Mad and fabulous

"American Gods"

Deliciously insane voyages into that which cannot be spoken/understood/shown.  And yet.… 

The first season of “American Gods” is wonderful.  I thought that the 2017 “Twin Peaks” series pushed the television envelope to the limits.  Now it looks like David Lynch has a strong contender. The sphere that is not to be access with our limited senses and narrative tools is intimated in both shows via different techniques.

 What “Twin Peaks” explores through stylistic jumping into the unknown, through stopping, enlarging time and pushing aside the need to further anecdote, “American Gods” does with a more conventional yet equally intriguing writing, directing and acting.  Yet, it is a visual head spinner and overall just completely and fabulously mad.

Examples of “American Gods” scenes of various sorts that jumped out at me:

A Jesus (there are many in that scene, which in itself is a clever concept) is sitting in a lotus position on the water surface of pool and realises with surprise that, a glass with his drink that he has just put on water,… just sinks in. 

Two women are talking in a bathroom.  One woman is dead and holds her cut off arm. Another is her best friend as shocked as she is pissed since the dead one died in a car accident while giving a blow job to the husband of the best friend (who also died in that crash).   Yet, half way through the scene the widow ends up sowing the arm back onto the dead girlfriend.  Sounds ridiculously stupid yet it’s superbly done, engaging and on some level very convincing.  Now, that’s an accomplishment of the narrative craft!

Death says to a just died person - I will take you to the scale now.  Turns out that the scale weights a feather against the heart of the dead person.  “What are you doing, I’ve been using it” cries the dead on when death rips it out of her chest.  “We will see if that’s been the case” retorts death  (quoting from memory)


Careful when following the masters

High Life
a movie by Claire Denise

In short, don’t.  If you do go to see this flick, brace yourself.   It is amazing how a filmmaker wants to refresh or out do the seminal Kubrick’s flick with not much new to offer.  This movie is painful to watch since many ideas are lifted from either Kubrick or Tarkovsky and are just a pale hick-ups of them.    

My strong negative reaction is fueled by two factors: first, in the last few months I haven't been able to shake off the memories of the ending of "2001. A Space Odyssey".   It hunts my consciousness, it knocks to be remembered, to be embraced and understood.  When I think of film moments that are important, the mega-singularity (can I say that?) shown in the ending of "2001" tops the list.  Claire Denise tries to go in the same direction at the end of her film.   In her doing it's clumsy and cheap.

Then there is a dog.  Probably "stolen" from Tarkovsky's "Nostalgia".  I understand that the poetics of "High Life" require the dogs to be "down to earth", but still, the first thing that comes to mind is the Tarkovsky's parallel.  If one goes there is should somehow be visually or emotionally addressed, countered, exposed.  I say that because the dog in Tarkovsky's church is another moment in my list of "best film moments ever".

And then there is a space ship design. Really?

Too bad so many great actors (actually the entire cast is really good) participate in a project that, if done in film school, should give a boost to a director's career, but as a work of a mature and otherwise good storyteller is boring and disappointing.

Having said all that I realized that the need to pay homage to the greatest is sometimes stronger than a filmmaker's sense of clarity and self-preservation.  Some time ago in Los Angeles I tried to reproduce a bus scene scene from "Double Life of Veronique" in which the Polish Veronique "meets" the French one.  I remember a polite smile on the face of a really accomplished filmmaker who was my mentor at that time.  He was gracious enough not to expand on his reaction.  


The song that sings a singer.

 a Spanish singer at a Picasso exhibit

A Pablo Picasso single work is always an epiphany.

A Pablo Picasso exhibit is always a head spinning treat.  It usually leaves me with an sense of wonder: “where does his brilliance come from”.  In a touch of genius, a recent Pablo Picasso exhibit showcased a video of Spanish singers and dancers.   The video wasn’t labeled (?) But worked great to I guess it was meant to bring closer to the exhibit viewer the emotional and energy background of the Picasso volcanic sources.  It worked quite well for me.

In one of the vignettes, a male singer (in the photo above) sings deeply enthralled in the process.  He is so much into it that every now and then he opens his eyes as if awakened and with a surprise (“where am I”?, “what’s happening to me”?) looks around.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Picasso is so fantastic.  His art speaks through him.  He steps aside and let’s the force come forward.

If one could only attempt something like that in a film.…


Structure and truth

 Leaving Neverland, by Don Reed

After watching “Leaving Neverland” I understand the director’s way of selecting the people to interview.  He focused on the victims and their families, however the context and the sequence of events also point to the existence of the views, which denied their accusations.  So I don’t think the critique of his one side approach holds. 

I was impressed by two technical elements of the film: very effective positioning of the interviews second camera and a clever frame difference between the two.  This is sort of obvious but many times I see this maneuver butchered: mostly because of a wrong angle for a close up camera and because of weak framing for the main camera.    Here it’s perfect. 

Another strong thing was the use of drone shots.  Somehow their smoothness, grandiosity and spectacular views matched with strong music gave much needed breathing space, space that, which is strange, perhaps because of the horrifying context of the testimonies, acquired at times disturbing qualities.

For my taste, there was something off with the structure of the story and it's length.   Putting it bluntly: the milking of details in the first part made the process well …. tiresome.   The second part with its investigation of memories and the reactions of family members introduced structural opportunities  which got lost in the linear telling of the story.  I feel that to be in sync with the process of the abused finally speaking out, it would be better to start the story in the now and only then gradually uncover the psychological layers of lies and denial. 


Story or Truth

Gearing up to watch "Leaving Neverland" I am reading  Joe Vogel's piece in Forbes.   In it there is a shocking sentence:

"The film's director, Dan Reed, acknowledged 
not wanting to interview 
other key figures because it might complicate 
or compromise the story he wanted to tell."

Given a controversial nature of the documentary and its accusations, this is an extreme positioning of the argument.  Yet, even in less shocking themes and productions the same dilemma appears.  Do we, the documentarians, have allegiance to story or truth?  Very few documentaries don't compromise the need for deep digging for aesthetic, structural, "film values" gains.  That's sickening too.


Metaphor for creation

Silence, darkness dir. Paweł Kędzierski
camera Wojciech Staroń

This is an amazing documentary from 1999.  Its camera follows a group of deaf, mute and blind participants of a sculpting workshop.   Due to the mastery of the DP, great sound design and editing we experience creating in its dramatic phases.  

The on-screen predicaments of the workshop participants are nothing but hugely amplified elements of any creative process.   Selecting as artists people with serious limitations brings home often forgotten fact that making something is mostly a struggle with once own lack of knowing, seeing, hearing, touching.   

From a certain point outside of ourselves we must look blind, mute, deaf and yet desperately trying to outguess the reality and then give a voice to our limited discoveries.  

This fabulous film can be seen here


Humans vs politics

What I like the most in “Cold War” and “Roma” are ways they bridge the intimate with big political backgrounds.  Perhaps one of the reasons for the movies huge success is their acknowledgement that we can’t escape the politics, that our beings cannot be separated from the social deals that in a very direct way shape our destinies.  Perhaps it’s a sign of times that this kind of sensitivity chimes so well with the audiences.  It does so because a new wave of some profound social and political rearrangement is coming and we all feel it.  A few super talented and sensitive people are acting as rods for those bulging premonitions and project our anxieties on a big screen.

Nothing new.  Plenty of movies have done it before and yet this feels so very fresh.   Perhaps it's the question of artistic balance and the swelling gravity of the external...


Farewell to Great Editor

Weeks ago I payed last respects to Agnieszka Bojanowska, the person who greatly influenced my thinking about film making.  Madame Agnieszka worked with me only on a few projects but made a huge impression.   There was something in her way of approaching material and making decisions that has stayed with me and became one of the most important "tools". 

"How would Madame Agnieszka do this cut?" is a phrase that comes to my mind very often during editing.   And I think it greatly improves the results.  

Our first collaboration was on a TV feature decades ago.  I was too young and too inexperienced to fully understand her input - aside from the fact that I liked her suggestions. 

When years and years later I brought to her "Lawnswood Gardens" and then "The View from a Cathedral" I was able to understand more of what she was saying. 

But it wasn't only about technical choices that she communicated.  Her being was larger than her craft.  Or rather her craft was the result of her being. 

Thank you Madame Agnieszka. 



"Roma" by Alfonso Cuaron

"Roma"'s brilliance comes also from its rhythms.   They express themselves in small and big scales.  They connect social and political with personal.  "Roma" says that there is balance between various layers of our existence that there is something larger than a single layer of our perception of the world, that "so above as below,"  or "everything is everything."

We tell each other stories usually favoring one aspect of reality over others, "Roma" gets it all  enveloped in one giant sigh of wonder over our dramas, defeats and victories.  A true masterpiece.

If you seek reviews of "Roma" note how ridiculous and wrong is the one by Richard Brody in the New Yorker.  It is a perfect (although unintended) caricature of a socially concerned liberal intellectual blinded by political correctness. 



"Cold War", directed by Pawel Pawlikowski

"Cold War" is audacious.  The storytelling there doesn't focus on the process, motivations, plot points, foreshadowing and all the other classical stuff.  Instead it jumps from consequence to consequence.   By doing so it sucks the viewer into the drama and makes the relationship it tells non banal and non predictable.  It restores the sense of mystery into the process of telling a story.   It had to happen as a reaction to a more and more oppressive Aristotelian or Hollywood dictum.