Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Nature of Repression in Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life

Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life (1) , released in 1963, appeared during the waning years of the Free Cinema (2) movement in Britain, but has endured as one of the most influential (3) films of the period and, perhaps, the most beloved. Its influence can be partially attributed to the breakout performances of both Richard Harris and Rachel Roberts, but it is the film’s narrative structure (4) and social/psychological discourse that has maintained its reputation. The complex ‘flashback’ structure works to facilitate the psychological confliction of Frank (5) Machin (Harris), a coal miner desperate to escape the daily grind and make a name for himself playing Rugby. Yet, as the film reveals, Frank is hindered by both his unfulfilled need for sexual release and the sport which consumes and exploits him.

Frank’s connection with his environment is seen immediately following the opening credits sequence; he is hit in the face by another footballer, which causes his nose to gush blood. Almost immediately, there is a cut to a large drill, powered by Frank himself, mining for oil. The scene reveals two separate elements to Frank’s character; the black and white photography (and the thickness of the blood pouring from his nose) makes no distinction between blood and oil. Though it can be assumed Frank does not bleed oil, the likeness of the two does suggest he is linked with industry and the Earth. This quick cross-cut also juxtaposes Frank’s blood with a giant, phallic drill, a paradoxical instrument which has the ability to both penetrate and castrate. The drill symbolizes his overstated masculinity, as well as his fear of maternal repression.

The manifestation of this maternal repression is Mrs. Hammond (Roberts), a young, widowed mother who rents a room to Frank. He is sexually attracted to her, but she resists and represses herself because of the death (and apparent suicide) of her husband. Frank is the ‘return of the repressed’ figure for her, but he also remains sexually repressed and frustrated due to her emotional coldness and sexual frigidity.(6) This is seen in the film after Frank has received a 1000 pound check for signing with an elite rugby team. He shows her the check and she states plainly, “It’s very good…it’s a bit more than I got when my husband died.” Frank responds with indignation and delves into a speech, “Some people make [life] for themselves,” and follows by smashing a table and throwing its contents to the floor. His act of aggression is a response to his castration by the mother figure. He is conflicted by his sexual feelings for Mrs. Hammond, but is also undermined by her lack of maternal acceptance. He wants to be her lover, but she treats him like he’s one of her children.

If Mrs. Hammond is the repressive figure on the micro level, the sport of rugby is the repressive entity on the macro. Before signing with the upper league team, Frank confronts the captain of the team in a night club. “Do you want a thumpin’ love?” asks the captain. “Aye,” responds Frank, a further indication of his confusion with violence and sex. (7) There is certainly a sadomasochistic level to his response, especially given the word choice of the captain. Once Frank does sign on, he becomes an objectification and commodity for both men and women. Mr. Weaver drives him home after signing him on; he tells Frank that if anyone asks, he is now, “property of the city.” He then grabs Frank’s knee in a cutaway that frames the synecdochical act of possession. Frank eyes the hand on his knee curiously. The lack of a voice-over narration or any way to contextualize Frank’s thoughts only add to his perceived confusion. Is it a sexual advance? Is it a friendly gesture? There’s no way of knowing what Frank’s facial response is meant to suggest due to his inability for self-articulation, but given his propensity to use violent action as a catharsis for psychological distress, he likely views it as a means of expression, the physical act substituting for repressed sexual inclination.

Most ambivalent about the film is how sexual suggestion manages to creep its way into most, if not all, of the scenes in the film, even if only by intimation rather than explicit action. After Frank has his teeth knocked out, men wrestle and laugh happily naked in the bathtubs. Sexual proclivity is masked by an act of playful physical aggression, just like Mr. Weaver’s hand-on-the-knee. Frank is also constantly surrounded by water; he uses it to cleanse his face after having his teeth worked on; he takes Mrs. Hammond’s children to play in a pond at the park (8); most explicitly, Frank is sprayed with a hose by a teammate as he play wrestles with Maurice in the bath. He is called a ‘fairy’ and stands smiling and singing as the water pours over him. He is on the receiving end of a metaphorical ejaculation, the hose serving as the phallic object. The hose does exactly what Frank cannot, due to his psychological confusion and repression. Naturally, Frank punches as the scene ends, which keeps intact his decision to exhibit aggression in the face of sexuality. The water, which serves as a place of maternal comfort, is mixed with implications of sexuality, both hetero and homosexual.

Frank confronts his sexual angst in an attempted rape on Mrs. Hammond. However, in keeping with the sense of sexual ambiguity, Frank approaches her from behind, grasping her hips, then turning her and controlling her body with his physical strength. They are interrupted by Mrs. Hammond’s daughter. She commands her to “go away” in the same manner that she commands Frank to “stop.” Though the scene loses focus before any sex act takes place, the next shot is of Frank’s hand (in present time), grasping a thick, phallic-like bedpost and moaning at the discomfort of his teeth. The juxtaposition is the most explicitly homosexual of the film; one can’t help but be reminded of the nearly identical shot of Mr. Weaver grasping Frank’s knee. It aligns Frank’s inability to distinguish pain from pleasure. (9) The rape of Mrs. Hammond is a faux-sexual release; Frank may engage it with the belief that it will alleviate his confusion and repression, but the subsequent shot indicates the converse, that it has only served as a catalyst for it.

The sexuality is also linked with material possession; upon entering a room after recovering from the removal of his teeth, Frank finds Mr. and Mrs. Weaver sitting with Mr. Slomer. Slomer’s line is quite telling: “Come on in Frank, we won’t eat you.” The connotation of his word choice is both consumptive and sexual. Frank is a commodity, an object meant for spectacle and visual digestion. He, like the nightclub singer he objectifies (“Show us your personality”), is on the receiving end of not just the female gaze, but the male gaze as well. Frank is an investment for Mr. Weaver and it’s the investment that he cares for, not Frank as a person. There is a shot in the film which shows the enormous crowd of people who have come to watch the rugby match; behind the stands are two, large smoke towers. The malicious nature of industry looms over the spectacle. Thus, industry turns men into objects of commoditization (10), just as ‘this sporting life’ does. Frank follows the nightclub singer with a song of his own, singing “Here is My Heart – I’m Alone and So Lonely.” Unaware of the implication, Frank is no different than the nightclub singer as a voyeuristic objectification. He walks home afterward, along crossing railroad tracks. The pathetic fallacy is telling of his psychological divide.

Also somewhat hard to quantify is the positioning of Frank as a Christ-like figure (11), who is beaten and endures pain for the benefit of others. The party which Frank attends after having his teeth knocked out is a Christmas party, an irony considering ‘the birth’ juxtaposes the start of Frank’s fall from grace. Maurice holds his wedding on Easter; Frank and Mrs. Hammond attend and stand in a graveyard beside the church, talking about their future together. This not only addresses the irony of any chance of a ‘resurrection,’ but foreshadows the eventual death of Mrs. Hammond. If these instances only suggest a connection, the image of Frank, hanging to a ceiling rod, arms extended horizontally and screaming “Margaret!” following her death caused by a brain hemorrhage, solidifies it. Frank is the bearer of physical pain while he takes the brunt of a hit on the football field. But he also endures the emotional loss of Mrs. Hammond and his cathartic scream is the sexual release he has craved, yet it comes at a steep price.

He remains conflicted, though; while he is rid of his domineering maternal presence, he is not relieved of his burden as “property of the city,” nor of his now repressed belief that he is directly responsible for Mrs. Hammond’s illness and demise. Frank returns to the pitch at the film’s end, turning from the camera and running away. He is helpless to the consumption of the industrialized masses and remains stripped of individual agency. (12)


1. The film is based on the novel by David Storey, who also wrote the screenplay. Storey based the novel on his own life as a part time ‘footballer’ and art student. As Storey says, “The footballers thought I was a homosexual because I was an artist and the artists thought I was a [jock] because I was a footballer” (CC commentary). This dynamic can be seen in the film, as Frank masks his emotional threshold (and possibly latent homosexuality) with acts of physical aggression and violence.
2. Anderson was quoted as saying, “What is required is a cinema in which people can write films with as much freedom as if they were writing poems, painting pictures or composing string quartets” (Solution 9).
3. Anderson’s direct influence on Martin Scorsese can be seen in several of his films, namely Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Film scholar Neil Sinyard notes this, comparing Frank Machin’s narcissistic boxing himself in a mirror to Travis Bickle’s “You talkin’ to me?” routine. Raging Bull, with its neo-realistic tableau and comparable lead character, seems like a direct homage to This Sporting Life. Also, Scorsese has admitted that Travis Bickle was named after Mick Travis from Anderson’s If…. (Sinyard 11).
4. The flashback structure in the film is a great accomplishment. It foregoes any voice-over narration and forces the viewer to take note of the change in chronology. There are no subtitles to indicate it; in fact, time often changes three times in three subsequent shots. This is emblematic Anderson’s desire to create an art cinema for Britain, full of personal films. It fits the qualifications David Bordwell lays out for the art film: “The art film is nonclassical in that it creates permanent narrational gaps and calls attention to the process of fabula construction. But these very deviations are placed within new extrinsic norms, resituated as realism or authorial commentary. Eventually, the art-film narration solicits not only denotative comprehension, but connotative reading, a higher level interpretation” (212). This Sporting Life certainly subverts traditional narration in favor of a style to mirror its protagonist’s inner struggle.
5. The name in the novel was Arthur Machin, but it was changed to Frank to avoid complications and comparisons with the Albert Finney character from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, named Arthur Seaton (Graham 59).
6. In his biography Mainly About Lindsay Anderson, Gavin Lambert explores the idea that Mrs. Hammond is a double for Anderson himself, because of Anderson’s own infatuation with Richard Harris. Anderson describes it in a diary entry: “Emotionally [Richard’s] warmth and willfulness can sabotage me in a moment. And of course instinctively he knows this and exploits it. I ought to be calm and detached with him. Instead I am impulsive, affectionate, infinitely susceptible. We embrace and fight like lovers: but in Richard I sense the ruthlessness that would drop me or destroy me without compunction if I seemed to fail him” (Diaries 75). This also contributes to Anderson’s psychological ‘battle’ with his own homosexuality; after all, in the early 1960’s, “psychiatrists agreed…that homosexuality was a disease in need of a cure…the law classified homosexuals as criminals…Anderson’s psychiatrists assured him that he ‘couldn’t really be homosexual’” (Lambert 116-23).
7. Graham notes this ‘anomaly’ writing: “Never…in this series of ‘socially’ realistic films had a character been thrust out onto the screen with absolutely no resources except his physicality” (57-8). This is expressed, perhaps unconsciously, by Frank himself, when he talks about why he plays ‘football’: “We don’t have stars in this sport. That’s soccer.” The ‘football’ field is a place for Frank to fulfill his need to give physical punishment as well as receive it.
8. In the scene, Frank waddles into the water and comes out; his pants are wet all the way up his legs but his crotch is still dry. This is a visual signifier for his continued sexual frustration and confusion over the relationship he should assume with Mrs. Hammond.
9. The sequence is almost abstract in its implications, yet it can easily be paralleled with the well documented homosexual angst Anderson was feeling during the making of the film.
10. Graham cites Mr. Weaver telling Frank of Eric Hammond’s suicide as, “a fitting omen, for being one of Weaver’s workers is a form of suicide” (71).
11. The comparison of sporting figures to Christ has not become uncommon since this film. Scorsese’s Raging Bull is full of Catholic imagery associating Jake La Motta with Christ. Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler even makes it explicit; a character remarks how Randy “The Ram” Robinson continually takes pain, just like Christ does in the film The Passion of the Christ. “Tough dude” responds Robinson.
12. In this sense, the film can be seen to mirror Anderson’s own fear as a filmmaker, to not have “as much freedom as if they were writing poems…” Frank cannot balance his own expectations with that of his society, and it leads to simultaneous self-effacement and the destruction of others. Anderson likely shared this fear of losing the control he felt was needed to sustain his own artistic expression.


Anderson, Lindsay. "A Possible Solution." Sequence. 9.
Bordwell, David. Narration in the Fiction Film. Routledge, 1987.
Graham, Allison. Lindsay Anderson. Boston: Twayne, 1981.
Hedling, Erik. "Lindsay Anderson and the Development of the British Art Cinema." The British Cinema Book. 2nd ed. London: British Film Institute, 2001. 241-45.
Lambert, Gavin. Mainly About Lindsay Anderson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
Sinyard, Neil. "The Lonely Heart." This Sporting Life - an essay for the Criterion Collection: 4-13.
Sutton, Paul, ed. The Diaries: Lindsay Anderson. London: Methuen, 2005.
This Sporting Life. Dir. Lindsay Anderson. DVD. Criterion Collection, 2007.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The 100 Greatest Movies of All-Time

I try to do this once a year. I have excluded documentaries and animated features. Here's where I stand now:

1. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)
2. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
3. Sweet Movie (Dušan Makavejev, 1974)
4. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
5. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
6. Port of Shadows (Marcel Carne, 1938)
7. Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray, 1956)
8. Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, 1961)
9. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
10. My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946)
11. Masculin-Feminin (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)
12. Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1962)
13. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)
14. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
16. Smiles of a Summer Night (Ingmar Bergman, 1955)
17. Sherlock Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924)
18. Trash (Paul Morrissey, 1970)
19. The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)
20. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1928)
21. M (Fritz Lang, 1931)
22. Unfaithfully Yours (Preston Sturges, 1948)
23. The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959)
24. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
25. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955)
26. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
27. Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
28. Au Hazard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
29. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
30. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
31. The Man With the Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
32. Fargo (The Coen Brothers, 1996)
33. Dressed to Kill (Brian De Palma, 1980)
34. The Phantom of Liberty (Luis Buñuel, 1974)
35. Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
36. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
37. Sunrise (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
38. The Scarlet Empress (Josef Von Sternberg, 1934)
39. Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985)
40. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
41. L'Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962)
42. The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
43. Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957)
44. Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973)
45. 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963)
46. Le Bete Humaine (Jean Renoir, 1938)
47. Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa, 1957)
48. Wooden Crosses (Raymond Bernard, 1932)
49. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
50. Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)
51. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
52. The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928)
53. 3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977)
54. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
55. The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)
56. Born on the 4th of July (Oliver Stone, 1989)
57. Le Notti Bianche (Luchino Visconti, 1957)
58. Mouchette (Robert Bresson, 1967)
59. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
60. Make Way For Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937)
61. Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)
62. The Leopard Man (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)
63. Alexander Nevsky (Sergei Eisenstein, 1938)
64. Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
65. Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)
66. The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931)
67. Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1946)
68. The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973)
69. Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
70. Blood for Dracula (Paul Morrissey, 1974)
71. Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961)
72. Pickup on South Street (Sam Fuller, 1953)
73. The Last Detail (Hal Ashby, 1973)
74. Fallen Angel (Otto Preminger, 1945)
75. The Earrings of Madame De... (Max Ophuls, 1953)
76. The Children Are Watching Us (Vittorio De Sica, 1944)
77. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
78. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
79. Forbidden Games (Rene Clement, 1952)
80. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998)
81. Night and the City (Jules Dassin, 1950)
82. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)
83. Black Narcissus (Powell & Pressburger, 1947)
84. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)
85. Army of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969)
86. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
87. Femme Fatale (Brian De Palma, 2002)
88. Deathdream (Bob Clark, 1974)
89. Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1962)
90. Shoeshine (Vittorio De Sica, 1946)
91. Fury (Fritz Lang, 1936)
92. L'Age D'Or (Luis Buñuel, 1930)
93. Vivre Sa Vie (Jean-Luc Godard, 1962)
94. I Fidanzati (Ermanno Olmi, 1963)
95. This Sporting Life (Lindsay Anderson, 1963)
96. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977)
97. Bad Lieutenant (Abel Ferrara, 1992)
98. WR: Mysteries of the Organism (Dušan Makavejev, 1974)
99. The Last House on the Left (Wes Craven, 1972)
100. Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weekly Viewing April 11th - 17th

INSIDIOUS (James Wan, 2011) -- 2.5/4

Now this is what I'm talking about. Horror rooted in both character revelation and return of the repressed confrontations, James Wan concocts a fitting homage to his beloved Universal Horror Classics, while also traversing ground that encompasses but surpasses the scare tactics of the Paranormal Activity films. Here's a haunted house flick that genuinely ratchets up the tension in several late sequences, besting Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell in terms of both humor and sophistication. Unfortunately, Wan relies upon far too many blaring string crescendos and jump scares to truly assume rank as one of the greats (The Innocents remains the greatest film of this sub-genre), plus he really doesn't excavate much of a discernable subtext at all, but that doesn't negate the game effort, a welcome bit of horror ingenuity amidst the genre's now banal tidal wave.

SOURCE CODE (Duncan Jones, 2011) -- 2.5/4

Definitely old school in its approach to suspense, Duncan Jones' sophomore feature deftly navigates a simplistic premise, coherent enough to allow for character growth, nicely played by key actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan. The beats of revelation are those of a calculated script, forced and mechanical, especially the risible motivations of the terrorist. Buzz phrases like "war on terror" come and go without warrant - and the ending seems to miss the bittersweet irony an alternate would have provided. Clearly, issues abound, but the core of compassion through understanding so nicely comes together, that exterior issues become less problematic.

RAISING CAIN (Brian De Palma, 1992) -- 3/4 [REWATCH]

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973) -- 3/4 [REWATCH]

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (Peter Weir, 1975) -- 3.5/4

Peter Weir's ultra-aestheticized masterpiece delivers a knockout punch as a work of art - meditative, critical, stripped of dramatics. The film's meta-aspects, while impressively implicit, are not necessarily the point of the piece, thus allowing the images to speak for themselves. The inherent examination of the fetishization of the innocent female body - physical totality as the ethos of a society that cannot recognize existential or spiritual awareness (despite belonging to rigid religious denominations), is made clear by a doctor who keeps referring to the girls as "intact." As reverie, Weir could not be less intact, denying wholly rational or empirical modes of thought as restrictive and damaging to the human soul. Moreover, any explicit meaning is omitted, thus the art achieves a transcendental state through affect, ironically eroticized. It's a staggering viewing experience.

THE PASSENGER (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975) -- 2.5/4 [REWATCH]

The Passenger finds Antonioni at the breaking point - a visually taut film wholly detached, making even the always charismatic Jack Nicholson seem dull, without feeling. What to make of it? Comparable to late period Godard, there are numerous cinematic proficiencies, but without any tangible or compelling reason to engage. A thorough example of self-indulgence, it seems better in hindsight, without the long stretches of nothingness. Unlike Blow-Up (perhaps his greatest achievement), Antonioni neglects human evolution (ethically, morally, or spiritually), thus dissolving a core upon which his visuals can hang from. A few great dialogue exchanges don't compensate for that lacking, so while there's certainly much to contemplate, nothing truly profound manifests.

SCREAM 4 (Wes Craven, 2011) -- 3/4

Scream 4 Review

Friday, April 15, 2011

Scream 4 (Wes Craven, 2011) -- B+

Anyone who posits Michael Powell's Peeping Tom as the genesis for the slasher ethos deserves mad props. Coming via the fourth installment of a self-reflexive, perversely entertaining slasher franchise - that's almost some kind of miracle. And yet, why should one expect anything less from Scream 4, especially based on the pedigree of director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson? Beginning with the 1996 classic (and traces wholly evident in Craven's 1993 New Nightmare), the writer/director duo shattered pop mania with a crackerjack explanation for cultural hysteria, transcending simply the "meta" by revealing the unconscious death drive of a generation weaned on MTV and ironic detachment. The manifestation of Scream was wholly organic, not calculated or merely indicative of a postmodern sensibility, but thoroughly reflective upon falsified notions of love, death, and emptiness that pervaded theater screens and television sets. Scream got at something deeper than art: its inescapable control over the human beings who both consume and produce it.

Thus, the release of Scream 4, more than a decade after the admittedly tepid third installment, provides the sort of cultural event needed in such bleak filmgoing days, pervaded by a dearth of artistic inspiration. Aside from Terrence Malick's forthcoming The Tree of Life, it is the film event of the year, a glorious moment for those who still care about the things that shape cultural innovation and practice. Scream 4, even considering all of its shortcomings (which are numerous), makes viewers look themselves in the mirror, much as the film engages its own navel-gazing. It invites introspection. Identity, taste, morality - it's all on the table, even if many oblivious critics would have you believe otherwise. To not drop everything and meet at Williamson/Craven's altar for a couple of hours on opening night is akin to cinephilic homicide.

And yet early box office receipts indicate many did not, a fitting result for a consistently misunderstood director. Beneath the surface of Scream 4's jokey dialectic lies an ambivalent bitterness. Nothing explicates this better than a kill late into the film, as a victim lies upon the interior of her front door, only to be stabbed in the back, through the now anachronistic mail slot, a relic of cordiality and domesticity erased by the intrusion of e-mail, texting, and electronic subterfuge. That which brings us closer draws us further apart - a literal stab in the back to decency. Moreover, as the film's tagline asserts and is stated in the film: "New Decade, New Rules." Yet, this should not be taken as a thoughtless maxim, but an ironic moral question: Do the changing times excuse/explain historical disregard? Imitation (or, more precisely, replication) as murder begins the film, yet the remake craze also cannibalizes and distorts socially conscious investment for profit. "Don't fuck with the original," as Sidney tells a killer. But Scream 4 is doing just that: fucking things up, but surely just as fucked as the milieu from which it springs.

If Craven's film is riddled with inconsistencies in tone, is that not on us as consumers/viewers? Ghostface states in the opening scene, "This isn't a comedy, it's a horror film." Are they any different? Narcissism and self-reflexivity as a prank, a gag to reflect such a lacking in modern thought, where awareness of the self effaces another - yet paradoxically cancels out the self, interdependent among the others for coexistence. Thus, when unceasing video blogger Robbie (Erik Knudsen) puts his headset on backwards, it reveals something he has never seen: the past, a perspective other than his own. Necessarily, this error ends with his death. Previously, his Cinema Club ritualizes the glorification of commodity, lining up the seven Stab films as a recurring, annual celebration. The viewing crowd recites the lines, relishing the knowledge of what lies ahead, yet delighting in feigned surprise when it actually happens. The phrase of choice throughout the franchise has been, "don't you know that history repeats itself?" Craven recognizes less a predetermined repetition than one of human error, where cultural obsession and personal preference dominate to the point of a comprehensive deterioration. Is Scream 4 too much? Of course it is - grossly so, it defies rationality with its intrinsic absurdity. Nevertheless, it is a necessary film, a much needed reminder of how stupid life becomes when culturally fueled instant gratification devours a calmer intuition.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekly Viewing April 4th - 10th

THE AFRICAN QUEEN (John Huston, 1951) -- 3/4

John Huston gets mighty playful in The African Queen, an exciting bit of fun wholly reliant on the personalities of its stars. Not to sell Huston short - he orchestrates it well, instilling elements of screwball comedy in a classic "journey" narrative. Akin in ways to Hitchcock's North by Northwest (emphasis on characters/whimsy rather than medium/theme), there are certainly laughs to be had, enjoyment to engage. However, the film's status as one of the greatest American films ever made rings quite bullish - indicative of an evaluative body more amused by shenanigans than discursive sophistication.

KILLER'S KISS (Stanley Kubrick, 1955) -- 3.5/4 [REWATCH]

IMITATION OF LIFE (John M. Stahl, 1934) -- 3/4

John M. Stahl's incredible melodrama excavates soapy maternal angst, racial tension, and biting class commentary without ever stepping into the unabashedly histrionic - more importantly, every emotional pull at the heartstrings derives from an interest in human well-being and equality. Most remarkable is how sincere and concrete the film is able to address the derivation of racism, not pandering in the slightest, positing double consciousness and prejudice as a tragedy, to be sure, but also an inevitable function when money, commerce (the scene where Louise Beavers first poses for her pancake label is both humorous and haunting), and the human beings associated cannot be extricated from the other.

HANNA (Joe Wright, 2011) -- 2.5/4

Joe Wright drastically switches gears for Hanna, a trashy, perversely conceived bit of business, nicely paced, and kinetically directed. The film lacks much discernable content/interests beyond the visceral, achieved through several long takes, crescendos, and a sick score from The Chemical Brothers. Thankfully valuing suggestivity over straight-forward exposition, the enigmatic elements contribute when the action ratchets up - as does a palpable nihilism, for better or worse. A few German baddies explicitly evoke Jean-Jacques Beineix's Diva (especially in the chase sequences) and Wright's sensibilities are somewhere similar - in love with the image to ends both significant and flawed, he has little to communicate as a filmmaker, but he does so with fluidity. And, I'd be remiss if I did not mention Saoirse Ronan, who may be the best thing about the entire film.

IMITATION OF LIFE (Douglas Sirk, 1959) -- 3.5/4

Mistaken upon initial release as merely a women's weepie, Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life deserves the retrospective canonization it's received (much like Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls, a thematically similar film, is on its way to receiving). Ditching the "pancake queen" narrative of Stahl's endearing original for a more provocative exploration of both female and racial identity crisis, Sirk posits Hollywood dreams as directly correlative with rampant sexism and ageism, forcing women to give up their humanity (and dignity) for a chance at success and, even more impressively for Sirk, deconstructing the lurid ways in which physical appearance, specifically skin color, causes intense psychological damage in a culture irrationally obsessed with posturing, surface appearances, preferring a facade over sincerity. Sirk lines his melodramatic ducks in a row, but transcends emotional pornography by rooting the cruelty in a tangible sense of the absurd (the use of a "double" which manifests in two separate sequences is particularly striking) and lucidly, heartbreakingly, revealing how such madness could be averted - were the irreducible culprits (historical physiognomy, ancestral shame) not so firmly in place.

TRASH HUMPERS (Harmony Korine, 2010) -- 2/4

Would it be nonsensical to call Trash Humpers "conventional" Harmony Korine? Here is a film that strips any pretensions from its narrative, honing in on kinky, fetishized behavior, and asking...well, something, though the film's intentions never manifest in any ways other than wholly absurd. To even begin an argument for Korine's film as poetic, socially conscious, or meditative on the disconnect of human/culture relationships is tempting - though wholly inappropriate, since Korine is up to the same old tricks, indefensible (and ready-made-defenses) all rolled into one, passing as radical, audacious, filmmaking. At the end of the day, it is just people, in masks, fucking trash. Take it or leave it.

POINT BLANK (John Boorman, 1967) -- 4/4 [REWATCH]