Thursday, December 6, 2012


A friend of ours lent us his condo in St-George, Utah. Right at the corner with Arizona and Nevada, the latter state offering some serious temptation to the Mormon population of St-George - could this geography have something do to with the rapid expansion of this vacation town? The condos were filled with affluent Mormons on vacation from Salt Lake City. This sect mostly comprises people of wasps origins and must be quite wealthy, with its 10% tax on its followers' income.

We saw them from our balcony, met them in the staircase, shared the jacuzzi. They looked and behaved like regular Americans, which made it weird, as I kind of expect sect followers to be socially unadapted. They were blond and tall and handsome. Only, the women didn't wear bikinis. Escorting large number of children (forbidding contraception is a well proven strategy to expand a church's following). We knew that they don't drink alcohol or tea or coffee or colas. They don't smoke. We were sinners from their point of view.
I caught myself planning to burglar their condos. It would be easy to climb on the balconies, maybe when they're in church on Sunday morning. Take the cash and their bicycles, I missed having a bicycle which I could ride in this beautiful landscape.

I was intrigued. I usually don't set up burglaries, honestly, it's not my line of work. How come I was considering, though not seriously, a crime? Well, I was a sinner for them anyway. My behaviors and habits barred me from righteousness. I found myself in the shoes of people who are marginalized in our society, such as ethnic minorities in the US or gypsies in Europe.

Minorities are criminalized before they commit a crime, because they don't fit the norm of the typical respectable citizen. Additionally, in the US, the legal system has been skewed against them, the media portray them typically as criminal.  If they're labeled as criminals in the first place, what's the point in trying to be a responsible citizen?

Published by  - -  Arabella Hutter

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

From Physical to Mechanical - Sans objet by Aurélien Bory at BAM

In the 80s physical theater was triumphant. The stage was bare except for a piece of fabric or a triangular piece of set which would play the role in turns of a ship, or a hill, or a balcony. Costumes tended to be subdued or minimalist too. The actors moved on stage nearly as dancers, they were the characters, the set, the stage, all the the same time, as in ancient Greek theater. Direct, unimpeded connection between the actors and the audience. I loved it.

Theater has been moving away from this trend. Lepage's 10 hr pageant at BAM 2 years ago celebrated the return of the mechanical in theater: an airplane! On stage! With lights to indicate the aisle. It opened, turned around, flew! A subway train crossed the stage too. A car, or half a car, and think of it, it was also half a plane and half a train wagon. Deus ex machina, except there was no deus. As audience, we are allowed again to enjoy being mystified, fooled, awed. I love it.

This transition might have some due to the explosion of the circus theater such as James Thierrée's which necessarily uses props and machines and tricks. And in Aurélien Bory's Sans Objet playing at BAM Brooklyn, the machine has the main role. Reasserting all its rights, off stage and on stage. The show was magical in the most elementary meaning of the word: the humans on stage escaped the laws of gravity. Is this beneficial or nefast to humanity? Probably both, just as technology helps and hurts our humanity. The lighting and sound and robot performance were beautiful, poetic while controlled with utter precision. 

Another aspect I enjoyed about the show, and about Bory's work in general, is that I often don't understand why I laughed. I couldn't describe it afterwards with words. Once I was babysitting a 10 months old boy, and I was walking a puppet in front of him, and would make the puppet do an abrupt about face, with its limbs and hair flying all over. The little boy laughed and laughed every time. Why? How did he know it was funny, with what references? In the same primitive way the little boy laughed, some of the absurd movements of the robot and of the comedians on stage made me laugh. And obviously the rest of the audience too, from the ovation they gave the company at the end of the show.

Not a review

Published by  - -  Arabella Hutter

Friday, October 12, 2012

Paul Thomas Anderson should be dead or very old

Paul Thomas Anderson should be dead or very old. The others are: Altman, Huston, Hawks, Kubrick, Welles, ....  How does he get his films funded anyway? Does he sleep with the Weinstein brothers? Does he have recourse to blackmail? Someone -Anderson- should make a film about how Anderson got The Master funded. Because he's the only master director alive who commands this kind of budget for films as original and uncompromising as The Master.

In no particular order:

Speaking of masterly. The opening shot: the water backwash shot straight down from the deck. But we're watching it on the glorious East Village main theater's screen, and our perspective is that the water is going straight up. Next shot: a very low angle of a man on a palm tree ripping off coconuts. Our perspective: we're looking horizontally at him. 

Lancaster Dodd, like the older man in Hard Eight, takes a liking to Freddy Quell for no good reason. And vice versa. The mystery of their relationship has to be accepted by us, as we accept the water shooting up the screen. A mystical quality. After the prison scene where they are separated both physically and emotionally, they roll on the ground in a dyonisiac (how the hell is that word spelled?) embrace. One unit, as the prehuman creatures in Greek mythology with 4 arms and 4 legs which were later split in the middle, and here we are, humans, with this primal wound never to be healed.

Lancaster heals his patients or followers by having them go back billions of years, trillions of years, seeking the trauma in their souls. He tries the process on Freddy, unsuccessfully. Maybe he should have tried to go back just 10 years to look for trauma to the soul, when Freddy was fighting World War II in Asia. 

Treat: Paul Thomas Anderson Q&A with Jonathan Demme. About as good as it gets. Except Jonathan spent half the Q&A asking Anderson how he got started, was it his Dad? (Answer: not really) Did he tell stories to his friends in high school? (Answer: no) Was he inspired by the current plight of returning veterans? (Politely: no) He did say yes, sometimes, and discussed how, for him, Lancaster Dodd is a good guy which I was wondering about. The film is not an indictment of cults. If Lancaster has the manner of a sergeant major as well as the charisma of a cult leader, he believes in what he preaches. And Dodd loves him because he hasn't been able to adapt after the war where he was told what to do and established strong bonds with his friends, says Anderson (all that is not in the movie however, we the audience have to figure it out). With Lancaster, it's easy: he does what he tells him to do, he fights for him against what he perceives as his aggressors. 

There I was, in this gorgeous theater, having just watched a film by a great director of our times, the light went up, and there he was, so pleasant and without an ounce of conceit, discussing his film. I'll tell my grandchildren.

When period films so often rub me the wrong way, here, the 40s/50s are delicious. Maybe because Anderson was trying to reproduce images of the 40s rather than the actual period itself. The secondary actors even had faces from films, calendars, posters from these years. I couldn't help counting the period cars, the costumes (20 school uniforms for just one short scene!), did anyone really think this film is going to return its costs? 

Is there a point in talking of the acting that's all round stupefying? OK. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is just amazing. Incredible. The fluidity, jumping from one expression to the next, is a perfect characterization of Lancaster.

And to top it all, the film has a happy end: Freddy is able to separate from Lancaster, Lancaster is able to let him go. 

Not a review.

Published by  - -  Arabella Hutter

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Rhinoceroses course through BAM

Went to watch the stampede of rhinoceroses at BAM . The play written by Ionesco can be interpreted as an allegory about fascism, in the vein of Animal Farms. It was written in 1957, following years where humanity in Europe forgot about its humanity and was moved by primal instinct. But was it? In the years since Ionesco, our conception of humanity and animality has changed. Hannah Arendt argued that being human is what makes us potential sadists, not our animality. Denying its humanity to other humans is a human trait.

Meanwhile our conception of animals has changed drastically. We now deny animals a capacity for moral judgement, no more pig judgments, no more good goats and bad wolves - though I can still see a clear difference between a mean dog and a nice dog, - we might want to reconsider the capacity for ethics of certain animals such as chimps and whales.. Animals are not terrible, ferocious, dangerous, threatening beings anymore, we believe these adjectives describe us better. The director of this version of the Rhinoceros does not make his intentions clear. The Rhinos have a lot to say for themselves, even if they tramp on  a cat ("the cat only lacked speech to be human") from time to time. They run. They dance, and sing. Clearly, they have sex. Meanwhile humanity is pretty dull. There's a a range of characters some clearly symbolic of various philosophical schools, Cartesians, Sartrians,  But the play is not an allegory for good vs bad in the hands of this director, which makes it a more interesting exercise for our times. The animals are instinctive, loud, unpredictable. This has become desirable. Humanity in "Rhinoceros" works in an office, and throws balls of paper to each other. I would have joined the rhinos without hesitation. Who could resist that big horn on their forehead. Or two horns. One by one humans are attracted by the realm of the rhino and leave humanity, more or less willingly. It should be read as fascism gaining members over, but it is directed as wild natural sensuality gaining over modest self control. However the last man standing is a drunkard. In a scene that was maybe originally intended to be repulsive, a woman recognises her husband in the rhino charging the office and is delighted at being reunited with him, she has love in the eye. And when the last woman joins the rhinoceros, she sashays to them, readying herself for some more interesting romps then the one she just experienced with the last human.

I wondered, can a director really distort an author's work in this way? Interpretations of a work can vary, but here, the director gives a different reading than the author originally intended. It's a bit shocking to me. Or does the director really think his staging of the play would deter us from wanting to become a rhino? They were a bit noisy, true, the whole play was a bit noisy. Some silence would have been good. Maybe then we would have resented the rhinos breaking it.

Not a review.

Published by  - -  Arabella Hutter

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cronenberg and traditional values

With Eastern Promises, David Cronenberg made a film in the traditional romantic tradition: boy meets girl, boy and girl are suspicious of each other, then fall in love, but fates separate them. In the vein of Casablanca. It has a 40's feel. Just like Casablanca, a sense of duty prevents the protagonist from entering a relationship with her. Oh that one and only kiss they have, before he heartbreakingly walks away! Classic romanticism.

I watched Crash last night. People crashing cars for sexual arousal. Lots of sex, men and women, women on women, men on men. And a lot of crashes with gory shots of dead people upside down in cars, preposterous wounds, all real graphic. After I got over the shock effect I got thinking. The film is really about its two main characters, a couple, and how love each other. It's kind of a marriage counselling story. To make your relationship work, you need to work on making the other person happy. In this case, arousal through car crashes.  It's way harder to make a film about how a couple sustain their relationship than a romantic romp where there is no risk of routine and boredom settling in. Of course there are other themes in the film, such as risk and death, but I was struck by the unobvious sweetness, the deep feeling of loving beyond the shocking images.

I remembered A History of Violence. I saw it by accident, its title had repelled me into thinking it was about a man abusing his wife. It's not. It's about a man with a violent past who goes to any length to protect his marriage and keep his family together. Even if that means his son and he shooting down the baddies on their front lawn.

Eastern Promises promotes a sense of social duty, Crash celebrates making a marriage last, and A History of Violence holding together one's family at all cost? These are not exactly anarchist values. Most conservative filmmakers make films using a traditional form, and risk taking filmmakers are more likely to promote some rebellion against traditional values. They're preaching to the converted. Cronenberg expresses his beliefs in a non traditional form and reaches an audience less likely to adopt them. I was pretty convinced. Mortensen can convey any message as far as I'm concerned. And David Cronenberg is a seriously talented director. Some of the scenes are breathtakingly dramatic, the film's beautifully shot with an 80s kind of trashy look, and the direction of the actors is highly skilled.