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Apple Juice and Cigarettes

The US Vs. John Lennon (2006) August 7, 2008

Filed under: Film Reviews — aloysia @ 12:40 am

“John Lennon was a born enemy of those who control the United States, which I always say was admirable. Lennon came to represent life, while Mr. Nixon… and Mr. Bush… represent death.”

– Gore Vidal.

Thousands point and shout while history repeats itself and those in power turn a blind eye. Lennon once said that those in power were ‘insane’, perhaps not insane so much as hopelessly selfish and overcome with power. In The US vs. John Lennon, those interviewed make direct connections between the Nixon and Bush administrations: namely the sense of paranoia which had/has infused both reigns. It seems now that there is nothing to believe in, the injustice the Iraq war has been shuffled to the back of the line and that paranoia has dimmed as the focus of the nation rests in their own backyards with a failing economy and the threat of recession.

John Lennon brought to America a very simple messege. It is easy to pressume that his messege was too naive, too easy, to ever become a reality; but therin lies the brilliance. People want things to be simple and easy to understand. Because a messege is simple does not mean it is worthless. Lennon brought nothing but good tidings when he arrived in the US but threat of change implies threat to those in power. As a result of his celebrity, Lennon had great power at his disposal, but not so much as the paranoid Nixon administration chose to assign him. He became a pariah, a national threat, in the eyes of the president. A man secure in his power and influence is not so threatened by a rock star. Nixon knew that people were on edge and that his administration was out of style. This is what the film details. The FBI bugged Lennon’s phone, followed him, attended his concerts and wrote down the lyrics of his songs; trying to collect enough information and enough proof that he was a threat and must be removed from the country before all hell broke loose.

It is in this day and age that a documentary such as this has resonance. Made ten years ago, the message would have been largely ignored by a country secure in its wealth and status. Now, allows a glimpse into the mistakes made by the American government, mistakes made not once but over and over to the detriment of its populace. Few people believe in anything anymore, it is an age of apathy and escape. The Us Vs. John Lennon seems to ask its viewers to see the world, not look past it and to their televisions or computer screens. Lennon’s messege is not out of date, it is more relevent than ever and always has been.


I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977) August 3, 2008

The most remarkable thing about I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is its fearless portrayal of the mentally ill. Unlike other films dealing with similar subject matter, the characters are not merely caricatures meant to amuse. They are confusing and frightening people, especially for Deborah (Kathleen Quinlan), a young girl with schizophrenia, who is the main focus of the film. Deborah oscillates between the world of the sane and that of the insane; often unable to control her reactions or understand how to word her responses when confronted with something difficult. Her inner world is nearly as frightening as the asylum she inhabits. She creates her own language and race of people who make it their mission to control and manipulate her, constantly accusing her of ‘betraying them’ and warning her that she will be punished if she persists in the betrayal. Her supposed betrayal takes the form of psychotherapy with the kind Dr. Freed (Bibi Anderson).

Deborah longs to experience reality the way others do but is, at the same time, terrified of abandoning her tortuous inner world; she tries to find people who she believes could teach and understand her, the way Dr. Freed does. She meets a patient named Mrs. Coral, who she is told, taught geometry. She soon realises that she will find no one in the asylum, that they are just as trapped and clueless as she is. The hopeless confusion around her forces her to let go of her tormentors and to live in reality. Perhaps the conclusion is too sunny to be realistic but the obstacles on the road make it more acceptable. There is nothing easy about this film, it invokes all the terrors of schizophrenia, never leading the audience to believe in anything but the horror of what Deborah and the people around her experience.


The Cranes Are Flying – Narrative and its Implications March 21, 2008

Filed under: Film Reviews — aloysia @ 12:47 am

This is an essay I wrote for class. It’s rather rushed but I’m pleased with parts of it.

Kalatozov’s The Cranes are Flying presents some aspects of classical narrative as well as alternatives to such. A narrative is considered to be a chain of events in a cause and effect relationship occurring in time and space. This is a concise explanation of what proves to be a relatively complex series of events leading to an ultimate conclusion. Certain aspects of the story are inferred while others are told directly. The inferred aspects are left up to the viewer to mentally piece together. In The Cranes are Flying, narrative structure is used to give the viewer cultural and ideological meaning. The film upholds Soviet ideology and yet in many ways severely undercuts that same ideology. Several scenes contradict each other with their subtle jabs at the soviet ideal. The most common is this films favoring of the sum part rather than the whole as evidenced in several scenes. These two aspects work in harmony to create a film that never truly lives up to the state ideology nor does it disgrace it.

Examples of conventional cause and effect narrative occur most prominently at the beginning of the film. As the film moves forward, the more unconventional narrative forms come into play. At the beginning, the viewer is given an introduction to the relationship between Veronique and Boris. The viewer assumes and is then informed that they are in love, (“Love is like a harmless mental illness”). The audience is then led to believe that they must have met sometime before the events, forming the basis of the plot take place. Considering the relative comfort the characters seem to have with each other, the viewer determines that they must have been together for a period of time outside the events currently taking place. It is, however, generally irrelevant for the purposes of the film. Much of the cause and effect narrative comes into play much later in the story. One example is the birthday present Boris gives to Veronique near the beginning. He presents her with a stuffed squirrel. If he had not given her the squirrel than one of the events, towards the end of the film, Veronique storming into a stranger’s house to reclaim her gift after Mark has idiotically taken it to give it to someone else without her permission, would never have occurred. As well, in the context of the narrative, we must assume that this event takes place several years after Boris has gone to war. Another event related to that particular gift occurs when the film makes it a point to show Veronique bringing the squirrel with her when she goes down into the subway during an air raid. If she had not taken it, the subsequent event, many years from that time, would not have occurred. The incident with the stuffed squirrel was one that eventually lead to Veronique’s ultimate disillusionment of her relationship with Mark.

Another prominent use of cause and effect is seen close to the end of the film. Veronique is working at the hospital when one of the wounded soldiers begins screaming that he wants to die because his girlfriend married someone else while he was at war. Fyodor gives a powerful speech on how woman like that are not worthy of his affections in any case. The rest of the patients join him in voicing their disgust with undeserving women. Veronique, who is already deeply unhappy, races out of the hospital with what

the audience must assume is guilt and shame. She runs to a train station while the camera moves frantically around her, supposedly voicing her mental anguish for sake of the viewer. Because of these frenetic movements and lack of explanation as to her destination, the audience is not aware of what Veronique’s destination is until her arrival. Her journey to the train station is condensed into a few seconds. The shot and editing techniques make her journey seem more important rather than it would have had the camera followed her in a more conventional fashion. The irrelevant time and action in her run to the train station has been eliminated as it is not necessary to our understanding of what’s happening and adds nothing to the current events. When she arrives at the train station the shots that follow lead us to assume, for a few seconds, that Veronique has leapt in front of a train. Veronique puts her hands over her face and there is then a shot of someone falling in front of the train from the perspective of the person who is falling. Assuming for a moment that Veronique had in fact jumped, it would be prudent to discuss the jump-cut contained in the scene. The audience does not see the jump but goes from an extreme close up of Veronique with her hands over her face to hands stretched out as she apparently falls. We do not see the jump itself but what happens during and a very quick shot of the supposed aftermath. Because of the frenetic movements of the camera and liberal use of extreme close ups during this scene, we are not aware of what is truly happening until the camera slows down and the viewer is able to piece together what has just occurred. If one re-watches the scene, the shots of the phantom fall are book-ended by close ups of Veronique with her hands over her face and the viewer must assume, that since she is where she was before the “fall” that she imagined it, a scenario, which becomes clear upon review. This segment is an example of unconventional narrative. It causes the audience to be confused and slightly lost as to what exactly is occurring. This sort of narrative device puts the audience into Veronique’s currently fragmented state of mind and is rather beneficial to our sympathy with her character. The narrative than segues back into more conventional cause and effect territory. Veronique turns and realizes there is a child about to be hit by a car; she runs over and gets the child out of the way before it’s too late. However, the imminent danger to the child is not immediately apparent and the camera movements are too fast for the audience to have more than a passing inclination of what’s happening until after it has happened. This effect is attained in much the same way Veronique’s “jump” was with extreme close-ups and frantic movement.

In terms of the ideological meaning of the aforementioned narrative choices, one can look at it this way: Veronique’s apparently selfish decision to jump in front of a train is counteracted when she saves the child. In the soviet context this scene decries Veronique’s would-be selfish actions but she is redeemed when she saves the child; this ties in with the communist ideal that the whole is more important than the sum of the parts. Veronique’s actions in this scene uphold state ideologies when looked at this way. Further, when Veronique gets the child out of the way, the camera’s movements become less frenzied and more cohesive thereby restoring a more classical form of narrative.

Another aspect of this is to consider that the film usually only engages in unconventional forms of narrative in moments of extreme emotion or tragedy. A scene near the beginning when Veronique realizes her apartment building has been hit by a bomb during the air raid can be analyzed in much the same way as the train station scene; it is filled with the same confusion and frenzy.

The scene of the bombed out apartment undercuts the preconceived patriotism already apparent. Throughout the film the focus tends to be on the sum parts of the whole rather than the whole. Its focus is almost completely on Veronique, even Boris is given very little screen time in contrast, which makes the film unique for a war film and a Soviet film. The emphasis is on individual desire. There are several points in the film where Veronique must force her way though crowds in order to get to Boris and each time she does this, Boris is not there. This occurs three times, the first two in close proximity and the third in the last scene of the film. The people she forces her way through appear as a nuisance, they won’t get out of the way and Veronique must be very physical in order to get through. This is a rather dramatic undercut of Soviet ideology where Veronique is favored above everyone else and the audience can feel only contempt for the people who are inadvertently keeping her from Boris. In contrast Boris is upholding the soviet ideal by volunteering to go to war for the good of the state and yet his decision is against Veronique’s wishes. Mark also stands in sharp contrast to Boris. Mark manages to stay out of the war and he is portrayed as a rather mindless and inconsiderate sort of person who Veronique eventually leaves.

In the end the Soviet ideal is upheld with the final scene of Veronique handing out flowers to the crowd of soldiers newly returned from the war and their families. She is no longer shoving people out of the way but walking among them slowly, giving them flowers. Veronique is resigned to Boris’s fate and the film indicates that it is no longer focused on her and the sum part becomes the whole. The film manages to balance Soviet and counter-Soviet ideals to create a mostly cohesive narrative which utilizes unconventional forms to convey emotion and confirm or deny communist principals. They work in harmony and neither confirm nor deny a Soviet or counter-Soviet stance until the end of the film when it ultimately upholds the communist ideal.


How Many Films Can I Watch in a Month? December 14, 2007

Filed under: Film Reviews — aloysia @ 1:27 am

 New contest! How many films can I watch in a month to beat out Enemies #1 and 2? I’ll list the ones I’ve seen so far here.

1. Delicatessen (Jeunet, 1991)

2. Juno (Reitman, 2007)

3. Pandora’s Box (Pabst, 1929)

4. The Golden Compass (Weitz, 2007)

5. Thirteen (Hardwicke, 2003)

6. If…. (Anderson, 1969)

7. Ninotchka (Lubitsch, 1939)

8. Clueless (Heckerling, 1995)

9. Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski, 1968)

10. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Burton, 2007)

11. The Phantom of Liberty (Bunuel, 1974)

12. Atonement (Wright, 2007)

13. Edward Scissorhands (Burton, 1990)

14. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1928) second

15. I’m a Cyborg but That’s OK (Park, 2006)

16. Elizabeth (Kapur, 1998)

17. December Boys (Hardy, 2007)

18. Enchanted (Lima, 2007)

19. 2 Days in Paris (Delpy, 2007)

20. Kind Hearts and Coronets (Hamer, 1949)

21. Gone, Baby, Gone (Affleck, 2007)

22. Superbad (Mottola, 2007)

23. Wristcutters: A Love Story (Dukic, 2007)

24. The Savages (Jenkins, 2007)

25. Benders Big Score (Carey-Hill, 2007)

26. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Park, Box, 2005)

27. The Queen of Spades (Protazanov, 1916)

28. Persepolis ( Paronnaud, Satrapi, 2007)

29. Across the Universe (Taymor, 2007)

30. The Book of Life (Hartley, 1998)

31. Juno (Again)


Fake DVD Covers November 30, 2007

Filed under: Fake DVD Covers — aloysia @ 2:25 pm


Stroszeck (1977) November 14, 2007

Filed under: Film Reviews — aloysia @ 3:54 pm
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At once minimalist and profound, Stroszeck is the sort of film that manages to stay with you long after it’s over. Now, if only I could figure out how to remember/spell the title I’d be set. The film follows a series of events after the protagonist, Bruno Stroszeck, gets out of prison, moves in with a prostitute (Eva) and then decides to leave Germany for Wisconsin to evade a group of men who are harassing them. Not much happens in this film but the viewer is mesmerised by the actions on screen. It’s almost like watching a very quiet and unassuming train wreck. We’re not completely sure how it’ll end but after all is said and done and the dancing chickens come out, it seems obvious. Herzog doesn’t play around with the camera too much, often preferring still and extended shots which aid the viewer as being just that, a viewer, an unbiased witness of the film. The filmmaking style denotes a sort of detachment while offering up distressing images (namely the chicken stuff previously mentioned). A lot of the film is unexplainable but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as film is meant to imitate life and most things in life are unexplainable. It’s not the sort of film one could “like” in any sense of the word. It’s more the sort that commands that you watch with detached and disturbed passivity.


The Nun’s Story (1959) November 12, 2007

Filed under: Film Reviews — aloysia @ 11:08 am
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Unfortunately for this film, it doesn’t quite understand what it wants to be. A commentary on religious restriction that doesn’t
mesh with human nature or a universal story about a young woman who wants to find her place but is unable to. I think it’s probably both. The film seems to touch on certain topics and paradoxes without diving too far in, instead leaving the viewer to ponder upon them. Sister Luke (Audrey Hepburn) wants to help people. She excels in medical studies and promises to be a very fine nurse. Her religious duties get in the way of her duty to humanity which she points out a few times. Citing that she must answer to a bell while a patient is in the middle of ‘discussing their soul’ with her. It doesn’t quite fit. Isn’t a duty to God a duty to humanity? Wouldn’t God prefer that she help people and console them in their time of need rather than go to Mass? According to the Nuns, no. Sister Luke’s duties are first and foremost to her spirtual life. As is pointed out, she didn’t enter the convent to become a nurse. She struggles with what is asked of her. They are taught not to give into pride but, when Sister Luke does something right, her natural inclination is to be proud of herself and she fails once again. It becomes a vicious cycle where she never thinks she’s good enough, that she’ll never be the ‘perfect nun’.

Her decision to join the cloistered life were misguided in the first place; confusing a duty to God with a desire to do good in the world. Perhaps not realising that one can give themselves over to God in the form of humanitarianism and that it is not necessary to give up one for the other.

The film suffers from being over long (at two and a half hours) and slightly over stuffed. The camera seems to observe the characters from a distance, not quite interacting with them. Indeed, we are never given a reason from Sister Luke herself about why she has entered the convent (besides the blatantly obvious) and her problems lie with her inability to be obedient rather than the feeling she’s not fulfilling her duty to God. In the end, the film is rather solid while providing certain insights perhaps a bit unusual for it’s time. Hepburn is as gorgeous as ever, even under that frumpy nun’s habit.