Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Best Film I've Seen So Far In 2011

Wow. We're coming up on three months since I last updated this blog. I don't know what to say. It's true this has been a busy time (I got engaged back in January, so there's wedding planning; work has been busy; I'm voluntarily giving up more of my free time in order to be social like a normal person), but I don't think that really accounts for my silence. I've watched a metric shit-ton of movies in the past few months, so it's not like I'm lacking for topics, either. It's just... I either haven't had a lot to say, or haven't been able to effectively express the things I wanted to say. I tried doing a 2010 horror movie roundup in January as I've traditionally done, but then realized I hadn't seen enough new releases to make it worthwhile. I tried to do a general best of 2010 list, got halfway into and realized I had nothing interesting to say about any of the films and quit.

It's weird. Back in December I did two of my favorite posts ever, but it feels like that dried the well. And not in a bad way; I'm still having an intensely gratifying experience watching a lot of great movies, I just don't feel the need to share my opinions as often as I used to. In some ways that feels to me like maybe that means I'm in a healthy, happy place where I'm content keeping my hobby to myself.

On the other hand, I do miss some of the back and forth on here, and I do miss being able to go back and see where my head was at at different points in my life, especially when it comes to movies (although Twitter gives me a micro version of that). Plus, Your Vice is a Horror Movie Marathon and Only I Have the Netflix Queue is insanely fun for me every year, and it would be stupid to have this blog be completely inactive the other 11 months of the year. So here's a short post to keep this baby from dying completely. I'm not really ready to do any full-on critical analysis, so just consider this a brief recommendation of what has been my favorite film so far of 2011. (We'll see if this changes if Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ever makes it to D.C.).

I caught Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte this past Sunday and was completely blown away. It contains no dialogue of substance, and there were no subtitles to translate what little dialogue there was (and no need for subtitles). The film is about an old man, and then about a baby goat, and then a tree, and finally it's about smoke. And what it implies is that all four things are essentially different stages of the same being; whether that connection is meant to literally imply reincarnation, or if the interconnectedness of everything is just metaphorical isn't really of importance to me. Each story flows into the next and into the next in such a beautiful and elegant way that the effect is near-transcendental. (This is high praise coming from an atheist).

This is all told in a serene, deliberate manner that I suspect most folks will find painfully boring. I wouldn't blame them. For those of us who can tune in to what Frammartino is doing, however, the film is hypnotic. It can also be surprisingly (unintentionally?) funny and is deeply harrowing at one point (a scene involving a baby goat getting lost in the woods, which was almost too painful to watch), but it's goals are bigger and more ambitious than that, I think it is attempting to be an almost spiritual experience. If I read some of the imagery correctly, the film's ethos might be something like when people tell you they are "spiritual, but not religious," only a lot less insufferable than that.
There is a lot of masterful visual storytelling involved here; I've already mentioned that the story and its ideas are conveyed without dialogue. There's little of anything resembling a traditional plot. Frammartino does a lot of wonderful things with precise framing, complexly choreographed long takes, and a lot of simple but profound cause-and-effect editing. Already one scene is becoming (justly) famous amongst cinephiles, a long-ass take involving a stubborn sheep dog, his flock, a procession of worshipers reenacting the crucifixion, and a precariously-parked truck, that keeps building and developing in unexpected ways. The staging of the shot is so mind-bogglingly complex yet so perfect that you sit in awe of the entire sequence. (It apparently took something like 21 takes to pull off). It also has the best, most precise acting by a dog you will ever see in your life.

Through style alone, Frammartino elevates the natural and the everyday into something fascinating and profound. (My favorite quote about the film might be AO Scott's "You have never seen anything like this movie, even though what it shows you has been there all along.") For those out there willing to try something new, I can't recommend Le Quattro Volte enough.

As for going forward, I'm hoping to keep updating before the horror movie marathoning in October, at least sporadically, but I need some ideas. Feel free to chime in. Neil Young has a new Archives Series release coming out in a month or so, so I may use that as an excuse to catch up on a few of the additions I made after completing Journey Through the Past last year. And I might do a similar project with another group or artist I'm into (although definitely not one with as huge of a catalog as Neil's), so let me know if you think Warren Zevon, Smashing Pumpkins (and anything Billy Corgan related), or Steely Dan (plus Fagen & Becker's solo albums) might make for a good retrospective. (I also thought about doing Opeth, but I don't think enough folks listen to them to care). This is supposed to be a movie blog, though, so if anybody has any good ideas for movie-related posts, I'd love to hear them.


Mr. Subtlety said...

Well, as you know, I'd be way into a Zevon Retrospective. I own all his albums (except Mutineer, for some reason. Hm.) and can promise you that each one holds unexpected moments of greatness worth some thought and study (they also vary widely in style, which makes the retrospective angle a little more interesting). Glad to see you're keeping up the blog even sporadically.

Speaking of which, I finally took you up on your advice and started my own place to post my ramblings...

Dan said...

Yeah, as far as I'm concerned, Zevon never made an album that wasn't good. Even his albums that don't stand out as flawless classics are, like, better than 90% or more of most rock albums and only seem weaker in comparison to his best work.

I'm super excited that you started a blog. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the movies you've discussed. so far, but I will comment the hell out of that shit as soon as you cover something I have seen.

Shenan said...

Come on Dan, now don't tell me Hobo With A Shotgun didn't get all kinds of deep thoughts about the nature of cinema festering in that head of yours. That's like, 3 posts worth right there.

I kid. But in all seriousness, maybe a themed film retrospective, as you've done in the past (if you want to keep this more about you and the movies, as the blog name implies)? Like when we both wrote our takes on a bunch of Truffaut movies, or when you did Shitty Movies By Great Directors, etc?

Maybe you could get someone else in on the action, and make each other watch movies that one of you likes but the other was never crazy about- Patrick and I would sometimes do that in college towards the end of seeing whether our view of the movie changed, or whether we understood it in a different way, after watching it with someone who did appreciate it, and could explain why. Sometimes someone's enthusiasm for shit you don't have a taste for can totally make you appreciate it.

I'd suggest Sex And The City 2, but I don't believe I know anyone in the flesh who's actually a fan...

I'll keep trying to think of ideas for you because I like reading your blog and frankly, there has just not been enough on here to distract me from work these past few months. Of course, I'm not one to talk about not updating one's blog.

Shenan said...

Another idea: watch movies that were adaptations of something else (a book would be most likely, but stageplays, other movies, art?- there's a term in poetry called "ekphrastic" which means based/about on a piece of art, don't know if there's a film equivalent-, etc) and talk about how the storytelling methods mirror/contrast/are more or less effective than each other vis-a-vis the constructs of the medium the artist is working with. Different ways the tone is set, the characters are revealed/built, etc.

Or: along the "avant retard" vein, watch movies that are objectively bad (well, as much as something can be objectively bad....maybe "technically" bad in terms of one or more areas, be it story, directing, acting, etc) but that somehow works anyway in spite of itself (or maybe because of its flaws?) because of the experience it creates? Basically I want you to be able to use the term "avant retard" more than you currently do.

Or: keyword roulette. You know how back in the day Chris netflix-searched the word "rocket" and added every movie that came up to his queue? You could have some fun with that.

Shenan said...

Or, and this might not be intellectually stimulating enough but it's the kind of shit I love to do so if you blogged about it, I'd have an excuse to do it: the only pairing better than dinner-and-a-movie is booze-and-a-movie. And just like you said sneaking a flask of bourbon into Walk The Line felt really appropriate to the subject matter, there's all sorts of fun things you can dream up to put in a glass that get you into the spirit of the movie (using ingredients indigenous to the movie's locale, making puns on the movies name like drinking Black Velvets while watching Blue Velvet, etc). It has the potential to fuel content on my blog too, so that's win-win. Once your liver recovers from this last weekend, I mean. We could even make it a series of parties/gatherings we have.

And your thing where you think about the movie and write stuff about it too.

Dan said...

I think a project or theme would be a good way to force myself to blog more, but I need a good idea. the booze thing is cute but sounds more like something you'd do, and I didn't coin the term "avant retard" so I don't want to take credit for it.

I did have one idea, which was gonna be called something like "The Poetry of Terror," where I would look at a short moment or even a single shot from different horror movies I admire that I felt perfectly exemplified what I love about horror movies. I guess it could be used as a spring board to talk about different aspects of horror movies I admire, but I also wonder if it could get repetitive, or it might not be interesting in the first place.

Shenan said...

A) I think it sounds interesting.

B) But there's only one way to tell. Do it!

Shenan said...

oh and C) You should definitely include the candlestick from Bird With The Crystal Plumage in that.