noticing again

Over the last month or so I spent a lot of time watching films on YouTube.

It's probably no secret my favourite director is Derek Jarman, and that my tastes are generally experimental/alternative/avant-garde/whatever the fuck you want to call them.

Across the last year on DVD, in the cinema, and online I've watched films from Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren, Jeff Keen, Jonas Mekas, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sally Potter, Ken Russell, and a bunch of others.

Most of them have excited me - I like the repetitions, the non-natural performances, and edits of Maya Deren's films that predate David Lynch's use of similar techniques by forty years; the expansive and energetic sense of what can constitute the visual material of film in Stan Brakhage; the fascination with texture, colour and movement, with the documentation of the everyday in Jonas Mekas, and so on.

These are artists who with often minimal resources explore the visual possibilities of film in a way that mainstream cinema seems unable to. It's bizarre to me that more than twenty years since the advent of CGI as a regular part of the commercial cinema's palette the films remain so visually uninventive.

This is just background. I love these less commercial films. But because most of what I watch falls into that bracket it can be easy to forget why I enjoy them so much, and why on the whole I avoid the multiplex.

Which is where my recent YouTube jag comes in. From films I couldn't be arsed to watch at the time - like the '90s remake of Godzilla*, to things I watched as a teen on VHS - like Tobe Hooper's LifeForce**, by way of recent blockbusters and various '70s classics - like Rollerball***, I caught up with a lot of old movies.

Some of them were pretty good, but apart from a handful from the late '60s and early to mid '70s, most had predictable structures, poorly realised characters, uninteresting dialogue, and an over-reliance on narrative to provide the main interest in the film.

On the whole it was fun, but I increasingly found myself doing other things while a lot of them were playing. I'd read magazine articles, jot down notes or perhaps paint, hang up clothes, or something else that took my attention off the film.

Then I bought some DVDs of films that interested me, Sally Potter's The Gold Diggers which I've yet to watch, Pier Paolo Pasolini's Medea which I'd previously seen online and loved, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

With time to kill one morning I put on Letter To Uncle Boonmee, a short in the extras of Weerasethakul's film, and was absolutely sucked in. There was not much in the way of narrative. No explanation of the visuals or how they related to the letter being read over them, nothing to tell you what was fiction and what documentary, just the images, sounds, and words. But it was more compelling and satisfying than anything I'd watched in the previous month or so.

I felt happy. Everything about the film made me happy. It didn't annoy me, it didn't make my head hurt, it wasn't stupid, it wasn't condescending, it was just enjoyable to watch and think about. It didn't look like every other film that comes out. Watching it felt liberating, engaging, effortless.

And that was wonderful - to realise again in a visceral way that I love the films I do because they offer something that other films don't. To reaffirm that it isn't just posturing, or trying to be cool or smart, but a genuine interest. An even better realisation for taking me by surprise.

*Boring shit that never makes sense - watch the Japanese original. See also Peter Jackson's overlong, charmless, tedious, almost unwatchable 2005 remake of 1933's King Kong.
**Fucking awful - I have no idea how this got funded or released.
***Really good. It has flaws, but this is the kind of cinema that Lucas/Spielberg tentpole movies, and then their CGI/post Independence Day successors killed off. Mainstream movies that credit you with some higher functions****.
****David Fincher and the late Tony Scott are especially egregious offenders in this regard, making films that think they're smart and deep (and are sometimes entertaining and enjoyable), but which are actually as dumb as box of rocks. Don't believe me? Watch The Game or Deja Vu and then we'll talk.


Popular Posts