Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thoughts Sparked by September

What is scarier than the destruction of the world?
That the whole thing is a random, arbitrary convulsion. That the universe is morally neutral and unimaginably violent.

Now how do you say that in film?
Well, you have someone say it.

Hmm...well, that's the most unambiguous way to do it, even if not the top-drawer aesthetic choice. What would be the context of the conversation?

Well you could make one guy a self-doubting writer - who by definition is interested in the hows and not the whys. His concerns are things as they are and ought to be. He is likely less interested in what moves things: a consideration which is the preserve of those who are more scientifically inclined. Those who are interested in the botany of the flower, much less its..ahem.. floweriness (the artist cannot pause there, he needs to dramatize the flower, that's another story). The other guy would be a scientist who 'analyzes the universe'.

Could it get any more cliched?

And why exactly would they talk to each other? Isn't it a very 'outside' perspective, a lazy stereotyping?
The conversation by the physicist is patently 'fake'. In the sense that, that is how the gaping outsider views the magical world of physics. The academic is thickly into the math, the politics of research grants or some such mundane distractions. He may occasionally entertain a naive, outsider's conversation. But overall it is just Woody trying to wring out certain perspectives from a talking head.

September was lacking in subtlety. It had people talking about 'core' life issues very easily. Highly unbelievable. Very convenient etc.

But if you wait to make it believable many of these wonderful conversations can possibly never be depicted.
But, that is no excuse. To get people to talk without inhibitions, you need them vulnerable and/or drunk. Woody did try and establish that here, but even his most devoted viewers have to look-the-other-way certain times to enjoy this one.

Perhaps it could have taken another tighter draft of writing. Perhaps he kept it that way to underline the stagey-ness. Perhaps I am generous with my perhapses because it is Woody.

Mood, lighting, staging - were extremely well-done. The independent beauty of the frames is supposedly not to be appreciated, when it does not service the story. I, for one, don't claim to have the wherewithal to tell that what is an unnecessarily good-looking frame? I am never that convinced about the examples of 'distractions' usually given. Perhaps that owes to how I watch a film .

What about the planetarium scene in Manhattan? Interesting, essential takeaway, or to use Library of Congress language 'culturally and historically significant'. But I am inclined to see it as independently beautiful. I'd call it less 'essential' than the 'Academy of the overrated' sequence.

In September, on the other hand, (even) I can say that the lighting and staging are essential.
What would September be without the power outage sequences, the lightning lights (reminded me of the famous bombing sequence in Mikhail Kalatazov's 'Cranes are Flying'), the light bursting back on as Stefi plays the piano, the dim-lit corners when Peter attempts to kiss Steffi only to be interrupted by Diane's questions (has this cliche been executed with as much finesse ever?), the half-lit conversation of Howard and Lane, the paleness in the room when Steffi talks 'pulls-your-socks-up-hard' to Lane. What could be more central to the telling of a story where we are not shown a glimpse of the world outside, but we see its light painting the interiors.

It's movies such as these that make me get up from my lazy ass and slowly begin to better appreciate their importance in film . Of course, it is quite likely that one light-on-content heavy-on-mood movie by someone else will suffice to annoy and restore me :-)

If direction is the seamless assembling of performances to a believable whole - then Woody is a master. If it is also about communicating unambiguously the subtle thoughts running in the minds of those who people the screen (using the notoriously frail combination of 'natural' words and gestures) then Woody is a phenomenon.

You know why a character is saying what he is saying, you know what is a self-deceptive rationalization that follows a disappointment. You know that something is an evasive line, but you also know the one who said it wants to convince himself of what he is saying. You know which line is an accusation - even though it is said in the lightest possible manner; you also know that the speaker caught his insincerely being found out. You can sense how, for a character, certain emotions persist despite the acknowledgement of deceptions and foibles of the other. You sense how something is said aloud and repeatedly not so much because it is true, but because it is a way to rid other competing truths of any mindspace.

And most importantly you know all this is exactly put in there by the creator.

And oh yeah, it's the same movie all over again. And I pity those for whom that is a grouse.

As one of the characters in the film says: Why do we need another book about survival? We have the boy scout manual

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