Blasphemous Geometries 13

Futurismic have just put up my thirteenth Blasphemous Geometries column entitled “The Alternative Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form”.

Unsurprisingly, given that title, it is an alternative shortlist of five works of genre cinema that push the envelope a little furthers than the very mainstream indeed hugo shortlist.  I’ll also take the opportunity to link to Mark Kermode’s discussion of Martyrs, which he agrees is an almost unwatchable film redeemed by its transcendental themes.

Don’t Let The Wrong One In : Re-inventing the Femme Fatale

*Please Note – This Piece is Full of Spoilers*

There are ideas that seem to be of a certain place and time.  Call them icons, if you will.  One of the most powerful icons of the early to mid twentieth century is the femme fatale.  Born of a cultural climate where gender was not divorced from sex and where women were expected to be virginal and submissive, femme fatales rejected this essentialist vision of gender by being sexually aggressive, socially independent and more than willing to use their sexual wiles to render men subservient to their own desires and goals.  Decades after the arrival of the contraceptive pill and miles down the road towards sexual equality, you could be forgiven for thinking that a society such as ours has outgrown the need for bold cinematic challenges to our understandings of gender.  Indeed, nowadays the femme fatale seems like little more than an anachronism; as out of place in the modern world as a cockney spiv might be in pre-Credit Crunch London.  However,  even the most liberal of societies falls into lazy thought patterns, habits of conception that need to be re-examined lest they go stale, rot and become oppressive dogma.  Swedish Vampire film Let The Right One In (2008) is a film that rides out not only against popular theories of gender, but also against the commonly held belief that children are innocent, pliable creatures who need to be protected from adults.  It does so by rejuvenating and reinventing that most iconoclastic of icons, the femme fatale.

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Zack Snyder’s Orgasm Death Gimmick

I have always found my view of the genius perceived by others in Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1987) to be obscured by the looming presence of the bleeding obvious.  I respect the form, less so the matter.  Zack Snyder’s  Watchmen (2009) failed to turn this respect into love.  For most of the film I felt the adaptation so submissive and passive that I might as well have stayed at home and read the comic.  However, there are moments of greatness in Watchmen.  Moments that have very little to do with Alan Moore and a lot to do with Zack Snyder.  Moments when Snyder allows himself off the leash, and no… I am not talking about the stupid fight scenes.

In an essay entitled “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” (1920), Freud argues that pleasure stems not from stimulation but rather a lack of stimulation.  The lack of stimulation that comes, for example, from taking off shoes that pinch your feet and the moment not of orgasm but the instant of satiation immediately after the orgasm but before post-orgasmic tristesse sets in.  If pleasure is the complete lack of stimulation then it follows logically that death is the ultimate pleasure and that the pursuit of pleasure is somehow also the pursuit of death.  Freud called this drive towards death Thanatos.  No film maker argues the case for the connection between pleasure and death more aggressively than Zack Snyder.

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Cinematic Vocabulary – Opening Scene of Touch of Evil (1958)

Write enough reviews and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking of films as discrete cultural units.  Artefacts cut asunder from the rest of the world and presented to the audience in a neat little package.  Thinking of films in these terms tends to lead one to focus upon macroscopic issues such as plot, performance and theme whilst ignoring the fine-grained details of the film such as the cinematography, the sound editing and the techniques used to convey those plots and themes.  In an attempt to wean myself away from thinking of films as discrete cultural artefacts, I have decided to write a series of pieces that focus on individual scenes from a critical perspective.  My own take on the Anatomy of a Scene series if you will.

The first scene to go under the microscope is the opening sequence of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958).

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REVIEW : Blindness (2008)

Based upon the 1995 novel Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira (literally Essay on Blindness) by the Portuguese Nobel-laureate Jose Saramago, Fernando Meirelles’ adaptation of Blindness serves to demonstrate the conceptual limitations of the allegory as a narrative device.  Where the book was an allegory about allegories, the film aims for the allegorical only to collapse into a film about the relationships between characters who were only ever supposed to be symbols.

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Che vs. There Will Be Blood – The Risks of Experimentation

Much like the writers and directors that we poor scorn upon for their predictability, critics are ultimately a lazy breed.  Some critics, thanks to greater levels of insight and more erudition have a larger conceptual toolbox than others, but no matter how loaded down you become with diagnostic tools, you are still going to reach for some more frequently than you reach for others.  If a film is a character study then you write about psychology.  If a film is about the cinematography then you talk about the visual and emotional impact.  If the film is about the plot, you write about pacing and narrative structure.  Write about enough books and films and you start to get a pretty clear idea of how to tackle certain types of work.  However, there are times when you encounter a film or a book that is unlike anything you have encountered before.  A work which, no matter how cynical or lazy you might be, has you repeating Roy Scheider’s line from Jaws (1975) : “We’re gonna need a bigger boat”.

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REVIEW : Before I Forget (2007)

It is difficult for me to articulate quite why it is that I adore Jacques Nolot’s Avant Que J’Oublie (2007), or Before I Forget as it is known to English speakers.  Ostensibly your typical French drama about middle class angst, alienation and spiritual decay, the film deals with an ageing gay man who looks back over his life with considerable bitterness as he considers all the things he lost and all the things he failed to gain.  However, while filled with negativity about his own past, the central character Pierre (played by Nolot) is gripped by terror when he thinks about the future as his health dwindles, his sex drive sputters and his days come to be consumed by talk of money, food and how he will most likely die alone.  There are hundreds of films that deal in exactly this kind of bourgeois malaise and many of them leave me completely cold. What makes Nolot’s films so special is that, unlike many dramas that aim for the universality of human emotions while achieving only the generic, Nolot’s films are specific.  They carry the specificity that comes only from the autobiographical and it is the candour with which Nolot describes his life that makes his films so uncomfortable and yet so utterly compelling.

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