This column offers a method of film criticism that dwells entirely (almost entirely) on the film itself. It is not interested in ideological approaches to film or contextualization in regards to an auteur theory that privileges the authorial perspective of a director. It comments on recent DVD releases and attempts to offer something in return but only a something which has been taken from the film and did not originate in the writer. The column accepts that this approach breaches much of modern aesthetic theory and tries not to care.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

DVD Column One

Pick of the Week

Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012) RB UK Artificial Eye

Gilderoy, a sound editor whose usual source of employment has been for agricultural/nature films set in his homeland of England, has taken a job in Italy on a giallo (the exotic Italian term of affection for gothic films that mix brutal violence and soft core pornography) film. It is not clear why Gilderoy has taken this job except perhaps out of confusion that it was a film about horses. The film, which is largely about the male priestly need to discover the mark of the devil in women through the usual means of torture and persecution, does bear the ungainly title The Equestrian Vortex. It is also not clear what Francesco, the Italian producer and dictator of the project, sought in Gilderoy but one is not led to think the choice was equally built on confusion but rather that given Gilderoy’s innocent, natural pedigree Francesco sees a man with talents who will not be belligerent about lacks of payment or for reimbursement for the cost of arriving at the Berberian Sound Studio.
The film is about this cost and for Gilderoy it may be entire. Horrified and disturbed by the misogynistic film he has been hired to flesh out with sound, Gilderoy becomes immersed in a small battle with his sense of decorum and righteousness in a way that is not comforted by his lesser but still evident potential attraction to enacting revenge against women in the name of a symbolic truth. For this is the claim of Santini, the bearded devil who is the director of the film within the film, we do not glorify the violence against women, we present it because it is the historical record. His film aims to be a brutal witness to the brutality committed against the historical female. But this is just sound, just words, and Santini, like the Giallo tradition and countless others, is banking on having it both ways. Bearing witness to the presentation of sexual and other violence against women becomes also a source of titillation to its makers and its viewers. The witness to the confession becomes the justification for the continuance of the very same sin, the enjoyment of exacting revenge against the mystery and beauty of women.
Gilderoy is in over his head and the question left by the film is to ask is Gilderoy a naïve conservative mother’s boy from a falsely genteel world in need of an awakening or is he another victim, like you and I, of the juxtaposition of cinematic truth with voyeuristic desires to see the other raped and destroyed and unable to stand against the temptation of the latter? I think the film is an interesting film and so the question is not answered and I imagine my own response, in future viewings – which the film encourages in its depth and lack of direct explanations of its logic, will be largely connected to where I see myself on that same continuum between naïve and simple truth and my own complicity with the evil I am and am in. That said I offer here that the film is a rewarding tragedy about a good man who sought the science of nature and was led instead towards a disturbance of resentment and violence that exists and persists in truth but did not have a home in him until he was forced to swallow its seed; a film made all the stronger by its use of sound and its steadfast refusal to impregnate us with any disturbing or rewarding images that it depicts in flesh gouging (more truthfully watermelon slashing) 5.1 DTS sound. We are not tempted like Gilderoy, we do not see, we only hear the depiction of the description. We would surely be more drawn to the themes, but in a less powerful way, if we saw what Gilderoy had to watch. But to show that which is only heard would be to overwhelm the theme of the film – the complicity of bringing a voice to that which is perhaps best unseen, especially when it pretends to edify as it degrades.
 SRP: 11.99pounds                                                            
Also Released
Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, 2012) Ent. One
Cosmopolis is also a film firmly built on the importance of sound. However, the sound here is the constancy of people talking like they are characters in a book written by Don Delillo. This means that they are characters that do not express who they actually are rather they speak only as struggling voices seeking to articulate the abstractions that they imagine, also abstractly, to be at the essence of who they are. The main essence and idea of the film (of which there are many and thus in this way may encourage repeat even looped viewings) is that technology and money are both sexy and sexual ideas and that we live in their intersection, defined and frustrated by both. This is the sort of idea that excites and stimulates cultural theorists, those drawn to understanding the lives we live in terms of explanatory and intimately complicated theories. My view, akin to my view of the film, is that this is simply not true. Instead we live in confrontation with our ideas and that it does not take a great deal of self-reflection to note that who we are, or perhaps more to the case what we have just done, is built on a constant lived refutation of our favorite principles. We are not the things that we think we understand in words and sounds, our lives seek to underline those thoughts and we daily, in our deeds, cross them out. Whether or not this is a concern or a problem is also probably connected to the theories that we have accepted about such actions. In any case, this is a film that is a theory with pictures presented only as symbolic support or deepening for said declarations. Beyond its respect for ideas and theories, the film is empty. I suspect that I would find more truth and relevance, though less to talk about, in Gilderoy’s nature movies.                        
SRP: $29.99                                                                         
Amazon Purchase Link                                                   
The Thompsons (Mitchell Altieri, Phil Flores, 2012) Anderson Merchandisers
This past holiday season I purchased a number of ten horror movies on two DVDs for $5. The movies are not very good and the quality of the DVD transfer is even worse. But for fifty cents a film I am still delighted and if there is one scene that provides interest to me this delight is further validated. The Thompsons is a fine quality transfer of a film that would find itself as one of the lesser lights on one of these five buck packages. A film about vampires, or something close to that, who are seeking their own kind so in order to be cared for in a time of persecution and plight, I recognized that even if I was of their kind that I would not have wanted to provide them with any such care. The film like its main and subsidiary characters is dull and violent, splashy with blood from bared fangs and necks. The film cruises along with little tension until it screams to a halt with tacked on platitudes about the importance of family and home. It is a tedious experience that does not even offer the tease of a cheap thrill.              
SRP: $20.06                 `                                                                 

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