Vibrations, 1996 – ★★ [Movie Log]

“See the idea is to get the vibe going. Then you maintain the vibe with a trance inducing bass and the right lights. See, we’re primal, heading for cosmic. Just when you think we’re in galactic ecstasy? We go acid. It’s hardcore neutronic mutilation. Now we get serious. See, we’re going on a psychotically calibrated, electronically executed, digitally compressed, toxic screaming journey through sonic grooviness. The world is coming to an end, but we don’t care, because we’re moon-tan nocturnal, vinyl-consuming animals drifting easy through friendly space and analog trance; nothing can doom this groove. We’re controlling the vibe, manipulating the madness, sucking in the energy, and our cosmic nerve endings are telling us how to move, what to do, where to go, then we know, there’s the time: Let’s go!

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Easy Rider, 1969 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

Trips, whether of the road or the psychedelic sort, are like slips on a wet highway: If you feel like you’re starting to lose control, despite the initial impulse to pull away and fight the drift, it’s better to lean in to the turn—of course, that “lean in” philosophy will eventually turn these hippies into yuppies (most were just libertarians anyway) as they switch from open highways to the information superhighway, from the California counterculture to cyber culture of Silicon Valley.

As much a time capsule as it is a movie—but hey man, aren’t all films by their very nature as “recordings” in effect time capsules?—Hopper and Fonda’s joint production is a reminder that rock ‘n roll and flower-power hippies were, in their time, seen as a real danger to the Establishment, whether civil or cinematic. Plots are for cemeteries, ya know, and characters for writing an actual screenplay, while embracing the sort of individualism and freedom that make up what is great about America (and what so many chauvinist patriots fear) means throwing away the map and letting the road lead you wherever it goes—now don’t bogart that joint, my friend, pass it over to me.

Of course, the great irony is that these Boomers who once really were outsiders disturbing polite society ostensibly won the culture war—at least on a surface level, their musical and sartorial aesthetic becoming the norm even while too many quickly abandoned their emancipatory and political inclinations—eventually slipping into the generation they once railed so beautifully and loudly against.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, 1975 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate: What is it about Pasolini’s profoundly traumatic and transgressive final film that makes it so impossible to talk about and yet impossible to not? In demanding both appalled silence and prattling disquiet from the audience, uneasily holding the viewer in a vice-like grip between the vices of seductive beauty and repulsive brutality, the film, like its gang of loathsome fascist libertines, speaks not to the oppressive chains of desire, but from a psychoanalytic perspective, the far more resilient and vicious vicissitudes of drive, a libidinal circuit and truly hellish circle that locates psychical enjoyment not in erotic satisfaction but in its perpetual denial and frustration. To this end—which is not an end at all, after all, but an autonomous machine of ouroboric onanism, self-gratification for its own selfish sake just as fascism hungers after power for power’s sake—the film sets for itself an impossible task, setting its sights on what Lacan would call the unmitigated Real.

Whereas lesser exploitation movies and torture porn, while no doubt portraying ever more repugnant suffering and atrocious depravity, truck in the realm of the nightmarish Imaginary, playing on our agonizing fears yet offering an absurd sublimation and means of disavowal or escape in their phantasmic, overzealous realization and conventional protagonistic narratives, Pasolini is far more perverse (if not downright psychotic) in seeking to directly bring the Real into the Symbolic: In that, it’s a borderline snuff film, as a friend suggested. With camerawork that is unflinching yet unspectacular, restrained in the knowledge that one does not need extreme closeups or jarring cuts to heighten such extreme violence, the film is as difficult to enter as it is to escape, lacking a point of view we can identify with: We are at one and the same time the victims, with these horrors forced upon us, and the villains, with these miseries staged for us, as the voyeuristic final act indicates. The effect of such distancing, like the contractual relationship that undergirds a BDSM dialectic, does not lessen what terrors are on display but makes them all the more powerful and realistic, with this heinous ordeal occurring all on its own and without our say, the foreignness making it all the more fascinating to our cursedly curious imaginations.

All that would be left, beyond the gaping whole of the trauma that must (not) be filled with words, would be to cast the film with contemporary degenerates, with Donald Trump as the President, Harvey Weinstein as the Duke, Alan Dershowitz as the Magistrate, and Jim Bakker as the Bishop. With special appearances featuring Hillary Clinton, Ghislaine Maxwell, and the great storyteller Bill Cosby as the madams, Ivanka and Chelsea playing their parts as the daughters, as well as an organization like the neo-fascist Proud Boys acting as the paramilitary blackshirts (which they already try to be). One might easily call the resulting remake Little Saint James, or 120 Tweets of Sodom.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

The Bear, 1988 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

On its own terms—which are less words than they are a grizzly vocabulary of grunts and growls and roars and snores—the film is an extraordinary creative achievement that leaves one as much in wonder of the terrible magnificence of the natural world as in wonder of how it was so seamlessly made. On the other hand—or, in this case, the other paw—with a little reflection—a cognitive trait traditionally limited to only human subjects—it is easy to see the production’s seams, the movie’s major ursine stars being bears only biologically, but psychologically acting more like humans in hairy suits. In her contemporaneous review, no less than Janet Maslin said much the same, writing that the film’s “true emphasis is not on wildlife. Instead, it grafts the thoughts and dreams of more commonplace beings onto bear-shaped stand-ins.” For all its ambition, Annaud’s impressive direction, and the sense of awe it evokes, the film ultimately undercuts its own aim as it retains the unquestioned human being for its true subject, its uncommon anthropomorphic protagonists—who dream and grieve and even trip just as we do—baring the conventional mark of anthropocentrism, with the survival of the hunted serving the character arcs of the hunters.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Contagion, 2011 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

With an all-star cast befitting the disaster blockbusters of the Seventies tempered by a clinical method as intensely cerebral as the encephalitic virus that is the true main character—a non-sensationalist approach to this sort of tragedy that is one of the few things that the film fails to correctly predict—the movie is eerily prescient; though then again, Soderbergh was far from the only one to see a tragedy like this coming. Hence from the perspective of the current pandemic, Christopher Orr’s criticism in The Atlantic that the movie lacks “a firmer emotional and narrative rationale—a lesson, even—beyond ‘wash your hands often and hope you’re lucky’,” turns out to be not a point of weakness but one of its most acute insights.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

The Decameron, 1971 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

In his insightful short essay on Pasolini’s sensuous adaptation of the 14th-Century Tuscan classic, Colin MacCabe suggests that, for all the supposed literary pretension of its source material, central to the film is a shockingly mundane and unglamorous depiction of corporeality, particularly in all the browned, broken, and toothless smiles. By casting (not even amateur) non-actors with faces prima facie unacceptable by Hollywood standards and recasting Boccaccio’s text in the Neapolitan dialect (as vulgar to the ears of wealthy Northern Italians today as the original Florentine was to Latinate audiences), Pasolini foregrounds the worldliness of his subject, fashioning a film that forgoes intellectual aspirations of most literary adaptations, instead favoring the experiences and entertainment of everyday working-class people, who make up both his cast and his audience. For an authentic Marxist like Pasolini, the poetic and the proletariat are not in opposition, but function here to complement one another through a celebration of real bodies “shorn of all the civilizing processes of the Renaissance,” as MacCabe puts it, bodies unadorned, unconcealed, and unvarnished. If anything, this flagrant (and no doubt fragrant and flatulent) rendering of physical existence makes for a film truer to the ribald spirit of l’Umana Commedia than a more bookish and cultured adaptation that we might expect that sticks to the letter of the text, aiming as it does not just to bring Boccaccio’s world to life, but bring new and sweaty life to the bourgeois world of staid academics Pasolini so rightly despised.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Duck Soup, 1933 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

With wordplay and witticisms flying like bullets from a machine gun—practically attacking the audience at a velocity that even today remains overwhelming—producing laughter as explosive as any bomb, their characteristic anarchy is at its boldest, purest, and most acerbic as the brothers make a travesty of the modern political order that led from the cynical disillusionment of the Great War to the incompetency worsening the Great Depression to the rise of the Great Dictator and his equally buffoonish mustache.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Enemy, 2013 – ★★★★ [Movie Log]

This review may contain spoilers.

Cracks in a shattered car window after a wreck, taut powerlines criss-crossing gray skies, eight fingers intertwined as a couple holds hands, giant arachnid monsters towering over Toronto—that last one is a dead giveaway: From the unexplained opening sequence to the shockingly enigmatic final shot, spiders crawl all over the film. Of course, while eight-legged creepy crawlies can evoke a wide semantic web of different interpretations, the early psychoanalyst Karl Abraham (a pupil of Freud’s) held that spiders symbolized frightful maternal figures, what the Michalskis describe as the stereotype of the “a ‘spiderish mother,’ who intends to keep her offspring forever captive in her nets and tries, consciously or unconsciously, to instil in her children a permanent feeling of guilt.”

Without trying to limit the imagery here to a single definitive meaning—films, like dreams, like people themselves, are inextricably overdetermined—the figure of the overbearing and phallic mother does seem, like Toronto’s arachnoid skyline, to loom large in the story, from a torn family photo to an overly critical Isabella Rossellini (who gives the whole affair a Lynchian layer) to, again, that final scene with a stubbornly pregnant Sarah Gadon. From this vantage we can better understand the opening and closing moments of the film: Like the totalitarian structures that Gyllenhaal’s academic lectures on, maternity is for the main character an oppressive pattern that repeats itself from womb to the baby’s room. Hence man—with no sic required, for the movie is decidedly about masculinity under a matriarchal, or matriarachinoid, regime—appears almost biologically doomed to reproduce his own repression, having been born of and escaped a woman only to be evolutionarily compelled to help conceive a new mother, transmogrifying who he loves into what he fears.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen, 2012 – ★★★★½ [Movie Log]

A film in theory and a theory of film that posits with its very existence, in a style that is unpretentious because it is so effortless and original, as pop as it is art: What even is film? Insofar as film is a medium, then here film is the medium itself, utilized in the same fashion as mashup DJs use records as their instruments (rather than the instruments on the records), treating the medium itself as a slippery signifier divorced of a set signified. Insofar as film is a specifically *visual* medium, as so many theorists claim and as silent films speak to, then here we have an unmistakable story being told narratively and emotionally using no consistent visual cues, with no uniform aesthetic language, not even with the same actors or mise-en-scène from one moment to the next, appropriating the iconography of Hollywood in ways that are often surprising and subversive as the film re-contextualizes images familiar to cinephiles to novel ends. Insofar as film is said to be a director’s medium, the art of the auteur, then here all original authorial intention goes out the window as the editor, the arbiter of the filmic Real, the real reel and the reel Real, comes to the fore.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan

Cabaret, 1972 – ★★★★★ [Movie Log]

In a pivotal moment during the latter part of the film, Fritz Wepper’s Fritz Wendel, reminiscing about the precarious bourgeois joys of Weimar Berlin, reflects on “the parties—ah, the parties,” he repeats with a slightly somber tone. Unwittingly, perhaps, this echo gives voice to a symbolic symbiosis and ideological continuum between, on the one hand, parties in the sense of social gatherings for personal ends and parties in the sense of social organizations for political ends, on the other. Elsewhere in the film, with rapid edits intercutting between the stage and the street, Fosse illustrates the relationship of bodily violence—how else to describe the contortions of the dancers?—gaudy decadence, and exuberant obscenity that connects the two parties, the entertaining and the institutional.

The implication is the overbearing, overdetermined tautology that «the party is the party», exalted to the extent that either is exclusive, the vulgarism of the one undergirding the civic acceptability of the other, like a jester to a king (or an effete emcee to a chauvinist führer). In contrast to the puritanism of America (where the film was originally rated X on account of its frank queer themes), nowhere is this coincidence of seeming opposites clearer than with the Nazis, the vulgarity of the Volk matched only by the rigidity of the Reich. The movie stages the inherent ideological contradiction in perhaps its most famous and effective scene, as an idyllic country air sung by a handsome Hitlerjunge slowly yet effortlessly and practically organically transforms into a raucous military march—showing how, in its own perverse way, the party swings both ways.

Since I generally write up a few quick thoughts for each movie I watch, and in the interest of making public more of my thinking and writing processes, I figured that I might as well post the occasional review to this blog as well as to my Letterboxd/Rotten Tomatoes accounts.

Via Letterboxd – Jake Cowan