Thursday, September 19, 2013

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is a magazine intern who accompanies a reporter to a small town to investigate an apparent nut-job called Kenneth (Mark Duplass). Kenneth has placed a classified ad in the papers looking for a companion to travel back in time with him. Darius poses as a potential candidate to get the scoop for the magazine but soon finds herself falling for Kenneth, a man who believes he's built a time machine and that government forces are out to stop him. She gets sucked into his world. He seems more alive than most other people around her. Her deadened, bored attitude is the mask of a dreamer cruelly disappointed in life. In a cynical world of shallow entertainment and snarky superiority, she craves sincerity and something to believe in. And that's the power of the film, that she wants to believe him against her better judgement. It should be a matter of faith. But the film undermines this idea with an ending that's too cute by far. Which is disappointing, but doesn't take away too much from what makes the film work, the chemistry between Plaza and Duplass. He's a smart, dog-eared presence, hovering in that zone between charming and odd, somehow knowing how to calibrate enough of each to keep us intrigued and onside. If he was a centimetre more handsome he'd be unbearable. But what, ultimately, gives the film weight, is Plaza's presence. Her ability to go from sulky indifference to dawning reverence on the head of a pin is something else. There's a gravity about her, a sense of real consequence in her emotional response. The fact that it's so reigned in only makes it all the better. She's an actress looking (in vain no doubt) for someone like Godard to build films around her, to glory in, investigate, tease and (maybe break) that presence. So yeah, the film is fine, I liked it, but it's symptomatic of a wider tendency in American indie films to settle for modest likeability, to champion the slightly odd, everything imbued in a mild melancholy. Safety is guaranteed. That's the problem. What this film would've been like with a director interested in ideas (of time travel), in the visual as a moral tool, in giving us a properly odd oddball rather than someone who could be the unconventional lead singer of an indie band. In the end, for all the charm and presence of the leads, it's lightweight, a modestly offbeat rom-com frustratingly close to being a lot more.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

135 Shots

135 Shots That Will Restore Your Faith in Cinema
Don't know about restoring faith in cinema. Some of us hadn't lost faith in it. But this montage of images set to Clint Mansell's Welcome to Lunar Industries from the soundtrack to Moon will certainly recharge your desire to see films you haven't seen and re-see others.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Sound of Silence

'If we had any sense in our heads,' composer John Cage asks in Dick Fontaine's 1967 documentary, 'wouldn't we know the truth, instead of going around looking for it?' The truth, according to this great little film, which pitches Rahsaan Roland Kirk's experimental jazz up against Cage's philosophical questioning to explore the nature of sound, is that we don't need to go looking for it at all. It's all around us. Music is just a part of a greater entity called sound. Or all sound is music if we listen right. You might not agree with everything Cage says but it can only be good to have someone questioning received wisdom so vigourously. It begins with Kirk coming over the horizon, people looking over their shoulders at this blind jazz man with his shades and sax walking through a London park in the mid-60s. We see Cage loitering in a children's playground, asking questions: 'Is it a sound? If so, is it music?Is music music?Is sound enough? What more do I need?' Kirk tells us 'sound is something like eyesight to me' before playing not one, not two, but three saxes at once, switching between them, harmonising with himself, then playing flute while images of London traffic flash by. 'Is the truck passing music?' Cage asks. 'Why is it so difficult for so many people to listen?'' We see Kirk using tape-manipulated musique concrète and primitive electronic sounds. It was Pierre Schaeffer who developed musique concrète in the early 1940s, emphasising the use of sound and the importance of play in creating music. Kirk throws whistles to his audience for 'a blues in the key of doubleya.' The resulting song is charmingly wonky, an infectious groove carrying the pleasingly ramshackle sound of whistling. He gives out more whistles to children in the park and they follow him like he's the pied piper. Then it's back to Cage on a slide, a rocking horse. 'Could we ever get to when we thought the ugly sounds were beautiful?' Kirk improvising with zoo animals, the wild yell of a wolf, using his flute to provoke a duet. Cage preparing a work for musical bicycle at the Saville Theatre. 'What is the purpose of this experimental music? No purposes. Sound!' Finally Cage listens to Kirk's music in an echo chamber, a cacophonous crescendo. It ends with this final credo: 'There is no such thing as silence' just 'thy nervous system in operation, thy blood in circulation.'