Overlord

Monday, 30 April 2007

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #382: Stuart Cooper’s Overlord.

I was con­tact­ed by a NYC mar­ket­ing firm to re­view Overlord, which was re­leased on the 17th. So hey, free DVD. This is the sec­ond time that some­one has hap­pened along my movie re­views and asked me to do one for them. I must be do­ing some­thing right. Incidentally, this film will be shown at the Cleveland Cinematheque in October. Catch it if you can.

Overlord has an in­ter­est­ing cin­e­mat­ic niche. It is com­posed, in sig­nif­i­cant amounts, of World War II stock footage [most­ly from the Imperial War Museum]. This footage has been seamed to­geth­er with plot-ori­ent­ed shots that were de­lib­er­ate­ly cin­e­matographed to look like stock footage. John Alcott [Kubrick’s reg­u­lar choice for cin­e­matog­ra­pher] was in charge of this, so qual­i­ty is ex­pect­ed and de­liv­ered. The sto­ry fol­lows a young British man who is du­ti­ful­ly mak­ing his way to­ward the war, cul­mi­nat­ing in D-Day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that does such a good job putting its main char­ac­ter in con­text with the events in the world around him.

The film has an ob­jec­tiv­i­ty and a sub­jec­tiv­i­ty that rub again­st each oth­er like flint and tin­der. The ob­jec­tive vec­tor con­cerns the mind-bog­gling­ly vast re­sources and ac­tiv­i­ties as­so­ci­at­ed with the war ef­fort; from civil­ians fight­ing fires af­ter air raids to di­ve bombers go­ing af­ter bat­tle­ships and de­stroy­ers, to the mus­ter­ing and trans­porta­tion of troops troops troops. It is like an 80 min­ute ver­sion of a Frank Capra “Why We Fight” mi­nus the forced jovial voice-over and ed­i­to­ri­al pro­pa­gan­da. The film is book­end­ed with long, word­less se­quences of this ac­tion; in the be­gin­ning it im­mers­es the view­er, but by the end it has a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent fla­vor.

This whole el­e­ment is so dense that with­out the sub­jec­tive an­gle to bal­ance, a view­er could eas­i­ly be­come over­whelmed. Tom Beddows adds the hu­man el­e­ment. He be­gins the film as a man with re­gard for the act of de­fend­ing his coun­try that has like­ly been passed down by Tom Beddows, Sr. who fought in the First World War. By the end, this re­gard has been steadi­ly de­grad­ed through dis­gruntle­ment and cyn­i­cism; Beddows be­comes com­plete­ly ni­hilis­tic [burn­ing his let­ters to home] — all be­fore he’s left Britain. This cor­re­lates with the in­ter­cut ob­jec­tive stock footage el­e­ments. The de­hu­man­ized war ma­chine de­hu­man­izes. It is a bit rem­i­nis­cent of Douglas Adams’ Total Perspective Vortex, sans hu­mor.

I should clar­i­fy what I mean when I use the word ob­jec­tive. The clips them­selves are doc­u­ments, with on­ly the most ves­ti­gial res­o­nances of pro­pa­gan­da. The way they are used by Cooper is not ob­jec­tive, they are meant to wind the in­ter­nal springs of Beddows to their break­ing point. Cooper’s mo­ti­va­tion is a pro­duct of the Vietnam era; look­ing at World War II from this per­spec­tive is quite in­ter­est­ing. The train­ing se­quences, and Beddows trans­for­ma­tion in­to near ro­boti­cism be­come a bit sin­is­ter; al­most as if some­one of com­plete in­dif­fer­ence has planned each el­e­ment in the de­hu­man­iza­tion process. In the end even Tom Beddows dreams are tinged with an in­dif­fer­ent re­gard to the death he knows is com­ing. It’s not sur­pris­ing that the war gets to him be­fore he gets to it. 

Criterion Essay by Kent Jones.
• Criterion Press Release with links to many re­views and oth­er press in­for­ma­tion in a .zip file.
• Clips: 1 and 2.

Chiara Giovando and Daniel Higgs

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Chiara Giovando and Daniel Higgs Last night was the first re­al night of sum­mer for me. Filled with mu­sic, fa­mil­iar faces and late-burn­ing eye­balls. Asterisk Gallery had a fair­ly im­promp­tu show fea­tur­ing Chiara Giovando and Daniel Higgs [lead singer of Lungfish]. Ha Ha La was the first act, a sort of Daniel Johnston with a dash of Sigur Ros and [when-used] Jesus and Mary Chain gui­tar. Ted Flynn played next, a bit more stan­dard­ized root­sy sort of set. I took some video. My bro Wasco played next, his Scarcity im­pro­vi­sa­tion­al ex­per­i­ments re­main in­tense. Here’s his en­tire set, split in two for YouTube. Part 1, Part 2.

Andrew Klimek was next, and he did things with bal­loons and gui­tars that are like­ly il­le­gal in sev­er­al coun­tries. Chiara Giovando and Daniel Higgs were last, and hope­ful­ly enough do­na­tions were given to help them on their way to Pittsburgh. The duo was mind­blow­ing. I would have tak­en video but my cam­era wasn’t up to record­ing in the dim light. Banjo, vi­o­lin, a capel­la, mouth harp and what I think was a spring drum gave a world-folk vibe to their set, but this retro-hip­pie-ness was dis­tinct­ly jux­ta­posed with lyrics that showed a def­i­nite punk edge. It end­ed up be­ing more ma­ture than both, an af­fir­ma­tion of love in con­test with world­ly ex­pe­ri­enced cyn­ic­sim.

There were cam­eras [in­clud­ing mine] all over this show. Sometimes I won­der if peo­ple are more in­ter­est­ed in im­i­tat­ing Lou Muenz [in­clud­ing me] than watch­ing the show.

I hitched a ride over to Duck Island to see Seers and made it home close to 2, I think. I saw just about every per­son that I care to see in the Cleveland mu­sic scene last night. We’re all anx­ious to get out and be some rock, I think. Maybe I’m just pro­ject­ing.

Free Haircut

Thursday, 26 April 2007

I got an un­ex­pect­ed free hair­cut to­day from the ladies who run the Gentlemen’s Barber Shop in Tremont. Apparently they’ve got­ten some busi­ness from my Tremonter post­ing about the place. I tried to talk them out of it, but there was no dice. They wouldn’t even take a tip. I’m just glad to know that I helped out a lo­cal busi­ness. I fi­nal­ly got back a few pieces that I took to have framed at Kelly-Randall Gallery awhile back. I got an un­ex­pect­ed 20% off there since I’m a res­i­dent and have got­ten sev­er­al things framed there now. Living in Tremont has its un­ex­pect­ed perks.

One of those perks is not near­ly gag­ging from steel mill sul­phur first thing in the morn­ing af­ter leav­ing my apart­ment though.

Paul Robeson: Outsider — Body & Soul/​Borderline

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #371: Oscar Micheaux’s Body & Soul and Kenneth MacPherson’s Borderline.

Body & Soul

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Paul Robeson and Oscar Micheaux are leg­endary, so I was ea­ger to see what they could do in col­lab­o­ra­tion. Body & Soul is Robeson’s first screen ap­pear­ance, and quite an open­ing act. The sto­ry is about a ar­che­typ­al hus­tler who’s hus­tle hap­pens to in­volve be­ing an ar­che­typ­al black preacher. There’s hypocrisy, drunk­en­ness, rape, and mur­der; just from the preacher! The film is strong through­out, but pass­es the strength be­tween Robeson’s com­plete trans­for­ma­tion in­to a Jekyll & Hyde char­ac­ter and Micheaux’s fa­cil­i­ty with shot se­lec­tion, cin­e­matog­ra­phy and edit­ing. Body & Soul are typ­i­cal­ly bound to­geth­er in mu­tu­al­ly pos­i­tive terms [e.g. Good for body & soul.] but in this film they are op­pos­ing forces. An easy anal­o­gy can al­so be made: Robeson as Body; his phys­i­cal pres­ence com­plete­ly mag­net­ic. This leaves Soul for Micheaux, who is able to in­ti­mate vi­o­lence with a shot of shoes walk­ing through a door, or an in­ter-ti­tle that sim­ply says “Later.”

The film on­ly fails at the fin­ish line. The dé­noue­ment seemed like a grand cop-out to me. For the ma­jor­i­ty of the film, the dra­ma plays out as an ex­plic­it crit­i­cism of min­istry and an im­plic­it cri­tique of cul­tur­al lar­ce­ny in gen­er­al. The fact that Micheaux felt the need to end with a “just play­in’ y’all” doesn’t in­di­cate a fail­ure of ide­al­ism to me, but like­ly a prac­ti­cal un­der­stand­ing of the re­cep­tion the film would have got­ten with a less fairy-tale con­clu­sion. Nevertheless, I feel like it is fair­ly well neutered by the last ten min­utes, much like Campion’s The Piano was spayed in the same way.

The jazz score for the Criterion re­lease is mag­nif­i­cent. There’s some smooth jazz, acid jazz, chain-gang­ing, and gospel echoes through­out, many times mar­velous­ly jux­ta­posed to em­pha­size sub­text that an au­di­ence used to talkies might typ­i­cal­ly miss.

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Oscar Micheaux’s Body & Soul: Visual Representation and Social Construction of African-American Identity
Comprehensive Oscar Micheaux
Article about the jazz score for the new print.
• YouTube clip of Body & Soul.

Borderline

borderline1.jpg

Borderline is a very dif­fer­ent film from Body & Soul. It’s a British avant-garde film about an in­ter-racial love tri­an­gle. Robeson’s role in this film is much less sub­stan­tive, but no less ef­fec­tive. This ef­fort­less ef­fi­ca­cy is en­abled by the sto­ry­line and its in­evitable racial­ly-charged con­fronta­tion. This film is fair­ly so­phis­ti­cat­ed, it us­es mon­tage lib­er­al­ly, but in a very re­fined man­ner. I’ve nev­er seen a film where com­plete­ly mo­tion­less fig­ures can make a scene feel un­ut­ter­ably vi­o­lent. When the storm ac­tu­al­ly comes, it is al­most a re­lief; the sub­con­scious clues sup­plied by the mon­tage-fore­shad­ow­ing turn the screen ten­sion in­to re­al ten­sion held by the view­er. MacPherson’s use of mon­tage of­ten blends with the ac­tion in­stead of stand­ing sep­a­rate­ly as a sort of para­ble like some­thing out of Vertov. Thus, the pop of a cham­pag­ne cork and the dark stain it leaves on the wall sug­gests a gun­shot and blood­stain, and a wom­an trim­ming a hat with shears im­plies the thoughts of the man play­ing with a knife in the shot that pre­cedes it.

The jazz score for this film is al­so very good, but even with­out it the amount of sound present in the ac­tion of this silent film is as­tound­ing. Unfortunately the tech­ni­cal as­pects of the film are its great­est strength. The plot is prob­a­bly a bit too com­pli­cat­ed to be ef­fec­tive­ly por­trayed in a silent film, and while Robeson’s role is ac­tu­al­ized through a sin­gle punch, the abrupt end­ing and near­ly non-ex­is­tent moral would be bet­ter suit­ed to a doc­u­men­tary and not a dra­ma. Perhaps this Modern, am­bigu­ous end­ing was pre­cise­ly the point, but if there is no par­tic­u­lar point to be made, why make a movie that so des­per­ate­ly seems to need one?

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Screenonline syn­op­sis and mul­ti­me­dia. Unfortunately the clips are on­ly avail­able to cer­tain Brits.
Luxonline History.

The Children of Húrin

Sunday, 22 April 2007

As I wait for Amazon to ship me the lat­est Tolkien re­lease, The Children of Húrin, I find my­self dis­agree­ing with sev­er­al re­views I’ve read, in terms of plac­ing this work in con­text with his oth­er stuff. The lede in the Washington Post re­view:

If any­one still labors un­der the delu­sion that J.R.R. Tolkien was a writer of twee fan­tasies for chil­dren, this nov­el should set them straight.

From the Salon re­view:

If you’re look­ing for the ac­ces­si­bil­i­ty, lyri­cal sweep and above all the op­ti­mism of “Lord of the Rings,” well, you’d bet­ter go back and read it again.

This idea that Tolkien’s works are main­ly pos­i­tive, light-heart­ed ad­ven­tures is so su­per­fi­cial that it dri­ves an am­a­teur Tolkien schol­ar like me up the wall. If you judge Middle-earth by the aber­rant text of The Hobbit [a tale writ­ten for his chil­dren; in­ten­tion­al­ly dif­fer­ent from the ac­tu­al Middle-earth that was first put to scraps of pa­per dur­ing the First World War] then I can see where you’d get that idea. The film treat­ment of LotR was re­worked so ex­ten­sive­ly be­cause the book was too bleak for mass ap­peal as a film.

Galadriel speaks Tolkien’s over­ar­ch­ing world­view when she says

Through the ages of the world we have fought the long de­feat.

near­ly ver­ba­tim from his own words on his faith. More on that here.

Tolkien’s works are thor­ough­ly Modernist in their tone and fo­cus. This is some­what wry since much of the tone is tak­en from the most an­cient Northern tales. I think that the re­view­ers are right in point­ing out that The Children of Húrin is a bleak tale, but have made a mis­step in equat­ing it as ex­cep­tion­al rather than stan­dard. Nits picked.

Musical Windfall

Thursday, 19 April 2007

I went to the Beachland tonight to see Blk Tygr and end­ed up with a cart­load of lo­cal mu­sic. I ei­ther know enough peo­ple, or the right peo­ple enough to end up with stuff just get­ting hand­ed to me. Of course, I al­so stopped by Music Saves and picked up three CDs I’ve been mean­ing to get. All told with the night over, I end­ed up with a Roué disc that I’ve been mean­ing to get for two years, Humphry Clinker’s first LP, the Land of Buried Treasure disc, the new sin­gle from The Very Knees, and a Henry James LP. Now that all of the vol­un­teer stuff I’ve been work­ing on is wrap­ping up, I’m ready to be free to go out at night to all the great shows that go on around town.

During the sum­mer I’m go­ing to re­vamp this site in or­der to fo­cus more on my cul­tur­al nu­tri­tion, If what I plan goes through and I have the gump­tion to keep it that way, this might look more like a zine than per­son­al ram­blings. I don’t know if that is good or bad, but since O/​M is over 5 years old, I think it is time for some sort of change.

Bumper Stickers

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

I don’t dri­ve very much any­more, but the last two days I’ve been at the Tri-C Corporate College West tak­ing a class. What I’ve no­ticed on the dri­ve to Westlake the­se two days is a pre­pon­der­ance of W04 stick­ers, Kerry-Edwards stick­ers and now the odd Obama08 stick­er. I’m pret­ty sure I’ve bitched about this be­fore, but I can’t as­cribe the re­main­ing bumper stick­ers to re­moval-lazi­ness. If par­ty-line-toe­ing and bi­par­ti­san di­vi­sive­ness is so strong among the gener­ic cit­i­zen that peo­ple can’t let go 2.5 years af­ter the fact, it isn’t sur­pris­ing that the peo­ple we’ve elect­ed can’t or won’t get any­thing ac­com­plished.