Archives for posts with tag: patience


The film that made everyone seasick!

This is a difficult one to watch, but partially because of how good it is. The ethnographer filmmakers took a bunch of GoPro cameras on commercial fishing boats and give us unique view of the industry (and livelihood of the fishermen). There is no narrative and almost no dialogue. The shots are disorienting, often dark, full of sea spray and fish guts. This film contains some of the most incredible and mad images I’ve ever seen. I am almost jealous of what I saw, even though I came close to turning it off after twenty minutes. Patience is the watchword in so many ways.

I have no more desire for seafood.



Crazy people are people too and it’s funny and sad!

Somehow I managed to live three decades without seeing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but at last it came to the local art theatre and I was able to see it on the big screen. I’m not sorry I waited, and I’m not sorry that I stopped waiting either: a terrific film, for all its joys as well as for its flaws. Or maybe it’s not a question of flaws, but rather its idiosyncrasies that suit its time. Just as a brief example, it’s hard to take it as a serious critique of psychiatric institutions in America when it treats women and black people so crudely as it does. Really, though, did white people in the 70s really think that all black people were jive-talking brawlers named Washington? No no, of course not, but there’s moments in 70s cinema when it feels like it.

Anyhow, there’s so much to say about this film and so much is already out there for you to read from smarter and more thorough critics. I’ll say that this is clearly one of Jack Nicholson’s career performances, and that he couldn’t have asked to be surrounded by a better cast, or at least a better-suited cast. How wonderful is Danny Devito as Martini?! And Louise Fletcher’s performance as Nurse Ratched is so good that as a spectator you cannot help but hate her down to her toenails!

But you know all this already or you can find it out elsewhere. What do I have to add? Well it goes back to not seeing the movie earlier. It seems that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of those cultural products that young people consume while they are beginning to construct an identity that contains some elements of rebellion; along with other films like A Clockwork Orange (which I still haven’t seen), and books like On the Road (which I only read a couple of years ago), it makes up part of the pantheon of disobedience. My experience, though, is that despite all the youthful enthusiasm that surrounds these films, books, albums, etc., people are just trying it on, they go on to be pretty regular members of society, and they miss a significant portion of what these cultural products really have to offer. On the Road, for example, is often taken to be a celebration of pure freedom, whereas someone reading it in their 30s is more apt to see that it is rather an elegy for an America that was already disappeared when the story takes place. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has something similar to it, where at first look, to the young, it might come off as an indictment against society’s attempts to normalize us, and a celebration of those crazy people who would go against that. An older person might see all that, but still remember the lobotomy scars, the jagged piece of glass in the hand of the suicide victim, and the drugged gaze of the insane: a certain fatalism resists all celebration of deviance.

Which is not to say that we should fall in line to take our pills. No no, by all means, let’s act crazy! (I say that feeling the weight in every word.) But let’s not be insane about being insane, as if it really does lead to an escape. After all, McMurphy had multiple chances to get away into the “real world,” and doesn’t ever follow through. There is something absolutely sane about his desire to be under lock and key with the loonies.

He said to go straight. Hit me. I feel as big as a damn mountain. Well I tried, didn’t I ? Goddamn it. At least I did that.

flowers of shanghai

In the upscale brothels of 19th century Shanghai, much happens that is nothing happening at all, but in a haze of opium smoke!

Flowers of Shanghai tells the story of a handful of upper class “courtesans,” their wealthy clients, and the milieu that surounds them. In the ornate rooms of their enclaves, subtle intrigues are played out as the courtesans jockey for favor, manipulate each other and their clients when possible, and when real emotions filter through the web of relations. We learn how the girls are bought at a young age by a mistress, raised to become courtesans (if they have the ability), and work towards purchasing their freedom, or toward being married to one of their wealthy clients. Meanwhile the men do their best to navigate this world without ceding too much power, drinking much along the way.

This is a difficult movie to watch. Nearly every sequence is long and fades to black in a way that feels foreign. There is the near-constant hum of the same music throughout the 130 minute runtime. All but a few shots are taken at night, with only dim lamplight in the rooms, causing every scene to feel sombre and dark. The characters themselves are sombre. They vary between taciturn and chatty, with the latter position mostly taken up by servants and the wily, while the main characters tend to speak in fits and starts, always turning their phrases at oblique angles. And the sheer repetition of movements and activities starts to feel as oppressive as the darkness.

But this difficulty serves a purpose, I think. The effect is that you begin to really notice how tedious the lives of these characters comes to be. For someone idealizing the glorious past of Chinese culture, it might be easy to spend the first third of the film admiring the costumes, the decor, fetishizing the graceful movements of the courtesans as they smoke their pipes and drink tea. Even the most avid fan of the period, though, will start to notice that the characters are always doing something with their hands. They take the pipe, the pack the pipe, they light the taper, they blow on it, they light the pipe, they smoke it, they blow out the taper, they empty the pipe, they take a towel to wash their hands, they drink some tea, they eat something, then they take their pipe again and repeat. They are constantly fiddling with objects, almost as a means to pass the time. The cups are small, so the tea must be poured again and again. And again.

All of these tiny, banal activities crowd their lives, like the contracts that rule them too, and they take the place of real interaction in many cases. So much debate revolves around contracts, and earnings, and the jealousies that erupt over attention paid in the form of money. At the most moving moments, you realize that these are all substitutes, stand-ins for what they really feel–they’re the Chinese screens veiling more familiar fields of human experience: love, anger, lust, jealousy, fear, and loneliness.

I say see it. But early in the evening, while you’re still pretty alert. You’ll want to turn the lights on all the way, later. To counteract the opium haze of the Flower Houses.


Rewatching Pulp Fiction almost twenty years after its release, it’s hard to deny that, for a long moment, Quentin Tarantino was brilliant. I often get into debates about his recent work, usually as the person ready throw his newer films to the dogs. But when I meet the rabid fans, who cannot see any flaw in Inglourious Basterds, for example, it would do me good to remember just how persuasive Pulp Fiction is, and that some fanaticism should be expected.

Tarantino’s former brilliance still does appear from time to time in his recent films, but I’m not sure it’s ever more apparent than in Pulp Fiction. It’s here where he first shows his incredible patience with a scene, letting characters and scenarios unfold at a pace that is just this side of too long, so that when something finally happens, it feels earned. It’s here where he shows his ability to get something out of great actors that we never see from them elsewhere: Samuel Jackson and Uma Thurman have never out-performed their roles and they likely never will. (On this last point, we have to wonder if Christophe Waltz hasn’t already found himself deep in that curse, of having already played his one luminous role, forever to be respected and admired for it, but never again to reach that pinnacle.) And it’s here where he revealed his ability to make seemingly meaningless dialogue somehow be a part of the fabric of the film.

Too bad he’s even more convinced of his brilliance than his fans. I only wish, for Pulp Fiction’s twentieth anniversary, that Tarantino might finally find an editor to work with, someone to say “no,” and deny him some of his indulgences. Someone should have told him, “No, don’t release Death Proof, it’s terrible.” Oh well.

I also thought Django was pretty lame, for the record.

Happily, when the new stuff gets me down, I can still go back to Christopher Walken’s monologue on the gold watch. And Uma Thurman doing the twist. And Samuel Jackson eating a cheeseburger.

And and and.