Till det som är vackert [2009)

This is a perfect, imperfect film.

Like Russell’s paradox.

And I hope director Lisa Langseth won’t go all Frege on me and jump out a window.

Ah!

You know…

I have spoiled nothing.

And my words are almost completely inconsequential.

But similar things have been said about La Règle du jeu.

And I disagree with that.

In 1939, Jean Renoir made an unqualified (perfect) masterpiece with that film.

I qualified it only to distinguish from my initial example.

And so Pure (the title of this Swedish film which is currently on Netflix in the U.S.) is much like Asia Argento’s almost-masterpiece Incompresa.

I will be quite blunt.

Lisa Langseth stretches in almost the exact same dimension that Argento did with her fine film.

But the real similarity is acting perfection.

For a young child, Giulia Salerno was magnificent (really!) in Argento’s film.

And so Ms. Argento had the secret weapon.

A (very young) actress capable of cine-magic.

Ms. Langseth was blessed with more-or-less the same thing.

But even better.

[perhaps because the actress was a little older and more experienced]

Alicia Vikander makes Till det som är vackert go.

I mean, really…this is an acting performance unlike any other.

And so my only gripe with Ms. Langseth, the director, is that she stretched the story TOO FAR.

But that’s ok.

Because, you know what?  Maybe I’m wrong.

Langseth and Argento both seem to be trying to tell every story they’ve ever lived…IN ONE FILM.

Argento is the guiltier party.

For most of Pure, Langseth sticks to a taut plot.

Buttressed by Vikander’s exquisite acting, the sum total is ecstasy.

And so, I find myself reacting against the Hitchcock tendency in two films.

Some directors NEED a good dose of Hitchcock.

Wes Anderson, for example.

That guy is so saccharine…that when the fingers come off in Grand Budapest, we finally have a filmmaker.

But Langseth and Argento are telling GRUELING stories throughout (in Pure and Misunderstood, respectively).

And so the heavy bass note…the one which when slammed births the 9th harmonic…it doesn’t work here.

Because the tritone.

To progress through the harmonic series.

And resolve on a tritone.

It takes a special auteur to do such.

And these two ladies are not the dodecaphonists to do so.

They have not worked out a coherent system to justify their heart-ripping atonality.

But fear not.

Pure is so, so, so worth watching!

This is as close as a film can get to masterpiece while still being flawed.

And it’s so very close, I’m wondering whether the flawed one is me.

[no doubt]

Let me correct the record (ouch…David “Scumbag” Brock)…

We get noodles with ketchup.

I mean, this film is Gummo real.

So I want to give some BIG compliments.

Till det som är vackert is the best Swedish film ever made by anyone not named Ingmar Bergman.

In fact, it’s BETTER than several of Bergman’s films.

Shall I name names?

Pure is worlds (WORLDS) better than Fanny and Alexander.

Bergman was in poseur mode.

That flick is so overrated.

And Lisa Langseth totally smokes (eats the lunch of) Bergman.

Further, Till det som är vackert is (in my humble, masculine opinion) the greatest feminist film since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days…and in some ways EVEN BETTER than that timeless masterpiece.

And so, in general, I bow down in worship to Pure.

We have homelessness.

We have mental illness.

We have resilience.

Naturalism.  Grit.  The bird-soul of music…

The only thing we needed was an editor.

To say.

Cut.

About 20 minutes before the end.

Because Ms. Langseth wants to give us redemption.

She just seems to have her Raskolnikov in the wrong pocket.

It’s ok.

I’m the daftest son of a bitch on the planet.

One last thing…

This movie moved me so much.

The bulk of this film.

Did something to me.

Therapeutic.

And sublimely enlightening.

And so I thank God for Lisa Langseth and Alicia Vikander.

God bless you.

Thank you for making this kind of art.

As Nick Cave sang,

“It’s beauty that’s gonna save the world now”.

-PD

Seymour: An Introduction [2014)

Big gigantic balls.

It took Ethan Hawke.

Whom I formerly mistook for a hack.

To not even dabble in détournement.

But rather.

Straight-up.

Call it.

Seymour:  An Introduction

After Salinger.

But let me dispel all uncertainly early on.

This film, directed by Ethan Hawke, is a masterpiece.

The premise seemed interesting.

On Netflix.

“This should,” I thought, “be an easy one to jettison after a few painful minutes of shabby mise-en-scène…[after ignoring it on my ‘list’ for quite some time]”

And though there is no Liszt (ha!), Ethan Hawke tells one of the most touching stories I’ve ever seen.

Yes, that is the correct verbiage.

In the synesthesia of cinema.

It is the story of Seymour Bernstein (and not, as the title might lead one to believe, that of Seymour Glass).

Seymour did not become the supernova which his fellow Bernstein (Leonard) became.

No, Seymour Bernstein stepped away from the stage early.

As in, curtailed his career.

As a performer.

A pianist.

[but always a son–a man]

And so what makes Ethan Hawke’s film particularly special for me is the synergy created from two colliding ideas of great power:  music and anxiety.

Ah, to perform…

It’s hard (really, very fucking hard) for me to recall the good times which make me sad.

Those would be my four short years as a professional music performer.

[three of which coincided with a parallel mini-career as a studio (recording) musician]

Why did I step away?

To paraphrase Bogart in The Big Sleep, I must rank pretty high on insubordination.

I’m a rebel.

And though I pray that I never follow in the darker footsteps of Phil Spector, I was very much in what one would term popular or pop music.

But it wasn’t from a lack of training.

My bachelor’s degree, from an esteemed institution, is almost exclusively due to courses in Western classical music.

Though I am but an amateur pianist compared to Mr. Bernstein, I have a deep appreciation for what he is doing all throughout this film.

As a trained music theorist (my specialization).

And a trained composer (the activity to which I dedicated the bulk of my undergraduate hours).

But there is something more.

Seymour:  An Introduction is very much about hard work.

About craft.

What I’m doing right now.

What you are reading.

It is my craft.

Now.

Music has flown…like a fleeting bird.

And I have had to transpose my urge to create from “EveryGoodBoyDoesFine” by way of copious vicissitudes to “PleaseExcuseMyDearAuntSally” and other far-afield mnemonic devices.

Yes, dear friends…I identify with Ethan Hawke’s struggle.

And it is painful to watch him.

But he has redeemed himself with this film.

Through great doubt we travel…

What the fuck am I doing in business school?

Does my acting mean anything whatsoever to ME anymore?

To weave it, my problems were/are different than those of Mr. Hawke.

He is standing on the stage…[places, everyone]…on the X where I wish I was.

Directing a film.

You need a producer.

An “executive” producer.

You need a law firm.

Legal counsel.

[for all those archival clips you want to interpolate]

Yes…there is a long list of credited individuals at the culmination of Seymour:  An Introduction.

It doesn’t just say “Ethan Hawke”.

Those are the realities of film.

Godard has illustrated it as a process of check-writing.

$50 here.  [more like]  $3,000 here.

And again.  And again.

But it is obvious this was a project of love for Ethan Hawke.

And it worked.

Mr. Bernstein is 89 and still (apparently) teaches at NYU.

And what a gifted soul!

Ah…

This documentary reminded me of so many beautiful, important things!

It all moves too fast…

The pictures with Nadia Boulanger…

But Korea sticks.

At the front lines.

As jaw-dropping as Messiaen in his prison camp.

But let me speak to the choir now…

Friends of Deutsche Grammophon et al..

It’s important.

That extra dot.

To point out.

No pun intended.

A service.

PRACTICE in front of your audience (Warhol advised).

Dear Messrs,

[and scholarly, epicurean (?) womenfolk]

We have, in these minutes, footage of the great Glenn Gould.

We learn the chair.

How low.

Carry out folded.

Like a shabby parcel of manuscripts.

But Mr. Bernstein gives us the cinderblocks.

And while it is scary (Glenn Gould) in its proficiency.

The ear of God.

We get an even greater surprise.

Yes, most startling.

Clifford Curzon.

And the passion of a boy from Islington.

Precision.

Snap!

Unfurling arpeggios effortlessly.

While the baritone fingers surface the melody.

Just breathing above the water’s surface.

Curzon.

Those glasses.

We fall in love.

1977.

Year after I was born.

By 17 days.

Seymour Bernstein’s eight-year career was over.

As a public performer.

Debuting with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (!) a Brazilian piano concerto in world premiere (the 2nd by Villa-Lobos).

1969-1977

Double my career 🙂

[in more ways than one, I’m sure]

But as an astute student in the film observes, it was many thousands of hours (of practice and other dedicatory acts) to get to that point.

Mr. Bernstein didn’t sit down with the CSO and sightread the Villa-Lobos concerto.

It wasn’t his first time playing.

And so it comes back to work.

And anxiety.

& music.

Seymour Bernstein:  God bless you for knowing the quadrivium.

That MUSIC was one of the four higher liberal arts.

For the ancient Greeks.

Along with arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy.

What isn’t mentioned is that in which I am currently dabbling.

[dabbling my ass off]

The trivium.

Those “lower” three of the liberal arts.

Grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

And the liberal arts…in opposition to the practical arts.

[the latter being such as medicine…or architecture]

{Footnotes to be provided when hell freezes over}

And so I heartily recommend you watch this documentary.

Appreciate the importance of music.

See Abraham ready to sacrifice Isaac.

[he will laugh!]

Because God gives back.

Even though Mr. Bernstein doesn’t believe.

It makes no difference to me.

I am but human.

And I have a right.

To believe.

In God.

In music.

He just disappeared.

One last concert.

At the YMCA.

Knowing when to end.

When the notes fade.

And if on a good piano,

they almost seem to swell first.

As if by magic…

-PD

Griff the Invisible [2010)

A superhero movie for people who hate superhero movies.

Like me.

And equally, a superhero movie for people who love superhero movies.

This is quite simply the finest bit of Australian cinema I’ve seen in a good long while.

Kudos to director Leon Ford!

Ryan Kwanten starts out in Anna Karina’s primary rain slicker.

At the bus stop.  Yellow paint over posters torn leaving stuck strips.

Invisibility.  The pervert superpower.

But Griff (Kwanten) has a rough life.

Clark Kent in excelsis.

There are movies like this which fail.

Man-child obsessed with toys.  Blah blah blah.

But that’s not the vibe of Griff the Invisible.

No.  This is a special film.

It’s about fuckups finding each other.

Enter fuckup #2:  the lovely Maeve Dermody.

Dermody is the redemption of this film.

Everything; everyone wants to knock this film off the rails.

It gets close.  The plot twists enough to almost sink the film.

Woozy helmet…sniffy woe.

But Dermody keeps her quiet wonder alive.

An angel with dusty feet.

Necklace of uranium from W.A.C.O.

Marie Curie.

Believing in questions.

The slipstream.

Be in love.  Crazy.

Not easy.  Rambunctious.

Particles.  Sucking black hole.

Light.  Giving us problems.

Bumping.  God willing.

Trinity.  Just a test.

I have become Deathwish.

Wilde.  Masked and anonymous.

Henry Miller.  Caesar shift cipher.

Hymn of praise for a girl

Came into our lives

Coming.  Soon.

Will.  Willing.

Have mercy on the homeless.

NY.

Don’t aggregate yourself to death.

Point at which film review ended, and.

Miracle that we can believe in.

Human abilities.  Accomplished.

Through endless repetition.

Playing.  Imagination.

Slip in and out of dimensions.

Consciousness.

Then you’ll feel the hazy feeling to live this poem.

Down by the Seine.

And into the Passages with the rain.

Mort à credit.

Nerval’s last drink, and then to hang himself.

Not sad.  More Camus.

Where the focus is on the drink.

Impossible now.

Created from impressions.

Without eliminating dimensionality.

“Mister Trouble never hangs around
When he hears this Mighty sound.

‘Here I come to save the day’

That means that Mighty Mouse is on his way.
Yes sir, when there is a wrong to right
Mighty Mouse will join the fight.
On the sea or on the land,
He gets the situation well in hand.”

 

-PD

 

 

The Ring [1927)

In the movies.  What happens?  Life is lived for us.  We live vicariously.  And so, does this art/entertainment mirror life?  Yes and no.  It is a continuum.

With Alfred Hitchcock we know to expect the unexpected.  His career was built on bold stories and breakthrough storytelling.  Yet, this is a silent film.  1927.  Early Hitchcock.

This was not the mature filmmaker who would subvert expectations to thrill audiences by sneaking up on them.  This is a much more traditional film.

Indeed, it is (believe it or not) a sports film.  The sport?  Boxing.  Hence the title.  But Hitchcock was ever the astute bringer of details so we might well expect that the title will have, at the least, a double meaning.

What is truly Hitchcockean is the psychological thriller aspect of this film.  This is mostly embodied in the character of “One Round” Jack Sanders (Carl Brisson).

The plot then is driven by motives of redemption, revenge (of a sort), and vindication.  It would make sense that a sporting story should have as its ostensible goal a victory for the hero.

It should be noted that, despite the relatively mundane silent film trappings, this is actually an incredibly odd story.  The elevator pitch would go something like this…boxer’s wife obsessed with another boxer.  Yes, obsessed.  Like, pictures on the piano…staring dreamily at glossy portraits.  A very weird premise.  You’ll have to see the film to know just how Lillian Hall-Davis becomes enthralled with Bob Corby (Ian Hunter).  It should also be noted that Hitchcock (or some clueless front-office dork) managed to credit Lillian Hall-Davis as playing the character of (wait for it) Lillian Hall-Davis.

It is a weird birth-of-film aspect.  In fact, the copy of the film I have is off center to the left…such that the character names at the beginning of the film (not what we are used to nowadays with end credits) are cut off by the encroaching margin of a misaligned aspect ratio.  But the point is that when Ms. Hall-Davis makes her entrance in the film, there is an intertitle (and it was this to which I referred) which explicitly says “The Girl” and lower “Lillian Hall-Davis.”  It is as if Brecht (or Artaud) somehow got a hold of the film and decided to engage in a bit of narrative fuckery.

As for Ian Hunter (who actually has a full character name:  Bob Corby), we must remember the date (1927) and do our best to put Mott the Hoople out of our heads.  Likewise, I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t mention the immense talents of Gordon Harker (who plays Jack’s trainer).

While this film seems hundred of years removed from North by Northwest (for example), it is another integral glimpse into the mind of perhaps the greatest director of them all.

-PD