Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Blu-ray Review: Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark [Kino Lorber]

So much focus over the years has been dedicated to the technical prowess of Russian Ark that its tenets as a tangible historical record can easily be overlooked. An entire film consisting only of a single 90-minute Steadicam shot through the hallowed halls of Saint Petersburg's Hermitage Museum certainly invites ample attention to the logistical aspects of the production, but Aleksandr Sokurov's 2002 masterpiece should likewise endure as both a dramatic reconstruction of 300 years of Russian history as well as a crucial glimpse into the nexus of cinema's then-nascent celluloid/digital divide. In the decade since the film's premiere, digital has become the primary means of cinematic production, but despite some individual instances of formal advancement, it's arguable that no film has yet married the historical properties of cultural and cinematic evolution as seamlessly as Russian Ark.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fandor Feature - Ethnography Measures: The Films of Ben Russell

The films of Ben Russell have been on my mind quite a bit this year. First, he toured a small retrospective of his recent work (including a double 16mm projector performance piece) around the globe, culminating in Los Angeles for a single night stop-over this past February. He then brought his newest film, A Spell to Ward off the Darkness, a collaboration with British experimentalist and kindred spirit Ben Rivers, to the Toronto International Film Festival where it stood out even amidst an incredibly diverse Wavelengths program. Indeed, it remains one of the year’s most exhilarating theatrical experiences, as well as the impetus for this piece—a majority of people I spoke with at the festival, while familiar with Rivers, had little beyond name recognition of Russell. Soon after, in an essay here at Fandor on permutations in the modern music documentary, I impulsively highlighted one of his shorts, Black and White Trypps Number Three (2007), despite it bearing little in common with traditional aspects of the form. Among other things, Russell’s ability to navigate such disparate scenes speaks to his insatiable instinct to indulge various aspects of his personality while reinforcing his position as a contemporary renaissance artist. There is truly no one making films like Russell right now.

Blu-ray Review: Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte [Criterion]

For all the discussion over the decades of Michelangelo Antonioni's high-minded, abstractionist tendencies, he is, in many of the same ways, one of the most literal of filmmakers. His most celebrated succession of work, a trio of films made in the early 1960s subsequently dubbed the "trilogy of alienation," bore the essentially elemental titles L'avventura ("The Adventure"), La Notte ("The Night"), and L'Eclisse ("Eclipse"), each of which reflected its namesake in fairly accurate terms. Even his imagery, so consistently examined, elevated, and admired, is strikingly absolute: objects, articles, and architecture as emotion, psychology, and anthropological well-being—physical reality as individuated condition. Antonioni often deflected close readings of his films, encouraging an instinctual approach to viewing similar to that which he claimed he utilized while filming. And indeed, in Antonioni, perhaps more so than in any modern director, what you're witnessing is the actualization of undiluted truth, existence decontextualized and rendered in visual shorthand. There's nothing behind the images in the work Antonioni; rather, the frame itself is pregnant with meaning.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Slant Feature: 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time

All this week select Slant Magazine staffers have been counting down our list of the 100 Greatest Horror Films of All Time. Each writer submitted a personal top 50, and from that tally we accumulated a master list of nearly 300 films from which each writer then submitted an official top 100 list. The results are as varied and open minded as one might expect--as is the writing. For my part, I wrote up capsules of Dead Ringers, Trouble Every Day, Eraserhead, Videodrome, They Live, Onibaba, Frankenstein, Dawn of the Dead, and my #1 selection, The Shining. [Slant]

Blu-ray Review: Lewis Allen's The Uninvited [Criterion]

The Uninvited begins in stately fashion, with a long shot of the Cornish coast smoothly panning to reveal a lone house perched cliffside. In demure voiceover, Roderick "Rick" Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) set the scene: These shores have a history, and though Rick and his sister, Pamela (Ruth Hussey), don't know it yet, their futures are inextricably linked to the vast transgressions of the property's past. And yet Rick's vocal demeanor belies little of the impending intrigue; indeed, if it wasn't for his grave reminiscence, there would be little in the film's opening sequences to foreshadow the ghastly events which the siblings will trigger when they proceed with what they assume is a traditional, if curiously reasonable, real estate transaction. It's this unassuming, almost genteel, poise that underlines the otherwise knotty narrative canvas of The Uninvited, an early example of earnest Hollywood horror sympathetic to the psychologies of its characters both alive and long since deceased.