The Five Words Challenge

July 29, 2006

Don’t mistake this for another one of those Favorite Whatever exercises. There’s no room for such fluffy diversions on Negative Space! Instead, let’s get right down to the heart and soul of it: What, I ask you, are your cinematic erogenous zones?

In order to adequately answer this seemingly abstract question, I challenge you all to name five specific words that bind the movies that move you. Not the most influential ones, not the culturally correct examples, but the movies you keep coming back to, however flawed they may be. The kind of movies that remind you (and you alone) of why you love the medium in the first place.

A film that cannot be described by these five words might still be good – an indisputable classic even – but it wouldn’t shake you to the core. The question is: what does? What tickles your fancy? What makes your movie-loving heart throb? Now’s the time to show the world where you’re really coming from…

To give an indication of what I’m getting at, here are my Five Words, in no particular order:

  1. RAPTURE
    I confess: I’m a romantic and an unflagging aesthete. I love the sense of being transcended by lyricism, beauty and the sublime.
  2. GLOOM
    Rapture only becomes truly heartbreaking for me when it’s wallowed in gloom. The celebration of tragedy that forms the climax of Blow Out is probably my favorite cinematic moment. Call me a romantic nihilist.
  3. SENSUALITY
    Just because cinema is too sensuous a medium to NOT have sex in the equation. Which probably makes me a sexist romantic nihilist.
  4. IMAGINATION
    Fiction is my religion. As a proud subscriber to the Manifesto for the Imagination, I hold the power of poetic truth, myth, metaphor, magic realism and the speculative in high regard.
  5. WONDER
    I have a special fondness for elements that are unlike anything I’ve seen/heard/felt before. True originality is hard to find, of course, but I’m always looking for a certain frisson (be it a camera angle, a line delivery, a facial or gestural expression, a visual effect, art direction, sound design, montage or narrative structure) that evokes a genuine sense of wonder in me.

Sure, that looks easy enough, doesn’t it? Just wait until you start your own list!

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Rapture, gloom, sensuality, imagination, wonder:
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Your turn now. Mind you: Just five words. Not six, not fifty. I won’t be flexible about this! Avoid easy ways out (scratch VISUAL–every movie is visual!) or open doors (fundamental dramatic ingredients like CONFLICT). Give me something personal and precise that offers a good taste of your sensibilities, however unfashionable or bizarre. I assure you that, if you decide to have a go at it, the Five Words Challenge will make your next video rental choice a lot easier!


Embarrassing Movie Posters #3

July 24, 2006

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On evaluative criticism

July 20, 2006

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Statler (right) & Waldorf

WALDORF: That was wonderful!
STATLER: Bravo!
WALDORF: I loved that!
STATLER: Ah, that was great!
WALDORF: Neh–it was pretty good.
STATLER: Well, it wasn’t bad
WALDORF: There were parts of it that weren’t very good, though.
STATLER: It could’ve been a lot better.
WALDORF: I didn’t really like it.
STATLER: It was pretty terrible.
WALDORF: It was bad.
STATLER: It was awful!
STATLER & WALDORF: Terrible! Take ’em away! Bah, BOO!!!


Cars: the prequel

July 19, 2006

I love Pixar, but their latest feature is nowhere as radical as this little gem from 1952. It never ceizes to amaze me how far Tex Avery pushed his animation. And what a wonderful ending!

UPDATE:
Well, this post seems to have kickstarted a spontaneous Tex Avery blog-a-thon! For more Tex, visit these links:


Skinny-dipping with Angelina Jolie

July 16, 2006

I’m re-reading A Dame To Kill For at the moment–my favorite Sin City yarn and the graphic novel that will form the centerpiece for the upcoming Sin City (2005) sequel. One look at the panel below unveils how grateful we should all be for Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez to have cast the curvaceous Angelina Jolie in the leading role. If their faithfulness to the source material in the first adaptation is any indication – and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be – expect OODLES of nudity in the next installment…

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It’s easy to be entertained by Sin City‘s glorious design and think that’s all there is to it. The hard-boiled prose blown to Shakespearean proportions, the one-dimensional pulp archetypes and a downright fetishistic attention to sleaze and violence, make it seem all surface. And yet Miller taps into the romantic core of masculinity to give flesh to the most primal of urges.

A story like A Dame to Kill For laughs at the whole flimsy notion of civilization – social etiquette, virtue, nobility, tact – rips it open like the cheap dress that it is and reveals the roaring heart underneath. If film noir taught us that love is a trap, the inhabitants of Sin City show us how much we love to be trapped. Even if destiny looks us right in the eye, we can’t help giving in to our animal instincts.

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Which brings us back to überwoman Angelina Jolie… A word of advice: Forget the bad press Mrs. Pitt is currently getting because of the boring Brangelina hype. That’s gossip for losers. Forget all about that silly little tomboy called Lara Croft. Stuff for twelve-year-olds. Ava Lord is the role Angelina Jolie was born to play. The actress always seems slightly out-of-place in realistic settings, and here’s why: Sin City is where she truly belongs.

To be credible in Sin City, only the incredible will do. Jolie’s supernatural charisma will be a natural fit for the Frank Miller universe. Divine physique? Check. Throaty voice? Check. Unrestrained pleasure to the senses? Check. Danger lurking behind almond eyes? Check. We’re talking about Ava Lord here: the femme fatale to end all femmes fatale. It was a very inspired decision of the filmmakers to postpone the production of their sequel until after Jolie’s pregnancy. This dame shall be worth the wait.


Rendezvous in Amsterdam

July 12, 2006

Imagine starting up a website with a like-minded stranger from the other end of the globe. That’s what Jim Moran and me decided to do three years ago. Jim lives in LA, I’m from Holland, but after we got to know each other at an online discussion forum, we came to realize that we shared certain ideas about the sort of film criticism we wanted to see more of: The provocative, evocative kind that values a keen eye and an open mind over relentless evaluation. We began corresponding on a daily basis, and the two of us developed a very special friendship in the process of getting 24LiesASecond off the ground.

Last Summer, at the Amstelveld square in Amsterdam, Jim and me met each other in person for the very first time. It was a surreal experience to arrive there with my youngest son Luka, knowing this guy’s mind so well and yet be unfamiliar with the body attached to it. We hugged and it was no longer an issue. Jim stayed at my house for the weekend, where he became a member of the family for a while. We talked about movies and shared anecdotes the whole night through until the birds started chirping. Saying goodbye at the airport was pretty hard…

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Jim (right) with yours truly

We began calling each other frequently, and much to my surprise, Jim planned another trip to Europe. Earlier this month we had our second rendezvous in Amsterdam. I brought Tina and the boys along for lunch and we threw frisbee in the Westerpark together. Then, Tina took the kids back home and I showed Jim modern architecture at the KNSM-island, Old South and the Cult Video rental store where Tarantino used to go to. The rest of the day we spent wandering along the canals, sitting at cafes and catching up.

It sure was good to see you again, my friend! Somehow I have the feeling you’re not as far away now as you seemed when you left the first time…


Embarrassing Movie Posters #2

July 9, 2006

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Takashi Miike’s The Great Yokai War

July 5, 2006

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Miike’s bizarre fantasy film The Great Yokai War (2005) opened in selected US cinemas this week. For those who missed my first impressions back in February, here’s a chance to read them again:

I just came back from seeing Takashi Miike’s new film The Great Yokai War at the Rotterdam Film Festival. I knew nothing about this movie going in, and boy was I in for a treat! It turned out to be something akin to Japan’s answer to the Harry Potter or Narnia series. You know: Miike, for kids!

Apparently, for the first time in his career, Miike was handed a big-ass budget and the cult-favorite made sure it showed. This film is massive in scale yet remarkably off-beat and full of the perversities and black humor Miike is known for. For a supposed family film, it’s way too “out-there” for Western taste (mine anyway: I wouldn’t let my oldest son see it until he’s, like, ten or eleven), but it will blow your mind. In fact, The Chronicles of Narnia is the undercooked egg The Great Yokai War swallows whole for breakfast!

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You won’t hear me declare it a masterpiece. To tell the truth, I don’t know what the hell it is. Something I’ve never seen before, that’s for sure. Miike’s cinema is just too plain weird to satisfy on any conventional level. This guy re-invented the word “subversive.” Kiddie movie or not: Yokai War goes from gory body-horror to intimate drama, from absurd parody to epic grand guignol fantasy, from kinky science fiction to all-out slapstick. It features legions of Asian folktale goblins, the coolest robots I’ve ever seen in a motion picture and two very sensual female characters, young enough to make me uncomfortable to be aroused by. Just picture Miike behind the computer screen, trashing proven Hollywood impulses and pushing his CGI-artists in every direction he can think of. (If you’ve seen Audition and Gozu, that should mean something.)

Think Miyazaki, but live-action, with a slightly fetishistic sensibility. Just a few references that popped in my mind while looking at the film: Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Wizard of Oz, Nightbreed, Blade Runner, Akira, The Neverending Story, Metropolis, Labyrinth, Godzilla, The Terminator, Kung Fu Hustle, Lord of the Rings–all filtered through the prism of the mad filmic genius of our lifetime.

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UPA’s Gerald McBoing Boing

July 5, 2006

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About three months ago, inspired by screenshots posted at Amid Amidi’s eye-opening Cartoon Modern blog, I ordered the brand new DVD of UPA’s Gerald McBoing Boing. It features four of the finest-looking animated shorts ever produced, back from a time when the whole idea of limited animation was considered an artistic vision, rather than a cheap and easy way to increase productivity.

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From a ’50s design standpoint, these cartoons are astonishing. Director Robert “Bobe” Cannon had a very Tati-esque sense of environment and mise-en-scène that makes every frame a joy to behold. McBoing Boing‘s use of minimal shapes, jazzy movements and shifting color schemes, coupled with its sheer unwillingness to conform to the laws of reality (perspective, gravity, naturalistic detail, any logic at all) made it a radical departure from the painstaking realism that Walt Disney championed at the time.

No wonder, since UPA was founded by John Hubley–a former-Disney animator who, along with a number of others who left Disney after the animators’ strike in 1941, felt that the medium of animation had been forced down a narrow path by simply trying to imitate reality. Anyone of you who’s ever read my article on “the plausibles” will know how much I believe this observation applies to cinema in general.

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I’m not sure how many of you have childhood memories of characters like Gerald or Christopher Crumpet, but the work of UPA is hardly known in Europe. Overshadowed as it currently is by the immensely popular cartoon libraries of Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera and MGM, one can only hope that the rest of these forgotten gems will find their way on a DVD collection soon.

In the meantime, some of UPA’s best shorts can be found on YouTube. For your convenience, I collected some of them on one page. Let’s start with a taste of Gerald McBoing Boing right here:


An open letter to Sir Ridley Scott

July 1, 2006

Ridley Scott on set

Dear Mr. Scott,

Jim Moran and me developed an editorial policy at 24LiesASecond that restricts our contributors to write about films they appreciate. The concept behind it being: Why waste words on what you think stinks, when there’s plenty out there to love? It’s a policy that I’ve really taken to heart and intend to stick to on Lost in Negative Space.

But alas, not for now…

You see, this is an emergency. Someone really needs to I feel the need to warn you that – in spite of the pats on the back the suits nice gentlemen at Fox might be giving you at the moment – for a director of your considerable stature, churning out turds like your latest film A Good Year (2006) is nothing less than a fucking disgrace strikes me as something of a disappointment.

It’s not that I don’t admire your work. Alien and Blade Runner are masterpieces of genre cinema that I value deeply, and despite its narrative problems on a purely visual level, I consider the director’s cut of Legend to be one of the most mesmerizing fantasy features ever directed. I realize it’s hard to sustain such a high level of brilliance throughout an entire oeuvre, but not even GI fucking Jane little could have prepared me for the crap I had to endure what I was to behold at the Cinema Expo in Amsterdam last week.

Here’s the thing. About a quarter of an hour into A Good Year, I realized to my great shock that I was looking at an attempt at comedy… and not a very succesful one at that. Trust me, Sir, leading man Russel Crowe is many things, but droll isn’t one of them. What’s more: I couldn’t escape the impression that I was witnessing the product of an old man a filmmaker with nothing left to prove much to say or show. Let me put it this way: In case you’re looking for a few blurbs to polish up the newspaper ads, my suggestions would be either ‘NUMBINGLY BORING,’ ‘UTTERLY PREDICTABLE,’ or ‘MADDENINGLY MORALISTIC.’

Yes, I’m sure the wine and the cigars tasted good around the sun-soaked vineyards of that wonderful French estate where most of your shoot took place. And no, I certainly have no complaints about A Good Year‘s lush cinematography, although you’d have to be a moron to fuck up a shot in the Provence. But I came in expecting to see a film by Ridley Scott, the visual stylist… not to watch his freaking holiday snapshots!

‘Everything matures… eventually’ seems to be the tagline that the copywriters at Fox made up to promote your film in days to come. The real question, I suppose, is how you choose to mature.

Yours truly,
A worried admirer


Embarrassing Movie Posters #1

July 1, 2006

Embarrassing Movie Posters #1

 


Jim Emerson’s Opening Shots Project

July 1, 2006

Jim Emerson, the founding editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, and a 24Lies reader to boot, has a fascinating project going on at his Scanners blog, focusing on opening shots. It’s a truly wonderful read with many remarkable contributions (don’t skip 24Lies author Bob Cumbow‘s take on that famous Steadicam shot in John Carpenter’s Halloween).

I made a personal contribution with a description of the opening shot of Ken Russel’s Altered States (1980). Here it is:
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Altered States opens with the image of a fluorescent, egg-like shape surrounded by darkness. It is a window. From below, in comes a floating human figure (William Hurt as Prof. Eddie Jessup), who appears to be immersed in liquid. Surrounded as he is by the dark oval frame of the window, he resembles an embryo inside a mother’s womb. The camera slowly tracks back to reveal that Jessup is inside a horizontal tank in an empty room. As it tracks back even further, the viewer detects the edges of a second window, rectangular this time. In front of that window sits a bearded scientist in a laboratory, who carefully monitors the room with the tank holding Eddie Jessup.

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In the film, science tries to discover the essence of the Self by use of altered states of consciousness. The opening shot prepares the audience for this very process by taking the viewer through different layers/windows of consciousness: from the symbolic birth of the Self, via self-awareness, to self-examination; from subjectivity to objectivity. The soundtrack amplifies this trajectory, going from bubbly water effects and steady breathing through an oxygen mask, to the buzz of lab equipment and clicking of buttons.
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For many more examples, visit Jim Emerson’s Scanners blog.


A Journey Into Negative Space

July 1, 2006

A beginning is a very delicate time…

As I was catching my breath from a pretty exhaustive 24LiesASecond article published a while ago, the desire cropped up to take a break from long form for a while. My celluloid fantasia had taken me in all kinds of crazy directions – sometimes relevant, sometimes less so – and many scattered thoughts and subjects were still whirling around in my head, ready to be explored. There was no way I was going to make sense of these any time soon, and to be honest, I didn’t want to. I rather enjoyed the storm of free association waging behind my eyes.

Faced with this strangely pleasant lack of coherence, an old idea reared its ugly head… You guessed it: Why not start a blog?

I’ve been thinking about starting one ever since I found out the form existed, but one small matter had always managed to discourage me: A fear of not being able to deliver the proper amount of content. Unlike my friend Dennis Cozzalio – fellow 24Lies contributor and the Takashi Miike of bloggers (for proof, just visit Dennis’s excellent Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule), I’m a deliberate slow writer. And not just because English isn’t my native language. The incurably prolific Stephen King once said about himself that he writes “like a fat lady diets.” Well… I’m more like an anorexia patient trying to gain weight.

Of course, such an excuse isn’t good enough. Who was I kidding? There are no deadlines in the blogosphere. And the cool thing about blog posts is that they don’t have to be fully developed. They can be afterthoughts, sideline scribbles, sketches… indeed, negative space. If my 24Lies articles are to the point, a blog could be beside it.

So here we are: Lost in Negative Space. Between the lines, beyond the screen, beside the point.

It’s good to have you here, my guest. Sit down, have a drink, click around. If you like what you see, drop a note in the comment section. I’ll appreciate it. Now let’s get started!