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Vera Drake

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Fantastic movie, Vera Drake.
Finally saw it tonight on DVD.

The dramatic action in the
film is between Vera and the state for sure, but it is underwritten by a
conflict between incommensurable vocabularies. For the cop, the magistrate,
what Vera’s done is “abortion.” But she denies that this is what she’s done: “I’ve
helped young girls in trouble.”

The Latinate language of law
against the old city of words where Vera lives and acts. The expression on the
actress’s face upon hearing the word “abortion,” the shock, says all that needs
to be said. It is as if she is hearing the word, even thinking it, for the
first time. The Latin wears a wig, searches for a defendant to accuse. The
other – and what do we call the English that Vera speaks? – looks for work,
helps out where it can…

(I had heard that the
"accents" were thick enough that Americans could use subtitles at times – and this
proved to be true. It took awhile to realize that Leigh had a point in doing it
this way…)
Finally, Vera’s businesslike
manner in administering the wash of carbolic soap and water testifies against
the psychologism of our time. The fact that even the most neutral description
of the “way things really are” whispers an order, a command.

The modal shift, in which
each declarative sentence is an imperative statement in disguise:  “Women suffer psychological difficulties as a
result of an abortion” becomes “Women, suffer psychological difficulties as a
result of an abortion.”

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April 24, 2005 at 12:35 am

Posted in Film

28 Days Later

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Was just watching the DVD of 28 Days Later with the director’s commentary turned on… (Never do this with DVDs… Don’t watch many DVDs to begin with… But anyway…) Pretty interesting, especially because this featured featured a conversation between Danny Boyle, the director, and Alex Garland, who wrote the screenplay – and whose The Coma I recently read and liked…

Anyway, didn’t listen to the whole thing, but I was interested in the fact that many scenes in the movie were inspired by news footage of "real life" catastrophes, mostly of the third world variety. For instance, the movies that the chimpanzees are watching in the lab at the opening of the movie are recreations of riots in Sierra Leone. The scene where the main character scoops 20 pound notes off the ground was based on a photograph from Phnom Penh, the day Pol Pot was deposed. The scene where the characters blow up a gas station (and a bunch of the infected) and escape the blast by bracing against a building was drawn from a (photo of?) a bomb blast in Northern Ireland.

Weirdest of all – there’s a scene in which a big billboard in Piccadilly Circus is covered with "missing" signs a la 9/11. (The worst one of all, which we only see for a second, is a crayon drawing of "Mom" and "Dad" and "Home." Ugh… Freaky…)

Anyway, when I first saw the film, I of course assumed that this was inspired by 9/11 – but the film was shot before September 2001. Instead, Boyle says that they got the idea from images in the wake of an earthquake in China, where apparently the same thing had happened.

So do we take 28 Days Later as either 1) a repornographization of the catalogue of violent media images that fascinate us, but leave no permanent mark, on the tv or 2) a sort of filmic, allegorical, Regarding the Pain of Others that brings the secret horror of our times home and into open display?
(Or, in a another vein, what is the secret meaning of "That can’t happen here!" / "What if that happened here?")

Finally, again impressed by the footage of emptied London in the movie.

28_days_laterI was a little disappointed to learn that some of the emptying was carried out digitally, after the fact.

There was a strange little mini-genre of movies produced immediately before 9/11 which centrally featured emptied out metropolises. The other one I’m thinking of is Vanilla Sky, the 2001 remake of Open Your Eyes. 

VanillaskyThese scenes, especially the beautiful ones in 28 Days Later, always make me think of Wordsworth’s "Upon Westminster Bridge," which maybe the Boyle (or Garland) was thinking of too when they orchestrated the pictured scene…)

EARTH has not anything to show more fair:  
  Dull would he be of soul who could pass by  
  A sight so touching in its majesty:  
This City now doth like a garment wear  
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,          5
  Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie  
  Open unto the fields, and to the sky;  
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.  
Never did sun more beautifully steep  
  In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;   10
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!  
  The river glideth at his own sweet will:  
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;  
  And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Always think back to what might be one of my favorite days ever, or at least recently. Last year (actually, one year ago next week) Wife and I were in London, staying over in a crappy Ibis by the Earl’s Court underground station. Woke up ungodly early – or never really got to sleep – due to jetlag. We’re standing by the breakfast room door at 4:45 AM, waiting for it to open. Ate breakfast and headed down to, yep, Westminster Bridge – there about 6 AM. Subsequently walked from there all the way to Wapping along the river – probably, literally, saw a total of 10 people the whole way. Sunday morning, I believe. Crossed and recrossed and crossed again the river on the way. Can’t really explain why, nor can I explain how powerful the memory of this morning was. The emptiness amidst fullness… Probably a feeling akin to Wordsworth’s though. And something like the feeling that drags us out to see 28 Days Later, strangely enough…

Ahh.. It’s true. Just consulted the pictures of the morning. No one in sight… Here you go:


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March 20, 2005 at 3:01 am

Posted in Film


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From the movie Adaptation, perhaps the last good movie I saw in a theater:


You talked about Crisis as the ultimate decision a
character makes, but what if a writer is attempting to create a story where nothing
much happens, where people don’t change, they don’t have any epiphanies. They
struggle and are frustrated and nothing is resolved. More a reflection of the
real world —


The real world? The real fucking world? First of
all, if you write a screenplay without conflict or crisis, you’ll bore your
audience to tears. Secondly: Nothing happens in the real world? Are you out of
your fucking mind? People are murdered every day! There’s genocide and war and
corruption! Every fucking day somewhere in the world somebody sacrifices his
life to save someone else! Every fucking day someone somewhere makes a
conscious decision to destroy someone else! People find love! People lose it,
for Christ’s sake! A child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a
church! Someone goes hungry! Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman!
If you can’t find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don’t know much
about life! And why the fuck are you taking up my precious two hours with your
movie? I don’t have any use for it! I don’t have any bloody use for it!


Okay, thanks.

 The strange thing is, in the dialogue excerpted above, we
can’t help but have the feeling that both
Kaufman and McKee have a point. On the one hand, a movie in which nothing
much happens, in which people don’t have epiphanies does indeed seem to be more
“a reflection of the real world” than the usual Hollywood production. But
McKee’s right too – there is more than enough genocide and homicide, romantic
devastation and natural disasters to supply as many films as could possibly be
made. This conversation at the end of the writing seminar is like an
allegorical rendition of a genre of experience that we are all familiar with:
watching cable news reportage of a tsunami while we grade student papers,
eating a take-out dinner on September 11, doing chores on the day when a war
begins elsewhere. Adaptation, as a
whole but especially in this scene, serves as evidence that the age-old
question of what it means to be realist or
even just realistic – a question
staked on the slipperiness of the concept of the “ordinary” or the “usual” – is
still very much in play.

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February 18, 2005 at 12:54 am

Posted in Film

Code 46

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Saw Code 46 last Friday night, its opening in NYC. Super excited by the reviews that I saw.
A few comments:
Terrific to set it in Shanghai. Had a little squealy moment when Tim Robbins is walking in a park that just so happened to be the park right at the foot of my hotel a week or two ago. And it just so happens that as I was walking through that part a week or two ago, I muttered to my partner in Asiatic adventure “This park feels like the future.” So, same wavelength as Winterbottom or whoever picked it. Squeal.
Strange to have Hong Kong stand in for Seattle, though.
What else? Though I almost instinctively feel the need to defend the film – it just looked so good, had such a brutally cool feel – I had to agree with my better half who expressed some confusion as to the many little plot balls up in the air, not all of which were fully put to use. Immigration, cloning, sino-copying, tech, love, everything at once.
Trying not to spoil…
Really enjoyed the movie, but definitely agree with whatever reviewer it was who said that the movie felt skimpy-short, deserved another half hour or so…

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August 10, 2004 at 12:03 am

Posted in Film