Friday, May 25, 2012

THAS: Scene from 'Lifeforce' #2

#2 - Centripetal Wit - "Sorry, Gentleman. No photographs."

Lifeforce is many things, good and bad, but if there's one thing I will insist upon its judges, whether praising or deriding, is that it is undoubtedly determinedly witty.

I return to a previous idea of internal structure in Hooper's sequences, which props up the idea of a grammarian precision in his scene craft. Some of Hooper's most striking scene work has a way of folding in on itself, compacting itself into a singular unit of construction that holds rarefied structures within it. It imbues his scenes with the cinematic-supernal qualities of the allegorical, representational, and discursive (or vice versa, it is the allegorical and representational impetuses that imbue the structuralist creation).

The internal structure in the following scene from 'Lifeforce' is one of a wit that lies centrally, and pulls that around it towards it, yet simultaneously propels the scene along its velocity, like gravity working centripetally.

It involves a cutaway that interrupts - splits in half - a tracking shot that should have gone, by all respect of authority and decorum, uninterrupted:

(1) Colonel Caine enters and immediately strikes a narrow path through
the crowd, the camera proceeding to fly along beside him in total deference.

A photographer jumps in his way. The camera halts.
From out of the frame flies in a soldier.


Here, a witticism in cinema form. The regimented tracking shot is thrown out, tossed aside, for a single -- drolly self-sufficient -- cutaway:
A whip-pan to-and-back with Caine's creepy right-hand man as he pops in from behind Caine and grabs the camera from the photographer.


The tracking shot finally continues its velocity towards a logical end:

(The logical end: Caine meeting that which he was walking toward.)

The wit condenses in that outwardly active, "messy" whip-panning shot - a clear act of cinematic burlesque that serves as the ironic center of curvature for a scene that curves deferentially along Caine's narrow, upright path. One can see the entire film as condensing around this particular representational nugget, as it, in its inspiration, speaks of the entire film - truly a representation of the whole piece, the whole creation that is the cinematic bon mot that is Lifeforce.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

ANNEX POST: Classicism, Musical and Otherwise - Night Terrors

HERE - An audio rip of a scene from Night Terrors. In it, a borrowed orchestral track from an old film score is used as fanciful underscore.

* Night Terrors, like Spontaneous Combustion before it and The Mangler after (Hooper's 90s trifecta of earnestly-artful, sincerely-felt, exquisite embarrassments), is a contradiction of quality - a disaster on many levels, of content and production, yet, by sheer will of Hooper's artistic aspiration, proves itself incredibly capable on other stunning (to me) levels, such as sophistication of visual form and structural aspirations of narrative (as wedded to said rigorous visual form).

* Night Terrors boasts a number of orchestral musical cues used for underscoring in the film - none of which are original music, but are in fact previously recorded material, licensed for use in the film. Two such tracks, for example, are listed as previously-written pieces composed by Georges Delerue and Hubert Rostaing, both prolific film composers since the 1950s.

Mostly, they are used as diegetic background music for dinner and party scenes. But the scene audio-ripped above sticks out prominently in the film as a scene where it is used as a non-diegetic musical soundtrack (completely irregular with the rest of the film, where the non-diegetic score consists mainly of heavy synth tracks by composer Dov Seltzer).

So Hooper and the musical coordinators of the film decided - for this particular scene - to allow this a la Tarantino use of borrowed film score. And much like Tarantino's musical collage, the use of this lifted track is very much a declarative flourish, infusing the scene with a blatant theatricality and motives of throwbacking to a classical mode of lush film scoring. This is, of course, undoubtedly intentional, a lush, dramatic musical theatricality (and the presentational quality that comes with such) clearly desired and welcomed.

* I am always delighted by this scene, which utilizes the Rostaing sampling to great, florid effect, effectively coloring the tone of the scene and evoking through the melodramatic scoring the high philosophical stakes of the scenario occurring (a daughter and father throwing themselves down into an argument of ideology). Finally, it goes to show the surprising and unexpected artistic whims Hooper so often proves himself more than glad to encourage and apply formally into his films, with their accommodating thematic reaches.

* The disproportionate directorial sophistication of Night Terrors (shown in this scene, where a face-off between father and daughter is depicted with a sparkling formal literalism through a hard-and-fast shot-reverse shot, the motif of Genie framed at the shoulders like a bust brought back from an earlier scene also made up of a hard-and-fast shot-reverse shot, while a wise Buddha statue subtly mirrors her to her right), a classical music motif that exists throughout Night Terrors, and this case of Hooper eclectically coloring a scene with old-fashioned underscoring, provides a good corollary to making the point of classifying Hooper as a filmmaker of a decided classicism.

Definitions of "classicism" according to various Google Dictionary references: "The following of ancient Greek or Roman principles and style in art and literature, generally associated with harmony, restraint, and adherence to recognized standards of form and craftsmanship, esp. from the Renaissance to the 18th century." "The principles and ideals of beauty that are characteristic of Greek and Roman art, architecture, and literature. Examples of classicism in poetry can be found in the works of John Dryden and Alexander Pope, which are characterized by their formality, simplicity, and emotional restraint." "A movement or tendency in art, music, and literature to retain the characteristics found in work originating in classical Greece and Rome. It differs from Romanticism in that while Romanticism dwells on the emotional impact of a work, classicism concerns itself with form and discipline." "Imitating, referencing, or having the general characteristics of the art and culture of ancient Rome or Greece. Classical characteristics include idealized beauty, restraint, harmony, and balance." "Referring to the principles of Greek and Roman art of antiquity with the emphasis on harmony, proportion, balance, and simplicity. In a general sense, it refers to art based on accepted standards of beauty." "Dramatic style that emphasizes order, harmony, balance, and the unities of time, place, and action. Characteristically, classical plays use few characters and follow a single line of action. Oedipus the King typifies the classical play." "Classicism is an approach to literature and the other arts that stresses reason, balance, clarity, ideal beauty, and orderly form in imitation of the arts of ancient Greece and Rome. Classicism is often contrasted with Romanticism, which stresses imagination, emotion, and individualism."

Key words: restraint and form. The "Romanticist" ways of most has goals toward the "emotional impact of a work" - i.e. audience effect, sentimental manipulation. Hooper creates along lines of discipline, idealized beauty, clarity, and orderly form. Less commercial, but with intentions of the rhetorical and philosophical, those outgrowths of Ancient Greek thought.

A final definition: "classicism /ˈklasəˌsizəm/ : The following of traditional and long-established theories or styles."

Hooper has expressed his admiration of Golden Age cinema more than once (and with the release of The Heisters, his fondness for old-fashioned style is further made clear), and no doubt he isn't an artist that will shun the old-fashioned in favor of the new-fangled. It is no wonder, then, he would give the OK to the pointed use of a melodramatic film score of yore (with its emotionalized, demonstrative strings) for this particularly meaningful scene in the film, for the discovery of whimsy and coloration. He is fully aware that classical practices (of music composers as well as directors, of Golden Age Hollywood as much as Ancient Greece) were already pretty near to a truly pure and ideal grasp of beauty and artistry.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tobe Hooper Community Interview Hosted at MUBI

One more week
to submit a question
to the
community interview with Hooper.
Go here for details,
or here to see what
people are submitting.

|The Heisters (1964)
||| |Eggshells (1969)