Blood of the Beasts

Speaking of disembowelment and the everyday, I recommend to you this 20 minute French documentary from 1949, though you will have to have a strong stomach to watch it, as it includes the matter of fact slaughter of a horse, a steer, several veal calves and a dozen or so sheep. In fact, the calves are decapitated in order “to keep the meat white.” The director Georges Franju says he made the film in black and white so the viewer would have a forceful “aesthetic response” rather than the convulsive physical response that color would have encouraged. The film depicts the everyday work of a couple of slaughterhouses in Paris where the work is done by hand, with very sharp knives, as though it might be 1249 instead of 1949.
Continue reading Blood of the Beasts

a mixed bag

recently in the dvd player: “the alamo”, “zakhm”, “hum dil de chuke sanam” and “swades”. two pieces of crap, and two decent but overly worthy efforts. crap first:

“the alamo”: uninvolving, pointless, trivial. even something jingoistic would have been preferable to this lifeless mess. the sad thing is that it seems to think it is a clever movie which has interesting things to say about mythmaking and nationmaking. it does not. the only plus i can think of: i finally know what a bowie knife looks like. other than that this is an exercise in costume design. the guy playing santa anna chews some scenery but only half-heartedly.

“hum dil de chuke sanam”: i’m ambivalent about reviewing bad bollywood films here since most of you are unlikely to watch them unless i recommend them very highly (and of the ones i have recommended mike’s seen “company” and that’s about it i think). so i’m not going to spend too much time on this except to say that no one exoticizes india like indians themselves and that this film may have been written by a particularly stupid 12 year old. the liberalization of the indian economy in the 90s saw the rise of both a big spending leisure class and the expression of a complicated hindu chauvinism. this film, like many other 90s blockbusters, speaks to both–on the one hand providing aspirational fantasies and on the other, in the guise of critiquing it, repackaging patriarchal tradition.

Continue reading a mixed bag

Scenes, more than films

In the last week, I’ve been catching up. (School’s ended.) Saw three flicks–oddly similar, in terms of content–that I’d recommend, but primarily because they offer up two, three scenes apiece that… well, in terms of acting and dramatic complexity, astonish. The films then often go a bit awry, but why quibble when there’s some unexpected perfection, midway through?

The films: P.S., Birth, The Woodsman. I’ll handle ’em in that order: Continue reading Scenes, more than films


When I first watched this film in the cinema, I admired the Kubrickian grandeur of Harris Savides’ cinematography and Kevin Thompson’s production design, and I found the dramatic narrative to be compelling if, at times, farfetched. In the end, I drove away from the cineplex ambivalent about its merits and confused by the filmmakers’ unwillingness to provide “proper” narrative closure. In an earlier post on this blog I even suggested Birth to contain moments best defined as ludicrous. But I popped the DVD in the other night and found myself even more glued to the screen—more compelled to watch the actions unfold without the need to define them. I found myself held captive by the taut, sexually menacing and ominous atmosphere (shades of Pinter?). Perhaps I was too caught up in solving the film’s many mysteries the first time around. Continue reading Birth


Gus Van Sant – Well, he does have a style of his own, though it got watered down in Good Will Hunting and – I’m not even sure what he’s made since then…

But against what I’d have thought, that “detactched youth” look works well here: Random teens getting through their day at school, interacting or terribly lonely, with long, long takes, sometimes of the same scene from different points of view. The only difference in this day is that two of the teens have made a plan to blow up the school and shoot as many students as they can. Continue reading Elephant


Whimsical, delightfully sentimental (I looked it up and it’s not such a bad word), visually stylish, and sophisticated about childhood, consumerism and global economics; Millions was pleasurable without feeling “important.” It’s the kind of film you always felt Spielberg was capable of if he just didn’t feel the need to try so damn hard.


3 quick points and/or questions:
1. I have the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, which on occasion I pull down and relish. Today I got it out for Max. My god I forgot how blisfully violent they are; we watched “Scaredy Cat,” and there’s a fine little scene where Sylvester, terrified of some angry mice, wants to stay upstairs with Porky, but Porky kicks him out. So Sylvester goes to a drawer and grabs a gun, which he holds up to his head, threatening suicide. Now that is comedy my friends. Max loved it. (Porky then opens the gun and drops the bullets all over the floor.)

2. We also got him “Bambi.” I’m leery of most Disney stuff, but this one sticks in my head from childhood. I recall a drive-in, pajamas, it starting to rain toward the end of the film. (So, as fire erupts in the forest, it’s pouring outside my window…) God the animation is amazing. And every time the stag made his regal entrance, up above the action, it recalled very precisely shots from Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke.”

3. Has anyone seen “Steamboy”? I was convinced by a friend here to seeing Miyazaki, and he was right; this friend also bought me “Akira,” which I admire but I don’t love. So… should I bother with “Steamboy?”

Guarded Stare


Is Zach Braff just not good enough – or confident enough – to let certain things remain unsaid? Or is the audience that dense that we need to have every little thing spelled out for us? Braff lets his cast off very easy in this film, particularly himself and Portman. Blinding headaches? Oh, they just go away halfway through the film. Been on lithium, Zoloft, Paxil for ten years and decide to take yourself off all at once? Well, the worst thing that will happen to you is that you’ll joyously shout while standing in the rain! Continue reading Guarded Stare

hollywood shuffle

not much high art of late i’m afraid. we watched “shrek 2” a few nights ago and last night we watched “friday night lights”. “shrek 2” is entertaining enough–jennifer saunders and rupert everett are great, as are eddie murphy (of course) and antonio banderas. i find it funny that even in animation voiceover the black guy still plays the sidekick. but there’s not much else to say about this. don’t do what i did and watch “faraway idol” with simon cowell on the dvd extras.

we thought “friday night lights” was really quite good. it is a genre film through and through, and towards the end the conventions take over to a large extent but it is fairly affecting stuff–much closer to “hoop dreams” than to something like “varsity blues”. there’s some weird stuff with race towards the end and in general the film skips over dealing with the question of race in a small texas town in the late 80s but still worth a watch. the dvd extra interviews with the actual now grown-up players (this is very closely based on real events, or rather a non-fiction book about real events) are quite moving in parts, as you see what became of the guy who when the movie starts out seems destined for nfl stardom.

Iranian Cinema

I’m pretty ignorant about Iranian cinema, but I watched Abbos Kiarostami’s Ten last night and thought it was damn good. J. Hoberman tells me it “questions the notion of film as narrative,” describing Ten as “conceptually rigorous, splendidly economical, and radically Bazinian.” That may very well be the critical kiss of death, but I was very much engaged by this complex glimpse of contemporary Iran. Are there other Iranian films out there I should see?