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Posts Tagged ‘movies’

The Audience Is the Jury: An Interview with Rick Alverson

November 19, 2015 | by

Gregg Turkington in a still from Entertainment. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Rick Alverson’s new film Entertainment follows a comedian (Gregg Turkington) on the verge of mental collapse. On tour in California, his routine is simplistic, crude, and lame, the venues are bleak and half-empty. Alone in hotel rooms, he stares blankly at telenovelas. Every night, he leaves a voice mail for his daughter, who never calls back. Alverson intertwines pain and humor, his camera lingering for painful lengths on Turkington’s pale features. The actor turns his popular persona, Neil Hamburger, on its head: an act intended to be ironically vile and loathsome threatens to become legitimately vile and loathsome, and Entertainment evolves into a disquieting portrait of modern-day disillusionment, manifesting in emotional disconnect, misogynist rants, and isolation. 

This experiment in discomfort is a continuation for Alverson, whose previous film, The Comedy (2012), starring Tim Heidecker, focused on a group of affluent, aging New York hipsters suffocating in their own riches and irony, a reversal of the mainstream feel-good blueprint that confused and angered many critics and viewers. I spoke to Alverson in Manhattan earlier this month about his thoughts on Entertainment, portrayals of masculinity in the media, and Teletubbies.

This film is very particularly constructed.

When we watch movies, we paste together these narrative threads that are completely inconsequential. I think that’s due to a restlessness in us. The first thing the mind goes to is the credibility of the narrative, and the content. A large part of what I ended up doing in the edit was thinking about what happens after that, with the viewer’s intellect. It became more and more exciting, because I’m an audience as much as anybody. We’re taught to be unaware, or think that these events are disposable or superfluous, but we’re really vulnerable when we watch media. Especially in dark rooms. Read More »

Glutton for Punishment

November 18, 2015 | by

Fat City and the dark night of boxing’s soul.

From an Italian poster for Fat City.

Boxing and cinema are so perfectly mated that if the sport didn’t exist Hollywood may well have invented it. Its tropes—man’s internal struggle with his demons, his past, and his station, all externalized in a desperate fight against an opponent who could be a drinking buddy but who stands, right now, in the way of dreams, success, and validation—dates back to Homer, and they’re ready-made for the movies.

The reality of boxing is, of course, not so clean. It’s brutal, unforgiving, and easily corruptible; the runway to the ring littered with broken bodies, shattered lives, and buckets of blood. Redemption? That’s only in the pictures. Which is not to say boxing films avoid hard truths about the sport. Gangsters, hucksters, bums, schemes, and death abound, especially in the titles released in the forties and fifties. But Hollywood approaches the inherent danger and venality of the fight game cautiously, never staring too long into the abyss. To do so would be to stray too far from the formula: audiences should go home cheering, if not for a champion then for a guy who failed stoically and with class. No one wants to spend time—or, more importantly, money—on a downer. Read More »

With These Zombie Eyes, and Other News

November 3, 2015 | by

Poster for White Zombie, 1932.

  • In 1929, William Seabrook published The Magic Island, an account of his travels in Haiti, and so introduced American readers to zombies, which soon came to dominate the cinema: “The zombie, they say, is a soulless human corpse, still dead, but taken from the grave and endowed by sorcery with a mechanical semblance of life. People who have the power to do this go to a fresh grave, dig up the body before it has had time to rot, galvanize it into movement, and then make of it a servant or slave, occasionally for the commission of some crime, more often simply as a drudge around the habitation or the farm, setting it dull heavy tasks, and beating it like a dumb beast if it slackens.”
  • Knausgaard has at last hunkered down with Houellebecq’s Submission, which meant he had to read Huysmans’s Against the Grain, too—at his daughter’s gymnastics practice—which got him contemplating satire, ennui, political upheaval, and the nature of the sacred. He’s ready to tell you all about it. “When a person has grown up in a certain culture, within a certain societal system, it is largely unthinkable that that culture, that system, might be changed so radically, since everything in life—the beliefs instilled in us as children at home and at school, the vocations we are trained in and to which we later devote our labor, the programs we watch on TV and listen to on the radio, the words we read in newspapers, magazines and books, the images we see in films and advertising—occurs within the same framework, confirming and sustaining it, and this is so completely pervasive that to all intents and purposes it is the world, it is society, it is who we are. Minor modifications and adjustments take place … but total upheaval isn’t even a faint possibility, it is simply unimaginable, and therefore does not exist. And yet society’s total upheaval is what Submission depicts.” (Fingers crossed for a Houellebecq review of the next volume of My Struggle.)
  • Subtlety? Fuck it. Maybe we need art that’s also blunt-force trauma, art that announces its intentions with no equivocation: “Because bluntness is also a virtue. When artists don’t muffle themselves in service of subtlety (or in fear of being called unsubtle), they kindle fervor and fire. When we dispense with subtlety, we’re rewarded with work that resonates in every seat in the theater, not just in the orchestra section. And the more a work has something important to convey, the more it should not be subtle … When we stop fussing over what’s too heavy-handed, we can also start piling on the pleasure, and grabbing straight for the heartstrings. When we don’t worry about taking the long way around, we gain an emotional directness that is more in tune with the way people actually feel. People’s emotions, after all, are not always subtle. They are not hidden under a blanket inside their souls. People feel things, strongly, and creators that underplay that are making it harder for their audiences to connect purely and viscerally to their work.”
  • Filmmaking depends on a basic bit of magic: making real landscapes look like new places. The illusion can be shattered, however momentarily, by something as basic as recognition: when you see a location trying to pass as something (somewhere?) it isn’t, you see the whole apparatus of the movie industry coming out at you. “Seeing a locale you know intimately on screen gives you, much more than a flicker of recognition, a jarring effect that can sometimes prevent you from parsing the film’s internal landscape … Indeed, most of the ‘work’ imagining the geographical world of the film is done by the spectator, who must conjure up the unseen habitat from the slim shards of location the filmmaker divulges … In order to achieve this peculiar illusion, you need to privatize (or, failing that, eschew, by way of a studio set) the actual world—to tame reality into fiction, you must shut off streets (usually at a cost), place production assistants on street corners to keep curious bystanders out of the frame, you must painstakingly ensure continuity between takes and hope the messiness of the off-camera world does not become apparent on screen.”
  • Pity the still-life painters: next to portraits and sweeping landscapes, the depiction of inanimate objects can seem like a frivolous pastime. But in America, the still-life tradition has given us “the history of the ordinary rather than the extraordinary, the masses rather than the elite,” a new exhibition suggests: “At that moment in early American history when the young country began discovering not just the untamed wilderness to the West, but also the untamed elements of within democracy, still life spoke of more than just young men and flowers … ”

Existentially, I’m Getting a Hamburger

October 26, 2015 | by

I watched the 1972 film adaptation of Play It As It Lays the other day; the whole movie is streaming on YouTube for free now. I wanted to reject it outright because its mood was not exactly the same as the novel’s—the quality of the bleakness was different. But, I mean, when you think about it, what would you want a movie of Play It As It Lays to look like?  Read More »

Staff Picks: Cairo, Cruising, Chrissie, Kmart

October 9, 2015 | by

Fire in Cairo.

“How many reasons have I for going to Moscow at once! How can I bear the boredom of seven months of winter in this place? … Am I to be reduced to defending myself—I who have always attacked? Such a role is unworthy of me … I am not used to playing it … It is not in keeping with my genius.” Thus Napoleon in 1812 in Lithuania, on the eve of his disastrous Russian campaign, which would destroy the French army and cost more than a hundred thousand French lives. The whole time, Napoleon’s aide-de-camp Philippe-Paul, Count de Ségur, was taking notes. His inside account of the debacle—now known in English as Defeat—was a best seller when it appeared in 1824 and became a key source for War and Peace. Readers will recognize scenes from Tolstoy’s novel, but Ségur’s Napoleon is, if anything, even more vivid, because Ségur loves him and believes in him even when his genius lets him down. —Lorin Stein

The carnival that erupted in Cairo’s Midan Tahrir in 2011, and continued in one form or another for two and half years, has spawned any number of books and films. Maybe because the initial skirmishes were so chaotic or because the outcome of the revolts is still unclear—although a Thermidorian reaction now stretches into the foreseeable future—a documentary approach to this history has often seemed like the best one. Matthew Connor’s book of photographs, Fire in Cairo, goes in a wonderfully different direction. Taken during the spring of 2013, prior the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, Connor’s photos are aslant and at times surreal. The violence of the revolts is present, even omnipresent, but as a mood rather than something concrete to look at. His shots, which have no captions, are full of fog, lasers, and common Cairene objects made mysterious through close-ups. There is also a gallery of portraits, many of whose subjects have their faces covered—by veils, helmets, or homemade gas masks. The effect of the book, for me, was to make the revolution strange again; it brought me back to that exciting time when none of us knew quite what we were looking at. —Robyn Creswell Read More »

Jeanne Dielman Forever, and Other News

October 6, 2015 | by

A still from Jeanne Dielman.

  • The filmmaker Chantal Akerman, whose 1975 movie, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, is arguably “the first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema,” has died at sixty-five. “Jeanne Dielman is a real-time study of a middle-aged widow who lives with her teenage son in a small Brussels flat. The film follows her as she completes drab domestic tasks and tries to make ends meet through occasional prostitution … The long, frank takes featured in Jeanne Dielman were a feature of Akerman’s work.”
  • As a theater director, Bryan Doerries aims to revitalize the power of the medium: his company performs Greek tragedies at full-tilt for audiences at schools, hospitals, prisons, and army bases, and his goal is catharsis in the fullest sense of the word. “Theater is able to do something that no other medium can achieve,” he says. “It leads disparate audiences into a profound communion … We have lost touch, as a culture, with the importance of coming together and confronting what it means to be human as a community. Theater, and tragedy in particular, has the power to do this … Theater still has the power to create a sacred space, in which we are transported out of our quotidian reality and brought into contact with the transcendent, the heroic, the mythic, and with one another. We still hunger, I think, for this experience, as people, as a culture. And in some ways, because it’s so rare, it’s all the more overpowering and effective when we encounter it.”
  • Today in unlikely longevity: New Hampshire’s Yankee magazine has been around since 1935, and it’s navigated, somehow, many epochal changes in media. What’s its secret? Listen carefully: cover fall foliage as if it’s Mardi Gras, never change, and appeal to a boring, affluent, aging readership. Yankee stands tall because of, not in spite of, its stupefying predictability: “There are tips on travel to destinations like Narragansett Bay, in Rhode Island, and recipes for Boston cream pie and needhams (an old-fashioned Maine candy made with mashed potatoes). Ads for regional businesses and New England wares still fill the magazine, which now comes out six times a year. The much loved Swopper’s Column—a classifieds page for unusual objects, which first appeared in the magazine’s fourth issue—was not discontinued until 2013.”
  • On Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk, which has at its center a stunt that cinema has been waiting for a long time: “Two twenty-first-century phenomena have changed the way moving pictures are made and perceived. The first is the accelerating use of digital technology and the inexorable rise of a cyborg cinema that, by combining animated and photographic images, compromises the direct relationship to reality that had long been the medium’s claim to truth. The second is the trauma of September 11, 2001, which for many provided the ultimate movie experience that was more than a movie—spectacular destruction, broadcast live, and watched by an audience, more or less simultaneously, of billions.”