Writer, Film Programmer & Critic
|News from Home
|In the Mood for Love
|Wong Kar Wai
|Down by Law
|Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
|Meshes of the Afternoon
|Maya Deren, Alexander Hackenschmied
|Daughters of the Dust
If the truth, like Godard says, is somewhere between appearing and disappearing, then Wanda drifts into focus and out of focus with that same inscrutable opacity. Making her debut feature film in 1970, Barbara Loden was an incredibly talented filmmaker who was lost too soon. Against rolling coal-black hills, Barbara Loden stars as her own protagonist, Wanda, a speck, in her delicate doily hat and kitten gloves glows white as she moves through the heaps of old-town labour of Pennsylvania. Wanda is a woman who leaves her husband and kids, shirking a conventional lifestyle and drifts as a form of survival. She knows what she doesn’t want, but at the same time seems disconnected from her own sense of self and desires. Half-inspired by a newspaper story of a bank robbery, Loden found a voice through another woman’s story and carved a space out of these man-made landscapes - with such grit.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Point Break is a subversive masterpiece. After nearly a decade of being lost from cinema screens, I hunted this film down like Utah chases Bodhi. And all that effort was worth it – Keanu Reeves’ video-message to the audience where I screened it at The Prince Charles cinema being the cherry on top. It’s a film that should be seen on the big screen, with an audience. Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break is a film that euphorically, sensuously celebrates the realm of the outsider; a blockbuster that was subverting the values of a capitalist system from within; a script that Bigelow carefully reworked, playing with norms of gender representation and the trope of the hard-bodied 1980s action hero. Bigelow knows how to film an adrenaline-packed ride and this is an action film that was ahead of its time.
News from Home
Chantal Akerman’s avant-garde and personal film is a moving testament to trying to find your feet in a new city as the ties of home pull you back. Visions of the New York City subway system and streets evoke a sense of excitement and alienation, as Akerman reads letters sent from her mother, who misses her from across the ocean in Belgium. Akerman’s relationship to her mother was pivotal to her filmmaking process, a connection she returned to in her final film, No Home Movie. Akerman’s legacy is a tender, questioning voice in filmmaking, peeling back layers of intimate dynamics.
In the Mood for Love
Walter Benjamin wrote that “[S]torytelling, in its sensory aspect, is by no means a job for the voice alone. Rather, in genuine storytelling the hand plays a part which supports what is expressed in a hundred ways with its gestures trained by work.” One of the most beautiful films ever made, it is a film that unfolds through sensory logic and opulent visuals. It is lurid lights and fragments of memory. Time slips through the fingers of this film, but you notice more if you pay attention. It’s a film that amplifies the sensory detail in the actions of its characters, down to the transitory ripples that cross their faces as moods and tensions transform throughout the ebb and flow of a day. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are brilliant as the protagonists, yearning for a love just out of their grasp. An internal experience of time and sensory impressions create the aesthetics of a memory, in the sense that memory is not a complete, balanced replication of an event;it branches from vivid fragments of perception; the way the rain hits the ground, a lyric from a song, cigarette smoke dissipating.
Down by Law
This is a perfect, beautiful, silly film. From the dialogue to the soundtrack to the cast and crew including Claire Denis as Assistant Director - everything about this film is brilliant. Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni star, and there couldn’t be a better trio stuck in a prison cell together. Cool, moody and sparse, Down By Law glides along the graveyards and unique architecture of New Orleans. Dissatisfaction, decay and seediness unfold with stunning cinematography. Having met Roberto Benigni on the jury of a French film festival, Jim and Roberto hit it off and Benigni’s brilliant character in Down By Law was conceived. Benigni’s Buster Keaton-esque sincerity is enriched by enthusiastic Italian recitals of Walt Whitman and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, playing a character who finds himself in claustrophobic quarters in the U.S. Far from the American Dream, it is a hostile, lonely place, with a lot of space…and a resounding emptiness. Down By Law infuses absurdity into the confines of a prison-buddy movie, and it is endlessly quotable.
In my opinion, this is a rare occasion when the film is better than the book. Stephen King’s creepy claustrophobic story of a man becoming a murderous psychopath in a haunted hotel is brought to life with immaculate set design and impeccable sound design – and incredible performances from Shelley Duvall, Jack Nicholson and Danny Lloyd. It is a film that is endlessly theorized, analysed for hidden messages and remains a source of inspiration and mystery, encoded in the seams of popular culture. With The Shining, Stanley Kubrick created a slow-burning beast of atmosphere and menace. It is a chilling and beautiful maze of a film; a stone-cold classic horror. The woman in room 237 still terrifies me to the core, and still pursues me – the number of times I’ve been given room number 237 in hotels and motels and had to swallow my irrational response must be more than a coincidence. On one occasion I went to unlock my room and the key wouldn't work, but a woman wordlessly opened the door. After apologising to her I returned to reception, who insisted the room was empty.
Agnes Varda described how she was trying to "bridge the border between these two genres, documentary and fiction, to put into fictional films the texture of documentary”. Here she creates a memorable character in Sandrine Bonnaire’s Mona, a drifter who freezes in the harsh winter. Starting with her death, Vagabond is a life backwards. Locals in the Aquitaine region give their opinions on the absent protagonist's character. Like Barbara Loden’s Wanda, or Wendy in Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy, Vagabond observes what happens to a woman with no support system; what it is to fall through the cracks of society, and the things you do to survive. Varda’s engagement with politics is astute and personal – “I see the rotten politics everywhere.” It is Varda’s emotional connection to places and people, that forms her imagination and becomes the foundation of her films. Among the “real people in the fields”, the locals and the academics, Mona is a blank slate for others to project their fantasies onto, objectify, or obliviously terrorise. As Varda puts it she “is the mirror of a society that rejects her”. Mona’s fate is symbolic of a frightening, still relevant social reality.
With Salesman, the filmmakers wanted to create the movie equivalent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood; the first nonfiction movie – a documentary with the feel of fiction. Pioneers of Direct Cinema, they observed the protagonists – or “got close”, as Albert Maysles would say – and allowed their gestures and words to create an ambiguous, character-led narrative.
Meshes of the Afternoon
Deren’s avant-garde experimental explorations of subconscious dream worlds is in the DNA of so many creepy, surreal and cult films we see today, such as the dark imagination of David Lynch. Deren floats up the stairs weightlessly. An arm extends from an impossible angle. In a game of shadows, progression is an illusion and the absence is the presence. Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and Jean Cocteau’s Orphic trilogy haunt one another. Bodies dissolve into the vacuum of time, an uncanny drifting. Maya Deren is an astronaut orbiting the contours of ‘home’. Deren was revolutionary in her vision of what the moving image could express and this iconic film can be seen refracted across the cinematic canon.
Daughters of the Dust
Dash’s poetic film is a visionary piece of cinema. Emerging from the LA Rebellion movement of filmmaking, it’s a shame this is Dash’s only feature film to have a theatrical release. It was also the first feature film by a Black American woman to have a general release in America, which speaks volumes about the gatekeeping of cinema, and who gets to tell stories. Set at the turn of the 20th century, Daughters of the Dust tells the story of multiple generations of women on the verge of migrating from a sea island in South Carolina to the North, intergenerational trauma, and finding a sense of home on their own terms.