Tuesday, November 29, 2011

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 15 - Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls

This week, the ReFramed crew attempts to redeem Paul Verhoeven’s universally misunderstood cult classic, Showgirls.
Jordan Cronk: Well, Calum, this was inevitable. But you know what? I can’t think of a more appropriate title to feature in the pages of ReFramed than Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas’s subversive 1995 cult classic Showgirls. In many ways this film embodies exactly what we’re trying to accomplish with this column, and that’s to encourage reexaminations of misunderstood and unfairly neglected cinema. And in that sense, Showgirls is the quintessential misunderstood film of our time.

Let’s begin with a bit of contextual information, though, as it is all but mandatory when discussing this great piece of earnest, satirical filmmaking. Dutch director Paul Verhoeven has had a storied and unique career in the Hollywood these past 25 years, but it’s important to note the series of early films he made in the Netherlands throughout the 1970s. While none of these are probably standalone masterpieces, they do document a vivacious, committed visual stylist and a unique strain of sexual provocation that would reach its, um, climax, in the early-to-mid-‘90s with Basic Instinct and Showgirls, a pair of thematically rich, bold, and uncompromising works he made at the peak of his Hollywood visibility.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Track Review: Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - "Witchhunt Suite for WWIII"

With the career of one Ariel Rosenberg now firmly in stride down its second artistic stretch, it’s tempting to want to reconsider his early work through a lens of the newly focused, almost flamboyantly glammed approach to last year’s breakthrough, Before Today. This is a fair reaction; despite the cult classic status amended to The Doldums (2004) over the last couple years, it’s only natural to imagine what Rosenberg’s newest, most nimble iteration of the Haunted Graffiti yet could do with this material now that studio production is no longer a pipe dream and full-band interplay no longer takes a back seat to his random lo-fi reanimations. So while his work as Ariel Pink has blossomed into something once only hinted at, it’s logical that he might find new inspiration in old tunes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 14 - Mark Rappaport & the Video Essay

The subversive documentary, and one of its most devious proponents, is the subject of this week's contemplative overview.
Calum Marsh: Mark Rappaport is perhaps the least well-known filmmaker we’ve discussed in the ReFramed series to date, but I’d argue he’s one of the most important—and certainly one of the most deserving of critical rediscovery. Rappaport has produced more than a dozen experimental shorts and features since the beginning of the ‘70s, all of which deserve recognition and reevaluation, but today we’re focusing on the two essential video essays he made in the mid-‘90s: first there’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, from 1992, an hour-long look at the homosexual undertones permeating infamously closeted Hollywood icon Rock Hudson’s filmography; and then there’s the feature-length opus From the Journals Of Jean Seberg, a kind of philosophical and spiritual exegesis of the career of the mostly forgotten American actress, who committed suicide in 1979.

Like many of the films we’ve highlighted throughout this series, both Rock Hudson and Jean Seberg are largely neglected by contemporary critics, and neither are widely available on DVD (the latter is long-since out of print, while the former is exclusively available through an independent distribution company specializing in gay-themed independent videos). And, as usual, the neglect is a real shame: despite being nearly twenty years old, Rappaport’s radical approach to the documentary form seems every bit as forward-thinking and progressive as it no doubt did when they made a brief splash in the arthouse world in the early ‘90s, when Rappaport was on the very forefront of experimental video-making.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

PopMatters Feature: ReFramed No. 13 - Yasujirō Ozu's An Autumn Afternoon

Across a 50-plus film career, Yasujiro Ozu managed a singularity of vision that is unmatched in the history of the medium. His thematic inclination coupled with perhaps the most effortlessly formalist visual aesthetic ever conceived marks his catalogue as one of a unified, personal vision.
Jordan Cronk: Critics often speak of the “big three” of the Japanese film industry: Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu. A problem presents itself, however, when ensconcing these very different filmmakers into a single stratum of excellence: a canon of titles begins to take shape before eventually becoming identified with each director’s collected filmography. In the case of Ozu this is a particularly easy bit of critical shorthand to fall prey to. Across a 50-plus film career, Ozu managed a singularity of vision that is unmatched in the history of the medium. His thematic inclination—the plight of the middle class Japanese family unit—coupled with perhaps the most effortlessly formalist visual aesthetic ever conceived—static, low-angle camera setups; sharp cutting; “pillow” shot inserts; and very little else—not to mention the closely related, seasonal stamps given many of his films, marks his catalogue as one of a unified, personal vision. Thus his most widely-seen films tend to represent the whole of a career that in fact spun variations on a theme as fruitfully and as diversely as any other, more genre-restless filmmaker you could name.

So we have Tokyo Story, then, the film which introduced Ozu to the West, and just as Seven Samurai is to Kurosawa and Ugetsu is to Mizoguchi, it’s become widely representative of the man’s achievements, often times at the expense of equally rich and rewarding efforts made throughout his almost forty-year career. And that’s no mark against the quality of Tokyo Story, by any standards one of the greatest films ever made, but more of an indictment of critical group-think that frequently propagates convenient notions of narrative and longevity with unfair disregard to budding bouts genius or refined displays of maturation. The latter’s perhaps the easiest to ignore, which makes the sublime tranquility of Ozu’s final film, 1962’s An Autumn Afternoon, that much easier to overlook. As a crowning work it’s arguably one of the most perfect encapsulations of one filmmaker’s myriad tendencies and inarguably a capstone to a career which in many ways thrived on understatement.