Capsule Collection: Summer/Fall 2011 Viewing, < 2011 Part 2

As stated, and delivered more expediently than I anticipated, the second batch of capsules from prior to 2011.


Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods (2010)

Directed by Patrick Meaney


That this film exists at all is a testament to the unique mystique Grant Morrison has created around himself. Certainly, to my mind at least, an atypical personality than what one would consider to be a critically and commercially well-regarded comic book author, the documentary shows Morrison to be a singular creative person. The film offers an interesting biographical account of Morrison’s youth, his anxiety about the nuclear bomb and his activist family, his dalliances with music making and encounters with drug culture, and how these issues continue to inform his particular methodology of story-telling. Shot in a pedestrian talking-heads sort of format, the film takes no pains to move beyond Morrison, and people who know him, recounting anecdotes about experiences and activities. Due to this structure the film offers predictably little in the way of critical insight into Morrison’s life or his creative output, simultaneously reinforcing his myth as eccentric visionary as it demystifies his biographical life. By elevating Morrison to mythological status, the documentary confers on him a similar idealized nature to that which he esteems so highly in the conception of super heroes and their relationship to the various creation and religious mythologies of the world.



The Dead Zone (1983)

Written by Jeffrey Boam based on the novel by Stephen King
Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, and Tom Skerritt


A strange sort of dream-team, pairing David Cronenberg with Stephen King, but this partnership is decidedly more King than Cronenberg. The film is supernatural, certainly, but its themes lack any of the pointed critical lines of inquiry of Cronenberg’s films of the period. From Rabid through Videodrome, Cronenberg’s work had a streak of genius behind its sometimes gruesome, always weird, exteriors: Rabid‘s paranoia about infectious disease, The Brood‘s anxiety over genealogical legacies, Scanners‘ sensitivity to the delineation between private lives and public knowledge (also exploding heads), and Videodrome‘s prescient conception of the emerging power of media. Walken is youthful and convincing in his role and Cronenberg’s ascetic aesthetic sense comes through in his interiors and the bleak winter exterior shots. Amounting to little more than a well-executed, and high budget, long form Twilight Zone episode, the film is a relatively safe paranormal thriller. The transition in Walken’s hair from prior to the accident that allows him to see people’s futures, to after the accident is noteworthy and I can’t help but make a connection between an incident involving a rich father’s desire for his son to play hockey and Kieslowśki’s first film in his Decalogue.



Lost Highway (1997)

Written by David Lynch and Barry Gifford
Directed by David Lynch
Starring Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty and Robert Loggia


An interesting film to revisit, in retrospect it certainly seems to be where Lynch sketched out the ideas that would later inform the more successful Mulholland Drive. Lynch’s foray into the fragmenting of identity in this film never coalesces into something more than an abstract narrative device; there is a logic moving behind the plot that emerges briefly to be grasped at before receding again into the harsh tones of Trent Reznor’s soundtrack. Structurally something of a circular dream itself, beginning where it ends where it begins, the film riffs aggressively on its themes in a manner that correlates directly with the musical practice of Bill Pullman’s Fred Madison and his noise-jazz saxophone playing. Visually, the film is in many ways distinctly Lynchian; the aesthetic of the 50’s pervades a seemingly contemporary setting, its cars and styles of dress, all slick hair and leather jackets, Badalamenti’s slinky jazz-inspired instrumentals languishing between the cuts Reznor inserts into the soundtrack. Robert Blake’s turn as a white-faced omnipresent spectre is presciently creepy. Not one of Lynch’s more complete works, but certainly interesting for the manner that it gestures towards themes he would more articulately investigate in his future films.



The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Written by Paul Mayersberg based on the novel by Walter Tevis
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Starring David Bowie, Rip Torn and Candy Clark


Roeg’s hallucinogen-inflected examination of the outsider interrogates the manner in which the fantastic and unfamiliar is glamorized. The film also, more interestingly, considers the effect that this may have on the other being fetishized. At it’s heart, and perhaps counter to its loose and abstract structuring, the film chronicles the effect of separation from family on David Bowie’s Thomas Newton. Despite quickly employing his scientific know-how to gain great wealth and subsequent fame, Newton – the name association here strikes unsubtly – desires more than anything to return to the family he left behind. No amount of earthly excess can satiate the emotional hunger left in the wake of this permanent rending. Bowie traffics heavily in the affects of alienation and defamiliarization; who better to play an alien in the midst of mankind than Ziggy Stardust himself? The narrative jumps forward abruptly between time periods, moving with little transition from Newton’s landing to his rise and subsequent period in captivity. By moving in such a disjointed manner the film disorients the viewer; odd images and scenarios defamiliarize the viewer from the plot of the movie, causing a sympathetic, if problematic, sense of alienation akin to that suffered by the protagonist.



Shi (Poetry) (2010)

Written and Directed by Chang-dong Lee
Starring Jeong-hi Yun and Nae-sang Ahn


Anchored by a fabulous performance from Joeng-hi Yun, Poetry methodically unspools a subtle narrative involving no less than Alzheimer’s, sexual assault, a legal cover-up, failed dreams, aging, alienated youth, and, yes, poetry. This loose plot summary makes the film sound far more dramatic than it actually is. Lee’s direction, coupled with Yun’s performance, pays due diligence to the heavy subject matter without sensationalizing or exaggerating the context of the events in the life of Yun’s Mija; Mija’s situation is serious, potentially terrible, but she purposefully moves through her tasks toward a solution with a deliberateness that diffuses the tension while enhancing the dramatic heft of the film. Poetry, like poetry, requires patience and attention to detail more than bombast and histrionics. I am still unsure whether or not the film’s deployment of poetry is a genuine statement for the importance of poetry, or a critique on its political and social efficacy/viability in contemporary times. My mind also leans toward making an inter-linguistic connection between the film’s protagonist, her situation specific to her female gender, and the phonemic connection of the film’s Korean title, Shi – which is Korean for poetry; to what extent is she shi?


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