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Fall Music Time: Tune of the Week V

I love this tune. It’s such a great mix of instrumentals and vocals without being too overbearing or gaudy – I’m not sure if gaudy can really be a word attached to music, but I think you know what I mean. Think all of Florence and The Machine’s last album. Yuck.

Let this song guide you through fall days, warm sweaters, hot cider, and red leaves falling off trees.

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Taste of Cherry and the Lacanian Real

Brace yourself, this is not a post about a horror movie! Egads! Instead this is about a lovely little Iranian film called Taste of Cherry (1997) by Abbas Kiarostami. This film falls into the category of poetry, meaning also that not everyone will have the patience for the slow pace and straight-line plot.

The film follows an Iranian man as he attempts to find someone who will bury him under a tree after he decides commits suicide. While seemingly straightforward, this is not a task as easily accomplished as he wishes. No one wants to help him, and no one wants to take part in his plans despite a handsome cash reward.

The key cinematic device used throughout is forced perspective. The camera is stationary and many of the same shots are repeated continuously throughout. Almost all of the action in the film takes place in a moving car as it traverses the isolated hillside roads. The stationary camera does not allow for fluidity in motion, rather we cannot look away implying a correspondence with our protagonist, in that he can no longer see the beauty of life.

To go back to film theory, this is a perfect example of French Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s Real, Imaginative and Symbolic. A quick overview:

  • 1) Symbolic – A shared set of symbols, in which communication is impossible without. In our everyday lives we live in the symbolic. This includes language, culture, religion, art etc.
  • 2) Imaginary – Private, incommunicable, fantasy, dreams, desire. These are elements that are unique to oneself. To communicate the Imaginary we must use the Symbolic which in turn kills the Imaginary. “Crazy” people are in the Imaginary in that the Symbolic fails them.
  • 3) Real – The external powers over which we have no control. i.e. Death and pain. We cannot bear the real, the symbolic and the imaginary protect us from the real. Our own bodies are in the real.

So now that we’re all caught up, we can apply these theories to the film. We are following a man who is tired, exhausted of the Symbolic, and in which the Imaginary can no longer provide comfort. He is a man driving towards the Real. Death is symbolized (lower capital) in the dirt he wants to bury him and the dirt he keeps visiting in the various construction sites he drives past. To him the dirt is the ultimate Real. He has such trouble finding someone to bury him in that they are not ready for the Real, and will not help him in his journey.

When our protagonist finally finds someone willing to bury him, this is the moment of hesitation. He says, do not just bury me, anymore, but asks the man to really check that he is dead. If he lives, then he wants to live. However, the final scene of the film does not allow us any real answers. In a self-reflexive ending, the film-maker takes us out of the Symbolic realm of the film and shows us the actual mechanisms of film itself – the director, the cameraman, the actors, etc. We do not know the ultimate fate of the protagonist, we simply know the car drives away and life goes on – it could be with the protagonist or not. The filmmaker himself denies the audience access to the Real as well.

A self-reflexive, realist film, Taste of Cherry forces us to analyze the world around us, and asks us to appreciate the little things in life, and to take joy in anything and everything. A sunset, a breeze, a cup of tea, or the taste of cherries.

Silly Cult Film But Proto CINW

So my horror movie fest continues, and expect a lot of my posts to be on a similar subject matter, seeing as how watching horror movies is part of my study routine. Yes, really. I put one on and study for Earth Science 101, or read for Film Theory 335. It’s not like you really need to pay attention to plot, and the screams every now and again are a great distraction. I probably have ADD.

Moving on, I recently watched a little obscure horror flick called Botched made in 2007 by unknown director Kit Ryan. But this little gem has a bit of everything: comedy, horror, gore, bad Russian accents, and some making out among corpses.

Now what I found interesting about this film is that it actually had a lot in common with the super popular, Joss Whedon brain-child, Cabin in the Woods. In fact this film really felt like its cheap older brother. Similarities include:

  • Comedy, not taking itself too seriously.
  • An elaborate establishment where people are killed as “sacrifices”.
  • A strange nordic-god-type maniac who runs around and does the killing.
  • A foil of the “plans” via a camera room.
  • Boy and Girl both “win”.

Okay and that’s all really.  The dissimilarities are numerous:

  • Russians, for some reason??
  • A bank vault, and robbers vs. horny teenagers.
  • A set of siblings who do the murders vs. a vast array of monsters.
  • Sacrifices for one god vs. classic mythological gods.
  • The end? They leave. vs. destruction of the entire world.
  • low budget, low quality actors vs. high budget, high profile actors.

And while I may have pointed out more oppositions than agreements between the two films, if one likes the style of comedy and mix of horror offered in the high budget Cabin in the Woods they may also enjoy the campy cheaper story line in Botched. Both cult-quality horror films, both for different yet similar reasons.

Acousmatic Sound & Julia’s Eyes

Acousmatic sound: A sound seen on screen without knowing or seeing the source of origin. And while this seems like I’m describing a soundtrack, it is more intended for diegetic purposes. The Acousmatic is often used in horror movies and thrillers, as not seeing the villain but knowing of its presence is often infinitely more terrifying than seeing the miscreant. A good example of what I mean is in the M. Knight Shyamalan movie Signs in which the movie is actually quite terrifying right up until the point when we actually see the Aliens “face to face”. In fact, the movie then becomes quite lame.

That being said, acousmatic sound is a very powerful tool. The final “reveal” of the acousmatise is used to heighten suspense and drama. The classic film example is from Fritz Lang’s M in which the child murderer is an acousmatic: heard but not seen. His face is consistently shrouded by shadows, cleverly hidden behind camera framing and deliberately obscrued. The only real presence given is the tune he whistles. In fact, the murderer is caught due to a clue provided by a blind man – he cannot see him but knew his whistle which ultimately gives him away. Of course if we didn’t see the murderer at all this would be a highly unsatifying film, but when we do see him, he’s just the creepy bastard you would expect him to be:

Image(the first instance we see the killer: this is when the acousmatise is de-acousmatized. Thanks for the terminology Michael Chion) 

In the more recent film, Julia’s Eyes (2010) directed by Guillem Morales, acousmatic sound is artfully used in regards to the hellion. Before our protagonist, Julia, goes blind due to a degenerative disease, we can “see” the psycho stalker although he is ignored (because he is so painfully normal looking). When Julia goes blind **Spoilers** it becomes obvious that her care worker is the same man, although we are in doubt because we are denied access to seeing his face. Throughout the film the man remains acousmatized, because Julia looks like this:

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This is one of my favorite things a film-maker can do. The self-reflexivity is quite alluring and reminds me just of how powerful film can be. Acousmatic sound allows a film-maker to play with expectations as well as filmic sensations. That being said, this isn’t exactly a great movie. It has its moments, but this particular technical aspect of the film was intriguing. If you want an example of acousmatic sound watch M instead!

Throwback: Kubrick and Tarkovsky

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A controversial statement to open: Andrey Tarkovskiy is the European Stanley Kubrick.

A couple months ago, a Russian film festival ran through town and classics were rehashed. Starting from the textbook Battleship Potempkin to the more obscure works of Sergei M. Eisenstien, it seems all bases were covered (in a historical approach).

I decided to take in a few films I had seen clips of in various film classes. Yes I was stoked to see the original Solaris (seeing as how Steven Soderbergh’s interpretation found me feeling bored more than enthralled), but what I was really looking forward to was The Sacrifice.

An intensely personal film, it veers wildly between reality and lucidity. It examines a family hanging on by a thread and united by guilt and exhaustion. As a highly intellectual and philosophical film it follows an equally intelligent protagonist as he makes the ultimate sacrifice for his family, his love and his sanity.

The reason I wish to compare Kubrick and Tarkovsky, however, has nothing to do with subject matter, and all to do with cinematography, framing and a specific shot: The long shot. Both directors have excelled in this cinematic feat with extremely famous scenes taken in but one long shot. For Kubrick think about the famous trike and dead sisters scene in The Shining, or pretty much any scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. For Tarkovsky we can look at one of the opening shots in The Sacrifice: It’s seriously over 10 minutes and one continual shot which slowly pans and moves direction. The way the shot is framed is particularly genius:

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The action and focus is slightly off center, forcing our eyes dart around the frame. Credit where credit it due: I know much of this is due in part to the magnificent cinematographer but the rolling shots are seriously divine. Tedious, but  unarguably impressive. And of course props to the actor who is able to memorize such lengthy monologues.

A further point of intersection between the two directors? Solaris is widely considered to be the Russian version of 2001: A Space Oddesy. If 2001 ate a philosophy textbook it would be around the same ballpark, but obviously still mirrors anxieties over space travel. I found this film to be profoundly disturbing. particularly the scene in which we watch, un-blinking, as our protagonist’s wife die from drinking anti-freeze only to very painfully come back to life again, because shes not actually real, so she can’t actually die, you see.

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But Solaris is again connected by thoughtful and delicate long shots: lengthy monologues, meticulous scenes of nature, lingering views of emotion, they’re all here.

Final words? These directors both take their time. They’re in no rush (Obviously, with such tombs as Barry Lyndon or Solaris which range into the 3 hour mark), and take their time with their work. This is reflected in the long-shots, which only a dedicated director or connoisseur of art will attempt to create. Because in a world in a rush, not everyone has the patience for such sensitivity.