Tuesday, April 21, 2015

random review: the room (2003)

First impressions. Unedited.

"It is *bad* in a sense that director/writer/actor/producer guy takes cliches sincerely from *bad objects* such as the soft-core porn genre, meaning to say a) he seems to have learned his cinematic language from a marginal source and b) the audience enjoys feeling superior to director's obliviousness to mainstream cultural markers. There is a bro-ness to the atmosphere of the crowd that is fed by the film's misogyny. The lead female character is a mess of character motivation--just like the rest of the characters who are played with professionalism by the actors. It's only the director who seems out of place with his stoic Nosferatu-like expression and unconvincing line delivery. In fact, I would argue, *The Room* is an immigrant's cri de coeur. The underlying fear is that of alienation from a society that is not one's own which explains the director's lack of self-awareness of the film he is making and how bad his acting is. The obvious use of green screen with its foggy and gauzy view of San Fran shows that the film is about HIS fantasies: an improvised family, a group of friends, and a go-go-go career. All of these things fail him. In the film it is attributed to the WOMAN who is not loyal, and this is an obvious lazy and sexist way of thinking. (Check out the same kind of woman in current bromances.) However, the last shot tells me that he has attributed the blame to a society that can only accept him in his absence. Even his best friend betrays him, but that's no the point of the character. This character (total babe!) is blonde-haired, young and signifies the (and I hate this white term) American boy next door who sleeps with his girlfriend. I would like to read this dalliance as the fear of a) his insecurities with himself being attached to a woman (who is blonde in the movie) and having the woman loyal to him (he is after all sexy, he claims, with a gratuitous shot of his butt and b) that folks close to him will choose their own kind or what is familiar over his dark hair and cryptic European accent. While the audiences were laughing at the cross cutting with scenes of the city, especially towards the end, I found myself sympathizing with the director's sense of unlocatability. He tries to master the cityscape with his own gaze but the gaze is not matched or returned by another person! The movie is not unreal, there's some thought to this movie unlike a lot of H-wood films, but it's that America even for a white immigrant can be an unreal place."


Source: http://50homes.tumblr.com/
There must be more to blogging than feeling unsure what to write about. Ever since Facebook, which is now his proxy journal, bookmark, and blog, there has been a diminishing appeal to go on. To whom are his melancholic ruminations addressed to? Yesterday, a bus ride through a dusty mountain road reminded him that his ideal readers may be too preoccupied with existing: shabby clothes hanging on the side of the road. Does he have actual love and empathy to the abstract idea of "the people" aside from a romanticized notion of them since he is unable to talk to them? What may count is the genuine feelings of injustice that separates him, them, you from ourselves. To blog is to render his insecurities in plain view much like the awkward, nervous fellow passenger trying to look busy at a bus stop.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

random review: three daughters [aka teen kanya] (1961)

Poster being sold for $350 on eBay
Unedited and off-the-cuff review.

"Originally conceived as a three-part film, with each story running roughly an hour, Ray explores the fates of women in Indian society of the 50s. The middle film, the part that had been missing for decades, involves a ghost story in a once opulent mansion conceived in the manner of an English country estate. The film itself is a phantom as the film was released internationally without this section. The haunting presence or absence (since it is the thing that is not explicitly dealt with but lingers like the morning fog) is the issue of British imperialism and colonization. The wife's obsession is non-sensical since the camera is concerned with the space, furniture, and ornaments of the English-fied estate. (The characters in the film are 'ornaments' themselves as ornaments/jewellery is the key word here.) The ghost that lurks the mansion and garden outside is the influence of British values and ideas in a colonized country. What Ray brilliantly shows (by accident, I feel) is how the colonized subjects, the educated middle class and upper class, become curious actors in their own land, confused and unable to make the right decisions with regards to those unlike them: those who don't speak English and have no British 'sensibilities'. This is why the male character in the first section is unable to do the sentimental thing (in mainstream movie standards) which is equated as the right thing. And this is why the male character in the second (third in the original conception) essentially tames his wild woman by his sentimental gesture. On the primary and literal level, the film uses the fate of women to show the state of Indian society back then. These women are not Mother India (an iconic film) but instead are daughters of hers, which might explain the title. In addition, the daughter designation also frees them to from the responsibility of representing the Nation; and they are of age to marry and create families of their own. But no families are created in these domestic stories. The women's tears are epic, as Ray is able to bring out amazing performances from his actors, but the stories themselves seem to be in a tradition of what I can only describe as an old-fashioned humanism. There is something intact about the characters, solid, not so much archetypes, but formally recognizable as some kind of types. They way they react to the world is in accordance to a strictly defined psychology which doesn't waver except for the woman in the ghost story who's motivation is unstable and hence her unresolvable absence/presence which indicates what constitutes a viable character, the one who can be read as a recognizable and understandable figure. (Sorry not being clear, writing this while thinking, but you get the gist, no?) I guess what I'm saying is what is of interest is the woman in the second film, the section that never got released, because her character cannot be contained and could not be sustained as a viable presence. Her state shows Ray grappling with how to portray a character of differing motivations or it shows Ray's awareness of his own limitation because the world around him could not provide him with the vocabulary to do so, but he does attempt it! The form of the short story itself appears part of this idea of humanism, in the belief that things can be conveyed in this form which Ray transmutes into the medium of film. These stories are ultimately unreconcilable, which explains the state of the film for so long of missing section, because it follows the stories rigorously from its original form which in turn brings its attendant ideas about characterization and what makes one a human person. This may explain the presences of strange humans and animals in the narratives: a crazy old man, a pet squirrel, and a mysterious cousin. These are the figures that never made it to become characters and they appear as ornaments in the films. More significantly, it is the British accessories all around, a book by Scott or Tennyson, portraits of the royal family, western jacket, to name a few that function as signs of civilization--as the film itself is. I've never been convinced of Ray's work entirely (except for the poetic Pather Panchali), not sure to whose eyes these films were made for. The dismembered fate of the film reveals how colonialism had yet to be reconciled in Ray's consciousness; and the current reincarnation of the film--the third film was screened separately--shows that the non-diegetic world of the film has to do its own confronting of the past."

random review: snowpiercer (2014)

Yes, you!
Unedited and off-the-cuff review.

"How far can a commercial film with an anti-authoritarian message go in terms of sustaining narrative momentum and plausibility? At what point does the train of narrative filmmaking derail from its linear way of storytelling? Traversing the planet to coincide with the length of the year, the film's train (why not a shinkansen?) is a metaphor for a few things, but the one thing I want to focus on is how it moves through the world like runaway Capital, without stopping at any point, fuelled by exploitative labor, endlessly circling the globe to maintain a status quo. Thus when the it finally stops, the passenger cars, which by the way are not unlike strips of film, collide and get thrown out of order and into chaos. Capital time effective stops. And guess what happens? The narrative stops as well. And what does that look like? A black leader of film strip, the likely end of the movie, but since the demands of commercial cinema requires audience upliftment or placation, the film offers a brief glimpse of "hope". As my co-viewer sharply observed, the image given to the eyes of the film's characters is not one they would recognize. In fact, the recognition of the image is likely to appease the audience for a happy end. Note though that the image offered to us is a digital construction, which undermines the "hope for humanity" that is initially offered. In this way, the film is about film too: what happens to image in the age of digital construction AND its relation to our revolutionary needs. Bong Joon-Ho stages the confrontation between rebels and soldier/police/fascists (who can tell the difference these days, right? even campus "cops" mace students without remorse) with a kind of somatic and psychic satisfaction (in the tradition of great South Korean revenge films, I guess) that I was tempted to raise my fist and join the dissidents in their bloody battles. And yet, upon further reflection, with the aid of my fellow viewer, the film seems to contain the rebellious spirit by a narrative twist that makes little sense. (Implausible moments are interesting in the way they reveal how the logic of a work isn't operating at that moment and reveals so much about the totality of the work itself.) By turning the rebellion as a staged event provided by the status quo, a slight yet strict opening for the expression of dissatisfaction and anger, the film negates the thrilling action set pieces of the movie. There is no other choice in the film but to explode into smithereens. Who and what survives? The audience desire to see these images of revolution and protests which have been slowly entering into the representative realm in film and television, a set of images that either mimic or compete with the actual images of rebellion on the newscasts and internet lately? The good guy? The audience? Because of the evident digital construction of the image that closes the film, it is cinema itself that survives in the new technological development of digital image-making. What then happens to our desires to see revolution depicted? What is depicted on screen? The casting, by H-wood standards, is progressive with ample roles to non-white actors. Casting becomes political critique too: as gay white men have been incorporated into mainstream society, they too become oppressors, the film suggests. Asians too are shown to be co-opting with their white counterparts, though it's interesting to see their designation in the society since I didn't see any decadent Asians but ones who fulfill a function in the hierarchical society of the movie. (Daijobu desuka? Daijobu.) No, Boon doesn't short shift Asian since the duo come of as co-protagonist, but not THE protagonist. It's still a H-wood movie, after all. God forbid a non-kung fu Asian guy as lead, one who is middle aged and not a looker and doesn't speak English. What else is on screen? Children appear with only a single parent present which indicates to me a kind of magical production which if taken seriously can plausibly explain where all the abundance in the film is coming from. Intentional or not, the missing parent says something about how things are produced and reproduced much like the invisible labor that we have grown to be aware of but cannot see represented. This is the reason why notes inserted into items such as clothes or handbags indicating the abusive and hard conditions of factories become news. It's not a human interest story but more in line with "how dare they speak up" or make their presence known, which disrupts the rhythm of everyday life. How dare they interrupt our carefully calibrated notions of morality. Also, correct me if I'm wrong but one of the consistent themes (that I see) in recent Hollywood films is that of the visibility of invisible labor (something I noted in Pacific Rim). There's also a preponderance of missing limbs. The film signifies these as symbols of sacrifice. However, it's not too much of a stretch to think about the losing of limbs in factories with exploitative labor (the book Fast Food Nation and news from China). How are we audiences suppose to understand this from its literal narrative function? How can a limbless population stage a successful coup? I don't know the answer but I've got a feeling that this idea can be extended further. (Need your help guys.) Going back to the idea of revolutionary desire, what happens to it? It would seem that the cinematic form (and its form creators) understand that images of revolts are needed for cinema to survive, which indicates cinema's vitality with audiences's desires and psyche. Hence, cinema is still a vital form. Ok, this is a bold argument, but I think there's something going on there. Go ask Eisenstein! But does lead to political and/or aesthetic change? In commercial cinema, like in this film, it is certain dampened by false and/or happy ending and surprise psychological motivations that explains blahblahblah. For answers, I think we must look to other forms of cinematic film production that yet to bubble up from the margins. Film your local protests and upload it for everyone to see."

love work

"There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate — and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.

Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise. But why should our pleasure be for profit? Who is the audience for this dictum? Who is not?

By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace."

(Source: Imaginechina/Rex)

"...This focus on the individual is hardly surprising coming from Jobs, who cultivated a very specific image of himself as a worker: inspired, casual, passionate — all states agreeable with ideal romantic love. Jobs telegraphed the conflation of his besotted worker-self with his company so effectively that his black turtleneck and blue jeans became metonyms for all of Apple and the labor that maintains it.

But by portraying Apple as a labor of his individual love, Jobs elided the labor of untold thousands in Apple’s factories, conveniently hidden from sight on the other side of the planet — the very labor that allowed Jobs to actualize his love.

The violence of this erasure needs to be exposed. While “do what you love” sounds harmless and precious, it is ultimately self-focused to the point of narcissism..."

(Source: Imaginechina/Rex)

"One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.

For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from the spectrum of consciousness altogether.

Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled. Job creation goes both ways. Yet with the vast majority of workers effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations, how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?""

From here. Images from article here.