A Ghost Story & How Ignorance is Bliss

http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/07/30/film-house-a-ghost-story-ignorance-is-bliss

A Ghost Story is an experimental film that goes beyond expectations with each scene. It’s a trip without the hallucinogens, one that brings on a sense of calm yet will also leave you uneasy and tense.

Written and directed by David Lowery, A Ghost Story stars Casey Affleck, an actor whose career has seemed to reside on the fringes of Hollywood. However, since his Oscar win for his starring role in Manchester by the Sea this February, he has been working non-stop. Emerging from his brother Ben Affleck’s shadow, Casey has solidified his place as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actors.

1297978193798_ORIGINAL.jpg

The film also stars Rooney Mara of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fresh off the buzz of the much talked about Carol, Mara surprises us again with a completely different choice in role.

Affleck and Mara play C and M, a couple who seem to see each other as the only people in the world, their world; the only place they feel safe. The characters are genuine. They disagree with each other, they reconcile, they kiss and they caress one another. There are walls but there is understanding. Not long after we come to understand their love, C dies in a car crash. From this point on C is a ghost, a bed sheet over his head like a lazy kid dressed up for Halloween.

The plainness of C’s ghost somehow makes the character both ominous and melancholic as he drifts through scenes unnoticed. He watches his partner’s journey through mourning and he becomes fixated on reading a note that she has left but the pace of the world and the people in it makes this difficult. C’s ghost can only observe.

His helplessness and the frustration that accompanies it is what keep your attention rapt. There are people who suffer and there are witnesses to suffering, but there’s little that can be done. This becomes the film’s unique perspective.

The film makes us wonder about the continuity of history and the never-ending changes that build it. What happens today isn’t likely to matter in a few years as there are so many experiences both good and bad that await us.

A Ghost Story also calls into question notions of life after death. Do the dead, especially those who haven’t lived a completely fulfilled life, witness the ignorance of the living? The realization that mistakes are repeated and poor decisions will always keep being made is an idea that haunts this film. It explores the strength we must maintain to endure our own foibles. The source of this strength is the love that C and M have for one another. For the ghost of C, the note he’s desperately seeking to read represents that.

A Ghost Story is a film that could easily play on clichés and horror tropes but it avoids them. It’s a cosmic trip that actually explores these clichés and why they’re so prevalent. There are scenes that are filmed seemingly in real-time and then there are scenes that skip generations, all revolving around one unchanging element, the ghost, the watcher.

A Ghost Story will leave you with many questions: What is history? What is spirituality? And what is good and what is evil when love is not absolute?

Léon Morin, Prêtre & Existentialism

Léon Morin, Prêtre (1961), even though not explicitly a noir film, displays a lot of the director’s influences about the perception of character and the misuse of someone’s position. The film seems so contradictory to itself and in the end resembles L’Année dernière à Marienbad (1961) in that nothing is definite. Whether the narrative is this or that, it does not change, completely uninterested and unaffected by what is applied to it. This is reflective of the noir convention of the blurred line between the good and the bad in that it adds to the confusion between the characters’ behaviours and their desires. Melville does not give us any directions to what the characters’ intentions are. He just allows us a peak into their lives for what seem like brief two-minute scenes, quickly changing from the office to the church to Barney’s daughter to Morin’s apartment and to Barney’s place. This style only adds to the anxiety and uncertainty that Barney experiences throughout the film.

This brings us to existentialism, which is tied to other film noir qualities like its distinct visual style, the presence of crime, the sense of nostalgia, and pessimism. “As a philosophical school of thought it has included both Christian and atheist, conservative and Marxist.” (Porfirio, 213) Melville used this dilemma of spiritualty and politics and placed it in the setting of a war, more specifically the German Occupation. Barney embodies this dilemma. Her questions about God and how one should live their life according to the teachings of Christ partly come from her communist identity and her experiences with Catholicism as a child. She unknowingly seeks those who share her feelings and doubts. She desires understanding. When Léon Morin tells her that God is an experimental, individual reality and therefore incommunicable she repeats the last word and says, “how awful.” The thought that God is never definite, which is reflected in the style of the film, only adds to her anxiety about existence.

She learns, however, a priest, Morin, sympathizes with these doubts. He shares some of her communist thoughts about the church. For example, he mentions that he does not believe that a man needs three priests to burry him. After all, priests are not morticians.

She took comfort in his apartment, a place that’s only defining features were the piano, the bookshelf, and his desk; a place that seems to breed isolation. “I felt more at home there than I ever had anywhere, in that parlor that looked like an abandoned laundry and whose floor shone like a mirror.”

As all her doubts and thoughts were shared with Morin, or at least understood, one thing was not, her sexual desire. The film starts out with her voice over telling the viewer about her infatuation with Sabine Levy who is higher in ranking than her at work. This infatuation later moves onto her coworker, later friend, Christine. This infatuation only lasts in three interactions between them and then quickly forgotten. First, Barney slaps Christine then Christine kisses her on the forehead then Barney caresses Christine’s cheek. As for the rest of the film, the attention is shifted onto Morin.

Traditionally, there is something duplicitous about a woman who is attracted to both men and women. In the case of Barney, she is considered almost ill. She is ill to the point where her attraction to women specifically is completely disregarded by the halfway mark of the film. As Morin says to her right after she tries to touch him, “its no longer mademoiselle Sabine. That’s progress.” At that point, she is considered sexually deviant as someone who masturbates with a stick, as she mentions to Morin, and as someone who seems to be attracted to anyone with superiority over her. Her attraction to woman is only a symptom to this illness. The world of the noir protagonist is “capable of any action, without regard to conventional morality, and this is as amoral . . . as his antagonists.” (Porfirio, 214) Worried about her place in the world, Barney’s morality concerns her. She considers herself a confused and sick woman for having these impure thoughts.

hero_EB20091021REVIEWS08910219995AR.jpg

What is different in this film than in American film noirs is Melville, with his fragmented narrative that seems to lack a beginning, middle, and end with the random order of scenes, managed to undermine these binary sexual identities. It did not matter who she liked. All that mattered was her stability and self-control. Except, there is still this awareness of gender in terms of authority. There is something telling about how Barney acts on her desires for Léon and not Sabine even though both actions are looked down on. He is a priest and Sabine is a woman. Even in the beginning of the film, Barney refers to Sabine as someone who reminds her of a young man. Note that Barney is her subordinate. However, that statement seems to imply that Sabine is somehow incomplete to Barney.

Léon is a complete male figure to her and seems to hold all the answers to all the questions she has. He makes her feel ashamed for her feelings and succeeds in converting her even though not for the right reasons. She does it out of shame and guilt. As he tells her in one scene, “if only you called to God as you call to a man.” However, we should note, there is a scene where an American soldier threatens her by not returning her daughter’s bag to her and says he will return it when she goes upstairs with him. She refuses to the point where she tells him to take her daughter’s bag. This shows that she does not submit to any kind of offer out there and that she does in fact have self-control.

Léon, however, is aware of his authority and power over Barney and seems to take advantage of his license, his license to touch her or even talk to her bluntly. He only has women come to his apartment for discussions on religion, which can be viewed as an exercise of power over women for him. It is fair to assume that is derived from his childhood, which he spoke of briefly in the film, where his mother beat him. He operates with barely any tact to the point where Léon can even be considered the femme fatale of the film. The last lingering shot of him standing there in the top of the stairs and then cut to Barney breaking down in the street shows his ever lasting and damaging effect on her.

FILM HOUSE: Colossal a social commentary

colossal1FILM HOUSE: Colossal a social commentary

I can’t help but interpret a film such as Colossal geo-politically, which makes it all the more funny and all the more scary.

It’s one of these movies that should not be confined to genre when attempting to describe it but in the end its ironic humour, and understanding of the full capabilities of science-fiction, is what makes it such an original piece.

It is a Spanish-Canadian co-production, written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalando, whose fascination with the monster genre Kaiju brings out an unusual interpretation of power across borders.

It starts out with our protagonist, Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway, getting kicked out of her boyfriend’s apartment as a result of her excessive drinking and partying. Having nowhere else to go, she returns to her hometown in the hopes of a fresh new start. Instead, she meets her childhood friend, Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis, who happens to own a bar, the place that holds all Gloria’s later lethal temptations. After a night of drinking, Gloria wakes up to the news of a monster attacking Seoul, South Korea. She is horrified and feels somewhat helpless.

At first, Colossal seemed to be about the world’s reaction to a powerful being that is clueless to how its actions affect the tiny people at its feet. It’s hard not to think of one specific person when referring to a clueless powerful being especially in ironic moments like when Oscar recounts one of the monster’s appearances and says, “It just stood there and made a bunch of hand gestures.”

We get to see how even in such a small town, every TV screen appears to be displaying the events unravelling thousands of miles away. Some people are instilled with fear, like Gloria. Other people are completely oblivious to the possibility of the dangers that are happening somewhere in Asia to come right to them in a place so well secured like the states. As Gloria so accurately stated, “If the monster is only attacking Seoul then all the rest of the world will stop caring.”

However, there’s a twist. Gloria soon realizes that she, a jobless alcoholic, has unknowingly been responsible for the tragedies in Seoul. With this sudden unexplainable debatable power, her intoxicated self shares this secret with her friends and accidently introduces Oscar to a newfound power of his. Now that he has found some control in his life, the people of Seoul face a power-hungry and therefore destructive monster.

Suddenly, the film becomes a discussion about the imbalance of power and having it placed in the wrong hands. As an audience we can’t help but interpret what we watch as an artifact produced from our times. That is what makes Colossal a comedy to appreciate because it seems to casually and unintentionally comment on what is currently going in the world. That sort of humour is what invokes the feeling of unaffectedness and is what makes it a thriller.

As it still is one of the summer’s usual adventure movies, it offers more than that. Our actions, no matter how irrelevant they seem, impact people around us and consequently the world we live in. How to treat people around us, whether it is to lure them back into bad habits or empathize with them, has a colossal impact on the world at large.

Double Indemnity & Femme Fatales

It is an interesting lens to look through having watched weeks of Westerns and then switching to Film Noir. Specifically with a film like Double Identity and a femme fatale like Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis. Women in noir are such a contrast to women in Westerns. Even if they are treated less than, they are still central to the story and are a key characteristic without which the story would be nonexistent. Their actions matter unlike in Westerns. They are not treated like obstacles. They are not treated like they are in the way because they are the way. Western female characters were there to try to stop the male protagonists from going on the adventure, from being the hero like Laurie trying to convince Ethan in The Searchers to stay home and marry her.

maxresdefault

Of course this treatment of women in noir can be attributed to Modernism and how, at the time, people in the art world had become self-reflexive. This meant that Americanism started to be criticized. Its traditional standards and values that were once held so highly are now doubted for their unjustifiable consequences.

One difference I noticed is that Noir treats femininity like it matters and is as strong as masculinity. It is not a weakness like it can be depicted in Westerns. Whether it is a strength used for the good or bad is another discussion all on it’s own. However, it should be acknowledged that this was the first step to treating femininity as equal to masculinity in a way. It can twist a plot if not as much then more as an act of masculinity can. We see this right away in the beginning of Double Indemnity. Walter, an insurance salesman, just doing his job, drives to a house to discuss an auto-renewal with a man named Mr. Dietrichson. Once he enters the house though and sees Mrs. Dietrichson, a blonde young woman covered only with a bath towel, he forgets entirely about the auto-renewal and Mr. Dietrichson. He only has one thing in mind now and it is Phyllis Dietrichson and she realizes this power she has almost instantly once she sits with him. By just deciding to cross her legs and show off her tightly worn anklet, she has him under her influence. From then on, every action she makes, everything she says counts to get him to do what she wants, which is to kill her husband – the plot goal.

primary_doubleindemnity-paramount-19441.jpg

There is something undeniably fascinating about how women are depicted in film noirs. Even when Walter annoyingly refers to Phyllis with pet names repeatedly like ‘baby,’ she is unfazed by it, even the audience, because we know that she ultimately has the power over him. She still affects him and what is around him even after her death and it is only with her feminine wiles that she does this, proving that she could do so much by just being stereotypically a woman. The only difference is she is not objectified for it, and she does not symbolize only that. She has a story and reasons. She is not there for someone to get back home to something waiting for him because she would not wait. She has her own needs and desires, whether it be money, or revenge. Interestingly enough these two things are masculine pursuits.

To conclude this, it seems that Hollywood, at the time of film noir, had gone from one extreme to the other. When at one time, it celebrated what American stood for and its “purity” and then at another time it criticized exactly with how fake it was. It showed it for what it was; a consumerist, sexist culture.

Easy Rider & What America is

There seems to be this never-ending debate on what can be considered American, and what would be considered a patriotic act. Can killing a man the John Wayne way be considered American, or dying for your country the Easy Rider way be considered American? Of course it is only American until it is no longer a dominant ideology and that is what Easy Rider strives for. It strives to show the many faults in the dominant ideology of American nationality, the ideology that was once held so sacred in the classical Western.

601px-warw_24

With that in mind, Easy Rider can be considered a counter-Western for many reasons. Mainly, Westerns take pride in what they have accomplished and the obstacles they have overcome. Their approach is usually outward. There is never really any self-criticism. Easy Rider opposes that approach. It is inward. It is as much about the individual as it is about society. It is personal. It criticizes the “self-serving hypocrisy” (BFI, 40) that America seems to have built it’s nation on. It shows that it is not actually the land of the free, it is controlled and materialistic and therefore not liberated at all. We see this with Wyatt’s attempt in freeing himself from the materialistic concept that is time; he takes off his watch and throws it away on the side of the road.

Materialism is the classic tale of the American psycho. What can the average American man be driven to madness for, or even death, in the case of Easy Rider, when it is not for materialism? As Bill says in the end of the film, “You go for the big money, then you’re free,” they use America’s weapon for freedom but before you know it their weapon buys you a seat in their house where the never-ending journey to the American dream is. The money in the tank of Wyatt’s chopper with the American flag on it represents America, the land that promises liberation but instead offers the feeling of endless anticipation and those who are ‘different’ are obstacles in the way. This money is what distracts them; it is what forces them to keep on moving so they can stay in close reach for that ambivalent American dream. Something that clearly becomes symbolic of instant gratification, which means there is never really satisfaction, there will always be a search for more.

easyrider-splsh

From this, we can see how the film is political. It shows the repressed among the dominant. Unlike Westerns where the repressed is depicted as rightfully inferior, Easy Rider talks about fear within the repressed, justified fear because as we see the good guy never wins. Money always conquers. George Hanson is that man who does not fight with his appearance but fights with his words for the freedom of speech and individuality. His acceptance of those unlike him is what killed him. He understood that fear in America was a fear of that which is not controlled by the American man. With that, there is a realization in the film that some people’s ideals directly clash with the reality that is America, ideals that are harmless but somehow threatening. Some may argue that the travelling shots are unnecessarily long and lack information. I disagree. Easy Rider does not have to be literal and direct like a classical Western. These travelling shots are what freedom feels like and looks like, it exemplifies just the simplicity and harmlessness of what freedom is to those two.

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City & Subjectivity

Reading Kracauer’s negative review on Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) and then David Macrae’s response to it made me question how we can determine if specificity, in a medium like film, exists.

Kracauer seems convinced that Ruttmann’s “rhythmic ‘montage’ reveals that he actually tends to avoid any comment on the reality with which he is faced,” that he made the film with a rather “surface approach.” Interestingly enough he used candid photography as an example and quoted Karl Freund when he was asked whether it is an art. To that he said, “It is the only type of photography that really is art. Why? Because with it one is able to portray life.”

berlin-the-symphony-of-a-great-city-4

Macrae realizes that Kracauer regards “the viewer… as a hollow recipient of data emerging from the screen with no conception of the nature of medium, creator, or construction.” He argues that subjective is objective, that “the viewer’s processes of witnessing ‘formal qualities,’ ‘dynamic displays,’ ‘striking analogies’ between movements or forms’ exist as much in ‘reality’ as do the various component objects of their construction.

When I say that subjectivity is objective, i mean that I don’t think it’s ever realism for realism’s sake. It’s realism with a message in the end. And saying that poetics does not hold any realism is an argument against history. It’s insinuating that the arts had no part in revolutionary moments, that nina simone’s music did nothing for the civil rights movement.

It is usually with exaggeration that reality is understood. Like Bertolt Brecht said, “Less than at any time does a simple reproduction of reality tell anything about reality.”

Silk: Nine and a Half Weeks

Have you ever brought up a film and mentally compared it to a type of fabric? We do watch films with relateability in mind. We relate a feeling we get from a film to a feeling we have had before. A simple example of this can be how, for me, a non-lover of superhero/tent-pole movies, when watching a superhero movie I think of polyester, a safe, cheap and short-lived fabric.

9-and-a-half-weeks-316

I mention this because of a specific film I have watched multiple times, Nine and a Half Weeks (1986), directed by Adrian Lyne and stars Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke. I thought I’ve seen this film too many times to properly articulate what I think. The first time I saw it, it did more than take over my thoughts. It affected my movement. I treated every object with the same care Rourke gave Basinger. Everything felt like silk, delicate, a fabric that seems effortless however difficult to obtain. I think when you’re completely encapsulated by a film, the colour tones, the music, the shades of the places and clothes the characters wore, you can’t help but find some difficulty to completely shake off the film even after it’s finished.