Before Need Redressed (Gunvor Nelson and Dorothy Wiley, 1979/1994)
I finished watching all of what I can by Gunvor Nelson, and I think I prefer the later, somewhat-autobiographical, somewhat-meta films to the earlier pseudo-political stuff. Moon’s Pool is great obviously and perhaps her best (as is Light Years) but I enjoyed this one a lot too. This is a re-edit between Nelson and Wiley of a film they made together in 1979, Before Need, which I’ve never been able to find. The original ‘thesis’ had to do with performers who are preoccupied with theories, models, and systems for understanding the world, while the film itself focuses on the matter and material around them -fruit, tableware, jewelry, fossilized teeth, several animals- as phenomena, resulting in a push-pull between formal analysis and sense experience (kind of similar to Stephen Dwoskin’s tendency to capture everything in hyper-intimate close-up).
This would be an interesting candidate for watching ‘deaf’ (Michel Chion’s term for ‘silent,’ or merely with the sound turned off), since the language doesn’t gel with the images anyway and since it would allow you to focus more on the several digressions the film makes. The thing I noticed the most was how maternal images -signified by the close-ups of a swaddled infant with the sound of an adult woman whispering- were offset with footage of fowl on a dining table and people eating boiled eggs -showing us the physical deposits of two different forms of reproduction.
Bruxelles-Transit (Samy Szlingerbaum, 1980)
I usually can make it to only one film at the Washington Jewish Film Festival each year and it’s usually a retro screening of something I’ve never heard of, which is nice. This is a largely-autobiographical story of Szlingerbaum’s parents who came to Belgium from Łodz in 1947 (though I presume they originally fled Łodz before 1939 and were located somewhere else prior to 1947 since it’s unlikely that an entire Jewish family would have survived the ghetto there). While watching it you can’t help but notice the film’s stylistic similarities to Chantal Akerman, specifically the weigh stations and platforms in Je tu il elle and Les rendez-vous d’Anna, so it’s no surprise that Szlingerbaum worked on the former film and performed in Akerman’s Toute une nuit. PS: good capsule of sources on the film (there are few) at Belgium-based site Sabzian.
August in the Water (Sogo Ishii, 1995)
Tokyo in the middle of a bizarre drought. Stone hieroglyphs out in the woods. Numerous shots of people fainting in the street from dehydration, filmed from a distance with a telephoto lens, suggesting characters who are dwarfed and humbled by the world. Percussion-centric music by Hiroyuki Onogawa has a sinister vibe. The elements of heat and water suggest a kind of cosmic horror -not horror in that the world is hostile but that it is indifferent. A film I liked a lot when I was in my twenties was Peter Weir’s The Last Wave. I haven’t seen it in years but I’ve never forgotten Weir’s own description of the story: “What if a person who had a pragmatic approach to life suddenly had a premonition?” This reminded me of that.
Pet Sematary (Mary Lambert, 1989)
I saw the remake this month and the entire time felt as if I was watching an overproduced zombie video game, flat and lifeless compared to Mary Lambert’s original film from 1989. I decided to revisit it to try and recapture what made it special. It still works. It may not be perfect but it has a rawness and melancholy about it that I remember disturbed a lot of audiences when it was first released and still does today, and it’s actually about something. That rawness and melancholy doesn’t necessarily emerge from the movie’s violence but from who is committing violence and why. I saw Lambert’s film in a theater with my parents when I was almost 10 in 1989, and while it was certainly scary and disturbing I know now that it can’t register with a little kid in the same way that it does with an adult, particularly an adult who is responsible for children. Stephen King developed the novel (probably his most frightening after Salem’s Lot) after talking to his own kids for the first time about death and dying. Lambert seems to have understood that aspect of the story (it’s also in this regard that you could argue that Lambert doesn’t direct the film the way a man might) in that both the book and the film are essentially about parenting -particularly adult anxieties over being a ‘bad’ parent and having to constantly make what you hope are the right decisions regarding your kids. I don’t know if the parents in Pet Sematary are bad parents or not (they probably are) but they make numerous terrible decisions. What’s great about this film, I think, is that it shows the consequences of that and never implies them.