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.