Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Peggy Ahwesh is a fairly well known filmmaker amongst Super8 aficionados. The Deadman, however, was shot on grainy 16mm film, and if you're familiar with the work of Georges Bataille, it follows his short story Le Mort fairly directly. Keith Sanborn translated the text from the French, and it's apparent that Sanborn's translation is not as accurate as more recent translations done by Bataille scholars, as much of Bataille's nuanced language (here on display within archaic intertitles) is compromised; simplified even.

And really, overall that is the problem with the film. All of Bataille's brilliantly profane ideas are simplified to somewhat naive transgressive images. All of the events in the story are depicted, but Ahwesh and Sanborn do little very little to take advantage of the medium they are presenting the story through. If you've not read the story, I would recommend reading it before (or even instead of, to be honest) watching the film. To reductively simplify; it tells the tale of Marie, who flees the house of the titular dead man, and ends up in a bar. She debases herself and presents herself as a sexual object to the people who populate the bar. A count visits and Marie is immediately struck by his resemblance to the dead man (which is mentioned quickly in a seemingly irrelevant intertitle; while in the text it is a key moment). The count and Marie go back to her house where the dead man still lays, and Marie dies, overdosing on pills (cutting her wrists in the original).

The story, like much of Bataille's work, shows great promise for a visual accompaniment. Which in reality makes the mediocrity of the film even more irritating, as it exists as a totally lost chance. The cast of the film is remarkably amateur, resembling outcasts from the Cinema of Transgression movement without enough awareness or pastiche to let themselves even exist as intentional caricatures, existing rather as just bad cliches themselves. The visual style of the film is muddy and flat, with none of the visually evocative language present in Bataille's text put on display. Everything is remarkably straight-forward, a simple, direct, text to image translation. The sound is also remarkably generic, for what could ostensibly be considered an experimental film. There is only one instance during which anything interesting happens on the soundtrack, but it's so incongruent with the rest of the film that it becomes worthless. The instance I refer to is a two minute scene where the filmmakers add a laugh track to sort of juxtapose a sense of detachment with the (supposed) emotional vapidity of the characters. It's ironic that a lack of acting actually manages to undermine what is supposed to be a lack of emotion, but it does. Really, it feels like a student film.

In an interview with Scott MacDonald, Ahwesh tries to explain that the film is meant to interpret the story of The Dead Man as "one long female jouissance, not a transgression at all." If that was her intention, she fails. While the one amiable thing about the film is it's lead actress, (Jennifer Montgomery, who eventually went on to make the nominally interesting film Art for Teachers of Small Children) the Marie of the film is the only thing congruent with the book, not the other way around. Marie is the only element that through her actions seems to inhabit the idea of drunken squalor, emotional catharsis, and an utter sense of letting go. It's too bad that the rest of the film can't keep up with her.

I suppose the film could be labeled as mildly worthwhile for those interested in seeing another almost verbatim screen adaptations of one of Bataille's texts (aside from the resent feature length film, Christophe Honoré's Ma Mere). But for those more interested in the ideas behind Bataille's texts, and for those already familiar with the stories, there's not much to see here.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Private and Public Viewing Spaces

It's been a while since I've done much here; Only one review throughout all of August, and being more of a personal essay than a "review," per se, is surely disappointing to some readers. I apologize; starting in mid-June (which marks the decline of my rate of posting) I started working full time hours after having no hours or limited part time hours up until that point, so I lost a lot of the time I had formerly had available. But that's just an excuse, I suppose.

In reality, the truth is that I've only watched three movies in almost three weeks. And, something remarkably different than my normal circumstances, two out of three of them were in large movie theaters. The two movies that I saw (Rob Zombie's re-imagining of Halloween and the High School comedy Superbad) are largely inconsequential to this post, but rather, seeing these two dichotically opposed films in the same "environment" has gotten me thinking.

Ninety-five percent of my film viewing experiences occur in a private space; namely, by myself in my bedroom where I have control over the lighting, the volume, outside distractions (to an extent; there is still ambient noise that filters in from the open window to the outside world), and the actual duration of the viewing experience (meaning, of course, whether I watch the film straight through, pause to take a break, finish over a two day period, etc.). Inside of a movie theater, in what is an ostensibly public space, I have no control over any of these factors.

Shocking news, of course, but what I find interesting is that with my own personal viewing habits, a fuller immersion is always more easily accomplished in the public space (there are exceptions to this, however, that will be touched upon later). When I have control over all of the factors in my film viewing, I tend to take advantage of that, and take breaks, pause the film to take a short nap if I'm tired, or space the film out to many different sittings (which helps when I'm busy). This is, however, an obviously totally different way of viewing a film; fragmented instead of a whole, which is what creates the divide between an "immersive" viewing and an analytical viewing.

This also explains why it is generally more difficult for me to sit down and write about something I've watched in a single sitting in a cinemaplex instead of something that I've watched for intentionally analytical purposes in the isolation of my room. In fact, with virtually every film I review, if it's a film that I can really emotionally connect to, it's more or less impossible for me to write anything from an initial viewing. Any sort of intense emotional connection sees me viewing the film in a sort of vicarious escapism mode, which I absolutely love. The escapism aspect is what attracted me to cinema in the first place, and the chance to revisit the feelings that launched my current, well, life is always a pleasure.

Obviously when I'm watching a film that I know ahead of time is going to be difficult (Duelle, for instance) or without subtitles (La Gemella Erotica) or both (Slow Slidings of Pleasure) I set myself up as an analytical viewer. If I am in the mind frame to be very attentive and an active viewer of the film, anything that I end up writing undoubtedly comes fairly easy. I have to note, however, that I really enjoy this method of viewing films as well. I really just love watching films in general, so the avenue of viewing that I'm taking is irrelevant to the pleasure I can get.

I will admit, since I am a human being who is prone to opinions and mood swings, there are many times when I really only feel like watching movies for one avenue of viewing. I go through phases where I'm at the video store every day (despite owning an intense amount of flicks that I still haven't watched) renting videos just as a way to kill time and be entertained. During these phases it's doubtful that I'll get much pleasure out of watching something analytically, so I save that route for another day. There are other times when I can only derive viewing pleasure from the analytical viewing, when I have no interest in the escapism or simple catharsis.

I really didn't expect to come to any sort of main point in this thread other than to expand upon the way I approach the film viewing experience. For the record, if you're wondering what I thought about the two films I saw in the theaters my opinions are as follows: Halloween was interesting in it's completely objective/distanced display of casual violence (by a kid no less), but over all was neither remarkable nor a disappointment. Nothing that I could get worked up to write anything in depth on.

Superbad was interesting to me because I'm not generally a fan of comedy films; in fact I normally avoid them. I saw this on a whim and wasn't disappointed. I think the main reason it works is because the film recognizes that at the end of the day, life isn't actually funny. Of course, that is only slightly built into the film, there is still plenty of ridiculous juvenilia that occasionally distracts from any sort of enjoyment.

All in all, I just wanted to break the blog's silence and say something at least. I'm currently, in fragments, reviewing David Lynch's Inland Empire for the first time since I saw it in theaters back in January (?). I can assure that I already have plenty say about that and I've still got quite a bit to go.