Monday, August 22, 2005

Repo Man is Always Intense

I will now present a series of sloppy pronouncments. Official sloppy pronouncements, 'cause I have been endeavoring upon quite a few sloppy pronouncements ever since I have begun this blog. But now they will be official announcements, albeit sloppy.

Just having watched Cassevettes' A Woman Under the Influence, and previously Faces and Shadows, I bring you official sloppy pronouncement number one:

John Cassevettes is the single greatest American film director of all time.

This is of course sloppy because, least of all, I have not seen every Cassevettes film, much less every American film ever made.

I can't quite go into how I came about this. Off the top of my head the closest contender is Orson Welles. But Welles somehow seems like a fluke of genius, while Cassevvettes seems infinite. His movies make you cry and laugh at the same time. Orson was all magic (F is for Fake). Perhaps the greatest magician our country has ever seen in the modern age. But ultimately Orson's world is a dream. Allegory. Whilst Cassevettes' work emerges as something that doesn't even seem like film. His movies are not movies, they are miracles of time and space. His movies are canvases, upon which he spills the paint of life.

In some way I want to say it is sort of the difference between Kurosawa and Ozu. I guess because Ozu was concerned with domestic and cultural minutae and inexplicable mysteries of human interactions to an exacting detail, and Kurosawa was taking the sweep of Tolstoy's War and Peace up on the screen. Kurosawa was a miracle/tragedy maker. Ozu saw the miracle/tragedy of the everyday. (Like Chekhov, I guess.)

Of course Cassevettes' oover differs so drastically from Ozu that the comparison only works to a point. Cassevettes' films are disturbing and bleak. Though with many moments of beauty.

The depiction of children in Woman Under the Influence was particularly striking (As they are in Ozu. Sloppy Pronouncement number two: Ozu was the greatest director of children the world has seen. Although SP#3: the Punch and Judy Scene in Truffaut's 400 Blows was probably the greatest filmed scene of children in the history of children. But one must not forget Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali. SP#4 (though not exactly sloppy): Pather Panchali is the greatest single film about a young boy and his slightly older sister. SP#5 Bunuel's Los Olvidos is the single greatest movie about vagabond children. I would like to rein in the sloppiness of these pronouncements at a later date.

But back to Woman Under the Influence. The thing that fascinates me about children on film is that they do not act. Or at least they do not act in the sense that adults act on film. There is something akin to this as Werner Herzog exploits in many of his movies in using unprofessional actors. But even unprofessional actors "act" unless they are caught on camera unawares. Children don't give a damn about the camera. Or before the video age, at least. They are like animals, the director can't exactly give explicit instructions. A director can say, "Okay Timmy, go Wa-wa-wa, I love you mommy!" But the kid will probably just say it in a not so nuanced way; Maybe the kid will say it rather convincingly. Maybe he will say it in a way that the director obviously directed him to say it, and it seems corny. In the past, before I became as severe of a film snob as I am presently, I said "Kids in film suck." It's not true at all. Kids can be wonderful in film. But they can be awful. If there's an Arnold Schwarzneggar film (and I imagine there will be one again one of these days,) he has a cute little boy will shoulder length hair Arnie can muss up and almost invariable the child is appelated with the obnoxious name of "Danny." Little Danny come give Daddy a kiss before I go blow up the dark-skins. But anyway, Cassevettes, in Woman Under the Influence (which I find a problematic, dated title) skirts a fine line between maudlin Hollywoodism and outright exploitation of the child-actors. The kids are wrested around heedlessly by their alcoholic parents. The children are props at times, and more human than their parents at others. It is emotional wrenching to witness. There were reaction shots of the children that made me want to instantly cry.

That shit is intense. I have one more post before I go to bed. Hopefully it won't be a long one, but it deserves its own space.

1 comment:

sarcasmus said...

I forgot to mention the children in City of God. God that was powerful. Akin to Los Olvidos, in a lord of the flies vein. The last scene, or penultimate, I can't remember, with the children...that was among the most powerful movie images I can recall this side of The Battle for Algiers.