28 August 2009

Genet’s Single Soundless Song: Un Chant d’amour (1950)

I finally caught up with Jean Genet’s only film as director, Un Chant d’amour (1950), within the past year, and it was only as it started that I realised it contained no sound; it was very much a silent film. For some reason I always assumed - in noting the literal translation of the title, A Song of Love - it might feature at least a sprinkling of musical accompaniment, at least. I don't know if my ignorance in not knowing much about the film had anything to do with it, but as soon as the film started the impact of Genet's soundless criminal world was quite a shock: the first prison guard had no footsteps; the swinging flowers outside the cell window made no whooshing sound...

The film is full of splendid, close-fitting imagery – some of it stark; some of it consolatory – but the absence of sound is the most interesting thing about the film. After a while – through the visual-aural associations I missed via the actions carried out on screen – I found myself subconsciously adding sounds to match whatever was happening: I took on the role of the foley artist. The bizarre, solo, jerky dance one inmate performs (either for the prying warden? us? or simply himself?) was rhymeless. Just as the prisoner may have conjured up an internal song, I did the same. I was making the scene as moving, painful, transcendent or even as humourous as I wanted to. I found that the lack of either diegetic or non-diegetic sound often desexualised the action (chiefly the flirtations and foreplay between the prisoners). But, adversely, that lack also makes some moments more intimate, more sensual. A climbing visual fascination occurs, not only for the inmates on screen (visibility for them being hindered by cell walls), but also for the viewer (audibility for us being hindered by its very deficiency). On screen and off, we retreat to recalled images and sounds, respectively, as tools for arousal and/or identification.

The absence of sound during the frequent scenes of sex in the film eradicates one significant and sometimes embarrassing factor (for any person): all that panting and groaning and, er, general verbal appreciation, shall we say. It could be that these prisoners perhaps can’t or won’t make any sound during sexual acts (through fear of being discovered, general self-consciousness, or the desire to keep things ‘unspoken’). This idea is raised in the film’s absence of aural accompaniment. Without it, Genet’s moments of sexual intimacy come across as distanced and almost clinical, tidied up somehow, though never dulled or unpassionate. We inscribe onto the screen how we might feel; it presents us with the act and asks us what we do, how we’d act and what we sound like in similar situations. (The essence of the act of sex, gay or straight, being of course both relative and universal.)

It’s clear that films like Todd Haynes' Poison (1991), Sean Mathias' Bent (1997) and, to some extent, Gus Van Sant's Mala Noche/Bad Night (1985) - as well as (although in a different vein) various Andy Warhol film experiments such as Blow Job (1963) – drew largely on the tonal sensibilities of Un Chant d'amour (particularly in the case of Haynes' film: the 'Homo' section directly references the film), but none captured its exact tone, whether outrightly intended or not. The Love Behind Bars theme may have been examined through others' filmmaking, but Genet’s crucial touch was to deliberately make it affecting through what he didn’t include: the nonexistent sound makes us focus on what’s not there; as a result the focus falls on the images more intently.

The film has often been labelled as visually poetic and dreamlike, and although some sequences have a particularly insular kind of surrealness about them, the general ocular cheerlessness of it doesn’t really inspire - or indeed require - too much overt romantic reference: the details in the very everyday-ness of its most intimate moments are beautifully conveyed with a lucid frankness and, in my view, there isn't call for overstatement here. This is not to devalue what Genet and his co-cinematographer Jacques Natteau acheived at all. The images are certainly distinctive: each scene is framed with immaculate attention to screen space, and the frequency of close-ups instil further intimacy within this world of confinement. But the real potency of the film, what lingers afterwards as a result of watching it in silence, occurs through what each individual viewer adds onto it – through whatever tune, noise, hum or whisper they think fits. We personalise it that way; the best stuff arises simply through the viewing. Did Genet require us to be unwitting interactive participants, by deliberately omitting a soundtrack? I don’t know. But the resulting effect makes his only directing effort a thoroughly reciprocal experience: the viewer, him- or herself, is the perfect complement to the visuals.

Maybe Genet had said and sung too much elsewhere, through his novels (tellingly, books obviously don't have soundtracks), or in his own confinement, to need to say anything with either dialogue or song here. Or maybe he just prefers his films pre-talkie. Who’s to say what Genet’s ultimate thematic or aesthetic intentions for the film were. But this isn’t essential to grasp its seductive qualities. What’s presented on screen can be absorbed intuitively. I took it in the manner I did at the time, and others do likewise. But the lack of voices and noises, the sounds of desire or submission, replaced simply with silence, is what’s so spellbinding about Un Chant d’amour. I could transpose anything I liked onto this mini-fable of grubby love. Needless to say, however good Simon Fisher Turner's or Gavin Bryar's scores for reduxed versions of it are, it's best left without one.

24 August 2009

Looking back to 2000: Films and performances

Female Performances:

01. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Donna De Angelo in Limbo
02. Maggie Cheung as Su Li-zhen/Mrs. Chan in In the Mood for Love
03. Kerry Washington as Lanisha Brown in Our Song
04. Melora Walters as Claudia Wilson Gator in Magnolia
05. Julianne Moore as Sarah Miles in The End of the Affair
06. Carrie-Anne Moss as Natalie in Memento
07. Catherine Keener as Maxine Lund in Being John Malkovich
08. Mira Sorvino as Dionna in Summer of Sam
09. Cate Blanchett as Meredith Logue in The Talented Mr. Ripley
10. Melanie Griffith as Honey Whitlock in Cecil B. DeMented

Also good, in no order: Chloë Sevigny Boys Don’t Cry / Tracey Ullman Small Time Crooks / Annette Bening American Beauty / Björk Dancer in the Dark / Sigourney Weaver Galaxy Quest

Male Performances:

01. Eric Bana as Mark Brandon 'Chopper' Read in Chopper
02. Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho
03. Billy Crudup as FH in Jesus' Son
04. Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
05. John C. Reilly as Officer Jim Kurring in Magnolia
06. Michael Douglas as Prof. Grady Tripp in Wonder Boys
07. Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Chow Mo-wan in In the Mood for Love
08. Denis Lavant as Galoup in Beau travail
09. Albert Finney as Ed Masry in Erin Brockovich
10. John Leguizamo as Vinny in Summer of Sam

Also good, in no order: Mike White Chuck & Buck / Jack Black High Fidelity / David Strathairn Limbo / Ewen Bremner Julien Donkey-Boy / Jim Carrey Man on the Moon

Top Ten Films:

10. Bringing Out the Dead (Martin Scorsese/USA)
09. Summer of Sam (Spike Lee/USA)
08. In the Mood for Love/Fa yeung nin wa (Wong Kar-wai/Hong Kong, France)
07. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch/France, Germany, USA, Japan)
06. Blackboards/Takhté siah (Samira Makhmalbaf/Iran, Italy, Japan)
05. Jesus' Son (Alison Maclean/Canada, USA)
04. Beau travail (Claire Denis/France)
03. American Psycho (Mary Harron/USA)
02. Limbo (John Sayles/USA)
01. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson/USA)

Also good, in no order: One Day in September (Kevin Macdonald) / Our Song (Jim McKay) / High Fidelity (Stephen Frears) / The End of the Affair (Neil Jordan) / Chuck & Buck (Miguel Arteta) / Wisconsin Death Trip (James Marsh) / Small Time Crooks (Woody Allen) / Ringu/The Ring (Hideo Nakata) / Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter/Ash Brannon/Lee Unkrich) / Chopper (Andrew Dominik)

22 August 2009

Looking back to 2001: Films and performances

The top ten films and performances of 2001.

Female Performances:

01. Isabelle Huppert as Erika Kohut in The Piano Teacher
02. Dina Korzun as Tanya in Last Resort
03. Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream
04. Tilda Swinton as Margaret Hall in The Deep End
05. Charlotte Rampling as Marie Drillon in Under the Sand
06. Frances O'Connor as Monica Swinton in A.I. Artificial Intelligence
07. Ike Ogut as Naghadar in Kandahar
08. Brooke Smith as Dawn in Series 7: The Contenders
09. Jennifer Coolidge as Sherri Ann Cabot in Best in Show
10. Pilar Padilla as Maya in Bread and Roses

Also good, in no order: Laura Linney You Can Count on Me / Jennifer Jason Leigh The King Is Alive / Frances McDormand The Man Who Wasn’t There / Andrea Martin Hedwig and the Angry Inch / Juliette Binoche Code Unknown

Male Performances:

01. John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch
02. Jack Nicholson as Jerry Black in The Pledge
03. Mark Ruffalo as Terry Prescott in You Can Count on Me
04. Paddy Considine as Alfie in Last Resort
05. Ryan Gosling as Danny Balint in The Believer
06. Javier Bardem as Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls
07. Emilio Echevarría as El Chivo in Amores perros
08. Sami Bouajila as Félix in Drôle de Félix
09. Peter Mullen as Gordon Fleming in Session 9
10. Adrien Brody as Sam Shapiro in Bread and Roses

Also good, in no order: Tom Hanks Cast Away / Saïd Taghmaoui Nationale 7 / Takeshi Kitano Gohatto / Benoît Magimel The Piano Teacher / Mark Webber Storytelling

Top Ten Films:

10. Damnation/Kárhozat (Béla Tarr/Hungary)
09. Under the Sand/Sous le sable (François Ozon/France)
08. You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan/USA)
07. Session 9 (Brad Anderson/USA)
06. The Piano Teacher/La pianiste (Michael Haneke/Germany, Poland, France, Austria)
05. Last Resort (Pawel Pawlikowski/UK)
04. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg/USA)
03. The Pledge (Sean Penn/USA)
02. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell/USA)
01. Dark Days (Marc Singer/USA)

Also good, in no order: Bread and Roses (Ken Loach) / George Washington (David Gordon Green) / A One and a Two.../Yi yi (Edward Yang) / Code Unknown/Code inconnu (Michael Haneke) / Amores perros/Love's a Bitch (Alejandro González Iñárritu) / Drôle de Félix/The Adventures of Felix (Olivier Ducastel/Jacques Martineau) / Kandahar/Safar e Ghandehar (Mohsen Makhmalbaf) / Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer) / The Anniversary Party (Alan Cumming/Jennifer Jason Leigh) / The Deep End (Scott McGehee/David Siegel)

21 August 2009

Looking back to 2002: Films and performances

Female Performances:

01. Naomi Watts as Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn in Mulholland Dr.
02. Stockard Channing as Julie Styron in The Business of Strangers
03. Helen Mirren as Mrs. Wilson in Gosford Park
04. Shiang-chyi Chen as Shiang-chyi in What Time Is It There?
05. Uma Thurman as Amy Randall in Tape
06. Mania Akbari as the Driver in Ten
07. Cate Blanchett as Philippa in Heaven
08. Samantha Morton as Morvern Callar in Morvern Callar
09. Emily Watson as Elsie in Gosford Park
10. Béatrice Dalle as Coré in Trouble Every Day

Also good, in no order: Marcia Gay Harden Pollock / Fanny Ardant 8 Women / Barbara Hershey Lantana / Maribel Verdú Y tu mamá también / Anjelica Huston The Royal Tenenbaums

Male Performances:

01. Martin Compston as Liam in Sweet Sixteen
02. Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums
03. Tom Cruise as Chief John Anderton in Minority Report
04. Timothy Spall as Phil in All or Nothing
05. Samuel L. Jackson as Doyle Gipson in Changing Lanes
06. Bill Nighy as Dan in The Lawless Heart
07. Paul Dano as Howie Blitzer in L.I.E.
08. Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson in 24-Hour Party People
09. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Okwe in Dirty Pretty Things
10. Robin Williams as Seymour Parrish in One-Hour Photo

Also good, in no order: Jake Gyllenhaal Donnie Darko / Stefano Cassetti Roberto Succo / Moritz Bleibtreu Das Experiment / Heath Ledger Monster’s Ball / Owen Wilson The Royal Tenenbaums

Top Ten Films:

10. My Little Eye (Marc Evans/UK, USA, France, Canada)
09. The Lawless Heart (Tom Hunsinger/Neil Hunter/UK, France)
08. Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis/France, Germany, Japan)
07. 28 Days Later... (Danny Boyle/UK)
06. Gosford Park (Robert Altman/UK, USA, Italy)
05. Sweet Sixteen (Ken Loach/UK)
04. What Time Is It There?/ Ni na bian ji dian (Tsai Ming-Liang/Taiwan, France)
03. Ten (Abbas Kiarostami/Iran, France, USA)
02. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg/USA)
01. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch/USA)

Also good, in no order: Abouna (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun) / The Business of Strangers (Patrick Stettner) / Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly) / Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsey) / The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson) / L.I.E. (Michael Cuesta) / All or Nothing (Mike Leigh) / Changing Lanes (Roger Michell) / Tape (Richard Linklater) / Talk to Her/Hable con ella (Pedro Almodóvar)

Looking back to 2003: Films and performances

Female Performances:

01. Julianne Moore as Cathy Whitaker in Far from Heaven
02. Miranda Richardson as Yvonne/Mrs. Cleg in Spider
03. Anne Reid as May in The Mother
04. Jennifer Aniston as Justine Last in The Good Girl
05. Emma Thompson as Karen in Love Actually
06. Charlotte Rampling as Sarah Morton in Swimming Pool
07. Tilda Swinton as Ella Gault in Young Adam
08. Meg Ryan as Frannie in In the Cut
09. Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee Holloway in Secretary
10. Anne Parillaud as Jeanne in Sex Is Comedy

Also good, in no order: Oksana Akinshina Lilja 4-ever / Katrin Sass Good Bye, Lenin! / Sarah Polley My Life without Me / Patricia Clarkson All the Real Girls / Uma Thurman Kill Bill Vol.1

Male Performances:

01. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Wilson Joel in Love Liza
02. Olivier Gourmet as Olivier in The Son
03. John Cusack as Max Rothman in Max
04. Lars Rudolph as János Valuska in Werckmeister Harmonies
05. Jack Kehler as Denny in Love Liza
06. Jack Nicholson as Warren Schmidt in About Schmidt
07. Victor Rasuk as Victor Vargas in Raising Victor Vargas
08. Ralph Fiennes as Spider in Spider
09. Willem Dafoe as Earl Copen in Animal Factory
10. Pierre-Louis Bonnetblanc as David in Le Souffle

Also good, in no order: Ewan McGregor Young Adam / Nicolas Cage Adaptation. / Daniel Brühl Good Bye, Lenin! / Dennis Haysbert Far from Heaven / Max von Sydow Intacto

Top Ten Films:

01. Gerry (Gus Van Sant/USA)
02. Werckmeister Harmonies/Werckmeister harmóniák (Béla Tarr/Hungary)
03. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes/USA, France)
04. Love Liza (Todd Louiso/USA)
05. Spider (David Cronenberg/Canada, UK)
06. Russian Ark/Russkiy kovcheg (Aleksandr Sokurov/Russia)
07. The Good Girl (Miguel Arteta/USA)
08. The Hours (Stephen Daldry/USA, UK)
09. Le Souffle (Damien Odoul/France)
10. The Mother (Roger Michell/UK)

Also good, in no order: City of God/Cidade de Deus (Fernando Meirelles/Kátia Lund) / The Son/Le fils (Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne) / Calais: The Last Border (Marc Isaacs) / Max (Menno Meyjes) / Adaptation. (Spike Jonze) / Waiting for Happiness/Heremakono (Abderrahmane Sissako) / Belleville Rendez-Vous/Les triplettes de Belleville (Sylvain Chomet) / Touching the Void (Kevin Macdonald) / Time of the Wolf/Le temps du loup (Michael Haneke) / About Schmidt (Alexander Payne) / All the Real Girls (David Gordon Green) / Warming by the Devil’s Fire (Charles Burnett) / Identity (James Mangold) / Spirited Away/Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Hayao Miyazaki) / Intacto/Intact (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo) / Cowards Bend the Knee or The Blue Hands (Guy Maddin) / Good Bye, Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker) / Young Adam (David Mackenzie) / Japón/Japan (Carlos Reygadas) / Raising Victor Vargas (Peter Sollett)

20 August 2009

Looking back to 2004: Films and performances

A few quick posts to Recap on Top Tens from 2000 to 2004 (2005 to 2008 have been completed in earlier posts), to finish of the top tens from '00 to the present. 2009 top tens to come in January 2010.

Female Performances:

01. Toni Collette as Sandy Edwards in Japanese Story
02. Natalie Press as Mona in My Summer of Love
03. Nicole Kidman as Anna in Birth
04. Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster
05. Naomi Watts as Cristina Peck in 21 Grams
06. Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver in Kill Bill Vol. 2
07. Marina de Van as Esther in Dans ma peau
08. Hope Davis as Joyce Brabner in American Splendor
09. Laia Marull as Pilar in Take My Eyes
10. Isabella Rosselini as Lady Helen Port-Huntley in The Saddest Music in the World

Also good, in no order: Ingrid de Souza Princesa / Radha Mitchell Finding Neverland / Lisa Kudrow Wonderland / Patricia Clarkson Pieces of April / Cécile De France Switchblade Romance

Male Performances:

01. Peter Sarsgaard as Charles 'Chuck' Lane in Shattered Glass
02. Paddy Considine as Richard in Dead Man’s Shoes
03. Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar in American Splendor
04. Bobby Cannavale as Joe Oramas in The Station Agent
05. Emin Toprak as Yusuf in Uzak
06. Simon Pegg as Shaun in Shaun of the Dead
07. Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
08. Gael Garcia Bernal as Ángel/Juan/Zahara in Bad Education
09. Min Sik-Choi as Dae-su Oh in Oldboy
10. Mark Wahlberg as Tommy Corn in I ♥ Huckabees

Also good, in no order: John Hurt Dogville / Ossie Davis Bubba Ho-Tep / Phillip Garel The Dreamers / Jim Carrey Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind / Ivan Dobronravov The Return

Top Ten films:

01. Japanese Story (Sue Brooks/Australia)
02. Goodbye, Dragon Inn/Bu san (Tsai Ming-Liang/Taiwan)
03. Elephant (Gus Van Sant/USA)
04. My Summer of Love (Pawel Pawlikowski/UK)
05. Birth (Jonathan Glazer/USA)
06. The World/Shijie (Zhang Ke Jia/China)
07. Shattered Glass (Billy Ray/USA)
08. The Station Agent (Thomas McCarthy/USA)
09. Dans ma peau/In My Skin (Marina de Van/France)
10. Gozu (Takashi Miike/Japan)

Also good, in no order: Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright) / Take My Eyes/Te doy mis ojos (Icíar Bollaín) / My Architect (Nathaniel Kahn) / American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman/Robert Pulcini) / The Incredibles (Brad Bird) / Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (Adam McKay) / The Return/Vozvrashcheniye (Andrei Zvyagintsev) / Dead Man's Shoes (Shane Meadows) / Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder) / Uzak/Distant (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) / Oldboy (Chan-wook Park) / Dogville (Lars von Trier) / The Saddest Music in the World (Guy Maddin) / Bad Education/La mala educación (Pedro Almodóvar) / Dead Birds (Alex Turner) / Last Life in the Universe/Ruang rak noi nid mahasan (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang) / 21 Grams (Alejandro González Iñárritu) / Red Lights/Feux rouges (Cédric Kahn) / Little Men/Malenkie lyudi (Nariman Turebayev) / Haute tension/Switchblade Romance (Alexandre Aja)