Monday, August 17, 2015

Ang Lee on 'The Virgin Spring' & A Comment on Bergman's Trilogy

I have been watching and re-watching Ingmar Bergman over the last week or so, including The Virgin Spring (1960), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), The Silence (1963), and Autumn Sonata (1978). Here is Director Ang Lee's response to watching Bergman's The Virgin Spring while he was a student in Taipei in 1974:

This interview is included on the Criterion Collection DVD, uploaded here from YouTube.

In response to the perspectives on g/God or who g/God is within Bergman's so-called trilogy, here's my very brief take:

In Through a Glass Darkly god is an illusion encountered by the emotionally unstable (consider for example that only Karin "sees" god). In Winter Light, god is a projection of one's neurotic (Märta's attraction to Pastor Ericsson) or pathological (Pastor Ericsson's understanding of god after his spouse passes away) desire for someone else. In The Silence: god is a projection of one's own desire, whether sensual/emotional (Anna) or logical/intellectual (Ester). In sum, God is silent/does not exist because either the film's characters are sane, they project the idea of God onto others and others are silent, or because their idea of God is tantamount to their own behaviors and they find silence when they are alone. I think there is a two-hour lecture embedded in this summary :), but that's the gist of it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Pray the Devil Back to Hell (Reticker, 2008): Mini-Film Review

Pray the Devil Back to Hell is a powerful documentary that won the 2008 Tribeca Film Fest Best Documentary award, and the reasons it achieved such a positive response have not lost their relevance since that time. The film depicts and recounts harrowing experiences during civil war in the West African Republic of Liberia, and consistently evokes passionate responses from audiences (including students who write about the film in either my World Cinema or World Drama and Poetry courses alongside readings by poet Patricia Jabbeh Wesley).

The film focuses on women who describe the nonviolent strategies they used to demand change from the men in charge and why the existing political paradigm was long overdue for replacement. Solidarity among women of Liberia who oppose civil war, and the objectives for peace that they achieve across seemingly insurmountable gender, generational, ethnic, and party lines are inspirational due to both the sacrifices they endure and the ends they achieve. The story helps one understand the background to the election of Africa's first female president, and it is also a story that will hopefully continue to inspire grassroots efforts wherever the film is screened.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell trailer uploaded to YouTube by "Peace is Loud"

Kurosawa/ J.J. Abrams/ Average Shot Length/ Star Wars

A most likely unoriginal thought that I have had for some time regarding J.J. Abrams Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is that a) Abrams has the most pressure in U.S. pop culture history as far as pleasing fans who love a preexisting franchise goes, and b) his success will possibly be measured by the extent to which he breathes new life into the Star Wars universe while retaining a favorable amount of continuity with the previous films--like popular television shows that are 90% predictable (same characters, stories, settings, etc. which brings back return customers) and 10% original (which leads people to watch the new episode).

One strategy to accomplish this predictable/original balance in Star Wars VII would be to use the same editing strategies (pacing, rhythm, and duration) used in the previous Star Wars films. This would allow the new film to feel the same, even when visually original.

To do so, Abrams could use the same average shot length Lucas used in his films (Star Wars IV: A New Hope: ASL 4.2; Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith: ASL 3.8--according to Cinemetrics Lab)...

 ... and/or, he could rewatch the Lucas's inspirational source material to mirror their editing strategies: Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (1958), Yojimbo (1961), Sanjuro (1962), and others (recognizing films like
John Ford's The Searchers [1956] were also important to Lucas). Doing so would arguably ensure that Abrams' film is one step removed from the source material of the original films, rather than two steps removed if he follows Lucas alone.

Today I watched Ran (Kurosawa, 1985) again and couldn't help but notice that the editing rhythm Kurosawa uses in battle scenes seems especially similar to the Star Wars films (keeping in mind that, as a whole, the ASL of Ran is 10.5 according to Cinemetrics Lab). 

And maybe Abrams has already used this strategy of rewatching Kurosawa, the great master's, films. The image below, which concludes Ran, seems strikingly similar to me when compared with the new Star Wars trailer's image of a crashed Star Destroyer, albeit mirrored images of each other visually in terms of positive and negative space.

Concluding image in Ran: an army marches towards screen right

 Screenshot from the new Star Wars VII trailer: a landspeeder moves towards screen right

... talking Hou Hsiao-Hsien in the LAist

A few months ago I was pleased to be quoted in Carmen Tse's article "Don't Miss Your Chance To See The 'Dreamlike' Films Of Taiwan's Greatest Director" in the LAist.

Tse's article nicely outlines the career and global influence of Taiwan director Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Hidden Fortress (Kurosawa, 1958): Mini-Film Review

Kurosawa's historical film The Hidden Fortress is remembered as "the film that inspired George Lucas's Star Wars" (Janus Films DVD cover), which is definitely evident in terms of its narrative; although, Lucas perhaps found more inspiration for his jedi characters in Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962). The narrative traces a wise general (Toshiro Mifune) as he leads a stranded princess (Misa Uehara) through enemy territory back to her homeland. Both figures are disguised to avoid detection. The film features grand scale confrontations between warring factions and wide open vistas, but such scenes are presented with moderation which serves to retain their impact in a film that focuses on the private interaction among its main characters.

Remarkably, the main characters are not the general and the princess, but two weak-willed imbeciles who comically derail their plans. By emphasizing the discord that accompanies even a few participants when they try to accomplish a goal, the film represents just how complicated it is to achieve broad-scale objectives when temptation, discord, and personal desires can derail even the most straight-forward of plans. Why display such pitiable characters so primarily? Maybe it's because that is the way we are: both clever at times, and stupid at times (a point presented nicely, although in a different context entirely, in this Jon Ronson TED talk). It's hard to admit that we can be our own worst enemy and far from the ideal heroes epic films typically foreground.

The Hidden Fortress (Kurosawa, 1958)