Sunday, July 22, 2012

THAS: On 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2'

Hooper, quoted from the 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" DVD commentary:
"This kind of a thing I wanted... and have been doing recently with film... taking it into a kind of-- almost opera. I'm not talking about characters singing, but I'm talking about a dramatic scenario that is traveling in your 'mind-process,' with music, that helps the aperture expand. There's quite a few stylistic things in this, and my director friends totally appreciated this film in its day, and you would be surprised at the names that I could mention that this is their favorite film."

(Then he adds on - addressing the commentary moderator, horror filmmaker David Gregory - with a little laugh, "Or maybe you wouldn't be surprised." What on earth he's getting at is anyone's guess -- especially since, of course, he gives no names.)
... Hooper in a refreshing, surprise moment of haughty, overweening [and deserved, so far as it's seen in these parts] self-aggrandizement.

Also, bless him, Hooper in typically less-than-articulate manner... "mind-process" elicits a laugh, and sparsely he tries to push the pretentious "mental aperture" analogy of his (always in regard to how music or an evoked musicality is utilized in film) that he almost-identically recites in his "Dance of the Dead" commentary...

It's always a bit of an effort for me to discuss 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.' I don't often think of it. I feel quite indifferent to it a lot of the time, as in I am not passionate about it. As much as Hooper brings to the table in the film, the resulting product is largely silly and tonally undiscerning, played to a hilt of mind-numbing frenzy and, as a result, frankly sloppy, and one would like to attribute much of the film's failures to an [all-too-characteristic, for Hooper] ill-managed production that suffered from script overhauls (Invaders from Mars also was a victim of a complete script overhaul immediately before production was to start), constant cuts and rewriting, and a compromising production schedule (not to mention it being a project Hooper at first wished to hand off to another director). Let me get this out officially here and now that I really hate that entire sequence of Stretch inside the Saywers' meat shed: the horrendously inane interaction between Stretch and Leatherface (that mindless nonsense involving putting L.G.'s sliced-off face on her); the infinitely stupid dance they have; the unbearable schlockiness of showing off Tom Savini's FX skinning job on L.G.'s poor body; I could go on. All of it is horrifically pointless - Hooper ladles on a logy, weepy death scene, but it's absolutely graceless in the face of such a farcical and meaningless narrative sideline - and I have often longed to provide a "Fan Cut" with this entire stretch of film tossed out (... and with the deleted "Night Hunt" scenes added back in... taking out those scenes, which I think could have been a pretty damn integral part of the film's thematic tableau, is perhaps the one decision I cannot put faith in Hooper for making).

But TCM 2 can be fantastic, and a whole river flow of fantastic is set off at the moment pictured at top (also the moment Hooper says the words excerpted). This is the moment where exactly that "opera" Hooper mentions goes into play, and it essentially lasts throughout the rest of the film - that is to say, it all builds up to the film's climactic (and stupendous) set-piece of the "Dinner scene," where Hooper's effervescent character blocking, dollying camera, and disorienting subversion of conventional shot flow and directionality come to their operatic apex, emphasizing the hysterical extravagance and puffed-up grandeur of the Sawyers' updated, of the times, but ironically, somehow, now even more retrograde traditions.

Before that, though, Stretch's reluctant interloping and witnessing of a depraved living is evinced with equal inspiration, musicality, and textural richness.

Also served with gusto is the essence of the depraved living: that of the dynamic of three manically psychopathic men who roam their abode like they own the place, skittering frantically into empty or partially filled spaces (i.e. cinematic frames), mindless of the closely tracking camera.

Blocking -- Movement of the bodies -- Formation of bodies

The use of the edge of the frame -- Bodies moving into each others' frames

Perspective and the interaction of spaces

(I love this moment where Stretch just sort of mindlessly walks away from the attention of Leatherface, who is literally fazed out of the shot via the focus mechanism as she turns away from him. Obviously it is her traumatized state, but feeling the moment further, it is also clearly the noncommittal maneuver of a snooty girl so out of an interested boy's league.)

Interaction of spaces

(The erratic prancing about of the unruly Chop-Top is a recurring element of this scene. His unacknowledged, or "one-sided" - either he does not notice the other characters or they do not notice him - entrance into the foreground or background of shots established for other characters suddenly becomes a life-and-death, high moment of suspense here.)

(The fire extinguisher comically announces him.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

THAS: Images from the finale of "Dance of the Dead"

Hooper, in the episode's DVD commentary, professes to being quite proud of "Dance of the Dead," his first season 'Masters of Horror' episode.

Indeed, it is the piece out of all his aughts-era work to be proud of, as it sports a serious story with serious emotions, in augment to his serious aesthetics.

In spite of its numerous and formidable irritations, it is another work of aesthetic wholeness and singularity added to his catalog, one in which Hooper seems to have grabbed hold the opportunity to work fast and unpretentiously, of course, though, in the effort to create aesthetically and poignantly.

"Dance of the Dead" is a heavily and slickly graphic visual piece - which is more Fincher/Mereilles/Scott brothers than Hooper, if you follow my line of thought. But such concept- or "look"-driven visual inspiration coming upon Hooper, it is an episode he wanted to feel like a dream, and to jitter and daze feverishly like one suffocating in the polluted atmosphere of the blighted future it has dreamed up.

If it does not equal his other work in subtleties and rhetoric, it's then perhaps the most conventionally dramatic work Hooper had been offered in years. With that, Hooper delivers something unpretentiously gorgeous and emotive: saturated in dreamy photography and pathos-soaked close frames, he supports vivid and conventional melodrama - an impetuousness-of-youth Sturm und Drang and portrait of family implosion that builds to wretched heights not at his disposal since Spontaneous Combustion's sacrificing love story.

Without reference to the ultimate success of such choices, Hooper wanted it gritty, hallucinogenic, and fast-edited, and fast-edited it is, while DP Jon Joffin comes to his aid with his hazy, extremes-of-exposure lighting, neon source lights, and lush shallow focus that had them filming turgid close-ups from yards away.

Images from the finale of 'Dance of the Dead' *

* not a completely accurate depiction of the scene; while largely chronological and often looking at continuities and active shots, this is not at all close to being a beat-by-beat account; these are just "images from the finale"

Dusky, ashen background
Only the panicked youth in a sandwiched, middle focal field are crisp and blooded.

"She's my sister! How the hell did she get here? What is she doing here?"

"Not much. She's dead. In a freezer all day."

"She's not your property."
"Really? I paid for her. Ask your mommy."

"Let's go before things get worse! She's not alive, let him have her!"

Below, an adamantly uncompromising shot: one of ultimate degrading, of a person's literal sullying.
Struck ignominiously across the face, she falls splayed on the slick and dirty ground.
Absolutely no flattery of the camera for the mother revealed to be respondent to attitudes of lowliness and self-centeredness.

She appeals both to her daughter and the Emcee (the Robert Englund character), who tells the story of her malfeasance.
"Shoot him!"
"Stop. Stop."

"Mom here decided just to leave her to me, no fuss, no muss."

"And as I recall, she was still alive."

"How much did I pay you for her? I forget."

Hooper even, very distastefully, depicts the mother getting punched in the face a second time, after letting her roar at the camera in all the ugliness of it.

The economy of the repetitive angles (the tight close-ups, the low-angles, the high-angles, etc.) -- not only professional in their unity, but in their simplicity and their insistence they create the material system (the economy) of the scene's spatial and emotional triangulations. Simplicity, but in service of fastidiousness. Notice how he lets his dreamy close-ups carry only the evocation of the eyeline (Art of the exquisite eyeline match).

In all the ugliness of it.

"I can make it right."

"I'm all alone now."

The Fair Maiden kissing the Knight in Shining Armour's hand.

The film ends with a riptide of shots pulling into, out from, and generally across Peggy in her new incarnation. It is a visual compendium and an emotional one, one that takes in the veracity of her new life and her calcified emotion through the several roving, invasive shots. We explicitly end with a push-in that slides past the faceless Jak (who in kissing her neck - being totally and completely devoted to her - wipes out his face), and up to an inquisitively off-center* close-up of Peggy and her regard for what she watches in front of her.

* the framing is off-center for the reason of the camera being animate, conscious, inquisitive, i.e. wanting to cut the boy off just that much