Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Snatched ...

So as I'm getting close to having seen all of Abel Ferrara's feature films, Body Snatchers ranks low in the oeuvre, but it's an interesting film nevertheless. The confluence of sensibilities doesn't serve the film--Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon (of Re-Animator fame), Nicholas St. John (stalwart screenwriter for early Ferrara), and Larry Cohen (B-level mad genius at large) don't necessarily cohere, and given that this project is a pretty schlocky "job of work" to begin with, even a monstrous talent like Ferrara can't resurrect it. So we've got a weird Frankenstein monster, cobbled together of varying parts, some of them more impressive than others, and appealing to various levels of viewer interest. Some spoilers below.

The Body (Of Course): This film is about the vulnerability of flesh. When a pod person is killed, the "horror" comes less from the fact that they decompose gruesomely than from the fact that they decompose so rapidly. The processes of decay are fast-forwarded. The Cronenbergian process in which one is "drained" into a pod person is a direct and palpable appeal to the sensation of nocturnal helplessness. These body snatchers are nightmares you don't know you have.

Family Matters: Here is also an adolescent fantasy about shunning one's family, and yet that fantasy is disavowed--she's only able to shun each family member successfully, guiltlessly when they have become pod people.

Military Intelligence?: The film's distrust of authority is a fractured, incomplete political stance that informs elements but not the whole of the narrative. Still, the horror is of a highly regimented society. Whereas Don Siegel's The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a parable of McCarthyism, this is a much vaguer expression of fear at a police state: residues of a Reagan America in which little "went wrong" like this on home soil.

The Tragically Ludicrous / The Ludicrously Tragic: When the little brother is thrown from the helicopter below he sounds the pod alarm (heard three times previously in the film) as he falls to his death. Here is a young child emitting a sirenlike scream, the diligent frenzied emission of concern for the colony's mission, as he plummets to his death. Who could react to this image with anything other than humor?

I'm presenting on New Rose Hotel in just a few days, and I'm terrified.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


Adrian Martin wrote an article called Diary for My Loves in which he detailed some of his lifetime "reel pleasures." These included genres (e.g., comedy of varieties both "profound" and "gagological"), filmmakers (e.g., Godard, Ruiz), and other categorizations (e.g., "1915-1936"). But first on his list was John Cassavetes, on whom he wrote the following few words: "I discovered Cassavetes 'late' - in my mid-twenties - and no experience of cinema before or since has even approached the profundity and force of this revelation. For me there are almost no words that can be spoken, even in the most deferential and intimate homage, about this angel: quite simply, I believe (with Thierry Jousse) that "it is through him that life entered the cinema"." I think this is a very appealing sentiment.

So it had been about five years since the last time I saw Cassavetes films, but in recent weeks I've been revisiting his work and seeing some of it for the first time. In the past few days I saw two films I should have seen long, long ago. Opening Night is a film of horror of discovering that part of oneself is always dangling desperately "behind" other parts of oneself; it's the only film I can think of that deserves to be mentioned in the same breathe as Esther Kahn for being not only so concerned with similar things, but also for being so good.

The other film, which I watched just last night (I had been so embarrassed at never having seen it that it made me put it off even longer), was A Woman Under the Influence. This is one of the very greatest films I've ever seen. The experience of engaging with Cassavetes again, in this film in particular, is too raw, too disorienting for me to even try to be eloquent. So I'll have to not really say much of anything right now, and hope that I can do better in the future, after time and future (re)viewings have sunken in.

... I also took another look at a little bit of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, which I have always previously mentioned as my Cassavetes-of-choice, and it still looks incredibly impressive. If I didn't have many other things to take care of today, I would have sat down for the 2+ hours to watch the film again. It was hard enough as it was to pull myself away. Stunning work ...

Friday, March 04, 2005

Papers, Commitments, Everywhere

Here's what I've got on my agenda, to get done soon:

Midterm papers for "History/Memory/Authorship" (I'll probably write on Hiroshima, mon amour but might opt for a comparison between Night and Fog and Brutality in Stone), "American Youth Spaces" (I'm proceeding as if I'm writing on The Fury but I just might switch to another film if I decide by tomorrow), and my classical British cinema independent study (currently working on a Powell & Pressburger paper).

Review of Le Crime de M. Lange.

Review of Martha Nochimson's book Screen Couples Chemistry: The Power of 2.

This is not to mention a slide ID midterm for my "Art of the Early Middle Ages" course (which I just wrote a short paper for) or independent research I'm doing into various subjects, and purely for my own edification.

Films (or rather, videos of films) that I want to try to watch at Bobst Library in the next few weeks that have no ties to coursework or writing obligations: The Blue Eyes of Yonta (Flora Gomes, Guinnea-Bissau, 1992), The Eye Above the Well (Johan van der Keuken), Chronicle of a Lonely Boy (Leonardo Favio, Argentina, 1965), The Virgin Spring (Bergman), and Up to a Certain Point (TGA, Cuba, 1983). If anyone feels a desire to cheerlead me and say "Yeah, see that one RIGHT AWAY!" I would be glad to hear it. I can always use motivation.

Think I can get it all done in the next 2-3 weeks? We'll see, we'll see.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

What If ... ?

If Rossellini had made Germany Year Zero as a commercial comedy, he could have done no better than the Charles Crichton-helmed Ealing comedy Hue and Cry (1947), where many boys and one girl wiggle and run through the lots of wreckage adjacent to the very buildings in which they live and work.