26 February 2009

Funny Face

“Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. It is a land one can never tire of exploring. There is no greater experience in a studio than to witness the expression of a sensitive face under the mysterious power of inspiration. To see it animated from inside, and turning into poetry.” - Carl Th. Dreyer

To watch Maria Falconetti's face in Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc is to experience a form of cinematic purity down to its most essential base -- the close-up. The close-up has always seemed to me to be a significantly unique contribution to art by cinema. There is the close-up in still photography, certainly, but recording a face in close-up for a duration of time allows for multiple layers of expression not found in still photography. The way, for instance, fear can be communicated through the slightest widening of the eyes, or the way eyelids close and mouths part can speak volumes. Falconetti's face as Joan in Dreyer's film is one of purity -- of spirit, of form -- that seems to transcend the screen onto which she is being projected. And I certainly believe transcendence was Dreyer's intention. Joan's close-ups seem to exist on their own plane, never completely relating to the reality surrounding her with the menacing judges and priests. Her gaze does not meet any particular eyeline, but looks to God, in faith and in fear. The struggle to hold onto God while fearing torture and death is expressed exquisitely in Joan's face, and it becomes nearly impossible not to feel that conflict from your seat as you watch the film.

I am always interested in Truths: Gods, religions, theories, ways of being, all of these things which attempt to give meaning to life in earnest ways. In cinema, there are those who are convinced that truth can be capture on film -- be it Eisenstein and montage, Vertov and Kino-eye, the observational documentary filmmakers of the '60s, etc. To me, Dreyer's ideas about the close-up are the most fascinating and possibly the most romantic. This led me to think of other affecting close-ups in cinema. What are those moments where a close-up on a face says more than any dialogue could? Recently, there is one close-up of Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married which was quite powerful that I mentioned on a previous post. There are a couple of Julie Christie in McCabe & Mrs. Miller. And, of course, there is Anna Karina's face in Vivre Sa Vie as she watches The Passion of Joan of Arc and experiences something true. Do you have any favorite close-ups?

23 February 2009

Oscars Recap 2009

Turns out I got a lot more right regarding my Oscars predictions than I thought I would. If only more money was in the pool. Some thoughts:

> The '30s-inspired set was nice, but it did feel awkwardly intimate in the front row, especially since Meryl Streep's pouty, arm-clinging daughter was in the middle of every over-the-shoulder-of-announcer shot of the crowd.

> The opening number was saved by Hugh Jackman ending it by singing "I AM WOL-VER-INE!" and raising his fists.

> The rehearsed praise for acting nominees by previous winners was long-winded and a little awkward.

> I loved Penelope's speech because she said, "Thank you Oody."

> Thank God for Japanese award-winners! "Sank you... my pencirr."

> Tina Fey and Steve Martin are meant to be.

> Is Tilda Swinton David Bowie's long-lost brother?

> I usually don't pick a live action short on the ballot until I see the clips during the nomination announcements. Then I pick the one that has to do with Nazis. 2 for 2 so far.

> Is the musical really back or is it just Beyonce? Again.

> If I were Peter Gabriel I wouldn't want to perform half my song sandwiched between two from SLUMDOG, getting cut off by someone screaming, "Jai Ho!!"

> Sophia Loren is 74. Give her a break. Somehow it's harder to give a break to Goldie Hawn though. Lift the front of your dress!

> Sean Penn pulls ahead of Rourke for the win in the only really unpredictable category, then calls the Academy "Commie, homo-loving sons of guns." Yes.

> What mystical forest did Danny Boyle escape from?

13 February 2009

For the Couples

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Annie Hall (1977)

"After that it got pretty late, and we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again. I... I realized what a terrific person she was, and... and how much fun it was just knowing her; and I... I, I thought of that old joke, y'know, the, this... this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs."

03 February 2009

Avant-Garde Refresher

I find that viewing avant-garde films in a film class offers a nice refresher between the long list of narrative films to be studied. It deconstructs expectations and allows for a more intrinsic cinematic experience that doesn't rely on the crutch of terms used to describe narrative and documentary film. Please enjoy:

Vormittagsspuk (Ghosts Before Breakfast) [1928] - dir. Hans Richter