TiVo Servitude

This week has seen me a slave to my TiVo, which, brimming full, has mercilessly threatened to erase unwatched movies (to avenge itself for my tendency to record three hour long monstrosities) if I don't continuously watch films from morning to midnight. So, a summary of recently watched movies on TiVo, DVD, and in theaters, with the most recently watched films first (SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW):

"L'AVVENTURA" (1960)
dir. Michelangelo Antonioni

I was slowly wooed by this classic Antonioni, only the second of his (after "Blow Up") I have ever seen. The best explanation I can give of the transformation of my initial reluctance to engage is that it is really the magnetically beautiful Monica Vitti who made the film for me, and she only comes to occupy the central place in the narrative after her friend Anna (Lea Massari) has lengthily expressed her discontent with life and mysteriously disappeared. This is a rich, eventful film masquerading (quite cleverly) as a plotless one, and I can see already that it will reward multiple watchings, not merely to observe the famously ambiguous details of Anna's disappearance (was she lying when she said she saw a shark in the ocean while she was swimming?), but also to absorb the significance of a fleet of peripheral characters and events (like the author who writes in a trance and transforms a city of Italian men into a lurching zombie horde by ripping the seam on her skin tight skirt). One of my favorite moments comes quite near the end, when the bored, insomniac Monica Vitti, waiting for her absent lover to return, wanders her hotel room and explores the plasticity of her face in the mirror. A dozen emotions range across her face in a matter of seconds; it is as if she is warming up for a confrontation to come. A layered and captivating film.

"THE QUIET MAN" (1952)
dir. John Ford

I can't help it. I never expected to harbor a secret, burning love for either Gene Kelly or John Wayne (and more different loves they couldn't possibly be - let's be honest - although they certainly share a substantial physical charisma), but that is how it has happened, and there is no use denying it now. John Wayne plays slightly out of form in this rollickingly paced comedy about an American who returns to his Irish birthplace and falls in love with the "Homerically" willful Maureen O'Hara. OK, so the film is wildly uncomfortable on the subjects of, say, spousal abuse, feminism and non-violence, and it has a wonderfully blithe way of plastering over the Troubles and the problem of religious difference, but the sheer enthusiasm of the characters (not to mention the disarming intensity of the love scenes) are seductive, and you find yourself undeniably enthralled.

dir. Agnes Jaoui

A narcissitic author-publisher and his terminally self-conscious daughter clash over the idea that caring is control, and manage to be endlessly cruel to all those that love them. Every attempt at connection (be it friendship or love) is met with distrust, derision, or the obliteration of the friend and lover. But the whole thing is done to a haunting lovely soundtrack of Monteverdi, so can it all be that grim? What emerges is a fascinating character study in family politics.

dir. Theo Angelopoulos

A synthesis of (and meditative response to) the entire Greek epic tradition, this is also an absolutely riveting three hours. See it on as big a screen as possible: it is a subtle, painterly approach to film-making, a narrative constructed of incredibly long shots that develop in infinitesimal increments until they ripen into shocking meaning. It is a stunning love story of few words and detailed characterizations, a family saga and a tale of civil war that searingly retreads the traditions of "Seven against Thebes" and "Antigone." Each of the shots is a flawlessly constructed study in place as character. The weeping meadow is the plot of land given to ethnic Greeks fleeing Russia in the film's opening moments (land which ties them to an endless cycle of labor and loss); it is the field of honor on which soldiers killed in battle lie, waiting for their mothers to find them; and it is the organizing symbol of history in the film - a field in which each blade of grass yields a drop of dew that ultimately forms a river. There are town scenes straight out of Brueghel, in which the real object of our interest is gradually lost amidst the shifting patterns and rich seeming-chaos of life. There are Dutch interiors: Vermeer letter-readers and scenes that develop across several rooms, fitting multiple planes of narrative and image into a single frame. But this rich weft of cultural precedent never makes the film derivative or its characters stiff allegories. A devastating, imperative experience.

One Response so far.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Out of curiosity, just what does a movie have to do to earn that final 1/2 star from you?! Pay your rent? Publish your writing? Manually manipulate you to orgasm?

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