The Master's Style

Carlito’s Way
A perfect match of a narrative set-up (the story takes place in a mind of a hero as he lays dying) with the stylistic choices for many scenes which often emphasize slightly detached, dreamy POVs.

Particularly one scene sticks in my mind: the palatial garden party conversation between a conniving lawyer-Dave Kleinfeld and Carlito. In this scene the fate of Carlito is set: Dave begs Carlito to assist him in helping a gangster to escape from prison, which just has to end up badly. The talk between the two man is preceded by a long, wide take of Dave’s girlfriend walking toward the alcove where the two men will be talking. For now however she finds there only Carlito and asks “What are you doing here by yourself Carlito?” The question has a double meaning should one seek it.

Everything in this one minute set up foreshadows the impending doom. It is however done in a subtle way. It’s realism, as if filtered by the memory of a dying Carlito who remembers the key situations in his life but does not allow the memories to dwell on the outcome to the point of narrative vulgarity, balances on the representation and interpretation of what’s being told through the camera. I find this balance fascinating and very satisfying as a storytelling devise.

Brian dePalma said somewhere that he considers Carlito’s Way his perfect work. I can see how this movie could be considered the ideal crafting of a subjective story.


The clash of visions

Budapest, Liberty Square

In addition to the above seek out a piece by Nora Berend and Christopher Clark on the Hungarian government’s attempts to rewrite the country’s past.  It's in the London Review of Books.  Here is a quote:

"The European Community was founded after the darkest period of European history, in the hope that it would safeguard democracy, create prosperity and foster reconciliation. Under the ‘Copenhagen criteria’ agreed by the European Council in 1993, the conditions for accession to the EU include ‘stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities’. In the last decade or so the EU has acquired new members in regions that have only a fragile democratic tradition. Some of them, like Hungary, don’t meet the Copenhagen criteria."

Similar tendencies are at work in Poland and could start rolling in the US.  

I can't believe it's happening.  My deepest suspicion is that it a delayed global reaction to the revolution of the 60's.  A vision of empathy, acceptance, love, understanding, respect for others is challenged by fear and hate. 

Which side are you on?


Genius in cinema

In a documentary "Student Andriej Tarkovsky" which follows Tarkovsky's notes from his time in WGIK he, among other things, muses on what makes a genius.   Genius represents quality without which we can't do, says Tarkovsky.   On the other hand if a writer or an artist (his oeuvre that is) is not absolutely necessary he is not a genius. 

These ruminations sound weird when uttered by somebody who hasn't done anything yet, particularly when its pretty clear the subject is on his mind most likely because he's set to explore it personally.  In another documentary "Rerberg and Tarkowski, the other side of Stalker", Rerberg recalls Tarkowsky intimating he thinks of himself as a genius.  It is already after "Andrej Rublow" and "The Mirror", so his reported claim  could have some factual support, still such self analysis sounds weird coming from the guy whose philosophical and artistic concerns seemed boldly transcending the pettiness of human nature. 

Then in a yet another documentary: "Directedy by Tarkovsky" I found a quote from his book "Sculpting in time".  The quote is so powerful that it instantaneously validates self absorption of its author. 

Here it is:

"Time cannot vanish without a trace for it is a subjective, spiritual category."

When Tarkovsky in his book talks about time in film it is not that shots and their arrangement represent time - it is that within a shot time is mold-able, it is time within a shot that is the basic building element.   And as such is flexible, could be elongated or shortened.  Could also, be a subject of other manipulations, found in Tarkovsky's films. 


True Television

True Detective, season 1

I have got to see the True Detective with huge delay. I am glad I didn't skip it all together. It is a fantastic piece of television. At times. I was riveted by the main positive characters. On the other hand the bad guys were way too cartoonish and I was bored by the rest. TD2 layered by male death wish of its three characters seemed way too predictable and simplistic in its psychology.

In TD1 A concept of “psychoshpere” as the playground for ritual conducting alchemists (hopefully not being true) on a purely narrative plane deserves a more sophisticated set of tools, props and procedures than those offered. Even if they are scapegoats.

Both series proved that it’s easier to stage breathtaking fights and suspense sequences than to give justice to the - I assume - complex realms of occult and psychology. If our inner and outer mysteries are so vulgar as the show wants us to believe and on the nose, than we are indeed in huge trouble. On the other hand it’s only television and as such it was a hell of entertainment.

The TD1 famous six minutes tracking shot is incredible so is the TD2 shootout. The action still rules.


Explosions in consciousness

A festival triumph of "Fire at sea" 
by Gianfranco Rosi

Indeed an amazing achievement.  Simple yet sophisticated.  Relevant and moving.

Rosi said that his filmmaking is based on giving "less and less", on removing the obvious and (paraphrasing) on not hitting the viewer over the head.  He contrasts this method with that of Michael Moore.  The "less and less" method actually elongates the working of the film.   It allows the story to engrave itself in the viewer's mind.  At least in this viewer's mind:

I experienced several well.... explosions related to that film.

First the strongest and the most surprising  happened half way through the screening.  There is a moment when finally the underlying POV of the director leaped out of the screen and colored everything before and after.   The revelation that the two levels of the narrative are after all actually intermingled was only possible because at first the filmmaker played with viewers saying "the locals and the refugees are not connected".   The effectiveness of this directorial maneuver worked because he assumed (unfortunately quite right) that we entered the cinema with a low level of consciousness, understanding, empathy and care.

Other explosions of rage, sadness and helplessness keep happening every time my consciousness returns to the subject of the film.



Miles Ahead, directed by Don Cheadle

I found this movie totally captivating. It is a bold and successful attempt to enter psyche and creativity outside of a linear, cause and effect, “let’s examine the evolution of talent” approach. Watching it I felt that the makers capitalized on many cinematographic techniques but pushed them further. For example blending of scenery and morphing it to reflect the inner state of a hero has been done before but here it’s done with power, sometimes with fury, which almost allows to forget the trick and be immersed in the inner life of the hero.

The way scenes are shot (or is it the result of some inspired editing?) uncover feelings rather than present action, which is a result of the former. And that’s how the storytelling should happen, shouldn’t it? The film seems fresh also on a structural level. The hook of the story turns our attention into a state of being that does not easily fall into a Joseph Campbell formula. Although there are obligatory car chases and gun swaying and shooting. Still they all feel like rather insignificant nods to the market requirements while the film breaths its own way forward anyway.

The drive and the anguish of the main character is so palpable and the directing so inspired that I don’t even mind the tired and a bit boring script devise of “a reporter enters the life of the hero and we get to know it through his eyes.” Every time I see something like that it screams “we don’t know how to tell the story so let’s bring in a front character who will do it for us”. Please! This clumsiness is however quickly forgiven partly due to the great acting and mostly because of the overall directing and cinematographic riffing.

After the encounter with such a splendid “bio picture” one should be thinking twice before telling the story of a real person just surfing through his or her life events.

If we start telling stories focusing on things that are outside of the aristotelian schtick, would


Cats need respect too.

Nine lives, dir. Barry Sonnenfeld

Amazing.  How could they manage to fail so badly on so many levels? And the premise was delicious and the names involved promised a high end entertainment.  Why did it collapse?  I suspect nobody really cared.  Doesn't anybody there live with a cat?   

Oh well, some consolation can come from reading reviewers having a blast with this flick.  Pretty funny.  "Cat-asthrophic" is my favorite.