The Brattle Film Notes blog has my take on Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets.
The Criterion review of Ikiru contains this nice extended quote from Richard Brown:
What it says in starkly lucid terms is that ‘life’ is meaningless when everything is said and done; at the same time one man’s life can acquire meaning when he undertakes to perform some task that to him is meaningful. What everyone else thinks about that man’s life is utterly beside the point, even ludicrous.
Oddly, the author of the review quotes a “Richard Brown” but doesn’t cite it, so The Criterion review is an excerpt from a book which I haven’t track down, so I can’t even figure out exactly which Richard Brown in the universe this might be, though I assume it’s this guy.)
I love this quote. It more or less unilaterally asserts the right of everybody to make up their own mind about what their life is about and on what criteria it may be judged.
That doesn’t mean I think it accurately explains Ikiru, however. Inasmuch as I like Ikiru, I like it because it doesn’t seem to have an easy answer to the meaning of life. And even more daring, it doesn’t even clearly grant each of us (the way that Brown does) the autonomy to declare the meaning of our own lives. Ikiru actually has a much more tortured relationship with the meaning of an individual’s life than Brown’s summary suggests.
I read The Bible for Dummies recently. Having been an atheist my whole life, I felt like I was missing a lot of references when absorbing even non-religious bits of Euro and American culture, so I wanted a clue on some of the bigger points, like Who was this John the Baptist that kept on showing up in Renaissance painting? That said, I wasn’t about to read the entire Bible just so I would have an idea of who John the Baptist was, so for the time being I settled for the Dummies version.
Anyway, what struck me, as a reader with next to no knowledge of the Bible, was how often God appears to have opinions, attitudes, and some semblance of a personality. I didn’t realize that so many Biblical stories had God bargaining and talking directly with people, making specific demands and taking specific requests. It feels like a far cry from the version of God that I imagine when I do imagine one; the way I conjure Him up, He’s a nebulous, possibly immaterial force, deeply unknowable and even kind of alien to the inanities of human existence. But between the traffic-cone yellow covers of my Biblical executive summary, I found a God that seemed a lot more concrete and immediate than what I had dreamt up on my own.
This all came to mind as I watched The Seventh Seal this weekend. Ingmar Bergman’s classic has as its center a Crusading knight, Antonius Block, who discovers one day on a rocky beach that Death will be harvesting his soul in the near future. The unfortunate news comes from a personification of Death himself, and not one that appears as a ghostly, ethereal spirit barely able to communicate on this plane of existence. This Death is dressed like a monk, sure, but he has a surprising affinity for earthly pass times like playing chess and messing with people’s heads.
I watched Double Indemnity in a few sessions over the past couple of weeks. I’ll admit, I don’t get the love shown for it. To explain, I’ll have to get into some spoilers, so if you’ve been meaning to see it since 1944, but just haven’t gotten around to it, now’s the time.
Chewing over what I find generally unsatisfying about the movie, I come back to what separates the film from the other film noir stuff I know — a limited bunch, sure, but it includes some of the classics. I think I’ve figured it out: I like noir’s cynicism and how it suggests that people in general, and the powerful in particular, tend to exploit others almost as a matter of habit. That is, I like it when the films agree with my gut feeling that people just tend to do what’s best for them and what they can get away with. I like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, at least mostly, because they are sympathetic tour guides to a fairly unsympathetic view of humanity as a whole.
I don’t know what I thought the The Last Picture Show was going to be about, but I didn’t think it would be about how sex is used like power. But, yeah, that’s one of its major thematic riffs, and it’s pretty ruthless about it, in that good, artistic way of being ruthless. This movie and even just this element are worth more explication, but here I’m just looking at one sub-motif about sex in this movie: the straight-on close-ups of certain faces.
To begin with, there’s the prostitute, Jimmie Sue. First, we only see her in the darkness, but we hear her castrating, real-time mockery of Billy, the mute and possibly developmentally delayed teenager she’s deflowering in the backseat of a car. Finally, after she’s kicked him out, she emerges, and it’s positively unnerving.
We’re finally seeing her face for the first time, and she’s a fuming monster, looming closer and looking us right in the eyes, which is where a lot of the effect of this shot comes from. In theory, this could be a POV shot, but it doesn’t seem set up that way, since whose view it would be isn’t at all clear. So instead it seems like this sly manner of half-breaking the fourth wall, and makes us get how callous she is.