flore and Sigur Ros. He stole my song. Svefn-G-Englar, track 2 on Agaetis Byrjun is haunting, dreamy, and ten minutes long. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times and always imagined its use in cinema. So when it finally pops up in a film, I felt strangely tickled, like an inside-joke only I understood. And, of course, a little envious. But Vallee uses it audaciously – almost the entire ten minutes. And that is the whole point of the story he is telling, which leads me to the next level of breaking down this film  – the story.

SPOILERS AHEAD.

I cannot discuss this film without revealing its plot. If you have not seen Cafe de Flore, do not read further. It will ruin the experience for you. Go now, buy a ticket and come back to this article later.

Now. I’m gonna riff here, because it’s a hell of a story to get one’s head around. The plot is simple – a man leaves his wife of 20 years for another woman. That is it. In its essence, in terms of events, that is the story being told. Everything in this film is about the why and the repercussions of this event. It employs one of the most non-linear narratives I’ve seen in a film – jumping back and forth from present-day Montreal to 1960s Paris. There really is no linear narrative, other than the ageing of Laurent, the little boy with Down syndrome. Everything else plays out like flashes of memory, dreams, fantasies. Hence, the technical visceral element. I felt in safe hands as it all unfolded, and, remarkably, I was at no point confused or lost.

The movie ultimately suggests that the reason Antoine left his wife for another woman is that he had finally found true love, his soul mate.

Now, this is where things go a little awry, or at best, weird. True love? Soul mate?

This film doesn’t just suggest these notions – it has pegged its entire premise on such. It is not so much telling a story as presenting a hypothesis – what if soul mates exist and can be reincarnated? This film overtly states that there is such a thing as fate, pre-destiny, and reincarnation. That’s lovely, but we as an audience are either going to accept this or we are not. There are a myriad of reasons a man leaves a marriage, and this film does not explore any of them. This is not a story about psychology, or human integrity or values. In fact, it’s rather a hopeless notion that we are all at the whim of destiny. What are we to learn from this? Do you believe there is such a thing as ‘the one’? Do you know when you know? I guess these are the questions this film raises. But the concept bugs me. I’m not satisfied. It feels like a cop-out, a deus ex machina of screenwriting. ‘What if’ premises are dangerous.

Going further, this film suggests that the two Down syndrome children were pre-destined soul mates, and that they are reincarnated/mirrored in Antoine and Rose. Why is one soul attracted to another soul with Down syndrome? And why does Rose happen to be a physically stunning younger woman? If it is a meeting of souls, she could look like anything, right? It is an epidemic that middle-aged men leave their middle-aged wives for younger, beautiful women, but in this case apparently that’s just a coincidence. By the film’s rationale, Rose could have looked like anything. In fact, she could have had Down syndrome herself! Now, that would explore the premise more thoroughly. Maybe I’m going too far. I also take issue with the plot of Back to the Future so I’ll leave it alone.

There are moments that are touching, particularly Vanessa Paradis’ devotion to her son. But it too struck me as an obsession that ultimately was deadly. I am not left with much hope or inspiration.

This movie was simply a visceral ride, with an ultimately false poignancy. I really feel that cleverness is the antithesis of art, and I think as time goes on, I will begin to forget about this film. Because its core is flimsy. It has no real heart, just a crazy idea. But, having said that, Jean-Marc Vallee is a terrificly audacious filmmaker, and I want him to make more.