Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Mobile Impressionism

Before finally upgrading to a smartphone last year, the photographer in me always thought it would be cool to have a camera phone. But then I got my BlackBerry, and I realised…well, I realised that the images are just a bit shit – especially when you zoom in. There's no optical zoom, just a digital option which crops the final file and adds a lot of noise. Add to that no control of exposure and the difficulty of actually taking and framing images on the phone, and the whole thing began to seem rather pointless. But then, one day a few weeks ago, I was bored and waiting for my girlfriend to finish picking something up from her office. So I started taking some photos. The images weren't very good, but there was something about these two pictures which struck me: 

Somewhere, in among the blur and the grain, there was a kind of beauty. The noise in the images reminded me of the brushstrokes of the impressionist painters. When I was a kid, I told my parents that I didn't like impressionism because the images were 'scruffy'. It was this 'scruffiness' that I was now responding to in these two photographs. 
With this in mind, I decided to embark on a photography project. A series of photographs taken on my BlackBerry, on full zoom, highlighting the 'impressionism' (the 'scruffiness') of the images generated. What follows below is the result of this project. 




Monday, 17 June 2013

Films This Week

(Click here to read my general introduction to the 'Films This Week' series of posts.) 

Before Midnight

Watched a double bill of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Their beautiful perfection puts my own work to shame.
Went to the BFI to see a collection of Thanhouser's Early Cinema Adaptations. I guess the emphasis is on early (they spanned 1910-1913). I really liked two of the five they showed. It was a good evening too – there was a Q&A and introductions to each film. Glad I managed to make it along.
Saw Before Midnight. I'm not sure if it was quite everything I wanted, but I still loved it. It was just a little different from what I was expecting. Maybe expecting isn't the right word – I'm not sure what I was expecting – I just mean that it feels different from the other two. If anything, it almost feels closer to Slacker and Waking Life in its freewheeling conversations (at least in the first half – the second half reminded me more of Tape, at least in setting). More than anything, what struck me was the sense of being reunited with old-friends – which is testament to how well Linklater, Delpy and Hawke have crafted their characters. It's also very funny. Perhaps the funniest of the three. Looking at them as a trilogy, it's interesting to note how they get more sexually explicit as the trilogy progress – and therefore as the actors get older. It feels like the reverse of what you'd expect in more conventional filmmaking. There's a sense of magic and mystery in the first two which are gone from this one, which also feels like it's down to the age of those involved (a product, perhaps, of what their life experience has taught them). But as much as it's missing the magic, it could be this very absence that makes this one special, and what makes it work on its own terms. It doesn't feel like a gem in the way the first two do, but I think time will prove it to be equally memorable, and equally profound. 
Went to the BFI for a double bill: The Act of Killing and White Elephant. At times, The Act of Killing seems almost like a fictional satire of genocide power – but it's not, it's a terrifying nightmare of reality. There's no denying the film's outright power, but I felt throughout that it could have been more probing. It's only late in the film that it starts to examine the 'why', and even then it feels like it needed to go further, to build a fuller psychological portrait of its participants. For instance, when Anwar begins to awake to the full impact of his crimes and express surprise at how his victims felt, why didn't Oppenheimer ask him how he thought they felt? Was Anwar really only realising their fear for the first time? Making men such as Anwar confront their pasts is a worthwhile enterprise – but something needs to be got from it. It feels wrong to be overcritical of a film which draws attention to such barbaric acts in such a powerful way, but at the same time there is something a little disturbing about the whole enterprise. Not only is there a lack of real insight (psychological or political), but at times it feels very constructed (for one thing, the timeline of events is never clear). In all, a very powerful film, but a problematic one also – but maybe that's okay. Maybe by being problematic, it causes us to scrutinise it more closely, and thus engage even further with the issues it raises. White Elephant, meanwhile, suffered from a slightly undefined narrative trajectory, by which I mean it was unclear what it was building to (and, indeed, the ending was a weird mix of multiple ending-syndrome and extreme abruptness). But it was never less than engaging, and Trapero is a filmmaker who really knows how to use the camera – and when to cut.
White Elephant


Monday, 10 June 2013

Films This Week

(Click here to read my general introduction to the 'Films This Week' series of posts.)

Signs of Life
Watched Bedlam. It's good, but it feels like a lesser work somehow. Apart from final shot of Karloff waking up as he's being walled in, nothing really stands out. Also, the positivity of the ending doesn't quite ring true – it seems at odds with the unbending pessimism, the bleakness, that's gone before it (both in the film itself, and in the rest of Lewton's oeuvre). Death is good, and there is darkness in everyone. 
Went to see Signs of Life, which felt like the kind of small film that I see at EIFF (and which is then never seen again). It definitely becomes a different kind of film halfway through, and I think it was the first half I really responded to: the rhythm, the mundanity, the absurdist humour. But that's not to say the second half wasn't enjoyable too. The photography is also beautiful throughout, and what a location! A very strong debut.
Went to see Behind the Candelabra. Soderbergh's on good form this year (this might be even better than Side Effects). I found it quite terrifying – there's something almost vampiric about Liberace. But there's a lot of fun to it, and by the end it's very moving: its exploration of power, ego and image never overshadows its simple probing into human relationships. Michael Douglas is terrific (I'd somehow never taken in how good he is, or maybe he's just better here?). I'm very pleased to hear that Soderbergh already has plans to make more TV.
Behind the Candelabra

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Quote for the Week

'Know me!' cried Markheim. 'Who can do so? My life is but a travesty and slander on myself. I have lived to belie my nature. All men do; all men are better than this disguise that grows about and stifles them. You see each dragged away by life, like one whom bravos have seized and muffled in a cloak. If they had their own control – if you could see their faces, they would be altogether different, they would shine out for heroes and saints! I am worse than most; myself is more overlaid; my excuse is known to me and God. But, had I the time, I could disclose myself' - Robert Louis Stevenson, Markheim

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Films This Week

(Click here to read my general introduction to the 'Films This Week' series of posts.)
Isle of the Dead
Watched Isle of the Dead, which was a fantastically tense meditation on death, fear and paranoia; a study on the evil that dwells within us all. It's a story about how we take recourse in superstition to help explain tragedy. There's an increasing tightening of the screws throughout. Really superb. In the evening I watched, Vicky Christina Barcelona, which I also enjoyed, if not quite to the same degree. 
Watched The Body Snatcher. I think it's a good adaptation (expansion) of the original story, even if there are a couple of individual scenes/sequences which have lost their power in the transition from page to screen. Some of the best moments, though, are original to the film – the death of the street singer is exceptionally well handled. In fact, the handling throughout is excellent, the shadowy cinematography perfectly crafting the required atmosphere. The performances, too, really stood out, especially Henry Daniell and Karloff (this is the best I've seen Karloff). I think it's interesting that they chose to singularise the title of the original story – it has a curious effect upon the way one thinks about the film (I'm reminded of the Bicycle Thieves/Bicycle Thief discussions). Watching it so close to the other Lewton films has got me thinking about Lewton as the auteur of his films. There's something cohesive about them all. He may not have been the (credited) director, but they all unmistakeably bear his stamp.
Went to see The Passion of Joan of Arc in a church in Shoreditch, with a live score from In The Nursery. A combination of delays and a support act meant there was quite a long (too long a) wait before the film began, but it was worth it. No matter how many times I see it, it still feels fresh. Today it felt like I was watching it for the first time all over again – the hounding assault of the judges was as terrifying as ever. It's a film of quivering lips and flaring nostrils, a masterpiece built upon gestures and moments. Its slow progression from controlled exteriors to all hell breaking loose outside worked its magic – never has a film been so perfectly structured. And, of course, there's the beautiful geometry of its images. It's exhilarating cinema. The score was excellent too, really drawing out the drama and excitement of the film, but not to the extent of wiping out its emotion. I think its shot up to become one of my favourite scores for the film. The location, while exciting in theory, failed to really add anything to the experience, though. The church itself wasn't particularly atmospheric, and while it seemed like a fitting addition to have a dimming stained-glass window behind the screen, as soon as the film started Joan was all that mattered (it's not a film during which you can take your eyes off the screen). I just wanted to be alone (alone with Joan). These novelty screenings may be all well and good as an excuse to get people back into watching films on the big screen, but personally I think I'll stick to the cinema.
The Passion of Joan of Arc