The Right To Question: Resnais And Memory

[Nuit et Brouillard, photography by Sacha Vierny & Ghislain Cloquet]
In April of 2018, the United States issued a “zero tolerance” policy towards the flow of illegal immigrants seeking asylum, whether personal or political.  The result is the incarceration of these adults and the separation from their children in other facilities within a cage.  It has produced a firestorm of controversy calling for change everywhere from some upper levels of Washington D.C. all the way down to the men and women of the street.  It has also engaged people to think of the past and how history should be one of the great teachers for us all, but we somehow still tend to turn a blind eye to.  It led me to review once again a short film that seems eerily prescient in today’s events.  It is the complicit rationalization of words and positions for an event that would have enormous consequences later in time.  I am not arguing that this is the same event.  I am merely suggesting that we need to open our eyes more to history and its lessons.

In a film that runs just thirty one minutes, director Alain Resnais produced a work that glides between memory and reality with a gruesome past and an uncertain present.  Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog) was completed in 1955 to controversy and acclaim.  The short film depicts the atrocities of Hitler’s concentration camps just 10 years after the end of that world war.  As heart wrenching a subject this can be, Resnais presents a lyrical and transcendent treatise on which the viewer is left to question the how and the why.  We are left with those searing images.  We are left with ourselves to answer for what has happened.

[Nuit et Brouillard, archival footage]
Our memories can sometimes color the past by softening the acute pain or embed rationalizations to account for certain behaviors and reactions.  Director Resnais boldly (in the context of the times, for we are talking about 1955) uses the archival black and white footage of the camps and its aftermath with the color of present day photography that remains to remind us of such a monstrously brutual past.  As we see footage of the captured and incarcerated German camp overseers in the photo above, if they are not responsible, the film asks who is?  Nuit et Brouillard begs the viewer to look around them.  Although this time has passed, the remnants of it still lurk around us in survivors, conspirators, and perhaps the very people involved with it.  It intensely begs us to look into ourselves more than anything.  We can be complicit in these actions when we choose to ignore or deny their very existence.  Present day footage shows how close some of these camps were to nearby townships and villages.  The camp’s very existence could not be denied.

[Nuit et Brouillard, present day footage]
When we chose not to act, or get involved, knowing full well an event that goes against human decency at its core, is to stand right alongside the wrongdoers as if you are a part of that machine.  The film begins with the words, “1933.  The machine gets underway.  The nation must all sing the same song, with no wrong notes…” which in hindsight lends us exactly what this machine would soon be capable of.  The very thought of laws put into place to be obeyed under any circumstance, an act which would lead to the deaths of over nine million people, sends chills of recognition with today’s history.  Resnais does not present statistics or cold historical facts.  His purpose is to let the viewer discover for themselves how something like this could have begun,  then agreed upon, and ultimately supported to its twisted end.

Which leads us back to today and the lightening rod which is the zero tolerance immigration policy and is reported to use these separated and incarcerated children as bargaining chips in a macabre political dance between rival parties.  What does history teach us about today?  Do we idly stand by, such as many of the villages and townships near those camps did?  Or do we voice our outrage, our distrust, our disgust at such actions?  Of course, the consequences of raising a voice would have been quite different during the war, as opposed to today.  Or would it?  Nuit et Brouillard  questions that very thing in such a subtle way.  What does it take in each of us to recognize the monster inside of us?  How far must something evil go before we stop being complicit on the sidelines and begin to question it?  The film raises many conundrums such as these in viewers minds, but again, leaves it to us to contemplate and come to our own conclusions.

Our connection with history becomes more and more vital in this fast paced world.  The overabundance of information has progressively struck a blind eye towards critical thinking in many of us.  If the great director, Alain Resnais, were alive today, I fully believe he would raise his voice, much as he did back in 1955.

[director Alain Resnais, 1955]

Nuit et Brouillard (Night And Fog) [Alain Resnais-director, 1955]

The World Through The Windshield: The Cinema Of Abbas Kiarostami

trees and crows
[photography by Abbas Kiarostami from 2007 book Trees And Crows]

To understand and appreciate the films of Iranian writer and director Abbas Kiarostami, the modern world as we know it today mostly lies behind the windshield of our automobile traveling familiar roads or an unexpected journey.  We see the fast moving colors and textures outside while insulated within our stationary bucket seats while driving.  Some of the best conversations can take place within the confines of such a road trip.  Unexpected pleasures derive speeding through unknown landscapes, the mind swiftly taking in such delights.  Life can change in an instant or remain unmoved within our safe automobile haven.  Kiarostami understood this all too well and presented audiences a world unfamiliar, but familiar all the same.

The camera has very little room in which to move inside a car.  Static shots head on from the hood are the norm, because it is easier to mount a camera in front to point and shoot.  Kiarostami uses such shots sparingly and chooses to surprise audiences with shots within the cramped accommodations of his cars which seem to place us sitting right next to his characters.  Pay close attention in these scenes for the cutting between shots of his characters seems virtually invisible.  The editing flows so naturally with the conversations, as well as with the quiet times, that the mind hardly registers any cuts and it comes across as one long single take.  The cuts are timed with the story’s momentum and mood.  It never calls attention to itself, lest it distract the audience from the story being presented.

Like Someone in Love
[Like Someone In Love, 2012]

The car represents the interior world of Kiarostami’s characters, while the world is reflected off the glass that we stare out in pain, loneliness, confusion, or some existential crisis.  The windshield can show a character’s wishes or hide their darkness inside.  Many shots are layered in such a way to show how the world outside can be memories rising to the surface or even past trauma’s whose wounds have reopened and cut so very deep.  It is the director’s palette in which he paints a wordless story across the safety glass encasing his principals.  Many of his films make the car a central motif in a character’s climatic appraisal of his and her place in the world and with others.

[Certified Copy, 2010]

Behind the wheel of a car is a place of journey, traveling to some self awareness or state of being.  Kiarostami loved placing his characters in such close confines of each other in which to agitate or spark some new insight.  It brings the actors closer to us, the audience, and makes us pay attention to even the smallest detail, for Kiarostami never put anything on screen without meaning.  When watching his films, you begin to understand how subtly subversive his cinema is.  The entire beginning of his 2012 Like Someone In Love shows a busy bar of couples and service attendants without showing who is talking on screen about not lying.  We search the frame for who is saying these words, but the person is nowhere to be found.  It is only after several minutes more of this phone conversation about lying to their significant other about their whereabouts, do we slowly pull back and reveal the culprit talking all this time.  Kiarostami “lies” to us in his shot by not giving us the standard introduction of one of the main characters, but chooses to make us believe we are seeing the person talking somewhere in the busy bar shot.  It is clever and undermines our expectations of films in general.

[A Taste Of Cherry, 1997]

If the car is the microcosm of what is safe and ideal in our internal lives, then the world outside the windshield is a lumbering giant of contradictions, violence, and lost dreams.  It may be that the illusion outside of the car is what we want or aspire to be, but it is an illusion nonetheless.  We build our internal lives on experiences and the people we meet.  It is both the good and the bad that shapes who we are, to which the car in Kiarostami’s films is the filter to make sense of it all.  It is not a bubble in any sense of that meaning, for the world consistently pours into that filter on four wheels.  Most interesting is how these characters react and absorb the intrusions upon their interior world.

[Ten, 2002]

The journey of a hero can take on any form in history, so it is befitting for the automobile to be the modern journey for Kiarostami.  The themes of retribution, renewal, and reflection with the exterior world whisking by in painterly colors.  It is the clever contradiction of an idea for quiet reflection amidst a busy street or fast rolling landscape.  It works because it places a laser focus on the occupants within and their struggles.  It manages to be realistic and cinematic at the same time.

closeup 2
[Close Up, 1990]

Abbas Kiarostami died on July 4, 2016 in Paris, France.  He left an indelible humanist stamp on cinema and on his home country of Iran.  He involved himself with over forty films, with many short films and documentaries.  He was intensely interested in humans and their innate ability to absorb, but protect themselves from the world.  His style, if you will, was deceptively quiet.  His choice of editing, lack of music, use of silence, and the devastating framing of his shots can build up to such a crescendo of emotional violence.  He was a consummate filmmaker and created a journey in film that we all need to experience.

[Abbas Kiarostami, behind the wheel himself]

The Future So Dim: The Evolution Of Blade Runner


“When less than everything has been said about a subject, you can still think on further. The alternative is for the audience to be presented with a final deduction (…) no effort on their part.
What can it mean to them when they have not shared with the author the misery and joy of bringing an image into being?” 
― Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time

“In my experience there are billions of dollars available for pieces of shit. As soon as the material distinguishes itself by something interesting, financing becomes a problem.” 
― Rutger Hauer

Our perception of modern cinema is a varied and fickle animal with today’s audiences.  There is no more greater argument for this statement than the disappointing results of the recent release of Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049.  Hollywood took a gamble on fronting the big budget cost on a philosophical science fiction sequel to Ridley Scott’s original film, released over 30 years ago, also considered a disappointment that later became a cult sensation.  Villeneuve, the French Canadian writer/director, chose to expand upon the original film’s themes and incorporate a languid pace which makes the viewer reflect much more upon what is being presented on screen.  The running time of 2 hours and 44 minutes challenged the American audience attention deficiet and stamina, but was necessary to tell the story as envisioned.  Sadly, Villeneuve’s film came and went from theaters before having a chance to gain any sort of footing.  What went wrong?  When audiences clamor for something original, instead of disposable action entertainments , they chose to stay away in great numbers from this film as if confused or fearful of its daring to be something else.

To fairly judge the situation, this dismal outlook of Hollywood’s risk taking cinema ventures, one must look at some key points that appear to have caused the failure of Blade Runner 2049 to catch on with the public as a whole.

It is apparent that imagination is still loved by the general movie going audience (look to the Star Wars universe as a prime example), but it needs to be light and very easy to digest in registering as a success.  The great Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky (quoted above), is correct in his argument that it is supremely more interesting to have audiences challenged and not spoon feed all the answers.  In fact, director Villeneuve pays tribute to Tarkovsky throughout much of Blade Runner 2049 in the look and feel of the story.  You need to go no further than Tarkovsky’s mesmerizing film Stalker, from 1979, and Villeneuve’s images are readily recognizable from that past film and take on a whole new meaning.  This was not by chance.  This was deliberate in order to give weight and depth to Villeneuve’s film.  The story telling techniques do not have all the answers.  It never purports to uncover its mysteries all at once.  That is what makes one return to it again and again to search for ourselves; not to marvel at the special effects, but to engage with the story on another level with clues you may have missed the first time around.  It is perhaps the sad fate of story telling today that audiences, in this increasingly fast paced society, feel they are wasting their time (and money) if all of these mysteries are not displayed in a cold hard light immediately.  Blade Runner 2049 did not subscribe to that philosophy and therefore, the public never took a chance to discover its riches.

Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner was released in 1982 to dismal box office and poor reviews.  Steven Spielberg’s much more easily digestible film, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, was king of the box office that same year.  Furthermore, audiences were confused at star Harrison Ford’s protagonist, in Blade Runner, that was a universe away from his iconic roles of Han Solo and Indiana Jones.  It was a dark foreboding world which the public was not ready for yet.  It was not until many years later, with a growing number of admirers and fans of the original film, that Scott’s film became a sensation which prompted him (much to the dismay of many) to alter many different versions of his film.  Now, fast forward to 2017.  The sequel to Scott’s film hits the theaters and the majority of the movie going public, young people ages 15 to 25, do not remember or care to know about Scott’s seminal cyberpunk film all those years ago.  So, why would they understand the significance of this sequel?  Villeneuve’s film was a critic’s darling, but the studio failed to market his film properly to a broader audience.  The public that grew up on Scott’s film as fans, was too narrow of a marketing niche to become a hit at the box office.  In the years to come, perhaps the film will find its broader audience as perceptions and tastes change.


In the age of instant gratification and a spoon fed mentality, asking people to sit through 2 hour and 44 minute film, with previews adding another 15 minutes, is like pulling teeth with a rusty pair of pliers.  Technology is partly to blame where one can laugh, cry, and be amazed within a 2 minute time span with YouTube and then move on to the next entertainment.  It is actually asking a lot for some people to sit quietly and contemplate a story being told, which also does not give all the answers (gasp)!  Our endurance for such tasks is at an all time low.  The blame can go to a lot of areas, but ultimately, it is us.  We simply cannot abide anything wasting our time when we could be enjoying the next new trend.  Is this the dismal future of cinema for general audiences?  An endless array of short takes, loud music, blatantly absurd plots with endings all wrapped up in a nice neat bow?  The awe and mystery is absent in those films.  This is not accounting for the excellent independent film culture where risk and technique is ever expanding.  This is the state of Hollywood big budget film-making today.  The bottom line has always been money and if we cannot fill the seats in the theater, why take any chances?  We will make sure they have a good time with an easily forgettable experience until the next new hot film comes out.  This is a very negative take on things, but the evidence is there for all to see.

What makes Blade Runner 2049 a unique big budget film that warrants such sadness over its suggested failure to win audiences?  Why is this any cause for concern?  The answer lies with director Denis Villeneuve’s aspirations to treat his viewers as educated individuals and not shoot the film as some big action epic, but an epic of the heart and mind.  Too often big budgets are by-the-numbers films with little or no mystery to them.  David Lean’s Lawrence Of Arabia is an excellent example of a film that combines the epic with the intimate on a huge budget.  Audiences at that time appreciated the time it took to tell the story in such rich detail.  It was daring for the makers of Blade Runner 2049 to adhere to the original themes and then take them one step further.  What if technological advances acceded beyond mere convenience to produce these self aware replicants that are “more human than human”, as the old Tyrell Corporation tagline went.  Where is the line drawn between souls in humans and souls in these replicants?  What if man himself becomes God and manually produces the next step in the human evolutionary chain?  What is love, and can it be experienced by artificial beings as well?  Are memories false, if they seem real to us?  What cause is worthy enough to give our lives for?  These and many other questions are asked and we are expected to pull ourselves, from our own personal perceptions, all those answers or, perhaps, no answers.

Technically, Blade Runner 2049 is a superb achievement in image and sound.  Roger Deakins’ miraculous photography gives this world a grounded reality, but with an alien-like mystery.  Much like Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Deakins manages to etch a beauty in details amidst such grim surroundings.  The sound is at times thunderous, the percussive score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch echoes Vangelis’ original score, and can also be so utterly quiet at other times which makes one pay attention to the image on the screen.  The whole experience is lush and overwhelming at times, which may detract from recognizing essential details when first viewing the film.  It requires a second or third viewing to appreciate everything the film-makers placed within the story.  Not catching everything the first time around has the markings of a potentially great film.

The question of memories and their validity is at the heart of this quest for humankind.  The protagonist K, the latest genetic replicant Blade Runner, begins to question his own memories and the truth of who he is in a relevant scene that explodes in anger.  While talking to a doctor specializing in memories, K gives her one of his most prized memories to view and validate it as something real.

Dr. Ana Stelline: [crying] Someone lived this, yeah. It happened.


K: I know what’s real.


K: I know what’s real.



[hurls the chair against the wall in anger]

It is an astonishing scene filled with a powerful remorse for K, as he bitterly clings to the realness of his own memories, although he knows deep inside they are not his to cherish.  We, as human beings, cling to our own memories even though we change, or enhance them to fit our emotional needs as time moves on.  It is these kinds of themes that distinguish a film like Blade Runner 2049 from those disposable entertainments churned out by Hollywood; the “pieces of shit’ as actor Rutger Hauer succinctly voices it.  The film aims for the stars, which cannot be said for many other big budget epics.

In time, like Ridley Scott’s effort before it, Blade Runner 2049 will hopefully find its audience that it so richly deserves.  It is a failure in the eyes of the bottom line seeking executives in Hollywood, but a soaring success in the eyes of cinema loving individuals.  A film made for adults with intelligence, daring, and passion for its subject.  Let us hope the future is not dimmer because of this effort’s failure to score five hundred million in ticket sales the first week in release.  Let us hope that we recognize soon that cinema for the general audience has the potential for so much more.  We have a smartly written and directed film that will last beyond those revolving door decision makers in Hollywood, and we are all the better for it.


Blade Runner 2049 / 2017 release / directed by Denis Villeneuve / written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green / photography by Roger Deakins

 I always told you. You’re special. Your history isn’t over yet. There’s still a page left.

Transcendent Moments Of Change: Falling In Love With Terrence Malick


“Come, spirit, help us sing the story of our land. You are our mother. We, your field of corn. We rise from out of the soul of you.”  [The New World]

His films sing the story of our land.  They help us rise from the depths of our pain.  And crystallize the murmurs of our hearts and minds.  He weaves a symphony of inner voices, our own voices, into the music of life itself.   There is not another American filmmaker living today so admired and so reviled based upon his storytelling techniques.  The more you seriously invest in his films, the greater the reward.  The quiet stillness of  a natural landscape with the the mosaic of faces, seemingly brings us closer to a truth.  A truth according to Malick and a burgeoning love for his unique poetry.

Terrence Malick, born 1943 in Ottawa Illinois and a native of Oklahoma and Austin Texas, holds degrees in philosophy and film-making with a thesis that involved a student short film with Harry Dean Stanton and Warren Oates.  He taught for several years in the subject of philosophy, before turning his interests solely to cinema.  The approach is much like his unfinished thesis on Martin Heidegger, the noted German philosopher.  The metaphysical study of being, or ontology, resides in most, if not all, of Malick’s filmic approach. The nature of being and how principal things are related to each other; namely man and nature for Malick.  His work continually experiments and stretches the medium.  His ambitious executions are sublime and sometimes infuriating, often within the same context for the person viewing.  When one of his films transforms all the elements seamlessly, it is monumentally inspiring.



“I always thought that being alone was just something that a man had to put up with. It was like I just got used to it.”  [Days Of Heaven]

The painterly sense in images are apparent right from the start in his poetically blazing first features Badlands, from 1973 and Days Of Heaven, from 1978.  Each used first person narration and presented the specter of change for characters, location, dreams, and perspectives.  Badlands concerns the exploits of Kit and Holly on a crime spree fleeing from the murder of her father.  Holly narrates through an apathetic voice, a lost little girl dazzled by the James Dean-like charisma of her partner-in-crime.  The beautiful visuals are in stark contrast to the disturbing behavior and events of these two uncommon lovebirds.  Malick’s treatment of these characters are never cold or distanced, but implores us to listen and be shaken by their dark behavior.  It is a bold first film that put Malick’s name into the forefront of American seventies cinema.  Days Of Heaven paints a poem of the enduring theme of man and nature during the turn of the century America.  On the surface, it is a story of love and murder involving a man, his little sister (who narrates the film), and his girlfriend, but Malick explores the fascination with nature’s fury and beauty and shows its disregard for how man tries to tame or change it.  The languid “magic hour” (evening dusk) shots are spectacular in their small details and in capturing life as it happens.  Days Of Heaven secured Malick as a visionary artist, but an original voice as well.  Both of these films set up unbelievable expectations that would make audiences wait for nearly two decades later, from a self imposed exile from film-making, to make good on that promise.

Screen shot 2013-03-29 at 10.27.42 PM

“Look at this jungle. Look at those vines, the way they twine around, swallowing everything. Nature’s cruel, Staros.”  [The Thin Red Line]

In 1998, after rumors and whispers that Malick was indeed making another film, The Thin Red Line was released.  Based upon the James Jones autobiographical novel describing WWII Guadalcanal, The Thin Red Line used an ambitious multi character narration in a sweeping epic of men under the duress of war…and with nature, specifically the choking South Pacific jungle.  Nature is cruel, as Colonel Tall describes to Captain Staros, but so is man.  There is cruelty and darkness in all of us.  It is Malick’s brilliance in focusing on the jungle’s indifference to man’s insanity, its eternal connection as in one scene where a corporal mutters how they are all essentially dirt, as he sifts through a handful while crouching in the tall grass during battle.  There are also moments of complete silence, except for the incessant sounds of the jungle, that these men can voice everything within themselves through facial and body movements alone, beautifully captured by John Toll’s camera, that says more than twenty pages of dialogue. War changes men.  It brings out the best and the worst in those men.   It is a mark of a truly great film, that with repeated views, which continues to surprise with new information and touch something deep inside on many levels.  This is a journey into that state of being; into the heart of it all.  It is one of Malick’s very best works in the pantheon of cinematic achievements.


“I thought it was dream… what we knew in the forest. It’s the only truth.”  [The New World]

The focus on 17th century America and a land untouched by greed and cruelty seemed a poetically justified choice for Malick’s next film.  The New World expands more on the the multi-character internal narration to a great effect.  Some critics actually coined it the Malick effect (with shots of the sun streaming through the treetops) and has been parodied by some since then.  The story covers a love triangle of sorts with Captain John Smith, John Rolfe, with the mysteriously beautiful princess, known to us as Pocahontas, at the center of it all.  This is a gorgeously photographed (with natural light) film that underscores change that is wonderfully curious and devastatingly tragic.  History has already taught us of the plight of the American Indian and Malick shows the wonder of a lost symbiosis with nature, if one truly listens and respects it.  Respect and reverence for this cathedral of trees and rocks and soil, the Indians look upon this invasion upon their lands with curiosity at first, but then anger when untruths are uncovered.  They know change is inevitable and not necessarily always for the good of their people.  Malick’s inner voices, heard through the several narrations, are actually our own doubts and fears and hopes.  It has grown in stature since its release with its ambitious stream of consciousness storytelling that weaves big themes both personal and worldly.


 “Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.”  [Tree Of Life]

Tree Of Life is arguably Terrence Malick’s masterpiece which draws upon all of his obsessions and techniques seamlessly within the narrative of growing up in a small town in Texas.  This is a deeply philosophical film that deals with issues not normally seen in a wide release film.  The existential themes of why we exist and where are we going are front and center.  They lie underneath the proceedings, but are nevertheless key to its strength and power.  The jaw dropping beauty of life is captured in miraculous images that Malick manages (without the help of CGI) to give the audience the logical transition from innocence to corruption.  In the midst of this telling story of youth and change, comes a section in the film that many are critical of, but is actually a statement on where we came from…and more importantly the definition of grace according to Malick.  We are transported to the beginnings of this world (with visual effects by veteran maestro Douglas Trumbull) and the miracle of life created within the shrouded depths of an ancient ocean.  The emphasis of ever changing life takes the path to early dinosaurs where Malick’s act of grace is presented.  A dinosaur injured on a rocky stream bed is approached by a possible predator.  The predator cautiously steps up to the frightened injured reptile and lifts its foot to crush its skull, but something in its eyes catches the attention of the predator and it slowly takes its foot away, thus sparing the creature an ugly demise.  This act alone, whether divine or instinct, makes us pause for what lies in us as the basis for good and evil?  It is a huge risk that turned some audiences off, but upon reflection a very necessary statement to make by Malick.  We, as fellow creatures, are imbued with a sense of right and wrong; which begs the question of where does it come from?  Huge ideas with big statements in a film that wonderfully centers around a possibly autobiographical family of four.  Tree Of Life continues to amaze and project these lofty ideas with each viewing.  It deserves a much bigger audience than the one that intially received it with open arms.


“Mercy was just a word. I never thought I needed it. Not as much as other people do.” [Song To Song]

Malick continued to explore this stream of consciousness storytelling in his next two films, To The Wonder and Knight Of Cups to a less satisfying degree.  Both films are so free form in structure and editing which now distances us from its central themes Malick is trying to convey.  It is as if Malick were attempting to shoot a Terrence Malick film, as absurd as that sounds.  Not to discount them entirely, each has its merits with stretching film language as an art and exploring relationships to varying degrees.

After Knight Of Cups came and went, Malick released another film right on its heels without little fanfare or advertising that counts as one of his very best efforts entitled Song To Song.  This is one of those films caught under-the-radar which ennobles the notion of how we are all connected in the bigger sense of the word and it is up to us to ignite those flames already burning deep inside each of us.  A change in scenery can bring peace and tranquility, but a change in partners brings a whole slew of questions which are difficult to navigate through peacefully.  Song To Song concerns itself with the music scene in Austin Texas and the ordinary individuals working behind it.  The deceptively simple plot encompasses everything we experience with others in its highs and lows.  It isn’t simply about love relationships, but also the search for ourselves, which is sometimes the greatest journey of them all.  All of Malick’s trademarks are here; the multi-voiced inner voices, the natural lighting cinematography, the beautiful close up images, the jump cut editing…and it all feels like something brand new.  Song To Song has the earmarks of something bigger waiting to be discovered with another view.  There is definitively some major themes going on beneath the surface which may be invisible to the naked eye.  These connections, these changes play a cosmic jigsaw puzzle waiting to be finished to form one big answer about us as humans.  This is a small film that speaks to the mind, as well as the heart.  It is where all the elements certainly pay off and, in time, the potential to be a great film alongside his best work.

We can see ourselves in these stories, some beautiful and some very painful, which connects us together.  Malick asks the big questions, and leaves it up to the viewer to conjure up some of those answers.  It may not always be pleasant to think about these things, but it is important to never forget to question who we are and where are we going.  Change makes us grow.  Change educates us.  Change makes life.

“I film quite a bit of footage, then edit. Changes before your eyes, things you can do and things you can’t. My attitude is always ‘let it keep rolling.'”  [writer/director Terrence Malick]

The Malick Filmography  [all quotes shown above written by Terrence Malick]

Lanton Mills, 1969

Badlands, 1973

Days Of Heaven, 1978

The Thin Red Line, 1998

The New World, 2005

Tree Of Life, 2011

To The Wonder, 2012

Knight Of Cups, 2015

Voyage Of Time, 2016

Song To Song, 2017

The Cinematic Dilemma Of Stephen King


” ‘They float,’ it growled, ‘they float, Georgie, and when you’re down here with me, you’ll float, too–’ “

The words and stories of Stephen King have become a pop culture phenomenon since his first publishing success with Carrie, in 1974.  King’s innate ability for description is uncanny when focusing on the macabre and horrific.  There is detail in his words, but just enough for you to fill in the rest yourself as the reader.  This makes his stories come alive much more so than if he coldly described the monsters inhabiting his novels in minute detail.  Some of his best stories trick you into imagining your own worst nightmares, along with certain painful memories.

Stephen King understands how powerful the tool of imagination is, which therein lies the wasteland of the many failed cinematic attempts on his stories.  It is one thing to imagine some dark horror King describes in a couple sentences.  It is quite another thing to envision it on the screen.  To this day, some of his best novels have yet to see a successful take on film.  It is because of the ignorance of King’s powerful tool of letting the readership imagine the worst.  That is quite a task to summon in a script for a big budget film, where the first thought is to spend all the money to bring King’s horrible monsters to life for all to see.  The misconception is that one can literally translate a novel into a film.  Film is an entirely different medium than a novel, and requires just as much subtlety and imagination on the other end of the spectrum, for with film you are dealing with not only words, but images and sound.  You are in a sense, filling in the gaps those words in the novel skipped over.  The trick is to figure out how to fill in the gap.

Not all of Stephen King’s cinematic endeavors ended in the wasteland.  Brian De Palma’s stylish and scary “Carrie”, from 1976, was the first big hit for King.  In 1980, the cinematic giant Stanley Kubrick took on “The Shining”.  In 1986, audiences were treated to a wonderful adaption of the short story The Body with Rob Reiner’s “Stand By Me”.  Even David Cronenberg realized ‘The Dead Zone” with intelligence and care.  Reiner later followed his hit with another King story “Misery”, from 1990.  Some other successes were “The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Mist”, and the creepy “Pet Sematary”.  What all of these films have in common, besides the same original writer, is that the filmmakers chose to interpret the novels outside of King’s words, sometimes doing away with whole sections that cannot be translated into film.  Stanley Kubrick was notorious for throwing out most of the original source for “The Shining” (a fact that still rankles King to this day), but produced a film that has grown in stature and greatness over the years.  All other treatments of King’s novels are bland, dry, and sorely lacking in imagination for they tried to literally pull the pages from those sources and plaster them onto the screen, with little or no success.

Which leads us to the recent release of one of Stephen King’s longest novels at 1,138 pages long (his novel The Stand beats it at 1,168 pages in the uncut version), which concerns the evil lurking beneath Derry, Maine in IT.  “IT” has broken box office records at this writing, which is astounding for an R rated horror movie.  The name Stephen King has become such a brand name these days with a seemingly hungry audience waiting to experience again one of his bizarre worlds. “IT” is an ambitious undertaking for it covers a lot of years and a multitude of characters.  There was a mildly successful television venture in 1990 that is only quite memorable for actor Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise, The Clown.  Beyond that, the miniseries was a “by-the-numbers” adaption that never rose to Curry’s demented brilliance.

The 2017 revision of “IT” is ably directed by Andrés Muschietti with a cast of mainly newcomers that shine in their roles.  Tim Curry’s shadow looms across this project, but actor Bill Skarsgård takes it to the extreme and leaves that shadow behind.  His performance is the stuff of nightmares.  Muschietti’s work with the actors is nuanced and has an air of authenticity, especially with the children.  When it comes to the horror action, this is where Muschietti stumbles…but let’s go over the stand outs in this production first.  The production design by Claude Paré perfectly captures the early eighties tinge and feels very realistic.  The images by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung paints with deep shadows and bright light.  The actors, under Muschietti’s direction, are authentic and emotionally right on cue.  There does not seem to be a false moment with any of them.

“IT” is not without its missteps, and they are glaring.  The music, by Benjamin Wallfisch, is overbearing at times that  telegraphs certain scares before they happen.  The film would have been better off with less music.  For any horror film, sound is integral to ratcheting up tension.  “IT’ has the sound design of a gleeful kid ready to make you jump out of your seat at a moment’s notice, regardless whether the story calls for it.  It cheapens the scares that the film works hard to build up to.  Through all of this, it is ultimately the director, Muschietti himself, that is accountable for the lack of tension in this film.  To rely on jump scare tactics is juvenile, when he could have been slowly building up tension within the frame for those payoffs.  The film seems to jump to the next showcase without lingering on the horror that was presented to us moments ago.  To add insult to injury, while the film has an emotional integrity to it (a coming of age story which is key to its success), there is no underlying subtext present to make the viewer return for another look.  It appears to be a wonderful story about kids growing up, that happens to have a lot of sudden loud scares thrown in the mix.  Apart from the beautifully shot beginning sequence of Georgie floating his paper boat in the rain, only to meet Pennywise in the storm drain, the rest of the film looks wonderful, but shockingly empty of real tension.  It is sadly not a film to revisit.

In the end, King will continue to reside on top because of his words, not the films based on his words.  The novels breathe because we, the reader, push the air into its lungs with our imagination.  “IT” is a worthy attempt, and much better than most, which is saying a lot for the multitudes already strewn across the author’s cinematic wasteland.

Stephen King said it himself, and filmmakers attempting to adapt his work should take heed;

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft


An Event Sociologique: Truffaut in 1977

François Truffaut (w/ Bob Balaban back right) on location, 1976

7 March 1978
Beverly Hills

Dear François,

We have finally seen Close Encounters. It is a very good film, and I regret it was not made in France. This type of popular science would be most appropriate for the compatriots of Jules Verne and Méliès. Both men were Montgolfier‘s rightful heirs. You are excellent in it, because you’re not quite real. There is more than a grain of eccentricity in this adventure. The author is a poet. In the South of France one would say he is a bit fada. He brings to mind the exact meaning of this word in Provence: the village fada is the one possessed by the fairies.
These fairies who reside with you have agreed to let themselves be briefly borrowed by the author of the film in question.
Love from Dido and I.

Jean Renoir
[Source: Jean Renoir: Letters, edited by David Thompson & Lorraine LoBianco. London: Faber & Faber, 1994]

François Truffaut was pursued by a young Steven Spielberg to accept the role of a French scientist, Claude Lacombe, in his big budget Columbia Pictures venture, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.  His response to Spielberg was one of amusement and a statement that the only person he knew how to play…was himself.  It was in 1976 that one of the founders of French New Wave cinema found himself at the forefront of a complex, effects laden production which both fascinated and horrified him.  It was thanks to Spielberg that Truffaut would cement his decision to never accept a directing offer from Hollywood.

The role of Claude Lacombe is of an especially interesting diversion for Truffaut because of its intelligence mingled with child-like wonder.  Lacombe resembles, in some fashion, the inverse of young Antoine Dionel, the troubled boy in director Truffaut’s stunningly moving debut film Les Quatre Cents Coups, better known as The 400 Blows (a French variation of the term meaning to raise hell).  In that classic film, the young boy Antoine seems older and wiser beyond his years, whereas Truffaut finds himself in 1977 as an older, but child-like man in his pursuit of the truth.  Lacombe does not seem to be jaded by the times, perhaps because of some scientist code of filtering all outside information as possible solutions without prejudice or judgement.  He sees the world through a child’s sense of curiosity and honesty and…with a smile.


That smile.  Truffaut uses it to such a subtle, but great effect.  It is a knowing smile as he examines an elderly Mexican farmer who was sunburned by a light that sang to him.  It is a gentle smile as Truffaut approaches the main protagonist Roy Neary, played with every-man greatness by Richard Dreyfuss, to ask what he wants.  It is a grateful smile he flashes to the Visitor as they exchange rudimentary hand signals, such a boys would do in a tree-house ritual. He saves his best mischievous smile when he spies from a window the three escaping captives whom he knows have a need and a right to be there just as much as he does.  You cannot help but smile yourself  with Truffaut through all of this.  His presence adds levity and an intelligence to all the fantastical proceedings.  It grants us a peek into that inner child which these celestial visitors seem to bring out.  Lacombe is a scientist you would want to hang out with after work.

The great French director Jean Renior mentions Georges Méliès, in his letter to Truffaut above, which, in a sense,  perfectly highlights that path from the wildly imaginative Méliès films from the silent era to Spielberg’s rumination on contact with extraterrestrials.  Same other-worldly subject matter, but now with a larger budget and bigger special effects.  To witness Truffaut in the midst of this, is to see a man in love with cinema totally and completely.  He may be playing himself, which is charming in itself, but he manages to make us invest emotionally with the scientific aspect, which parallels the Roy Neary emotional investment of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances.  It makes us want more interaction between these two men; one that is searching for an answer as a man, with the other eternally searching for the truth as a scientist.


“I saw plenty of differences in degree, but not in kind. I felt the same admiration for Kelly and Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain as for Carl Dreyer’s Ordet.

I still find any hierarchy of kinds of movies both ridiculous and despicable.” 
― François Truffaut, The Films in My Life

These are the words of a true cinephile, a person who truly loves all things cinema regardless of subject matter, format, style, or period.  Truffaut was a film critic first before going behind the camera.  He talked about his ambitions to be a novelist, but found filmmaking to be a higher art form.  The absolute genuineness of his art and his life made Truffaut one of the great enduring figures in cinema.  His presence in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, was for many American audiences the first time one had ever heard of the name François Truffaut.  Steven Spielberg was nervous in asking Truffaut to be in the film because of his huge reputation and stature as one of the founders of such a formidable movement in cinema art.  To the unsuspecting American audiences, he was a French scientist with a very thick accent, who was extremely likable.  Who was this guy, they may have asked?  In the days before the internet, one had to search the library in newspapers, magazines, or books to find out more.  It could be by chance that some revival house or college would be showing one of his films that could be discovered.  Thanks to technology, we have a plethora of information and actual films of Truffaut waiting to be enjoyed at the click of a mouse.

It would be remiss to discount Truffaut’s contribution to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind as merely a star cameo.  There is something more in his performance.  It has the substance of reality.  He was playing himself, but Vilmos Zsigmond’s camera captured something special.  Something much more.  Within those wonderful smiles, he was having fun with the whole process, and that, ladies and gentleman, is a very difficult measure to capture on film.  In a pivotal scene in the film, his character Lacombe pleads with an army major about this psychic connection, when it almost sounds like Truffaut is talking about the cult of the movie going experience;

Lacombe: I believe that for everyone of these anxious, anguished people who have come here this evening, there must be hundreds of others also touched by the implanted vision who never made it this far. It’s simply because they never watched the television. Or perhaps they watched it, but never made the psychic connection.

Walsh: It’s a coincidence. It’s not scientific.

Lacombe: Listen to me, Major Walsh, it is an event sociologique.


François Truffaut [February 6, 1932 – October 21, 1984] Writer, Director, Producer, Critic, Actor

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, 1977, written and directed by Steven Spielberg, photography by Vilmos Zsigmond, music by John Williams

[left to right] Bob Balaban,  François Truffaut, Lance Henriksen, director Steven Spielberg, producer Julia Phillips on location 1976

Movies To Make A Grown Man Cry


“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”    Charles Dickens / Great Expectations

When sitting in a darkened theater and the everyday distractions are blissfully worlds away, sometimes the unexpected can happen when one gets emotionally involved in a good movie.  There is, of course, laughter, amazement, shock, and happiness that can occur.  And then there are the tears.  Yes, we all cry at times when a movie, or a song, and maybe a piece of art will drudge up some unexpected memory which casts some colored feelings over your mind to produce tears of joy, regret, or pain.  Men cry too.  Whether some want to admit it or not, we positively absolutely do.  Some may even try to slyly hide it with a popcorn box or quickly wipe away the evidence.  Yes, we cry.  Any man that says he does not is lying.  There is nothing to be ashamed about it, but men are still subjected to media images of a manhood which is strong and silent.  The only moisture hitting “the blinding dust of earth” (as Dickens said) with these accepted images of men are from sweating or rainfall dousing upon their heads.

So what kind of movies would actually make a man cry?  Is it when ET purportedly dies with the boy Elliot clinging to him?  Or maybe when some two hundred million dollar sports car gets trashed in a Fast And Furious story?  There is no one set of criteria for what a grown man would cry at in the movies.  It is, of course, entirely subjective and based on the individual person.  So, for the sake of argument and a little fun, I will list some movies that never fail to bring a tear to my eye.  I mean, it is classic choking up time when these scenes arrive on the screen for me.  I am not afraid to admit it.  There are various reasons why this occurs with these particular scenes and I will use this opportunity to explore it.  I have five examples to display.  There is a recurring theme of death or impending death with some of the choices, but for the most part, the scenes vary in styles and motifs.

1.)  Expectations dashed in Charles Chaplin’s City Lights from 1931.

City Lights.18

Charlie Chaplin (playing the iconic Tramp) has fallen in love with a visually impaired flower girl and maintained an image of himself towards her that did not match reality.  When the flower girl regains her sight at the end and searches for this man who was kind and caring towards her, she does not “see” Chaplin at first.  When he confesses it was him, Chaplin cuts to an over the shoulder shot that homes in on the expectation of rejection (based on his appearance) with all his hopes and dreams  about to be crushed.

That one shot encompasses so many things in Chaplin’s eyes, but it also involves a lot of what is in me.  Chaplin manages to conjure up those tears in me, but earns it with such grace and heart through his lovable Tramp.

2.)   The swing-set in Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru from 1952.


Kanji Wantanabe finds out he is slowly dying and discovers there is nothing to show for his life.  He has not lived, but merely existed (hence the English title translation of To Live).  Throughout the film, he searches and examines through his life and focuses on beautifying a neighborhood playground park.  When all seems lost, Kanji goes to the park and sits on one of the swings.  Humming softly, he swings slowly in the snow, knowing his death is very near.  This humble law abiding man, who did everything by the book, finally discovers what life is all about…and it is too late.  I cannot help but be touched by his acceptance of his situation.

I watch this at least once a year and it never fails to produce tears when that scene arrives.  This lonely man faces his consequences with great humility and tranquility.

2.) The projection room in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, from 1988.


Salvatore grew up in a small Italian village where he befriended the local movie house projectionist, Alfredo, and slowly becomes an important figure in his childhood, where no father existed for him.  The film has humor, love, tragedy, and a tremendous sense of nostalgia that you cannot help but love.  Tragedy does strike and the now adult Salvatore hears word that his mentor, Alfredo, has died.  The gift that Alfredo has bestowed upon his young apprentice is of such tenderness and love.  Sitting in a projection booth, Salvatore witnesses his childhood all over again when the images of every “lewd and profane” scene in all the movies they played in his small town are spliced together (the local parish made them cut out kissing and brief nudity in classic Italian, French, and American films they were presenting to protect the townspeople at that time).

Niagara Falls takes place every time I see that scene.  I know it is coming, but it does not matter.  It is because of the characters I love dearly in this film and the haunting nostalgia of a childhood lost inside me.

4.)   1634 Racine Avenue in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, from 1987.


Jim Malone was an old Chicago street cop on the beat for 20 years with nothing on his mind but getting off his shift alive each night.  Then one evening he spots a young Elliot Ness looking suspiciously dismayed and packing some heat.  This blossoms into a friendship and business partner in fighting crime, namely Al Capone and his bootlegging business.  Jim Malone was the role Sean Connery was born to play (besides his iconic portrayal of super suave 007).  He brought a toughness and humanity with an ever present spectre of death around him.  Malone talks about death, violence, and its consequences all the time in the film.  He is no nonsense and you cannot help but love the guy and wish him well on his retirement.  Those retirement plans changed when he met Ness.  One evening at his place on 1634 Racine Ave, Capone decided Malone had hurt him enough and sent hitman Frank Nitti to take care of business.  When Ness arrives in the aftermath of a bloody shootout, he finds his dear friend Malone lying face down on his throw rug and screams, “God damn!!!”.  When I hear those words and see Ness rush to his friend (and father figure), I feel the anguish and pain for a man I cared for so much  as well and get misty eyed every damn time.  Ennio Morricone’s haunting music certainly adds to the emotion of the event as well.

Perhaps I think of my own father when watching this scene and relive that day of his passing.  Malone was a man of honor and a caring individual, much like my father.  I don’t believe I was ever so happy to see a man fall to his death, as I was when Ness pushed Nitti off the roof in that climatic chase near the end of this film.

5.) One last ride on his shoulders in Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One, from 1980.

20 O Teatro Da Vida Filme Movie Film Agonia E Glória The Big Red One Samuel Fuller 1980 Lee Marvin

Writer and director Samuel Fuller was assigned to the First Infantry, The Big Red One, in WWII and was exposed to the real horror of war.  His film is a sort of chronicle of his experiences from D-Day to the liberation of Dachau.  The Sergeant (no other name is given to the career defining performance of Lee Marvin), quietly leaves one of his young privates who is continually shooting into the ovens where an already deceased German guard was hiding.  He walks over and discovers a young boy, one of the interned prisoners in this camp, slowly walking up to him.  Throughout the film, The Sergeant continually draws the children’s interest with his strong fatherly persona, which hides a soft caring nature.  This boy approaches The Sergeant where he receives a piece of food from him which he eagerly accepts.  The Sergeant senses the boy needs some caring and takes him outside to a tree where they share some more food while other soldiers are busy investigating the camp in shock of what they are seeing.

When the impromptu picnic is finished, The Sergeant urges the boy to get up on his shoulders so he can give him a ride.  The look on The Sergeant’s face has taken on the whole world’s pain and sadness (Marvin’s performance is brilliant) while the boy happily rides upon his strong shoulders.  It is when the camera closes in on The Sergeant’s face do we realize something is wrong.  The boy slumps.  The apple he was eating falls off to the side.  Tears form in The Sergeant’s eyes as he realizes the boy has died.  One of the private’s voice is heard in narration throughout the film and he tells us that The Sergeant kept walking for several hours before he put the boy down.  Niagara Falls again from me whenever I see that boy slump on his shoulders, for that is what war is all about…the death of innocence and the innocent.  Whether this was based on a true event or it actually happened to Samuel Fuller himself, it does not matter for it has a ring of a deafening truth.  Lee Marvin’s performance is impeccable and the very soul of The Big Red One.  It never fails to move me each time I watch it.

It takes certain experiences, raw emotions to have a movie strike nerves within us.  As Charles Dickens stated, it is good to cry.  It does not have to be only in pain or anguish, but in thought and reflection as well.

Happy tears or sad tears, we all do it.  Even grown men.


PÊCHÉS MIGNONS dans Cinéma: Luc Besson’s SUBWAY


This will be the first of many entries in the Guilty Pleasures category.  We all have them and sometimes are reluctant to admit, amidst the gaudy, over-the-top, or badly executed pieces of work, we return to them again and again for various reasons.  I find a lot of films that are close to my heart usually revolve around a certain year(s) when I was heavily into watching as many films as humanely possible.

The first entry is a French film, hence my cheeky title (French for guilty pleasures in cinema), from 1983; Luc Besson’s pop influenced Subway, starring Christopher Lambert, Isabelle Adjani, Jean-Hughes Anglade, and Besson regular Jean Reno.  Strikingly shot by Carlo Varini with a wonderful production design by Alexandre Trauner, Subway is a flashy take on boy meets girl scenario that never takes itself seriously.  The fun is in watching the kinetic set pieces that show off some very clever camera work while the actors having fun with their lightly drawn characters.  Christopher Lambert is especially interesting because we are never quite sure whether he is making this up as he goes, or has some cosmic plan all along to bring together these ragtag subway dwellers to create a cohesive eighties tinged pop/rock band with them.  Does it make any sense?  Maybe not, but it certainly does not mean it isn’t any fun.

Style is king in Besson’s film and rules with a mighty hand.  In fact, it overshadows most of what is in the story.  Christopher Lambert plays Fred (no last name) who is on the run from certain shady gangster type men and literally crashes his getaway car (stolen from the looks of it) into the underground subway entrance where the rest of the film primarily takes place.  The subway houses its own culture and collection of people that seemingly live there deep within the hidden corridors and rooms underground.  Fred, with his shocking wild peroxide blond hair, looks right at home with these lost figures secretly walking among the everyday commuters.  As the film progresses, Fred befriends some of these shadow people living there and takes upon a leadership role.  He sees talent in certain people and brings them together creatively as a whole.  Meanwhile, Isabelle Adjani, who plays Helena (no last name either), enters the subway looking for something that Fred has taken from her, which explains the chase at the beginning of the film.  Little by little, we discover Fred is in love with Helena and used the theft as an excuse to get closer to her.  Fred represents the guy on the other side of the tracks to Helena’s rich and privileged life style.  This is all played out with a wink and a smile.


Subway is not a serious piece of work.  It is a film of style over substance in which the viewer is treated to some truly amazing scenes.  It is not particularly French (although it takes place in Paris with French actors), but encompasses a very Hollywood sensibility marketed for everyone to enjoy.  All the characters have one name only, for there is no need to find out anything more about them; even the two detectives are nicknamed Batman and Robin.  What makes Subway so enjoyable is the innocence of the characters and their actions.  Fred has a child-like demeanor towards life and people, which makes everyone around him trust him.  Besson’s script and direction also has a child-like gee whiz attitude which makes the experience for what it is…nothing too important, just have a great time watching it.  It has no grand statement on the human condition, nor did Besson ever intend on making one.  He is having fun behind the camera and the actors are obviously along for that carnival ride as well.

A guilty pleasure can constitute many facets and is very subjective.  I tend toward much more serious films, so my inclusion of Subway is to remind myself that cinema is also to entertain, not just teach.  I could feel guilty that I enjoy watching this, instead of poring over another work by Bergman or Tarkovsky or Ozu.  When it comes to cinema, I am not close minded.  I enjoy all types of films and try to see the good in most of them, even if they don’t deserve it.  Subway did teach me one thing; maybe we all need to be more like Fred and see the world as a child does with new eyes.  Like Fred, we then can see the beauty around us that lies hidden by our everyday trials and troubles.

Subway 1983 [written and directed by Luc Besson, photography by Carlo Varini]

currently only available on DVD (out of print)


Facing The Mirror: Annette Wernblad’s Epic Journey With Martin Scorsese


“Martin Scorsese is an extremely spiritual man and filmmaker who has been concerned with moral issues since childhood.  The majority of his films concern characters who are forced through an ordeal, a mythical journey, and thereby offered a chance to face and embrace their whole selves.  These characters reflect sides of all of us, and Scorsese’s films touch us in places we may not necessarily like to be touched.  They delve into caves where we have hidden things we do not want to look at.  They hold up a mirror in which we are confronted with our darkest, most unflattering sides.”     – Annette Wernblad, The Passion Of Martin Scorsese [preface]

The numerous books, articles, and treatises examining the work of American film director, Martin Scorsese, attests to his artistry and influence within the cinema world.  Scorsese himself is all too happy to discuss his dedication to his craft and his prolific cinema knowledge, much to the joy of all his fans.  One such outstanding book is the ongoing amended edition of Scorsese On Scorsese, published by faber & faber,  edited by David Thompson and Ian Christie (which my own personal copy only goes up to 1990’s Goodfellas).  It is filled with in-depth interviews with Scorsese on each of his films, so you are hearing it directly from the artist himself.  This is all well and good, but one soon discovers that even the artist will not divulge all of his/her secrets.  And why should they?

A critical view of his films in book form may seem a dime a dozen, but one particular book takes a view of Scorsese’s world by throwing a mirror onto us that is tantalizingly original and reveals themes otherwise not discussed by past writers.  I am referring to the 2011 critical study The Passion Of Martin Scorsese, by Annette Wernblad.  This is a scholarly piece of work on the films and life of Scorsese, but accomplished in such an entertaining way for any fan to relish.  Wernblad executes the seemingly gargantuan task of analyzing all of Scorsese’s films (up to 2010’s Shutter Island before publication) and presents clues, symbols, recurring themes and links within each production.  Swirling within all of this fascinating material is Wernblad’s argument that Scorsese is actually holding up a mirror to us with these stories.

Scorsese never uses the horrifying images to get cheap thrills.  Neither is violence in his films simply literal, physical violence. It belongs, to use Campbell’s (author Joseph Campbell) words, within “the labyrinth that we all know and visit in our dreams.”  Like in the Catholic liturgy, blood-letting in Scorsese’s work is part of a subtle, ritualized process meant to bring forth spiritual enlightenment, catharsis, and redemption.

Scorsese shows us that—like it or not—we all are barbarians somewhere inside.  The sides of us that are hidden in the dungeon do not go away, and unless we acknowledge and own up to them, we ill invariably act like barbarians.   [Wernblad, page 7, Chapter 1 Something Being Done In Front Of The Altar]

Wernblad contends that this mirror is for audiences to recognize our “shadow self” (to use her reference) which houses the dark leanings within us all.  Her book details many such examples from Taxi Driver (a seminal piece of work) to Raging Bull to Casino (which I personally consider one of Scorsese’s masterpieces) and how the films interconnect with each other.  It is surprising to discover clues, uncovered by the author, which gives a new slant, perhaps an all new interpretation to some of his films.  In The King Of Comedy (one of Scorsese’s most underappreciated works), Wernblad cements the protagonist Rupert Pupkin’s (played with gusto by Robert DeNiro) inability to discern his carefully built fantasy with the reality around him by example of his mother.

The mere fact that he still lives with his mother in his mid-thirties suggests a regressive personality.  Throughout the film, Mother yells admonitions to him, but, in fact, we never see her.  The reason for this, I would propose, is that she is dead and the voice from above is only in Rupert’s head.  In his comedy routine he says, “If she were only here today, I’d say, ‘Hey, Mom, what are you doing here, you’ve been dead for nine years.'”  Even after Mother has been gone for almost a decade, Rupert needs her to be present to the point where we can hear her, always criticizing him, the same way we could hear the late Mrs. Bates yelling at Norman.  [Wernblad, page 94, Chapter 4 Through The Looking Glass]

It is not only a clear understanding of Martin Scorsese’s life and work that the reader is given in this book, but a depth of knowledge for the history of cinema that gels seamlessly with the arguments presented.  This is a goldmine for any serious or casual cinema buff.  You are also given the psychological coloring necessary in understanding what Wernblad believes Scorsese is attempting as an artist.  This may sound very dry as some old high school history book, but Wernblad draws you in with a unique voice by starting off with a personal story of a record recording of Little Red Riding Hood that brilliantly casts the reader into the theme at its purest form.  It is entertaining, humorous, and opens the door into the author’s mind and her basis for writing this book.

The mythological journey, which Wernblad states again and again, consumes most, if not all of Scorsese’s main characters in his films.  The chance for redemption, enlightenment, or a catharsis is something we all harbor inside ourselves, though we may not recognize it.  From Travis Bickle, to Jake LaMotta, to Rupert Pupkin, to Charlie, to Paul Hackett, to Lionel Dobie, to Henry Hill, to Sam Rothstein, to Newland Archer, to Amsterdam Vallon, to Howard Hughes, to Teddy Daniels; each of these characters seem to share a connected journey.  It was not clearly seen (by yours truly) how this journey was consistently presented by Scorsese in all of his films until this book opened that door.  It begs a revisit to all of his films, which is a credit to Wernblad’s skill in presenting her ideas.

“The idea of cinema as part of an ancient quest, of Martin Scorsese as a man with a vocation whose films are ritualized stories that take place in front of an altar and affect us on deep spiritual levels, forms the very essence of what this book is all about.”  [Wernblad, page 21, Chapter 1 Something Done In Front Of The Altar]

It is a journey worth taking upon repeated times and a book certainly worth reading for even the casual movie goer, for it may open the eyes to all those layers a filmmaker intentionally places within their stories.  When eyes are opened, a whole new world rises up for discovery.

The Passion Of Martin Scorsese, 2011, Annette Wernblad



[pictured author Annette Wernblad]

Barry Lyndon Under The Microscope With Eric Peeper


I have been wary of writing about my number one American cinema idol, Stanley Kubrick, for fear of not doing justice to his accomplishments and inspiration he continues to bring to filmmakers and audiences alike.

Eric Peeper has written a lovely treatise on one of Kubrick’s most difficult, but now considered masterpieces of cinema that highlights the technical and story advancements on screen.  Barry Lyndon was, for a long time, a film I was not sure if I liked or disliked due to the pacing, the lead performance of Ryan O’Neal, and the overall coldness of direction by Kubrick.  Over the years, it has become one of my favorites for precisely these past perceived inadequacies, funny enough.  Peeper delves into the history of Kubrick’s process and technological advances with entertaining skill.

This is a piece worth sharing for it presents why Kubrick is important in cinema and the need to revisit his films with great relish.  Ingmar Bergman remains my Everest of filmmakers, but Kubrick is right alongside in terms of being able to revisit his worlds and still learn something new with each viewing.  That is a mark of brilliant craftsman and an enduring filmmaker.

Please click on the link and discover why it is time to possibly revisit Barry Lyndon.