Posts Tagged ‘Musical

19
Jan
12

Interstella 5555

There are times when I desperately miss MTV’s Liquid Television, an off-putting showcase of animation bizarre, gross or just plain experimental. A lot of the shorts were dialogue-free, or nearly, relying in true MTV style on the kineticism of the visuals to carry the film. There isn’t really anything like it anymore, although Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555 comes pretty close.

Written by Daft Punk and Cédric Hervet and animated by Toei under the direction of Kazuhisa Takenochi, I5555 is anachronistic as all hell, a slice of early 80s anime that somehow fell through time and space to crash into DP’s Discovery. The story is… well, pretty thin (alien musicians are kidnapped by an Earth cult as part of a plot to conquer the universe utilizing the power of 5,555 gold records?), but so what? The movie reeks of wish-fulfillment, a chance for the band to work with an animator that they loved, and that kind of obsessive labor of love is the pure beating heart of cult.

I’m still waiting on that Jem movie, though!

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02
Jan
12

The Sound of Music

We’ve been watching a lot of movies as we pack everything away for the move, mostly old favorites (Dirty Dancing!) or things you can leave playing in the background without losing too much (Mega Piranha!), since moving is a sad, stressful, lonely time when everything fun is getting packed away and the apartment looks terrible and I need all the help I can get. But we’ve also been watching a lot of things in general, including old standards that Vicky or I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet. So: The Sound of Music.

Let me just say right at the beginning that I don’t particularly care for Rodgers and Hammerstein. Neither their lyrics nor their music are anything more than workmanlike, without the complicated, challenging syncopation of Sondheim or the anything-goes lyricism of Menken and Ash. Still, though, they’ve got a knack for putting together beautiful projects that transcend the rumpty-tum material they write: there’s no question that the Sound of Music absolutely deserves its place at the table, despite an opening act so saccharine it causes cancer in lab rats.

It’s such a filmic movie — we watched it on a tiny little laptop screen, and I found myself longing mightily to see it in a proper movie theater, even as I groaned my way through the glurge of My Favorite Things and Do-Re-Mi. Director Robert Wise captures the sheer dazzling space of his mountain vistas in a way I’ve never seen before. And then the script is fantastic, and underplayed magnificently by the supporting cast. Eleanor Parker and Richard Haydn especially, as the Baroness and Uncle Max, do amazing things with very small roles. Peggy Wood got the Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, which doesn’t make any sense to me; her abbess is solid, certainly, but it’s a fairly standard role played in a fairly standard way, while Parker as Julie Andrews’s romantic rival takes a traditionally misogynistic and one-dimensional villain role and makes it immensely human. And not just human, but actually adult: she respects Maria enough to actually talk to her about her intentions and interests in Captain von Trapp, and very visibly understands what it costs Maria to congratulate her on her engagement. She makes the simple line “Thank you,” sad, respectful and triumphant all at once, and by such little gestures makes her character empathetic and even a little tragic (very slightly, since she is, after all, immensely wealthy and self-sufficient).

And everything after the wedding is so absolutely perfect: moving, tense and funny all at the same time, and crammed to the gills with beautiful shots, rotating between German Expressionism, mid-century Impressionism and the very beginnings of that wonderful seventies silence that you never see anymore. Anyway. You’ve probably seen it, and if you haven’t, you should. Feel free to roll your eyes at the sentiment that bloats the beginning, but trust that things will settle down at last. If you’re absolutely allergic to sweetness, just jump ahead to the last half hour, and prepare to be schooled.

09
Jul
09

The Tales of Hoffmann

Tales of Hoffmann

So, I realize it has been a really long time since anyone posted on this little movie blog and all of the readers are gone. I’m still watching great movies and I’m still wanting to motivate myself to write more often though, so I thought I would try to revive it again. Not sure how sustained the effort will be, but it’s worth a try.

A couple weeks ago I rented The Tales of Hoffmann by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, one of the best films from their glory period of working together. Apparently it is a favorite of both Martin Scorsese and George Romero, who used to constantly compete to rent the single copy out from their local movie rental shop in Manhattan. For a movie that’s based on an unfinished, nineteenth-century opera, it definitely packs a surprisingly powerful visual punch and draws on a lot of the best elements of the horror, fantasy, and adventure genres in weaving its spell.

The narrative is simple enough, built around a retelling of the romantic exploits of the titular main character and includes a lot of recycled bits and pieces which are suspiciously reminiscent of The Odyssey, Faust, and Dante. You’re drawn in less by the characters and the plot and more by the fantastical dreamscapes Powell and Pressburger created for each story, orchestrated in the old-time movie magic style that similarly captivates us in other, more famous musicals from this era. It’s too bad there aren’t more screencaps floating around online, because the technicolor sets and costumes are truly amazing. Here’s the only other good shot I could find:

Tales of Hoffman Screencap 2

Powell and Pressburger play off the sets through a lot of very clever cinematic tricks which heightens, and sometimes gently satirizes, the melodrama of the story.  For example, the lines on the floor in the photo above create the perfect illusion of stairs when shot from above, but are obviously painted on from the angle in the screencap. It’s certainly a movie that rewards those with sharp eyes who can catch the little details and I can see why Romero was so inspired by it, since it shows you not just the magic trick, but how the trick was done.  And the overall effect created lends the movie a very surreal air and invites the viewer to be more reflective on what’s going on at the edges of the performances and the film.

During the first story, Hoffmann shows us puppets that charmingly fool him into thinking they are alive. While watching, we are simultaneously dazzled by the display and fully aware of the foolishness of being dazzled since it’s all an elaborate illusion. To take it even deeper, while watching the movie we’re aware of how the directors manipulate all the elements before us to effect our thoughts and emotions. For once, we are conscious of the strings and tapes and shadows that allow them to get away with it. Even with that consciousness however, we still somehow take a great melancholy pleasure in the spectacle and perhaps appreciate it more than we would if it was seamless and clean like so many of the other movies we see.

My only critique of the film would be the old, niggling feminist one that seems to always tug at me. All of the female characters in the film are based on not particularly enlightened feminine archetypes. The first woman is literally a living doll (aka virgin) and the second is a courtesan literally in league with the devil (aka whore). The third woman, a frustrated singer, is more complex than the first two, but is ultimately destroyed by the choice between her ambition/career and love/domestic bliss.  And, of course, the real victim at the end of the day is Hoffmann, his hopes for true love crushed by all these goddamn, fundamentally flawed Eve types running around.

Of course, there is one slight counterbalance to all this ho hum patriarchy stuff in the form of Hoffmann’s best friend and the wisest character, Nicklaus. Although the character is obviously supposed to be male, Powell and Pressburger decided to cast the part with a female actor. This is an absolutely brilliant masterstroke in my mind since it further underscores the theme of illusion/reality for the audience, while also building a lovely sense of irony to the gender dynamics in the film.

Through the whole movie, Nicklaus is the one who sees through the women Hoffman swoons over and warns him to seek out the substance underneath the showy exterior. While Hoffman’s stories endlessly blast apart the mystique of the feminine in it’s various  incarnations, the audience’s sympathies stay most in line with Nicklaus, who becomes a true foil to the other female characters when played by a woman. In a convoluted way, the movie establishes her as embodying the hidden feminine and romantic ideal, a true friend who is loyal and wise, not to mention certainly not the kind of woman who is into the overt, performative display of  her gender.  Whether you take the implications as honest-to-god feminist or just vaguely homoerotic, it adds another layer to the film that I found really fascinating.