Archives for August 2018

2001: A Space Odyssey, the magic of pure cinema.

Section 3 of Kubrick's iconic sic fi classic.

2001: A Space Odyssey.

Peo­ple often remem­ber 2001: A Space Odyssey as being divid­ed into three parts. It’s actu­al­ly in four sec­tions. The first part sees us in the depths of our pre­his­to­ry. And it’s a pret­ty accu­rate sum­ma­ry of what was then known about our ori­gins in the mid 1960s.

We began as part ape, part man, grad­u­al­ly mov­ing from the for­mer to the lat­ter, liv­ing as one ani­mal amongst many , some of whom we preyed upon, and some of which preyed on us.

But our abil­i­ty to fash­ion tools, and our under­stand­ing that this is what sets us apart, begins the process which will see us come to dom­i­nate the plan­et. And is so doing, it intro­duces rivalry.

Section 1: no sex please, we're (adopted) British.

Sec­tion 1: the shape of things to come.

Pre­dictably, the one ele­ment that Kubrick leaves out of our pre­his­toric evo­lu­tion is repro­duc­tion, because that requires sex. Despite the fact that sex is the very engine of all the best dra­ma, Kubrick avoids it. Because sex leads to emo­tion and Kubrick doesn’t do emo­tion – see my ear­li­er review here.

The sec­ond part jump cuts, famous­ly, to the future, where an astro­naut has been sent into space to inves­ti­gate an extra­or­di­nary dis­cov­ery on a near­by moon. And when that goes wrong, we move fur­ther into the future for the third part, as anoth­er pair of astro­nauts have been sent into space two years lat­er to inves­ti­gate what happened.

Miss Jones! Rigby in section 2.

Miss Jones! Rig­by in sec­tion 2.

This then becomes a bat­tle of wits between one of them, and the on-board com­put­er, HAL. And when then the bedrag­gled astro­naut speeds off into space for the fourth part we are flung fur­ther for­ward into the future and into what seems to be a new dimension.

What hap­pens when we get there is instruc­tive. In appear­ance impres­sive­ly enig­mat­ic, it’s actu­al­ly fair­ly easy to break down. The fourth sec­tion is basi­cal­ly an exer­cise in sub­ject dis­place­ment.

From the pod, we see him, the object. He then becomes the sub­ject, look­ing over at the object, the elder­ly man eat­ing at the table — that man being his old­er self. The din­ing man, now the sub­ject, hears a noise, and turns to see the new object, an even old­er man lying in the bed. And that man now becomes the sub­ject, look­ing over at the new object, the gran­ite slab which stands in front of him, and which links all four sec­tions of the film, sug­gest­ing so much yet say­ing so little.

Section 3: man V machine.

Sec­tion 3: man V machine.

The response to all of which might very well be, so what? It’s all won­der­ful­ly evoca­tive, but it’s not actu­al­ly about any­thing. Nei­ther philo­soph­i­cal­ly, intel­lec­tu­al­ly nor nar­ra­tive­ly. And that goes for the whole film. The only sec­tion of the film with any actu­al dra­ma in it is the third, where fair­ly stan­dard fears about machines tak­ing over the world are explored, albeit in a won­der­ful­ly tense way.

But that would be to com­plete­ly miss what the film is. It’s not, and was nev­er intend­ed to be, a con­ven­tion­al, nar­ra­tive film. What it is instead is a sequence of beau­ti­ful­ly com­posed, imag­is­tic tableaux, painstak­ing­ly con­struct­ed and all metic­u­lous­ly framed by bril­liant­ly cho­sen pieces of com­pli­men­ta­ry clas­si­cal music.

The enigmatic section 4.

The enig­mat­ic sec­tion 4.

When, for instance, the space­ship docks in part 2 to the tune of the Blue Danube, for a full six min­utes(!), that’s not what space looks or sounds like. That’s what we’d like it to look and sound like in our imag­i­na­tions. Unfet­tered by the con­straints of con­ven­tion­al nar­ra­tive, Kubrick let his imag­i­na­tion roam. And it’s ravishing.

If all films were like this of course, none of us would ever both­er watch­ing any of them. But as a lone bea­con that stands proud­ly in con­trast to every oth­er great film, with its dis­missal of nar­ra­tive and there­fore of emo­tion­al engage­ment, and its cel­e­bra­tion instead of pure images set to sub­lime music, ver­i­ly its vision to behold.

It’s on gen­er­al release this sum­mer in a spank­ing new 70mm print. And here’s the 2001 trail­er.

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A Bigger Splash, in case you missed it.

A Big­ger Splash.

A Big­ger Splash (2015) is the fourth film from Luca Guadagni­no, and the one he made before the much acclaimed Call Me By Your Name, which was nom­i­nat­ed ear­li­er this year for four Acad­e­my awards, and which I reviewed here.

Til­da Swin­ton plays Mar­i­anne, a Bowie-esque rock god who has decamped with her sculpt­ed, doc­u­men­tary film mak­er man to the island of Pan­tel­le­ria, one of the many step­ping stones that link Africa to Europe in the south­ern Mediterranean.

Call Me By Your Name.

But the peace and qui­et of their island idyll is shat­tered with the arrival of Har­ry, Marianne’s long-time part­ner and one-time pro­duc­er, and the one who intro­duced her to her new beau. And on his arm he arrives with what seems to be his lat­est con­quest, but what turns out to be his recent­ly dis­cov­ered teenage daughter.

That peace and qui­et is con­sid­er­ably more frag­ile than first it appeared. Mar­i­anne is recov­er­ing from surgery on her throat, and must refrain from speak­ing, while her man is a recov­er­ing alco­holic who one year ear­li­er made an unsuc­cess­ful attempt at tak­ing his own life. Har­ry mean­while is, unsur­pris­ing­ly, still in love with Mar­i­anne, and his daugh­ter has arrived there with an agen­da all of her own.

Dako­ta John­son mak­ing a splash.

There’s a won­der­ful sense of men­ace and impend­ing doom which con­trasts glo­ri­ous­ly with the warmth and colour of the land­scape which pro­vides the film with its lush back­drop. And the com­bi­na­tion of untram­melled hedo­nism, base car­nal­i­ty and the kinds of pri­ma­ry colours that only the Mediter­ranean can pro­duce, proves a heady mix. And yet.

As good as A Big­ger Splash is, it’s not quite the defin­i­tive cin­e­mat­ic mark­er one was hop­ing for. Like I am Love (2009) before, and Call Me By Your Name (2017) after, it is ever so slight­ly too cool and aloof to real­ly engage on an emo­tion­al lev­el. It’s def­i­nite­ly the best of what Guadagni­no has called his tril­o­gy of desire, but desire is the one thing that’s miss­ing from all three. Grant­ed, there’s no short­age of ide­al­ized desire, of requit­ed love, in Call Me By Your Name. But desire with­out pain is mean­ing­less. If you want to wit­ness true desire, watch Brief Encounter (1946).

David Lean’s peer­less Brief Encounter.

The prob­lem is, I think, that Guadagni­no works exclu­sive­ly as a direc­tor, and relies on oth­ers for his source mate­r­i­al, and on scriptwrit­ers to then write his scripts for him. This frees him up to explore the styl­is­tic ele­ments of his films, and there’s no ques­tion that A Big­ger Splash looks mag­nif­i­cent. The film’s sig­na­ture stamp are its many close ups of a face masked by mir­rored sun­glass­es, which man­age at once to be an enig­mat­ic por­trait of the pro­tag­o­nist on view, and an expan­sive estab­lish­ing shot of the land­scape reflect­ed behind.

But it also means that he doesn’t pur­sue his cho­sen themes with the same kind of obses­sive­ness and pur­blind pas­sion as does, say, Truf­faut, Felli­ni, Anto­nioni or, most obvi­ous­ly, Bergman.

Fab­u­lous Fiennes.

Still, what ele­vates A Big­ger Splash and real­ly brings it to life is the mag­net­ic per­for­mance that Ralph Fiennes gives as Har­ry. You can’t take your eyes off of him. He is both the most obvi­ous­ly annoy­ing and insuf­fer­ably obnox­ious char­ac­ter, who you just know will ruin every­thing, because he always ruins every­thing. And, the most impos­si­bly charm­ing indi­vid­ual you could ever hope to meet, and the one per­son who you know will make what­ev­er the evening is a mem­o­rable one.

You can see the trail­er of A Big­ger Splash here.

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