Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Moveable Fest, Week 14: Night of the Hunter, Upstream Color, Bottle Rocket

Would you trust that face? (Hint: no)
Week 14: Tim's Choice

Night of the Hunter

A fake, murderous preacher Rev. Powell learns that an imprisoned father has the money from his robbery hidden somewhere near his home - we quickly learn it's in the thief's 4-year-old daughter's doll. After Powell woos the townsfolk and, tragically, the children's mother, the kids have to take off downriver, where they join the legions of children orphaned/abandoned by the Depression as they beg at doorways. Eventually they find a place in Rachel Cooper's home for abandoned children, and in her their sole protector. But preacher-man ain't giving up easy. This starkly vivid film, the only one directed by Charles Laughton, is still generally frightening and affecting - while I was wary in advance of being manipulated by sentimentality, the children and their sole, elderly protector are genuinely moving:

Rachel: "It's a hard world for little things" (I burst into tears).
Rachel: "You know, when you're little, you have more endurance than God is ever to grant you again. Children are man at his strongest." (*sobs harder*).

There was a fair bit of cheering going on at the end of this film.

Upstream Color

After watching Primer, and then this, it's safe to say that Carruth don't make no films for no idiots. So: a drug dealer feeds wormy things to a woman named Kris, she signs all her possessions over to him, then a mysterious mastermind extracts the worms and feeds them to pigs, and he makes weird music, and Kris only remembers this when she meets a guy called Jeff, and eventually the life-cycle of the organism and the pair's involvement come kind-of full circle. I think. Don't quote me. If you can, turn off the front of your brain and let the movie synthesize an experience for you. You'll get enough narrative cohesiveness to make it satisfying, but really it's just best to treat this film as a high quality immersion experience. I enjoyed this more than Primer, I think, because there's less high-speed science-mumble and more concentration on images. Looking forward to his next venture.

Bottle Rocket

Anthony, Dignan and Bob (the first two played by Luke and Owen Wilson - comparing noses is part of the fun) are learning to be crooks. They rob a bookstore (the staff are pretty chilled and don't really mind), then they hang out in motels and don't do a lot, until they get involved with a real criminal and are suddenly in over their heads. There's a lot to love in this film - it doesn't push too hard with what it has to work with, it's enjoyably meandering, and there's plenty of Wes Anderson happy moments:

Bob:"Why is there tape on your nose?"
Dignan: "EXACTLY."

And I kept forgetting Applejack's name and calling him Bananatango. I knew it had a fruit in it.Bad with names.

A Moveable Fest, Week 13: Celine et Julie Vont en Bateau, White Material, Skylab

Probably time to leave?
I've gotten a bit behind, haven't I? Let's have some world famous four-sentence reviews to catch up...

Week 13: My Choice

White Material

Isabelle Huppert stubbornly continues to run her family's coffee plant in an unnamed part of Africa, despite impending war, rebel violence, and repeated warnings to leave. This is fast becoming one of my favourite films, though it's taken repeated viewings to work out the sequence of events. Incredibly threatening, atmospheric and mesmerising, with a brilliant soundtrack. The scenes involving child rebel militia, and their treatment, are especially chilling.

Celine et Julie Vont en Bateau

I get off easy here, thanks to Tim's post (and my less than informative introductory paragraph). But this remains my both my favourite film of all time, and probably the film I've watched the most times in my life (though it could be equal first with The Castle for number of viewings, actually). For my favourite film to be over 3 hrs long, there must be something that draws me back to it for re-watchings. And not just the Petite French Boob.


Topping off an accidental week of all-French films is Julie Delpy's delightful 70s sort-of-bio-pic. 11-year-old Albertine (sort-of-child-Julie-Delpy) and her massive, eccentric extended family gather for a day-long lunch in the French countryside. The children eye each other off and attempt small forays into adulthood, while the adults themselves drink, eat, argue and gesture (ie. they do what most characters in Julie Delpy films do). It's highly likeable, nothing terribly bad happens, and there's a nice mix of nostalgia, awkwardness and warmth.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Celine and Julie Go Boating - Jacques Rivette

Today's favourites post (it's been a while between drinks, hasn't it?) is a guest post by the lovely Tim Sterne, who is reviewing my favourite film for me!

From the favourer (me!): I first taped Celine & Julie Go Boating off SBS when I was about 15, hoping to practice my French listening skills on it, and then discovered no one says anything for about the first 20 minutes. But it just happened to become my favourite film (terribly wanky isn't it, to have you favourite film be an obscure 1970s French affair that goes for over 3 hours). I still watch it about once a year - I love the playfulness, the absurdity, the mystery, and the prominent use of cats.

Writing about someone else's favourite film - especially when you are close to the person, and have heard her speak about the film many times - is, at least initially, an exercise in confronting your own expectations. If Anna's favourite film was, say, Pretty Woman, I would have a fair idea of what I was getting into, even though I have never seen it. I might have made it to the wizened age of thirty-five without being exposed to the presumably hilarious and romantic adventures of Julia Roberts' hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold and Richard Gere's whatever-he-is-in-the-movie, but a lifetime of exposure to Hollywood cinema - indeed half a lifetime of exposure to ads for Pretty Woman itself (watch out for her fingers with that jewellery case, you clod!) - has reduced the likelihood of Pretty Woman offering me much to chew on. Thankfully, Anna being Anna, her nominated film is something rather more obscure, less immediately graspable, and infinitely more interesting. You will know this by the way my thoughts on it resemble a second-year English Lit essay.

I knew virtually nothing about Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating, but that didn't stop me having preconceptions. For starters, I assumed there would be a boat. Perhaps not a real boat, but at least a metaphorical boat. A gravy boat, at minimum. I expected the eponymous characters to be willowy, lithe young things, alternately serious and whimsical; perhaps they might offer a brief glimpse of petite French boob. (This is a hangover from my teenage years, when the possibility of a glimpse of petite French boob was, as far as I was concerned, French cinema's raison d'etre.) I expected a loose narrative structure, and perhaps some vague, abstract musing on philosophical matters in amongst the (possibly forced) whimsy. Frankly, I expected to be bored a lot of the time. Celine and Julie Go Boating clocks in at an eyeball-withering 192 minutes. That's not where I prefer the 9 to be in my movie run-times. (I should be thankful, however: the full version of Rivette's previous film, Out 1: Noli me tangere goes for a staggering 750 minutes.)

Naturally, the film fulfilled many of my expectations - there is a boat, there are petite French boobs - but otherwise differed from the potential-film my brain had conjured. I was not bored. Celine and Julie were willowy, lithe young things, alternately serious and whimsical, but they were also far more interesting than that. As for their adventures... Well, let's discuss this further, shall we?

The film begins with an homage to Alice in Wonderland, a work that provides many of the film's motifs. Celine, wrapped in multiple scarves, hurries through a Paris park: she is, apparently, late for a very important date, and manages to drop various items every few paces. Julie, who is sitting in the park reading a book on magic, gives chase, picking up Celine's discarded items. They traipse around for some time, Celine running and hiding from Julie but always allowing herself to be seen, often to almost get caught, in order to renew the game. Through a series of encounters, the two women are drawn together and Celine ends up moving into Julie's impressive, bohemian apartment. Julie is a librarian, and seemingly the more conventional of the two, albeit with a romantic imagination. Celine is a stage magician; she is theatrical, flamboyant, almost aggressively strange.

The meat, or let's say nougat, of the film comes when Julie, through circumstances I have forgotten, encounters a quaint old house with ivy-covered walls. Julie manages to enter the house, and something happens that leaves her tired and stiff, hobbling down the road. Glimpses of a second narrative begin to interrupt - a stagey, old-fashioned tale about a love triangle, a sick child, an overbearing nurse, and a terrible murder. Is this story taking place within the strange house? Celine and Julie both begin making visits, emerging with a lolly in their mouths that, when sucked, allows access to this narrative, which apparently somehow exists within the house, recurring again and again, like a play or a movie. (The house narrative is based on a Henry James story called "The Other House".)

When Celine or Julie enter the house, they take on the role of the nurse. As they visit more frequently, the narrative begins to straighten out, but there are still lacunae. Who is responsible for the young girl's murder? By casting a spell, Celine and Julie contrive to enter the house at the same time, taking turns in the role of nurse. They discover the identity of the murderer, and prevent the crime by taking the girl with them when they leave the house. Celine and Julie wake up in their apartment, and the girl is with them. The three go boating - at last! - and see the other members of the mysterious household drift past, as lifeless and static as shop dummies.

Celine and Julie Go Boating offers numerous tantalising interpretations, while resisting being engulfed by or explained away by any of them. The connection to Alice in Wonderland has produced some creative theories, especially regarding the presence of so many cats throughout the film. Are they avatars of the Cheshire Cat? The transformative lolly, and the use of potions, echoes the items Alice must consume in order to access Wonderland. Like Alice, Celine and Julie enter a world that is absurd, but it is the inverse of Lewis's schema. The house turns out to have its own logic, its own rigid structure, in contrast to the chaotic and random "real" life Celine and Julie live elsewhere.

Celine and Julie's relationship is never fully explained - they are drawn together irrationally - whereas the characters inside the house are "rounded", as they would be in a traditional narrative. We come to understand something of their background, and their complicated interlocking relationships. Celine and Julie's infiltration of the house could be seen as "reality", or at least absurdity and randomness,  encroaching upon the rigidity of traditional storytelling. Their rescue of the child is a subversion of its inherent cruelty, its callous teleology.

While inhabiting the role of the nurse, Celine and Julie break the house rules. They abandon the "script" and begin ad-libbing and mucking around. This affects the other characters in the house narrative: they turn a sinister metallic grey, as if they have had their sole layer of paint - a patina of humanity? - scraped off, revealing the brainless mannequins underneath. There is an obvious, and deliberate, analogy here with the creation of art, especially collaborative art like cinema. A filmmaker can seek to have rigid control over his or her material - Kubrick is the obvious example - or the film can be allowed to develop through collaboration. Actresses Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier were heavily involved in creating Celine and Julie, and according to interviews had an active role on set. (Another example would be Richard Linklater's Before _____ films, which are an increasingly collaborative project with stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. Linklater is the nominal director, but the trilogy is the product of a filmmaking triumvirate.)

I enjoyed the way the film treats Celine and Julie as somehow interchangeable even as they are strikingly individual characters. The two craziest scenes involve impersonation. In the first such scene, Celine poses as Julie to meet the latter's childhood sweetheart, Guilou. Julie supposedly grew up with this boy, shared adolescent fumbling with him, and he has returned to claim her hand. As a story, it is like something out of a novel from the distant past - the same kind of rigid narrative the women later uncover in the mysterious house. Julie is a modern woman: she has a job, an apartment. She doesn't need a dashing young doofus from her past to whisk her away. Guilou is gallant and formal, and Celine-as-Julie mercilessly parodies his stylised, old-fashioned manner, rejects his proposal, and finishes by telling him to "go jerk off behind a bush".

The second impersonation scene sees Julie performing a travesty of Celine's magic show for some seedy booking agents. Celine's actual magic act is weird enough - a simple set of tricks that are clearly of secondary importance to Celine's long, exposed legs - but Julie-as-Celine provides a genuinely over-the-top spectacle. The impassive faces of the booking agents underline the scene's hilarity. Both impersonation scenes involve Celine and Julie saving the other from a terrible fate: marriage to a pompous git, and being booked on a dubious-sounding tour through the Middle East. This solidifies their friendship, even though neither realises what the other has done. It also reduces their world to one another, which is interesting. They are intended as a kind of binary, but not in an obvious way. They are more complementary than oppositional. (Even the fact that Julie is a redhead rather than a blonde - the more predictable contrast with brunette Celine - undermines traditional narrative expectations.)

Celine and Julie Go Boating is the kind of film you could discuss for hours. (I have barely mentioned the apparently "real" but never systematised magic that plays such a vital role, and there are countless other elements.) It's a generous film that rewards attention and analysis, but it cannot be reduced to a thematic skeleton. It is also a film that demands a second, third, fourth viewing. The running time makes this prohibitive, but life is hopefully long enough to fit in a few viewings of this singular film.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Moveable Fest, Week 12: Shutter, Ghostwatch, In the Mouth of Madness

Moral: don't run over people, and if you do, don't run away.
Week 12: Tim's Choice


I don't think I've watched a Thai horror film before, but this one was certainly a good starter. When a young couple run down a woman in their car and the boyfriend is all "Yeah nah let's just keep driving" (I don't know how to translate that into Thai), it's all a bit I Know What You Did Last Summer. Then they're haunted, of course, but it's more interesting than that, and the boyfriend has a not-very-nice history with his clingy ghostie. I was really impressed with the backstory on this one: it's done its homework and has really crafted a proper story (which is a lot more than you can say for IKWYDLS). This film loves to combine sudden appearances with sudden noises and will make you jump ALL THE WAY THROUGH, so if you're a wee bit quivery with your drink at the best of times, as I am, maybe put the glass down between sips unless you want to end up wasting wine.

Right, so: Michael Parkinson is hosting a hokey show (I know, really?) where a team of "experts" investigate a so-called haunted house. Lister and the chick from Blue Peter are hosting, there's a not-very-convincing ghostie expert on set, and someone might be faking things from within the house. But, you know what? Things seem to start to happen, and then escalate, and because of the cringe-worthy, "buck up old chap" method that starts the film, what happens in the end is actually scary - even if you've seen it before. The backstory is expanded on in a really convincing fashion, and the use/dodgy use of surveillance footage works even better than in Speed. The knowledge that people were genuinely frightened and tried to call in to the jammed switchboard during the show's first (and only) first airing in Britain somehow makes this funny little piece of history more effective. It's a bit like watching a special Halloween episode of Spicks n Specks, and then the set goes grey, Adam Hills looks directly at a guest and whispers "Come to daddy". *BLACKOUT*

In the Mouth of Madness

A dear favourite from my VHS sleep-over days as a teenager, ITMOM (best acronym, thanks Tim) is a bit like what you'd imagine what would happen if you decided to write Stephen King's biography as a horror story. Anyway: there's a really famous horror writer, and he appears to be sending people mad with his books. Mad, I say! *AXE CHOP* So, when said famous horror writer Sutter Kane (hello SK initials) disappears when his new book is due, Sam Neill (sporting an accent that tries to be American and then periodically forgets) is hired to, well, go find him. He hooks up with Kane's aggressive assistant Linda, and they encounter creepy children, deserted towns, creepy children, and bad acting. Look: really, really bad acting, which is usually the last thing I notice/resent about a film. But seriously: BAD ACTING. There's at lot of fun at the start that sustains the film for maybe half its length, but it does start to drag, and the whole madness-within-madness setup only works if at least one of the madnesses is vaguely convincing.

A Moveable Fest, Week 11: The Amityville Horror, Hell House, Spirits of the Dead, [REC], Lake Mungo

Abortion Girl: the most coveted role in Hell House
Week 11: My Choice (we got a bit carried away and ended up watching 5 films again this week)

The Amityville Horror

A clueless family move into a house where a mass murder occurred, and weird stuff starts to happen. I remembered this film as actually being quite scary, but not very far in this time I was exclaiming to Tim: "This is So. Fucking. Tedious." It's not scary, it's boring, it's bad, and it's TWO HOURS LONG. The only explanation I can have for its popularity at the time is (cue italics) 70s zeitgeist. Really, don't bother. If you just look at a picture of the creepy house, that's at least as much as you'll get out of the film. As Roger Ebert said: "The horror in this movie, alas, isn't a bad guy at all. Doesn't have a shape or a face or a personality. Is a presence that causes the worst sorts of things to happen. Who upsets the dog and causes doors to bang open and make the house too cold all the time, and in short, makes things just like Chicago."

Hell House

Suitable, I thought, for Halloween-month is this documentary following the yearly creation of 'Hell House', a Texan pentecostal church's "modern" take on a house of horrors: but in this case the 'horrors' include what afterlife fate befalls you if you have an abortion/are gay/take-drugs-and-get-raped (the rape is your fault because drugs)/read Harry Potter/play Magic: The Gathering, etc. I watched this on SBS (I think) quite a few years ago, and was drawn in initially by the participants' commitment to the production, juxtaposed with the fundamentalist glee with which they approach their parts: who will be 'abortion girl' this year?  It's a full scale production, but despite the overacting, jump-scares (that genuinely frighten some of the hell house visitors), and the dreadful Satan ("YOU KILLED YOUR BABY, JAN!"), for me the scariest bit is at the end of the horror show, where the kids are chatted to in an overlit ordinary room by an imposing "friendly" bloke, and offered the chance to redeem themselves by going into a private room to pray with members of the church. Or they can choose to leave immediately, and, you know, forsake their souls. The backstage focus on one particular family centres the film: a dad single-parenting a bunch of children, several with special needs, whose wife left him under mumblemumble circumstances and took the kids for a bit mumblemumble but now he has won them back. The portrayal of this family sits uncomfortably alongside the work that they do: judgments can be easily made.

Spirits of the Dead

An old favourite of mine from my taping-things-off-the-telly-when-Warrnambool-first-got-SBS days: three Edgar Allen Poe stories re-imagined by Roger Vadim, Louis Malle and Frederico Fellini. The Vadim one, otherwise known as "the one with Jane Fonda in lots of racy outfits", is the one that everyone hates, but really, there's a lot of Jane Fonda on a horse and Peter Fonda AS the horse, and the costumes are brilliant, so what's not to like? Malle's take on 'William Wilson' is really promising (the threat of live human medical dissections scared the crap out of me, despite knowing there couldn't be too much gore at this rating), but the ending just makes you go: 'Oh. Well. That's a bit shit, isn't it.' Fellini's version of Poe's 'Never bet the devil your head', however, is totally brilliant: nightmarish, gibbering, oddly coloured, drunkenly beardy, and the only film of the three to totally nail the ending.


A Spanish reporter is following a fire-crew on their calls, hoping for a little excitement but not really expecting anything. They're called to an apartment block where it seems an elderly woman has locked herself inside her house and isn't responding, so the fire crew break in. THEN HORROR AND BITING. When they escape the staggery bloodthirsty geriatric, they discover the whole apartment building has been sealed off from the outside by authorities. So that's not good. [REC] takes the found footage idea and really works it well: the POV isn't so jerky as to cause much sea-sickness, there's a lot of great use made out of different lighting and camera scenarios, and I basically CLUTCHED at Tim's arm from the first bite to the last. It's a really decent modern horror film, and those can be hard to come by.

Lake Mungo

A recommendation from our friend @ernmalleyscat, this film proved to be an excellent Australian sleeper. A family is devastated when their daughter Alice drowns in a dam on holiday with her family. Even after Alice's body is found and laid to rest, she seems to pop up in photos and footage taken by the family: until her brother is discovered faking the ghostly appearances. he? This is an underrated emotional sort-of-ghost story that presents itself again through found footage: news reports, Australian Story-style grief-porn, interviews, photographs, and bad-quality phone footage. It's both touching, frightening, and deeply sad: less a horror movie than a meditation on fear, grief, and the ways we try to capture what we can't let go of.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A couple of publications

At the moment I have poems in::



Otoliths (which is an online journal, so you can pop over and have a read if you feel like it.)

And happy halloween!