Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Notes on Movies Continued

As I am months behind in this, I am going to have to do a few of these. The good news is that I have not seen too many movies either, so three (posts) might do the trick. Of course at my rate that could take another two months.

Anna Karenina (2012)

I admit I liked what they did with this. They got Tom Stoppard to write the screenplay, and his vision was to take episodes from the book and put them in a theater setting, but the theater is usually just a starting off point for a good deal of clever filmwork. I remarked at the time that the movie makes a lot of assumptions that viewers have read the book and have a good recollection of it. Many minor characters for example make appearances without any introduction or explanation of who they are, you have to recognize them from the novel, and a similar dynamic is applied to various of the situations that the major characters are involved in, they appear or are alluded to in the course of the movie without being any further developed. As in often the case with modern productions that have some money to work with, the colors and sets and clothes and most of the people are lustrously beautiful. I was not enamored some of the casting, in particular Keira Knightley as Anna, though she does seem to fit with many people's idea of what Anna is. Older men (by which I mean older men than me) in the business love her, she is an ideal art-world sex goddess for them. Personally I don't detect much of a soul there, or an appealing mind either, though reputedly she is very smart. Maybe I don't like her, or Anna, because they are too superior to me all around, or at least there is no opening for me to approach them in a way that is pleasing to me. Even in the book there is with Anna much of a sense that her mental and emotional life, more as the result of cultured habit and upbringing than intellectual development, are inaccessible, certainly to the lowlier sort of reader.

I didn't like the actor they had playing Levin either, who played him as more of a goober than I think was merited. I thought it was widely known, or understood, that Levin was modeled in large part after Tolstoy himself, and in the book he had some cachet in Moscow society even if he was regarded as a bit of an oddball.
I do remember thinking that Vronsky was well-cast.

The King's Speech (2010)

I had seen this a few years back and I gave it another try. It still strikes me as a weak Oscar best picture winner. The material is too slight, the class dynamic strikes my American sensibility as rather gross, not that we do not have problems of our own in this regard; some of the particular forms of the British system are still alien enough to strike me as strange. The uninspiring George VI is not one of my favorite British royals. I was always partial to his disgraced brother, mostly on account of his clothes. I suppose the film had some appeal for me as a period piece, given my general affection for this period, though even in this I thought the effect was overly drab. Not in the physical sense--I like drab as an aesthetic in that--but in its animating forces.

It appears from reading this that I think it is dreadful and was rolling my eyes and generally not enjoying myself throughout the movie, but I am not fierce enough to denounce anything that thoroughly. Some of the performances are quite good. Still, overall I found it a disappointment.

The Hurt Locker (2009)

The second of the back to back Oscar winners from the turn of the current decade, and I suppose the best-known movie to deal with George Bush II's Iraq War. What I remember most about it was that it was filmed in videotape, and its overwhelming aura of alienation and nihilism. Compared with World War II movies or even to some extent Vietnam movies it is striking to me how little emphasis is placed on the connection of the soldiers with the greater society back home, effectively there is not much of one, and this is of course one of the themes of the movie. While I am partial to some landscapes more than others, I usually am able to feel some sense of beauty in most places. Iraq in this movie at least looks to be oppressively unlovable and alien in a geographic sense. The barracks--trailers I guess--where the soldiers reside are equally devoid of any tribute to aesthetics or positive cultural associations. We are reminded that there are still men in the world--I don't remember there being any women soldiers in this movie, which was somewhat famously directed by a woman--who take to the life of soldiering and war as their calling, though perhaps there are not as many being produced in the Western nations as there used to be, for good or ill, I am not clear in my own mind on this point. The Iraq War is presented in this movie as a somewhat endless series of military exercises and maneuvers, which, however skillfully executed, do not seem to be leading towards any obvious end, at least from the American point of view. Perhaps I should see it again sometime. It is not an enjoyable or hopeful movie in any way however.

Top Gun (1986)

Another military-themed movie, of a sort, though immersed in late Cold War Reagan-era jingoism rather than the fractured confusion that in the public mind at least has characterized the more recent conflicts. What a difference 30 years makes! I was not looking forward to seeing this, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, not because of anything to do with the story, but because I found it (as I have on several of the rare occasions when I take up movies from these particular years) so much fun to be back again in the oddly lost world of the mid-1980s, which were my high school years and the details of which therefore I recollect very vividly and which belong to me--not that I was myself doing anything very exciting compared to most people at the time--much more than the present does. There is a lack of oppressiveness in the atmosphere of this movie compared to pretty much everything about life in the present that does ring true in my memory. The look and demeanor of the women in the 80s were so comparatively pleasing too. Of course it is easy to be gulled by movie stars, but with the NCAA basketball tournament being on this week I was looking on the internet at some of the old games of the 80s and when the cameras scans the crowd or shows the cheerleaders they look a lot happier and like they are having a lot more fun, and are therefore cuter, than what I feel when I look at similarly aged people today, though perhaps I am partial to my own time. And then of course the lively, beautiful young women of the 80s are the 40 and 50-somethings who seem to be not especially happy with circumstances in the present.

And Quiet Flows the Don (1957)

3 part, 6 hour Soviet adaptation of the Sholakhov novel about Cossacks during the period of World War I and the Revolution. I found it to be very poignant. Why would this be, given all of the horrible things that not only take place in this story, but that we know are going to happen in the future to anyone who is surviving at the end as well? To begin with I am emotionally susceptible to the historical events of the period under consideration more than most others. I am as well susceptible to certain of the particular sensations which cinematic evolution had become adept at projecting by the 1950s, so much so that much that the default or base of most my ideas about geography and how the natural world especially is supposed to look like date from this time. I had also read the book, and the story is moving and stirring, in the sense of having sweep and movement. Even though they were a wicked regime and our enemies and they stifled entrepreneurship the circumstance that it seems to have been a prestige project in the Soviet Union may have made some impression on me also, the idea of the existence of this whole other film industry completely cut off from Hollywood certainly, but even Western Europe, full of actors and directors most people in the West know nothing, who if they ever had occasion to speak English, did not do so professionally. The movie was shot in bright and unsubtle color that makes it appear somewhat cartoonish at first but I found it grew on me.

I have written in the past about my time in Prague in the 90s and how I found certain lingering aspects of the lifestyle and organization of the era appealing, namely in the form of (certain of) the kinds of shared experiences that people had with one another, which seemed to me superior to the weak shared experiences, if there are any at all, that I at least have with anyone in the United States. This called some of that to mind too.

This came with a 4th disc exclusively devoted to some of the oddest special features I've ever seen. There was a droning interview with a modern day Cossack ataman (something like a chief), who was a balding, heavyset, rather unwarlike middle aged man wearing a medal-covered blue dress uniform and sitting behind a desk in what looked like an office in a community center. There was about a twenty minute segment devoted to traditional Cossack songs and dances which I was going to take a quick glimpse at and move on, but I found I was drawn into and rather uplifted by it, because, at least during the performance, the people were so proud and comfortable in their own skin not merely as awesome or superior individuals but as members of a community with some sense of positive identity and purpose. I know this sort of thing is discouraged nowadays among us because it often ends in conflict and people getting killed, but it is very attractive when you see it. The anomic life spent in shuffling about with one's head down, unable to drawn strength from or commune with such vitality as does exist around you is pitiful in comparison. This was what I was thinking while watching the dances anyway.

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