Sunday, April 13, 2014

THAS: An Objective Study of 'Poltergeist'

Don't worry, this will be not as pedantic and far less insolent than it sounds.  But why not take an objective, definitely (definitely! I sarcastically point out) categorical look at Poltergeist?  It doesn't happen too often.  (Didn't say I wouldn't be a little bit smug.)

Outside of holding thoughts that the "Spielberg family" quality is not exactly E.T.-pitch preciousness here, really now, or that Poltergeist is in fact far too molasses-like to be an Amblin film, kind of just look, you know... outside of that, I hold no doubts Spielberg posed a major creative hand in the picture.  Meaning to be completely and entirely discriminate in this post on how I treat facts, operating along that thin shield across from which lie what we can and what we can ever know, I do not, repeat, do not, know that any accounts I purport here to be reliable are in fact reliable, or that my deductions from these accounts are in fact correctly reasoned. 

I do not know... but I can reason, from that one account of things, that the ruckus over directorial duty was instigated by a day in which the Los Angeles Times arrived for a set visit, leading to their subsequent reportage expressing confusion having witnessed Spielberg doing his powerful-producer thing over in the front of the house - shooting Second Unit the Suburban Schlub biking the six-pack over to catch the game - while Hooper was in the back, shooting Robbie in the tree and the canary funeral.  Overlooking the strange notion that the LA Times would overlook going to the backyard to see Hooper and the majority of the cast, then we can conceivably take the canary funeral and, through the principle of divided duty, attribute it to Hooper at least partially.

Now I do not wish to push Spielberg out of the picture (well, I can wish, but must I be so petty, is the question...), and clearly there is the evidence of the numerous production photos of Spielberg director-pointing (and his near-constant presence), and so this little anecdote, of a day of seemingly clearly defined duties and delineated whereabouts, must be taken as a simple novel gift, existing in a situation in which it does not need to exist, for the film exists just fine as a work of a clearly vigorous, alchemical collaboration.

Again, not that all things are cleanly made distinct now.  Not that all decisions are made on the shoot day, but some decisions are made on the shoot day.  Most, I'd say (from experience).  But who knows about a production as big and surely organized to the last detail as Poltergeist's?  Who knows about a lot of things?  Yet this particular moment from Tweety bird's funeral rings with a sort of simple, deferential meagerness, an ornate but modest moment of hairsplitting triviality (it's the scene where the girl buries the bird, what's to discuss?) that rings of having been conceptualized - "directed" - on-the-fly, conceived only while staring at the actors' first rehearsal, not having been subject to the deadening effect of meticulous storyboards (those things Hooper hates): a moment of two simple tilt-ups used as punctuations, plus an impressing shot of a mother's hand submerging the childhood artifact in earth and an unnecessary one of the dog.

Then the casually gawking, modernly irreligious older daughter is pulled down and made to kneel in the old tradition, cuing the cut to the wide shot and the backwards track of the camera along the path of the hallowed mound, lined with flowers.




("Now I lay me down to sleep...")
 ("Oh brother.")
 ("Stifle it!")


The camera move, unfortunately, is slightly imperceptible in the screen caps.  But the Hooperian structure is all but apparent, another mathematical scene - consisting of 4 camera set-ups - in which two skeptical, secular tilts upward are the arithmetic needed to add to the scene's hallowed, venerated capitulation of a wide shot, in which all players now kneel for an at-this-point unknowing story about modern players' relationship with the dead: an image laced of an ironic religiousness as it witnesses age-old, atavistic funerary tradition accommodated to the simultaneously materially false, yet emotionally and immediately sincere (the mother really loves her daughter, the mother really, herself, planted those somewhat-illustrious natural flowers, which is innately some [atavist] rebellion against the commercial suburb in which aestheticism and naturalness is actually the least concern) modern world of the suburban bubble and the pertinaciously unbroken family.

And this concludes what is perhaps the only objective case we have on Poltergeist, and even then it's not.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

One of the Most Perfectly Constructed Scenes in Cinema?

Dedicated to fellow cinema delegates and valued contributors to THAS in the land of Spain. 


"One of the most perfectly constructed scenes in cinema?" is the rhetorical question-cum-title.  Essentially I make you watch (almost) the length of a scene from The Dark, then take some preliminary steps of video-essay ingress toward considering the scene (before leaving the rest to you; as it now perfunctorily exists, the coda was born partly of laziness, yes.)

But Apollonian restraint is perhaps best responded to with Apollonian restraint.  A brief introduction of momentary ingress is probably more appropriate than a total and undignified probe of the entire scene... one cannot hold one's hand through a scene of such an intangible dignity, of such mise-en-scène (aesthetic) ethics bred through extreme clarity (the prerogative of Apollonian values, that is, in the vaunted sense summoned up by those precious Enlightenment German Weimarians - before Nietzsche came and Angst-ed it all up).  It would not be becoming of it to pore over its sweet and satiric (proven here, as was in Cervantes, not mutually exclusive) tonal creation: it is a scene that creates perfection of human order, a trio of nitwits corralled into an encounter that must make cinematic sense for its points to come through, points of depicting a farce of personalities, the preordination of the results of such an interaction, the topic of death, in direct friction with these characters' bullheaded personalities.  Let's put it plainly: it's a scene of "moral will" (thank you Tolstoy, describing Baumgarten), a scene tasking itself to impart Knowledge (of human beings), a scene not about the words being spoken or the emotional humans being mocked, but about a pure, immaterial knowledge brought about by a camera of such sweet empiricism that Plato would perhaps blush (faced with the commercial beauty oxymoron of cinema - ideals found in the unideal), or perhaps be responsible for if tasked to write 70s monster schlock up to a Form of Art.  And so, a steadfast order of wide shots, over-the-shoulders, perpendicularities, and evolving shots, informed by a rationality beyond mere words (instead put to pietistic cinematography), punctuated by a moment of moving camera so pristine one cannot help but be hinted at the divinity of human interaction and human fallibility (one woman's sureness, a man's affronted incredulity), is put to play.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


New remarks on Djinn have sneaked in surreptitiously in the new Senses of Cinema, Issue 70 of the online film journal.  They come from learned film scholar, historian, critic and educator Bérénice Reynaud, whom it just so happens I've been privileged enough to see speak and attend lectures of a number of times, and whose opinions I find I always value greatly.  What are the odds, and how often does the universe conspire to deliver presents to you so expertly?  The thoughts are of a glancing but positive-leaning (and somewhat spoilery - be careful!) bent, and Reynaud also gives over some valuable type to outline Hooper's career, including serious mention of his 90s work, which is goddamn heartwarming.

"The Gleaners and Varda: 2013 AFI FEST and American Film Market"

The article is firstly about the 2013 AFI FEST in LA and the presence of Agnes Varda as honored visitor and guest programmer - the great French New Wave filmmaker and the very one I rank so highly, responsible as she is for a great sort of blemishless humanist filmmaking of a truly humanist ethos.  One should not skip Reynaud's coverage of the sheer artistic presence that is the outrageously personable, adventurous Varda, plus of her obscure "California Period" in the late 60s, but if one has yet to gain their valuing of the vital Agnes Varda, or can leave it to just watching her films and not needing a scholarly background on the art that inspires you, then you can scroll further down to the 2013 American Film Market coverage, where Reynaud speaks of Tsui Hark's Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon, then Djinn, then Juno Mak's Rigor Mortis, then the Indian debut film Monsoon Shootout.  The latter two being filmmaker debuts, she pointedly groups the former two together as works of veterans, both who have maneuvered a ghetto of genre by adding their own personal touch of master class.  Hark working with the mainstream co-producing of China, and Hooper essentially the Hollywood superintendent hired to chaperone a unique nation's identity-less film industry into being, then there's much to analogize between the two films as product of national cinemas (or non-cinemas), and between the two and a global movie-making business in which our cultural entertainment has essentially merged with the big market world: our sense of globalized competition and economic national identities.  Djinn, of course, seems the more explicitly compromised, a venture by both filmmaker and production company that proved somewhat contentious, being a journey toward something new and unprecedented.

Anyway, find at the the Annex the spoilers-excluded excerpt of her comments on the "[culturally] grafted... therefore interesting" Djinn.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

ANNEX POST: "Bask in Hooper and the Art of Pleasantry," and A Personal Taking Down a Peg of 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre'


Find a collection of Tobe Hooper's SXSW 2014 Festival interviews, promoting the unveiled Texas Chain Saw Massacre 4K remastering, and also, I confess my hidden feelings of criticism for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as a film I find almost irritatingly apolitical.  This post would be the place to argue with me about it, as I do acknowledge the strength of the film's outraged atmosphere and its rail against the perfidies of a meat-based society.  I'd say my favorite description of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is as a vegetarian tract, rather than a post-Watergate response.  Hooper's more poignant political (to the particular degree to which a Tobe Hooper work is "political") work would be to come.

Here's a taste, then you can follow the link or click-through picture above:
Hooper’s interviews are always a kick in the way of a pleasant formality: one knows what to expect, and they always abide.  Thus the kick of amused self-satisfaction.  Always a series of half-memories, amiable sound bytes bent over backwards for, small fallacies - unintentional - and pleasant affirmations (intentional).  The friendliest sort of self-deprecation… an endearing, thoughtless frankness; redaction-free self-confessions worthy of much admiration.
Texas Chain Saw is the sort of vague artistic attempt of a green filmmaker, as Hooper was at that point.  "A film about a very bad day" (in extension, the world), indeed, is the sort of somewhat poetic but largely pithy and rank polemic that would be compromised by a promising but not-quite-there artist, only at the beginning of peeling away the more basic levels of pretension that prop up his great artistic mind.

Friday, March 7, 2014


Hate to keep on twisting the knife, but I feel partly it's why I'm here.  Here's a Japanese trailer for DJINN's March 29th single-theater Tokyo release.  It is being released under the name (approximate translation): "Origin of Satan: Jin"

DJINN is also set up for a release in Turkey in May after also being bought in Berlinale.

 And here's some fresh imagery while we're at it:

And another simultaneously creepy/adorable baby (the creepy Older World baby in the previous festival trailer is cuter, though).

And, as you may have heard, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has gotten a 4K overhaul super-restoration by passionate people over at Dark Sky Films, which will premiere March 10th at the SXSW Festival in Austin, then reportedly will get a theatrical run in the summer.  Outside the flip-sided coin that is getting to see a remastered Texas Chain Saw in theaters again before getting to see Djinn, good news indeed for us Stateside, that are absolutely obsessed with bigger and better technologies and watching things we like over and over again.