Andre Bazin was a French film critic of the 50’s. One of his books (two volumes) is described as quintessential for film students, What is Cinema?, which made for the perfect bragabook (book you read to brag about). Your French accent and quirky moustache could only get him so far, it was his writing which established him as THE film critic to read. It has endured for 50 or 60 years, and will continue to endure, an extraordinary feat considering that cinema was only beginning to get credibility as an art, which makes him a pioneer.
Bazin was an admirer of Jean Renoir and Orson Welles. He wrote a book about each of them, but my library had only the latest – which was actually surprising considered its dimensions and the general lack of demand for fifties French film criticism on a director with only one recognizable work in my country.
I devoured the book in one day. It’s short and a particularly boring passage of Karamazov Brotherscombined with a particularly boring afternoon at the beach, made reading it in one sitting the most sensible course of action. It had pictures, too.
I learned quite a few things I didn’t know about the man and his upbringing, his difficulties to get a movie done and his personality. He said something worth quoting, that I couldn’t find on the web:
“Only the optimists are incapable of understanding what it means to love an ideal.”
(Unprecedented words from an interview in the Ritz, 27th of July of 1958)
“A certain great and powerful king once asked a poet “What can I give you of all that I have?”
He wisely replied “Anything Sir… except your secret.”
Orson Welles never had the same financial or artistic freedom since the moderate commercial success of Citizen Kane. Those limitations are clear from near the beginning of the film. In the initial lengthy dialogue, most shots are short and done with stand-ins. Over-the-shoulder visual bores. In some of those the words are still sounded after the actors mouths have quit. There’s maybe one longer shot that comes close to the length and quality of the initial shot in Touch of Evil, and close is not the right word. It’s both interesting and painful to think how much more could he have achieved with deeper pockets, with a faster scissor in them – he was famous for slow editing, which drove the studios to finish the editing themselves; Mr. Arkadin took him 8 months and the studio removed him and finished his editing. Despite these limitations, Welles print is visible throughout the film. One of the first shots uses depth-of-field making me reminiscent of Kane playing in the snow and Continue reading “Mr. Arkadin or How Welles Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Short Shot”→
I was reading The Gambler’s last pages on the train. Having a phone with a short battery life does wonders for my reading habits. Two French girls sat across from me. One was pale and blond and pretty, the other doesn’t really matter. She spoke mellifluously, fortunately, since I’m trying to plug this word since I can remember. She was also reading a book. The other girl said something and the blond girl started chortling like a pig, really digging the sounds from the back of her skull through her nostrils. A pig would put a hoof in front of his snout.
No, this was not my Celine.
In Before Sunrise, Celine (Julie Delpy) is travelling back from Budapest, where she visited her grandmother. She gets annoyed by an arguing German couple – I suppose if they were Italian, she’d stay – and moves seats to avoid them. Unwittingly or not, she sits abreast Jesse (Ethan Hawke). They bond over other couples’ problems and quirks, moving their conversation to the food cart. Celine is French and, like most French girls, her accent while speaking English is a mix of sexy and adorable. Her unconventional beauty and hippy style, combine perfectly with the accent. Jesse is American. They bond some more and Jesse asks Celine to get out of the cart in Vienna where he’ll have a flight early next morning. (My train would stop in 45 minutes in the remotest village in Portugal, which would make it harder to convince my Celine to leave with me). That decision was made a few minutes before. Jesse tells a story from his childhood that makes Celine eyes twinkle. Later on we see him as a practical man, with little mystical and Continue reading “Before the Last Stop”→
I know it’s not a popular opinion, but here it goes: Neo’s an asshole.
Matrix was centered on the struggles of Human resistance against the dominance of their mechanical counterparts. A Rage against the machines, if you will. We see this from the biased human perspective, of course. We’re conditioned to be on Neo’s side… but should we?
1- Agent Smith provides the first reason that shows that Neo is one of the bad guy: “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.”
2- The machines needed sunlight to function, the humans thought. As a result, we decided to wreck the entire planet and all its life forms, which have existed for billions of years, for our own benefit. There’s not much said about the machines actions, but apart from wanting to annihilate humanity they probably were pretty good guys. I don’t see why they wouldn’t give a hand to penguins or pandas. They’d definitely leave beavers to attend to their own affairs, every dam way they’d like. But no. We decided to destroy everything for a remote chance of a survival in an austere world.
3- The machines cultivated the humans as the energy source the humans took from them. No pig, cow or hen ever took anything from a human being. And no, Babe or Chicken Little don’t count. We still breed and feed them, we keep them in animal farms much like the ones the machines kept the humans. Difference: the machines gave us an entertainment. In the Matrix, we get to play humans to pass the time. The pigs don’t get to play animals.
4- The machines work as, well, a well-oiled machine. They act as a group and have a collective goal in mind. Obliterating humanity may not be the best goal, but it’s not the worse either. It’s a goal. Humans betray each other for what they know to be an illusion. At their best, they pull together for short bursts, waiting for a miracle to come.
5- In the end, humans rely on divinity. The message is, no matter what you do, you have to rely on higher powers. You can only do so much. Neo is god. A flawed god who attains very little, but a god nonetheless. The machines
You go to enough different movies, you start to notice things.
You can read this excerpt in the introduction of a very small book called “Ebert’s Bigger Little Movie Glossary: A Greatly Expanded and Much Improved Compendium of Movie Clichés, Stereotypes, Obligatory Scenes, Hackneyed Formulas, Shopworn Conventions, and Outdated Archetypes”. It contains hundreds of constantly repeated movie features tightly packed in a 116 paged hardcover bundle.
I had this volume for maybe a year or so, but never really got to it. Today I came up with a silly joke about a movie in the dearblankpleaseblanksincerelyblank mould. I decided to apply the concept of silly joke to movies, and movie clichés seemed to be the easiest target. The fact that I had a book about it made it even easier. The gods of procrastination were obviously plotting against me, giving me little excuse not to make this post and some more.
This will hopefully be the first of many posts about movie clichés, unless I get kidnapped by aliens wearing the same clothing, hairstyles, and jewellery.