Man on Wire (2008), James Marsh
Fallen Angels (1995), Wong Kar-wai
The World (2004), Jia Zhang-Ke
Home (2008), Ursula Meier
The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968), Les Blank
God Respects Us When We Work, but Loves Us When We Dance (1968) , Les Blank
Spend It All (1971), Les Blank
A Well Spent Life (1971) , Les Blank
Movie of the week: A Well Spent Life
Les Blank. Four documentaries. I saw a post over at reddit’s r/criterion titled How to eat a crawfish and thought, hey, that may cool to see – a whole bunch of documentaries by this guy Les Blank. So on the last day of Barnes & Noble’s 50% off sale, when I found a 25% off cyber Monday coupon from criterionforum.org, I blind bought the set – Les Blank: Always for Pleasure. I’m on disc 2 of 5 so far, and there’s a scene in A Well Spent Life, first feature on disc 2, on Texas blues musician Mance Lipscomb, where the preacher is walking out of the water after a long continuous take showing the baptism of a man and girl, and is helped ashore as the camera pans left and up the bank as he joins the gathered crowd and you hear and see a freight train cross from left to right, and the conductor sounds his horn several times. You could not time that if you tried. Les’ camera is there but it’s not there. How does he film these scenes with people showing no reaction to being filmed? There’s a supplement to A Well Spent Life of a July 2014 interview with Chris Strachwitz (who discovered Mance and recorded his first album), and he gives you one of Les’ filming tricks, and he ties in the first documentary on Lightnin’ Hopkins as Les’ images show a sign of T. Moore’s building (Mr. Moore) and Hopkins’ first recording on how he mistreated the hands, which you’d never understand unless you watch all of the supplements (aka extras). And each doc has a few. One with an interview with Werner Herzog. You’ll recognize Mance in A Well Spent Life because you already saw him on the first doc on disc 1, jamming with Lightnin’ Hopkins in the back yard. Chris describes Mance as a catalog of blues music, and Lightnin’ as an improviser. This set is a treasure trove, and I haven’t even gotten to the bugs yet, but I can smell them.
Home. When it comes down to it, kids are just along for the ride when the adults have the wheel. The consequences of their decisions have to be worked out, lived out, and sometimes run to their conclusion. Stars Isabelle Huppert as the mom (The Piano Teacher, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) who has that Helen Mirren aura, and Olivier Gourmet as the dad (who is in most, if not all of the Dardenne brother’s films I’ve seen). The youngest son had an uncanny resemblance to the boy in The Mist (it isn’t him). But the parallel is there – young innocent being caught up in turbulent times.
The World. You’ll recognize Zhao Tao (Unknown Pleasures, Still Life, 24 City, A Touch of Sin). Also Han Sanming, the other main character in Still Life. The World reminds me of 24 City, with the focus on a specific location and the people in and around it. A scene with a famous metal structure comes into view on the right side, ending in a perfectly framed shot. You see a hint of A Touch of Sin in one of the sequences where a crime is committed. And you get the colors of Unknown Pleasures. Every now and then, while a particular scene is ending, or beginning, the subject is panned off to the side and the background takes your attention as it is framed – in once case, on top of a structure still being built, and from left to right a jet coming in for a landing passes by.
Fallen Angels. Stars Takeshi Kaneshiro, who is also in Chunking Express – which I now really want to see. Netflix dvd dropped it from the active dvd queue. I may have to buy it. One scene shows the girl in almost a full screen close up, taking a half a bite of ramen from a forkful, while the action in the background ensues, tying the two stories together. You have a sense that it’s a Wong Kar-wai film, until the blurred action scenes, or the one protagonist’s late night almost comedic money making scheme. But the night time Hong Kong locations, and night scene followed by night, grounds you to his world. Will stay on track and continue on through his filmography.
Man on Wire. After seeing the trailer for Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk (2015), I bumped this up the queue. The second half had great music, classical piano piece that I almost recognized (ending song credits were unreadable), and what I’m sure was Philip Glass, so it had that Errol Morris feel, which can’t be a bad thing. The first half music was way too loud. Had to turn it down, and then since I have some hearing loss, and the disc had no subtitles (of course there is hard wired English subtitles for the French dialog), had to turn on the tv closed captioning. Zero political messages on it’s duel superstructure main character, which is amazing, given it’s 7 years after the fact release date. I’m hoping The Walk can do the same.