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  1. Moviegoing: "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones"
  2. Kubrick re-redux
  3. Kubrick redux
  4. DVD Journal: "A Clockwork Orange"

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Friday, July 12, 2002

Moviegoing: "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones"
Friedrich -- Did I mention that I dragged the wife to the latest "Star Wars"? Showing at the Ziegfeld, digitally projected. What a turkey, as bad as the last one even if more richly produced. As David Ansen put it in Newsweek, by this point you either buy into the "Star Wars" world almost religiously, or you shake your head and say, basically, go figure. But it was bad, bad, I can't tell you how bad -- as bad as any Ed Wood movie, and considerably less fun. (To paraphrase one reviewer on Amazon, I defy anyone to tell me what the movie's story was.) At least the Ziegfeld's air conditioning was first-class. All that said, I was there to see what the movie looked like, digitally projected. (The world of moviegoing has come to a sorry pass when perfectly good and willing movie buffs go to a movie just to see what the computers have been up to.) And the answer is.... not bad. After about a month of use, the image was eerily perfect. Not a scratch to be seen, not a dust fleck, not a shimmer or a shiver. And the colors were perfectly consistent all through the movie. But the image was also dilute and flat -- I muttered to the wife at one point, "If a good celluloid movie image is like snappy fresh-squeezed orange juice, this is like watered-down Tang." It's a decent facsimile of a movie image, but it's sterile, and missing that je ne sais quoi. I think of it, for some reason, as chi -- that Chinese word for something like (so I gather) the life force. Maybe I should just say zing. For one thing, the digital image just isn't dense enough yet. We moved up to the front-ish part of the theater at one point, and there you really register that the image simply needs more pixels. Darks are especially bad -- things get lost in a kind of dim, apricot-jam murk. But judging digital projection from a Lucas movie is an odd challenge, because Lucas doesn't ever aim for poetry or even glamor or sex. He wants his imagery to be clean and functional, no matter how spectacular. ("Gladiator," which I didn't enjoy, did have a very juicy look, at least by comparison to the new "Star Wars.") And the digitally-projected image is certainly at this point a perfectly clean and functional image. But that's its problem, too. Watching it is like watching a PowerPoint presentation that happens to move. I wonder if these problems will be solved as the computers and projectors get better. In other words, are more pixels all that's needed to solve the missing-chi problem? But I can't help worrying that when art gets sliced and diced into discrete digital bits, something falls away -- the connective tissue, the flow, maybe the poetry. But maybe I'm being sentimental. Your thoughts? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Kubrick re-redux
Friedrich -- You and the wife ought to chatter about Kubrick sometime. I occasionally have something halfway interesting to say about work I don't enjoy, but not with Kubrick. Watching his films, at least post-"Strangelove," I feel pinned down like a butterfly. All those centered compositions, those blaring overhead lights, those plunging spaces, those ultra-deliberate tracking shots -- all of which I take as an image of cerebral control, the cage of intellect, if you will. And I get restless, I look for escape, and come away exhausted, rattled and speechless. Kubrick always seems to go at things intellectually. Even with the acting: his hope seems to be that if you ponder and insist long enough, and bear down hard enough, something strange and wonderful is likely to occur. (The hope of every obsessive workaholic?) To my mind, sometimes it does (Malcolm Macdowell) and sometimes it doesn't (most everyone else in the movie). But I suspect I'm just demonstrating how out-of-sympathy I am with what Kubrick's up to. Am I wrong in thinking that, as he moved past his hustling-and-perverse early stage, he got overdeliberate and his humor left him? But I can sense the wife getting ready to tell me I just don't get the real brilliance of "Barry Lyndon." Which I'm sure I don't. I've always been fascinated by the fact that Kubrick meant so much to some people. (Does he still?) Of all filmmakers, why him? Clearly, geeks can relate to his work. And, clearly, frustrated adolescents with superman fantasies can relate to it too. I'm guessing too that, like Woody Allen, Kubrick was "our boy" to people in the business. Some of Woody and Stanley's movies are super, some are lousy. But both guys got cut an enormous amount of slack by the business. And both became, at least in certain circles, almost-officially-certified geniuses. How these two? Why these two? Also: when you think back to your infatuation with Kubrick as a college kid, what occurs to you now? Do his movies still mean something similar to you now? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Kubrick redux
Michael -- I think your remark about Kubrick's tendency to set up one "number" after another is exactly on point. He wants, in the context of a narrative film, to create a series of little theatre pieces. It's perfectly analogous to Hogarth's serial paintings, except that Kubrick prefers a much more reductionist asethetic (Hogarth has a little too much life going on in the corners for Stanley, or at least for the later Stanley.) Many of Stanley's formal devices are designed to force the ordinarily "naturalistic" film aesthetic into a theatrical context. Think of the use of symmetrical compositions in "Paths of Glory" which even manage to theatricalize the execution scenes, held outdoors in natural light in deep focus (!!!). Or the obvious rear screen projection behind Slim Pickens as he rides the bomb down to glory in "Dr. Strangelove." While this approach has always held a definite appeal to me, it only works for me as long as it is in tension with a strong narrative (which sets up opportunities for humor, irony, etc. in his rather static theatre pieces). I think the disappointment of his later films for me is that he didn't find good enough strong stories to provide tension to his rather obsessive focus. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at July 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

DVD Journal: "A Clockwork Orange"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The wife and I watched a documentary about Stanley Kubrick (from Cinemax?) the other night. Well enough done to get us interested in Kubrick again, so we rented and watched "Clockwork Orange," my first time looking at the film since the early '70s. I tend to blank out in front of Kubrick's late movies, love though I do "Lolita" and "Strangelove." I get bored and don't have much to say. But the wife's a Kubrick buff ("Barry Lyndon" four times!), and got me seeing that "Clockwork Orange" is like a caustic, downtown, off-off-Broadway musical -- a conceptual director's version of something Jacobean and sardonic, like "The Beggar's Opera." It's one "number" after another. I found myself taking the movie -- and semi-enjoying some of it -- as a (too long) Richard Foreman production. (Have you seen Foreman's theater stuff? Much less narrative than Kubrick, but brilliant and obsessive in a similar way.) I dug up Pauline Kael's pan of the movie and realized that she'd missed its point. She didn't like the movie, so she set up a straw-man version of Kubrick, and then bashed away at him. An exciting piece to read, and (at least when she steps down from the debating podium, stops making a case, and just writes about what she doesn't like about the film -- ponderous, slow, overwrought, etc) perceptive and fair in spots. But not, by and large, about the movie the wife and I watched last night. I remember what a Kubrick nut you were, and would be curious to hear your 2002 reflections about what it is you find/found interesting about his work. I'm sending a tape of the documentary out your way. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 10, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments