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