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.