quarta-feira, 27 de abril de 2016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot, THRONE OF BLOOD (1957)

Este post foi escrito para a série Hit Me With Your Best Shot do blogue The Film Experience de NathanielR, sendo que é aqui apresentado em inglês, ao invés do que é usual neste blogue.

I’m sorry if this post is shorter than usual but I really don’t have the time to take any more screencaps or examine the film further. I didn’t even have time to fully rewatch Throne of Blood, but, thankfully, this is one of the film’s I suggested to Nathaniel in one of the posts where our grandmaster of film blogging asked for suggestions. One of the many reasons I suggested it was the fact I already knew which shot I’d choose.

As someone with a degree in Theatre, my heart has a special place dedicated to William Shakespeare, with Macbeth in a position of utmost reverence. For its brevity, its atmospheric verse and its difficult, and often complexly confusing, characterizations, I have always loved the damned thing. One of the main focuses of my adoration is Lady Macbeth, one of the Bard’s most celebrated characters, as well as one of his most controversial ones. Many interpretations of her have been brought to both stage and screen (and perhaps other mediums), and Shakespeare’s original intentions have been endlessly scrutinized, subverted and reinterpreted in academic texts, so much so that it’s very easy to let Lady Macbeth turn into something of an abstraction. Sometimes, she’s more idea than person, more conceptual experiment than an actual human presence.

This can be both used to a film’s advantage or not. For example, Kurzel and Cotillard’s recent interpretation is one that grounds the character into a very viscerally human sense of interior desolation, while Judi Dench’s TV version is an example of someone completely dominating the Shakespearean text and managing to present her as both concept and woman. Still, having all of this into account, my favorite take on the character, and on the play as a whole, has always been and, I suspect, it will always be Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. With that said, here’s my choice for best shot:

Best Shot

While he strips his film’s screenplay of Anglo-Saxon linguistic lyricism, Kurosawa injects into the tragedy of Macbeth an incredible sensorial expressiveness of poetic dimensions by placing it in mystic version of feudal japan. This is one of Shakespeare’s plays where the author most exacerbates and refers to the lighting conditions, the sounds of nature, or the weather that rages on the outside of the interior settings, so it makes sense that the great Japanese master would take this opportunity and run with it And run with it he did, with glorious consequences.

In this shot, Lady Asaji is seen going into the shadows, and latter returning with a vase of wine, with which she will drug the guards that stand in the way her husband’s homicidal mission. In this very moment, this master of suggestion and matrimonial puppeteering is becoming an active accomplice of the evils she’s been germinating in her husband’s mind. This is no longer a game of theoretic intentions, but one of murderous deeds, and she looks amazing while doing so, like specter of doom coming from hell itself.

She is the one that opens the door from which the darkness comes as you can see in the previous shot. The shadows of deadly ambition are almost magically summoned by her will, and then, after bringing them into her fold, she immerses herself in them, she glides purposefully into their dark oblivion. Almost immediately after her pale figure has been wholly consumed, she appears again. Once more she glides, elegantly positioned right at the center of the shot, for she may be bringing chaos into this world, but she does it from a standpoint of unnatural order and demonic certainty, with her eyes almost piercing the audience with their intensity directed at the camera.

Still, I would be lying if I said I only picked this shot for its visual splendor. Actually, more than the immersion and subsequent emergence from the shadows, what completely seared this moment into my mind, since the first time I watched the film many years ago, was its sound. Along the film, Lady Asaji’s presence is always announced by the sound of her many silks brushing against each other, her movements bringing with them a serene storm of subtle, but menacing little sounds. As she comes out of the darkness, the frame is filled with her whiteness once more, and with the vitality of her movement, but in Isuzu Yamada’s perfect poise and expression and in the menacing sound, such image cannot be taken as anything but an ominous nightmare coming in our direction.

I know it’s not the most complex view of this iconic character, it might actually be one of its most simplistically evil, but it sure is memorable and it has haunted me since the day I first laid eyes (and ears) on it. It might have actually been this moment that turned me into a devotee of Japanese cinema. How can I not love it then, I ask you?

terça-feira, 12 de abril de 2016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot, WITNESS (1985)

Este post foi escrito para a série Hit Me With Your Best Shot do blogue The Film Experience de NathanielR, sendo que é aqui apresentado em inglês, ao invés do que é usual neste blogue.

Like Zardoz before it, Witness was a film I’d never seen before Nathaniel assigned it for an episode of Hit Me With Your Best Shot. Unlike that tortuous experience though, Peter Weir’s Witness was a film I was immensely glad I got to experience. Before I watched it last weekend, I knew very little about this movie from 1985. I knew it starred Harrison Ford as a man that was forced to hide amongst the Amish, that it was the only film for which he had been nominated for an Academy Award, and that the film had actually managed to win 2 Oscars, one of them being Best Original Screenplay. 

Despite my great enjoyment of this lean thriller, I must confess that, after I watched it twice, I was immensely baffled by that last win. I can understand some admiration for the film’s sinewy, even elegant, structure, but, aside from that, I think the screenplay is clearly Witness’s greatest problem. For one, it’s full of strangely undeveloped characterizations, which becomes especially troubling when it applies to the protagonists, not to mention an undeniable incapacity to emphatically portray anyone that’s not a white, urban male. That the film’s screenplay was originally much more focused on its female lead’s perspective seems unbelievable, for example.

The peak of the script’s fragilities is its portrayal of the Amish communities, which, both in text and execution, never seem to be anything but an exotic other, to be gawked at, in wonderment, superiority or confusion. This particular aspect isn’t the sole responsibility of the screenplay, since it wouldn’t be nearly as conspicuous were the film directed by another person, other than Peter Weir. In his hands, the Amish communities seem quite distant from any sort of understandable humanity, rather they seem to be more of a beautiful living painting, a purely aesthetic phenomenon that Weir, with the considerable help of the masterful John Seale, captures in all its visual glory.

This is where I start to have issues with my own argumentation, because, while Weir’s direction only contributes to the inherent representational problem as of the screenplay, it’s also the film’s most obvious saving grace. Simply put, independently of any ideological and conceptual fragilities, Weir is a great director of cinema, and it shows. He gives Witness an elegance that it otherwise wouldn’t possess, as well as a formal magnificence that completely took me by delighted surprise.

I was completely hypnotized by the images Weir conjured, taking full advantage of having a film mostly focused on a group of people dressed in dark, similar simple costumes, in the middle of pastoral landscapes and underlit interiors. He apparently took plenty of inspiration from Flemish and Dutch painters of the 17th century, and that is quite obvious from the film’s first scenes, where an Amish funeral is presented as a Rembrandt come to life. And I may be overreaching and even projecting (art history student alert!), but a few of the most beautiful nocturnal scenes brought to mind some of George de la Tour’s work, and it was quite impossible not to think of Millet during the outside sequences spent tending to the fields, or building a barn.

terça-feira, 5 de abril de 2016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot, ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953)

Este post foi escrito para a série Hit Me With Your Best Shot do blogue The Film Experience de NathanielR, sendo que é aqui apresentado em inglês, ao invés do que é usual neste blogue.

This double feature episode of Hit Me With Your Best Shot is meant to be, I believe, a sort of celebration of Gregory Peck, today being his centennial. I must confess I’m not a particularly ardent fan of Mr. Peck as an actor, with some special exceptions (one of which is in this double-feature). To me, he belongs with Gary Cooper in the list of Old Hollywood stars who were as astonishingly handsome as they were dull. Also like Cooper, despite his often tedious acting, Gregory Peck had an undeniable star quality that permitted him to have a strong onscreen presence, even when he seems to be impersonating a sermonizing cardboard picture.

Having already established my agnosticism regarding Gregory Peck, the actor, I must confess I was thrilled with this week’s assignment, for it gave me the opportunity to revisit one of Hollywood’s most frothy and endearingly silly fairy tales, Roman Holiday, the story of a European princess that during a visit to the Italian capital, escapes for a day of adventure in the city, accompanied by a mysterious man, Joe, that rescued her from a night slept on the streets.

While I can objectively recognize the problems of the film, with its exoticization or complete ignorance of the Italian population, its weird central romantic relationship, its clichéd story that bears no resemblance to any sort of reality any human has ever lived in, some peculiarly rough editing choices, and a sort of mindless romanticism that can be easily grating, I just love it.

To me, Roman Holiday, in all of its touristy postcard glory, is the pinnacle of Hollywood escapism in the 1950s, and I can’t help falling into its simplistic love spell every time I watch it. Despite this love, I have to point out that, regardless of his charm, Gregory Peck is not one of the main reasons I’m so helpless to the film’s romantic allure. If we’re speaking of actors, Miss Audrey Hepburn’s debut Hollywood performance, for which she won an Academy Award, is much more to blame for my love. Do I think she deserved an Oscar for what is one of the most bidimensional efforts ever rewarded with that particular Best Actress statuette? No. Do I love her in it? Yes.

Love her!

It’s, in a way, the perfect introduction for Hepburn. Princess Ann is a role that showcases her youthful, almost childish, naiveté with moments of chilly elegance, all while allowing the filmmakers to alternately use her as a mannequin for fashionable ensembles or a little burst of uncomplicated joyful energy, with almost no shadow of psychological complexity or complication. Trust me, that this is not a backhanded way of complementing her, for I dearly admire Audrey Hepburn, and not just as a movie star (I defy anyone to watch The Nun’s Story and still believe she had no acting chops).

With all of that said, let’s take look at some of my runner-up choices:


While it was not unheard of to shoot a big studio picture on location, William Wyler’s decision to shoot Roman Holiday in the titular city itself, was quite unusual. As a consequence of this directorial choice, the film has a unique look mixing Hollywood romanticism with a strangely authentic sense of place and time. The specific city of Rome was, at the time, the great capital of cinematic realism, with the city being the background, and almost the protagonist, of many Italian masterpieces of neorealism. To see such a place being used as a setting for one of the frothiest and most joyfully inconsequential of all Hollywood romantic stories, is decidedly weird. In many scenes, we see our protagonists walking around the city, acting out the fairy tale pageantry of Dalton Trumbo’s script, while, in the background, Rome’s life goes on, with a disquieting sense of authenticity that is in direct conflict with the escapist artifice in the narrative foreground. In these runner-up shots, that strange relationship is quite inescapable, and while I agree that this stylistic conflict doesn’t always work in benefit of the film, it’s still fascinating to observe.