Thursday, July 18, 2013

Film Review: Wong Kar-wai's Fallen Angels (1995)

I wrote this review of Fallen Angels for Reverse Shot's An Infinite Cinema symposium, dedicated to the work of Chinese master Wong Kar-wai and running concurrent with a retrospective of his work at the Museum of Moving Image in New York City, July 12 - August 24, 2013.

Moonage Daydreams

They come out at night, those folkloric, bloodthirsty wraiths; but so too the vagrant mortals populating Wong Kar-wai's 1995 twilit tale of unrequited passion, Fallen Angels. These vanquished beings, these rebels of the neon god, may subsist in the witching hour, yet they yearn for the blessings afforded the social and urbane: the pleasure of a warm communion, the comfort of a mutual intimacy, the breadth of a lasting romance. Constrained by limitations both professional and physical, the five central characters comprising Wong’s mirrored narrative proceed in cyclical patterns, as if caught in a chain of criminality and confusion. Our “heroes”—a hit man and his lovelorn partner; a mute, ethically dubious ex-con; a scorned lover; and a blonde femme fatale—such as they are, all seek escape, yet seem to reside in the shadows as a step toward the light would require a courage they have yet to fully muster. These tumultuous emotional coordinates, charted via Wong's achingly beautiful montage, render Fallen Angels the most existential of action flicks, a fluorescent fever dream of kinetic energies and inarticulate amour fou.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Blu-ray Review: Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu [Criterion]

The concept of mono no aware is one deeply ingrained in Japanese society. In his 1974 book on Yasujiro Ozu, the late Donald Richie defined this intangible state of conscious as "a serene acceptance of the transient world, a gentle pleasure found in mundane pursuits soon to vanish, a content created by the knowledge that one is with the world and that leaving it is, after all, in the natural state of things." It's a cultural condition that has been reflected in the art that's emanated from the East for centuries. In the cinematic realm, the conceit's chief adherents have proven to be (in addition to Ozu, the artistic embodiment of the ideal) Mikio Naruse, Hiroshi Shimizu, Hirokazu Kore-eda, and the early comedic satires and familial dramas of Kon Ichikawa, among others. The characters depicted in the films of Kenji Mizoguchi, by contrast, have no interest in resigning themselves to life's travails. In fact, they seem to be in a constant fight against such inevitabilities. It's what lent Mizoguchi's work such immense gravity, resulting in some of the greatest dramas the medium's ever seen.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Fandor Feature: Scenes - Cattle Queen of Montana (1954)

In his recent Keyframe essay, “Life in Love: Films by Allan Dwan,” Aaron Cutler expands upon an observation made by Dave Kehr in Lumière’s vital new online dossier dedicated to the journeyman director, reiterating the importance Dwan ascribed to each movement of the camera. “Dwan’s camera movements never exist to call attention to themselves, but always serve to keep the story going. The characters are in flight, and the film does its best to keep up with them,” Cutler prudently acknowledges of Dwan’s 1917 silent, A Modern Musketeer. Throughout his fifty-year career, Dwan would continually outline and employ such formal and narrative strategies, though it’s a methodology oftentimes taken for granted, even unacknowledged, in today’s mainstream film-going marketplace, let alone amidst the studio-dependent, assembly-line mode of bygone, classical Hollywood.