Thursday, November 30, 2006


i saw what might become one of my favourite films this week...darren aronofsky's 'the fountain' is collapsing at the u.s. box office so badly that it may never get a release outside this country - which would make it one of those cinematic travesties to rank alongside the butchering of 'the magnificent ambersons', or the fact that the long version of 'heaven's gate' has hardly ever been seen.

'the fountain' is a film about life, death, beauty, and love, and manages to say more about these themes in just over an hour and a half than i've seen at the movies in a very long time. sure, it's not a particularly coherent narrative, and you need a couple of viewings before you can work out what's going on - but for the sheer imagination of putting a character into immortality for the sake of resurrecting the love of his life, when really what he should have done is spend more time with her when she was me sentimental, but it's things like this that affect us all, every moment of every day. it's what great art is best at. 'the fountain' risks alienating its audience (though i was the only person at the screening i saw) by focusing on things that can't be conveyed in words. it's repetitive, confusing, moving, truthful, and alive to the possibility that love might just conquer all, and that death isn't all its cracked up to be. (and ellen burstyn's in it).

it's the most imaginative and beautiful film i've seen this year.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

how a movie that's not particularly great still made me think about great things

saw a movie today that made me think.

'bobby' - a well-intentioned film that seeks to present the u.s. in microcosm on the day of robert kennedy's assassination - from the latino and african-american kitchen staff hoping for a change, to the materialists who rely on how their shoes look to determine their sense of well-being, to the old guy who has seen it all, or so he thinks. it works as an interesting attempt on emilio estevez's part to make a film from the heart that comments on the tragic circumstances we currently live through. the film is very moving for the last ten minutes as it plays one of rfk's speeches over images of people taking in the shock of his murder.

when you read these words, remarks made the day after martin luther king was murdered, only two months before rfk lost his life, you too may sense just what opportunity was lost when he was killed:

"I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one - no matter where he lives or what he does - can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.

Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

"Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, "there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs."

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.

Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.

I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

robert altman

so, farewell to robert altman, hollywood's chronicler of the joys and sorrows of what it means to be human. altman passed away last monday at the age of 81, and it's been interesting to read the praise being heaped on him in tributes written by film journalists who realise we have lost someone whose contribution to cinema is irreplaceable. this is what matters about robert altman: he made films about the way the world is, but managed to make us see it in a way we'd never done before.

the 'last supper' tableau pre-faux suicide scene in MASH, where a lonely man is eulogised by his friends in the hope that this will satirise him into sparing his own life...the patriotic country song that opens NASHVILLE prefiguring so much of what is troubling about this beautiful country...the painfully observed middle class dinner party (one masterful moment among many) in SHORT CUTS, which begins with the host calling one of his guests by the wrong name...the real world came to life in altman's travelogues of the un-mapped human soul.

and he had a way of working with actors that made them all look better than they had ever been before: henry gibson...elliott gould...donald sutherland...lily tomlin...ned beatty...tom waits...tim robbins...frances mcdormand...julianne moore...harry belafonte...andie mcdowell...bruce davison, among many others, are, i am sure, grateful for the day they signed on to be in an altman picture.

the film society of lincoln center is screening his last film A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION tomorrow night as a tribute...if you're an altman acolyte then you've probably already pulled one of his dvds off your shelf for another look - i'm going to see SHORT CUTS again, as soon as i can; as a reminder of what this - by all accounts - kindly, imperious, agnostic-about-religion-but-religious-about-humanity artist could do when given the right canvas to work on.