Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lists #2

The last weeks of the last decade saw a frenzy of lists flying around the place. I was too slow, too preoccupied in the edit suite, and too terrified at the thought of trying to cast my mind back over ten years of life, let alone ten years of film/books/music, to compile a list of any damn thing.

I did write one of the only top 5 film lists I've ever successfully completed*, back in the first year of the decade - a year I remember, for me, as one of those years of film that change your life.

This is what I thought in the year 2000 were my top five filmy things of the year:
1. Viewing David Gordon Green's George Washington and Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher within days of each other at the 49th Melbourne International Film Festival 2000. Although, sadly, neither of the films will appear on theatre screens here, it was a glimpse of two modest, beautifully flawed, individually distinctive, staggering and inspiring films from two new filmmakers. 

2. Stumbling across Peter Tscherkassky's brilliant, equally joyful and melancholic film Happy-End. This short film, a reworking of found footage of a couple's celebratory Christmas toasts through the years, is a seductive jaunt through memory, domestic theatre and drunkenness.

3. Seeing the hardcover book "Jonas Mekas: Just Like a Shadow" on the bookshelves of several bookstores. Each page reproduces several consecutive frames from Mekas' personal works filmed on his 16mm Bolex. Lush, warm, intimate images with the heavy textures of aged film stock.

4. Catching Tsai Ming-Liang's The Hole and The River during late night screenings on SBS Television (Australia) throughout the year. SBS is without compare (Bollywood favourite Raja Hindustani is the midday movie as I write this) and ventures into territory that the cinemas, to their disgrace, have given up on all-together.

5. Listening to the following dialogue in Cassavetes' Love Streams:

- Do you sell?
- What?
- Anything. Love, drugs, poetry.
Also, in the year 2000 I saw a handful of films that I've carried with me ever since. Rosetta, The Wind Will Carry Us, Blackboards, the above mentioned George Washington & Ratcatcher, Spring Forward, The Circle, My Best Fiend, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, American Movie, Platform, In the Mood for Love and Dancer in the Dark. I also watched a retrospective of Claire Denis' films which was probably the single most impressive cinema going experience of my life. Back to back: Nenette et Boni, Beau Travail, US Go Home, Man No Run, S'en Fout La Mort, Chocolat, Je Pas Sommeil. A large number of the greatest films of my life were backed into a few short months over the winter of that year. Riding through the city, hoodie catching in the wind, eyes wide, mind racing.

So, now, 2010. Nothing blew my mind wide open in the way that the films of 2000 did and, to be honest, I have long since stopped being able to think in 'best of's' or 'favourites' or in lists that don't veer into Borges-like catalogues of strangeness** or the melancholy lists of Jonathon Safran Foer***. Life is too oversaturated to work out the good from the bad, so, inevitably, my favourite films are mostly films of stillness or focused intensity. In this past year, which has been a year mostly devoid of cinema, those films have been:
35 Shots of Rum, Three Monkeys, Samson and Delilah, Steve Carroll's short Kin which I saw a couple of years too late, Blissfully Yours (again, a few years too late), The Savages, Synechdoche, New York, Gomorrah,  and Julia.
As for the whole freaking decade, I don't know even know where to begin. There was consolation, though, in the fact that when IndieWire put up their vote-based best ofs for the decade I had managed to see almost every film. Some of them had completely altered me. And I think some kind of alteration is required for these lists. So, along with the aforementioned George Washington and Ratcatcher, my films of the decade with errors of memory and omissions acknowledging the fading of time:
Divine Intervention, Le Fils, Millenium Mambo, Beau Travail, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Stevie, Tropical Malady, Last Life in the Universe, Reconstruction, Punch Drunk Love, Oldboy, Battle in Heaven, What Time is it There?, Head On, Capturing the Friedmans, Unknown Pleasures, In the Mood for Love, Still Life, Adaptation, Elephant, Climates, Three Monkeys, 35 Shots of Rum, Yi Yi, Turtles Can Fly, Pan's Labyrinth, Lost in Translation, Code Unknown, In Praise of Love,  Deliver Us From Evil and Three Times.
And my scene of the decade comes from the Dardennes Brothers 'Le Fils' in which the carpenter and his apprentice, 'the son', measure the taut physical distance between them by eye and then again by carpenter's ruler. Incredible.


*The only other I can recall is this long superceded Top Ten list of all time that I wrote for Senses of Cinema:
"Lots of first films, lots of films about childhood (something about urgency, impatience and the urge towards recklessness). The list, significantly influenced by a number of staggering films seen in the past year, as of this moment, and with equal parts frustration and joy, is: (in no order)
My Childhood        (Bill Douglas, 1972)
My Ain Folk and My Way Home could equally be listed here but for the sake of economy one will have to be enough.

Seventeen        (Joel DeMott and Jeff Kreines, 1982)
Mouchette        (Robert Bresson, 1967)
Cyclo        (Tran Anh Hung, 1995)
George Washington        (David Gordon Green, 1999)
Masculin Féminin        (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)
Kes        (Ken Loach, 1969)
Ratcatcher        (Lynne Ramsay, 1999)
Ivan's Childhood        (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962)
Il Posto        (Ermanno Olmi, 1961)

(I would like to have been asked to compile a list of films with my all time favourite impromptu dance or musical numbers. Tsai Ming-liang's The Hole, Claire Denis' US Go Home, Bertolucci's Il Conformista, Hal Hartley's Surviving Desire, Godard's Bande à Part, Anthony Michael Hall in John Hughes' Sixteen Candles, and any number of scenes of drunken song and dance combinations in any number of Cassavetes' beautiful, brilliant films. Some other time, maybe…) "

**"These ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its distant pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones; (c) those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs; (e) mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble flies."
John Wilkins' Analytical Language, Jorge-Luis Borges included in Selected nonfictions: Jorge Luis Borges

***The following encyclopaedia of sadness was found on the body of Brod D. The original 613 sadnesses, written in her diary, corresponded to the 613 commandments of our (not their) Torah. Shown below is what was salvageable after Brod was recovered. (Her diary’s wet pages printed the sadnesses onto her body. Only a small fraction [55] were legible. The other 558 sadness are lost forever, and it is hoped that, without knowing what they are, no one will have to experience them.) The diary from which they came was never found.

SADNESSES OF THE BODY: Mirror sadness; Sadness of [looking] like or unlike one’s parents; Sadness of not knowing if your body is normal; Sadness of knowing your [body is] not normal; Sadness of knowing your body is normal; Beauty sadness; Sadness of m[ake]up; Sadness of physical pain; Pins-and-[needles sadness]; Sadness of clothes [sic]; Sadness of the quavering eyelid; Sadness of a missing rib; Noticeable sad[ness]; Sadness of going unnoticed; The sadness of having genitals that are not like those of your lover; The sadness of having genitals that are like those of your lover; Sadness of hands…..
SADNESSES OF THE COVENANT: Sadness of God’s love; Sadness of God’s back [sic]; Favourite-child sadness; Sadness of b[ein]g sad in front of one’s God; Sadness of the opposite of belief [sic]; Sadness of God alone in heaven; Sadness of a God who would need people to pray to him….
SADNESSES OF THE INTELLECT: Sadness of being misunderstood [sic]; Humor sadness; Sadness of love wit[hou]t release; Sadne [ss of be] ing smart; Sadness of not knowing enough words to [express what you mean]; Sadness of having options; Sadness of wanting sadness; Sadness of confusion; Sadness of domes[ti]cated birds; Sadness of fini[shi]ng a book; Sadness of remembering; Sadness of forgetting; Anxiety Sadness…
INTERPERSONAL SADNESSES: Sadness of being sad in front of one’s parent; Sa[dn]ness of false love; Sadness of love [sic]; Friendship sadness; Sadness of a bad convers[at]ion; Sadness of the could-have-been; Secret sadness….
SADNESSES OF SEX AND ART: Sadness of arousal being an unordinary physical state; Sadness of feeling the need to create beautiful things;…Kissing Sadness; Sadness of moving too quickly; Sadness of not mo[vi]ng; Nude model sadness; Sadness of portraiture…

Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer 

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