Friday, April 21, 2017

The Beautiful Ones

Dig if you will the picture of a teenage girl on the way to her first midnight movie. She's clad in purple stiletto's, a cropped leather jacket & a mangled homemade tanktop with the word “Prince” spray painted across the front. She's doused in enough Aquanet to practically make herself a fire hazard & her makeup is perfect. The cinema is dingy & hasn't been updated since it was built. It's the kind of place where the marquee looked nice, but inside you'd have to contest with rats running across your feet after the lights dropped, but none of these drawbacks meant a damn thing, because Prince Rogers Nelson's first movie was having its debut screening in town to a packed house long after the kind of conservative parents she grew up with had gone to bed. She sat there with her best friend Sherrie, her running mate, who'd lounge around with her in the mall on weekends with nothing better to do than steal lipstick and cassette tapes. What they would see that night would end up being the story of legend for their daughters. Children who didn't need fairy tales, because they had Minneapolis Royalty. The woman in the stiletto's was my mother & that midnight screening of Purple Rain tantalized my childhood mind. The 80s itself were enough to capture my imagination with its bombastic fashion, bright colours and androgyny that bordered on alien, but Prince was something altogether different. Prince was messianic & like the crosses that were scattered around my childhood home so too were the sounds of this man's music. The memories of my childhood are hazy at best, but as far back as I can remember Prince was present. Nearly thirty two years after that midnight screening of Purple Rain I'd text my mom a sentence that simply read “I am not okay”. I tried to catch my breath outside my apartment, but I couldn't stop sobbing & in a moment I'll never forget it gracefully started to snow on a cool April day. I took a picture & sent it to my mom & we tried to say goodbye to Prince, but if this year has taught us anything it isn't necessary to say farewell to someone who was such a catalyst for happier times. We could hold on, like we always have, to this person who unites us as mother and daughter.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)

Paterson (Adam Driver) scribbles the untapped beauty of the world in his secret notebook. He lives through repetition, like most of us, with lower middle class burdens. A former marine he wakes up every morning between 6 and 7 a.m. to eat a bowl of cheerios, walk to the bus garage & write poetry before his artistic process is halted by the call of his job. But the beauty of the job is that he comes in direct contact with the far ranging diversity the world has to offer through offhand conversations of his part time passengers & the weary travelers as they too journey to their jobs. Everyone lives a life and Paterson poses the theory that we all live in beauty with minimalist grace notes from director Jim Jarmusch.

Paterson- the most stunning of Jarmusch's films since his Wuxia-Tang neo-noir Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)- finds its divinity through the quotidian detail of the average life. At one point our lead character comes upon a girl around the age of ten. After a relatively difficult day at work the seemingly unflappable Paterson sits with her & discusses poetry. She recites a poem of her own (a good one at that) that captures the minute details of a rainy day while playing around with the meaning of words & their textural impact (Water Falls....Some People Call it Rain). This shifts Paterson's day in a way that is seen as insignificant, but the insignificance is the ideal as Paterson is built upon the continuous insignificant moments that eventually spell out the nature of life & the grace of the mundane.

Every day at lunch Paterson  traverses to a waterfall to write poetry of his own about his interactions as a bus driver, the conversations he overhears, the objects that make up his life & the love he finds in his wife Laura (played marvelously by Golshifteh Farahani). The nature of the poet is that of an observer & that too is intrinsic to the synthesis of cinema. Paterson's observations colour his everyday life, and in turn they influence his art. One poem about Ohio Blue Tip matches only comes into vision when he notices them on his kitchen table & he morphs this into a narrative of the story within objects. In this case it is about a match whose sole purpose is to be struck for fire having a deeper meaning through the lighting of a cigarette for a first love. It's an adept observation that paints Paterson as a man of finer details both as an artist & as a human being. Jim Jarmusch, similarly, finds his own strengths as an artist in the seemingly unimportant with movies that rarely dovetail beyond plotlessness & morph into something that more strongly warrants textural and gestural evocation like the dirt in Tom Waits skin in Down by Law or the grime in the streets of New York City in Stranger than Paradise. Those too are poetic devices.

Jarmusch's film rarely moves beyond the point of view of Paterson, but through his eyes a second portrait of an artist is visible. In this case it is the restless artistic impulses of his wife Laura. Unlike Paterson she is not merely an artist of one craft, but of many. She can be seen jumping from fashion, to country music, interior decorating and baking. She is a woman who is constantly evolving, tearing down something old and summoning something new. The camera sometimes plays her exuberance for her artistic interests for comedy, but it's light-hearted & is in lock step with the way Paterson affectionately views his wife. Both Paterson & Laura are modest individuals celebrating monetary artistic success with pizza & an old black and white movie. Their relatively peaceful life is enriching in its own simplicity & mirroring effect on young people making art on a personal level outside of a system. Laura dreams for larger success, but the recognition of being told her cupcakes are masterful is enough for her to find something resembling true artistic happiness.

For Paterson, the work is the joy rather than the end result, but he finds this tested by a fissure that significantly disrupts his day to day life. The narrative crux of this movie knows that tragedy can seep into life at any moment- as is the nature of existence- and in doing so opens the film up to difficulties Paterson must face as an artist & as a human being. Throughout his week Paterson has seen many minor tragedies (the bus breaking down, the Brussels sprout pie & the gun in the bar), but nothing tests him as much as an incident involving his pet dog Marvin later in the movie. He drifts aimlessly after this moment & seems legitimately shaken up even going back to his bench by the water fall to find clarity in the aftermath of the accident. In a perhaps too cute coincidence another man sits beside him and begins to read poems from Paterson's favourite poet William Carlos Williams & he offers Paterson a gift from one poet to another.

Earlier in the film a man is hearbroken after a break-up and he tells Paterson he'll learn to be fine because "the sun rises and sets every day doesn't it?". Paterson replied dryly uttering "so far" infusing him with a certain melancholy, but he knows moving forward is essential every day even with a set back. The title card is always going to read the day of the week & he'll always wake up at 6 a.m. As long as these things remain true so will Paterson.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top 50 New to Me Viewings of 2016

My viewing habits in 2016 were characterized by grief. There was a pattern I formed of crying on my husband's shoulder & then watching movies starring or directed by those who passed away and weeping once more. David Bowie, Prince, Jacques Rivette and Chantal Akerman are all here because it was within that pattern that I discovered a lot of their greatest cinematic achievements. If I could have them back and give away these movies I would. I'm always going to end up remembering 2016 as a year of mourning. It seemed like each month an icon of mine died, and I hadn't even had the time to process the deaths of 2015 like the already mentioned Chantal Akerman. I miss them dearly, but luckily there are many cinematic experiences this year that weren't shrouded in death like the colossal Only Angels Have Wings or the sweepingly romantic All that Heaven Allows or the The Lake House. And speaking of The Lake House Keanu Reeves was another pattern in my viewings this year as I decided to fill in the gaps of one of my favourite actors. This proved a rich experience with movies like My Own Private Idaho & Speed enchanting me for days. No other film moved me quite like the Female Prisoner Scorpion series, which I have written about at length here on Curtsies and Hand Grenades and more briefly at The Village Voice and Movie Mezzanine. Cinema always brings riches and it is the one guiding vessel of my life. It is a joy to recount my favourite older movies I watch each year, even in a year like 2016 which seemed to bring nothing more than sorrow, grief and anxiety about the future of the world. It is my hope, and I do have hope, that we'll get through these coming years with as few scars as possible and we'll be able to rebuild everything that we've lost. Here's to hoping 2017 brings 2018 and so on. If that is the case I'll be here talking about movies, because art is sometimes all we've got.

*one note: films from 2015 & 2016 are not allowed on this list. Everything else is fair game.
1. Female Prisoner Scorpion Series (Shunya Ito & Meiko Kajii, 1972-73)
2. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991)
3. Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)
4. Sign O' The Times (Prince, 1987)
5. The Terrorizers (Edward Yang, 1986)
6. All that Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955)
7. The Lake House (Alejandro Agresti, 2006)
8. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Lau Kar-Leung)
9. Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977)
10. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
11. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
12. Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997)
13. Joan the Maid (Jacques Rivette, 1994)
14. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
15. Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983)
16. My Name is Julia Ross (Joseph H. Lewis, 1945)
17. Gang of Four (Jacques Rivette, 1989)
18. My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991)
19. Love and Basketball (Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2000)
20. The Yakuza Papers Volume 2: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima (Kinji Fukasaku, 1973)
21. Flirting (John Duigan, 1991)
22. Noroit (Jacques Rivette, 1976)
23. Tomorrow We Move (Chantal Akerman, 2004)
24. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (D.A. Pennebaker, 1973)
25. Running on Karma (Johnnie To, 2003)
26. Wuthering Heights (Jacques Rivette, 1985)
27. Death Becomes Her (Robert Zemeckis, 1991)
28. Out 1 (Jacques Rivette, 1971)
29. Moonstruck (Norman Jewison, 1987)
30. The Mission (Johnnie To, 1999)
31. Flowers of Shanghai (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 1998)
32. Under the Cherry Moon (Prince, 1985)
33. Speed (Jan de Bont, 1994)
34. Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)
35. Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou, 1991)
36. Caught (Max Ophuls, 1949)
37. The Unbelievable Truth (Hal Hartley, 1989)
38. Heaven Knows What (Ben and Joshua Safdie, 2014)
39. The Furies (Anthony Mann, 1950)
40. Sympathy for the Underdog (Kinji Fukusaku, 1971)
41. Lovely and Amazing (Nicole Holofcener, 2001)

42. What Maisie Knew (Babette Mangolte, 1976)

43. The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicholas Roeg, 1976)
44. The Nightwatchman (Claire Denis, 1990)
45. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima, 1983)
46. Next of Kin (Tony Williams, 1982)
47. Paris Belongs to Us (Jacques Rivette, 1961)
48. Godzilla vs. Mothra (Ishiro Honda, 1964)
49. Beyond the Lights (Gina Price-Bythewood, 2014)
50. I Married a Witch (Rene Clair, 1942)