Thursday, February 20, 2014

Solaris / Mirror

1972, TSPDT Rank #209

1974, TSPDT Rank #26

This will be a big post. I saw these two landmark Tarkovsky films over the past two days, during which time the new update of the 1,000 Greatest Films was unveiled. As Bill, the man behind the big list, stated in the intro to the new edition, this year's update isn't as monumental as last year's Sight and Sound influenced revision, but as always, some films came and some left - which put my current count just a few points behind what it was before the update. I'm still very close to being halfway - Solaris and Mirror bring my current count to 494 films out of the total 1,000. I decided to combine the two films into one post so that I could compare them with each other and some of Tarkovsky's other work without the risk of overlap.

For quite a long time, the only Tarkovsky films I had seen were Ivan's Childhood and Andrei Rublev. Then this past fall I had the chance to see a screening of the last existing English-subtitled 35mm print of Stalker at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis - which was a singular and indescribable experience. I had previously shyed away from seeing either Mirror or Stalker because I had heard that their DVD releases did not do justice to replicating the films' delicate colors and mesmerizing imagery, and I could tell how this could be the case while viewing the print of Stalker. The imagery was as fragile and nuanced as it was awe-inspiring, and the film felt almost unearthly in a way that was haunting and surreal. But as glad as I was that I had waited to watch the film in a proper presentation, the film had a profound enough effect on me that I knew I would have to seek out the rest of Tarkovsky's work. As I said, I had heard bad things about Kino's transfer of Mirror, but it didn't seem likely that lightning would strike twice - and it didn't seem worth waiting indefinitely for a cinema screening that might never materialize.

I actually watched Solaris first, as it had always been a film I was interested in seeing but had just never gotten around to. I would recommend this film wholeheartedly to anyone. The Criterion transfer is stunning, and the film is monumental and powerful like few films have ever come close to being. Unlike Stalker, it could be more legitmately classified as science-fiction - although it completely transcends the genre and resides in a league all its own. Made in the era of space exploration frenzy, Tarkovsky explores the human urge to conquer and understand areas of life and the universe which are completely removed from the realm of our comprehension. The mind-shattering abyss of the unknown and the human thirst for absolute knowledge casts an unescapable shadow over the characters in the film, and the end result constitutes a haunting gaze into the depths of the human soul which has rarely been portrayed as effectively on film. Like Stalker, it is a film that thrives on mystery, and Tarkovsky's ability to handle this sense of mystery with such grandeur and grace while sidestepping incoherence and heavy-handedness surely has a lot to do with his reputation as one of the world's greatest filmmakers.

Of course, Tarkovsky is also known for his sublime, otherwordly frame compositions - and Mirror is probably his most reknowned film from this aesthetic standpoint. This position is definitely deserved, but unfortunately my experience watching the Kino transfer of the film last night was a clear reminder of just how much of a factor the digital transfer of a film can play into its effectiveness. The picture quality is quite murky and overall pretty dull in the color department - so I could recognize the beauty of the images, but usually only by imagining what they might look like on film, or with a proper digital transfer. That being said, the mediocre transfer quality didn't ruin the film for me. The visual palette seemed to be similar to Stalker in a way (despite the stark differences in setting and atmosphere), which made it possible for me to visualize better versions of the images, but it still frustrated me from time to time when I could clearly recognize that I was watching a sub-par representation of a great film. But picture quality aside, the film itself is another work of cinematic wonder from Tarkovsky. Definitely his most personal film (that I've seen), and possibly his most complex - although it is quite a bit more concise than most of the other films of his that I've seen (i.e. Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Stalker). It's a quintessential example of the possiblities of cinema based around dreams and memories - probably the most viable alternative to narrative filmmaking that has ever been attempted, although mainstream viewers used to being spoon-fed their films still tend to harbor an attitude of intolerance and scorn toward films of this nature. Its structure and themes are enigmatic to say the least, but for my sensibilities, this made the film all the more rich and engrossing. It begins poetically, turning more political towards the middle, and becoming almost hallucinatory at the end - but it retains the smooth, flowing cadence of a dream throughout. I hope to see it again some day in a more suitable presentation - but I still am glad that I watched it, regardless, and look forward to Tarkovsky's two films from the 1980s, which I still have yet to see.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Wild at Heart

Directed by: DAVID LYNCH
1990, TSPDT Rank #868

Seeing as I'm still waiting for the new 1,000 Greatest Films list and an updated count on my progress, I figured I would take the opportunity to write about one of my favorite films - one that was directed by David Lynch, who is probably my all-time favorite filmmaker. I saw this film tonight on 35mm at the Trylon Microcinema, a Minneapolis cinema which shows a lot of repertory films, and is pretty much directly responsible for rekindling my love of film. Shortly after leaving for college last fall, I discovered that Love Streams, one of the few John Cassavetes films I hadn't gotten around to seeing previously, was being shown on 35mm at a local cinema only a few miles away from where I live, and the experience of seeing it had a profound effect on me. It redefined my idea of what watching a movie could be like, and now I go to the Trylon just about once a week or more.

Anyway, this month the Trylon has been showing a series of David Lynch films, which has included Eraserhead, Dune, and Mulholland Dr., and will be followed by Blue Velvet next weekend. I saw Wild at Heart for the first time about a year ago. At the time it was one of the only David Lynch films I hadn't seen yet, and it completely blew me away. It is probably Lynch's most unhinged and unrestrained film - portraying a story of true love in the midst of a hellish maelstrom of chaos. Filmed at the same time as the latter half of Twin Peaks' first season, and featuring many actors who also appeared in the show (Laura Dern, Jack Nance, Sherilyn Fenn, Sheryl Lee, David Patrick Kelly), Wild at Heart almost seems to occupy a parallel universe to the show - maybe signifying the type of crazy American life that the people of serene Twin Peaks hope to escape from. The atmosphere of the film is as overtly rooted in the South as Twin Peaks is in the Northwest. The sweltering heat and dust are palpable, and the film's erotic elements are as strong and intense as its violence. However, while its sordid depiction of insane killers, maniacs, and love on the run recalls countless crime and noir films, what distinguishes it from these other films is its strangely pure side. It contains heavy references to The Wizard of Oz (one of Lynch's favorite films), and its main characters, Sailor  (in a fantastic performance by Nicolas Cage) and Lula, are genuinely in love, and as likable as they are over-the-top. The film is full of insanity, murder, sex, and thrills - but at its core, it's far from cynical, suggesting that love has the ability to triumph over evil and madness. It's a film that could have only been made by David Lynch, and in my opinion, it's one of his most fully realized visions - an immersive, one-of-a-kind masterpiece. I'm very glad that it's on the 1,000 Greatest Films list where it belongs, and I treasure having had the opportunity to see it on the big screen this weekend.

For anyone who's interested, more on the Trylon Microcinema can be found at If you live in the Minneapolis area, I highly recommend checking them out.

Pink Flamingos

Directed by: JOHN WATERS
1972, TSPDT Rank #847

And now I have finally seen the eternally infamous Pink Flamingos. It has to be just about the most gleefully trashy film in the history of trash cinema. For reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has heard about it, it's not exactly the most pleasant film to watch, but I am still very glad to know that there is room for a film like this on the 1,000 Greatest Films. The film's tagline, "An exercise in bad taste", is a very fitting one, because it gives you a very clear and honest idea of the film's intent. It is simply masterful in the measures that it goes to test the viewer's limits and derive humor from the most forbidden of taboos. It is ranked on the TSPDT site as the #2 most disliked film on the 1,000 Greatest Films list (second only to Forrest Gump), something which I'm sure the film's director, John Waters, would be extremely proud of. As a young man and burgeoning filmmaker, he had the vision and determination to make a movie that would shock, disgust, amuse, and piss off the majority of the filmgoing public - and he succeeded in ways few could have predicted possible. While watching it, I got a kick out of imagining people reacting to this unprecedented orgy of filthiness back when it released, decades before our jaded age of the internet. I also loved Waters' ingenuity in co-opting 1950s culture in the name of all things dirty right in the middle of the era of nostalgia and American Graffiti. And although I've probably had my fill of Pink Flamingos' depraved world and the filthy people who inhabit it for the foreseeable future, I still can't help but admire its concept. Film was invented to shake people up, and this film has been doing just that ever since it was released. I recommend it to anyone who's not afraid of a hearty dose of "bad taste" with their low-budget comedy. For best results, watch after midnight.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

3 Women

Directed by: ROBERT ALTMAN
1977, TSPDT Rank #927

Tonight I watched Robert Altman's 3 Women for the first time. I've now seen every other Altman film on the 1,000 Greatest Films list except for Short Cuts - which I am now very anxious to see as soon as possible. Altman is one of those rare directors who can always surprise you, no matter how much you've read about them or how many of their films you've seen. Every Altman film I've seen so far has been totally unique and fascinating (whether I thought it was great or not), while always containing clear glimpses of the trademark Altman style. 3 Women is definitely no exception to this, and it left me absolutely floored. It's a delirious fever dream of a film, reminiscent of a cross between Bergman's Persona and a lurid Southern Gothic story, while still being cut from the same whacked-out California cloth as Altman's earlier film, The Long Goodbye. Comparing these two films is actually very interesting, because while the Phillip Marlowe detective story of The Long Goodbye might appear to be worlds apart from the twisted identity crises of 3 Women on the surface, it appears in retrospect that these films have more in common than initially meets the eye. Elliot Gould's Marlowe is caught up in an unbelievably convoluted network of people who are anything but what they appear to be - to the point where he is nearly swallowed up by them - while the characters of 3 Women float around and around in a whirlpool of confusion and denial that eventually swallows them up and spits them out, resulting in a violent rebirth that mirrors The Long Goodbye's numbing climax. To me, these two films represent some of the best possible qualities of cinema - in that they hold the viewer in their grip and leave them confounded and mystified when the credits start to roll. The best kind of film raises more questions than it answers, and 3 Women is a supreme example of that special brand of film.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Back in the saddle again

In the long hiatus since my last post, I have finished high school and started college, seen quite a few more films, and have generally had quite a few more life experiences. I have done some writing about film sporadically in a few other places, but not anything of much substance. Now I am studying film in some of my college classes, and the abundance of technical terminology and academic perspective has made me long for the simplicity of the blog format. So, with the new update of TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films list soon to be released, I decided it would be a great time to restart the blog once again.

I haven't done a complete count of my progress on the list since I stopped writing new posts (which was before the current version of the list was released), but I think I have seen about 493 films from the current version as of now. When the new update is released, I will do a revised count, which will most likely set me back a bit.

I'm not sure what my posts will be like after such a long time away from doing them, but I will try my best to keep things fresh and interesting. Thanks for reading, and I promise more to come in the near future.