Archive for August, 2007|Monthly archive page

Enjoy the silence

Yesterday I saw Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Wow, what a movie.

The first time I saw it was years ago, when I was a kid. Yesterday was the second time, and amazingly, it all seemed fresh and familiar at the same time, no doubt thanks to the countless Sci Fi films I’ve seen since that have all been influenced in one way or another by this one-shot wonder.

Elaborate sets, thousands of extras, and fantastic special effects(!) that look impressive to this very day. When you watch it, a constant thought runs through your head:

This was done in 1927!!!

Metropolis seems so familiar because it influenced an entire genre. The industrial nightmare a big city has turned into. Workers in the depths, toiling. Nameless cogs in the nameless machine they themselves operate. They are just one more big machine in a city that has traded its soul for the temptations of technology.

The Boss’s son falls in love with a commoner and descends from the skyscraper where he lives (like a god) to the belly of the earth, and when he witnesses the exploitation and nightmarish existence there, he decides to do something about it, along with his charismatic beloved

But then, wouldn’t you know, his beloved is kidnapped by a mad scientist (yes, a mad scientist) who wishes to graft her face upon a Machine Man he has built in a sad attempt to revive his long lost love (echoes of Frankenstein here). His objective: To destroy Metropolis by destroying the machines which operate it. Hate breeds indiscriminate destruction. Sounds familiar?

There are so many powerful themes here which resonate to this very day: Man and Machine and our dangerous dependency on them, losing one’s humanity because of grief, love conquers all, the abyss that lies between the rich and the poor and volatility of it all. And all this is done without any spoken words, just inter-titles and the actors faces. When you look at Brigitte Helm’s face you don’t really need to hear anything. It’s there, in front of you, every emotion, every nuance, in all its glory.

There is something truly magical about silent cinema. It is so stylish, so unrealistic, it is a pure movie. Alfred Hitchcock, who began his illustrious career in silents, really didn’t like dialogue and in every picture he made tried to tell the story as visually as possible.

And who can blame him? Cinema is visual. There are so many films these days with endless yammering. Not everyone writes dialogue like Tarantino or David Mamet. I myself have a secret desire to do a silent film, or at least a film without dialogue, to feel what it’s like to make pure cinema. How rich. This is coming from a guy who’s just preparing to film a script with tons of dialogue.

At the end, I think it’s about the material. The story I want to tell with my current production can’t be told without dialogue. Its essence rests on the spoken word. When you are both the writer and the director, you find yourself in an odd position: For a writer, writing dialogue is the most enjoyable part of the job. You hear your characters speak. Up until now they were just thoughts, ideas, but the minute they open their mouths, they become people. But when you put on the director’s hat, you look at the script and think: “What’s with all that talking??” for a director, shooting two people talking is mostly boring stuff. You put the camera on one side, and then on the other side, and you do a two-shot, and that’s it. Sure, there are exceptions, but mostly, when you’re a director, you want to tell the story visually. There are dialogue scenes that are great not because what is being said but because what is not  being said. Seeing the actors think and react with their eyes and body language is much more interesting then hearing them talk.

Metropolis is a great example for the triumph of the image. This won’t work today. This movie is a time capsule in a way. A movie like this today would be considered a parody or an intersting experiment, but won’t stand on its own. We moved on, of course. Technology has turned cinema into a digital playground where anything is possible.

So why are there so few films that look and feel as impressive a Metropolis? Why do so few filmmakers utilize technology to tell a story instead of using a story to celebrate the Machine? Let us not forget Metropolis’ main theme and sage advise to us all: “There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator”.

Or else, we are all just cogs.

A goes into B

The following article contains explicit language and mature subject matter.

Porn isn’t about sex. It’s certainly not about people. Porn is about organs.

Great, you might say. The celebration of the human reproductive organs up-close-and-personal.

Yeah, if only it had been so poetic.

I guess someone, somewhere, thinks that watching extreme close-ups of male-female sex organs having it on is pure bliss. I guess someone thinks that seeing a guy comes all over a woman’s face is really sexy. You see those porn girls staring at a cock as if it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen in their life. They’ve been to the Pyramids, they’ve been to Mt. Rushmore, they hiked through the Amazon, but they’ve never seen anything as amazing as that ugly cock standing at attention. I’ve never seen a guy staring at a woman’s vagina with such adoring fascination.

No, guys in porn are nothing but human fucking machines. Most of the time you don’t even see their faces, because their faces are not important. It’s the dehumanizing aspect of hard-core porn that makes it so unsettling. After you watch that stuff for more then two minutes you feel like taking a bath. Not because you soiled your pants, but because you feel dirty. That’s why they call movies like Hostel “torture porn”. It has the same unpleasant dehumanizing effect, but it uses violence instead of sex.

This kind of porn is not sexy, it’s mechanic and soulless, reducing the act of sex to an industrial equation: Here’s a hole. This contraption needs to enter that hole. It’s like a game of building blocks. And yet, there is immense built-in fascination with porn. It seems forbidden, that’s what it is. Every time you watch porn you feel like you really shouldn’t be doing that. That every minute the Behave-Yourself Police is going to storm in and arrest you. In a repressed world such as the one we inhabit, porn can be very liberating. It frees your dark, naughty side. It lets you play forbidden games. That is why it’s so popular. It has a powerful psychological attraction. Nobody really needs porn to jack off. Hard-core Porn is first and foremost a psychological outlet for repressed urges, and only then does it serves as a titillating vehicle.

But again, everything has a limit. Woody Allen once said that when he watches a porn film, for the first half all he wants to do is have sex while for the second half the last thing he wants to do is have sex. What that means is that at the bottom line, porn is boring, especially in long increments. I don’t know who can sit and watch a 90 minute long porn movie. Porn really gets repetitive after a while. Sure, there are high class productions shot on tropical islands just for the eye candy, but basically it’s all the same. Holes and cocks.

Porn is empowering women and demeaning them at the same time. And anyway, men are really redundant. Who needs to see them, lumbering into the room with their phallic appendages hanging like some freakish mutant sausage and then start humping the woman with the gentleness of a bull. And indeed, this stuff reminds me a lot of nature films, where the male lion climbs on the lioness and starts humping her.

Maybe porn is just a nature show, only with humans. We are like the animals, humping each other in a matter of fact way with no emotion whatsoever because that’s what nature, or a fat check, drives us to do. But we are people, and yes, not all sex derives out of love or emotional ties. Sometimes it’s pure impulse, purely physical, but we, as humans, are bound to feel empty the morning after because, admit it or not, we all eventually seek the warmth and pleasure of love, compassion and mutual understanding. In porn there’s no love. Porn has only holes, and organs, and bodily fluids, as if people are pieces of meat. Why do people get off on seeing that? When Rita Hayworth pulled out her glove in Gilda it was much sexier than the entire running time of College Bimbos 17.

In Horror films, when you don’t see the monster and have to imagine it, it’s making it more scary. The same principal works, or should work, in porn. Because the more you see, the more you get bored and unimpressed. It’s the unseen that is really sexy. If in horror you have a glimpse of a shadow, in Erotica you have the glimpse of a leg, a fleeting lock of hair, a bare shoulder. That’s why strippers are such a hoot. It’s the taking-of-the-clothes part that drives men crazy. But the minute she’s naked? You stare at her for a second and then… Yawn. Let’s go home. Nothing to see here, folks.

Hard-core porn is adult entertainment for those who don’t want to discover anything by themselves, for the short-attention-span ones, for those who’s seen it all and nothing but women having it with zebras will give them satisfaction. All they want are the organs. Bring us the organs. We want to watch organ A enters organ B. Yes, we like it. It’s really sexy.

Now all we need is Sir David Attenborough narrating.

That’s Entertainment: A personal journey through Musical Cinema

They say people don’t change. I think that’s crap. I mean, look at me. When I was a kid, you couldn’t get me to touch a Musical with a ten-foot pole. I thought it was boring, frankly. The plot halting every once in a while because people burst out singing. I was into Spielberg and idiotic 80’s comedies like the Police Academy films (which were the funniest thing in the world as far as I was concerned). Musicals seemed old, slow, and too long. Indeed, the early Eighties didn’t see a lot of musicals, at least not many good ones. There were some movies I did like, though. I think I liked Hair from the get-go (maybe because we had the vinyl at home), and Grease too, Just because they were relatively new and fast paced. But as a genre, Musicals were at the bottom of the hip for me.

But then something happened. When I got older, and got more and more interested in Cinema and especially Genre cinema, I discovered that Musicals, good Musicals, can be splendid visual fists. Gradually, I began watching more and more of them, especially from the Fifties and Sixties. I watched That’s Entertainment and got a new appreciation for the skill and talent involved in these films. It’s very hard to do a good Musical, and a bad Musical is something really horrendous. Interestingly enough, two of the genres I disliked in my youth and came to love later in life – Musicals and Horror films – are the two most visually interesting genres cinema has to offer. Can the dancing of Fred Astaire be transmitted through Radio, or even be described? No, you have to see it. Can the shadows and lighting games and weird angles of many horror movies can be duplicated in any other form? No. Only when you learn to appreciate the visual uniqueness of theses films can you begin to really appreciate them – thematically and artistically.

Many people in the modern age don’t like Musicals. Some think they’re silly, because it’s stupid to just spontaneously sing and dance (As opposed to, let’s say, dress as a giant bat and fight criminals). I can only feel sorry for these poor saps. A good musical is a celebration of life. In a good Musical, when a character starts to sing for no apparent reason, you feel uplifted, like you’re hovering a few inches above the ground. The marriage of sight and sound is powerful. You just need to let yourself open up and be swept by it, and if you’ll do that, you’ll find that Musicals can evoke tremendous feelings of joy, excitement and emotion, like no other genre can.

In the last three decades, the world has become more and more cynical. Our entertainment and culture is dominated by money-hungry corporations. The bottom line is dollars. The materialism and each-to-his-own state of mind has seeped into everyday life. People are afraid to feel , or rather admit that they’re feeling. No, I’m not saying that guys should go and admit to their girlfriends that they cried in Titanic. Some lines should never be crossed. But the reason Musicals have practically faded out of cinemas in the last 30 years is because the genre became too out-there, too loose, to unbelievable for our reality (TV)-grounded world. So many movies today remind us that the world is a crappy place. That people are mean. That everything’s gone to shit. Hell, we know that, but every coin has two sides. I’m a sarcastic bastard myself and I still believe the world has many wonderful things to offer along with the bad ones. I think there’s a place for this kind of escapist cinema to exist next to the more realistic ones (even comic book movies have become depressing). The 30’s and 40’s and 50’s weren’t better than today. There was depression and wars. But people still went to see Musicals (and a lot of other movies), to dream in the dark for two hours. Irt was a period very different than our overly analytical, criticism-filled world.

That’s why I was so glad to see Hairspray, probably the best Musical in years. It reminded me of Grease in many ways – It is set in the 60’s, it concerns teenagers, it has John Travolta in it (who appears next to Michelle Pfeiffer, a Grease 2 alumni) – but it has it’s own spirit. It’s so fun, energetic and cool, it’s almost defies description.

So I present to you, without further ado, my favorite Musicals of all time, in chronological order. In my opinion, these are some of the best Musicals ever made and they are prime examples of what the genre, in it’s peak, can accomplish.

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