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Archive for the ‘Capsuled Thoughts’

SIFF 2011: Pina Astounds, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is Documentary 101

September 19, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

Drop everything and come to Shaw Lido tonight (Sept 19, Mon, 9.30pm) to see Pina, which I saw two days ago and can’t wait to see again. Here’s why:

It’s a vision of the future of 3D cinema. Even more than James Cameron’s Avatar before it, Pina makes a single-handed, multi-bodied case for what 3D cinema should look like if it is to take pride in being a legitimate art form. The elaborate planning needed to capture famed choreographer Pina Bausch’s dances—ingenious with space, and filmed nonstop before live audiences—even implies that 3D might be the key to restoring lost staging practices and less hyperactive editing styles to the movies. (Ironic that this newfangled “gimmick” should offer itself as a potential messiah to all the ever-lamenting Hollywood classicists.)

It’s the hulking Citizen Kane of dance retrospectives. As if its groundbreaking use of deep cinematic space wasn’t enough of a clue, Pina stakes its claim to being the Citizen Kane of dance retrospectives by revealing Bausch to us through the legacies and people she left behind, in ways that defy easy summary. Instead of filming regular talking heads, Wenders layers the testimonies of the dancers of Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal over clips of their faces. More than one reminisces about Bausch’s penetrating gaze, which read them more clearly than they could give voice to, so it’s almost like Wenders is trying to exhume Bausch’s very gaze.

It was almost never made. The attention that Pina accords to the Tanztheater Wuppertal dancers grows even more poignant when you learn that Wenders cancelled plans to make the film after Bausch died unexpectedly, just a few days before filming was initially slated to begin. It was at the behest of these dancers (and Bausch’s fans worldwide) that Wenders decided to press on. “Dance, dance, or we are lost,” cries the movie’s subtitle as the credits end, and I can’t think of a more fitting rallying cry for these people who, through Bausch’s influence and choreography, ask to be found.

Just as Pina feels infused with the spirit of all the dancers that surrounded its making, Cave of Forgotten Dreams has the head and heart of the people that accompanied its making: academics. It isn’t a knock to say that this documentary about the Chauvet Caves, which hold the earliest cave paintings known to man, feels much like the movie an archaeologist or art historian or anthropologist would have made.

I daresay director Werner Herzog is a little bit of all those respectable professions, and he defers even more to the small group of actual professors in his midst who, like his filmmaking team, have been allowed a rare visit to study the caves under limited time and conditions (no touching, no straying from the narrow central walkway, etc). Yet Herzog’s own specific penchant for spelunking for people’s stories and dreams shines through (an archaeologist he interviews turns out to have been a unicycle-and-juggling circus man), even if his inimitable deadpan sometimes makes his meditations on the subject more portentous than his documentary-101 approach otherwise affords.

Best Shot: Beauty and the Beast

April 13, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

If there’s any doubt what Belle’s life as a princess will be like after the credits have rolled, this shot provides the answer. “Far-off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise”: she’s been there, and more besides. Is there another movie—an animated children’s film, no less—that has so compellingly explored the complex emotional territories of filial self-sacrifice, mob hysteria, the politics of mental illness, and full-blown romantic despair? One imagines Belle will now be content if everything else were to be found just in books. I know I would be, if I had a library like that.


Best Shot: Heavenly Creatures (The Hills are Alive…)

April 06, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

Back in 1994, Peter Jackson already showed a great facility for having his camera swoop around the vistas of New Zealand. The above swirling shot of Heavenly Creatures might well recall the iconic opening of The Sound of Music—until we hear Juliet Hulmes’ bawling seep into the soundtrack. Using a sunny, animated landscape shot to indicate a tormented interior? Yowza! Indeed, no screencap can do justice to the persistence with which Jackson and his editor Jamie Selkirk keep the camera alive and moving throughout Heavenly Creatures, by means of trailing the wild swoops, fancies and injustices in the minds of its adolescent leads. Come back to us, Peter Jackson!

Nolan’s Best Shot: Memento

March 16, 2011 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

These days, director Christopher Nolan is justifiably esteemed for risking his blockbusters on such nominally cerebral material as InceptionThe Dark Knight, and The Prestige. But for me, Nolan’s breakout success Memento—today celebrating the tenth anniversary of its release—is still the movie that best corrals his recurring strengths and weaknesses into one taut package. I’d go further to advise fans and skeptics alike to catch the chronological-order cut of the movie (available on the Limited Edition DVD), which shores up how duly the movie’s meticulous construction serves its high-concept premise, its reliance on copious exposition and its motivating dead lovers—all tropes that have since dogged Nolan’s work, often for the worse.

But more than that, the chronological-order cut also offers a crucial look at how editing can utterly change our conception of an actor’s craft, and a writer-director’s rounded compassion. The above shot, my pick for Nathaniel Roger’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot series, offers the gist of my elations and problems with Memento. I’ve heard somewhere that, coming off the back of The Matrix‘s success (my review), Carrie-Anne Moss’ signing on to Memento was what led to the project being green-lit. Funny that we haven’t seen much of her since, while the two movies that remain her most prominent cultural legacies are still going strong a decade later. And they both reduce her to token plot points! That’s irony for you.


First Night at Doc Films: Stan Brakhage’s Murder Psalm

September 29, 2010 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

If you want an auspicious start with Doc Films, which screens movies every night of the academic year at the University of Chicago, you wouldn’t find it with late-era Stan Brakhage. No offense to the master, but these apparently random film collages failed to make a case against the urgency of my reading assignments. I did make it through Murder Psalm, Brakhage’s 16-minute short that intercuts “found” clips of Mickey Mouse barraging down a city street, trotting warhorses in negative, a corpse being slit, a girl assaulted by the splash of a beach ball on a fountain, another girl driven to an epileptic fit by a flash of lightning, yet another girl staring at her unchanging reflection in the mirror—or is it, etc. There are interpretations to be made here about the multiplicity of violence, identity and horror, though such interpretations may find it harder to justify the interpolating frames of damaged nitrate (one wonders if they were part of the original). To be charitable, I’m clearly still unprepared for the avant-garde, and I’m not yet willing to cede all worth in the movies to the strength of their coherence and readability. But so it goes.

Nonetheless, I am now the proud owner of a Doc Films quarterly pass, which lets you into every. single. movie. that Doc is showing this quarter, a veritable list that includes (in screening order) Gilda, Pather Panchali, McCabe & Mrs Miller, Dr Strangelove, The Kids Are All Right,  The Birth of a Nation, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Intolerance, Back to the Future, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Winter’s Bone, Eyes Wide Shut and I Am Love. So I’m not at all shaken that I dropped down $30 earlier for a slip of paper into 16 minutes of disjointment; it’ll pay itself back. I’m more concerned about the two acquaintances I met earlier who paid $5 each for their regular admission tickets, then came over to ask me what tonight’s film was about. I had to suppress my mirth at their facial expressions when I mentioned the words “avant-garde director”. But, again, so it goes.