Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #131-137

Hello everyone! Sorry it has been quite a while since I last posted. I go through spurts of writing a lot and then corresponding ebbs. I’ve shifted my focus a bit to reading and trying to learn some German so films have taken a backseat as of late. Plus, in effort to save some money I’ve cut back on certain monthly expenses. Meaning no more Hulu Plus and only Netflix streaming for me. But I’ll certainly keep up with some viewings and posting output. For one thing, I plan on participating in next week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot for Mary Poppins.


#131. Berberian Sound Studio (2013, Strickland)

A meticulous tribute to giallo and the inextricable subconscious effect that sound contributes to the moving image. It’s made for a very narrow but appreciative audience and is more of a fascinating academic-like exercise that I primarily admired. I’ve gotten much more interested in the role of sound in film this past year so it is a treat to see something that uses this crucial but often underappreciated and little understood aspect of filmmaking as its almost essay-like focus. Isolation and cultural dislocation lead the way with Toby Jones as Gilderoy. He might as well be trapped in the sound studio.. The setting plays like a psychological prison and Strickland explores the power of sound through its surrounding inescapable nature. Visuals are something we can look away from. Sound has the capacity to drown us, drive us into dismantling states.

We never see the film Gilderoy is working on, titled The Equestrian Vortex, but we hear a great deal of it. As everyday objects are used to fill in our imaginative aural gaps, the film builds up a jarringly uncomfortable atmosphere. No blood is shed, no violence seen. But watermelons and the like suddenly have squeamish associative power, made all the more complex through its effect on Gilderoy who becomes uncomfortably complicit in helping create horror by indirectly taking part in it. The film-within-a-film seems to be an extension of how the beautiful but mistreated women in the studio inhibit the space. It may not seem like a lot happens in Berberian Sound Studio, because to be sure this is true, and yet its purpose is clearly multi-layered.

Random Observations:
Interesting that we the audience get an advantage over Gilderoy re: subtitles for spoken Italian while Gilderoy has an additional disadvantage over us re: he is seeing both the footage and the sound of The Equestrian Vortex while we only hear the audio.


#132. Antonio Gaudi (1985, Teshigahara)

Putting another layer of artistic endeavor between us and the fantastical undulating work of Antonio Gaudi, Teshigahara’s near-wordless documentary is like a poetic context; the gift of heightened consideration. The way his work is shot runs the gamut, from close-ups where detail is abstracted to far away in order to place his creations within the context of Barcelona. What about this angle; or this angle? How to best extrapolate the ever-changing notions of his shapes and constructs? The camera considers his work from every angle, caresses the curves and even considers the world outside as his buildings would hypothetically see them as sentient beings, thereby treating them as such. This film was also a big influence on my decision to save up and travel to Barcelona for a week this November.

#133. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987, Hara)

From the moment a wedding celebration becomes an awkward self-indulgent confessional moment of radicalism as Kenzo Okuzaki denigrates the concept of family and drops reference to his committed murder and jail time you know this is going to be a bonkers documentary. And it is. There are no easy answers; Okuzaki’s tenacity is something to behold but his methods, which yield some result, are fidget-inducing. It’s the most excruciatingly uncomfortable film I’ve seen in some time. You kind of feel like you’ve crossed into another dimension once Okuzaki hires his wife and friend to impersonate the brotherless siblings who rightly jump ship on their journey towards truth. His interrogation methods are so relentless and so narrow that the film is a dive into one man’s post-war psyche just as much as the partial truths of specific WWII atrocities dug up. And then there’s the role of documentarian in all this. Truly a bizarre trailblazing documentary of dangerous and volatile investigative parts and you’ll never forget Kenzo Okuzaki. Not something I ever want to see again but that’s okay because it’s burned into my brain.

#134. Before Midnight (2013, Linklater)
Review in separate post.

#135. Love, Marilyn (2013, Garbus)

A really informative cliffnotes info dump about her life. Considering how loaded and complex her life was, it is impressive how much ground is covered. Having a chunk of her written material be the context for the documentary was lovely, centralizing her voice. If only it had been presented differently. Most of the male actors got the job done. The women on the other hand are often forced, over-emotive and theatrical. It was like being at an unfortunate casting session. It didn’t help that the fake backgrounds and constant camera movement further distracted from the reading sessions. But overall well worth watching if someone wants a sense of the basic puzzle pieces of her life as well as an introductory sense of her mindset.

Bling Ring
#136. The Bling Ring (2013, Coppola)

Like a vapid anthropological study, Coppola ponders the mindset of these entitled criminals as they nonchalantly rob the houses of the rich and famous. What drew me to The Bling Ring is the way Coppola focuses on the entitlement of the entitled. That is to say, these teenagers act as if they are merely going to a friends house while they are away. There is never a sense of doing something wrong. No worrying about implications and consequences. They shared the same space as celebrities at various clubs and bars. Tabloids and gossip blogs allow people to track their every movement so anyone can know where a celebrity is on any given day. So it’s like they feel naturally entitled to break into their homes and take their things. It’s treated as blase, and the materialism brings them superficially closer to fame. Coppola is more interested in the frame of mind, specifically the lack of it, that would make one do such things. Being that close to fame, allowing one’s life to be made up entirely out of superficial concerns. And taking the next step.

We might not be like the characters in the film, but it’s indicative of larger fact that many of us obsess over and talk about famous people with a inordinate level of familiarity. And this is something that has certainly blown up with the advent of internet culture. These girls are on the farthest end of the spectrum but the fact of the matter is that a lot of people invest too much time and energy and thoughts into what their favorite famous people are doing or wearing or fucking day in and day out.  Between tabloid culture and real-life shipping within fandom, which I personally find uncomfortable, there are may facets of becoming far too involved with famous people. I see it every day on tumblr and pretty much everywhere else within fan culture. The broader implications aren’t addressed in The Bling Ring, but they certainly exist and the film depicts one extreme example of unwarranted attachment.

These characters are wildly privileged and clearly have zero sense of the concept of earning, of private space or of remorse. Coppola took an interesting approach that I largely admired, staying true to her initial fascination, sacrificing the development of ideas for mere contemplation. It doesn’t make for as great film, but it certainly makes for a good one.

Watching several episodes of ‘Pretty Wild’, the short-lived Alexis Neiers reality show to prep for the film added a wonderfully horrifying layer of context to everything. As a result, Emma Watson saying ‘kitten heels’ had both of us cackling.

#137. Monsters University (2013, Scanlon)

A riff on the college buddy comedy, Monsters University might not pack the kind of next-level emotional wallop of some of Pixar’s output or have the kind of ambition we crave from them, but this is flat-out the most entertaining film I’ve seen this year. That anyone could have walked out of this unsatisfied boggles my mind. As much as I want to accept and be open to all responses people may have to any given film, ‘soulless snob’ automatically springs to mind in regards to anyone who was impervious to its considerable charms. It’s heartfelt, hilarious and carries a wonderful message on its back. It hits every note it tries to, every joke lands on-target (anyone who lived on a college campus will appreciate a lot of the humor) and Crystal and Goodman lend their top-notch voice work in reviving their Mike and Sully characters. Far exceeded my expectations.


Weekly Screening Log: April 29th-May 5th

150. Attack the Gas Station! (1998, Kim): B

151. The Trip (2011, Winterbottom): A-

152. Submarine (2011, Ayoade): B+

153. Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011, Garbus): B+

154. The Future (2011, July): B-

155.  Project Nim (2011, Marsh): A+

156. The Hollywood Librarian (2007, Seidl): F

Review: Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011, Garbus) [IFFBoston 2011]

Originally posted on Criterion Cast on May 3rd, 2011:

Biographical documentaries always present an inherent problem; how does one sum up a person’s life in ninety minutes? Some films take an event-heavy approach; we get a sense of the subject by accounting for the major events in their life and how they felt and acted in these moments. Other documentaries create a sort of snapshot of their subject. Bobby Fischer Against the World falls into a slightly different category.

This documentary examines Fischer’s psyche within the event-heavy approach using a cause-and-effect reasoning. Countless biographical documentaries fall into this category. The problem is that life, and people, are not this simple. On a gut level the documentaries that attempt this lofty goal are unsatisfying. Yet, many of these films are very good, and even great, because their goal may be futile, but the efforts and results are still revealing and informative. Bobby Fischer Against the World may not accurately account for Fischer’s entire life, but the reasons it suggests for his lifelong struggle and eventual paranoiac surrender are certainly food for thought, making for a harrowing and suspenseful portrait.

Over half of the film concentrates on the 1972 World Chess Championship between Fischer and Boris Spassky. It takes the time to impressively juggle many other facets such as Bobby’s childhood, his mother Regina, his obsessive nature and way the press depicted him. It also places chess in a broader context, looking at how the match was representative of the relentless competition between the U.S.A and the Soviet Union, transcending the game itself.

A variety of people are used for the talking heads. There are those who knew Fischer, such as Anthony Saidy and Harry Benson. There are those who are chess Grandmasters or U.S Champions. There are also Fischer biographers. Director Liz Garbus shoots the interview subjects within large scenic buildings and long hallways. This choice could have been off-putting, but they make for nice compositions because she keeps the background out-of-focus, retaining the mood of the setting but not the distraction of it.

Bobby Fischer sacrificed everything for chess and it led his ruin. The point this film drives home that hits the hardest is the idea that the elements of Fischer’s mind that accounted for his genius, were the same ones that drove him to a reclusive life of Anti-Semitic (he was Jewish) and Anti-American hate, filled with paranoid delusions and conspiracy theories.

His obsession with chess filled up all of his time. After winning the World Championship at twenty-nine; where does Fischer go from there? Where does anyone go from there? Surely he would defend his title; but he decides not to and forfeits. His stubbornness and obsessive nature allowed him to slide naturally into his reclusive life and represents the epitome of the dangers of truly living inside one’s own mind. To see one man’s drive be applied for something great, only to become a man with delusions of grandeur who fully welcomes such a horrific event as 9/11 is difficult to watch.

Bobby Fischer Against the World is tightly paced and suspenseful in its depiction of the World Championship. All of the interview subjects come into play during these segments, and together it creates a passionate display of how it all went down and what it meant for the game of chess and for the world at that time.

The way the press handled Bobby Fischer was to label him as ‘unusual’, ‘odd’ and ‘arrogant’. The film and its interviewees clearly take issue with this dismissive representation, but the film always stays on the same general level of the press. A lot of the statements made by the interviewees are sweeping and to a degree, speculative. There are a lot of things said in the film about Fischer, some good and some bad, but without having many examples, these statements can only be taken at face value. The footage with Saidy and Benson are the most revealing and their personal experiences with Fischer are incredibly valuable; there should have been a bit more of that.

The film makes a conscious decision not to go into Fischer’s reclusive years, only picking up in the early nineties when he resurfaced for a short while, and then in the early 2000’s when he is jailed. The effect of seeing a clean-cut Fischer in 1972 to a ragged looking homeless man twenty years later is nothing short of devastating to witness. However, by making no efforts to understand that time period in Fischer’s life, the film’s coverage is parallel to the press coverage of Fischer throughout his life. It never goes the extra mile that makes a truly great documentary as opposed to a sufficiently strong one.

His life is depicted as tragic; it is clearly film’s chosen angle amidst the Championship. Whether that is an accurate assessment is up for grabs and it seems to place no fault on Fischer who made conscious decisions that are, in all honesty, his doing. Yet it does an excellent job creating this angle. Citing other chess players with mental illness gives him essence of victim. So does his childhood complete with misidentified father and struggling but largely absentee mother.  Bobby is self-taught while the Russians, including Spassky, were bred for chess-playing, receiving financial backing and proper training. That he did it all himself shows incomparable work ethic as well as willing sacrifice, always admirable qualities.

Biographical documentaries are reductive by nature, and while I use this film as an example of that, most of these films overcome this drawback in some way. This is not least because knowing they must be taken with a grain of salt allows one to sit back and appreciate what these films do give us. By telling a tight, suspenseful and difficult story, this film satisfies and does about as much as it can be expected to do in ninety minutes.