#016 The Blue Kite (1993, Tian Zhuangzhuang) (T)
#015 A Borrowed Life (1994, Wu Nien-jien) (T)
#014 A Brighter Summer Day (1991, Edward Yang) (T)
#013 Two Days. One Night (2014, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne) (T)
#012 A Simple Life (2011, Ann Hui) (T)
#011 Dust in the Wind (1987, Hou Hsiao Hsien) (T)
#010 Entranced Earth (1967, Glauber Rocha) (T)
#009 Breaking News (2004, Johnnie To)
#008 Welcome to New York (2014, Abel Ferrara) (T)
#007 Viola (2012, Matias Piniero)
#006 A Time to Live, a Time to Die (1985, Hou Hsiao Hsien) (T)
#005 Beyond Clueless (2014, Charlie Lynn) (T)
#004 Boat People (1982, Ann Hu) (T)
#003 Araya (1959, Margot Benacerraf) (T)
#002 Bad Neighbours (2014, Nicholas Stoller)
#001 Tokyo Drifters (1966, Seijun Suzuki) (T)
Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-96, Hideaki Anno)
Digital Revolution, Barbican Centre
Three great Taiwanese films stand far out in a month devoted primarily to Chinese cinema. A Borrowed Life, from Wu Nien-jien, actor in Yi YI, and reowned Taiwanese screenwriter, was the real surprise standout. A film very similar in style and approach to those of Hou Hsiao-hsien (unsurprisingly, considering he wrote both A City of Sadness and A Time to Live), it was a satisfyingly understated family saga story, terrifically nuanced in its approach to a father-son relationship, and expansive despite remaining intimate, sentimental yet restrained.
From Andrew Chan, in the notes - “few films have so vividly recreated the sensation of having known another human being for one’s entire life, whilst simultaneously evoking the suspicion that all along one has loved a stranger.”
The three bolded may end up being my three favourite films of the year. Filmmaking doesn’t get a lot better than this.
#141 A Brighter Summer Day (1991, Edward Yang)
I’ve been waiting for a screening of this film for over four years now, so it had a lot to live up to. At risk of sounding like a broken record, all films benefit immeasurably from being seen big, to the point that I’d class watching something at home, watching something in the cinema, and watching something on an original print as three entirely different viewing experiences, three different films even. A complex, generation spanning four hour film such as this even more so.
Expectation didn’t bear too heavily, as this was fantastic, to the point I’d now rank Edward Yang as my favourite filmmaker. To me, after single viewings of both, and remaining works still unseen Yi Yi remains his best film. Comparing these two, and its fair to (both being lengthy, sprawling intergenerational epics that pit personal experience against national identity and socio-political experience), I’d say Yi Yi is the more accomplished film, but A Brighter Summer Day the more impressive.
So much so, that i’d say the kind of scope and scale on show here is comparable with the impossible ambition of Apocalypse Now, and an equal too in the level of success in achieving it. The directorial confidence on display here may be no surprise to those who’ve seen Yi Yi but the fact it is coming so much earlier, from a considerably younger (angrier, more frustrated?) man, and through a film with a style, tone and philosophy so radically different makes it enough to take the breathe away.
Its an almost incomparably rich, novelistic film, immensely layered and textured with the colour of a breadth of character, location and historical context. A tapestry of a country situation and sentiment made of over 100 speaking characters, each as fleshed out as the next. (Yang said, with no small bravado, that due to the amount of psychological profiling and planning done for each character and link, he could have made a 300+ episodes of a TV series out of the extended family him and his writers put together.)
For Rosenbaum, "this is a film about alienated identities in a country undergoing a profound existential crisis — a Rebel Without a Cause with much of the same nocturnal lyricism and cosmic despair.” A film of bitter ironies and heightened misfortune, its fundamentally about Taiwan’s first juvenile murder case, but as much about the community, time and country that sprawl out of that central happening. All characters are established, fleshed out and interlinked into a overwhelmingly broad cross-sectional web of 1960s Taiwan, and the distressing and somewhat unique situation that country apparently faced at the time - displaced of identity and existentially-challenged, caught on the otherside of continual colonial disruption (to say the least), confused, damaged and uncertain.
This historical context, an understand of which is equally integral to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s similarly inclined A City of Sadness, is something I’m missing in order to better appreciate this and other films of Taiwan. That Hou film is an obvious inspiration, as in A Time to Live and a Time to Die, in its portrayal of youth gang culture, and the searching for identity and finding it, sometimes positively and sometimes tragically, within gangs.
Everything in this in spot on. Look at the lighting for instance, a lot of night and darkness, a lot of candle light, yet immense beauty and variability. From the opening shot of a hanging bulb glimmering in the centre of a pitch-black frame, figuratively and literally, Yang finds a small amount of lightness in areas of all-consuming darkness.
From the 1980s to date, Taiwan has had it pretty much locked down in terms of filmic output. Look at the films of Yang, HHH and Tsai Ming-liang across the last three decades, and not much compares. I’ve not seen a lot outside of those three big-names, but the fact they alone have dominated the international stage since then, says a lot.
In Kirk Walker Grave’s 33 1/3 volume on MBDTF, he examines what he believes to be the crux of Kanye - the central conflict between egosim and fragility, the balancing of his boundless narcassism with a omnipresent self loathing that fuses into some kind of warped and uniquely modern self-determinism. Where MBDTF was Kanye’s ‘backhanded apology’ as Kanye himself labelled it; Yeezus is him fighting against the limitations and restrictions that are a constant in his (or anyones) work, with no apologies.
All of this is interesting, but what struck me most in the book was the intro that positions Kanye’s status as the figurehead of the 21st century against the emergence of social media. Running his status as influencer and shaper of public opinion and taste against the rise of social media platforms. More interesting even, is his exploration of ‘digital loneliness’ and Kanyes relation to that phenomenon. He sees Kanye as the embodiment of an era where “personal celebrity has become the default aspiration”.
You know when you read something and it feels like it is saying everything that to that point you’ve been unable to fully process. Like someone is thinking everything you’ve been thinking, but instead of having the thougths arrive through a scattergun, they manage to view it all through a precise lens and relay it back in the most perfect language. Walker Grave’s deconstruction of ‘digital loneliness’ was exactly this. The text was overwritten (which I can forgive) but this passage nailed everything.
Lifting liberally from a 2012 Atlantic article on Facebook by Damien Marche, Walker ties “humanity’s evolving incapacity for genuine connection” to the “epidemic of loneliness” we supposedly face now.
Marche first argued that “we have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society.” This, is my point of central conflict regarding heightened digital communications. Society changes and its means of connection change. Since the advent of the web, logging onto MSN messenger straight after school became a ritual for me (and many others my age, and not just dorks either.) Continuing the conversation out of school and into the home, maintaining a continual dialogue of heavy inanity. A comfort. Has this need to continually talk, aided my ability to communicate with, relate to and connect with others, or diminished it?
What I do know, is that I’m afraid of silence, categorically. That I can’t enter a silent room without the safety net of a phone to digitally interlink me to people, or music to fill the void or any kind of digital signal to buffer the emptiness. I’m fine with solitude, I embrace it, but its a false solitude where I’m alone but connected by a web of instanteous connection. I’m alone in the physical space, but a text or IM away from relief if I start to feel truly alone.
Louie CK raises this point too, in a stand up where he outlines texting and driving as the embodiment of this fear. so scared of momentary solitude that we’ll endanger our lives for a grasp at relief. He argues that sadness is ok and we need to let ourselves be properly alone sometimes, and accept the deep, if painful, feelings in order to experience the multitude of what life has to offer.
The odd counterpoint is, I went almost entirely digitally dark for about 3 months last year, whilst away. No texts or internet, minimal emails and IM, and it was fine. Absolutely so. Swiped away, it becomes apparent that the crutch isn’t needed. But on the flipside, that wasn’t an everyday situation, and it also had a negative effect. When I got back, and started to reconnect, on and offline, a divide was there. A breakdown in communicative ability, almost as if I’d forgotten the protocol for micro-comms, the pitter patter chatter in between dialogues of substance. If nothing else, perhaps these micro-chats and life-experience broadcasts keep the conversation going and keep things in tune, establishing the foundational links for deeper connections. I guess the problem is when they replace them, when group chat irradicates the desire for physical meet, when texts are all there is and when the online projection overwhelms the physical reality. When you lose all sense or awareness of the digital self you are constructing.
Marche explores how modern people admit to having few ‘confidants’ - meaning ‘quality social connections.’ He argues that “we have essentially hired an army of replacement confidants, an entire class of professional carers” to temporarily appease our feelings of loneliness, rather than seeking professional help or genuine social contact. “Surrogates can never make up completely for the absence of the real thing.” A digital relationship isn’t the same as an in-person one. Its contact without any of the risk (and also a fraction of the reward.) Some MIT professor in the Marche piece refers to this as a ‘tie that binds’ compared to a ‘tie that preoccupies.’ “A connection is not the same as a bond.”
For Marche, facebook is a “lonely business, wandering the labyrinths of our friends’ and pseudo-friends’ projected identities, trying to figure out what part of ourselves we ought to project, who will listen, and what they will hear.” I think, at this stage, everyone knows this much. I’m at a point where I genuinely believe that anyone who denies feeling worse, having browsed the facebook feed, is either in denial or unaware. I thought at first it was just a timewaste but its damage runs deeper. In that game of self-aggrandizement and data sharing, no one is winning, we’re all just hurting each other and compromising ourselves.
Going back to Walker-Grave, he then moves into talking how transactional information has become, and how it has altered the nature of interaction and conversation. He talks of a generational ideological need to “make it new and make it now.” For generations past, there was an onus on “having something to say” now the impotus is to simply “keep talking.”
I find myself constantly confused about what I should and shouldn’t be doing, what is good and bad for me. Am I micro-messaging too much at the expense of real connections? Am I sharing too much or little, inviting people into my life or plaguing them with it?
I still don’t know how to navigate this digital landscape, and its complexities are a source of endless fascination and bewilderment. I’m glad its here, I just think a degree of self-awareness over its ill-effects is useful. March somewhat bombastically announces in that Atlantic piece, “we were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information.” it’s not quite like that, but we should always be stepping back and examining our relationship with things and what it all means.
"Does the Internet make people lonely, or are lonely people more attracted to the Internet?"
The irony is that the kind of narcisissm that the Walker book and the Marche article examine is the very same one I am holding onto here by looking into them through the lense of ‘I.’ How to better navigate the world outside of this selfish position might be the better inquisition to make.
“There are many pretenders. Francis Ford Coppola went out and did it. He gave us a work that lives and breathes still, its vitality an enduring force. And whenever we question our own reach, we need only look to this magnificent movie, in all its untidy and coruscating beauty, as the ultimate example.” - The is the End, James Gray on Apocalypse Now
High Times at the NY Times.
I am full drone now, no writing, no content, no output. no feelings no pain etc.
This is exactly what I feared, and exactly what has happened. I’m doing more things, and hopefully feeling more things, but as ever balance comes at the expense of other things. This thing, whatever it was and could have been, has been a major casualty of 2014.
( interlude ~ my African neighbours, who spend 90% of their time arguing ceaselessly, and with no small vigour [thin walls] are now playing some kind of unending tribal drone. I’ve been listening to it for just over an hour, all is well now. )
If you want to hear from me, and perhaps even interact [no promises] then perhaps twitter might be a better/nice medium - it is at least one I spend more time on. #3mushroomspiritualfun
Winced typing /08 in the title of this - inertia - eight months gone in a sudden [au]gust of wind.
#019 Green Snake (1993, Tsui Hark)
#018 Night and Day (2008, Hong Sang-soo)
#017 Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater (2013, Gabe Klinger) (T)
#016 Out of the Blue (1980, Dennis Hopper) (T)
#015 Jealousy (2013, Philippe Garrel) (T)
#013 Hard to be a God (2013, Aleksey German)
#012 Watermark (2013, Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal)
#011 Life Itself (2014, Steve James)
#010 Marketa Lazarova (1967, Frantisek Viacil) (T)
#009 Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater) (T)
#008 The Five Deadly Venoms (1978, Cheh Chang)
#007 Fist of Fury (1972, Wei Lo)
#006 A Touch of Zen (1972, King Hu) (T)
#005 The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978, Liu Chia-Liang) (T)
#004 Ida (2013, Pawel Pawlikowski)
#003 Happy Christmas (2014, Joe Swanberg)
#002 Oxhide (2005, Lui Jiayin)
#001 Spring in a Small Town (1948, Fu Mei) (T)
Theo Parrish & Live Band, The Forum
Hyper Japan, London Excel
Surprise highlights were Marketa Lazarova, a film which was apparently widely ignored for a long time up until Second Run put it out on disc in 2007, to some acclaim, and then moreso when in the US Criterion brought it out in 2012. Since then, its reputation has grown and grown, and its now billed as a ‘cornerstone of the Czech New Wave’ and an ‘neglected gem,’ and its easy to see why. A 3 hour medieval epic, that while not as confounding as many claim it to be, is still more focused on the visual than narrative side of things, diverting off frequently into semi-abstract dreamy sequences and focusing more on the poetic qualities of the time and place than narrative acceleration. Apparently the director had a background in Art and Art History, which explains both the attention to detail in the period setting, and the incredible visual quality. Some of the most incredible compositions captured in that immensely appealing style of stark high-contrast wide-set black and white that reveals the splendour in ugliness.
Speaking of which, the other highlight. Also a visually remarkable, three hour long black and white medieval epic, and one that has been in process from its beginnings in the same year (?) as Marketa Lazarova through to completion last year slightly after its director, Aleksey German’s death, following a 6 year long period of principal photography. Hard to be a God blew me away at home, so I can’t wait to see it properly, hopefully at LLF in Oct. Perhaps more richly textured than any other film I’ve ever seen, Hard to Be a God shows a displaced fictional medieval setting in all of the most obsessively detailed disgusting glory. As the protagonist wades through shit, suffering and squalor, German’s camera tracks close, rarely moving from this space as the environment encroaches on the frame, characters, scenery and props breaching and blocking the tight square frames, creating a suffocating, overwhelming spectacle. Though difficult and admittedly challenging, its a film that makes its mark upon the viewer and imposes the level of craft on display.
Otherwise Boyhood delivered, without particularly surprising. One of the great things with that film is how uniquely relatable it manages to be. Both me and the person I watched it with found that parts had direct correlation with our own lives, but always completely different moments. My mum too, found aspects of the motherhood relatable, and my dad apparently found moments in Ethan Hawkes experience similar to his, though exactly what that means I’m not sure. Not quite sure how much of it daughters and girlfriends would find sympathetic though, as they don’t exactly receive the best representation in it. You kind of know what you are getting with Linklater now, white males* etc. but it is nice to watch a three hour film with little interest in conflict or resolution.
Someone with an even greater disinterest in conflict, resolution or really traditional narrative of any kind, James Benning meets Linklater in Gabe Klinger’s Double Play, an entry in the Cinema de Notre Temps series that looks into the relationship between Benning and Linklater, one that is mostly extraneous to their filmic styles, but occasionally finds crossover. Near the start, Benning talks about how memory is everything, that the future hasn’t yet happened and as the present has no dimension, memory is all there is, shaping and informing everything - an opinion Linklater relates to frequently, in Boyhood and other films. It is great to see people in the same business, and so heavily and () invested in it, talk about their craft - over lunch, in the edit suite and during baseball practise. “A cinephile’s dream lunch date expanded to feature length”
*esp. that absolutely heinous white saviour scene with the migrant worker who is educated about the value of education and the great white hope
Never lose your dinosaur.
I’ve watched two episodes. If, by the end, I sympathise with Shinji, am I a bad person?
The best person online.
How is this not directed at one of my [objectionable] text posts?
But instead a harmless series of screencaps. Your objection to NGE?