Thus far, my faves:
- North By Northwest
- The 39 Steps
- Strangers on a Train
- The Lady Vanishes
- To Catch a Thief
- The Birds
- Rear Window
Thus far, my faves:
As with the previous one, same here: not enough time back when I had just seen it, so here are my notes for There Will Be Blood. In a word, this one is rich in identification, or reciprocation, of the enemy other. Familial rivalry and deceit.
Son’s baptism in oil at beginning; Daniel buries Eli in oily mud, slaps him repeatedly; Eli baptizes Daniel with water “in Jesus’ blood,” slaps Daniel repeatedly.
Daniel & son – repetitive shots toward beginning, repeated dialogue – “So.”
H.W. – driven deaf and (at first) mad by oil; Daniel – driven mad eventually by oil.
Daniel – feeds H.W. liquor as baby; mixes liquor with H.W.’s milk after accident
Film begins in silence – 20 min.? – H.W.’s deafness
Daniel’s confession/conversion by Eli; Eli’s confession/recantation by Daniel.
Eli & broth Paul; Daniel & “half-brother”
Eli overcoming his father – “You are weak!”; Daniel overcoming Eli at end – “you are weak,” “beaten by Paul”; Daniel’s vindication of “brother’s” deceit by overcoming Eli, who is “wekaer than Paul”; Daniel & Eli – black through most of film – one in oil, one in church garb
I’m putting down here my bare-bones notes for this great film, because I didn’t get around to filling them in back when my memory was fresh. At some point a repeat-viewing might allow some expansion. For now, do your best making sense of these, if you want.
“Hold still” – twice in first moments of film. Recall this later when Anton & Bell sit in front of same TV.
“Baby, things happen. I can’t take ‘em back.” – Llewelyn
Sharing the same milk, same reflection: “He’s seen the same things I’ve seen, and it’s certainly made an impression on me.” – Bell
Simplicity of choice: Llewelyn’s choice of rooms, rates.
Coen supporting characters – quirky-looking: gas station attendant, art lady, hotel lady, clothing store manager, Llewelyn’s mother-in-law, roadside assistant
Reflection: TV, hotel window, hotel mirror, truck side mirror, broken mirror in second hotel, shop window
Red quarter in Anton’s pocket
Woody Harrelson is country meets city, or country in the city.
“Doesn’t have a sense of humor.” – ultimate evil in Coens’ world
Llewelyn is “retired welder”
Llewelyn & Anton share a phone call.
“Can’t make up somethin’ like that. How dare you to even try?…Can’t help but laughin’ myself sometimes.”
Camera tiring of watching? It looks away in skyscraper murder, second roadside murder, hotel massacre.
“Who’d do such a thing? How do you defense against it?”
“What you got, ain’t nothin’ new. Can’t stop what’s comin’. No waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.” Rural wisdom.
Listening to The Kinks’ “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround” on the way to work has a way of making one think of The Darjeeling Limited, particularly if, after listening to the album, one listens to “This Time Tomorrow”, “Strangers”, and “Powerman” (in that order). The way that the three songs compose the basic structure of the film is provocative. The “Strangers” sequence is the climactic one, and I realized something about it that I want to “publish” here for my reference. Previous Wes Anderson films are structurally very similar, as pointed out elsewhere. There is a basic community often coupled with a plot to expand or renew itself, a social break, and finally the sought-after renewal. Consistent within that rubric is that the relational conflict occurs between members of the established community.
In Bottle Rocket, you basically have Dignan, Anthony, and Bob vying for inclusion in “The Crew”. Midway through, Bob takes off after Dignan’s insensitivity and Dignan punches and leaves Anthony after Anthony “leaves a $500 tip for the housekeeper.” Rushmore begins with Max attending his beloved school and presiding over innumerable clubs. At the prospect of a tighter group, he and Dirk team up with Harold Bloom and Ms. Cross. Betrayals reign when Max and Bloom wrong Dirk and Ms. Cross along with each other. Tenenbaums has the low point of Royal’s lie revealed, Margot’s other life uncovered, and Richie’s attempted suicide. The break in Life Aquatic is a bit more complex, with Ned’s death, Eleanor abandoning Steve, and the kidnapping of the bond company stooge.
The break in TDL is striking in that it is essentially vicarious. The three brothers get in a fight, have their cobra taken away, and are ejected from the train. The fight is superficial, though. We hear, “I love you!” and, “I love you, too, but I’m gonna mace you in the face!” It seems to serve more as comic relief than real conflict. But after their expulsion, they see three boys trying to cross a river. Francis’ cynical “Look at these assholes” remark is full of irony that the three brothers can’t notice, because they are quickly pulled into a rescue attempt. When one of the boys dies, the film, like no Anderson film before it, is brought to a standstill. The break that takes place is as violent as the death it portrays, and it is threefold.
First, there is the return to the boy’s village and the presentation of the boy’s body to his father. Interestingly, only his father is shown, and that at some length. Second, there is the funeral, with the slow-motion long shot of the brothers traversing across the solemn scene to The Kinks. This is the heart of the break, in all its concentrated glory, and the brothers are together, in every sense. Phase three is even more abrupt of a shift than phase one. As they sit, we are immediately taken back to the backseat of the limousine a year prior to the film’s main story.
At no point in this shift (the single shift comprised by the three above phases) is there a loss of community among the brothers. What they experience is vicarious (the loss of one of the young boys) and memorial (recalling the last time they looked death in the face, when they were also together). This film has the trademark Anderson loss taking place after the funeral of their father but before they meet on the train. In a word, it is never shown to the viewer, for the first time in his films. The vibe I get from it is, it happened, and it led to terrible things, and you don’t want to see it. Francis’ motorcycle accident is not unlike Richie’s attempted suicide, from the sounds of it. When Francis unwraps himself, surrounded by his brothers, they and we can see the effects of the period in between.
The more I watch and think on this film, the more I respect it. I find it interesting that, as I look over course descriptions in various cinema departments in the area, it’s The Life Aquatic that is on the viewing list as an Anderson film. It seems possible that it’s more complex than some of his other stuff, but not better. Hopefully TDL will make it on one of those lists in its stead some time.
Like the previous entry on Pan’s Labyrinth, Gilda is another film that is all about sight. But that’s about where the similarities end. More specifically, Gilda contains heavy traces of voyeurism. From all that I can tell, the film was even marketed as such; a sort of “Come and watch Rita Hayworth shake those famous hips,” etc. Ballin’s office, all throughout, is a viewpoint for the whole club, with its constantly opening and closing blinds, a 180-degree view, and even a high-tech audio system transmitting the sounds of the club to the office. Obviously Gilda herself is the object of focus not only for most of the films other characters (almost no other female is shown on camera – as if they could have competed), but the camera itself can’t seem to keep from pointing straight at her. The viewer’s hunch is eventually confirmed that her previous occupation had her fishing for ones from an all-man crowd. One scene has her falling back into her old habit of stripping while singing and dancing, as men lose whatever trace they still had of self-control. (They’re all too willing to assist with her stubborn zipper.) Gilda enjoys being watched. Whether she is dancing solo or with a partner, coming home late with new men, sashaying down a hall, or grooming herself, she wants nothing more than to be swooned over. Her first appearance in the film has her swooping into the screen, hair-first, almost as if posing for the very real photo shoot she is in.
Bannin, on the other hand, enjoys watching – almost enjoys watching Johnny more than Gilda. Bannin’s sight signifies his upper hand, or his power. After commissioning Johnny with the task of watching Gilda for him, Bannin reminds Johnny, “I’ll be watching.” Johnny seems only slightly aware of the disturbing fact that Bannin is more excited by watching another man watch his wife than he is by watching his wife himself. Once Bannin sees Johnny in a compromising position with Gilda, he flees in a setup-scene designed to deceive Johnny’s vision. Once Bannin is believed to be dead, the camera shows us Johnny and Gilda in the courthouse marrying. The camera view is from the outside of an upper window of the building, recalling the upstairs view of the casino from Bannin’s office window. The view implies to the viewer that Bannin is quite alive, and watching.
As mentioned, power is another major theme. From the film’s earliest scenes, one of the main characters is Bannin’s walking stick, which doubles as a protruding blade at Bannin’s pressing of a button. That the stick/blade is phallic goes without saying: it wields Bannin’s power, it extends, and its blade signifies castration of the other. Bannin calls it his “friend,” and proclaims, “It speaks when I wish it to speak, it is silent when I wish it to be silent.” Johnny quickly identifies himself with the stick/blade: “You have no idea how faithful and obedient I can be.” Johnny takes advantage of Bannin’s infatuation with him by lining himself up with Bannin’s instrument of male dominance. At one point while Johnny and Bannin are discussing the “friend” in Gilda’s presence, Gilda unwittingly asks whether the friend is a he or a she. When Bannin asks Johnny to answer the question, Johnny says it’s a she, “because it looks like one thing, then right before your eyes, it becomes another.” The shifting gender of the cane correlates with Bannin’s sexual orientation, if we can say so, shifting between Johnny and Gilda, as Johnny and Gilda battle each other’s love and hate for the other.
The theme of power develops as the film moves on and becomes something like sado-masochism. After seeing Gilda for the first time, Johnny narrates, “I wanted to go back up and hit her…and him, too.” Earlier, Johnny’s flexed his power simply by calling “cut” during the dealer’s shuffle at the blackjack table. His desire to annoy became a desire to inflict actual pain. When Bannin questions Johnny regarding his feelings for Gilda, Johnny tells him not to worry, since he hates Gilda. Bannin points out that that is what worries him: “Hate is a very exciting emotion.” Gilda later confesses to Johnny, “I hate you so much, I think I’m going to die from it.” Gilda even masochistically prophesies her own demise, declaring in a toast, “Death to the wench,” knowing that “the wench” referred to her as the woman who had injured and embittered Johnny.
The film features a token Shakespearean fool, a little man who shines shoes and dries hands in the washroom. The film’s only source of pure wisdom, he provides a worm’s-eye view of Johnny, Gilda, and Bannin from the beginning. He points out his very lack of status (i.e. lack of power) actually renders him impervious to any of Johnny’s attempts to get rid of him. He observes that Bannin lets Gilda out of his sights, leaving her exposed and vulnerable to Johnny’s advances (though she doesn’t seem to mind). In the same way, at the film’s end, Bannin foolishly abandons his cane, substituting for it a much smaller instrument of power – a gun – only to have the wise fool take a hold of the cane, extend the blade, and overcome Bannin from the back. Interestingly, Bannin’s final words, interrupted by the blade, are, “I told you I’d be looking–” Up to the end, Bannin’s faith is in his sight. The ironic ending has him stabbed in his back, too late for him to learn that he can’t look everywhere at once.
Have been sitting on some notes for way too long, now. Since they won’t turn into the well-crafted essays I had planned, some disjointed thoughts will have to do. First, then, is Pan’s Labyrinth. It was clearly the most imaginative film of 2006, and pretty much all the credit apparently goes to Guillermo del Toro who, along with fellow Spanish-speakers Alfonso Cuaron and Pedro Almodovar, dominated that year in cinema.
The use of foreshadow and repetitive theme was striking in PL. Early in the film, Ofelia finds in the road a piece of stone with a strange design. It turns out to fit into the face of a nearby ancient statue – and it’s the missing eye. For one thing, this is the first of multiple scenes depicting fragmented faces. Later, the creature Ofelia encounters in the banquet room is apparently without eyes. Once it awakens, it places two eyeballs sitting on a plate into empty sockets in the center of its hands. At the film’s end, the antagonist is shot in the eye. Further, these scenes give particular attention to the eyes of the characters. This is a theme that extends beyond the merely physical. Sight plays an important role. Because of the illicit nature of the resistance fighters, their success depends on evading the sights of the Captain and his men. Without giving a long list, the film has numerous scenes with one character in the dark, hiding behind something while an evil character operates nearby unknowingly. The narration confirms this theme, stating of Ofelia, “She left behind small traces visible only to those who know where to look.”As for the fragmented faces, they recur later when the Captain destroys a man’s face with a glass bottle and then has his own face split open at the mouth, trying artificially to suture it through a backwards reflection (i.e. a false view) of his face in a mirror.
Related to the above, blood plays an important role. The beginning and end of the film feature it prominently and explicitly. The examples in the above paragraph obviously portray a shedding of blood. Ofelia is forced to prick herself, giving her own blood for her unborn brother’s survival – another foreshadow of spilling her own blood for him later to a much greater extent. More subtly, Ofelia and “hermano” are connected as siblings, where the image of blood illustrates the theme of identification. The identification of evil is fought – such as the creature who kills and eats children. The unborn child is identified with the root when the root is cared for and when it is thrown into the fire. Mercedes and Pedro, the resistance members, are brother and sister. Ofelia and Mercedes are given keys that give them access to salvation, and each has a knife that they are forced to use.
Choice and obedience are also major themes – obedience out of compulsion or for its own sake vs. free obedience. The Captain demands obedience from the doctor for its own sake, but the doctor, freely, disobeys orders for the greater cause of human life. Ofelia learns from her disobedience toward the fawn and chooses to give herself for her brother. I wish I had more time to expound and develop this, but I don’t, so this is just serving to record these thoughts.
Finally, I was struck by the similarity of this film with Cuaron’s Children of Men from the same year. Despite obvious differences, both told stories of sacrifice for the sake of unborn and newborn infants. I’m not sure the significance of this fact, if any, but it’s at least interesting. Just as Theo gave himself completely for the prospect of a live child, the first in eighteen years, Ofelia proclaims, “Yo sacrifico,” for what the Captain describes as that “brat you barely know.” All of the cinematic observations aside, there is something unspeakably beautiful about this, and it’s something that occurs all too rarely in films. But to see it coupled with such aesthetic competence raises it to the sublime.
UPDATE 6/20/08: For Wim, and everyone else who wants to read a truly good apologia for this film, you can find it here.