Saturday, July 5, 2014

'Recent Raves' by Jonathan Glazer, Jim Jarmusch, Errol Morris, Godfrey Reggio & Steven Knight at SIFF Cinema: Jun 30 - Aug 4

Easily the best thing SIFF has going for it outside of the festival, it's previous season featuring much of this year's finest cinema. This Monday night series of encore single-screenings has been reinstated after a brief hiatus! So far, the first month of listings on the new calendar of Recent Raves looks to be starting things off stellarly. Opening the series we have Jonathan Glazer's brilliant, austere sci-fi road movie exploration of human nature as seen through the gaze of the other, "Under the Skin". Which Jonathan Romney in Film Comment's Film of the Week review hailed as; "Glazer’s third feature fuses a cryptic stranger-in-a-strange-land narrative, guerrilla shooting approach, and a tightly contained audiovisual scheme that makes for a claustrophobically seamless and unnerving drama of self-awakening. This frightening, unearthly film is the most striking achievement yet by this British director. "Under the Skin" is not only genuinely experimental but feels authentically alien—almost something that a documentarist from another world might have shot here on a field mission." Further reading in the New York Times (which reveals much, and is recommended only after viewing) would include Nicolas Rapold's invocation of some of the cinematic traditions inaugurated by Stanley Kubrick, Nicolas Roeg and Andrei Tarkovsky as they relate to Glazer's vision.

Another near-unmissable moment from the past year in film, the return of one of Jim Jarmusch's finest works in recent history, "Only Lovers Left Alive" which rather than a prototypical vampire flick is instead an observation on the greatness of human imagination through the aeons. Jarmusch speaks enthusiastically in the in-depth interview with Sight & Sound's Nick Pinkerton on the premise of being an eternal vampire; living a life in which one has all that time to read every book ever written, listen to every great record ever made and seeing all the films we can never hope to squeeze into a human lifetime, while endlessly traveling the world. The conversation also touching on his current obsessions and passions, which include Nicholas Ray, Nikola Tesla, Tangiers, Christopher Marlowe and whether or not a certain William Shakespeare was all he’s been claimed.

On the analytical real-world end of the spectrum, America's great objective documentarist Errol Morris offers a methodical self-revealing portrait of Donald Rumsfeld. The film's title being a nod to our nation's rush to war in the wake of September 11th and the following use of knowingly questionable intelligence to justify the cost to America in lives and resources, "The Unknown Known". Filled with paradoxes, quibbling definitions and semantics, as with much of his work, Morris allows his subject to reveal itself rather than take an accusatory stance. As the camera prowls through seemingly endless library stacks of files and typewritten words and memos coming back to the defining theme of it's title phrase "The Unknown Known": those things that are readily apparent yet not acknowledged. Jennifer Dworkin's review for Film Comment focuses on it's subject's depiction of itself; does Rumsfeld really believe what he says, or as it seems on the screen, does he genuinely lack all reflective ability?. The absence of evidence of any such capacity may not be evidence of its absence. The film leaves the question open while digging into something stranger: Rumsfeld’s extraordinary and profound indifference to his own credibility.

In spaces between the asceticism of pure documentary and more artistic visual essay, Godfrey Reggio's ongoing collaboration with Philip Glass is a black and white meditation comprised of only seventy-four shots of faces, hands and landscapes, suggesting our changing relationship to our environment, one which is increasingly being mediated by technological interface, "Visitors". With no overall narrative arc to imagery that might be described as a very sophisticated Rorschach test with an environmentalist subtext, the poeticism of duration and unfolding that it allows makes this is one of the more successful of Reggio's recent social, ecological, political observations. Stephen Holden describes this "slow parade of faces" as menacing rebuke to our noblest technological aspirations in his review for the New York Times. Lastly, a film that delivers more than it's central structural conceit would suggest, Steven Knight's depiction of a night in one man's life as events unhinge themselves in chain reaction of collapse. Depicted in real-time and almost exclusively shot in the interior of an automobile, the audience is in for the longhaul as "Locke"'s life becomes a 85 minute focused struggle against entropy. Making the viewer play passenger as it's protagonist drives toward a terminus revealed gradually through a succession of phone conversations with various alternately aloof and loquacious relatives, deeply disturbed co-workers and a panicked mysterious woman. All the makings and trappings (in a confined space) of Noir on the road.