Saturday, 24 November 2007

Seven Works

Seven Works
Seven Works, edited by Elena Crippa, is a catalogue of recent works by the artist Santiago Sierra, including his new Anthropometric Modules (sculptures moulded from dried human excrement), to accompany the forthcoming New Works exhibition at the Lisson Gallery, London.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Spellbound

Spellbound
Spellbound was directed by Alfred Hitchcock for producer David O Selznick. The film's theme, psychoanalysis, was suggested by Selznick, who was in analysis at the time. Ingrid Bergman (as radiant as ever) plays Constance Petersen, a psychoanalyst who correctly diagnoses that John Ballantine (played quite blandly by Gregory Peck) is suffering from delusional amnesia. She must discover his real identity before the police find him and charge him with murder.

Selznick was notorious for his personal supervision of the films he produced, often over-ruling the directors and assuming ultimate creative responsibility. (Gone With The Wind, for example, has one credited director, though two others worked on it at different times and Selznick is effectively the film's auteur.) Hitchcock planned his films down to the last detail in pre-production, and, to avoid post-production changes, he shot only the specific angles that he knew he would use. After his Selznick contract expired, he personally produced every film he subsequently directed. The joke in North By Northwest about Roger O Thornhill's middle initial standing for "Nothing" is a sly dig at Selznick's similar affectation, and, more surprisingly, the murderer in Rear Window bears an uncanny resemblance to Selznick.

One of Hitchcock's favourite actors, Leo G Carroll, appeared in five films for the director besides Spellbound. Ingrid Bergman would later star in Hitchcock's Notorious, one of his greatest films. (Incidentally, one reason why it is so great is that Selznick was preoccupied with writing Duel In The Sun so he didn't interfere in the production.)

Spellbound has rather too much psychobabble; the whole script plays like the last reel of Psycho. Also, the early scenes in which Petersen is misconstrued as frigid and a female patient is treated for nymphomania feel laboured and un-necessary. The two close-up point-of-view shots (drinking drugged milk and suicide by shooting, the latter featuring a flash of red in an otherwise monochrome film) are a bit gimmicky. On the other hand, the music score by Miklos Rozsa is fascinating, featuring the first use of the theremin in any film soundtrack.

The film is probably most famous for its short dream sequence, designed by the over-rated Surrealist artist Salvador Dali and directed (uncredited) by William Cameron Menzies. Dali's concepts borrow heavily from the iconography of his previous paintings, and from his and Luis Bunuel's film Un Chien Andalou.

Creature From The Black Lagoon (2D)

Creature From The Black Lagoon
Creature From The Black Lagoon, directed by Jack Arnold, is one of the most iconic of all science-fiction films. It may not have the visual spectacle of Metropolis, nor the philosophical insight of 2001, but it does have a red-blooded, web-fingered, amphibious gill-man.

The eponymous creature, an evolutionary missing link, is discovered in an Amazonian lagoon by a team of scientists. As their fact-finding expedition progresses, the creature kills the more expendable of them and abducts the film's token female love-interest. The film itself is also a missing link, half-way between King Kong (a primitive monster capturing a distressed woman) and Jaws (a small group in a boat, attacked by a deadly marine animal).

The film was originally released in 3D, like Jack Arnold's previous It Came From Outer Space, which the underwater photography (including a lyrical pas de deux, directed by James C Havens) takes full advantage of. The above-water scenes are more routine, with repetitive, melodramatic music cues and a predictable plot preventing any genuine suspense or surprise. It's great fun, though.

Arnold also directed a sequel to this film, Revenge Of The Creature. His most interesting sci-fi production of the period is the existential The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Syndromes & A Century

Syndromes & A Century
Syndromes & A Century, the latest film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, was screened tonight at Alliance Francaise in Bangkok. (It will also be shown tomorrow.) The director was present to introduce the film and answer questions afterwards. It was, sadly, shown on DVD instead of 35mm, due to 'technical difficulties', just like their Georges Melies event two weeks ago.

These screenings offer a very rare chance to see the film in Thailand, as it is effectively banned from distribution in this country. When it was originally submitted to the censors at the Ministry of Culture, they insisted that four (totally innocuous) scenes be removed; rather than mutilate his work, Apichatpong instead decided not to release it here at all, forming the Free Thai Cinema Movement to campaign against state censorship.

The film begins in a rural clinic, with a female consultant interviewing a male army doctor. The doctor falls in love with her, though she tells him that she is keen on someone else, a lotus-seller seen in a long flashback. One of her patients, an (unsympathetic) elderly monk, recounts a dream in which he is attacked by chickens. At the same clinic, a singing dentist strikes up a friendship with one of his patients, a young monk who dreams of being a DJ.

Then, at the halfway point, the film begins again: the consultant interviews the army doctor, the old monk recounts his dream, and the dentist treats the young monk. This time, the location has shifted to a city hospital, and, rather than falling for the consultant, the army doctor has a beautiful girlfriend instead.

I readily admit that I can't explain exactly what it's supposed to be about. Like Apichatpong's mystical Tropical Malady, it is a film of two distinct halves, a beautiful and tranquil enigma. I want to watch it again immediately.

Unknown Forces

Unknown Forces
Unknown Forces, edited by Sonthaya Subyen, is a monograph on Thai film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It is part of the Filmvirus series (#11). This post is not really a review of the book, because I can't read Thai, but the book is well worth buying for anyone who can.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Strangers On A Train

Strangers On A Train
In Strangers On A Train, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, two men meet by chance in a train carriage. One (Bruno, played by Robert Walker) recognises the other, Guy (Farley Granger), who is a famous tennis player. Bruno initiates a conversation between them, in which he subtly exposes Guy's insecurities. Bruno then makes a theoretical proposal: that he will kill Guy's unfaithful wife if Guy kills his father. Guy laughs dismissively at the idea, and leaves the train.

Then, when Bruno carries out his end of the arrangement, he pressures Guy to do likewise. Guy refuses, though he realises that he cannot tell the police that Bruno killed his wife because Bruno would claim that they had plotted the scheme together. Thus, Guy is treated as a suspect by the police, and must find some way to stop Bruno from framing him.

The plot, an archetypal Hithcock concept, comes from Patricia Highsmith's novel Strangers On A Train, which Hitchcock adapted with Czenzi Ormonde and Barbara Keon. Novelist Raymond Chandler had been originally contracted to write the script, though Chandler disliked collaborating with Hitchcock. Chandler regarded Hitchcock's contributions as interferences, while, for Hitchcock, collaborating on a script was the most enjoyable part of the creative process.

The novel's central premise remains unchanged in the film; this is unsurprising, as it's such a perfect Hitchcockian scenario. There was a major structural alteration, however: in the book, Guy does indeed kill Bruno's father, whereas in the film he does not. Highsmith's book is about the corruption of innocence: Bruno's pervasive persistence ultimately drives Guy to murder, much as Iago poisons the mind of William Shakespeare's Othello.

Hitchcock's film, on the other hand, explores the persecution of innocence, with an innocent man under constant suspicion (a theme he dealt with equally directly in The 39 Steps, North By Northwest, and The Wrong Man), as Bruno encourages Guy to feel guilty for a crime he has not committed. Other Hitchcock preoccupations are present, too: the idea of the 'perfect murder' is a conversation topic in both this film and Shadow Of A Doubt; also, the 'Oedipus complex' lies at the heart of the mother-son relationships here, in Psycho, and in Notorious.

The most striking element in the film is Robert Walker's performance as Bruno. He perfectly captures the character's decadence, obsession, and psychosis. Indeed, notwithstanding his murder of Guy's wife, he is the most engaging character in the film, and the audience is invited to sympathise with him. Hitchcock's villains were often more engaging than his heroes: Uncle Charlie, for instance, in Shadow Of A Doubt, Norman in Psycho, and Tony in Dial M For Murder. Bruno is also another in a line of Hitchcock's gay characters: while Brandon and Phillip in Rope, Leonard in North By Northwest, and Mrs Danvers in Rebecca are not explicitly homosexual, they are, like Bruno, implicitly coded as gay.

The notion of contrastive doubling is another significant aspect of the film, recalling the two Charlies of Shadow Of A Doubt: two leading men (gay/straight, guilty/innocent), two love interests (Madonna/whore), and two detectives (good cop/bad cop). The psychological subtexts (doubling, Oedipal relationships, transference of guilt) add layers of interest to a thoroughly entertaining and blackly comic film.

Aside from the brilliant performances by Walker (in his only Hitchcock film) and Granger (who had previously appeared in Rope), the supporting cast is also outstanding. Leo G Carroll (veteran of five other Hitchcock films) is superb, and Hitchcock's daughter Patricia (who later appeared in Psycho) has a substantial role. This film also marks the beginning of Hitchcock's collaboration with cinematographer Robert Burks, who would go on to photograph eleven further films for the director.

The standout sequence is before Guy's tennis match, when the spectators' heads turn like metronomes from left to right to left to right, following each volley of the ball, while Bruno stares conspicuously ahead. The ending, however, is less impressive: there is an unrealistic (typically outrageous) shootout on an out-of-control carousel, followed by a studio-imposed coda. Fortunately, though, the ending cannot diminish one of Hitchcock's greatest films.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Get Real

Get Real
Get Real
Eames chairs
Get Real is an exhibition organised by furniture design company Herman Miller. The exhibition features classic pieces of furniture (principally chairs) designed for the company since 1946. The highlights are George Nelson's bright, quirky Marshmallow sofa (1956) and, especially, the mass-produced moulded plywood (1946) and plastic (1948) chairs by Charles and Ray Eames. Get Real is at Siam Paragon from 10th November until tomorrow.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Zoo

Zoo
Robinson Devor's film Zoo is a documentary about Kenneth Pinyan, who died in 2005. Pinyan, also known by the pseudonym Mr Hands, was a zoophile who fatally perforated his colon during sex with a horse at a farm near Enumclaw, Washington. (Bestiality was not illegal in Washington at that time, though it was criminalised following Pinyan's death.)

The use of reconstructions and atmospheric imagery, and the lack of authoritative narration or detailed factual information, are increasingly common in contemporary documentaries. In Zoo, audio interviews with other Enumclaw zoophiles (who never refer to Pinyan by name) are accompanied by overly aestheticised, non-judgemental reconstructions of the events they describe.

Devor consciously avoids sensationalising the subject-matter, though explicit video footage of Pinyan and a horse is shown for a few seconds in the corner of the frame. The only other instance (to my knowledge) of comparably explicit material being legally available was in 2002, when La Fura dels Baus included a similarly brief and graphic clip of a woman and a horse in their multi-media play XXX.

There are very few precedents for a documentary on this subject. On UK television, Channel 4 screened Hidden Love: Animal Passions in 1999, which featured an interview with Mark Matthews, another zoophile with a passion for horses. Matthews was a guest on the Jerry Springer Show in 1998, though the episode (I Married A Horse) has never been broadcast.

Monday, 5 November 2007

"Ytringsfrihed er Dansk"

Dansk Folkeparti
After their Mohammed cartoons competition last year, Dansk Folkeparti's poster for the forthcoming Danish election features a drawing of Mohammed with the anti-censorship slogan "Ytringsfrihed er Dansk, censur er det ikke" ("Freedom of speech is Danish, censorship isn't").

Friday, 2 November 2007

Film Factfinder

Film Factfinder
Film Factfinder, like Ronald Bergan's Film, features a concise guide to film genres, directors, countries, and 100 key films. Unlike Bergan's book, it does include a film glossary and a biographical dictionary of actors yet does not include any photographs. Each entry is rather brief: the biographies are less than ten sentences each, and each genre and country is given only one or two paragraphs. (The book is edited by Camilla Rockwood; the lists of directors and actors first appeared in the Chambers Book Of Facts.)

Film Factfinder's alphabetical list of 100 "Notable Films" is as follows:
  • Amores Perros
  • Andrei Rublev
  • Apocalypse Now
  • L'Atalante
  • Battleship Potemkin
  • Belle De Jour
  • Bicycle Thieves
  • The Big Sleep
  • The Birth Of A Nation
  • Blade Runner
  • Blow-Up
  • Blue Velvet
  • Bonnie & Clyde
  • Breathless
  • Brief Encounter
  • Brighton Rock
  • The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari
  • Casablanca
  • Chinatown
  • Citizen Kane
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Close-Up
  • Days Of Heaven
  • Deep Throat
  • La Dolce Vita
  • Don't Look Back
  • Do The Right Thing
  • Easy Rider

  • Eraserhead
  • ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
  • The Exorcist
  • Farenheit 9/11
  • Fear Eats The Soul
  • The 400 Blows
  • Frankenstein
  • The General
  • The Godfather I-III
  • The Gold Rush
  • Gone With The Wind
  • The Gospel According To St Matthew
  • Greed
  • High Noon
  • His Girl Friday
  • It's A Wonderful Life
  • The Jazz Singer
  • Jules & Jim
  • King Kong
  • Last Tango In Paris
  • Last Year At Marienbad
  • Lawrence Of Arabia
  • The Leopard
  • The Lord Of The Rings I-III
  • Manhattan
  • Man With A Movie Camera
  • Metropolis
  • The Night Of The Hunter
  • Night Of The Living Dead
  • The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
  • Pather Panchali
  • Pickpocket
  • Psycho
  • Raging Bull
  • Raise The Red Lantern
  • Rashomon
  • Rebel Without A Cause
  • The Red Shoes
  • The Rules Of The Game
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Russian Ark
  • Sans Soleil
  • Saturday Night & Sunday Morning
  • Schindler's List
  • The Searchers
  • Seven
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Shadows
  • Singin' In The Rain
  • Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs
  • Some Like It Hot
  • The Sound Of Music
  • Star Wars IV-VI
  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Sunrise
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Taxi Driver
  • Three Colours: Blue/White/Red
  • Titanic
  • Tokyo Story
  • Touch Of Evil
  • Toy Story
  • Trainspotting
  • Triumph Of The Will
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • Vertigo
  • Whisky Galore
  • White Heat
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Wings Of Desire
  • The Wizard Of Oz
The list actually includes 108 films, taking the various trilogies into consideration. It was compiled by Hannah McGill. Note that Titanic is the James Cameron version and Frankenstein is the James Whale version. Also, Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy.

Film Classics

Film Classics
Film Classics is a film studies primer published by SparkNotes (like CliffsNotes, but not as good). The book discusses twenty classic films, and begins by explaining the criteria for inclusion: technical achievement, influence, universal appeal, zeitgeist, and genre. There is also a "Shortlist of Great Directors", which lists ten significant film-makers (or eleven, because Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut are listed together). Ingmar Bergman and Sergei Eisenstein, to name but two, are conspicuous by their absence.

Each film is given around thirty pages of analysis, though the list of films is far too limited: there are only two foreign-language films, and only one silent film. Because Star Wars, The Matrix, The Godfather, and The Lord Of The Rings are all included as trilogies, there are twenty-eight films in the list, rather than twenty. (There are four films by Francis Coppola, yet none by Akira Kurosawa, Fritz Lang, Howard Hawks, Jean Renoir, or Kenji Mizoguchi - a slight imbalance?)

The classic films are as follows, in chronological order:
  • The Birth Of A Nation
  • Gone With The Wind
  • Citizen Kane
  • Casablanca
  • On The Waterfront
  • Vertigo
  • Sleeping Beauty

  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Godfather I-III
  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
  • Taxi Driver
  • Annie Hall
  • Star Wars IV-VI
  • Apocalypse Now
  • Schindler's List
  • The Matrix I-III
  • The Lord Of The Rings I-III
  • Spirited Away
It's difficult to know who would benefit from this book. It's aimed at film students, but it's totally unacademic. There is no bibliography, the analyses of each film are all uncited and anonymous, and there are no references to film theory of any kind. General readers, though, would surely find it too dry, with its character analyses and interpretations of themes, motifs, and symbols.