I’m Not There – DE LEON, Pristine

There was one line in “I’m not There” that presented a juxtaposition of folk and pop music. Its assertion is mainly: Pop music is controlled as it is run and dictated by society while folk music is simply honest. I would have to agree. By saying that folk music is honest as it is compared to pop music, it puts forward the assumptions that there is a lack of sincerity in Pop music. For one song to be popular, a significant number of individuals must be able to relate to. With this in mind, musicians tweak the lyrics of the pop song until it becomes relatable to majority. Sincerity suffers in the process.

What it says about art is that, above all, it must reflect something of the artist. Of course, a piece of artwork does reflect or express a portion of a general humanity but the artist must still have its imprint on his work.

In this film, we are given a peak into that soul infused in the artwork. Here, it isn’t only one but many characters who signify only one individual—the artist who is not visibly there. That is probably the idea behind the enigmatic title. Bob Dylan, for whom the movie is a tribute, is not there. With Bob Dylan being the “I” in “I’m Not There,” it suggest that his is the voice that dominates the entire movie. He is the one speaking though paradoxically, his actual voice can’t be heard.

If he is no one in the movie, he is everyone. His presence is ever more magnified by his absence.

This paradox that inflicts the movie shines light on the personality of the artist, the prominent subject on which the film is centered. It may tell that one artist represents all of humanity. And it can also pertain to all of humanity lives in the artist.

Again, the movie poses a multiplicity of questions that can be patterned to the analogy of the juxtaposition between folk and pop music. I have mentioned the notion that his presence is felt more intensely in his absence. But let me present somewhat of an antithesis: If the artist is everyone, if he represents the majority like the musician of pop music, could that mean that he has lost his identity? In this light, the title, “I’m Not There,” could be refigured to denote that in the art of the artist, he expresses every human being but himself.

Along this discussion, one can raise the issue of alienation that is experienced by the artist. When he becomes popular—as Bob Dylan was considered a big-time figure in the industry and as Jude Quinn in the film is described later on as “conforming to popular taste, he loses the sense of intimacy with his art. In the film, if the young Woodie Guthrie and the “wasted” Jude Quinn were both supposed to portray Bob Dylan, then this difference of character implies a radical change in the personality of the artist as he increasingly becomes part of the industry.

In contrast to before when his art was simply sincere, there now lies a rupture separating the artist from his artwork. Those who occupies the rupture may include his family, his audience, some or a million of strangers he would never know. These can be the people he gives voice to.

Perhaps, in that context, one may see differently what the artist means when he says “I’m Not There.”

 

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8 1/2 – DE LEON, Pristine

To begin and to be honest, I should say that I found Guido most attractive. I could never question the taste of his women. Admitting that, I would probably infuriate any feminist reader. In my defense, I would say that I don’t exactly approve of his womanizing. But I don’t condemn him for it either. He is both amusing and reproachful. And my opinions of him rest on a point in between.

Discussing my thoughts on his character would not really get me anywhere and so I move on to what I thought of the story. I would focus on Guido’s fantasies in relation to his desire for women. I now understand why the movie is excessively subjective. The plot inhabited an internal domain of Guido’s fantasies and recollections.

Perhaps similar to the movie Brazil, it provided him with an escape. In his childhood, he has been put under the strict authority of Catholic education. Now grown up, he is put under pressure and it stifles the creative process.

With reality that has become overbearing, he retreats into the subjective internal. What was somehow repressed erupts in the film with play and excess. He goes so far as to imagine some settings that depict the carnivalesque, such as the harem and the circus.

The objects of his fantasies are mainly women. In reality, his women and his mischievous affairs with them constitute the forbidden. In his childhood, for instance, they say “Saraghina is the devil.” Saraghina is sin and temptation personified in a woman. His extramarital affairs also suggest the idea of the forbidden. His wife reproaches him and leaves him for this. (And justly so.)

I hope I don’t read into this too much but I want to go so far as to say that the very confusing fantasy he had with him kissing his mother suggests something Oedipal, something severely forbidden.  Again, I don’t want to read into it too much but if I were to try and do a Freudian reading of the film, here it is: psychoanalysts would say that the first object of heterosexual desire is the mother for boys and the father for girls. But this object is unattainable. Wanting what one cannot have will be a recurring theme, a pattern for later passions. This in effect heightens desire.

Back to the film, that is what Guido does—he continually desires something or someone that he cannot have. In his harem, he even includes girls he hast not slept with—or yet to sleep with. He constantly yearns for the unattainable, the forbidden.

With the film 8 ½, Guido or Fellini has let out the repressed and this is becomes an inspiration for his art. His art flows like a wellspring of collected desires. It becomes more sincere and sincerity has always been a patterm for a brilliant artwork for art cannot really express truth in its purest, most pristine form. But it can reflect the repressed, the rawest side of humanity. The outpour of sincerity becomes the expression of humanity, created into a masterful artwork.

Inland Empire – DE LEON, Pristine

Inland Empire is unquestionably the hardest film I have ever watched. Not only is it difficult, it is almost impossible to fully understand.

The difficulty came from its counter-cinematic qualities that I still am not used to until now. The entire film plays in narrative intransitivity, made up of breaks and fragmentations, making it too difficult to follow the plot. It isn’t even a dreamlike sequence; it is nightmarish. There were very lurid images, as those in nightmares, like the clown in the end and the Polish woman in the beginning. It made it not only disturbing, but exceedingly frightening. Instead of affecting pleasure, it gives off displeasure, which is very counter-cinematic. We can hardly even relate to Nikki, the main character, the “woman in trouble.” We feel estrangement instead of identification. I, for one, cannot feel sympathy for her when I cannot even understand her—as she cannot even understand herself. Whether she was Nikki or the real life Susan, neither she nor we cannot be sure.

If there had been characters in the film that I had been amused of, they would be the bunnies. No, I did not understand them either. But their presence contributes a mystical element to the film. They cannot be hamsters or horses or anything else. Their being bunnies reminds me of the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.

Here we can see a cultural text in conversation with the film. As I have read in one of the blogs concerning Inland Empire, it’s as though Nikki had jumped into the rabbit hole and entered the other side of the looking glass.

This jumping into the rabbit hole facilitated the confusion and mystification that was to suffuse the entire film. It happened gradually. Distinctions in time and space gradually became blurry as the film progressed. In the earliest parts containing the narrative of Nikki Grace, the cause-and-effect sequence of the narrative was still clear. She was visited by the Polish woman, she learned that she got the part of Sue in the movie, she and her co-actor were interviewed in a TV show.

It was when they first read the script with their producers that things started to get confusing. As they were reading, an occurrence similar to what was in the script happened. There had been a noise, presumably someone in the backstage. Further along, their lives increasingly overlap with the story. What was happening to the characters was happening to them.

As they “enter” the story further, Nikki slipped further into the rabbit hole and into that otherland -Wonderland wherein the distinctions of time and space veritably collapses. There is no longer linear time, much less a linear narrative, which delineates past, present and future or even morning and evening. There are only occurrences happening erratically.

Reality, film, and hallucinatory fantasies also occur indistinctively. The way a scene was filmed when the scene was supposedly part of On High in Blue Tomorrows, the cameras and directors were not included in the frame so as to confuse the viewer further. There was also no making out if a scene was actually happening or if it was only a segment in Nikki’s hallucinations.

Overall, the film was extremely, insanely confusing. It showed the nightmarish sequences of the human mind as it sees reality through the human eye and as it slips through fantasies through the mind’s eye. These fragments of reality happen in a sequence which facilitates an experience ratified with confusion, having no distinction but only continuity. With that, it outlines rather rawfully the internal workings and complications of the human mind.

Eyes Wide Shut – DE LEON, Pristine

The moment Nicole Kidman bared her back hurriedly and unceremoniously to the viewers’ eye, on my mind I had the question, “That was it?” In some other films with erotic scenes, the body of a woman is gradually unveiled with excruciatingly slow pacing to the effect of creating tension and suspense and thereby heightening the spectator’s desire to finally see her beauty. The unveiling of the unknown becomes a spectacle to the viewer’s eye.

In this film however, the unknown is demystified and somehow rendered commonplace. The absence of a slow ceremony indicates that the unknown is not something to venerate. It is far from a spectacle; it is ordinary. Other scenes in the movie somehow illustrate this concept. One would be when Doctor Bill comes upstairs to cure Mandy who is seen sprawled on a chair with no clothes on. That instant flashing of the flesh onscreen signifies that there is nothing so spectacular in it that calls for pompous revelation. The corporeal is rendered material—as material as the chair on which it lies.

This is probably why critics argue that the film “Eyes Wide Shut” is not sexy. Instead of placing sex in that metaphorical dimmed light that generates the aura of seduction, it situates sex on a garish limelight that extinguishes the allure of mystery and seduction, and elucidates the quality of sex and body which is grotesque.

It is here that I applaud the cinematography of the film. It allowed me to realize that sex and the body itself are not so grand but what makes them so is how they are depicted. The film presents it as somewhat ordinary; not grand, but somehow even grotesque or beastly. One scene which demonstrates this is the orgy. The manner in which man and woman copulated is mindless, mechanic or animalistic; not at all erotic. Sex as lovemaking—with a connotation of romance—is reduced to sex only as intercourse.

Also in that scene, the people were wearing masks as they copulated. It is interesting that the face is covered while the body is blatantly exposed. The face, which signifies the more public self, is now hidden to give way to the revelation of the body, that which has been hidden—the more private self.

That is one of the things that the film does—it unmasks and penetrates the private to explore a somewhat hidden humanity that is base, primitive and deplorable. In the lives of Bill and Alice, the film goes beyond their status as socialites or their role as parents and reveals what they do behind their public image. Beneath the mask of civility, they attempt to cheat, they do drugs, they “f—.”

Ziegler even hints that those who take part in the orgy are rich, with high positions in society. The scenes wherein intercourse takes place is even embellished with elaborate decorations, representing the affluence of society. The film reveals that behind that mask of affluence and the pretentious civility it requires of those with money and power, lies the basest form of humanity, which is not spectacular or erotic. It is even primitive, animalistic.

Perhaps that is one reason why the film is titled “Eyes Wide Shut.” It provides a deep, “eyes-wide” perspective on the base internal. When the external world is shut out from view, one sees clearly what lies underneath.

Masculin Feminin — DE LEON, Pristine

Having been told that the film tells a story of a boy and a girl, I have formed this notion that perhaps at last we would watch a movie about love. Merely judging from the surface, mainly from the overview or from the title, I found myself quite mistaken. In the film “Masculin Feminin,” although the plot does center somewhat on the story of a boy and a girl, as they develop a relationship, the film itself is not essentially about love.

The two leading characters, Paul and Madeleine, have in them the image of the youth. Interestingly, they are depicted in the film as the “children of Marx and Coca-Cola.” They stand for these two different ideas: Paul for Marxism and Madeleine for commercialism.

The years of being a youth are generally identified as the age of having a crisis of identity and a continual search for meaning. Being unable to find fulfillment in themselves, they turn to society or their environment in the attempt of finding or defining their individuality. It can be that this notion is also employed in Masculin Feminin. Paul and Madeleine as individuals both represent an idea or an institution that are greatly prominent in their society.

During their initial encounters, Madeleine asks Paul, “What is the center of the world for you” and then she continues, “Funny, I would have said ‘me’.” Paul and Madeleine, even in this film, are the center of the plot. The movie revolves are them. Being at the center, the youth therefore becomes a subject, a site that assimilates a confusing range of societal and environmental forces. Consequently, he and she imbibe, and to an extent, become, the different conditions that pervade society.

Other social issues are also mirrored, not only in the individuality, but also in the relationship of men and women. One issue perhaps is the struggle for power between both sexes. The film’s cinematography, for instance, intensifies the idea of the male gaze wherein women are objectified. This point is raised in one of the blogs I have read. There are scenes wherein the camera only frames the woman as she is being interviewed by the man. It does not shift in the same usual sequence of “speaker one-speaker two-speaker one.” By employing the technique wherein only the woman is captured, there is also a sense of women literally being held captive by the man.

The idea of bisexuality is also an interesting idea present in the film. It is hinted that Madeleine and one of her woman friend share a romantic interest with each other. It is here that one can raise the different and confusing implications of lesbianism. First, it can suggest woman empowerment; the woman no longer desires the man or the man as the ‘enemy’. The man no longer controls her feelings; no longer controls her. The second implication functions conversely. If the woman desires another woman, she also has adapted or developed the male gaze where the woman is objectified. The consciousness of a man has overpowered and conquered hers. The woman still becomes the conquered subject, as a result.

The politics of gender is evidently at play. Once again, the youth becomes a site of socio-political conflicts. Another intriguing example, wherein the youth assimilates the forces working in his/her society, is depicted in the ending. Throughout the film, as Paul and Madeleine develop their relationship, the film shows spontaneous acts of murder and suicide. It heightens the chaos present in their society. Ultimately, the act completed by Paul at the end, emulates this phenomenon. The society he turned to build his identity has now ultimately destroyed him. This reinforces the notion of how the youth or the individual assimilates and mirrors the chaos and conflicts that pervade their society.

Repo Man – DE LEON, Pristine

The film Repo Man, at first, seemed to me, a movie about punks. Throughout the movie, I couldn’t exactly understand anything beyond the idea of punk rebellion. The lead character Otto displayed a lot of teenage angst even from the beginning, when he quitted his job at a supermarket in a very brash and boorish manner.

Otto was in his teens. Popular culture characterizes the years of being a teen as an age of instability. It usually associates being a teen with having an unexplainable anguish towards a specific order and consequently having an irrational desire for rebellion, a desire to overthrow that order. Repo Man, on the other hand, somehow justifies this irrationality as it calls to attention some aspects of society that are exceedingly problematic, thereby giving justification to the rebelliousness of the teen.

It took me a while to understand what it was about society against which they found it right to rebel. Reading a few blogs or interpretations about the film, I had the impression that the movie employed certain elements of satire. In general, it poses a commentary on problematic issues present in modern day society— consumerism and people’s fixation with material commodities. Thus, it was the duty of a Repo Man to, quite literally, “repossess” one of these objects which is the car.

To some extent, whenever these men take away the car, they return what the material object has taken away from their previous owners. Some people who have become fixated with their possessions have experienced a kind of trance that dehumanizes the owner of the object, producing a sense of alienation. One case is Otto’s parents whose minds have been numbed and hypnotized by a TV set. They stare blankly into it, deeply attached to the object and tragically disconnected from the world and from their own humanity. This numbing of the consciousness even recasts religion and beliefs as physical commodity. It is almost as though there is a cost to religion, as though it should be paid for or it can be bought. There is somewhat a commodification of an abstract ideal which is religion or belief.

The Repo Men here are depicted as the heroes who remove the mind numbing craze inflicted by consumerist products. Also, they embody that vitality that has been lost from those more attached to material objects. Their way of life is in itself a form of rebellion against society, or more likely, against the consumerist ideas that altered and dehumanized society. Exhibiting a radical contrast to those like Otto’s parents who are in a state of entrapment, the repo men are free and ecstatic as they live out their everyday adventures. As Bud had said to Otto, “the life of a repo man is always intense.”

One objective of the Repo Man, quite philosophically, is to break free from society while simultaneously setting society free from its own entrapment generated by a ridiculous attachment to material commodities.

The ending of the movie is an interesting subject to discuss. It is open to a multiplicity of interpretations and if I were to give it one, I would say that the ending may perhaps suggest that an energy beyond this world had ultimately liberated the Repo Man. The idea of extra terrestrials denotes that although they are radioactive, they are at the same time free from the corruptions inflicted by this world and society in particular. They represent an “other world” in which consumerism is not a widespread phenomenon. They contain a certain otherworldly essence that transcends and usurps our highly material and commoditized world.

Otto and Miller’s flight through the radioactive car could indicate that their rejection of the system grants them a transcendental experience, allowing them to escape from the dehumanizing threats of the material and into a freer, higher state of life.

Barton Fink — DE LEON, Pristine

I have always been fascinated with the workings of the mind and the slow, silent and laborious ways it can brilliantly and sometimes even simultaneously create and destroy. That is probably why I loved the film Barton Fink. It explores the depth of the mind, along with its tendencies, excess and absurdities.

As Barton was conversing with Charlie, he said, “The life of the mind, there’s no roadmap for that territory…exploring it could be painful.” That is, perhaps, one intent of the movie—to venture into the dangerous territory of the human mind and to show the sublime and deathly effects of that exploration.

The film takes place within a linear timeframe. There are no time flashbacks or other disruptions. But the idea that each event in the movie happened in reality is highly questionable. There were some scenes that were a little incredible to be real.

One of which would be the last scene which resembled the picture framed in Barton Fink’s room. Barton frequently stares into this picture whenever he attempts to write but cannot continue. The camera zooms in on this picture and as it goes nearer, waves are heard splashing in the background. One way of looking at this is that whenever Barton is engrossed in thought, he directs his attention to the picture. His thoughts rest on the picture. He then becomes more and more absorbed in the image—or in his own thoughts incited by the image—to the point that he almost hears it coming to life.

The last scene was almost too incredible. There, the picture has not only “come alive” but more fascinatingly, Barton participates in its reality. This can suggest that as the picture had been a cradle of Barton’s thoughts, he is now not only drawn but sucked into the world of those thoughts.

Another scene which was almost unreal was when Charlie was burning down the hotel. In that scene, there were no other characters present apart from Barton, Charlie and the two detectives. The bellhop was not there, nor the man in the elevator. Shouldn’t they have been concerned that the building was burning? Or had Charlie already murdered them, just as he did the others? Also, there was no running or screaming from the other rooms. The couple who was previously heard lovemaking in the next room, were they not concerned that they would die? Was there no one living in those apartments but Charlie and Barton?

Or more confusingly, did the burning actually happen, or was it just a creation of Barton’s mind?

Was Charlie even real? We discussed in class that there were some movie fanatics who ‘theorized’ that Charlie is just an imaginary or the alter-ego of Barton Fink. This does makes sense. Barton always wanted to glorify the common man. He thought that theirs was an epic worth telling. Charlie here, initially thought of as a common man, was the most sinister, mad, and exciting of all. Barton could have come up with the idea of producing an alter-life for the common man.

Also, when Barton realized that Charlie may have been the culprit behind the murder of Audrey, he was then inspired to create his story. If Charlie is indeed a figment of Barton’s imagination, his capability to kill and destroy juxtaposes, or even complements and stimulates, Barton’s capability to create. Charlie may have indeed been Barton’s alter-ego.

The film, however, does not confirm this notion. Events like the burning of the hotel, characters like Charlie and encounters like that between Barton and the woman at the beach seemed almost unlikely and unreal. But these elements are incorporated in the film’s linear narrative. There was nothing to signify whether these were real or mere imaginings. It does generate a kind of confusion among the viewers.

But perhaps the ambiguity it posits regarding the notion of real and imaginary suggests the idea that they comprise their own reality. The real and the imagined converge in a linear timeframe. There are no disruptions, no distinctions. As what our professor has pointed out, what is imagined is also real in a sense. The film portrays a kind of reality, moved forward by the events of the mind and some portions, even, may have taken place inside the mind.

I remember Charlie shouting as he was running in between the burning walls, “I’ll show you the life of the mind.”

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