.............................................................TRAPPED INSIDE A WORLD UNDER LEAGUES OF OCEAN........................................................

Thursday, September 29, 2011

movies: one scene: drive (2011)

Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Carey Mulligan

In a small scene, and through an even smaller gesture, Ryan Gosling and Bryan Cranston author what is one of the more moving and darkly humourous sequences I can recall having seen in the past months.

Cranston's Shannon, hapless as ever, finds himself bleeding out in his own garage after a pre-ordained meeting with the keen side of Bernie's (Albert Brooks) straight razor.  Protecting his protege, The Driver (Gosling), Shannon refuses to tip his hand with regards to his knowledge of The Driver's whereabouts, and dies. The final sounds his ears register are the strangely calming assurances of his killer that everything's fine, it's done. The Driver finds Shannon a few minutes later, life drained away, sitting in mock repose against the rear bumper of a classic car.  The Driver crouches and observes his dead friend, then slowly and deliberately extends an arm and gently tilts the corpse's head to the right.  There is neither an exploitative nor sentimental quality to the action, but it somehow conveys a tremendous sense of sadness.

Even though Shannon is a nobody, I was affected by his death, and experienced an almost overwhelming sense of sympathy at that moment.  Such is the mark of a master filmmaker who can deal in pathos without most of the audience even knowing it.

That The Driver then stands, opens the trunk of the car and lifts the bag full of Bernie's money - the money for which Shannon, mere moments ago, lost his life - seals and stamps one of the most unassuming perfect scenes, and one that's stayed with me for the past week.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

movies: antonio gaudi (1985)

Dir: Hiroshi Teshigahara

The last four years have been very good to Japanese art-house darling Hiroshi Teshigahara. Unfortunately, he's been dead for the last ten.

Until July of 2007, the name Hiroshi Teshigahara meant nothing to me. However, that month Criterion released a superb trilogy of films (Face of Another, Woman in the Dunes, Pitfall) by the Japanese director. It was then that I realized what I had been missing. I watched the three films rabidly and pored over the special features and the bonus disc included in the set. Still, I wanted more.

In March of 2008, Criterion again stepped up to bat and released another long out of print Teshigahara classic, Antonio Gaudi. While not as essential a work as the former three, it is nonetheless a playful and contemplative film that does justice to both Gaudi's sculpture and architecture, but also - and perhaps more pointedly - it distills Teshigahara's filmic vision down to its essence.

In viewing this film, I realized that this was the perfect pairing of director and subject, however unlikely that may seem for those familiar with both artists' work. Although Teshigahara and Gaudi reside at opposite stylistic poles, and come from incredibly different artistic backgrounds, the clinical, though not cold, eye of the director lingers over the sensual, simultaneously earthy and alien forms of the architect, and we feel that we are exploring new ground. The long takes and slow pans that Teshigahara employs force the viewer to see what the director wants us to see - perhaps the perfect example of the power of cinema to hold and arrest the gaze of the audience. Teshigahara approaches the works of Gaudi with a reverential eye, and not only highlights the stunning forms, but also goes on to create his own sort of art. By showing in close-up the sinewy and undulating forms of Gaudi's work, he removes them from their immediate context and renders them abstract, forcing us to reconsider not only what we are seeing directly on screen, but their place within the larger work.

Teshigahara's preference for narrating a film with imagery rather than dialogue is again on display here. In fact, the few brief instances of a character speaking in the film are rather jarring. The end goal of both architect and filmmaker is to speak through images and forms, light and shadow, solid and void - in this sense, Teshigahara, like Gaudi, succeeds wonderfully. And by contrasting certain scenes at the film's outset - Spain's deeply religious rooting is shown through church frescoes and sculptures, and Spaniards dancing in the town square, eating, working, dealing in the market and generally going about their daily lives presents the secular way of life - Teshigahara effectively describes a cultural background rich in both the sacred and the profane, the cultural background which deeply influenced the work of Gaudi.

Throughout Antonio Gaudi, we see many recurring visual motifs, such as the spiraling, shifting, snaking shapes that so entranced Teshigahara as well as the entomologist in Woman in the Dunes. The director seems genuinely captivated by the architecture as would be any tourist, and even though we have seen the buildings before, whether in pictures or on-site, Teshigahara's wonder of discovery translates beautifully and we feel as if we are seeing Gaudi for the first time. Teshigahara's is a foreign eye discovering and revelling in the forms that surround him. If you also keep in mind the difference of the Japanese and Spanish artistic traditions, Teshigahara's austere, minimalist filmmaking compostions layered over Gaudi's everything-in-the-mix aesthetic is all the more impressive. Imagine John Cage or Philip Glass recording an album of Beck songs and you see where this could have gone terribly wrong.

And speaking of music (what a segue), the film's otherworldly score that sounds like it could have been created by Herzog faves Popul Vuh mixes with classical compositions to set up the works on display. There is often a sense that we are being taken on a guided tour of a spaceship, or through one of the many rooms in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

I began wondering, about 60 hypnotic and awe-filled minutes into the film, why exactly is it that we are drawn to architecture? Not only Gaudi, but, to use an example with more currency and relevance to us, why have the newly finished ROM and AGO structures caused so much hoopla in town? Is it the superstar architects themselves? Is it simply that we like to look at pretty things, and consequently feel better about ourselves for living in a more "beautiful" city? Bragging rights? I came to realize that Gaudi's work, and as the utmost extension of that, architecture, sculpture and art, allow me, personally, to see and touch mankind's capacity for creation and desire to dream. In gazing upon these finished structures, these living dreams, we can see and feel those fleeting intangibles, the manifestion of which eludes all but a tiny portion of us. Teshigahara's film allowed me to realize that, and I am grateful for the experience.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

music: memories of windsor, leamington and the places in between

music: you can always go back to being weak-willed and undisciplined

when this album came out nearly three years ago (really? holy shit, time flies), i listened to it probably three times a day for about a month.  that fanatical regularity has dwindled, but you can be assured an album is a classic when, even after you've played it to death and then some, you still want to listen to it a few times a month.  as fall descends, this album always stirs my inner-ear to move my hand toward the stereo and press play.  this is EXACTLY what I'm looking for this time of year. plus, any video that manages to incorporate both Fletch and the Blind Dead is A-OK in my book...

Doomsdayer's Commercial from The Fact Facer on Vimeo.

movies: the old dark house (1932)

Dir: James Whale
Cast: Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Gloria Stuart, etc

SEE the original dysfunctional family! WITNESS the deranged brute and half-wit butler Morgan, crazed with lust and violence and filled with smouldering menace! FAINT with terror at the beautiful damsels in distress! HEAR the creaking vocal cords of the man-child Sir Roderick, confined to his bed and wrinkled beyond recognition, uttering cryptic, terrifying warnings! LEAP with ICY FEAR at Saul, the most dangerous son, waiting in his room, twice-locked from the OUTSIDE, plotting, plotting....!

Yes folks, The Old Dark House is one of my favourite films (I especially love to watch it near Hallowe'en, on a rainy night), and presenting it as some kind of autumnal carnival sideshow attraction is not altogether inappropriate. Weirdness abounds, there's madness, mystery, murder, and romance. When they came up with the old adage "they don't make 'em like they used to", they could very well have been referring to The Old Dark House, which has many surprisingly risque (and since much-copied) components for the era in which it was made.

We begin with three travellers (Raymond Massey's Philip Waverton, Melvyn Douglas' Roger Penderel, and Gloria Stuart's Margaret Waverton) on a dark and tres stormy night (natch) who eventually become completely stranded by the storm, conveniently, at the steps of a decrepit mansion. They expect to be welcomed into the home and perhaps be granted a night's shelter there, but we know, as soon as the door opens a crack and Karloff's heavily made-up, slashed and sneering brutish visage peers out menacingly, that the travelling trio is in for the night of their lives. Things get increasingly weirder as each Femm family member is introduced - from Ernest Thesiger's wonderfully eccentric and nervous Horace Femm, Eva Moore's selectively deaf, pickled onion-loving, bible-thumping Rebecca Femm, to Elspeth Dudgeon's horribly eerie androgynous invalid patriarch Sir Roderick Femm, and finally, to Brember Wills' Saul; clever, insane, and born to kill.

There are some virtuoso camera tricks that Whale employs - particularly in the scene with Moore and Stuart in the bedchamber displaying the their distorted features in the mirror, coming across as a twisted version of Alice in Acidland played though the most warped of funhouse mirrors. Not to mention many design and shot motifs carried over from Whale's previous film, you know, that one about the mad scientist and the monster.

I can't even really put into words how much I love this delightfully insane film. The template for SO many films to follow, and certainly not those limited to the horror genre.

The one, the only, The Old Dark House, is James Whale's masterpiece. Frankenstein gets all the glory, but what we have here is a bona-fide CLASSIC, and a film that I can safely say makes my top 20 films of all time. There are a few clips from the film on YouTube, but I chose not to include any here, as the film is really better served if viewed in its entirety.

Go. Watch it with some exceptional gin, and don't forget - have a potato.

movies: jack brooks: monster slayer (2007)

Now if this isn't an old-school piece of gory, hilarious fun, I don't know what is.

JB:MS is a Canadian-produced horror flick that is incredibly entertaining, and while it isn't overly original, and runs a tad too long, it doesn't take itself too seriously and is a hell of a good time. It's refreshing to see a horror movie that is self-aware without being SELF-AWARE (if that makes any sense).

Instead of merely overcoming its budgetary limitations, the film is more endearing for them. Loads of unpretentious fun, practical effects (no CGI here, baby, which in itself is laudable) and a patently Canadian vibe of understated comedy, this is destined to become a cult classic, and one that I'll drunkenly revisit for years to come.

If every Hallowe'en you throw on Demons - either of them (not counting the later, most tenuously attached entries), Night of the Demons (any of the three), Night of the Creeps, Slither, or Evil Dead (again, any of the three), while putting on your costume, you can now officially add Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer to the list of mandatory autumn viewage. Bonus points for best head bashing-in scene since Irreversible, best use of duct-tape (as a bandage), and Robert "Don't call me Freddy" Englund.

Turn up the good...

freedom rides: island time

 bike on boat
secret island swing

Thursday, September 15, 2011

movies: city of the dead (aka horror hotel) (1960)

Dir: John Llewelyn Moxey
Cast: Christopher Lee, Patricia Jessel, Venetia Stevenson

I'm talkin' 'bout John Llewelyn Moxey's foray into the witchtastic realm of devil worship and the occult. Without a doubt the foggiest film I have ever seen.

See, when mid-September nears and Samhain grows closer with the hour, for some reason I feel drawn toward books/art/music/film that deals with ghosts, monsters, and most of all...witches. Re: the latter - City of the Dead delivers in spades.

We begin with a flashback to the 17th century where one Elizabeth Selwyn is being tried (read: tied) for witchcraft by the townsfolk of a small Massachusetts burg (Whitewood). After her burning at the stake, we jarringly jump cut forward to modern times (well, modern for when the film was made, 1960) with Chris Lee's Prof. Driscoll lecturing a bunch of college kids in what looks to be the bird course to end all bird courses, Historical Witchcraft 101. While most of the jocks in the class snicker at Driscoll's intensity on the subject, one particularly keen student, Nan Barlow, takes things a bit more seriously, and, against the will of her brother, Prof. Richard Barlow, and her beau Bill Maitland (Tom Naylor doing his best Jimmy Dean impersonation), decides to visit Whitewood for a bit more of a hands on approach to researching her paper on witchcraft.

So she goes, checks into the Raven Inn, whose proprietress, Mrs. Newless, looks uncannily like Elizabeth Selwyn. Things begin to seem a bit off, and the further Nan gets into her studies, the more she begins to suspect she may be rooming among the very witches she came to research. Anyway, Feb. 1st rolls around, Candlemas eve, and Nan, the pretty young virgin, discovers a bird with a skewer through it (a starling, I noticed) in her dresser drawer - a sign that she's pretty much a goner. Soon afterward, she is spirited away post haste by the witches and sacrificed to some pagan god - no, it's probably Satan himself; these witches don't play. One of the witches in attendance at the sacrificial altar is none other than Prof. Driscoll! So he was a witch all along! I'm thinking that with post-secondary education enrollment rates dropping, more and more professors may be turning to black magic to secure tenure. Ba-dum-bing! (I'm sorry, that was horrible...)

Two weeks later, her brother and her beau begin to get suspicious that Nan hasn't returned, so they venture to Whitewood to find out what happened. Long and short of it is this: they discover that their arrival marks the second night of the year when the witches must make a sacrifice (the first was Candlemas eve) - and the witches have their eye on the only other good person in town, the preacher's granddaughter, Patricia, who has taken a bit of a shine to the recently arrived Prof. Barlow. Well, a bird with a skewer through it (I noticed it was a cedar waxwing - what does it all mean!?!) and a sprig of woodbine on the door means that Pat has been targeted to be the next sacrificial lamb. Many thrilling close calls ensue, but it ends with Pat and Barlow escaping, Bill dying (when Mrs. Newless whips a friggin' dagger across the graveyard and it lodges in his back - wicked scene - but not before he can carry a cross that literally shoots tongues of flame at the witches - it's dope), and Mrs. Newless being outed, finally, (as if it wasn't painfully obvious for the entire film), as Elizabeth Selwyn. Actually, if the heroes had simply phonetically reversed "Selwyn", they would have realized that "Newless" isn't far off....dummies.

I absolutely love this film, the amount of fog pumped in is immense. It really has a creepy, mysterious vibe, but retains a sense of fun throughout. Beautiful black and white photography, and a loopy, oboe-heavy jazzy score complete the picture. This is director Moxey's high watermark - he mostly cranked out workmanlike fare in television for the rest of his career (everything from Coronation Street to Magnum P.I., and everything in between) - though a close second would have to be the Darren McGavin vehicle The Night Stalker, the first of two TV-movies that were followed by the incredible series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

And although Lee is highly touted on the DVD box and in the credits, he really only plays a small (admittedly important) part in the film. Some false advertising of the "star" that reminded me of the top-billing of Brooke Shields in Alice, Sweet Alice (aka Communion), although she lasts all of five minutes before being killed. A metaphor for her career?

City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel in North America) is quite easy to find for a couple of bucks as a public domain print on countless "Horror Classics" collections - I have one of these and the print actually isn't bad - but I'm such a fan of the film that I recently upgraded to the more expensive but beautifully presented and extras laden VCI edition. I hear the Roan Archival Group edition is also very worthy. Check it out if you get a chance. Highly recommended for a spooky good time.

journeys: toronto/windsor/detroit/point pelee


cats: willow likes the burned ones

full corn moon from the window of a train