Saturday, 9 May 2015

Lucy in the Mire, But Still With Diamonds

DVD Notes: “Across the Universe”


Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood indulge in an entirely sober make-out session

Along with the wave of new musical films that arrived with the new millennium after the genre had lain dormant for over a decade – Dancer in the Dark, Chicago, Dreamgirls, etc. – came the prominence of a subgenre, perhaps a companion to the new trends in pastiche and irony (of which Pulp Fiction was of course the greatest proponent): the jukebox musical. The jukebox musical is a musical which uses popular songs as its musical score, often with something in common, such as the original performing artist or recent billboard performance. The songs are strung together in a contrived context. Think Mamma Mia! and Moulin Rouge: shameless romance, character ludicrously breaking into song at the most awkward moments, a preposterous plot, often incoherent and wildly inconsistent in tone – and we can never get enough of it.

Monday, 4 May 2015

The Birth of Hollywood, in Blood and Guts

DVD Notes: “The Birth of a Nation”


The thrilling ride of the KKK in D.W. Griffith's momentous war epic "The Birth of a Nation"

This year marks the centenary of the release of D.W. Griffith’s Civil War epic, generally regarded as the first major feature-length film – which would make this year the centennial year for feature-length narrative cinema. This blog is specifically devoted to this art form, and this would be an unfortunate milestone to pass up, and the film would be an unfortunate entry to be omitted. Regrettably, the film is also an unfortunate one to be included. Much has been written on the offensive and pernicious portrayals of black people in this film, which have been seen as such since the day of the film’s release. I say this is unfortunate, because it is in this spirit of prejudice and intolerance that modern cinema was born, and the very worst thing about this film and its offensiveness is that it’s an aesthetically brilliant achievement. (Richard Brody says as much in his blog post on the film, which can be read here.) It’s a great pioneering work, which made much of today’s cinema possible, and established many techniques and devices that have been used universally to great effect in the last century. Roger Ebert wrote of it, “The Birth of a Nation is not a bad film because it argues for evil. Like Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, it is a great film that argues for evil. To understand how it does so is to learn a great deal about film, and even something about evil.” We can, and probably should, hate this film for what it is, but we (movie goers and filmmakers alike) and our cinematic heritage are ineluctably in its debt for much of what we love.