Archive for close analysis

Clean and Music

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 12, 2009 by babydylan

Clean is the film, music is what it’s about, that’s why I love it.

One of my favourite articles is a piece written by the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas for The Village Voice, a New York based newspaper. In it he talks about his personal, almost idiosyncratic relationship with music, and how it is music, more than films, that inspire him creatively. As Assayas himself puts it, ‘music more than cinema gives me the most intense artistic emotions.’ When he makes films he tries to direct with the same energy as a musician creating music, willing his love of music to be obvious. He wants his films to be a “homage to what music meant to (him) during his adolescence.”



I love Assayas as a director because I admire him as a person, admittedly I’ve only seen three of his films – although I know I’ll appreciate every film of his that I do see because I respect him so much, unless he directs something seriously offensive – but within each of the films I could see his love of music. Irma Vep, a film about remaking the silent classic The Vampires, has a thumping soundtrack that matches the frenetic energy of the film set in the picture. Demonlover, about an internet conspiracy, has an improvised soundtrack by Sonic Youth, with contributions by Assayas himself (he played guitar).

Clean, premiered at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, is a film about music, it is also about addiction, regret and forgiveness. When her husband Lee Hauser, a faded has-been rock star from the eighties dies of an overdose, his wife Emily – already vilified for ruining Lee’s career, think of her as being one part Yoko and another Courtney* – takes blame for his death and spends six months in prison. In short, she gave him the heroin he overdosed on and is thusly blamed.

Emily is released into a world which is cold and distant, she is held accountable for Lee’s death by the public, most of her previous friends, her father and mother-in-law and her son Jay. To mend her fractured relationships, she must rebuild her life and become Clean.

Beached as...

Beached as...

Assayas has himself stated in interviews that the film isn’t about drugs, it is about music, he has selected a contemporary story and then matched with a form of art that he feels has world-wide appeal, one that he connects the most with. This connection is apparent with his attention to detail, the energy behind Metric’s performance at the start of the film is beautifully captured, the hand held cameras that are just metres from the stage give us the feeling that we are there, as do the reactions from the crowd and the close-ups of the band members performing. The fashion also, is spot on. It is obvious that Emily, Lee and their friends are all musicians, and the residence that Emily shares with a friend is perfectly suited to their lifestyle. All the characters in the film are fans of music, even the secondary ones are seen listening to tunes, and some of the actors also are played by real life musicians. Metric are a band heavily inspired by Lee’s music, they give a performance at the start, and then talk backstage about his relationship with Emily and their son Jay. Tricky plays a long-time friend of Lee’s, and another person who blames Emily for his death, and David Roback of Mazzy Star plays a music producer at the end that cuts a demo with Emily and a friend of hers.

Assayas has also captured the mood behind music, the way it can inspire you and make you feel, this is hard considering the elements that go into making a film. After she arrives in Paris, Emily catches up with a friend (almost the only friend that still talks to her) and gives her some demo tapes to listen to that she made whilst in prison. They begin to play a game of pool while her friend listens to Emily’s demo, and as they sink their balls, and lean against a wall, and drink while waiting for their turn, and then lean forward to take another shot – this is one, almost continuous take – the music is the only thing we hear. It’s one of my favourite shots, I’m always talking about this shot, or that scene, but this one is officially the shiznat, because Assayas has captured something that’s totally real. How many times do we go walkies, or buy something, or do anything with music blaring in our ears and not really think about it. Assayas has done well to get that on film.

Maggie Cheung as Emily

Maggie Cheung as Emily

Those who dislike the film could accuse it of being too stylised, perhaps too ‘Greenwich village’ and maybe a self indulgent wank on Assayas’s part (“look at me, look how incredibly immersed I am in the Paris music scene. I can call Tricky and have him do a part in my film”). Its true that for a poor, recently released prisoner Emily does have a pretty awesome wardrobe, and her scooter is amazing too, it wouldn’t be ‘rock n’ roll’ enough for her to be riding a BMX or a unicycle and the house she is ‘forced’ to share with a friend is an amazing, Parisian villa, as opposed to being commission house or a crappy unit. Yet it is these little excessive details that make the film what it is, a living breathing testament to music. I know the film is flawed but I love it for this reason (Assayas should have spent more time on the screenplay, so as scenes didn’t appear so random) but with the picture Assayas has satisfied his own tastes……and mine.

*Personally I don’t think that Yoko and Courtney had anything to do with ruining John or Kurt’s careers. John was in his peak – song writing wise – when he was killed. Him and Yoko used to tie each other up with twine and eat chocolate cake in a sack but that’s cool, and I once saw this footage of Yoko blindfolded and knitting a scarf, and that was pretty bizarre but….whatever. And In Utero is better than Nevermind (even though I’m the only person to think so). Also I read Who Killed Kurt Cobain? And I still think that Kurt killed himself and the Courtney had nothing to do with it, despite all the ‘evidence’ to the contrary. But then Kurts suicide did suck, it made some people think that the ’teen angst’ thing was everlasting and that it wouldn’t go away, despite all the money and fame. So if you makes you feel better to think that Kurt Cobain was murdered then that’s cool.

P.S. Grunge didn’t die when Kurt Cobain died……


The films of Todd Solondz – Part One

Posted in close analysis with tags , , on December 2, 2008 by babydylan

New Hollywood, the period defined by cutting edge cinema filled with character driven storylines lasted from the late sixties to late seventies, just under a decade, was chronicled in Peter Biskund’s critically acclaimed Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, a text which delved exclusively into the films, and their filmmakers of that pivotal era. Down and Dirty Pictures, a text which Peter Biskund wrote soon after, dealt with the modern equivalent of New Hollywood, the last American New Wave, which was a period of low budget, controversial, bizarre, poignant, cutting edge films filled with memorable characters – films similar to the New Hollywood pictures – that were made from the late eighties to mid nineties. Filmmakers involved in this period would include John Sayles, with City Of Hope, Passion Fish and Lone Star, Kevin Smith with Clerks, Todd Haynes with Superstar and Poison, Jim Jarmusch with Down By Law, Night on Earth and Mystery Train, and Quentin Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Of all these filmmakers, Solondz stood apart as being “the real deal”. Not only was he a genuine eccentric – he dislikes interviews and having his photo taken – but his 1996 feature Welcome to the Dollhouse was incredibly dark. It had no optimism or any sense of hope, it didn’t feature any characters who were likable, it didn’t end with any possibility of a happy ending, and the main character, the protagonist who carried the film, was inherently dislikeable. She brings many of the situations on herself. Despite all this, the film works more as a comedy than it does a drama, and like any comedy, the audience is subconsciously interested in the fate of protagonist. This is not because she has formed a connection with the audience, but rather because Solondz’s writing is filled with humanity and unpredictability. We cannot help but be interested in what is going to happen next.  This unpredictability would subsequently be a trademark of all Solondz’s work.


Recently a patron at work asked me to describe the Coen brothers’ latest film, Burn After Reading. I described it as being a black comedy, something which they hadn’t heard of. I told them that a black comedy was a film full of moments which you find funny, but which you quickly regret having laughed at. In saying that, black comedy is also used too easily to describe pictures that cannot be described, pictures that aren’t full of those ‘I shouldn’t find that as funny as I do’ moments. His films are indescribable because they fall between two categories, the Suburban Gothic – films that offer a supposedly ‘honest’ and ‘shocking’ portrayal of human lives, ie. American Beauty, Blue Velvet – and films which deliberately overplay the banality of Surburbia, ie. The Stepford Wives, The Truman Show, The Chumbscrubber, Donnie Darko, for comedic effect. As well as occupying the middle ground between two sub-genres, his films are hard to watch because they perfectly capture Solondz’s unique vision as a director, something which the audience cannot see in any other film. They are scathing, razor sharp indictments of the “everyman’s” attempts at normality. They are sad comedies, in which the audience is not laughing at the expense of the characters. They are their own genre.


I have see Welcome to the Dollhouse so many times that I cannot remember my initial reaction, however on first viewing, Peter Biskund remarked that the picture expressed an “uncompromising…personal version” with a protagonist who was “eminently un-likable”, whilst Geoff Andrew wrote it was an “honest, effective, and disturbing” look at the “anguish, cruelty, and loneliness of puberty”. All of Solondz’s films are pictures you have to watch more than once. For first time viewers, Welcome to the Dollhouse would seem to have failed as an “expose”, because the darkness of the subject matter is overdone. Yet on second viewing it becomes obvious that the darkness of the story is deliberately overt, because his films are mocking both the “unflinching” and “honest” films, and the teen comedies which include mundane teen problems, ie. dating, bullies etc. Solondz includes normal happy scenes so as the banality of Suburbia is understood, stressing the darkness of the characters and their world. This runs beneath the supposedly happy images, with Solondz mocking the characters fruitless attempts at normality.


Children of Men – Our Dark Future

Posted in close analysis with tags , , , on November 30, 2008 by babydylan

Children of Men is one of Eugene and Alex’s favourite films. Together they have watched it many times and conversation always seems to stem back to this film is one way or another. It even inspired the name of this blog. Eugene had a few thoughts which wouldn’t leave him alone and thus he had to get it out. Alex, while editing, managed to slip in a couple of her points as well. This piece will probably be only one of many but for now, here are some of the ideas Children of Men inspires…

Even now, after having scene this film for the umpteenth time I can still watch any scene of Children of Men over and over again. You could take any scene within the film and still find that each segment has its own almost hypnotic effect. Its so real its almost therapeutic, seeing a glimpse of a future that is free from flying cars, space ships and robot minions yet is instead occupied with people struggling for normality in view of their hopeless situation. It is apparent from the opening scene, of our protagonist Theo Faron forcing his way through a crowd of stunned café patrons over the death of the youngest boy in the world, that the world the characters inhabit is bleak and visibly crumbling. Theo’s blatant lack of compassion at Baby Diego’s death is at once jarring and expository as the other patrons are so overwrought with grief they cannot continue with their daily routine, yet Theo continues unperturbed getting his daily coffee, black and bitter.

Every scene within the film is orchestrated to portray the corrupt world that is common in Noir storylines yet this film, set in 2027, takes place in a damaged future that mirrors our own yet with subtle differences. Every time I describe the picture to someone – to those poor souls who have been unfortunate enough to not have seen it – I’ll tell them that it’s the most plausible vision of the future I have ever seen in a film. In fact, the verisimilitude of this film is so plausible that I more at home in Theo’s world than in those of other more recent portrayals of past events such as Australia or Brideshead Revisited, films that are based on documented and factual events unlike the wholey fictional world of Children of Men. It has no alien babies or anything else typically science fictiony. At best it’ll have full length moving adds adorning the side of a bus, yet these subtle science fiction elements anchor you to the world instead of being there purely for flashy money-shots. Heavily clad guards patrol every setting, filling the screen with their menacing battle gear, ready to deal out capital punishment in the most mundane settings. Like black clad funeral directors at the end of the world wake. They are an ever unsettling presence as are the numerous modes of transport that seem wildly out of place in the centre of London, including a cyclo that can be seen in the opening scene, police on horseback and cars from another time. Wild animals can be seen in open spaces, illegal immigrants are consistently presented as being a threat to Mother England, the only intact sanctuary left from hate. A hatred that is constantly trying to infest the apparently ‘safe’ Britian forcing, or perhaps excusing, excessive brutality.

Theo and Kee flee with a certain baby called Dylan

Theo and Kee flee with a certain baby called Dylan

And of course there are no children, an element which we know about from the opening scene and is undoubtedly the crux of the film, yet it is curious that we accept this anomaly almost immediately buying into the constructed world and fully formed characters wholeheartedly.

“Strange isn’t it, what happens to a world without children’s voices”

Like any good film, the audience is quick to fall into the rabbit hole, such as is true with Children of Men. However the absence of children annoyingly takes its toll in an almost imperceptible way, making the world a grimmer and meaner place for it. Theo – the films broken moral compass – is accepting of this horror and it isn’t until he is forced to realise what can be gained from his engagement in life that he is jolted from his apathy. In turn the audience come to the realisation that Theo’s world, full of unflinching violence and death, yet a desperate love of life, is not so dissimilar to our own.

The films power lies partly in the fact that the future is given no back-story, in that the current bout of infertility and the third world state of every other country except Britain is not explained. Similarly, Theo’s back-story and motivations are never fleshed out. The only story of Theo’s past we receive is second hand through ex-wives or close friends, anecdotal evidence recalled in a moment of conversation or emotion. The audience, being curious to find out about Theo’s past at the commencement of the film, find the facts when they eventually come, to be insignificant being completely invested in the world of the film.

The film works on different levels because there are plot threads planted at every stage, threads which grab us on different viewings. On one level, we might be stunned by the films technical achievements, on another we might be interested in the films subtle critiquing of the current war in Iraq. Sometimes we can draw parallels between the treatment of the films fugees, and our own treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and at other times, we can be surprised by the films multilayered references to the infertility that is plaguing their world – is it because of pollution, is it God’s wrath, is it natural selection? Theories are raised but never answered allowing the audience to form their own opinions and hypothesis. And even another viewing, we might become interested solely in the character of Theo, his back-story, his embittered personality, and his fate. Such is the detail that has been given to every element of the picture.

Originally I wanted to describe the world as being amoral, yet that would imply that the people within it are corrupt because they want to be. In this world desperation is second nature, the suicide drug Quietus, which is manufactured and as easily available as any headache tablet is marketed as being a quick solution to everyone’s problems. In fact it is even doled out in weekly rations, a ‘suave’ way to meet the end of the world. The problem of course being an overwhelming unhappiness that permeates everything, to the extent that the people are no longer free thinking. Coupled with the distant protagonist, the world is similar to the settings of early film noir, a style of film I have only just come to really know. Jules Dassin’s Night and the City – one of the key film noirs – went to great lengths to portray a corrupt cityscape populated by greedy characters all wanting to gain their fix and the sense of having made it. Similarly Children of Men has the corrupt city, but characters all united by the one common foe, unhappiness and desperation.

Rosemary’s Baby – Body Language

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 17, 2008 by babydylan
Polanski had specific control over the body language and gestures within the film. On first viewing the audience may be surprised at the films ending, yet on second viewing these almost imperceptible devices can give away the conclusion, if they chose to read it that way.

There are the simple scenes mentioned earlier, the first being when the landlord dusts the usher at the beginning of the film (this is one of my favourite scenes) and soon after when the handyman glares at Guy, possibly because he thinks he is being stared at. Later on however, after Rosemary and Guy have had dinner at The Castevets, they begin to eat their desert in a really ‘over the top’ fast way. It’s unnerving to watch, and it unknowingly puts you on edge.

Later on the same night, after Rosemary has finished helping Minnie Castevet wash up from dinner, she interrupts Guy and Roman having a conservation. Look closely at Guys face. He seems shocked, and he is staring at Roman with wide upon eyes as though he‘s just been told something unbelievable. After, when Rosemary mentions to Guy that the Castevets had taken their pictures down, he briefly pauses and his shoulders tense, as though he already knows the truth about them (it’s so brief that I could be imagining it, look for yourself and tell me what you think). When Rosemary’s friend Hutch meets Roman for the first time and Hutch begins to wonder about the ‘tannis root’ that Rosemary has been exposed to, Roman stares at Hutch with rapt attention, and he barely pauses to look at Rosemary. It’s actually a hard scene to watch when considering what happens to Hutch later on…..

Mother of the year

Mother of the year

Later in the scene, when Hutch asks Guy and Rosemary where his other glove has gone, Guy again tenses up and goes quiet, and every time something vital happens to them, such as when Guy finds out he has the acting role, when Rosemary finds out she is pregnant, and when she gets the lunch invitation from Hutch, Guy’s initial response is to always leave the house, to always ‘go for a walk’, and in reality, to always run to The Castevets.

One of three scenes that stand out is during the New Year’s party that Rosemary and Guy have attended, which is full of Roman and Minnie’s older, Satan worshiping friends. As they welcome in the New Year, one of the guests congratulates Dr. Saperstein, by telling him that 1966 will hopefully be a good and productive year. He lightly touches his nose and winks at Dr. Saperstein, subtly hinting his glee at their plan coming to fruition. Even after the seeing the picture so many times, I only just noticed this scene. This is an indicator of the multi-layered film Polanski has constructed.

Another is when Rosemary wakes up for the first time from her impregnation dream. The audience is looking at her scratched back, so they might not notice the way Guy tenses his hands and shuts his eyes, as though trying to get control after having done something he has trouble believing he did.

Another key scene is just after the party, and Rosemary begins to rejoice after feeling her pain stop, and finding out that her baby was still alive. She puts Guys hand and her stomach, to feel the baby moving, and he jerks away as though more scared than excited. I love that scene.

Rosemary’s Baby – Rosemary’s World

Posted in close analysis with tags , , on November 17, 2008 by babydylan

After seeing the film for the first time my initial reaction was to watch it all over again to better understand just how ‘absolute’ Rosemary’s naivety, and The Castavet’s immorality really was. I thought it was remarkable that two couples, who were just on polar opposites of the spectrum, could meet in the one place, and that the ‘good’ couple would eventually have their ‘goodness’ overridden by the ‘bad’ couple and their ‘badness’. Because of this, it would have to be understood how different their two different worlds were, hence Polanski must have stressed the rigidity of their two different worlds at various points in the film. The Bramford is after all, the scene of a showdown between good and evil, hence the good and evil sides must be understood.

Rosemary and Guy’s marriage is completely self-contained, meaning that they are oblivious in the beginning of the film to what is happening around them. In the opening scenes, Rosemary and Guy laugh at the African American usher who is ‘dusted’ by the caretaker, as though a piece of furniture, and a handyman glares at Guy when he thinks he is being ‘checked out’. These attitudes are a stark contrast to what eventually happens in the same building. If you wanted to read this much into it, you could say that The Bramford is Dante’s vision of Hell. One level contains small acts of racism. Another contains full blown devil worship. As I said though, it’s only if you wanted to read this much into it…..

As the film progresses, it becomes apparent just how subservient Rosemary is to Guy. She spends the day cleaning and outfitting their house, and when he arrives home from work, she automatically greats him with a sandwich and a drink (was this normal in the 60’s? I don’t know….I wasn’t alive then). It is her suggestion that they make love when in the new house, and the mechanical way in which he turns off the light and takes off his clothes suggests a lack of intimacy or affection between them, again a contrast to the previous scene. As the film progresses he begins to mistreat her, and is increasingly cruel – a contrast to the beginning scenes – and when he apologises to her later, she welcomes it, as though unable to be honest with him. Near the end of the film, when the camera cuts briefly to her bookshelf, we can see that her collection is comprised of ‘Self-help’ books about being a better wife, and how to better understand your husband, further emphasising her idealised view of married life. As she begins to learn the truth about her neighbours and friends, she becomes increasingly hysterical and frantic, as though only just comprehending what is happening. Guy’s behaviour, and the ease with which he makes the pact with The Castevets, suggests he has a history of being self-involved. Rosemary is naturally trusting and she instinctively puts Guy and others first, as highlighted by scenes of her welcoming her neighbours (even when she is wanting private time). She is completely shut off from reality, innocent and naïve and seemingly impervious to reality. Depressingly, this makes her an easy target. As Rosemary begins to slowly realise the truth, the ‘rigidity’ of the evil is gradually shown. This is accentuated by the final scene, when Rosemary’s maternal instincts begin to emerge. The camera draws back from the window, away from the Bramford, and across town, a juxtaposition to the opening credits (which had the camera pan across the city to rest on the apartment, as though ‘introducing‘ us to the Bramford, and the worlds within it). I love how the audience can be shown in one shot a horrible truth, and then Polanski can pull the camera away from the window, to have it pan across the city on such an idyllic day. This makes the evil so much scarier! It demonstrates to the audience that evil can exist in such a mundane setting lurking within potential domestic bliss. Bob Evans remarks that this is a horror film without horror, and he is right to an extent. It doesn’t have any of the token wam-bam editing that is the prerequisite for the latest batch of horror and torture porn films. Instead it has a much more nuanced approach using the subtly of the camera work and the acting choices to play on the audiences innate fears.

Rosemary’s Baby – The Perfect Horror.

Posted in close analysis with tags , , on November 17, 2008 by babydylan

A lecturer at uni once told me that – according to screenwriting ‘guru’ Robert McKee – the difference between a horror and a thriller was that a ‘horror’ film has to have an element of the supernatural, whilst a thriller always deals with a human threat. At risk of contradicting McKee and his apparent success it is obvious that this statement is not entirely true. Some of the iconic horror films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Psycho, and to a lesser extent, The Hills Have Eyes, Friday the 13th (this is debatable due to that scary-as-a-mother-bitch moment when Jason jumps out of the water) and Last House on the Left, include murderers that are human. However other iconic horrors, such as The Exorcist, The Woman in Black, Carrie, and A Nightmare on Elm Street deal only with the supernatural. The better horror films are ones that can successfully combine threats, the human and the supernatural. The Shining is amazing because Kubrick combines the evil at The Overlook Hotel (something we aren’t ever sure is real until the end of the film) with the fear of isolation and the threat of betrayal by a family member (something which would unnerve even the most hard of audience).

Similarly, Rosemary’s Baby takes betrayal and a corrupt view of relationships (an idea auteur filmmaker Polanski is fastidiously obsessed with) and crosses it with the threat of evil. Perhaps I’m biased because I’ve had a Christian upbringing, but the threat of evil is so much more real and scary than the threat of a knife wielding maniac (I’m looking at you Scream and Saw, you mean nothing to me!). Polanski stated that his approach to directing is to put multiple layers within a film, meaning that one person may find one element more sad, scary, or funny than another because of a preoccupation they already have. “We see far less than we think we see because of past impressions we already stored in our minds” (Polanski 270). Hence evil is scarier to those who believe in its power.

Eugenes wet dream

Eugene's wet dream

Producer Robert Evans lured Polanski to America under the false pretext of directing Downhill Racer (a romantic comedy skiing film!) yet almost straight away Evans presented Polanski with a copy of the novel Rosemary’s Baby, because Evans knew that Polanski’s sensibilities would gravitate to such a unique story, such as it had with everyone else. After agreeing to direct the picture however, Polanski was adamant that he write the screenplay, so he could change the threat of evil, something which had been real and all knowing in the original novel, into something that could be a manifestation of Rosemary’s imagination. As he puts it, he wanted “a thread of deliberate ambiguity to run through the film.”

This was a stroke of genius. To some, the most frightening part of Rosemary’s Baby is when the audience begins to suspect that Rosemary has been betrayed by her husband and her new ‘friends’. To others, it is when they first hear the séance in the next apartment, and when she is impregnated in the dream sequence. Personally, I find the latter to be the scariest thing ever to be committed to screen, in the history of cinema. Ever.