Thursday, February 26, 2015

THAS: "I would always go to Sacred Chow on Sullivan... and Mama's over on Avenue A..."

What is this thing we have before us called Djinn?  It is a horror movie with actual characters, actual real world circumstances.  It is a product, made to bring the joys of horror entertainment to a foreign market, but far removed from the hard definitions belonging to a product, instead seemingly engineered backwards: the characters, a relationship to the real world, and a diversity of social intimations conceived of first and with seeming priority, with the audacity and truthfulness only to intimate and leave purposefully fractured and unresolved its sense of involvement in the quotidian aspects of the world, the horror elements laid atop (a series of ritualistic and indeterminate occult scenarios) onto the dramatic and emotional landscape meant to be exploratory and inquisitive rather than means to a result.

Djinn is a film of carefully modulated performances above all.  Carefully decided upon, that is, but Hooper's direction otherwise renders emotions as boldly individualistic, Razane Jammal's multi-faced Salama most of all used to define the swings of Djinn's moods and noncommittal emotions in the face of deeply (but by deferential, wisely overcome design) obfuscated and indeterminate points-of-view.

"Gli interni delle stanze sono messi in relazione con i personaggi e ogni arazzo e ornamento a Salama ricorda metaforicamente il figlio, creando una psicosi reiterata." ("The interiors of the rooms are placed in relation with the characters and each tapestry and ornament to Salama recalls metaphorically the child, creating a psychosis repeated.") - Fabio Zanello

Tobe Hooper's newest work is truly unique, novel, sui generis, an adventure, its "soft definitions" resulting in a film utterly permeable to the real world.

You may have to be patient, I am almost sure of that, but more to come on Djinn.

"It's time."

Friday, February 13, 2015

THAS: 'Poltergeist,' A Walk-Through, #3

Over the course of this walk-through, I will obdure myself to a number of outlandish claims: that the bedroom scene concerned with Craig T. Nelson's diving habits is the one scene we can be sure Hooper crafted all the way; that the freakish skeleton imagery of the oft-presumed "Hooper-handed" finale can indeed be indebted to Spielberg, for, after all, it is in the script, and such technical-handed, mechanical-effects-heavy sequences must, by nature, concern the input and advisories of all involved within the production zone - that is not to mention its similarity to the EC-style, skeletal grotesqueries found in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which, before we insist on piling all claims to horrific material onto Hooper, we must remember is the film that impaled a man on multiple spikes before our young, very impressionable eyes, showered Karen Allen in a thrilling onrush of corpses in a similar fashion to JoBeth Williams, and literally exploded a Nazi commandant's head.

No such convictions attest themselves here, though, where we are treated to crisp, triangulating frames of a gaggle of men.  An eye for framing is in the hand of both masters (you know the two I speak of), but this scene attests to neither Spielberg's constant animation nor to Hooper's constant oblique inspirations (such as ending a restroom scene with the shades of dramatic two-hander between philosophically opposite girls in The Funhouse, or filming a dog-jump scare with the same sense of oblique end purposes).

 (The men's raucous lobby of demands at the screen cut off sharply.)

Have we ever been treated to such high-low (in regards to volume) humor and dynamics-driven situational scenarios from a Hooper film before as in this football viewing scene?  I suppose the Sawyer clan's outbursts of laughter and mockery in response to the quiet pleadings of Sally Hardesty may count.

I would call every film before Poltergeist a "personal project" for Hooper, in that none of them betrayed Hooper's essential lack of humor and relationship to red-bloodedness, both of which are seen here.  Poltergeist is his first personal project from someone else's gifted script, laid on his lap, inherently more energized and raucous than he.  

Such quotidian humor as we see here would not reappear again in a Hooper film until the yuppie teenager screams the classic zeitgeist-capturer "Bright lights, big titties!" into a car phone in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

"Who the hell is this guy?"

The men are thoroughly unappealing and the scene almost goes right out the unsavory window with them, abetted by the film's utter lack of comment on their collective behaviorism and ignorance (or at least a disrespect) of fucking Mister Rogers.

"Freeling, what's goin' on here??"
"Okay! Okay! I apologize... my neighbors on the same-- (forgets the word remote) Remote!"
 "Well come on!"
"Come on!"

"I bet my life on this game, are you kidding me?"
 "We're missing the game!"

I could conceivably say that the insistence on a rather stagey wide shot to convey the essential action is in the realm of Hooper as opposed to Spielberg, who would surely have attempted to "zizz" the scene up more by now.  Hooper has an interest in the proscenium shot, all the better to punctuate reality (defined as the view from the proscenium, offering a vantage of simple presentational effect) with the expressive delineation of the cutaways.  We can recall the gas station scene in the original Texas Chain Saw with its wide shot cut apart by the many dissonant and polyphonic encounters occurring, or the previously mentioned washroom scene from The Funhouse, where its detailing shots are joined together by the connective tissue of a wide shot peaking over the toilet stalls.  Hooper's belief in an inherent theatricality that is bound to communicating that his drama has meaning is brought to a peak in all the flattened sets of Eaten Alive and the Shakespearean-styled factory floor bloodbath of The Mangler's accelerating climax.

"Hi Ben.  We've got a... good football game going on."

"My kids want to watch Mister Rogers." 
"I don't care what you're watching, just show a little mercy with that thing!"

Now let's talk a little about tone.  We know that Hooper is working under a different class of movie-making with the advent of being brought onto a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Steven Spielberg-produced blockbuster production.  This itself insists on the special melding of sensibilities between Spielberg and the previously innately hushed, hand-picked and by-design solemn output of Tobe Hooper.

The sequence here is expertly constructed and edited.  Steven Freeling and Ben Tuthill's battle of wills and remote control signals is as energetic as it wants to be and as funny as it wants to be.  Such flights of easy-going humor, embedded within the narrative, do very little to detract from the ambiance of Poltergeist - as a whole - and the many striking and surprising things it does as a mainstream look at the supernatural within the backdrop of our country's carefully created and cultivated middle-American lifestyle and culture, in all its complacence, contentedness, and luxuries.  It is everything we want that this scene is successful, with thanks to the editor who knows how to make a scene better, even past the director's (or director and producer's) instincts and know-how.  In that sense, this is a scene that works because of Hooper (the shots), Spielberg (the script, the scenario, perhaps some directing in regards to the actors in this scene, as they are essentially carrying out his very specific comedic scenario), and Michael Kahn (the editing and the finesse, surely cutting things out from both Hooper's raw footage and Spielberg's scripted beats).  Hooper's name, though, will forever be on this film - at least on its shots - which I suppose, in theory, should be my last word on the topic, given I have enough conviction from the evidence of the shots I see.  Since we've still got a whole film to very indulgently go through (due to my own bourgeoisie mental and economic luxuries - but dammit, I'll find worth in the bourgie Poltergeist yet), I doubt it will be, though.

"Come on, Steven!"

"Move your set."

"Move yours, Ben."

"*click* *click* *click* *click*  
*click* *click* *click*

This is an astounding series of shots.  Nothing fancy, nothing florid, but a pure construction of meanings and sly, thorny referencing (both to the faulty mimesis of cinema tradition - i.e. the aesthetics of silent films or of Hitchcock are actually so far removed from actual reality - and to non-cinematic ideas of death philosophy tracing back to Plato and Horace): three shots of concerted montage devoted to death, a toilet, and life having an endpoint of waste.

This is the shower scene of Psycho with a bird.  It is Psycho's shower scene and toilet scene combined into one.

The floridness finally comes into the picture with a push-in to harmonize Carol Anne's walking in.

The punchline of Diane's moral comeuppance plastered on her face and her delicate, squeamish callousness embodied in a pose is necessary, and reminds us the cinema art is most often a narrative art that reaches its potential when communicating a moral viewpoint, in this case through a classic set-up/punchline - visual and rhythmic - joke.  It is a beautifully constructed one, with bonus moral points for being a sympathetic one about death.  Of course, that wouldn't matter if it wasn't funny, and luckily it is.

Maybe-Hooper Shot #3 and #4 (above and below): Most surely this is Hooper, a mystical and unmotivated moving camera coasting alongside a character creating striking vorticular and parallax effects through the sense of the lens and how it will work in the shot.  Robbie's journey takes us past a bed of flowers and a jutting corner of the house, communicating in one fell swoop both the grace and the constructs of his suburban, childhood existence.  A specifically joining second shot pinpoints Hooper's interest in geometric, triangular space: a lateral pan from above the tree's branches, the sonorousness of the previous shot matching with the more angular, dispassionate menace of the tree's eyeful watch over Robbie (and his watch returned).  Such mapping of human motion, especially from a lateral view to a geometrical bird's eye view, is directly repeated in moments from Invaders from Mars and The Mangler.

Maybe-Hooper Shot #5: It only follows that if Hooper seems so closely tied to the previous shots of Robbie's sizing up of the tree, this intently graphical shot of Robbie and the tree also was an invested image coming from Hooper's dark, Texas Chain Saw-envisioning mind.  Not much of a somersault of imagination, from us or from Hooper.

"Tweety doesn't like that smell."
"Sweetheart, Tweety can't smell a thing."
"Put a flower with him."

There is something to say about every shot in this sequence, but I promise I will keep it short from now on.  The decision to depict Diane's transporting of the bird in two shots may be simply the wish to create amusement from an initial close shot on Diane's facial expression.  Or the decision of Michael Kahn working magic from reams of standard coverage.  But it may also speak to Hooper's wheelhouse of conceiving filmmaking as the accumulation of filmic details instead of the constant rolling out of filmic gymnastics.  Hooper can create a stridently communicative cinema from simply the decision to pan, such as up and down Amy and Madame Zena's bodies as the crystal ball changes hands.  Here, Diane's revolution in the first (still) frame is in a direct relationship with the panning camera that follows her hands in the motion of laying rest the bird, the two shots conceived, I'd say, in fact, to rhyme.

"A flower? ... Okay."

This scene is structured.  It is in a bifurcation, the first half at the kitchen top, the second half at the kitchen table which Carol Anne moves to, signaled by this cut: a camera-sweep forward with Diane is joined at the cut by the tracking backwards with Carol Anne, in a lonely migration, wallowing in death, while Diane "smells the roses" behind her.  In an exemplary example of the lyrical form transposed to the visual and the narrative, Carol Anne's migration is conceived of poetically: it is the line break that officially begins the structural second half of the scenic poem (the second half consisting of the bird's wake).

Diverging and merging visual polyphony as Diane goes from foreground object to background object to foreground again, rejoining the melody that was briefly lent off to Carol Anne.

"For when he's lonely."


And so on.  I abridge it out of love, I assure you.  Poltergeist is full of indelible moments that just embody childhood and its sentiments so fully, it is needless to dwell on them.

 "Oh honey, it's okay..."

The scene ends with a beauty shot worthy of classical cinema, Diane picking up Carol Anne and hushing her in the camera foreground, where her act of caring just so happens to land her.  The camera's position is a premonition of the emotional climax and the gesture of caring.  Both filmmakers are capable of such heartrending heights and visuals, but I will argue on behalf of Hooper.  His smallness is exhibited here.  It is a subtle moment that alternatively speaks loudly.  We have Belloq laughing evilly as he steps towards the camera or we have Richie stopping a hair's breadth of focus before he comes up with his harebrained idea to crash the funhouse.