31 March 2011

Three Times: Jane Eyre (2011)

Three introductory statements on my ignorance of Jane Eyre:

1. I haven't read the book because I'm not a girl (j/k!). I read Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea instead of Jane Eyre because presently American universities are overrun with post-colonialists (not j/k!). Nor had I seen any film adaptations (though now I kind of need to see Orson Welles go ham as Rochester). But what I enjoy about Jane Eyre, and seemingly all British classics, is that they're stories of captivity. Come to terms with it or die trying to escape. 

2. Charlotte Bronte's language is delightful. My favorite lines regard Jane's drawings, her "accomplishments," of which she says, "I'll save them until they're wanted." Ah, to believe that. And how could I have lived this long without hearing the heartbreaking way Jane asks of Rochester's proposal, "are you mocking me?"

3. There's a nice physicality to the piece, beginning with the way young Jane is whacked across the face with a heavy volume on birds. That's literature as I like it: concussive. 

Three helpings of praise for the lead actors:

1. My crush on Michael Fassbender is well-documented. In Jane Eyre, he has to hold back on his smolder a bit. To emphasize the fact that he's supposed to be a somewhat ugly, director Cary Fukunaga's camera backs away and Rochester recedes into dark corners. Though I was able to purr a bit at the cuddly red brocade robe he wore when locking his wife back up in the attic.

2. I've missed the films that have brought Mia Wasikowska to this stage but she's good as Jane. The series of poorly fitted dresses that droop around her shoulders help accentuate the sturdy neck into which her chin is often pointed. Wasikowska's best moments come when Jane checks herself for a moment before saying something really vicious. The scornful looks shot over teacup brims from her brown eyes are savory indeed.

3. Fassbender and Wasikowska together are able to remain coltish while falling for each other. "All governesses have a tale of woe," and "beauty is of no consequence," and "you transfix me quite," etc, etc. I got all the way to the end of the film wondering if they might hate each other just as easily as love each other. So the actors accomplished their main objective.

Three unfortunately curtailed sequences in Jane Eyre:

1. As a filmgoer, I like to linger but Fukunaga seemed to lack the trust to hold shots long enough. Right from the start he sets the camera casting after Jane as she flees over the moors. Just as I was starting to enjoy the way her blue and grey plaid matched the rain and rock, she's whisked away to safety. Fukunaga doesn't have to be Reygadas but I'd encourage him to move more deliberately through his set pieces.

2. At the height of Rochester and Jane's romance, the film moves outside on a day with a bit of actual sunlight. It's a sequence reminiscent of Pocahontas out of pocket amidst the topiary in The New World but without Malick's intuitive brilliance. Fukunaga has the lyricism but not the poetry.

3. After Jane leaves Thornfield and settles into even greater isolation, there's shot of her one room schoolhouse being snowed under. How sad that it lasts about three seconds--the mounting powder could have worked as the best symbol in the whole film. It's a wild, wild shot but gone before you can really see it.

Three reasons to be hopeful for the career of Cary Fukunaga:

1. He's excellent in the small details. After we see Bertha Mason locked in her attic framed with thick cobwebs, there's a quick cut to Jane rapidly unraveling the ties to the dress she wore for her aborted wedding. I also admire an earlier shot where a young girl's hair caught is incidentally caught in a bouquet of flowers--it helps underline the naturalism of this retelling.

2. Fukunaga gives a rack focusing master course for the sequence when Rochester throws a party for his rich neighbors and forces Jane to sit with them. Thanks to busy lensing, the two classes are never seen in focus at the same time. Jane is forever separate and we practically hear her resentment hissing.

3. I don't know many non-horror films with such an emphasis on the skin of its characters. Exploring some black passage of Thornfield, Jane comes across a portrait of a nude figure and brings her candle all the way up to the oil, showing darker layers of paint under the pink outer flesh. Especially in shots of Judi Dench and Fassbender by the hearth, the flickering light plays on their sallowness in a most unflattering way. Fukunaga thoroughly examines even the porcelain countenance of Jane, ready to expose any flaw.

23 March 2011

Inspired Pairings: Enter the Void and "All of the Lights"

The first two minutes of Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void:

Hype Williams' "All of the Lights" music video:

I love the idea that Hype and Kanye went to an independent movie theater to watch Enter the Void together and came out with the idea for their font orgy music video (did they perhaps share a bag of Sour Patch Kids?). I find it a much better piece of work than Kanye's more celebrated "Runaway" "film" (for which Mr. Williams served as a "writer") but that's probably just my prejudice against the depiction of white slaves. It's amusing to consider that Mr. Williams is perhaps even more adventurous than Noe with the overlay and movement of his titles.

As shown by the YouTube comments for the Enter the Void sequence, there's considerable cross-pollination between Kanye and Noe fans here, which I find artistically encouraging (as we must always try to move into aesthetic concerns beyond Rihanna's own inspired pairing).

14 March 2011

Anxiety and The Adjustment Bureau

I attacked Inception because the dreams that comprise the film were directed by Michael Bay, not by you or me. I laughed again at Hollywood's inability to capture nightmares. So I was shocked into real anxiety by how closely the events in George Nolfi's The Adjustment Bureau match the twists of my own recurring dreams.

Without getting too far into the film's deeply silly plot, suffice to say: senatorial candidate David Norris (Matt Damon, still running all over the place but in less comfortable shoes than he wears in the Bourne franchise) wants to be with Elise (Emily Blunt) but is thwarted at every turn by fedora'd "angels" (for lack of a better word) who insist that she is not part of his preordained life plan.

In The Adjustment Bureau and my dream, you're trying to find someone. You're late. You're lost. You start running. Dangerous obstacles get in your way (cars crash violently on a street you're about to cross, the floor falls away and there's a vertiginous drop right in front of you). You go through doors, find you're in the wrong place, go back out the door and find yourself in a third location, also wrong. You're panting, frantic, hopeless. Naturally, things work out better for David in the film than for me in my dream, perhaps because my sense of direction is so bad (and I'm never wearing a magical hat that gives me superpowers).

David eventually gets a little help from the angels, and this is the rub with The Adjustment Bureau. He learns, for instance, that the angels can't read his thoughts when it's rainy (David Denby joked that the protagonists should have just moved to Seattle (the joke is especially apt now, in March, the wrist-slittingest month of all, weather-wise)). Anthony Mackie (as Harry) and John Slattery (as Richardson) give cool enough performances but their constant presence necessitates too many laughable lines of shouted, angel-related dialogue: "You've hit your ripple limit!" or "Anyone in a hat is a threat!" Plus the library where all the angels hang out is not as architecturally appealing as the one in Wings of Desire. The angelic exception is Thompson, played Terence Stamp (check his A-MA-ZING scarf with complementary patterns on either side) who flexes real power and menace.

I know that for big studio producers Philip K. Dick stories=good movies but I would have moved this film in a different direction (and, from what I've read, the Dick story "Adjustment Team" differs substantially  from the movie version). The narrative tension suffers because we know in the first 15 minutes that David is fighting against a huge conspiracy and will do so for the rest of the film. I would have allowed room for the idea that the angels are just part of David's paranoid personality, part of the larger understanding many people have that our whole lives are being controlled by a shadowy god and/or government.

I'd also like to see Matt Damon and Emily Blunt star in another film, perhaps one in which they aren't being harassed by malevolent angels the whole time. There's too many Damon and dude conversations and not enough Damon and Blunt--unlike 95% of Hollywood films this millennium, these two romantic leads actually seem like they want to have sex with each other. And that's why The Adjustment Bureau is worthy of netflixing.

11 March 2011

In Love for the Mood of In the Mood for Love (or Something)

I'd recommend Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love anywhere, any time, from iPhones to plasma TVs meters across but, after seeing it in theater last week, I recommend it most of all on film stock. In cinema I prefer the love in my comedies to be requited and love in my dramas to be unrequited. ITMFL, with the so-quiet-it's-almost-nonexistent courtship between Chow (Tony Leung) and Su Li-Zhen (Maggie Cheung), falls in the second category.

Another way to summarize the film, from my other great discovery of the week: movie barcodes.

That white stripe in the middle is a fade out we see after an image that captures the incredible layering and precision of WKW's art. In this viewing, I noticed for the first time the complexity of the shot where Maggie Cheung centers the frame in her least densely patterned dress of the film: a daffodil print. She stands looking out a window fringed with foliage, next to floral curtains and in front of a sofa emblazoned with leaves. On her glass: more painted flowers. Floating at the bottom of her beverage: tea leaves. WKW's vision is total--he's left nothing out.

I paired my viewing of the film with Ming Wong's "In Love for the Mood" video installation at the Frye Museum. I can't pretend to unravel all the levels of meta- at work but to take a stab: Ming's piece is a multi-language, single gender reenactment by a white actress of a scene from ITMFL in which Chow and Su Li-zhen are not being themselves but are instead pretending to play the roles of their own unfaithful spouses. Postmodern confusion aside, it was fascinating to be in a room with the installation looping on three flatscreens with languages echoing around from surround sound speakers.

In more ways than the title, Ming's video loops seem an inversion of WKW's film. Rather like Godard's hidden earpiece technique with Anna Karina, Ming gives the actress her lines as she's speaking and her phonetic pronunciations are full of mistakes. Whereas Su Li-zhen breaks off speaking because of emotional devastation, the actress in the Ming's piece breaks off and giggles because she doesn't speak Cantonese. Despite precisely recreating the visuals of a scene from In the Mood for Love, "In Love for the Mood" feels offhand, less serious. WKW is notorious for the number of takes he requires, demanding that his actors' voices match an exact cadence he has in mind. Perhaps Ming's "first rehearsal" art reveals some of the sweat that's required to make WKW's frictionless celluloid machines.