Category Archives: Film

Faith and Madness

Apocalypse Now. This is the film I was least excited to see again in my film history class. War, Vietnam…and I saw it so long ago, I don’t remember loving it. I do remember however, really liking Hearts of Darkness, the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now. And, since I first viewed the film I have read Heart of Darkness as well as the extraordinary Things Fall Apart, which was a native sort of response to Conrad’s book. So to come back to this film is interesting and not something I would have likely done on my own. I love school for this sort of opportunity.

 After all those qualifiers I will simply say – this is a remarkable film. First of all Coppola’s use of music is fantastic, I don’t even like The Doors but the opening sequence has got to be one of the best ever made. The music that overlays the beastly helicopters and chemical haze over the impossible natural beauty of Vietnam is melded together with such delicate contrary juxtaposition that the overall effect is highly artistic and  very moving.

“There is no way to tell his story without telling my own.”

Truer words were never spoken. Anytime we share a story or artistic interpretation we cannot help but insert ourselves into the very heart of it. We are discovering the journey of the renegade Kurtz while we are experiencing the journey of Captain Willard, at the same time that we are aware of the journey of Coppola, Joseph Conrad, perhaps even Chinua Achebe and the whole history of imperialism, colonization, wars, battles, oppressions- and, of course, it is our journey as well. What does a clash of civilizations look like, how do we force ourselves into other countries, into other people, into our own hearts?   Confronted with the brutalization of “lying morality” as Kurtz so beautifully writes to his son, how do we react?

The question is- how does one react to madness? It would seem that the only logical or at least predictable answer is- with madness.

And there is madness in our method. We simply – keep following the orders, keep moving. In one of the funniest sequences Coppola himself has a cameo as a news cameraman who is hysterically yelling to the soldiers, “Don’t look at the cameras, just go through- like you’re fighting!” That’s it.  Just go through. Go through the motions, even if you are pretending or pretending to be pretending, keep following the orders. And for God’s sake do not think. If you start to think of what you are doing, you end up like Kurtz. And he is scary.

But it’s hard not to. Coppola makes us feel the discomfort. His extreme close ups are wince inducing. The constant pearls of sweat, dark corners, and manic moments of facsimiles of joy all create an inner nervous condition. We’re not really crazy; we want to escape the madness. The feeling of creeping nausea tells us so. Maybe drugs will suppress the feeling, maybe we will just die inside, but the body knows. There is no real faking it.

“You have all my faith.” Possibly my favorite line ever uttered in a film. We all have faith, some give it to their God, some to the Earth, and some risk giving it to someone they love. There is no greater expression of love. Kurtz gives it to his son. After all that he has seen and knows he has nowhere else to lay down his core: he burdens his son with it, reversing the natural flow of a parent/child relationship. After his fellow man has so utterly failed, he is forced to turn to the innocence of his own child.

You have all my faith. It is everything.

And if faith is lost, what then? I hope you never know.

never maybe

homecoming

 

I saw Citizen Kane so long ago it was as if I was seeing it for the first time again. It is a really wonderful film.  It has an irrepressibly youthful quality that I found ever so slightly discordant with the content, but charming none the less. And yet, I wondered how different the film would have been had Welles been older when he made it.

There were certain scenes that reminded me of one of my favorite directors – Bélla Tarr. Towards the beginning of Kane, there was a shot outside the nightclub where Susie sings, in Tarr’s film Damnation, there is a similar scene except Tarr holds the shot (as is typical of his work) for minutes on end, the rainless warm interior beckons, while the relentless soaking and futility of a nightclub as a destination for a heartbroken individual, weighs ever more heavily. Tarr shoots in black and white with a subtle yet portentous hand.

In Citizen Kane it is also a rainy night, but it reads as purely aesthetic and atmospheric- which Welles excelled in- his smoky rooms and hazy atmospheres are stylistically sublime. Never the less, I point out the comparison and difference to suggest that, while Welles had all the artistry- he understood the style, which is copied in many films to this day, including Tarr’s, but there is a missed layer of substance. He doesn’t quite reach the depths that are there to be reached.  Tarr’s films go to the extreme, exploring emotions at their deepest levels. Tarr will penetrate your soul.

Of course, to make Citizen Kane certainly took a nerve that perhaps only the slightly tarnished youth possess, but how much more moving it might have been if Welles himself had already felt the despair of time.

Still, scene for scene this is an incredible film. The architecture of each shot, the depth and overlays, the attention to tone, perspective and content are extraordinary. There are so many awe inspiring scenes it is hard to pick one as an example, but, to point to a couple: the scene towards the end when Kane and Susie are “camping” with the band playing “It can’t be love” in the background was beautiful; the scene in the beginning with the father and mother signing him away, and he seen through the window- oblivious…it’s wonderful- but then Welles adds to that by turning our perception of the mother on a dime with the line, “ That’s why he’s going to be brought up where you can’t get at him.” That was devastating. The mother’s hardness, her inhumane chill merely a protective device that, for all her trouble,  smashed her son’s heart anyway.

In the end, Welles’ portrayal of Kane, even with all the cheeky hints and clues dropped in to agitate William Randolph Hearst, was fundamentally a sympathetic portrayal. “Rosebud” was Kane’s very soul that was sold away from him in his youth- no amount of money could every buy it back for him.

Are we capable of fixing ourselves? Maybe, but the cure won’t be found in money or power, that is something Welles, even at his tender age, understood.

Here is the bar scene from Damnation, she doesn’t even start singing until about minute three, but damn it! it’s worth the wait. Best lounge song ever.

love harmóniák

I am not at all moved to write specifically on the subject, on the event, of Valentine’s Day. This is for at least two reasons:
a) I have never appreciated the commercial pseudo “holiday-ness” with all of its banal pink hearts and God forbid -teddy bears.
and,
b) I am irreparable.

Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

But I was thinking a little. And then I got to thinking about love scenes in movies. And then I began to think about a film that I saw that had, in my opinion, one of the best love scenes ever filmed in movie history. Love scenes are tricky things. Invariable they go one of two ways: they are either all about the passion or all about the love. And very often don’t realize either. The reason why this one is so amazing is because it is both. The film is The Werckmeister Harmonies by Hungarian director Béla Tarr.

It is an amazing experience, filmed in very long shots, some of them up to 10 or 15 minutes long. Some of the more famous scenes can be viewed on you tube, but I don’t recommend this. The “shower” scene is one of them, but to fully appreciate the impact of the moment you really need to have let yourself get absorbed in the entire lead up. It is worth it.

The love scene to which I allude, alas, is nowhere to be found on you tube. It may very well be that I am alone in finding this scene extraordinary. So be it. It takes place in a kitchen of a prepared-food shop where the young protagonist has gone to pick up a meal for an older gentleman. That alone is enough to recommend itself to me.

I really love to see food preparation and kitchens in films. This is a kind of austere eastern European kitchen, the young man brings a container to get the food. The container is perhaps ubiquitous in Budapest, I wouldn’t know, but it is a wondrous object to me. A series of interlocking white cylinders that attach together with long metal clasps on either side making a handle on top. I love the way it looked, and the way the woman spooned the food into it, so expertly and indifferently.

A little later on, almost vis-á-vis nothing (or at least I can’t really remember why exactly), the camera goes back to this kitchen; there is a man sitting behind the counter eating, a little greedily. A woman sits on his lap waiting for him to finish, a little impatiently. When he is done, they look at each other for a moment, and then kiss. With passion. And then they pull apart, and look into each other’s eyes. There in each other’s gaze is everything they feel, and it is so lovely: the emotion of it. Dead serious, playful, sweet, lustful…it is pitch perfect. And then they pull themselves to one another to kiss again: she pulls him by his scarf to her, or he grabs her, it goes back and forth in this way.

That is all. It’s fairly chaste, but all that could be revealed in film on the subject of romantic love is there. It’s very moving. The entire film is very moving. True, other than me, it’s probably not anyone’s idea of a “Valentine’s Day” film. It’s really a devastating exploration of  societal madness. It remains however a brilliant film with as tender and beautiful a love scene as ever there was. So, happy valentine’s day.