Movie-a-Day: June 2008

June has always been a grand month for me; my birthday falls within it, as does the end of the school year (and I love it that this annual academic bisection still occurs in my life, just as it did when I was in junior high). This time around, June was also full of an unusual number of movies across a variety of genres. Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ gets a big fat star for being the most special-effects-intensive guinea-pig movie I’ve ever seen, and once I get a chance to watch the copy of Flower of Flesh and Blood that’s been lurking on my shelf, I plan to write about the spectacle of the systematically destroyed body. Though I found a few things to say about Jumper, I cared for the film no more than the rest of the planet did; not so John Huston’s Asphalt Jungle, an exemplary, unhappy caper film that almost made the cut for this fall’s Intro to Film course (instead, I’ll be kicking off the term with Sunset Boulevard, another perfect movie). After Kurt Wimmer’s brilliant sleeper Equilibrium, Ultraviolet was a real letdown, almost enough to make me stay away from the filmmaker’s work in the future — an anti-auteur effect, something like what I experienced with Darren Aronofsky and his repellent if skillful Requiem for a Dream. On the evidence of Jules et Jim, I’m starting to agree with my friend Chris Dumas that Truffaut is a limp noodle by comparison with Godard, whose films dominated my April. The month’s biggest surprise was a Spanish horror movie, Tombs of the Blind Dead — utterly seductive with its half-clothed victims, slow-moving twig-taloned zombies, and an ending sequence of shrieking, freezeframed paralysis. Murnau’s Faust, by contrast, was a glorious trippy dream: a bit of slog through the middle romantic section, but bookended by astounding, cosmic visions.

Movie-a-Day: June 2008

Viridiana (Luis Bunuel, 1961)
Tombs of the Blind Dead (Amando de Ossorio, 1971)*
You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang, 1937)
Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki, 1966)
The Firemen’s Ball (Milos Forman, 1967)
Revenge of the Creature (Jack Arnold, 1955)
The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004)*
Peyton Place (Mark Robson, 1957)
Faust (F. W. Murnau, 1926)*
The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950)
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (Fred F. Sears, 1956)
Futurama: The Beast with A Billion Backs (Peter Avanzino, 2008)
Jumper (Doug Liman, 2008)
Jules et Jim (Francois Truffaut, 1962)
Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1960)
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)*
Steamboy (Katsuhiro Otomo, 2004)
Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977)
Kronos (Kurt Neumann, 1957)
Lost Horizon (Frank Capra, 1937)*
The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)
Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, 2008)
Destination Moon (Irving Pichel, 1950)
The Mummy (Terence Fisher, 1959)
Ultraviolet (Kurt Wimmer, 2006)
Rome: Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945)
On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1952)
The Man with the Golden Arm (Otto Preminger, 1955)
Mysterious Island (Cy Endfield, 1961)
Porco Rosso (Hayao Miyazaki, 1992)
WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)*

6 thoughts on “Movie-a-Day: June 2008

  1. Mike: Saw and Hostel seem to me pretty unexceptional under the surface — they’re attended by a certain amount of controversy because of the torture-porn thing, but their mechanics of gore, though inartful, aren’t too different from slasher films of the 80s or Herschell Gordon Lewis’s stuff in the 70s. Also, those films feature multiple victims, series of killings.

    I’m thinking instead about movies whose focus remains steadily on a single person, reducing him or her to a body whose destruction drives everything else. In terms of plot, it’s much closer to a clinical record — an autopsy, or rather a vivisection, simulated for the lens. I suppose it represents an amplification of the sadistic, investigative camera gaze Laura Mulvey writes about, but here the specular aggression is twinned and operationalized by a suite of special-effects methods (primarily practical makeup FX, but lately much augmented by digital FX, as in Passion of the Christ). At the start of the process, you have a complete somatic form; by the end, a pile of bloody tatters. It’s like a horrible algorithm.

  2. Mel Gibson’s made a career out of the “systematically destroyed body” — usually himself. There’ve been a few articles written about this I think, and J. Hoberman of the Village Voice wrote a nice piece back when “The Passion” was released. “Passion” is one of the very, very few films that has actually personally offended me on a deep, deep level. I deplored it. Its astounding box office success in the U.S. showed me how out of touch I really am with much of this country.

    I’ve always been more of a Truffaut guy than a Godard guy — not that I don’t realize that Godard’s films are perhaps, just possibly considered slightly “more important” or more relevant in the grand scheme of things — but I just identify more with Truffaut’s more romantic, often lighthearted attitude towards cinema, I guess.

    Does “Be Kind Rewind” have anything on the level of “Eternal Sunshine” in it?

  3. Michael: Passion of the Christ got to me on a deep level, too, but in a more positive way … believe me, I know how odd that sounds coming from this (utterly and irrevocably) lapsed Catholic. But the seeds of religious indoctrination run deep, and I suspect that Gibson’s pious abattoir of a movie succeeded in doing what it was engineered to do. I was moved on a deep level. Hey, pornography is “moving” too … CF Linda Williams’s work on body genres.

    I didn’t care for Godard much before this summer. I’d only seen Breathless, *way* too many times as part of teaching film classes, and had a few impressive but disconnected experiences with Weekend, Numero Deux, and First Name Carmen. Working through his films more systematically, I was really taken by his widescreen color work, his playful but always cutting intelligence, and his awesome command of technique. Still, I prefer Godard’s romantic work to his angry Marxist jeremiads — Une femme est une femme is probably my favorite so far.

    As for Truffaut, I simply need to watch more. Loved The 400 Blows, but Jules et Jim was like a cake that didn’t rise.

    Be Kind Rewind is a woolly, friendly mess that works completely if you accept its loose-jointed premise. But it’s not among Gondry’s most sophisticated work, either technically or conceptually — again, I think that’s kind of the point.

  4. Are you admitting that Gibson’s “Passion” is a kind of pornography? :-) Well, I guess that’s obvious, to me at least; I can’t help but see this movie as “torture porn,” just as all these “Saw” and “Hostel” movies are called…

    It’s interesting, though, because I saw it with a friend of mine back in the U.K. who is also a “lapsed Catholic,” as you put it, and he actually agreed with *me* on it…

    For me, Scorsese touched on many of the ideas about “that Jesus guy” much more deeply, and interestingly in “Last Temptation.” What’s your opinion on that one?

  5. The Passion was also a special effects movie. The spectacle of violence was pretty numbing, but it was a series of illusions designed to show not just how much greater was the suffering of Christ, but how much greater the severity of the onscreen punishment compared to other movies – what kind a statement would Gibson have been making if it looked like Jesus took less of a beating than James Bond? Hence the use of digital effects to really drag out the flesh-ripping detail of it all. I have nothing against screen violence in its proper place, but the since the subtext was (and stop me if I’m extrapolating this too far) “this dude got the crap kicked out of him on your behalf so unless you condone this kind of torture you need to do what jesus says from now on”, I found it excruciatingly oppressive. The best Jesus movie is still, for my money, Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew, although a Christian friend of mine had to stop watching because she thought Jesus was “too hot”, and it was confusing her…

    Bob, for a systematically destroyed body, try Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible. I’m always loathe to recommend it because I don’t think anybody should have to watch it, but it seems to fit your thesis, and the killing at the beginning is apparently carried out in a single take, although its actually pieced together with a digital double, prosthetic dummy, cheat cuts and a whole range of VFX. It’s not pleasant, but if you can’t stand Guinea Pig, I’m sure you can take it. Oh, and there are lots of dismemberments in Melies films, drawn from the heritage of similar illusions in the magic theatre. I guess it depends on what you’re implying by “systematic”.

    By, the way, Bob, I read your chapter on artificial performance, which is terrific. I’d love to read more of the book, and hopefully it’ll get a publisher soon. But when mine comes out (get a move on, Wallflower Press!!), hopefully in the next couple of weeks, I think you’re going to be amazed at how close our thinking has been on these issues, even down to using some of the same quotations. But your close reading of performance tics in Final Fantasy is brilliant, and knocks my discussion of the same film into a cocked hat. (Does that expresion make sense outside the UK? I’m not sure…)

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