24 July 2008


Two weeks ago, Steve and I spent a lovely Saturday evening strolling around downtown Providence and nearby Brown University. I took pictures of a few recognizable spots, but I think these are a little more fun.

22 July 2008


My new essay on Pedro Almodovar's coma-melodrama is up on the Brattle's Film Notes blog. I have to admit that this wasn't the easiest one to write about. It unfolds so beautifully, unexpectedly and subtly that you almost don't want to spoil the effect it has by over-analyzing it. Anyway, it kicks off the Brattle's six-week Thursday night retrospective of the director's work, playing as part of a double feature with what is increasingly my favorite Almodovar film.

12 July 2008


I guess this was inevitable. And you know I can't pass up another opportunity to generate a geeky list. My pick for one absolute favorite from every year, followed by its director:

1975 - Nashville, Robert Altman
1976 - Chinese Roulette, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
1977 - Annie Hall, Woody Allen
1978 - Days of Heaven, Terrence Malick
1979 - All That Jazz, Bob Fosse
1980 - 9 to 5, Colin Higgins
1981 - Reds, Warren Beatty
1982 - Tootsie, Sydney Pollack
1983 - A Christmas Story, Bob Clark
1984 - This is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner
1985 - My Life as a Dog, Lasse Hallstrom
1986 - Hannah and Her Sisters, Allen
1987 - The Last of England, Derek Jarman
1988 - High Hopes, Mike Leigh
1989 - The Decalogue, Krzysztof KieĊ›lowski
1990 - Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese
1991 - Edward II, Jarman
1992 - The Long Day Closes, Terence Davies
1993 - 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, Francois Girard
1994 - Ed Wood, Tim Burton
1995 - Safe, Todd Haynes
1996 - Trainspotting, Danny Boyle
1997 - The Sweet Hereafter, Atom Egoyan
1998 - Rushmore, Wes Anderson
1999 - Beau Travail, Claire Denis
2000 - Yi Yi, Edward Yang
2001 - The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson
2002 - Y Tu Mama Tambien, Alfonso Cuaron
2003 - Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola
2004 - The Return, Andrey Zvyagintsev
2005 - Me and You and Everyone We Know, Miranda July
2006 - Duck Season, Fernando Eimbcke
2007 - There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson
2008 (so far) - One of these ten

07 July 2008


As seen here and many other places, a silly new music meme. Since I've only been seriously making lists since around 1996 (and buying albums since '89), a few of those early years were tough to determine.

1975 - Brian Eno, Another Green World
1976 - Joni Mitchell, Hejira
1977 - Brian Eno, Before and After Science
1978 - Blondie, Parallel Lines
1979 - The Clash, London Calling
1980 - Talking Heads, Remain In Light
1981 - ABBA, The Visitors
1982 - Kate Bush, The Dreaming
1983 - R.E.M., Murmur
1984 - Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain
1985 - Kate Bush, Hounds of Love
1986 - XTC, Skylarking
1987 - R.E.M., Document
1988 - Everything But the Girl, Idlewild
1989 - The B-52s, Cosmic Thing
1990 - Concrete Blonde, Bloodletting
1991 - Seal, Seal
1992 - R.E.M., Automatic For the People
1993 - Pet Shop Boys, Very
1994 - Portishead, Dummy
1995 - Pizzicato Five, The Sound of Music by Pizzicato Five
1996 - Belle and Sebastian, If You're Feeling Sinister
1997 - Ivy, Apartment Life
1998 - Saint Etienne, Good Humor
1999 - The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs
2000 - The Avalanches, Since I Left You
2001 - Steve Wynn, Here Come the Miracles
2002 - Tori Amos, Scarlet's Walk
2003 - The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow
2004 - Sufjan Stevens, Seven Swans
2005 - Saint Etienne, Tales From Turnpike House
2006 - Regina Spektor, Begin to Hope
2007 - Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala
2008 (so far) - Sam Phillips, Don't Do Anything

02 July 2008


When working on my thesis, I found THE TEMPEST (1979) to be the most elusive of Derek Jarman’s films, primarily because it was then unavailable on video in the States. Naturally, it was released a month after I handed in my thesis. I’ve viewed it three times in the ensuing decade, and admittedly, it still feels pretty elusive. Although one of Jarman’s more relatively accessible efforts, the whole thing seems to emanate from another dimension, perhaps some backwater that time forgot--not an altogether unpleasant place, mind you, but definitely somewhere unfamiliar.

That's not to say THE TEMPEST is an outright flop (although Vincent Canby's infamous New York Times review effectively sunk its prospects in the States). But it may be the only Jarman film I don't entirely get. I can appreciate his sometimes ingenuous tweaking of the source material, I can applaud the actors' individual accomplishments, I can revel at the striking visual scheme (interior darkness alternating with a blue-filtered exterior), but for the most part, it just doesn't move me (with the exception of one scene I'll discuss later in this essay).

I've never read Shakespeare’s final play nor seen a production of it, so I’m uncertain how faithful an adaptation it is—not that Jarman’s overly concerned with historical accuracy. This was the play's first ever feature-length film version (Paul Mazurksy would direct his own very different, but equally idiosyncratic TEMPEST three years later). To forgo the excessive costs of visualizing the play’s desert island setting, Jarman transports it to a candlelit gothic castle, where a younger-than-usual Prospero the Magician (Heathcote Williams) holds court with his daughter Miranda, his slave Caliban and the angel Ariel (JUBILEE cast members Toyah Willcox, Jack Birkett and Karl Johnson, respectively).

Structuring the film as the dream of its lead character, THE TEMPEST is where Jarman begins to explicitly, gleefully fuck with period piece-related physical conventions (he did this a little in SEBASTIANE, but to nowhere near this extent). Rather than setting the action in one particular, well-defined era, the film compresses the clothes and artifacts of multiple eras into an instinctive, fluid whole. It pops and fizzes with such deliberate anachronisms as Miranda riding a hobby horse, sudden merry-go-round music, an indoor badminton match and Ariel’s very 20th century white jumpsuit. Those who complain about the lack of historical accuracy are, in Jarman’s mind, possibly missing the point: to favor the feelings and emotions of a text over its literal construct is to breathe life into and examine it from an emotional, psychological and personal viewpoint.

Although he remains sympathetic to the play’s basic outline and thematic structure, Jarman alters just about everything else. To mold a four-hour play into a 95-minute feature, it’s expected that he’d cut out a lot of dialogue and a few soliloquies, but what remains is fairly minimal. The few words spoken do not get in the way of the guttural, subterranean ambient score, which features found sounds (like manipulated breaths) more than actual music. In contrast, a scene with Caliban cradled in the arms and suckling on the tit of his naked, grotesque witch-mother Sycorax is straight out of a vintage John Waters film, though it feels far less in-your-face than Waters would have ever allowed.

Like JUBILEE, the film plays like a series of sketches, but instead of building momentum toward some sort of cathartic break-and-release, it just meanders along. There are some neat, succinct little scenes, such as the wonderfully childlike Miranda play-acting a courtship ritual with herself on a staircase. But as a dream film, much of it doesn't fully connect to the degree that his later, even more personal (and it must be said, more challenging) works do.

But then there's "Stormy Weather":

The film's climax comes with Miranda's wedding to Ferdinand, which, in keeping with the structure, is played as pure fantasy. It kicks off with a chorus of twenty or so youthful male sailors dancing a giddy, florid stovepipe, followed by a showering of rose petals. However, that's just an appetizer to the main course: regal, decked out grande dame Elisabeth Welch (rather resembling a septuagenarian, space-aged Patti LaBelle) stops by to serenade the lucky couple (and more explicitly the admiring sailors) with a show-stopping rendition of the song "Stormy Weather". The sequence is a little audacious and more than a little camp, yet oddly touching--it's rather affectionate without lapsing into parody. It's also more jolting and memorable than most of what preceded it, and it makes for a lovely bridge into the quiet, graceful final scene, where Ariel is set free and Prospero, alone, is left to exit one world and enter the next.

Appropriately enough, THE TEMPEST also left its director at a crossroads. One could entertain an alternate reality where Jarman immediately continued making similar works. Instead, Thatcherism and a transitioning British film industry intervened: he would not complete another feature for six years.