Monday, January 30, 2012

Tarkovsky Allusions in The Tree of Life

Throughout his career, Terrence Malick has been moving towards his own form of non-narrative cinema. His feature debut, Badlands (1973), contains by far the strongest traditional narrative, though within it are glimpses of the style to come (the sections with Kit and Holly hiding out in the woods, for example, which still rank among the finest sequences Malick has shot). With Days of Heaven (1978), his next film, the narrative is pushed further into the background and the characters become somewhat less defined. Much like the story, they're weighed against the landscape, residing and disappearing (to a degree) within it.

By filming around events as well as events themselves, Malick's cinema sets itself against the dominant mode of filmmaking that emphasizes plot and narrative. There are no distinctions in his films between what commercial movies tell us are "significant" and "insignificant" events. In Malick's world, everything is significant. A group of kids playing in a field or a gust of wind sculpting the top of a lake are given as much weight as a wedding or a funeral. His is a cinema of fleeting moments. To further emphasize this shift, the editing of Malick's films has become looser in each subsequent film, his camera more seemingly aimless. Narrative and story come second to sensation and emotion, much like music -- the art Tarkovsky considered to be cinema's closest relative. This method of composing films ends up making The Tree of Life feel a lot like a hyper-version of Tarkovsky's Mirror (1975).

tarkovsky, malick, zerkalo, tree of life, levitation

The Tree of Life is Malick's style distilled to its essence. Likewise, Mirror is the film that best adheres to Tarkovsky's theory of cinema; it's the essence of his unique form distilled. (One could even say he was working towards Mirror ever since his feature debut Ivan's Childhood, which is similar to Badlands in that it's more-or-less a traditional narrative that also contains unique, singular bursts of what was to come.) Finally, in terms of their subject matter and structure, both Tree of Life and Mirror deal with memory in a kind of stream of consciousness-like flow of images (though the former is more of a river, the latter more of a lake).

Below are more similarities between Tarkovsky's films and The Tree of Life. I recognize that just because thematic similarities or rhyming compositions exist between certain images doesn't mean an actual reference is being made. After all, no filmmaker should hold a monopoly on characters lying in the grass or being framed in doorways; however, Tarkovsky does hold the copyright on inexplicable levitation (which Malick quotes), so we can be certain that The Tree of Life tips its hat to Tarkovsky at least once. I'll leave it to you to judge the rest.

Note: In the following images, Tarkovsky's films are on the top and The Tree of Life is on the bottom. They're grouped by film, and in the following order: Mirror (6 images, including the one above); Nostalghia (3); The Sacrifice (2); Solaris (1); Stalker (5). Stalker is the only Tarkovsky film I was able to capture from on my own, the rest I had to find online after taking captures from The Tree of Life.

tarkovsky, malick, mirror, zerkalo, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference

tarkovsky, malick, mirror, zerkalo, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference

tarkovsky, malick, mirror, zerkalo, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference


tarkovsky, malick, mirror, zerkalo, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference, bird, butterfly

tarkovsky, malick, mirror, zerkalo, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference, fire, candle, hand

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tarkovsky, malick, nostalghia, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference, candle

tarkovsky, malick, nostalghia, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference

tarkovsky, malick, sacrifice, offret, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference, baby, carriage

tarkovsky, malick, sacrifice, offret, tree of life, quotes, allusions, reference, planting tree

tarkovsky, malick, solaris, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference, seaweed

tarkovsky, malick, stalker, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference, dog

tarkovsky, malick, stalker, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference, grass, weeds


tarkovsky, malick, stalker, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference, well

tarkovsky, malick, stalker, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference, room, doorway, chastain, porch

tarkovsky, malick, stalker, tree of life, quotes, allusion, reference, doorway, door, frame, salt flats

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Book of Jobs

tar sands, keystone xl, whitehouse protest, earth, game over
"One important measure in this provision that I want to highlight is the Keystone pipeline. As you know, this project would create tens of thousands of jobs in our country. This jobs project has broad support in the House and Senate. It is backed by a broad-based coalition, and I hope the President will approve this pipeline to put those Americans to work." --House Speaker John Boehner, 12/22/11

"The president has apparently vetoed the Keystone Pipeline. Look, let me be honest, this is a stunningly stupid thing to do. These people are so out of touch with reality it's as if they were governing Mars. Stupidity number one - we need the jobs." --Newt Gingrich, 01/18/12

For the past few months, a debate has been raging. If the 1700-mile Keystone XL Pipeline were to be built, how many jobs would it create?

According to Ray Perryman, president of an economic research firm hired by energy giant TransCanada, the answer is 250,000 (or "14,400 person years of employment"). Included in this number are jobs related to hotels, restaurants, and all manner of other nearby businesses that would see a rise in patronage if pipeline construction were to begin.

Perryman's number seems wildly inaccurate. Did he, to use a random example, remember to include Porta-Potty manufacturers in his calculation? (Surely many portable toilets would be needed by construction crews.) If he forgot to include them, then his estimate also ignores the jobs created by whatever company produces the chemical brew used in said Pottys, as well as the new demand for toilet paper manufacturers. This is a problem. By forgetting to include even a few things, Perryman artificially stops the near endless chain reaction of "spin-off" jobs, as they're called by professionals, which makes his jobs number grossly inaccurate by way of underestimation.

Or so I thought.

Once I dug a little deeper, I learned that Perryman was a step ahead. He counted jobs for "dancers, choreographers and speech therapists," citing a previous report on the impact of wind farms. Since the Keystone pipeline will lower the cost of oil, he reasons, it will give people more money to spend on entertainment and the arts.

According to Perryman's very own commonsense calculations, here are some other jobs that will be created by the construction of the pipeline:

138 dentists
176 dental hygienists
100 librarians
510 bread bakers
448 clergy
154 stenographers
865 hairdressers
136 manicurists
110 shampooers
65 farmers
1,714 bartenders
898 reporters
98 public relations people

Reading these numbers embarrassed me: How could I have given Perryman so little credit? How could I have been so naive? If there's one thing I could be sure of, it's that Porta-Pottys had definitely been included.

Despite its stunning sensibility and comprehensiveness, this 250,000 jobs number (later changed to 20,000 permanent jobs and 118,000 spin-offs) has been abandoned by all but the most principled Republicans and replaced with the woefully modest "tens of thousands." This isn’t so surprising; after all, most environmentalists have never once stepped inside a shower, let alone a Porta-Potty, so it's no wonder they don't think to account for such things as "spin-off" jobs (or jobs at all, since they've never had one).

The new number is certainly a low-ball, but I think I can understand why it's being used. Politicians need the support of the people, and some people are against the job-creating pipeline. And if those people are against something that’s going to create jobs, then the problem they have must be with the very idea of jobs. So underestimating the number of jobs created must be a ploy to gain the support of these job-hating environmentalists.

It follows that TransCanada has instructed its supporters to concede some jobs numbers so that those opposing the pipeline's construction won't have to worry about losing their best excuse not to work: the bad economy. If hundreds of thousands -- possibly millions -- of new jobs instantly became available, parents of these hippies would be more inclined to kick their children out for choosing to remain unemployed. And this is a prospect that causes vigorous opposition from the environmental movement. If "hundreds of thousands of jobs" is changed to "tens of thousands," however, then the threat of employment isn't as omnipresent and opposition will therefore wane.

keystone, xl, protest, hippy, jobs, pipeline, gingrich, keystone xl jobs numbers
A make-believe crossing guard -- the closest thing this person will ever have to a job

It's kind of strange logic, I admit, but -- like Perryman's original numbers -- it makes perfect sense once you think about it. That said, I still don't like that this is the prevailing strategy because it demonstrates yet another example of hard facts being forced to cave to the lowest common denominator. If you think about it (and please do; this is the second time I've asked), being forced to dishonestly shrink the jobs numbers is basically a form of political correctness. Instead of scaring the laziest among us with the true number of jobs that the pipeline would create, TransCanada's supporters have decided to shrink the number just to gain more support.

This approach to the truth was recently demonstrated by the State Department, which put out a report saying that the pipeline would only create only 5,000-6,000 new jobs, almost all of which would go away after construction ends. I get the strategy, and it’s certainly better than risking outright rejection of the project. But the State Department number is far too low -- it must remain at at least "tens of thousands," or TransCanada risks losing the support of everyday, hardworking Americans.

And speaking of hardworking Americans, some on the extreme left are even trying to turn them against the pipeline. The liberal network CNN actually had the nerve to cite a study from someone named "Cornell" (they neglected to include a last name, obviously trying to hide the fact that it was written by the Marxist professor Cornel West [also why they spelled it wrong]), which said that the pipeline "could actually cost jobs by hurting the development of alternative energy and allowing for the export of oil from the Midwest, driving up the cost of gasoline in that region." I don't know for sure who wrote that, but whoever it was is certainly an idiot. Q.E.D.

keystone, xl, protest, hippy, jobs, pipeline, gingrich, november, obama, transcanada, capitalism, occupy, keystone xl jobs numbers, dirty+hippy
keystone, xl, protest, hippy, jobs, pipeline, gingrich, november, obama, transcanada, capitalism, occupy, keystone+xl+jobs+numbers, dirty hippy
The Tube Boobs

"President Obama was elected by appealing to global warming alarmists, among other groups on the left. Will he cave in to their demands to leave untouched the vast oil sand deposits in Alberta that could provide millions of barrels of oil to fuel economic growth in both countries for decades to come? Development of Alberta's energy sector would be led by U.S. companies, too, thereby boosting growth on both sides of the border." --James M. Roberts and Ray Walser, The Heritage Foundation [X]

But let's go back for a moment to hard facts being forced to cave to the lowest common denominator. One of the most egregious examples of the media kowtowing to this kind of politically correct BS happened during the infamous BP oil-rig bonanza of 2010. During that time we saw tons of heavily politicized headlines like, "Families Bid Farewell To 11 Killed In Gulf Rig Explosion," and "Deepwater Horizon's 11 Dead Remembered." Such headlines were much more common than the unvarnished but much more to the point "Eleven Jobs Lost in Oil Rig Explosion." I understand that the latter headline is much more tragic, but at some point the media has to stop treating us like babies. We can handle it!

Still, there were a few people out there astute and bold enough to write proper headlines, like: BP Spill Is 'Opportunity in Disguise' for Rig Makers Keppel, Samsung Heavy (from Bloomberg). In an article titled BP Oil Spill Fuels Government Contracting, someone observed: "Others can still look to take advantage of opportunities at the prime contracting level in such industries as manufacturing, construction, maintenance and technical services, information technology, even coastal restoration." And an insurance company pointed out that life was actually better for the fisherman in the region after the spill: "More than 46,000 people - and nearly 7,000 boats - are now employed in the response. While fishing business was struggling before the disaster, fishermen are now making $1,200 - $3,000 a day laying floating booms that contain oil once it rises to the surface."

This leads me to wonder how different things might still be in the Gulf had BP not been pressured by Big Government to cap the well. Only an idiot would have failed to see the silver lining! Even the eleven jobs lost in the rig explosion provided an opportunity. Sure, the unemployment rate must have risen a fraction of a decimal point as a result, but look at it this way: eleven new job opportunities instantly became available!

keystone, xl, protest, hippy, jobs, pipeline, gingrich, november, obama, transcanada, capitalism, occupy, keystone xl jobs numbers, dirty hippy, jobless, Tobey Maguire
I still haven't read this guy's sign... (I only took the picture because I thought it was Tobey Maguire)

Since the media was so biased about the BP spill, I want to highlight some more of the spin-off jobs the spill was (and will be) responsible for. According to my calculations, the oil spill created a demand for:

13,568 new doctors to treat people for chemical exposure over the next few decades
3 new hospitals (approximately 18,000 jobs)
6 new rehabilitation centers (thousands more jobs)
2 more schools to train all the specialists (thousands more jobs)
11,967 new scientists working to genetically engineer new kinds of sea-life that can live in toxic water yet still be (relatively) safe to eat
56,094 engineers to build new robot-fishing machines after long-term, low-dose chemical exposure -- as well as the annihilation of the fishing industry -- forces people to move from the coast (I'm tempted to count the 767,894+ employees who'll be building the fishing-robots, but they won't be Americans. Still, we should find joy and happiness in imagining the opportunity for employment this will provide for many poor jobless people across the globe)
And let's not forget 4,256 new Porta-Potty's to line the streets for people on the Gulf Coast who can no longer walk more than 500 feet without shitting themselves, as well as 1 new toilet paper plant and 1 new chemical formula plant (thousands of jobs)

And that’s not even including the huge boon to the company that supplied the dispersant!

Now, I'm not as smart as Mr. Perryman, so I can't think of everything. The countless other job opportunities that will become available after families lose their breadwinners to cancer and poisoning is a figure too complicated for me to even begin to calculate, but let me assure you, it'll be


keystone, xl, protest, hippy, jobs, pipeline, gingrich, november, obama, transcanada, capitalism, occupy, polar bear, keystone xl jobs numbers, dirty hippy, clueless hippy
Leave it to a clueless hippy to bring a live polar bear to a protest. I ended up watching this poor woman die right
before my eyes. (Note: I'm just assuming she was poor)

keystone, xl, protest, hippy, jobs, pipeline, gingrich, november, obama, transcanada, capitalism, occupy, 99%, keystone xl jobs numbers, dirty hippy
More animal cruelty! The nerve of them making their dog wear that vest (I couldn't stop kicking it!)

This makes me think that maybe Perryman's numbers weren’t as close to the truth as I thought. After all, they don't account for any of the thousands of new jobs -- and millions of "spin-off" jobs -- that would instantly be created should there happen to be a Keystone XL spill. Perryman also failed to include the everyday, normal activities of tar sands production, which is known to pollute rivers and streams (more jobs).

keystone, xl, protest, hippy, jobs, pipeline, gingrich, november, obama, transcanada, capitalism, occupy, hypocrite, dirty hippy, keystone xl jobs numbers, lazy
A schmuck, sure, but at least he's not a hypocrite like everyone who drove to the protest

This kind of logic, crass as it might seem to extremist hippies and tree huggers, can be applied to almost any situation. Take the Holocaust, for example. If only Goebbels had had enough confidence in the German people, he could've cast Hitler's plan in the cold hard logic of common sense and skipped all of the obscuring, dishonest propaganda. Something like:

"Unemployed? Looking for work? Worried about the economy? The Nazi Party has your answer.* We promise to provide tens of thousands of new jobs, among them:

738 dentists
4,673 doctors
154 stenographers
865 hairdressers
110 shampooers
109 book burners
18,956 Zyklon B factory employees
691,714 bartenders
401 architects
898 reporters
98,775 public relations people
553 lampshade artisans

"This is sure to lift us out of our economic depression. But, if that wasn't enough, we also promise to instantly create six million additional jobs!"

* All solutions final.

Let's face it: Hitler brought his country out of a horrible depression and provided endless work opportunities for (almost) everyone. Under his leadership, the German economy was booming, and a lot more than 6 or 10 million jobs would have been lost to poverty had he never come to power. Sure, he's not without fault (who isn't?), but must we continue to have complainers and naysayers constantly dwelling on every little negative aspect whenever we try to take a step in the right direction?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Film Moments: 2011

Note: For the sake of encouraging more reading and less skimming, I'd like to point out that the length of what follows is mostly derived from images.

And now for the part of lists no one reads.

It feels a bit silly to create one of these types of lists after much of what appears on it has already been noted elsewhere, yet it feels even sillier to scrap the notes and captures I took a few weeks ago simply because I have this reservation. Too many of my posts end up getting abandoned due to loss of interest or frustration, and since that's something I want to work on curbing this year, finishing this post was the only sensible option.

This is not an attempt at a "Best of 2011" list or even "Best Moments of 2011" -- I see far too few new films for that (around 35 this year, with 9 or 10 viewed in the theater). The point was to select -- from the new films I did see -- the moments, feelings, and experiences that meant something to me in some way. The list is divided into two categories: "Theatrical Viewing" and "Home Viewing." The former is comprised of things I saw in the theater that I felt hinged on that particular format; the latter is made up of favorite moments I saw (again, new films) via a television. Though my selections range from 2008 - 2011, everything that follows -- due to distribution, when it premiered etc. -- is seemingly eligible for consideration under the grouping "2011."

For the sake of fulfilling a list's main function -- turning people on to things they might be unaware of -- what follows is likely to be lacking left-field picks. Unfortunately this cannot be helped; I don't live in a place that allows much opportunity for non-mainstream film viewing (I have yet to see The Turin Horse, to name a most frustrating example), and I don't make a practice of downloading films to my computer that will eventually be coming to DVD (even if I have to wait a few years). Perhaps "2011: A Year in Phantoms" or "Most Anticipated" would have been a better choice.

* * *

Theatrical Viewing 2011: Highlights

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog, 2010):

Herzog: "3-D was imperative because I initially thought there were flat walls and paintings in the cave. But there are no flat areas. The drama of the bulges and niches was actually used by the artists. They did it with phenomenal skill, with great artistic skill, and there was something expressive about it, a drama of rock transformed and utilized, in the drama of paintings. This is why it was imperative to shoot in 3-D."

A detailed look at the 30,000 year old paintings in Chauvet Cave would have been enough to land this film on my list, but the fact that it was my first 3D film, and specifically because it was made with 3D as an integral component, easily makes Cave of Forgotten Dreams one of my standout movie experiences of 2011.

After reading several of Herzog's remarks concerning his choice of 3D, I made it a point to catch the film as it was intended to be seen (which meant driving over an hour -- pretty much the standard for seeing anything relatively non-commercial in my whereabouts). The experience was rewarding and often dazzling, and I was glad to have waited for something meaningful to introduce me to the format. Herzog's film demonstrates the difference between "a film shot in 3D" and "a 3D film."

I wouldn't rank Cave as one of Herzog's strongest "documentaries," though many who don't care much for the films I'd consider his best have unsurprisingly taken the opposite view. At any rate, these questions of "greatness" are soon made out to be a trifling matter by the glimpses we're given of the drawings in the Chauvet Cave. The images alone instantly elevate the film to essential viewing.

cave of forgotten dreams, herzog, Chauvet Cave
cave of forgotten dreams, herzog, Chauvet Cave

cave of forgotten dreams, herzog, Chauvet Cave, cave bear, scratches, i was here
cave of forgotten dreams, herzog, Chauvet Cave, cave bear, scratches, i was here, hand print
"I was here," as drawn by a cave bear / as drawn by a human

cave of forgotten dreams, herzog, chauvet cave, film, documentary
cave of forgotten dreams, herzog, chauvet cave, film, documentary

cave of forgotten dreams, ecstatic truth, herzog, chauvet cave, film
cave of forgotten dreams, ecstatic truth, herzog, chauvet cave, film, documentary

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Weerasethakul, 2010): Cave Sequence

A theatrical viewing of Boonmee showcases the film's murky darkness and does justice to the night scenes. But it also -- unless you have a great home set-up (I don't) -- allows the viewer to be enveloped in the film's buggy jungle sounds, which, as a crucial component to the atmosphere, play a key role in the film's success.

The highlight for me was the cave sequence, a section that takes all of the above into account and combines it with some of the best images in the film. It's a particularly strange and mysterious part of a particularly strange and mysterious film, and the fact that a movie theater can be experienced as as surrogate cave of sorts (dark, and often quite cold in the summer months) certainly doesn't hurt the film's ambiance.

Specific highlights: The moon roof, the spying ghost monkeys, the next morning when the dark cave shadow and the bright sun light bisect the characters bodies, and, most of all, the moment when the sparkling stones in the cave wall briefly turn into an artificial night sky...

uncle boonmee, past lives, weerasethakul, cave
uncle boonmee, past lives, weerasethakul, cave, moon, sky, night
uncle boonmee, past lives, weerasethakul, cave, eyes, red, ghost monkey
uncle boonmee, past lives, weerasethakul, cave, eyes, red, ghost monkey, jungle
uncle boonmee, past lives, weerasethakul, cave
uncle boonmee, past lives, weerasethakul, cave, sunlight
uncle boonmee, past lives, weerasethakul, cave, opening, jungle

uncle boonmee, past lives, film, movie, weerasethakul, cave, sparkling, flashlight, rocks, night sky
uncle boonmee, past lives, film, movie, weerasethakul, cave, sparkling, flashlight, rocks, night sky
uncle boonmee, past lives, film, movie, weerasethakul, cave, sparkling, flashlight, rocks, night sky
uncle boonmee, past lives, film, movie, weerasethakul, cave, sparkling, flashlight, rocks, night sky
uncle boonmee, past lives, film, movie, weerasethakul, cave, sparkling, flashlight, rocks, night sky
uncle boonmee, past lives, film, movie, weerasethakul, cave, sparkling, flashlight, rocks, night sky
uncle boonmee, past lives, film, movie, weerasethakul, cave, sparkling, flashlight, rocks, night sky
uncle boonmee, past lives, film, movie, weerasethakul, cave, sparkling, flashlight, rocks, night sky

I watched Boonmee again at home and, though I still liked it, it wasn't quite the same. I had to brighten one of the above images -- the "ghost monkeys" in the jungle -- just to make it discernible. (I remember how this shot looked in the theater and the above image isn't very close.)

Films that are first and foremost experiences seem to suffer the most on DVD and (especially) streaming.

Hugo (Scorsese, 2011): Papa Georges recalls his past lives (& Méliès in 3D)

I am referring to the montage wherein Georges waxes on about the days he spent creating dreams in his glass studio. This is where Hugo suggests that destroying people's imagination in order to fulfill some seemingly practical end (melting down Méliès' films -- his imaginative output -- in order to make shoes), is the first step in a mentality that leads, ultimately, to the burning of bodies on the battlefield. It's important to note that this largely factual remembrance, which takes place in a period that's been referred to as "the childhood of our era," is framed as being brought to an end by the violent adolescence of World War I. In Scorsese's world, Méliès is imagination made flesh, and he's brought to ruin by a world stripped of its sense of child-like wonder. In this metaphor, imagination (art) is not the opposite of "reality," "existence," or "reason", it's the opposite of immorality. (This reminds me of The Nutty Professor, a film in which Jerry Lewis attributes a moral component to humor.)

Hugo, though not great by any stretch, is, in its final third, a much needed paean to one of humanity's greatest, most luminous forces.

hugo, melies, scorsese
hugo, melies, kingdom fairies, scorsese, comparison

Along with the above, the opportunity to see selections from Méliès' films in 3D was a highlight. The novelty still fresh (Hugo was only my second 3D film), my experience was perhaps not wholly unlike -- solely in terms of its potential for causing wide-eyed wonder -- someone seeing the magic of Méliès' time-lapse techniques in the early 1900s.

The silliest moment in the film, which I only mention because, as far as I know, it has yet to be commented on, occurs when we're shown one of Méliès' old films. In it, a handful of French women in the background have their arms raised above their heads, and one of them is the director's wife. Being French women from that period they, of course, have hair under their arms in Méliès' original. But when Scorsese cuts to a close-up of Méliès' wife (obviously replaced with Helen McCrory, the actress playing his wife in the film), everything is meticulously recreated -- make-up, hairstyle, costumes, set -- except that her armpit is hairless. OK, yes, I get it; McCrory has shaved armpits in real life so it might seem silly to put some fake hair under her arm for the sake of continuity. But why bother with everything else if you're not going to try to make the cut looks as seamless as possible? Could it be, possibly, that they thought this would be off-putting or strange in some way for American children to see? I don't know. It might be a bit of a cynical leap, but it looks like cultural sanitation to me. Anyway, I thought it was silly, though I'm sure others will think I'm even sillier for commenting on it. (Note: It's possible I was imagining things... None of my friends knew what I was talking about when I pointed it out, and, like I said, I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere (most likely because no one cares). I'll have to watch it again before I can know for sure.)

Melancholia (Lars von Trier, 2011): the final 20 (or so) minutes

"[I]n spite of my melancholy temperament, I've never been able to take anything seriously—not even my worst troubles." --Strindberg

(The above quote is not an introduction to my remarks; I just thought it fit the film too well not to share.)

The way the final sequence of Melancholia made me feel was unique. For a moment while I was sitting in the darkness at the conclusion I felt, in some small capacity -- and for lack of a better and less-pretentious sounding phrase -- like I had some grasp of nothingness. For the last few seconds my mind felt completely clear, focused and unfocused at the same time. But then this feeling was ruined by the closing credits. Agitated, I remember thinking that von Trier had made a mistake by not choosing to have the credits at the beginning of the film, which would've been a much better choice because it would have allowed the black finale -- accompanied by the low rumble of galactic collision that only a movie theater can provide -- to stand as the film's true ending. Instead what we have is a recovery, the scrolling words reminding us -- all too soon! -- that it was all just a depressed man's dream.

A few images from the prologue (I couldn't find any good ones from the finale):

Melancholia, prelude, overture, von trier, dunst, branches
Melancholia, prelude, overture, von trier, dunst, moths
Melancholia, prelude, overture, von trier, dunst, electricity, lightning
Melancholia, prelude, overture, von trier, planet,

Because of its title plate, themes and style, and because its director has a penchant for trilogies (Europe; Golden Heart; USA), it's easy to assume that Melancholia is part of some sort of trilogy that began with Antichrist. I've heard the name "Depression Trilogy" floating around (it's starting to stick), but I prefer to think of the two films as part of a "Chaos Reigns Trilogy." "Depression Trilogy" is a name that will encourage people to simplify (or even misinterpret) the films. Instead of pointing to the world outside, "Depression Trilogy" points to the world inside.

Drive (Refn, 2011): Opening scene + credits sequence

Drive eventually degenerates into what feels like a director trying to come up with more and more inventive ways to kill people off, but before that happens all I kept thinking about was how much I wished the film had been an hour shorter and directed by Kenneth Anger...

But even before all of that there is the opening scene, which is just flat out exhilarating filmmaking... And after it is the credits sequence, which I sat watching with a big goofy grin on my face... It was refreshing to see a film paying homage to all the worst aspects of Hollywood's 80s action/thriller sensibility without constantly winking at the audience. That (which includes the film's use of music and superimposition in the first half) is what Drive gets right. Unabashed pastiche. (Too bad it's little else.)

drive, scorpio rising, refn, gosling

Tree of Life (Malick, 2011): Creation of the universe

The creation sequence (sans dinosaurs) was a definite highlight, especially the moments in outer space accompanied by Preisner's Lacrimosa. I saw this again recently at home and found it to be underwhelming compared to seeing it in the theater. A giant screen is definitely needed to overwhelm with image and sound. Looking forward to Malick's Voyage in Time (IMAX, I hope).

the tree of life, universe, creation, planets, malick, lacrimosa


Home Viewing 2011 (DVD/VOD/Streaming): A few highlights

House of Tolerance (Bonello, 2011): "Nights in White Satin" mourning dance

Years ago, working nights at a book publishing warehouse, I distinctly remember The Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" coming on the radio and filling the gigantic building with its tinny echoes. I remember this because I never liked the song before that moment. In fact, I hated it. (My mom used to play it over and over again on some tape she had while I was growing up, which conditioned me to resent it.) That night, however, standing alone in my aisle in the artificially lit warehouse, surrounded by stacks of cardboard boxes, books, and the humming of the omnipresent conveyor belt, I thought to myself that "Nights in White Satin" was the only true love song ever written.

And then, a few days later, I went back to hating it again.

I have no idea why I felt that way that night. I still don't like the song very much, and I certainly don't consider it to be the best, most authentic love song ever written...

But then recently I heard "Nights in White Satin" used during a particularly perfect moment in Bertrand Bonello's House of Tolerance, and it made me feel the same way again. Who knows, maybe it just needs to be accompanied by an atmosphere of utter despair before it can be fully appreciated?

house of tolerance, house of pleasure, nights in white satin, bonello
(Above image not from the aforementioned scene)

Tree of Life (Malick, 2011): Waco, Texas

(This could easily be on the previous list, but, unlike the universe sequence, this part of the film doesn't lose as much on DVD.)

I concur with everyone who's said that The Tree of Life is deeply flawed yet completely remarkable. Taken as a whole, it's hard to argue that Tree isn't Malick's worst film. The ending -- and by that I mean the final 15 or 20 minutes -- is simply horrendous in every conceivable way. On the other hand, I'd put the 90 or so minutes that comprise the middle of the film up against anything that's ever been shot (minus the last minute or two in which the mother whispers a couple of cheesy lines of narration that cheapen everything that has preceded it by way of its simplistic, reductive summation). As a film about the major themes Malick seems to have been after, The Tree of Life is a failure. But the middle section -- a film about small moments, childhood, and growing up -- feels like a major success.

tree of life, malick, playing, boys, kids
tree of life, malick, boys, playing, water, hose
tree of life, malick, boys, playing, climbing
tree of life, malick, boys, playing, running, childhood

Putty Hill (Porterfield, 2010): The swimming hole

A favorite moment of a different sort occurred during Matthew Porterfield's Putty Hill. At one point in the film, a group of young people go swimming in a river... there's nothing more to it than that. But the scene caused me to have a disoriented feeling until I realized why it felt so strange: they were at the very place (somewhat secret, I thought) that I used to frequent growing up! Hiking, swimming, hanging out... A beautiful spot about 20 minutes from where I spent most of my adolescence. I've taken (or been taken) there with most of my close friends and still go from time to time.

Porterfield's DVD commentary confirmed the location, though since I knew he was a Maryland filmmaker, I was already convinced; I just wanted to hear what he might say about the place. Other locations in the film were recognizable but none with which I have a personal connection.

putty hill, gunpowder, river, pretty boy, porterfield

Le Quattro Volte (Frammartino, 2010): Part 2: The kid

I wish I'd caught this in the theater, though I'm not sure it even played anywhere in the remote vicinity. Anyway, there's a much talked about long take in the film some people are calling "the shot of the year" that's well deserving of its praise. That's the first highlight. The second highlight is the outstanding section that follows this take (it's obvious what I mean once you've seen the film).

Le Quattro Volte is a very fine film overall but the long take, and the section following it (part 2 of 4), are on a level the rest of the film doesn't quite reach. The first half, which contains the best parts, sorta reminded me of what it might be like had Roy Andersson directed Sweetgrass.

le quattro volte, frammartino, ashes
le quattro volte, frammartino, glass
le quattro volte, frammartino, ants

le quattro volte, frammartino, split screen

le quattro volte, frammartino, long take, shot of the year, dog
le quattro volte, frammartino, sheep, table, roy andersson, goat
le quattro volte, frammartino, sheep, table, roy andersson, goat, kid, cute
le quattro volte, frammartino, sheep, table, roy andersson, goat, kid
le quattro volte, frammartino, sheep, table, goat, boots, pen, barn, tag
le quattro volte, frammartino, sheep, table, goat, tree

* * *

And now for some random categories.

Favorite dissolve: Meek's Cutoff (Reichardt, 2010)

meek's cutoff, reichardt, dissolve
meek's cutoff, reichardt, dissolve
meek's cutoff, reichardt, best, dissolve
meek's cutoff, reichardt, dissolve
meek's cutoff, reichardt, dissolve
meek's cutoff, reichardt, dissolve
meek's cutoff, reichardt, best, dissolve
meek's cutoff, reichardt, dissolve
meek's cutoff, reichardt, dissolve
meek's cutoff, reichardt, dissolve
meek's cutoff, reichardt, dissolve
meek's cutoff, reichardt, dissolve

Favorite metaphor: The Future (July, 2011)

the future, miranda july, global warming, metaphor

The character Jason has recently joined an environmental organization. He goes door-to-door in order to raise money to help fight global warming. A man answers. Before even finding out why Jason is there, the man turns him down:

Jason: That's all right. I mean, it's probably too late for all of this anyway.
Man: What?
Jason: Well, you know how like in the cartoons, when the building gets hit with the wrecking ball, right before the building falls down, there's always this moment where it's perfectly still, right before it collapses? We're in that moment. The wrecking ball has already hit all of this, and this is just the moment before it all falls down.

The rest:

Man: Is that the official word?
Jason: No, that's just my gut feeling.
Man: So why are you going around, then?
Jason: I thought this was great, all this... The air and the grass, yeah, but it was just the people and the houses and the cars and the TV and the music. I mean, I just -- I love this place.

The best part is that after giving the above speech, the man asks again why Jason is there, and, after Jason tells him, the man still doesn't change his mind. (I always thought the big flaw in Twelve Angry Men was Lee J. Cobb's character's epiphany at the end and his quick change of heart after it. It just doesn't reflect human behavior. Cobb's verdict comes off as completely contrived.)

Most ridiculous montage: Love Exposure (Sono, 2008): upskirt training camp

And the subsequent one where they take their newfound knowledge to the streets.

Sorry but there's no better way to comment than WTF? and LOL!

love exposure, sono, upskirt, tomatsu, training
love exposure, sono, upskirt, tomatsu, training

Best return to form: Hadewijch (Dumont, 2009)

Not actually. This is just my excuse to post pictures from the film. I was never one to think Dumont "let everyone down" after La Vie de Jésus, but those who did will likely be pleased with Hadewijch; he's back in La Vie de Jésus mode.

hadewijch, dumont, life of jesus, le vie de jesus, motorcycle

An amusing anecdote:

"Programming a Bruno Dumont movie under any circumstances is a risk. He's a great filmmaker, but his movies are slow, downbeat and depressing, and their appeal is rarefied, to say the least. But last week the Roxie Cinema went that one better: They booked Dumont's latest, "Hadewijch" [...] in the week between Christmas and New Year's. True, suicides tend to be up around the holidays, but how many like-minded people could the Roxie reasonably expect to find?

Well, on the first night things did not go well. For the 9:20 show Dec. 29, the theater had only one paid admission. The sole attendee? It was none other than filmmaker John Waters, who is, it turns out, a Bruno Dumont fan."

Anyway, I'm not even sure if Hadewijch is one of the best or one of the worst films I saw last year. What I do know is that I enjoyed watching it immensely. Whether Dumont is (or was) seen as Bresson's heir, imitator, or neither, it must be said that he -- like Bresson -- makes films that have absolutely zero fat.

hadewijch, dumont

hadewijch, dumont
hadewijch, dumont, tree
hadewijch, dumont, woods

hadewijch, dumont, mansion

hadewijch, dumont
hadewijch, dumont, band, accordian
hadewijch, dumont

Best film I saw that isn't getting enough attention:

weekend, haigh, film, movie
Weekend (Haigh, 2011)

weekend, haigh, film, movie
weekend, haigh, film, movie
weekend, haigh, film, movie

(I imagine that Haigh's film -- which I have seen on a couple of Best of 2011 lists -- is probably underseen more than it is underappreciated.)