Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers is known for its neorealism, cinema verite as they say, images so real that we have to be told they’re not.

Title: BATTLE OF ALGIERS, THE / BATTAGLIA DI ALGERI, LA • Year: 1965 • Dir: PONTECORVO, GILLO • Ref: BAT020AB • Credit: [ CASBAH/IGOR / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]

Its strength, however, lies not only in its images.

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But in its development of a central theme: our inherent inhumanity to one another.

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The chaos of knowing that.
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And that it will never change.images-2

The Cattle Drive in Howard Hawks’ “Red River”

It’s not the story nor the setting nor even characters that make Howard Hawks’ 1948 Red River an epic, but the images of the cattle drive.screenshot-42

A herd of 9,000 used in shooting this iconic story element. screenshot-43Nothing compares to these images throughout the 133-minute film.screenshot-46

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Except maybe Montgomery Cliff sucking poison out of Joanne Dru’s shoulder.screenshot-44

That’s pretty good too.

The Failure of Parker’s “Birth of a Nation”

Birth of a Nation had promise – a compelling narrative most of all – but fails. Instead of exploring the contorted depths of American history, Parker trains the camera on himself, too often in close-up, reacting to repetitive brutality. 15-birth-of-nation-w1200-h630Violent images dominate – people’s teeth getting hammered out, exposed brains – when  the story of a remarkable man, Nat Turner, could have been developed, asking who really spoke of this: As we pushed on to the house, I discovered some one run round the garden, and thinking it was some of the white family, I pursued them, but finding it was a servant girl belonging to the house, I returned to commence the work of death. item14The film does not elucidate nor does it have vision, as did Steve McQueen in 12 Years a Slave, but is solely a chronicle of violence, flat and tediously rendered, craft-less as anything of the Superhero genre.

Looking-Outness in Film: Murnau, Ozu & Varda

I dream of looking outside the image.

F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" (1927)

F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” (1927)

Escaping from the frame.

Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story" (153)

Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” (153)

Considering what could be.

Agnes Varda's "Le Pointe Courte"

Agnes Varda’s “Le Pointe Courte” (1954)

Getting my head on different.

Terence Malick’s “Knight of Cups”

Words float through: Empty. Death. Grasping. Screenshot (91)The camera drifts underwater, everything a sweeping, swinging visual. Screenshot (99)Redeem my life. Justify it. That blinded you. Screenshot (98)I turned you upside down, my son. Longing for something other. Screenshot (102)There’s isn’t a story, just characters who stand about, some playing handsies. Screenshot (109)Nobody’s home.
Screenshot (93)You have to fly. Fly. Screenshot (107)High up. Everything’s just a…speck.Screenshot (89)

(Extracts from Knight of Cups in bold italics)

The Visual Manna of Tarkovsky’s “The Mirror”

Russians may find profundity in the story and themes of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film The Mirror, but for the rest of us it’s the images, the visuals.

A woman runs. Screenshot (132)A barn burns. Screenshot (127)A bird lands on a boy’s cap. Screenshot (128)A dog leaves a cabin. Screenshot (129)A boy looks back at himself. Screenshot (131)The music plays. And we reflect. Screenshot (130)We know something about who we are, as if a light glowed behind us, as if this was not so much a movie as a dream that we had somehow conceived together.

Werner Herzog’s “Even Dwarves Started Small”

Werner Herzog’s 1968 film Even Dwarves Started Small has a very specific and demanding vision dominated by extraordinarily long takes, the camera mercilessly watching as to what might unfold, be it a truck driving in an endless circle…dwarves (7)Dwarves looking at pictures of nude girls…dwarves (3)Or a chicken eating a dead mouse.Screenshot (55)Much is demanded of the audience, too much, throughout this drifting narrative in which dwarves yell and laugh maniacally as they wreck everything they can find.dwarves (8)Says Herzog: “Film is out about our collective dreams and also our collective nightmares, something that cannot be extinguished from our minds.”dwarves (5)

Nightmare indeed.

“Swiss Family Robinson” Stripped from “Paint”

Just finishing the third draft of Paint, the second part of a trilogy of coming-of-age screenplays, and this scene had to be switched out: DAVIS, coming down off a bad mushroom trip, is sitting with his crush, ELLEN.

DAVIS: Let’s watch Swiss Family Robinson.

ELLEN: Really? It’s the Disney film, right?

DAVIS: I love that film.

ELLEN: You watch it with your father?

DAVIS: No. (Pause) I don’t know. He read us the book. I remember that. He sat in his old rocking chair. It creaked as he stretched back, the light over his shoulder.

ELLEN inserts the tape and sits on the other side of the couch.

DAVIS: He had a deep voice. It was good for the book.

Dramatic orchestral music plays on the television. A ship drifts across the screen in a hurricane winds and high seas.Screenshot (37)

DAVIS: (Watching the film intently) I had my first existential moment watching this film.

ELLEN: (Sleepy) Yeah?

DAVIS: When they finish the tree house and they take the mother upstairs. (Pause) It was so amazing, so perfect. It looked like a perfect place. Screenshot (31)DAVIS: (Looking at ELLEN, who sleepily looks back) And then it wasn’t. It was the opposite. It was fake or something. I don’t know. I had to the leave the room. My step-mother made me go to bed because she thought I was sick.

The Swiss Family Robinson is revealed trapped below decks, yelling for help but still looking orderly and respectable. The ship grounds out on a rock.

DAVIS: (Pause, sighing deeply) You don’t remember doing something amazing as a kid – your absolute favorite thing in the world – and then feeling like it was pointless? You thought it was this thing. And then it isn’t.

DAVIS continues to watch the film.

MR. ROBINSON (On Television): Hans, help your mother!

HANS: If I had been captain, I would have fought the pirates instead of running into storm. Screenshot (28)The Swiss Family Robinson climbs to the top of the ship’s decks and sees that the ship is grounded near an island.

Close up on DAVIS as he watches intently.

MR. ROBINSON (On Television): At least we’re not too far from land.

MRS. ROBINSON: Then there’s hope.

 FRITZ: Maybe we could build a raft. There’s enough wood.

DAVIS: Of course they can build a raft! Of course they can.

Smiling, DAVIS looks over at ELLEN and sees that she is asleep. He stares at her naked shoulder, moves forward and looks as if he is about to kiss it when she opens her eyes.

ELLEN: Just watch your movie.

DAVIS awkwardly looks back at the television screen.

KEVIN ROBINSON: Look what I found! The captain’s dogs! Are they glad to see me!

The Robinson Family begins to cut barrels and wood and construct a raft to go to shore.

DAVIS looks around at ELLEN again, who looks angelic in her sleep, and considers touching her shoulder again, but pulls the blanket over her instead. He turns back to the film and watches as a raft is built and lowered into the ocean from the ship. DAVIS falls asleep.

Capricorn One & Twilight’s Last Gleaming

“You ever see Capricorn One? You ever see that, Nico?” She didn’t wait for him to reply. “James Brolin, O.J. Simpson. I fucking loved that movie.”capone“The mission to the moon that went wrong. They faked it because they didn’t have the budget, and then the capsule dissolved in re-entry. And so they had to kill the pretend pilots. It turned stupid in the end, little evil black helicopters chasing them around.”

Nico hunched over his screen and turned a switch. “There will be something else tomorrow, Dee, another slaughter, another crime against humanity. And we all know exactly that. We wait for the next thing. And it’s always worse than we can imagine.”

“What about Twilight’s Last Gleaming? The gang that hijacks the nuclear silo, with Burt Lancaster.” twilights-last-gleamingHe looked around at Dee. “Burt Lancaster claims that there is some kind of secret doctrine about the Vietnam War being fought to prove to the Soviets that they could sacrifice their men. Yes, I remember it.”

“You know, I used to believe all of that.” She spoke too fast, shorthand for what was in her head “It was a revelation. I believed it. I couldn’t understand why the government didn’t fall. It took me a long time to realize it’s not like that. I’m still not there. People are people. We are just who we are. There is no evil emperor, no star chamber, nothing. It’s just us and our demons, pretending that all of this is decided by someone different. And it’s just us.”

Ice Friday: I Can See in the Dark, You Know.

I can see in the dark, you know. I’ve been here for quite a while.*hqdefault

*Mr. Robinson to Benjamin in Mike Nichols’ The Graduate