Films in 2018

Only ‘rule’ I have for these lists (and because these lists are arbitrary anyway) is: A film qualifies if there was no way I could have physically seen it before 2018 -which includes legally-gray means of seeing things. Not everyone lives in New York or Paris, and not everyone can just get on a plane and go to Locarno or Cannes or wherever for a week. I consider myself lucky to have received a Press and Industry accreditation for TIFF this year. Fingers crossed it happens next year.

Nota bene: It’s impossible for me write about specific films in way that satisfies me personally without giving away some plot points, but at the same time most of the films I tend to enjoy don’t rely that much on plot anyway.

01 - unrest1. Unrest by Philippe Grandrieux

Watched all three in Grandrieux’s trio as he had intended them to be seen: A triptych, all playing side by side simultaneously, with this in the center, White Epilepsy on the left, and Meurtrière on the right. As a whole, it works. This ends after 47 minutes, and the two flanking it continue for another 15 minutes and change drastically in tone…but I also cheated and restarted it while the other two continued. I don’t think this was a cheat though, because it’s clear that we’re meant to experience this spatially/phenomenologically and not narratively/temporally. I could talk forever about this film and the triptych but I have an article in the can and forthcoming. Sorry to be aloof about this one just now but I would recommend watching each in the triptych individually and simultaneously, because even if you don’t follow Grandrieux’s career or care about his sensibilities, they are a unique experience.

02 - fausto2. Fausto by Andrea Bussmann

A liminal space. Article at Lo Specchio Scuro.

03 - the wild boys3. Les garçons sauvages The Wild Boys by Bertrand Mandico

Daniel Bird and I talked briefly earlier this month, and he put it perfectly when he said that there’s “something interesting happening in French cinema right now and Bertrand is in the middle of it.” He’s right. Article at MUBI Notebook.

04 - knife+heart4. Un couteau dans le coeur / Knife+Heart by Yann Gonzalez

Not a pastiche or an homage to giallo but something that simply occupies the genre and would stand easily with the best of the genre. This film is the real deal: violent, exciting, poignant. From early experimental roots to later hangout films to more explicit provocation, this feels like the thing that Gonzalez has been building toward his entire career so far. Here he goes for it, and delivers. Also, the less you know about the cast going in the better, I think, because there are several surprise cameos that I loved, including one about halfway through in a scene that takes place in a graveyard that is so good I wanted to applaud it.

05 - altiplano5. Altiplano by Malina Szlam

It’s only sixteen minutes long but I could have watched this for hours. Article at Lo Specchio Scuro.

06 - in fabric6. In Fabric by Peter Strickland

Like Knife+Heart, this film made my heart glad that we have filmmakers with a genuine and un-ironic love for so-called ‘disreputable’ cinema of the past. My hope is that with this film, audiences will come around to appreciating Strickland’s sense of humor (most critics haven’t, unfortunately). This was reductively -unfairly, ignorantly- described as an ‘homage to giallo films’ after its premiere in September, but if you’re a seasoned viewer of mid-century fantastique, you’ll know that Strickland’s subversive tendencies here have more in common with those in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Rollin’s Fascination. This is your movie. Article at Lo Specchio Scuro.

07 - edge of alchemy7. Edge of Alchemy by Stacey Steers

Stunning stop-motion animation in that handmade, Eastern European register, and with music by Lech Jankowski.

08 - killing8. Zan / Killing by Shinya Tsukamoto

Article at Kinoscope.

09 - high life9. High Life by Claire Denis

Article at Lo Specchio Scuro.

10 - cruel optimism10. Cruel Optimism by Paul Clipson

The organic and the artificial routinely imposing themselves on each other. RIP.

11 - slip11. Slip by Celia Perrin Sidarous

Article at Lo Specchio Scuro.

12 - axolotl12. Axolotl by Olivier Smolders

Smolders has always done better in short ‘collage’ form, as when he takes his cue from animated collage works of the Marker/Borowczyk/Lenica bloc for Argos Films back in the 1960s and 1970s. Anyone who has seen his best works -which are in my opinion Mort à Vignole and La part de l’ombre if you’re curious- will know that Smolders is obviously obsessed with dissecting photography as a voyeuristic medium and with how that intersects with popular notions of ‘recorded history’ and the ‘unreliable narrator.’ Here he shows us literal acts of voyeurism primarily through still photography, and it is only through the act that what the voyeur sees comes alive. The structure is obviously indebted to Marker’s La Jetée, but who cares -everyone and their cousin has ‘borrowed’ from Marker at this point.

agua forte13. Água Forte / Strong Waters by Monica Baptista

First half is a recitation of a world origin myth set against images of a river in Peru, second half literally takes the film medium back to its own origins.

14 - night pulse:fatal pulse14. Night Pulse by Damon Packard

A million things I could say about this, but suffice it to say that this was an absurdist -and occasionally very funny- depiction of the culture industry in the early 1990s. In a way it’s like a Ragtime of 1991 in its references to popular culture of the time -Julia Roberts, Janet Jackson, Sade, Bono, et al- and in another way seems to lampoon the convergence of the political economy under George H.W. Bush and American pop culture branding. The only other Packard I had seen was his Early 70s Horror Trailer, which I liked even though I couldn’t tell if he was making fun of the subject or not. It’s obvious here though. Characters inexplicably fall from windows and chase each other for no reason. Characters watch television all the time even though there’s nothing on except phone sex commercials and movie trailers. There are also elements of the occult and a spatial-temporal portal (?), and an impersonation of William Friedkin that made me laugh. A lot.

15 - hagazussa15. Hagazussa by Lukas Fleigelfeld

Motherhood as a horrific experience, superstition in late-medieval Germania translated literally into cinema form. Like Eggers’ The Witch, this film seems to genuinely believe in demonic forces, and to want to get inside the mind of a person in the early modern period.

Grand Prix

19 - rivers edgeRibâzu ejji River’s Edge by Isao Yukisada


super dark timesSuper Dark Times by Kevin Phillips, 2017

Between these two films, it is no longer necessary for me to make a semi-autobiographical nostalgia movie about dumb mid-1990s kids in shapeless clothes getting into trouble. Brief note on both films at MUBI Notebook.

Un Certain Regard

touch me notTouch Me Not by Adina Pintilie

I loved how this managed to be clinical and humane at the same time. It may not be perfect and I get the criticisms (even among people who like it) that parts of this come off as childish or naive, but I think that’s because deep down Pintilie has a big heart. This film is admittedly hard to evaluate because she places a premium on the subjects’ thoughts and feelings while simultaneously trying to understand their trauma and sexuality as a phenomenon in an ‘objective’ way. It’s a flawed film but it’s not a bad one, as so many critics want you to think. I have a long essay about this one that I’ve been sitting on for a while but I don’t know if I want to publish it…

hymns of muscovyGimny Moskovii / Hymns of Muscovy by Dmitri Venkov

When I was in middle school, my history teacher took a globe and turned it upside down, saying that while the rotational axis of the earth was a concrete thing that exists, the notions of ‘north,’ ‘south,’ ‘east,’ and ‘west’ -and even our notion of ‘up’ and ‘down’ and ‘left’ and ‘right’- were predicated entirely on language and one’s phenomenological sense of the world via sight (which is in part predicated on gravitation and on homo sapiens being base-2 organisms), and how the modern notions of ‘direction’ and ‘orientation’ were developed largely in the early modern (western) world. That stuck with me, and this film, while perhaps relying too much on a gimmick, reminded me of that. We live not on a planet dictated by language, but among a shapeless void.

17 - variaVaria by Marta Giec

About two women who at first don’t seem to be connected in any way, but are. They never meet, but a relationship between them is eventually (haphazardly) revealed. The narrative is immaterial, however. Giec is more interested in capturing characters in specific moments, like an impressionist. The film moves fluidly between DSLR, 16mm, and camcorder footage, and is also filled with ambient and vaporwave music. At its best it suggests a silent film or early experiment by Joseph Cornell or Myron Ort or somebody. The last ten minutes are kind of disappointing plotwise, but again that isn’t really the point.

Also enjoyed:

Laplace’s Witch (Takashi Miike), Hoarders Without Boarders (Jodie Mack), Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa), Double Lover (François Ozon), Unsane (Steven Soderbergh), First Reformed (Paul Schrader), Nancy (Christina Choe), The Wolf House (Joaquin Cociña and Cristóbal León), A Thought of Ecstasy (Rolf Kahl)


November 2018

I’ve been trying to make a dent in the backlog of unseen films on my hard drive, moving somewhat chronologically, so this explains all the late-1960s/early-1970s feature-length Europudding.

1996 nunThe Nun / La Religieuse (Jacques Rivette, 1966)

Diderot was part of my curriculum in college (mostly through secondary sources) but I never read any of his fiction. At the same time I had a professor who was something of an authority on French literature from the 18th century, and she always maintained that the fiction of that time and place revealed more about French society than any treatise, document, correspondence, or the like -in part because ‘fiction’ was (relative to the lit traditions of other regions) highly intertextual, a kind of send-up of ubiquitous forms of communication at the time, and in general because the French had a wide-ranging sense of humor similar to the ancient Greeks. Diderot’s novel Memoirs of a Nun was apparently written as a joke in epistolary form: a series of letters written by a woman who had been incarcerated in a convent; Diderot deliberately used the pathos of her story to ‘trick’ a member of the French nobility into traveling to Paris to ‘rescue’ her.

This movie is based on a stageplay version of the novel co-written by Jean Gruault. I imagine a lot was probably lost in the adaptation, but Diderot’s intention, in a way, remains…I think. As an ‘index’ of 18th-century French society I don’t think it’s quite as dynamic as something like Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons but it does however indirectly reveal how ‘individuals’ are merely the products of various institutions, and how those institutions’ corruption will eventually grind you down to nothing (the ending is so sad!). As someone who has admittedly never been as enamored with either Jacques Rivette or Anna Karina as most people, I really enjoyed what both did here. While it’s ostensibly set in the mid 18th century, the film makes little effort to ‘recreate’ the period mimetically, opting for quick fades suggesting a silent film and that very modern, diffuse lighting you see throughout the 1960s. Karina comes across as particularly vulnerable…it’s funny, I was never taken with her ‘adorable’ nouvelle vague persona; I guess she needs to look malnourished with witch hair and crow’s feet for me to dig into her acting (for what’s it’s worth another Karina performance I really like is in Chinese Roulette…maybe she’s good whenever she’s not being directed by whatshisname).

1968 flickornaThe Girls / Flickorna (Mai Zetterling, 1968)

At first it took a minute to get past half a dozen actors who you’re accustomed to seeing in very arch performances in Bergman’s films get to improvise and play characters more loosely. It was really cool to see that actually. Harriet Andersson gets to do all kinds of the great things. Her story arc also extrapolates the idea that Zetterling doesn’t direct the film the way a man necessarily would. There’s a scene where she shows up late to a rehearsal of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and has to placate her kid while the rest of the cast waits around for her, and there’s another sequence where she’s out shopping alone and we hear a child crying on the soundtrack -at once diegetic and non-diegetic- causing her to drop what she’s doing and rush back to her apartment, where the kid is sitting there with the sitter, doing nothing.

The film orbits around a group of actors staging a production of Lysistrata, which in Aristophanes’ time was intended as a political farce that incorporated elements of drag, but in virtually every twentieth-century adaptation (10-12 generations of translations later) as a bawdy Peter Sellers-ish sex comedy infused with a gender politics reading. This probably isn’t what Aristophanes intended, but it doesn’t really matter -it speaks to how versatile the play turned out to be. The movie has a lot of Sellers-like bits -an entire audience snoring, for instance- and toys with meta and intertextuality by causing the lives of the performers and the play’s thematics to spill out into each other…but unlike so many other films that are that way, it’s actually fun instead of on-the-nose: the impromptu burlesque show, etc.

Mostly I was just taken by how ‘free’ and funny the Bergman regulars seemed, especially Gunnel Lindblom, who you probably wouldn’t think of as a ‘comedic’ actress given her stark performances for Bergman. That’s not to say that Bergman didn’t have a sense of humor; he did, but not like this.

1968 je taime je taimeJe T’Aime Je T’Aime (Alain Resnais, 1968)

Memory fragments, all scored by Penderecki with music to be played at a funeral. I appreciated how the film barely concerned itself with the ‘science-fiction’ elements of the story (a man just released from a hospital after an attempted suicide volunteers for a possibly fatal experiment where he will be sent briefly back in time and relive his own past), and this being a Resnais film, you know beforehand that that isn’t the point. While the man ostensibly ‘disappears’ inside the device and physically travels back in time, the film gives the impression that he is merely recalling or reenacting memory fragments, suggesting the associative state of a dream. I don’t think it’s much of a reach to compare this film’s depiction of time travel to a dream state or other state of unconsciousness, anesthesia, etc. because it often directly addresses the subjects of sleeping and dreaming, and things that are physically impossible in those states -such as someone smiling while they are asleep.

I turned 39 this month, and as time goes on Resnais becomes more and more of an important director for me. He had always described himself as a kind of director-for-hire, closely following each script he chose in the hopes of directing something that was faithful to the writer’s vision. Nevertheless, the blocking and editing in nearly every film I’ve seen by him suggests an analog between cinema and the associative nature of the mind and the fragmented nature of memory (but you already knew that): Hiroshima, Marienbad, Muriel. Memories of old friends and loved ones are painful and embarrassing because of your mind’s selectivity and subjectivity, while your dreams are frustrating and strange because what you were experiencing is essentially cognitive noise, a collage of sorts.

Figures from the man’s past arrive and leave unexplained, scenes beginning and ending abruptly before they can really be played out, and this is obviously intentional. I recently read for the first time Ice by Anna Kavan, an author who was heavily influenced by nouveau roman, and it shows if you were to read the novel, being about the strange relationship between two people recalled in a very fractured manner with no real narrative beginning or end. This could be frustrating, but linearity and causation are not really the point. It’s not about resolving a ‘conflict’ through comedic or dramatic means, but about spending some time inside an unchartable landscape of signification and association.

But…that’s also kind of the problem…? Because there is absolutely no conflict here of any kind (or let’s say the conflict is largely impenetrable), it becomes an exercise -you could watch any random ten minutes of the film and you’ve seen the whole thing. If it’s intended as a mere ‘puzzle’ to be solved (zzzzz) regarding the characters’ motivations, then I suppose I didn’t care enough in the first place. Formally speaking, if you’ve already seen Hiroshima, Marienbad, and Muriel, this feels almost routine and never seems to ‘get at’ something the way Resnais’ previous films did. The time machine functions almost like a primitive ‘lightbox’ version of what Marienbad‘s anti-world does. It’s comparable to Buñuel’s Phantom of Liberty, wherein he finally decided that he would eliminate any narrative clothesline completely and just show you a bunch of random images. It’s good but it’s not great. The other big ‘flaw’ with this film, I think, is the guy himself. He’s kind of annoying and he had a boring life. He’s noticeably in his late 30s in this and he never seemed to outgrow the selfishness and narcissism of one’s early 20s. Conversely, I loved Olga Georges-Picot in it and half-wished there could be a companion work where she travels back in time and we can experience their dumb relationship from her perspective.

1970 wizard of goreThe Wizard of Gore (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1970)

The best by Lewis that I’ve seen, perhaps because it’s his best script. The gore effects are honestly the least interesting thing about it, because it seems to me that Lewis is saying something about nature of stage magic being no different from that of filmmaking (or television, or the news) as a whole. Obvious meta quality to the three perceived deaths, and the Montag character (a goof on Ms. Sontag?) provides the viewer with a ‘thesis’ of sorts implying that the artifice of stage magic is no different than the artifice of the film itself. This makes the ‘choppy’ editing difficult.  The editing ‘works its magic’ in the same manner as the stage magician to bring the mutilated dead bodies ‘back to life.’ The film gets genuinely interesting though with the scenes depicting what happens after the performances: the characters all die in the manner in the which they were ‘killed’ on stage, revealing the stage magic to be a kind of mass hypnosis. The characters all believe of course that hypnosis or magic have nothing to do with the deaths, and believe that they were caused by a copycat who saw the magic show.

In doing so, the film gives some serious attention to the largely-conservative argument that fake violence in media can influence behavior. Lewis does seem to be critiquing that argument by making the protagonist Sherry a television reporter; there are several amazing shots in this of the television studio -the fake walls and furniture, the gaffers and equipment, and one where you see Sherry sitting at the extreme right of the frame and facing left, and a monitor image of her at the extreme left, a figure in reality surrounded by all the junk and energy needed to produce a single idealized image on a screen.

The film isn’t a treatise though. It’s funny, and not in an ironic way, there’s an unsettling scene of a hypnotized woman walking down a street at night and a ‘televised’ hypnosis sequence -where everyone’s hand begins to inexplicably bleed- that are both pretty great.

1986 modern girlsModern Girls (Jerry Kramer, 1986)

I watched primarily for the color schemes and because Virginia Madsen is in it, but I was pleasantly surprised. This is a fun hangout movie, wall-to-wall with beautiful pastel color schemes and good-looking people. It’s nice how as time goes on, critics and audiences are gradually re-appraising the aesthetics and narrative sensibilities of mid-1980s comedies like this, rather than enjoying them ironically as something gaudy or cheesy or otherwise not meant to be taken seriously.

The cinematography of Sacha Vierny and Michael Ballhaus in the early-to-mid 1980s set the precedent for so many American films at that time; it seems odd that for so long audiences considered the neon and pastel ‘look’ to be ugly or cheap or ephemeral. I’d like to one day see some kind of monograph or program or something that extrapolated the better qualities of up-all-night, ‘candy-colored’ misadventure films from the mid-1980s like this -some are admittedly bad, like Poe’s Alphabet City, and some are good, like Landis’s Into the Night or Scorsese’s After Hours. This film is genuinely just as exciting as After Hours, which is now widely considered one of Scorsese’s best films. Unlike that film, however, this one moves effortlessly between four different points of view, and somehow there’s nothing diffuse or ‘spread too thin’ about it.

All four of the leads are fun to watch, and even though Madsen and Gibb ostensibly occupy the formula roles of ‘bitch character’ and ‘ditz character’ respectively, the film thankfully never follows through on those tropes.

tokyo fistTokyo Fist (Shinya Tsukamoto, 1995)

I’ll disclose up front by saying that I love Shinya Tsukamoto. He’s one of a paltry handful of filmmakers who has been able use the ‘grammar’ of exploitation films (in his case Japanese ero guro) in order to express or connote something else that a viewer wouldn’t expect from such a film by necessity. For me, he works at the same level as Andrzej Zulawski or Ken Russell. If you look at Tsukamoto’s treatment of subjects throughout his career from the mid-1990s through today you’ll notice that not only has he not completely abandoned his genre origins but he is also an emotional person, unafraid to use genre film language to express the psyche of his characters (sexual perversions, Freudian death drive, and so on). This is essentially a ‘boxing’ movie of course but it also digs into how the allure of fighting affects the characters’ relationships and even their own sensibilities regarding physical violence (there is a great sequence where the protagonist’s girlfriend saunters through an alley punching giant holes through sheets of aluminum like the Incredible Hulk).

Given that the protagonist works in a faceless office environment, discovers the boxing club by chance, and sees boxing as a source of catharsis, you would be tempted to compare this to David Fincher’s Fight Club. While I don’t think this is one of Tsukamoto’s best film (A Snake of June, Kotoko, and Gemini form my trifecta of favorites), it’s clearly better than Fight Club (almost anything of this sort would be) in that it understands how physical violence emerges from feelings of insecurity and helplessness as Arendt described it, while Fincher and his source materials hid behind outdated notions of zeitgeist, ‘generational angst,’ and misunderstandings of satire. Tsukamoto’s style is a singular vision -regarding subjects as a phenomenon captured through seemingly ‘raw footage’: handheld camerawork and abrupt cutting became something of a cliche in the mid-1990s but it’s obvious that Tsukamoto never sought to disturb or shock viewers with faux grittiness (compare Fincher, who has merely sought to charm the audience with a semblance of dark, gritty ‘style’). Tsukamoto is, deep down, a softy: He likes his characters; they’re always somehow dissatisfied by life and desire a kind of sexual release, usually through self-destructive or suicidal behavior and rarely through sex, what Freud called Todestrieb. His films are hard to watch sometimes, and I’ve paced myself in watching them because each can be devastating in their way (I’m almost intimidated to watch Vital again because it is arguably his most nakedly emotional film) but also merely because I want to savor each one.

2018 nancyNancy (Christina Choe, 2018)

Not at all what I was expecting -I was under the impression that this would be a kind of character study about delusional woman who believes she was kidnapped when she was a child, and finds her ‘real’ parents. The film is actually, at first, about a bored mythomaniac who lies to people as a source of escape (and perhaps to impress or console others). The primary arc -where she meets the parents of the kidnapped kid- almost immediately brings up issues of socioeconomic class: The parents are confident, well-spoken, university professors who probably come from money (most do) and live the bohemian bourgeois lifestyle that that entails. By contrast, Nancy is poor, uneducated, and awkward, and much of her behavior, including pathological lying, is perhaps a coping mechanism at first and something that she believes will further economic situation or social status. This is probably off the mark, but Nancy’s reaction to the parents’ house and lifestyle suggests a common narcissistic delusion among children and adolescents -one where they believe that their parents “couldn’t possibly be their ‘real’ parents” because of how smart or worldly they believe themselves to be.

But then the film becomes something different after that. Everybody keeps talking about how great Andrea Riseborough is as the protagonist, but the real champ in this -if we’re going to praise acting, emoting, etc.- is J. Smith-Cameron as the mother. You can tell throughout the whole thing that she knows -logically, rationally- that Nancy isn’t her daughter, yet she badly wants her to be. Both characters have been isolated from others by various institutions and economic circumstances, and are both ‘pretending’ in order to avoid the ugly social realities with which they’ve been presented. Maybe I had too much to drink while watching but the film is overwhelmingly sad because of this. I gasped at the moment the mother says “I love you” to her imposter daughter. It’s comparable to the climax of Sono’s Noriko’s Dinner Table, where a man hires his daughter -who has long since disappeared and become a kawaii performer- to ‘pretend’ to be his daughter. Spend a lifetime being yourself and it almost becomes worthwhile to pretend to be someone else for a while.

On Guadagnino’s Suspiria: An Index of Creative Bankruptcy in Three Acts and an Epilogue

[this is an expanded and re-edited version of a post I originally made here on November 5, 2018, because readers of this blog need to know about this dumb movie]

“I am fed to the teeth with these ‘elevated’ things.” –Amadeus

I was indifferent about this for a year and a half ever since I had heard that it had gone into production. After some early previews that I had read I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. To disclose, the 1977 film Suspiria is hardly my favorite in Dario Argento’s repertoire, and the only other Guadagnino film I had ever seen was I Am Love, which I actually enjoyed. I was willing to give the remake a chance. Even if I’m playing fair and not comparing it to the original, it is overlong, overproduced, unremarkable, and boring. It also tries too hard to sell itself as so-called ‘arthouse/elevated/prestige horror.’

I’ll credit the filmmakers for trying new things -Suzie’s story arc, dancing as a form of divination, the doctor, Deutscher Herbst/Baader-Meinhof/RAF- but at the same time I kept thinking “what is the point of all this?” You see Tilda Swinton in a Peter Sellers-ish role as the doctor…why? The film devotes a lot of screen time to the RAF…why? It obviously wants to make some sort of statement about the German Autumn of 1977 and the sociopolitical climate of Berlin in that decade (the CGI version of the Berlin Wall that you see in the film was still under construction and wouldn’t have been finished until 1980, by the way), but the film is so poorly written (screenwriter David Kajganich, who the film’s promotional material for some reason assumes he is a reliable brand of some kind, is in the habit of confusing a ‘subtext’ with a ‘subplot’) and edited overall it comes off as pointless. It’s almost as if Kajganich arbitrarily took the year in which the original was released (1977) and extrapolated political events taking place around the same time and place (events that he is too young to remember, by the way), attempting to make mnemonic connections between those events at the plot.

Horror films (or what certain audiences have come consider ‘horror films’ now) in general are rarely suited to making outright political statements, in my opinion. Two successful ones that immediately come to mind are Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Zulawski’s Possession, but those are successful, I think, largely because they are absurdist allegories for political events, and are, unlike this film, actually disturbing and frightening (going to blatantly plug my tuppence on Zulawski’s Cold War Berlin here). Most of the time however -with characters and actions in modern genre screenplays that are clearly, blatantly, obviously intended to signify something else (mother!, Get Out, etc.)- it comes off as awkward, on-the-nose, and yes, by definition, pretentious. It’s a ‘get it?’ film, where the writer-director holds your hand the entire time, pointing out every little thing they did, and what it all ‘means’: “It’s not really about x, it’s really about y, get it?” If that’s what Guadagnino was aiming for, to ‘elevate’ a genre from one status to another -and that seems to be the case given his reputation as a bankable ‘arthouse’ property- then his Suspiria fails.

It doesn’t matter if I enjoyed the film or not. But it nevertheless seems to be an almost-perfect index of several aspects of the creatively-bankrupt state of genre filmmaking today. Three major aspects, anyway:

Act 1: Film is becoming more and more like television, narratively, aesthetically, ideologically. 60 years ago, studios famously introduced wider aspect ratios and novelty exhibition (Cinemascope, Cinerama, etc.) specifically in order to compete with television on an open market. That same market is driven by a completely insular industry today, now that most distributors of films or television are either one and the same or owned by the same corporate entity. ‘Tentpole’ and ‘franchise’ are merely industry dogwhistles for ‘serialization.’ Novice screenwriters who have only been able to gain any real writing experience in the current television boom of the last ten years are now charged with writing feature films. They can’t do it, they don’t watch movies, they don’t study feature screenplays for the most basic things like plot structure, tone, conflict, style, whatever; so they do the only thing they how to do: try to cram an entire season of television into a single movie, which might explain why practically every genre film that should run an economical 80-90 minutes now clocks in at a distended and bloated 155-165 minutes. If you can’t nail the story in 100 pages or less, then there’s too much story. Not to mention the completely rote and boring television aesthetics adopted by films now, the most irritating being the extreme hi-def resolution of DSLR, staging/blocking/photographing scenes via television setups, and ugly oversaturation/color-correction via computer editing systems.

The indistinguishability between a feature film and a season of television is so prevalent now that it’s taken for granted. In most medium and closeup shots, DSLR produces a flattening, telephoto effect with the foreground in sharp focus and the background completely out of focus (‘bokeh’ effect). In wide shots, DSLR captures images the same way a consumer-grade (ie auto-focus/digital) camera does -with all matter in the frame completely in focus and also ‘geometrically’ sound with no sense of curvature/blurriness/desaturation to images that are far away. You could compare the way the dance studio scenes are shot in Guadagnino’s film to the wide interior shots of the dance studio from Argento’s film, which were shot on film but also with a wide angle lens: In the margins of the frame there is a slight curvature to the image caused by the camera lens. Whether or not someone prefers a ‘flattened’/sharp digital image or a ‘curved’/grainy film image is immaterial, but it’s undeniable that celluloid was an infinitely more versatile medium than digital film, and one could make a convincing argument stating that film in general just ‘looks’ better than digital in an intuitive sense in that the breadth of film calibers and lenses comes closer to how the lenses of our eyes actually work (this is why we tend to look more attractive in mirrors than in photographs).

suspiria 1977
Curvature in Suspiria (1977)
suspiria 2018
Digitally flattened image in Suspiria (2018)

For the most part, digital dictated the ‘look’ of television beginning in the late 1990s -the best examples I can think of being later seasons of ER and The X-Files shot on hi-def digital widescreen; earlier seasons were shot on film. In many cases digital cameras and editing do not necessitate a cameraman or even a cinematographer, since the duties of both can be faked with computers. This all gradually spilled over into feature films; now almost no one shoots on celluloid -and I personally think the medium has gotten ‘uglier’ because of it. Because digital lacks the breadth of exposure, saturation, and so on of celluloid (and attempts compensate for this with computer-aided design) what results is an overall ‘flattened,’ dull image quality. One example that immediately comes to mind is the film Hereditary: the color schemes and lighting that were obviously ‘tweaked’ in post production, the dollies and zooms that were obviously programmed into a computer- or hydraulic-controlled rig, etc. Some other examples: It Comes At Night, Get Out, The Ritual, The Purge, and the 2018 remake of Halloween (or really any film produced by Blumhouse). The Endless has particularly bad oversaturation and color-correction. The list is long because the aesthetic is ubiquitous now. You could take a random second-unit shot from each of these and they would be interchangeable not just with each other but with a clip from television: American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, Stranger Things. It all looks the same and most of what I saw in Suspiria 2018 was cut from the same cloth. It obviously works for audiences though, because they keep making films that look like this. It doesn’t do much for me.

Film image in Suspiria (1977)
Digital image in Hereditary (2018)

Act 2: The Remake Industrial Complex and the Nostalgia Void is mostly a talent-wasting machine. I’ve gone off on the former and the latter before. While I’ve been ambivalent about it for a while (because I think it has produced some interesting work ie Anna Biller, Peter Strickland, It Follows, Starry Eyes, etc.) as time goes on, diminishing returns kick in quickly when you bet on established properties and empty nostalgia. I keep picturing Kajganich as a young, mousy boy growing up in suburban Ohio in the late 70s and early 80s, his only company being his beloved horror movies, hoping that one day he’ll get to make his own. I suppose, in a way, his hoop dreams came true…by writing one remake after another: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Suspiria, and the forthcoming Pet Sematary. It’s possible that he has original screenplays in him (though his dialogue in this is embarrassing), but nobody’s interested in that anymore, on either end. It is of course easier for the suits to reactivate properties they already own then it is to develop original ones. 10 to 15 years from now, it’s going to be very strange to look back on this time period, when very little original work was produced and audiences just kept buying the same steroid-enhanced staples of their K-12 years over and over and over again, maybe because they didn’t trust themselves to like anything else?

Thought experiment: What if this film had a different title, like “Danse Macabre” or something, it doesn’t matter. What if it *wasn’t* titled “Suspiria” -everything else is exactly the same, but it’s called something else? My guess is that horror fans and similar audiences *might* react more positively to it, and critics would focus more on the actual film rather than on comparatives, problematizing the old and dated while heralding the new and shiny, etc. By titling it “Suspiria” and branding it as a remake, you set off an unnecessary chain of signification and reception that wastes everyone’s time by comparing it to the original film. I understand the argument that it’s perhaps unfair to compare the two, given how ‘different’ the new one is stylistically or given the idea that questions of ‘fidelity’ to source material have more to do with fan service or nostalgia than with the film itself. But again, if that’s truly the case, then why is it called Suspiria? In the end, it’s a distraction. Consider some larger portions of the critical response: Many of the social justice hit pieces written so far talk about how this “improves on the original” because it does x, y, and z. Who gives a shit? By doing this you’re arbitrarily dreaming up a problem that doesn’t exist simply so you can provide a ‘solution’ that also doesn’t exist. This is the mindset of both screenwriters and critics who are content to recycle content under the guise of ‘fixing’ it and to consume that recycled content in their endless competition in the woke olympics.

Act 3: Everything needs to be ‘elevated.’ This leads to another question: Who is the actual audience for this? Nevermind critics or ‘cinephiles’ or online cognoscenti. Who is the audience -or more appropriately, who is the target demographic? Yuppie audiences who have revealed their own insecurities about genre cinema by trying to make a distinction between ‘elevated/prestige’ horror (based mostly on the fashionable notion that a cultural product is worthless unless it signals something ‘important’/topical/etc.) and just plain-jane horror (which closeted-conservative baby boomer critics such as Ebert trained audiences throughout the 1980s to dismiss as trash). This of course goes back to the writings of Bourdieu, Fussell, Birnbaum, et al regarding ‘taste’: Historically, ‘taste’ for the most part has always been a device used to distinguish one’s social standing from someone else’s (what Bourdieu called ‘la distinction’): “I watch the *right* horror films while these other people watch the wrong ones.” I personally hate this distinction because it is not just arbitrary, it is unnecessary.

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Letterboxd user reviews of Suspiria (2018), November 2018

Epilogue: What if we supplanted ‘elevated’ with ‘gentrified?’ That would make more sense. Analogy: In 1977, if you were a bored kid stuck in some nothing town, dreaming of one day living to the Big City, when you moved to New York or San Francisco or someplace, there was a reasonable expectation that you would adapt somewhat to city life, be relatively open to the city changing you, resulting in a somewhat authentic urban experience. In 2018, a bored kid from nowhere who wants to conquer the Big City now moves into an apartment building that looks like a filing cabinet (built two years ago by the lowest-bidding corporate developer and already falling apart) above a Harris Teeter, a Chipotle, and a Starbucks, the streets lined with banners reading the neighborhood’s name, a planned community, a once-distincitve neighborhood transformed into a suburb, branded into oblivion. This now qualifies as some kind of ‘urban experience.’

The new Suspiria, like so many other remakes, reboots, rebrandings, etc., is that kind of experience. It’s pre-packaged, fast-casual horror for pre-packaged, fast-casual people. It’s a gentrified experience. It co-opts the ‘image’ and conventions of horror while eschewing the visceral thrills and sensibilities of horror, making it suitable and ‘legit’ for “…an audience that otherwise would not go to see a horror film.” And people should know by now that that phrase is code for “thoughtful audience,” “sophisticated audience,” “educated audience,” vis-à-vis the ‘other’ audience, the ‘wrong’ kind of horror audience, a stupid audience, an uninformed audience. In a way, the remake model is actually a perfect device for this.

Redux de Profundis: Dario Argento 1975-1985

I decided to return to the films Dario Argento made between 1975 and 1985 -the span of time that practically everyone agrees comprises the creative apex of his career: Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno, Tenebrae, and Phenomena. I was inspired to do so after seeing Luca Guadagnino’s bourgeois snoozefest remake of Suspiria, throughout most of which I often thought about how much more fun it would be to revisit peak Argento than watch this 152-minute wannabe masterpiece. That it is indeed much more fun almost goes without saying.

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Deep Red (1975)

Deep Red is perhaps Argento’s best, alongside Inferno. It forms the ‘connective tissue’ between his early gialli and later expressionist-mannerist films. David Hemmings does away with his ‘60-cool persona and plays an insecure dork throughout the entire thing and once Daria Nicolodi shows up smiling you cant help but smile right back; she almost steals the movie. Their dynamic is cute and funny, like a Howard Hawks movie or a French farce (this was filmed mostly in Torino so there is a distinct French vibe to certain things). The giallo/mystery story element also does its own thing. It doesn’t really progress as a typical giallo, instead the procedural is a kind of ekphrasis: the plot moves ahead mostly due to characters’ intuitions and mnemonic devices, such as a scene where characters reenact/reimagine a lecture that took place just before the initial murder. The Villa Scott sequence (the ‘House of the Screaming Baby’) remains an all-time favorite: Art Nouveau decadence and some of the best music by Goblin in an Argento movie.

You also see Argento starting to toy with elements of the supernatural -ESP, folklore/mythology, a possibly haunted space- but these are mostly intended, I think, to immerse you in the film’s insular borghese world of murder and willful ignorance. Also, this film -and to a lesser extent The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Tenebre– demonstrates Argento’s empathy towards Europe’s marginalized populations, particularly Jews and LGBT (the story goes that at one point Argento intended to make a film about a homosexual police detective). That simpatico element in Argento’s oeuvre -which is not without the occasional dose of dumb humor- is kind of endearing to me (where I come from we call it ‘being a mensch’…a sneaking suspicion I have is that Hemmings might have based his performance in part on stereotypical ‘nebbish’ traits -he’s talks too much, he’s always nervous, he’s afraid to fly, etc.).

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Suspiria (1977)

Suspiria has admittedly never been a favorite of mine, maybe because it’s impossible to adopt the episteme of someone in 1977 who would have never seen anything like it (with the exception of some color schemes from Mario Bava and late 1960s psychedelia), but also every time I watch it I hope for something intriguing and mysterious, and the film ultimately doesn’t really have as much intrigue or mystery as it lets on. It does, on the other hand, portray a bizarre and insular society in a surprisingly matter-of-fact way, and sees ballet as a theater of class divisions, at least in the first act -both of which are unique to say the least. The plot is slight but if you’ve seen the film you’ll know that following the plot isn’t important. I think at this point to watch it is to appreciate it as a late-1970s experiment in fantastique: Argento wants to take the visual conventions established in the early 1960s by the first generation of directors of European fantastique -namely Roger Vadim and Mario Bava- and push them to extremes, but you can tell that he doesn’t *quite* know what he’s doing yet (he perfects it with Inferno). It is undeniably fun to watch though.

Inferno (1980)

While Inferno also isn’t my favorite Argento, it’s probably his best. It’s easily his best-looking film (I suppose that goes without saying) and it has in my opinion -after Bird– his best villain in Veronica Lazar. I’ve seen this some four or five times now and each time my experience is the same in that it feels structured almost like a jazz composition: The opening and final acts are solid and controlled -narratively, photographically, design-wise, etc.- and the middle portion almost seems improvised, with different performers having ‘solos.’ I always vividly remember the submersion and the key, the music class, the library, and the murders in the beginning; and the Hardy Boys style exploration of the building, the architect, and the titular inferno in the conclusion. The middle portion however, with Nicolodi, Sacha Pitoëff, the bathtub, the cats, and the rats, feels like a half-remembered dream to me. and I’ve always liked that because it has the same ‘cognitive noise’ non-structure of a nightmare. Argento has gone on the record saying that much of his imagery is constructed in that way -from half-remembered dreams- which suggests to me that this is perhaps his most fully-realized film.

Tenebre (1982)

Tenebrae remains Argento’s most ambitious, visually. I’ve always loved the footage of the brutalist buildings (culminating in a vision of Rome that’s never really existed in the popular imagination) and just seeing it all in light of Argento’s various descriptions of the film over the years: his Blade Runner, a “film that picks up where the last five minutes of L’Eclisse left off,” a film meant to look as if it “comes from the future.” The built environments of Tenebre are cold and hopeless, especially so because they’re offset by such amiable characters.

What really separates this from any other Argento film, I think, is that it’s probably his most ‘cruel.’ By ‘cruel’ I mean the way that a lot of horror fans might describe a film as such: Deaths in horror films seem ‘cruel’ only if you genuinely like the characters, and unlike many of Argento’s films, all of the characters in Tenebrae are nice (though they admittedly do some shady things; almost every other scene depicts or alludes to marital conflict/infidelity), which makes the bloody finale especially ‘cruel.’ Jane’s death in particular has always disturbed me -almost to the point where I don’t want to watch- because it’s so gruesome obviously, but also because she spends most of the movie being confused or scared, and then she dies (it follows, then, that the color schemes for the characters are comprised of pastels, standing vis-a-vis all the oppressive concrete).

Phenomena (1985)

I feel the same about Phenomena as when I last saw it: It seems like two different films being made at once -a supernatural ‘coming-of-age’-ish story and a detective/murder story- and they really only come together once in the completely bananapants crazy ending to what starts out as an atmospheric horror movie. I try to avoid describing things as ‘atmospheric’ but the opening and the tangent where Jennifer Connelly wanders around outside and finds the house -with the fir trees and the dreamy synth music- warrant it; you could be watching sci-fi from the Eastern Bloc (I think the typeface is even the same one Tarkovsky used in Solaris). The metal music will always be a distraction for me though, and as much as I love Donald Pleasence his story arc goes nowhere.

There’s a lot of interpretive writing that views the film as being implicitly about child abuse or disability (hospitalization, deformity, etc.) and that’s fine, though I tend to think of it as being more generally about the awkwardness of adolescence and the bizarre things that kids say and do: Argento and Nicolodi’s daughter Asia would’ve been 9 at the time of filming, the protagonist is the daughter of a famous father, her surname ‘Corvino’ translates as ‘little raven,’ Argento kills his daughter Fiore in the opening, and certain story elements are based on events from Argento’s own childhood. In a way this would pair with Obayashi’s classic House, which the director based entirely on things his 10-year-old daughter thought were scary. This makes me wonder if having and raising children may have in part spurred Argento’s stylistic changes and ‘kid-like’ sensibility with his characters in the late 1970s.

October 2018

ming greenMing Green by Gregory Markopoulos, 1966.

Markopoulos’ approach to film assembly/collage results in images that resemble certain dreams I’ve had -‘moving’ images of tableaux or ‘still life’ objects that remain still while fading in and out of each other- while the compositions themselves make me think of Robbe-Grillet’s early ‘phenomenological’ descriptive style from In the Labyrinth and Jealousy. This was great, even though there is a sense that it’s a trial run for Markopoulos’ real masterpiece Sorrows.

aka anaAka Ana by Antoine d’Agata, 2008.

While it’s true that much of D’Agata’s images resemble those of Philippe Grandrieux (particularly those from his ‘anxiety’ trio) the visual affect is actually quite different. I’m not that familiar with D’Agata as a photographer but the look here at first suggests still photography being ‘coerced’ into moving, and, given the film’s subject (prostitution described entirely from the woman’s point of view), his images show the processes by which we objectify bodies by isolating and abstracting various body parts from the whole through iris filters, nightvision and extreme closeup.

les chassis de lourdesLes Châssis de Lourdes by Rhayne Vermette, 2016.

Vermette’s Domus really should be more ‘my thing’ given that it’s basically an architectural treatise, but her filming style seems to lend itself better to this, which is essentially a collection of memory fragments pertaining to architecture.

Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 8.09.33 PMImmortality and Resurrection for All by Anton Vidokle, 2017.

The dialogues are fortune cookie-ish, mostly about how libraries, museums, archives, and the like are the ‘memory banks’ of various histories -natural, political, etc. I could’ve taken or left those. In fact, a possible experiment would be to watch this with the sound turned off, because what you see is much more engaging than anything else. I think it works best as a tactile experience that connects images to ideas or memories rather than as an ‘intellectual’ one that arguably reduces images to text. The sequences in the basement stacks brought me back to college days, camping out in the nooks of my university library’s cinderblock basement. The film also has a nouvelle vague vibe throughout (the good kind, Rive Gauche/Left Bank) -much of what you see is undeniably inspired by Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad and Toute le Mémoire du Monde and the Grand Galerie de l’Évolution in Marker’s La Jetée– so I suppose if you love those films, as I do -or if you just like spending time in libraries or museums- you’re a good candidate for this. It’s only 34 minutes long, all the same.

wolf house.pngThe Wolf House / La Casa Lobo by Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León, 2018.

Everybody keeps namedropping (the largely overrated) Svankmajer and Quay, but if you’re a real one you’ll know this takes its cue more from Jiri Barta, Ferenc Cako, Piotr Kamler, et al. and from tableaux vivantes by Kienholz and Borowczyk. How’s that for namedropping…

Shocktober 2018

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 6.33.49 AMGhost Eyes / 鬼眼 by Kuei Chih-Hung, 1974.

The only film by Kuei that I had ever seen was The Boxer’s Omen. I watched three more of his films this month and this was the best -or at least the most complex- by him that I’ve seen so far. It’s unsettling to say the least -it would make a good double feature with Carnival of Souls or The Eyes of Laura Mars: Sense perception as a catalyst for a kind of demonic vampirism. The story cycles through popular notions of ‘vision’ (literal and figurative), hypnosis, and madness. The imagery routinely returns to irises, eyeglass frames, things seen through filters or telephoto lenses, and so on, and I’m certain that that is all intentional.

The setting is great. I liked the anonymous urban landscape but also how ‘lived in’ everything looked: the restaurant, the beauty salon (the bits with Bao Ling at work are perhaps cribbed from Repulsion), etc. The interiors were cozy and claustrophobic at once. I also loved that it was set in a working-class world and how the two leads were non-descript, plain-looking people -they seemed like a couple you would see or know in real life.

rat saviorThe Rat Savior / Izbavitelj by Krsto Papić, 1976.

Some kind of plague or apocalypse, set in contemporary FSR Yugoslavia, portrayed in the micro, and inhabiting the Eastern European romantyk/groteska tradition. The film constantly moves in and out of dilapidated buildings, empty streets, and dimly-lit nightclubs. I feel like a lot of what was happening in the background was just as important if not more so than the foregrounded story of rats impersonating humans, since the story seems intentionally vague and impressionist. The film probably owes something to Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, though it’s based on the Russian novel from the 1920s that I’ve never read, Pacolovac by Aleksandr Grin, which in turn is probably based on the folkloric Rattenkönig or roi des rats (‘rat king’) of the sixteenth century, an image typically associated with the plague. Nevertheless this made me think of something Bruno Schulz might have written in the 1930s: The protag is caught in a bizarre, almost artificial world where ‘unseen,’ sinister things outside of anyone’s control are taking place with no real explanation. Given Yugoslavia’s inflation and impending economic collapse at the tail end of Tito’s regime around the time that this was made, as with Schulz it’s tempting to read political dimensions into the story. This would make a good double-feature with Gilić’s Backbone, made in the same time and place and depicting an apocalyptic event similarly.

Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 8.02.56 PMBewitching Eyes / Oczy Uroczne by Piotr Szulkin, 1977.

No clue what was happening the entire time (likely based on an oral history or myth/folktale) but I didn’t really care. This film takes you someplace insular, maybe forbidden…the dank corridors of ruins, jarring sound cues and chanting, some kind of ritual or ablution, an inexplicable pregnancy, objects and events that seem meant to be purely symbolic of…something. Szulkin can be frustrating as a director for me sometimes in that his cinema is filled with non-sequiturs and random strangeness, but maybe he’s best enjoyed if you just let his films wash over you. Maybe not a proper ‘horror’ film but it does easily occupy the Polish romantik/groteska tradition which goes back to the 19th century (what most places in the west have defined as ‘surrealist’ the Poles have traditionally called ‘romantic’), as there is a sense throughout of experiencing something unknown or unexplainable.

night of the werewolfNight of the Werewolf / El Retorno del Hombre Lobo by Paul Naschy, 1981.

I was surprised at how good this was, primarily because I think Naschy was only ever effective when he was directed by Carlos Aured or León Klimovsky; when Naschy directed himself it was usually a mess. However, to my delight this film is really more about the Countess Bathory than it is about Waldemar the werewolf. Bathory is played by the great Julia Saly, who is now perhaps my favorite film version of Bathory after Delphine Seyrig in Daughters of Darkness. Several shots and sequences in this are incredible, which was also unexpected since Naschy’s visual sense was never that great.

next of kinNext of Kin by Tony Williams, 1982.

This film works some kind of magic…has the same eeriness and mystery of the supernatural films of Peter Weir and Nicolas Roeg, and as with those films, I appreciated how most events here were left unexplained. When the film finally moves into more ‘literal’ territory in the finale, it still works because of what’s gone before (with a disturbing slow motion image of Jacki Kerin running and screaming). Loved the way the house was photographed. Dirge-like score by Klaus Schulze is incredible.This film works some kind of magic…has the same eeriness and mystery of the supernatural films of Peter Weir and Nicolas Roeg, and as with those films, I appreciated how most events here were left unexplained. When the film finally moves into more ‘literal’ territory in the finale, it still works because of what’s gone before (with a disturbing slow motion image of Jacki Kerin running and screaming). Dirge-like score by Klaus Schulze is incredible.

wilczycaShe Wolf / Wilczyca by Marek Pierstak, 1983.

Solid Polish romantik/groteska. I might like Majewski’s Lokis slightly more, but this had style to burn, as with any pre-1990 Polish production. Also, the incomparable Iwona Bielska is in it.

split of the spiritSplit of the Spirit / 離魂 by Fred Tam, 1987.

The ghost of a famous dancer murdered in a bizarre ritual killing returns to avenge her death and possess the woman who replaced her in her troupe. I liked the plight of Pauline Wong’s protagonist, who despite being clearly ‘evil’ when possessed by the ghost was also inaccessible (“unlikeable”) as a character herself. This speaks of course to the ridiculous competition begat by performance art institutions (or at least that which exists in the popular imagination, ie The Red Shoes), but the film also suggests Stevenson’s original vision of Jekyll and Hyde, where Jekyll never was ‘good’ and merely used Hyde as a conduit for bad behavior.

Shocktober 2018: Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978), 40th Anniversary

I was fortunate enough to see John Carpenter’s Halloween during a weeklong run at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theater in Maryland for the film’s 40th anniversary. Is there really anything left to say about this film? It’s hardly Carpenter’s best, in fact it is pretty weak, narratively: It never occurs to Dr. Loomis or to the police or to anyone to search for the car that Michael Myers stole, and if one is being pedantic it really doesn’t make any sense that parents would go out on Halloween night and leave their kids -who would likely want to go trick-or-treating- at home with babysitters. But, obviously anyone who has seen the film will gather that that’s not the point.


It’s undeniably fun to watch. The film is now 40 years old and yet large portions of it still seem fast-paced, exciting, and scary. This is the third Carpenter film I’ve seen in a cinema after The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness, and as I see more of his films projected in a theater setting -the manner in which many of Carpenter’s heroes, such as Howard Hawks, could only have been seen in his time- I appreciate more and more how old-fashioned he is as a director. The use of Steadicam technology in the film, for instance, almost undermines and ‘spoils’ you for many of the conventions and preconceived aesthetic notions we currently have regarding contemporary horror and thriller films: The long takes following the girls through the neighborhood streets or Loomis and the caretaker through the cemetery suggest scenes that you might see in genre films from the 1940s: stagelike, connoting a distinctive ‘organ’ of the film rather than a diffuse ‘connective tissue.’ It’s rewarding to me personally to see sequences done in that way rather than in the manner of say the cemetery sequence in David Gordon Green’s version of Halloween from this year, which was clearly shot via at least three or four different camera setups to allow for the most ‘coverage’ possible and contains dozens of edits for no reason. Scenes were staged and shot by necessity, and were not overproduced.

Halloween is really at its best, I think, in its portrayal of The Shape. A favorite anecdote I have Carpenter’s direction to Nick Castle, who plays The Shape: “Don’t emote, don’t ‘act.’ Just walk, stand there, stare.” The horror of the story is that the character is absolute: there’s no real ‘motivation’ for what he does. The speeches by Loomis almost seem like a crutch for the audience in that they spin some kind of ‘reasonable’ explanation for why the killer does what he does: Michael is simply ‘evil’ in Loomis’ mind, but for me, the character exists beyond good and evil. He’s a destructive force of nature, like a plague or a tropical storm. A tropical storm doesn’t destroy your house because it’s ‘evil.’ That’s just what it does.

the shape

Seeing it in a cinema you’ll also get a better sense of how film exploited photography and sound. I noticed this time around that the film cuts abruptly from daytime to nighttime, and for a while after that, it almost seems too dark. But your eyes adjust to the shadows (some of the interior shots could be from a German Expressionist film), and the cinematography almost intentionally toys with the audience. The pools of light cause you to look in all corners of the frame for things that aren’t there -especially during the iconic scene where Laurie runs through the street (both Halloween 4 and the 2018 film imitate this sequence, but it’s clear that the filmmakers didn’t understand what Carpenter and Cundey were doing or why). The sound was recorded in mono, and a theater setting explicates how the film relies on music and stings rather than on a stereo ‘envelope’ of sound in order to frighten the audience. So even if you don’t care about this kind of movie, it’s worth seeing in a theater as an example of film assembly.