Friday, December 31, 2010

Year's End

(or - no lists here, exactly ...)

These days as before there is a deep gulf between "Hollywood" and myself. Still, the screen on the other side of that gulf is constantly present.  I can turn my back for a time but there it remains to be seen.  So I've started to cultivate my relationship with this creature on the other side, my neighbor.  I think I saw more multiplex releases in 2010 than I have in a decade.  This number - not remarkably high - is significant in the context of my own viewing habits so I'll write a little about the implications.

I understood what I was in for as I entered the theater for Piranha 3D, Kick-Ass, or The Expendables.  I took what pleasures I could from them.  But even some of the more ambitious films that I managed to see (and admire), such as The Social Network, failed to move, unsettle, or surprise me on profound levels.  Maybe it's just because James Gray didn't make a movie this past year.  Looking back over Hollywood's hospice-bound body of late, the self-consciously "classical" glories of something like We Own the Night seem more and more precious, although the youth of today have decided that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the masterpiece of tomorrow.  And I'm not trying to pick on Scott Pilgrim.  I admit I didn't like the film much, but I've other targets in mind should I go hunting.

I also don't need to treat something like Inception as a whipping-boy here, because a number of my readers doubtless share my apathy towards the film, and those who might love it won't be dissuaded by me.  Suffice it to serve as an example, though, that might clarify the difference between two types of conceptually-driven genre films.  Compare it to Tony Scott's Unstoppable, which presents almost nothing we haven't seen before.  In fact almost everything in Unstoppable is to be found in prior Tony Scott films.  

All the same, I have to come to truly appreciate the unscrubbed textures of Scott's recent movies, which by comparison to similarly "high genre" Hollywood films seem to be rooted to some idea or image of actual places, actual times and histories and political situations.  I don't claim that Man on Fire is a serious or realistic take on "the situation in Mexico," or that Unstoppable and The Taking of Pelham 123 have powerful statements to make on labor and bureaucracy in rural Pennsylvania or New York City.  Obviously not.  But Scott's movies energetically play with differences between reality or actuality and fantasies of their representation.  It is no coincidence that in the Scott corpus over the last 10-15 years, the control room, command center, and editing suite are figured into the narratives (literally & metaphorically).  These movies explicitly address desires to control (perhaps impossible), to see and to locate and to know.  They efficiently, sometimes imaginatively narrate ways that people experience and deal with the co-presence of mediated sounds, images, and information.  Some years from now I imagine that, if you compare a film like Inception to a film like Unstoppable, the latter will yield up much richer insights into our young century, our spectacular condition.  The myths at root will prove more pliable, more durable, more ingeniously worked into the texture of the object.

That said, my favorite recent films were generally not from Hollywood, nor from clear-cut genres - unless one counts the "art film" as a genre, which is a fair proposition.  As much as parts of Step Up 3D dazzled me, and though Johnnie To's Vengeance was wonderful in a minor way (compared to Exiled, which is wonderful in a major way), the treasures among the recent films I've seen in 2010 seem a bit old hat, in the sense that they're mainly art films from Europe and Asia, generally directed by established male directors, which primarily wowed (or caused controversy) on the festival circuit before finding commercial distribution ... if at all.  Still, even among these strong films by Haneke, Denis, et al., there were two especially that stood out and unsettled me, surprised me in the best ways.


New films of the year:
Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard) and Butterflies Have No Memories (Lav Diaz)

Technically Diaz's film is from 2009 on the world scene, and I only saw the shorter version as part of the omnibus with (good) films by Hong & Kawase.  But I'm counting it as new enough for my purposes.  I could continue with a small list of "honorable mentions" and a much longer list of notable films I haven't seen, but why bother?  (OK, I should note that I have not yet seen Certified Copy.)  Most films I saw this year were older ones.  And since cinema in any given year always includes that which has come before it, existing still with it, I'll go ahead and pick the two stand-outs in this category as well. 


Old viewings of the year:
Ornamental Hairpin (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1941) and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Billy Wilder, 1970)

Both of these films exist, for me, in a rarefied pocket of film - or art - that is delicate, subtle, and fundamentally decent.  The films of Ozu and perhaps Mizoguchi exist in this sphere (and so now Shimizu, also); certain key ones by Lubitsch and Ford; a few others - what ultimately draws me to these movies is how seamlessly I experience their many pleasures as moral axioms. 

And on a final note: over 2011, Elusive Lucidity will try more often to cover work along the lines Kramer-Jacobs-Jost-Wilkerson-Gianvito. I know a lot of political commentary, and political engagement with our audiovisual culture, has fallen a bit by the wayside on EL, but I think this has been the necessary consequence of letting mental batteries recharge ... 

Happy New Year!

5 comments:

Nathan said...

Happy New Year!
Your two films of the year are exactly mine, to which I would add, to form a "carré d'as", Zilnik's Old School of Capitalism and Schroeter's Nuit de Chien (and I'm likewise fuzzy on dates).

Jake said...

Happy new year Zach! Keep up the good work!

Zach Campbell said...

Update: Thanks to Ignatiy Vishnevetsky for letting me know that the version of Butterflies Have No Memories I saw was indeed the longer, "director's cut."

xl pharmacy said...

Wonderful , I was thinking the same thing when my best friend told me about Piranha 3D

xl pharmacy said...

Wonderful , I was thinking the same thing when my best friend told me about Piranha 3D