Category Archives: film

The production designer and the egg

The FT recites the commonplace observation that curvaceous, minimalist 1960s commercial designs look “space-age”, as if inspired by 1960s SF films, principally 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Furniture inside the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey

which might indeed stand comparison with, say, Maurice Calka’s PDG Desk:

Maurice Calka's PDG Desk

The writer, Josh Sims, says there’s a similar “stripped back, wipe-down, germ-free” vision of the future in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. I think he might want to refresh his memory of this film:

Kris Kelvin in the rocket bay on the Solaris station

Gibarian's video message to Kelvin in Solaris

But more generally I think he’s missing the point I made rather eloquently in my last post. Isn’t it more likely that, rather than furniture designers looking at film designers, they were all looking at the slightly older generation of modernist sculptors?

Shirin

Shirin by Abbas Kiarostami
When I wrote about the pernicious fascination of images and the Islamic suspicion of them and how that might perhaps have influenced some Iranian films, I hadn’t been to see Shirin: a whole film that rests on denying the image. Not to say that there isn’t plenty of eye candy in all that raven hair, shining, almond eyes, chiselled cheekbones etc, not to say that watching emotions ruffle beautifully lit faces of any kind isn’t fascinating, but there’s no forgetting that we’re watching a film that is about not watching a film; if you want to really engage your imagination, the audience of which you are part is in the position of the screened film that the screened audience in the film you are watching is watching. The complications don’t stop there. The film whose place in space you share never existed except in your actualization of that place, behind your eyes and the eyes of other audience members like you, because the women on the screen were, reportedly, actors sitting in Abbas Kiarostami’s living room looking at dots above the camera, and the narrative they are apparently following so avidly was chosen afterwards. It goes to show what a great thing Lev Kuleshov‘s editing experiment was. I wonder if Kiarostami was also thinking of Salaam Cinema, made by his intriguing counterpart Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a film made of filmed auditions for a film that turns out to be the film we’re watching, in which the director is shown insisting that his would-be movie stars must be able to cry on demand. Makhmalbaf is already implicated in Kiarostami’s hall of empty mirrors in Close-up, about which it would be wrong to give too much away, except to say that it features an impostor and their impostee both playing themselves.

The comparison with Andy Warhol’s Blow Job

– what’s really going on down there? Does it matter? – and Screen Tests might be obvious, but I’m going to make it anyway: we just love looking at other people, that’s what nearly all paintings and photographs and films are for, and if you take away the frame of context and narrative we expect in a film, we still love it. On that subject, if you ever ever get a chance to see Tim Etchells performing Down Time, do. I wonder how he would now remember what he was thinking.

Where you fall to if you’re not tied down

Underwater footage from The Wild Blue Yonder

Imagine someone pays for you to go to the Antarctic and make a documentary. Dramatic, beautiful vistas, as pure as the mathematics of air flow and crystallization, which your viewers won’t have seen for themselves. Extraordinary cold. Cliffs of ice. Danger. Explorers enduring unimaginable hardship in the name of science. Penguins. What a nightmare. Where could you possibly start? How could you avoid all the above clichés without ignoring everything that is recognizably Antarctic?

By force of character. That, at least, seems to be Werner Herzog‘s method, Continue reading Where you fall to if you’re not tied down

Addicted to images

cover of La goutte d'or by Michel Tournier
Idriss, a teenage goatherd in the Sahara, encounters two French people in a Land Rover. One, a young woman with blond hair and bare legs, takes his picture. She is taken aback to find that Idriss knows enough French to ask for the photo. She promises to send it once she gets back to Paris and has it developed. No photo arrives. But at a wedding party, he has a revelation: Continue reading Addicted to images

Better Things

This film is about lives in which nothing happens.

Nothing happens because the characters live in small rural towns in which nothing happens and they have too little money or knowledge or confidence to make anything happen.

Several of them smoke or inject heroin. We see them doing this repeatedly.

Others are old. One is agoraphobic. Again, because of these factors nothing much happens. This does raise the possibility, however, of sitting in hospital and glimpsing a covered trolley, probably carrying a corpse, being wheeled around a corner.

When people have taken heroin they may slump back in the armchairs in their parents’ unappealing house and gaze with unseeing, half-closed eyes into the space above them. Two friends together will pass long periods like this without saying anything.

The parents, who must be doing something to keep the house going and put food in the cupboards, are away on holiday for the duration.

No one ever smiles. Not even nervously or compulsively.

The sun does not shine.

It rains.

Many people have bad skin. The one who had the best skin died of a heroin overdose.

None of this is funny.

The agoraphobic’s therapist has awful treble-clef earrings and a repressed manner to counter any expectation that she can possibly help the situation.

We enter events that have already begun, and leave them before they conclude. No one exits or enters the frame. Mostly, nothing changes between the beginning and ending of the scene.

Any decisive event that does occur happens off camera and between scenes, so not visibly and not in real time.

This could be an interesting reversal of normal film technique, which is to show decisive action and cut out the time in between. It could raise the question of which moments are really the most important in life.

But the film is as depressed as its characters. It wants us to feel its deadness. It performs its monotonous dance of death before us, but won’t take us by the arm to draw us onto the ballroom floor.

It could have been a promising short. But you need to do much more than this for a feature.

(Better Things, Duane Hopkins, ICA)