Thursday, July 24, 2014

What’s Shyamalanian ?

“That’s what I’m trying to do, too – have an original voice. Say something new. I’m trying to take a chance.” – M. Night Shyamalan

 “I believe, writes M. Night Shyamalan. Period.”

Manoj (Night) Shyamalan: (born 6 August 1970) director of Praying with Anger, Wide Awake, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth. After the monumental commercial and critical success of his third film The Sixth Sense, which grossed over six-hundred million dollars worldwide, the typical narrative of his career is that the artistic ambitions of his projects overshadowed the commercial prospects, and like other talented directors to emerge in the early Two-thousands, his subsequent career has been reduced to making middling summer blockbusters. But what Night is best remembered for in his films is naïvely peering at the supernatural and the fantastic, and creating these unique moments that blend the burlesque with the sublime.

-       Praying with Anger: loosely based on Shy’s relationship with his wife. Michael Bamberger: “Bhavna’s family was from the north of India and his was from the south, and he was slightly young. Those things are deal-breakers in India, of course.”
-       Shy, on his wife, from I Got Schooled: “And finally to Dr. Bhavna Shyamalan. She was the one that brought public school education to my attention. Her training in research and statistics guided the book’s academic standard. She probably should have been the one to write this book; it would have been much better. I got A’s in college to impress her, and I think I wrote this book so she’d still think I am smart.”
-       I, and others I’m sure, actually prefer his really early films Praying with Anger and Wide Awake (cf. Shy's early films) because they show an interest in spirituality, ghost, and relationships that he would later further develop. They’re really of their time.
-       The special feature on his DVDs. Especially his introductions and his teenage short-films. Donnie Wahlberg talking about his “method” is unlike anything that you’ll ever see! The short-film that anticipates Signs is one of the most hilarious thing ever. Ever!
-       Spielberg did the ghost film first with Always, which itself was a remake of an old Victor Fleming film A Guy Named Joe.
-       Shyamalan’s is really a post-Spielberg cinema. Kathleen Kennedy, Spielberg’s producer, even produced one of his films.
-       Night’s Top Ten Films of All Time, from an old Newsweek feature, included two Spielberg titles (Jaws and Raiders), along with the “transcendent” The Godfather, and The Exorcist, The Silence of the Lambs, Rocky, Dead Poet’s Society, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Star Wars and Psycho.
-       Night wrote Stuart Little. Hehe
-       His Twitter profile pic where he’s wearing an old Converse shirt. hehe
-       His "official" spooky website. I don’t get how it works…. hehe
-       That he has a whosay account and regularly updates it...
-       Bryce Dallas Howard:  Ron Howard’s daughter, who starred in The Village, Lady in the Water, and will be in the next Jurassic Park. Love her.
-       That in Lady in the Water, she plays something that is called a "Narf" and that its name is Story. Interpret that how you will…
-       Night wrote Stuart Little. And, I don’t care what people say, She’s All That shows many Shyamalanian themes.
-       That weird Shy doc is fascinating. I really want to party with him! And by the way, I want to know more about this doc and its filmmaker. What is it really about? Who is this guy? Why would Shy let this director spend so much time with if it were just to fail? It can't just be a hokes. Seems very atypical.
-       The holy Night trinity: Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water.
-       Could Lady in the Water be Shyamalan's equivalent of Howard Hawks' Land of the Pharaohs? An artistic summit of his art, an ode to the creative process, a glorious failure that would negative affect his subsequent career (forcing him to take more for-hire jobs)?
-       And if this is the case then would the sports journalist Michael Bamberger's great making of Lady in the Water book (which I suspect Night only coincided to because Bamberger also wrote a note-worthy book Wonderland on a year in the life of an American high school; education being an important social issue for Night) be his Noël Coward's Hollywood sur Nil?
-       There’s a strong emphasis on childhood, education and learning throughout Night's filmography, which culminates in his most recent book I Got Schooled. Not to be scoffed at. Night wants to change the world and make it a better place. Can't say the same thing about a lot of other people.
-       The less said about his The Happening and Night's subsequent career, the better.
-       The Cahiers guys are big fans.
-       After Earth sucked!
-       It had potential. But didn’t work.
-       The closest thing to a Shyamalanian director in Toronto are Matt Johnson (dude’s the best) and the C & Y guys, who have openly discussed that they are fans.
-       The pool scenes in Matt Porterfield’s cinema (Putty Hill, I Used to Be Darker) are reminiscent of Shy’s. (M. Night Porterfield, perhaps?)
-       Hopefully Sundowning will be great. The way that he's been tweeting about it makes it sound that it'll be! A return to form, perhaps?

Night's Viewfinder

Shy's Early Films


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lady in the Water

Marc Saint-Cyr on Humanist Cinema

One Wonderful Sunday, Dodes’ka-den, Drifting Clouds, and The Man Without a Past are all masterpieces of humanist cinema. They all impart valuable instruction on how to work with what you’ve got in life, even if it amounts to very little. They all tell you how to do so with the utmost dignity and courage. They all place faith in the everlasting possibility that lights can be sparked in the dusk and shadows can be banished from paradise. They all champion those forces that can defeat misery and bring back happiness, be they dreams and plans for the future, acts of charity, love, or luck. They show that such forces can amount to as little as a shared beer or cup of coffee, a comforting hand on a shoulder, or a single date with someone special, and yet can still mean so much. Most of all, they provide that bit of faith in yourself and other people that you sometimes need to keep moving forward despite the troubles that hinder your steps.
Read all of Marc Saint-Cyr's essay Down and Out in Helsinki and Tokyo: Aki Kaurismäki and Akira Kurosawa’s Humanist Tales in the new issue of Senses of Cinema.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cahiers Criticisms

It might be petty to hate on Cahiers for rejecting my  « une émotion qui vous hante  » contribution but they also ignore the genius of Jean-Marc Vallée which is in itself kind of sad. Vallée is one of the greatest artists of the 21st century. His career from his modest origins to his more recent American films reflects a sense of daring, finesse, and intelligence. Dallas Buyers Club is one of the important films of our times and Wild is the most anticipated film of the year. For Cahiers, which is an important film magazine, to have different priorities that does not allow them to see this is not only strange but is plainly wrong.
After having defended Cahiers over here at Toronto Film Review and conveyed their views and translated some of their pieces I want to make it clear that this is an irreconcilable difference. (I actually think there’s an anti-Vallée conspiracy, but that’s another story).
But this isn’t the only criticism that one could make against Cahiers, and since they’ve pissed me off I’ll indulge in some hating.
First off there are the critiques by other reputable film critics.
Jonathan Rosenbaum on his blog talks about the “continuing auto-destruction of the original Cahiers du Cinéma.” While Verso similarly published a short history that is take-down of the magazine since the Eighties, which was surprisingly translated in French too, arguing for its apolitical nature and commercialism.
There are good film magazines in North America like Cinema Scope, Film Comment and Cineaste who take their tasks of publishing film criticism seriously and try to help young writers break out in the field and sustain a longer tradition and hierarchy with older generation critics. So when Cahiers starts championing critically aberrant films like Restless or Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 it stupefies.
Richard Brody, who is one public face of the Cahiers project (even though it is one that seems to be stuck in the Fifties), makes a clear distinction between his taste and those advocated contemporarily at Cahiers in a discussion of the Stéphane Delorme and Nicholas Elliott Bomb interview, “It passes through some individual ideas and opinions that differ from my own, but it traces a central line through film history [emphasis mine].”
Michael Sicisnki writing about Paolo Sorrentino for Cinema Scope, “It’s often difficult to comprehend Cahiers’ enthusiasm for Nanni Moretti, but it becomes a bit easier when one considers that the Italian directors dominating the world stage during the ’80s and ’90s were people like Ettore Scola, Giuseppe Tornatore, and Liliana Cavani.”
Adam Nayman, also in Cinema Scope, on Super 8, a film held to be a masterpiece at Cahiers, “For the most part, though, Super 8 aspires to be kinetic, did-you-see-that entertainment, and Abrams never quite finds the pounding rhythm required for that kind of affect.” And don't get Robert Koehler started on The Tree of Life...
Kent Jones for Project: New Cinephilia undermines any value held for a certain Indian-American director,
“On the subject of the barrier between film critics and filmmakers, someone once told me a story that’s amusing but also instructive. At the time of its release, there was a French press junket for A History of Violence and a critic from a certain magazine was invited to attend. He asked the following question: “Mr. Cronenberg, I admired your film very much. And I wanted to ask you to talk about the obvious influence of M. Night Shyamalan on your work in general and on this film in particular.” There was a brief pause, and then Cronenberg answered, “I HATE that guy! Next question.”” 
Alex Horwath in a Film Comment roundtable,
“I think an existing idea is expressed by this shared award because there is a certain tendency in French film culture now that assumes there is a new, new, new, new wave at the moment, raising its head in the last two or three years. Several of the films that Cahiers du Cinéma singled out in 2013 were shown in various sections here last year. I find all of them incredibly weak and uninteresting… And this year by saying Dolan and Godard, they are saying that there is a continuous rejuvenation of a certain French cinema that we all associate with the nouvelle vague. And it comes back again and again. And it’s an eternal spirit of the French film culture. And that to me is one of the big lies of contemporary global film culture, that there is any interesting movement in French cinema at the moment. There isn’t.” 
Even Michel Ciment, the Roger Ebert of French film criticism, chimes in on these young filmmakers championed by Cahiers in his review of Justine Triet’s La Bataille de Solferino,
“Like La fille du 14 juillet, the film benefits from a considerable support of a certain tendency of French film criticism and even of the public (“he was the only one,” Cocteau would add sarcastically). For example, it received the Grand Prix at the Paris festival. After having passed the ACID test (Cannes 2013), it proudly wears its new Nouvelle Vague colors. Like said Marx, when history repeats itself it’s a farce.”
When I saw the Antonin Peretjatko film as part of the Cahiers screening series at the Alliance Française in New York, it was in a half full auditorium of the typical white-haired specialized-screening attendee who, I would assume, are not the ideal audience for its youthful iconoclasm. Even Claire Denis at a screening of Mille Soleils distinguished Mati Diop from these other directors (“She’s a wave on her own”) and on her newest film comments how it doesn’t have to be a comedy, which is probably a retort to Cahiers’ recent emphasis (c.f. Éloge de la comédie).
The Cahier Critiques are usually good but sometimes they are off the mark. For example, in Joachim Lepastier’s review of Monte Hellman’s Road to Nowhere there is wrong information as he claims that it’s his first full-length feature since Iguana. But what about Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!? Or even Stanley’s Girlfriend? Two works that are essential for an understanding of Hellman’s resourcefulness and work in genre in his late career.
Recently, there have been many new writers contributing some of the more prominent critiques and unfortunately not all of them are up to par (the less said about these the better), except for Gaspar Nectoux who is actually great. And there has been too many important recent films – Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro GRA, comes to mind – that have been pushed to their Notes sur d’autres films section. And in recent years can you believe that I’ve already counted two (!) dismissals of the great Pierre Berthomieu?
I’ve noticed something else that’s strange recently from just reading their reviews from the Two-thousand years... It looks like most directors that were championed by the previous adjoined chief editor Emmanuel Burdeau are now being devalued by the current Delorme-Jean-Philippe Tessé chief editors duo almost with the violence and severity that recalls The Godfather mafia assassinations. (M. Night Shyamalan and Albert Serra are the two more prominent directors that come to mind). This also applies to films associated with the Burdeau affiliated Capricci. This is significant because it undermines his period there and denies him a contemporary influence at the magazine. I can’t speak to the reasons for this (I don't know) or to the social relations of film critics in France but can assume that this creates tensions, strains personal relationships and creates real divisions between its current writers and some of the past ones.
Aside from the original Nouvelle Vague - Godard, Truffaut etc. - who are regularly referenced admirably (a return to origins?) and whose generation is currently only protested through Cahiers' reevaluation of Jean Grémillon and Akira Kurosawa (though this started before Delorme's editorship); some of their more recent critics-turned-filmmakers like Olivier Assayas and Thierry Jousse have been judged surprisingly negatively. Though Mia Hansen-Løve is an exception to this.
Cahiers' debates, though they don’t necessarily have to do this, have very little practical application in North America. Except for an issue on New York filmmakers (it’s not the center of the continent, I hope they know that?), they don't care about the social realities of North American film financing, production, festival circuits, or distribution. The American independent films that they do review are usually the more commercial ones that have enough financing to even be able to get distribution in France. For example, even though they rightly champion the films of Denis Côté and Matt Porterfield, there are smaller films like Tower or The Oxbow Cure that will never play in Paris so are totally overlooked there. And it's not like they come to the smaller festivals here, either.
Obviously English is not their first language which contributes to the difference between how the French and English judge American films. For example, in some cinephile circles here the dialogue in Beasts of the Southern Wild came off as stilted which led to the preferred film being its reverse-shot (also set in New Orleans), the more realistic and optimistic Tchoupitoulas.
Cahiers’ American correspondents have practically a non-existent social voice (they are not on social media, or ever discussed on the net). And it’s not like their main writers ever come to the North American film festivals to see films or to make social bonds that might be able to help them spread their influence.
Just to say Cahiers, it’s a small group, and they’re under attack. The situation recalls Howard Hawk’s Ball of Fire. I actually don’t think they’re that bad. But it’s lonely to defend them here. It would be easier if they liked Vallée.