Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Absolute Cinema - The Double Life of Veronique

In my introduction to this blog I said that defining my love for cinema was something I couldn't do with text. So I have decided to put together a series of moments that showcase what I define as 'Absolute Cinema.' These can be a single element or a variety of cinematic techniques that come together in such a way that elevates cinema. It might be an entire sequence or just a particular shot, edit, score it doesn't even have to be on purpose. It is a moment exclusive to cinema as an art form.

The inspiration for this post came from Peter Labuza's series of 'Cinephiliac Moments' which he describes as:
    'a moment in which cinema becomes something more than entertainment and possibly more than art.'
Our criteria differ in some regard I'm sure. Set us both in front of the same film, we'd probably select different moments. But his series is very insightful and his writing has been a big enough influence on me to acknowledge him. 

So onto my first entry...

Absolute Cinema: The Double Life of Veronique

Kieslowski's Soul

After one particular screening of La Double Vie de Veronique a teenage girl approached Kieslowski and told him that it had made her understand what the soul is. I, for one don't understand what the soul is, I'm not even sure one does exist, but Kieslowski's film is the one that makes me want to believe.

Perhaps more so than any other director, he is an observer, capturing the subtlest of interactions and connections. His camera often focuses on the delicate or intimate actions of the protagonists, such as the twirling of a string around one's finger or spilling a bottle of milk (Dekalog  VI, A Short Film About Love,) lending to this wonderful sense of identity and place. With the collapse of the Soviet Union he embarked on four cross-continental films exploring these themes within a metaphysical spectrum. Something he had only suggested in his monumental work The Dekalog (as well as the earlier No End.) The first, La Double Vie de Veronique or The Double Life of Veronique, is the director's greatest standalone piece and the following three make up one of the most complete trilogies in all cinema, The Three Colours.

For Kieslowski, the soul and the spiritual are linked. It is what defines our identity, what drives are smallest and largest actions and reactions that ties us to a higher plane. We aren't controlled by it, we make our own decisions (such as the decision to become a professional singer,) but it does guide us - through colour, through music. Once again Kieslowski would use his soundtrack as an integral part of the story, and here is the first time he utilizes colour symbolically. Green and red represent both Veronique and Weronika and their presence in each other’s lives. But it is the colour gold that represents a higher power; it is the gold dust that lands on Weronika's, it is a golden light that draws Veronique to the string on her file. The defining moment, when soul and spiritual come together comes in the second act of the film during a puppet show in the school where Veronique teaches.

The Puppeteer Alexandre, is a character much like the Judge from Three Colours: Red, connected to the metaphysical, even if he is not aware of the connection himself. As he delicately controls the movements of the marionettes, we begin to realise that the story playing out on the stage echoes the death of Weronika in the first half of the film.

At the 2.13 mark in the Youtube clip posted, notice how the camera pans to the left, moving from the stage to a mirror revealing Alexandre behind. His face is illuminated by the metaphysical gold light, and behind him is a green curtain. However it is the next shot that it becomes apparent that Kieslowski is indicating something more. We cut to a close-up of Veronique as she turns her head. She hasn't yet seen Alexandre, the previous shot is not her Point-of-View, as we expect, but the soul of Weronika. It is her presence, represented by the green backlight and of course the score by 'Van Den Budenmayer' that draws the attention of Veronique to Alexandre. Finally, at the end of the sequence, Alexandre pulls the transformed marionette through the veil only to stop, staring directly into the camera. As I said above, Alexandre is a character connected to the metaphysical, so I believe it is not Veronique that he sees, but Werkonika.

This is cinema at its most transcendent. It is Kieslowski's slight camera work, his use of colours, Zbigniew Preisner's haunting score and Irène Jacob's transfixed expression that allow him to find the eyes of soul in such a delicate manor.

Searching for the spiritual is almost an impossible task for a filmmaker. Approaching such a universal yet entirely personal subject without alienating the audience with a level of self-endowed importance can often result in too heavy or too light a touch. For Kieslowski, the soul is not something he holds over the viewership. He asks but doesn't answer, instead leaving it for us to define ourselves. For me, it is something to take comfort in. Love, pain, sadness and intimacy is something that connects us all, doubles or not. For me, Kieslowski's soul is human.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

[Review] The Imposter - Master manipulator

In 1993, thirteen year old Texan Nicholas Barkley went missing on his way home from basketball only to reappear three years later, in Spain. However upon his return home that people begin to suspect all is not as it seems. 

A big hit at Sundance (where it was nominated for the grand jury world documentary prize) it recieved a limited release in July State side and is due to release this week, August 24th, here in the UK. 

Speaking in depth about Bart Layton's documentary is going to be a truly difficult thing to do without lessening the experience for anyone who hasn't seen it. So if you want a light but completely spoiler free review here you are: The Imposter is an 'enjoyable' docu-thriller about manipulation and perception. It's stylish 'Fincher-esque' reconstructions and unusual structure allows the ever-twisting narrative to keep the viewer engaged. However, I urge you not to trust it...

That's your warning, what follows will not contain any blatant spoilers but I will talk about the plot in some detail so if you're planning on checking this one out the time to leave is... Now!

A plot twist is a device used to undermine the expectations of the audience, whether that is an unexpected shift in tone or character depends on the nature of the twist. It is however pretty clear that the The Imposter is not a film driven by a twist like, and I say this to get it out of the way Catfish, which I can't help but feel this film will be compared to. It should be obvious to all that the boy emerging from Spain in 1997 is not the same as the one who went missing from Texas, after all the clue's in the name. Yet it's still rather perplexing that the film shows us the events that led one Frédéric Bourdin to assume the identity of the boy within the first thirty minutes of the film. Initially I wrote this off as a (poor) choice by director Layton in an attempt to get the audience to sympathize with Bourdin's actions. He's presented as a scarred teen desperate for affection to play off against the rather ignorant American family that we struggle to relate to. It is only at the end of the film's second act when it becomes apparent to what The Imposter is really about.

Like Abbas Kiarostami's 1990 film Close-Up, which used the curious incident involving a young man's impersonation of famous Iranian film maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf as an attempt to analyse our perception of identity in relation to the role of a director and actor. The Imposter uses the events following 'Nicholas' return to America as an attempt to show the power the storyteller (as well as the editor) has to manipulate our perception of 'truth.'

The problem is that its approach is much too heavy handed. Rather than allowing the audience to make their own judgements of the people on screen by their own account (like for example Kurosawa's Rashomon) the film presents them and their agendas in such a way that makes us doubt the authenticity of everybody involved infront of or behind the camera. So if we then say the point of the film was that truth is subjective, that all these people are giving an honest account, why does it deliberately go out of it's way to portray the family as ignorant and suspicious? Bourdain as a scarred but charming man? Why does it only relay the facts after it allows itself to indulge in another dramatic fade to black? In the end you can't help but feel that the real truth is that the story just wasn't as interesting as Bart Layton wanted it to be.

Strangely the film has a darkly comic vibe to it. However by the end it developeds into mean-spirited exploitation such as a moment towards the end of the film when our old 70-something Private Investigator arrives at the house formally owned by the Barkley's and proceeds to dig a gaping hole in back garden where he believes the body of Nicholas may be stashed. You can't help but feel that they're making light of the disappearnce of a child. In the Satelite uplink Q&A with both director Layton and Producer Simon Chinn (I could be wrong about this) stated that the family were happy with the finished film whilst Bourdin has both vowed never to see it and publically thrashing it on Youtube, I find this an ironic twist considering I know which one of the two comes off better in the end.  

Despite it's clear strengths, I just can't recommend The Imposter. It's attempt at making the audience question our own understanding of truth is undone by it's heavy handed approach, the fact that it withholds information from the audience to deliver a cheap thrill and the general nastiness of it's tone make all add up to make a film that feels rather cold and dishonest. But that is just my perception...


See ya next time, folks!

Monday, 20 August 2012

On The Dark Knight's Priorities and Supreme Art Cinema

A Look into the recent Cronenberg controversy and Batman's hygiene.

[Disclaimer: The Dark Knight Rises spoilers ahead. But really if you haven't managed to see yet, I'm surprised you get internet under that rock of yours] 

'Come at me, bro!'

Batman sure is a deteremined dude, I mean in the time leading up to the final, epic battle of The Dark Knight Rises he's lost his family home and his one true love. He's crippled mentally just as much physcially. Wayne enterprizes is in ruins. And his new nemesis Bane has broken him in 'Spirit' and 'body'. Never the less, Bruce Wayne over comes his inner and outer demons to return to Gotham prepared to give everything in order to save his beloved city.

So while the clock is ticking and all life is at stake... why does he take the time to shave?


This topic is not something I thought up myself, no, I was in my natural habitat of message forums a few nights ago when someone drew my attention to this as a joke. But between the initial post and the responses it garnered it left me with a few thoughts that I felt were worth sharing.

Firstly, although it is possibly the pickiest of nits that I've seen regarding The Dark Knight Rises, it actually is a small but very important example of one of the crucial problems with Nolan's latest epic. The disconnection between the visual design and what the film is trying to convey. With regards to Batman's infallible hygiene perhaps it's a conscious decision on Nolan's part, after all Batman is a symbol, and his defined, clean appearance is a presentation of inner strength that everyone can adhere to. Equally however this is the time when everything is at stake, Bruce Wayne is holding nothing back and even looks like he's prepared to break his golden rule ('Tell me where the trigger is. Then... you have my permission to die!') Had Batman arrived looking like he'd actually been on the spiritual and physical journey he just had been, not only could it have created a sense of urgency that the final act lacked, but it also could have illustrated the intensity of Batman's determination to give everything.

The bigger issue here is Nolan's presentation of Gotham. At the end of the second act Bane establishes his control over the isolated Gotham, he declares the city as something of an anarchist state and a modern day Gomorrah. Yet... look at it:

'Gottam Garabge force, keeping the streets clean regardless of rain, snow or collapse of Western civilisation.'

Okay that HD Trailer screen I grabbed doesn't actually showcase my point, but snow or no snow, this just doesn't look like a city in decay, controlled by fear and death. This expands into the actual actions of the characters. We are told that Bane runs the streets with an iron fist, yet we repeatedly see Blake and Gordon walk around in the open conspiring against him. The odd thing is, Nolan didn't have this problem in either previous entry. In Batman Begins Gotham is grimey and cluttered illustrating a population of the verge of collapse. The Dark Knight's city is defined by lines and squares representing the established values The Joker wanted to undermine. How did Nolan get it so wrong here? My guess is that he spent so much time and effort going for raw emotional power that the detail was lost.

Going back to the intial point, the first response and one of the most popular defences I've seen of The Dark Knight Rises and Batman in general is the weak 'It's just a superhero film.' This is probably the most frustrating of arguments to deal with, not only is it a silly excuse for bad writing but it also undermines the whole point of Nolan's series. I don't get this response one bit; if a series that has defined itself by it's realistic approach to a genre that is typically a fantasy, then surely we can expect the character's actions and attitudes to adhere to that same realism. 

This leads me into the backlash that director David Cronenberg recieved after some remarks he made about The Nolanverse and it's fans.

'He said what about my cape?!'

In an interview with NextMovie.com he was asked if he would consider branching out into the Super-hero genre, to which he responded:

'I don't think they are making them an elevated art form. I think it's still Batman running around in a stupid cape. I just don't think it's elevated... The movie, to me, they're mostly boring...  I would say that's a no, you know. And the problem is you gotta… as I say, you can do some interesting, maybe unexpected things. And certainly, I've made the horror films and people say, "Can you make a horror film also an art film?" And I would say, "Yeah, I think you can."

But a superhero movie, by definition, you know, it's comic book. It's for kids. It's adolescent in its core. That has always been its appeal, and I think people who are saying, you know, "Dark Knight Rises" is, you know, supreme cinema art," I don't think they know what the fuck they're talking about.'

Skating round the 'art is subjective' issue which I am by no means prepared to get into. And whilst I do find Cronenberg's comments sort of unprofessional, although the dude made Videodrome so he can whatever the hell he wants, I must say I actually find myself agreeing with him on one point. Nolan's films may be a more complex take on the genre, they may offer up some attempts to tackle broader political, social and economic themes but when we get down to it, they never offer up much to say. And if we take them into context of the movies they want to be compared to, then they just fall apart. 

Although I think to denounce all Super-hero films based on their premise alone is stupid and I will challenge him on the idea that a Super-hero film can never belong to the realm of 'elevated' cinema because we already have one. Yes it may be years since I've seen it, and in that time the director's name has become something of a cinematic taboo but there is at least one Super-hero film to me that could qualify. A film much more about unfufilment, longing and belonging than it is about beating up the bad guy in spandex, M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable.

I couldn't resist.

With that I will leave you with this one great scene.

Peace out, and see you next time folks!


When I logged onto my computer this morning I was excited to see if my first entry into my blog had done recieved any interest, but that turned to shock when I read of Tony Scott's untimely passing. Suicide is a terrible thing and it's saddening to think that Mr Scott believed he had no where to go and no-one to turn to. I can only offer my condolences to his family at what must be the most difficult of times. I hope all that can will give them all the help they need.

I've only seen the one Tony Scott film, Unstoppable, it was as enjoyable a film they come and Tony clearly had a lot of talent behind the camera, his sudden departure is a shock to the cinematic world and he will be missed. 

RIP Tony Scott (1944-2012)

Sunday, 19 August 2012

An Introduction

'Greetings my friends!'

A little introduction to The Image Loft. I am Mervyn Marshall, I'm a nineteen year old about to start my second year of my BA Single Honors Film Studies degree in Queens University Belfast.

So I've been wanting to start something like this for about three months now. Something always came up, usually my own five star procrasination skills, but after spending a good two days mulling over a title I finally gave up and settled on this one... Which I'm already regretting and will probably have deleted this blog and moved on to something else by the end of the day. So if I'm still here by the end of the week, you'll know I couldn't think up anything more creative. 

So what is the purpose of this place? Well, I've been writing reviews online on various message forums for years now and this is my first dip into the Blogosphere and I see it as sort of a dry run. I really just hoping to get something set up so I could get myself out there and have something to show if ever I needed it. Also I see it as a challenge to myself,  if I'm capable of putting the effort into this sort of thing before charging off to buy a domain name, so for now a free Blog site will do. I'm hoping to update a couple of times a week depending on my watchings and what I'm musing on over the first few weeks. When I go back to Uni late September then I will have to juggle my time between social, school and work life but that shouldn't stop me from getting at least one update out a week. 

So, movies. It's why I'm here and it's hopefully why there is a least somebody else here with me. Actually, I'm just going to take a small spot here to apologise in advance to my all my friends, casual internet acquaintances and of course my beautiful girlfriend because you see, they're going to be harassed with this over the coming weeks, and for that I am sorry. 

Anyways, back to movies. I didn't really have much of a choice regarding my obsession. Both my dad and sister are massive movie fans and the former has led me to many of my favourite films. But really if I could pin it all on one person, it would probably be this guy:

'Mmmm cinephiles.'

That's right Japan's biggest movie star is probably the reason why I just watched Visconti's The Leopard a few hours ago when I get down to it. I've written before on my admiration for the series but I plan on doing one here in greater detail. But anyway as a young mite growing up in Northern Ireland I don't know how I managed to fall into the ropey, cheap 1950/60s Godzilla films, and just in time for the crappy Emmerich 1998 movie, whatya know even at five years old I'd already seen my childhood crushed by Hollywood. I can trace the line back pretty clearly; Godzilla turned to Akira. Akira turned to Satoshi Kon's wonderful mini-series Paranoia Agent which (along with my love the Silent Hill Video game series) eventually brought me to David Lynch (and Hitchcock and Kubrick etc etc.) Okay so it's not that interesting to anybody other myself but it's funny (or maybe worrying) that one of the key figures in my development and overall life is a man in a rubber dinosaur suit. 

Okay, okay movies! I guess I should work on this tangent thing next time... I don't really want to get into why I love movies, I don't really think I could answer a question like that now or ever with text honestly. Film is something I've used to define myself since I was pretty young, but it only took off inside me as the thing I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing when I was fifteen years old and watched Mullholland Drive for the first time. 

This film truly opened me up to the power film had as an art form. It is my favourite film and one I owe a great deal to. Seeing that love reflected in the recent Sight and Sound poll made me feel all gooey inside, hopefully one day I will be casting my vote for this film as the greatest movie of all time along with the other critics out there. 

[Calling it now, by 2032 Mulholland Drive will have entered the top ten, by 2052 top five and 2072 numero uno. You heard it here first folks!]

And with that I think it's time we got this underway with some real shit. I hope this introduction served to catch somebodies interest out there! If not, I may at least get invited to a press screening from time to time...

Peace out and good times, folks!