Thursday, June 7, 2012

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

In honor of the Gene Siskel Film Center's summer long Studio Ghibli retrospective, I've decided to induct the film that made it all possible into my Canon.

NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND may have preceded Ghibli's creation by a few years, but its success was pivotal in the studio's development, and in many ways, this is the prototype for all Hayao Miyazaki films to follow. There's the headstrong female protagonist, the fantastic flying machines, the childlike optimism at odds with a world in chaos - all wrapped up in an environmentalist parable. And despite the string of masterpieces that would follow, I'm still not sure Miyazaki has ever topped this.  

Visually polished to the level we've come to except of Ghibli, NAUSICAÄ was hardly typical for the mid-80s animation slump in which is arrived. Think of this, then, as the first major work in an international golden age of animation, engineers by Ghibli and Disney alike, that stretched well into the 90s (and, with Pixar, could be argued to still be going on today).


Backing up the film is Joe Hisaishi's gorgeous score, an endearing mix of swelling orchestral compositions and nostalgia-inducing synthesizers. It's far and away my favorite work of his, which says something in itself, and I wouldn't hesitate to throw this is with the greatest film scores of all time. Beautiful work.

Bottom line is, this one is unmissable. For those of you able to check out the retrospective, the film will be showing at the Siskel Center Friday June 8th at 6:00pm in the original Japanese dub, and on Saturday the 9th at 3:00pm and Wednesday the 13th at 6:00pm in the 2005 English dub. I just may see you there.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Black Narcissus

How do you follow up the first entry in your Canon when that entry is nothing short of your favorite film of all time? How about with a film from your favorite directors? That film would be Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's BLACK NARCISSUS.

It's a film I was fortunate enough to revisit recently on 35mm, and more than ever it affirmed its place among the all time greats. A cloister of nuns are slowly driven mad by the intoxicating Himalayan air - well, that, and burgeoning sexual desire. It may be the most erotic film this side of Bertolucci, and Jack Cardiff's Pinewood-based production design has everything to do with it. The visuals alone send the mind into sensory overload, and much in keeping with my aim at brevity, they do a nice job of speaking for themselves.



I especially like that last one, which captures Jean Simmons' young beauty Kanchi amidst a private dance. It's one of many moments in this movie in which we feel as though we're eavesdropping, privy to something we are not meant to see. And that is what ultimately sets this apart from other world-is-our-playground type Western stories. The nuns here are very much on the outside looking in at another culture, but what they see is so affecting that they can't help but let it get to them. Any efforts to change what they see are futile. They are, like us, voyeurs at best.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Celine and Julie Go Boating

It all started something like this...

I've been away too long. I've been busy. Lot's of re-acclimating. You understand. And even when I was here in the last year, I wasn't focused. Certainly not consistent. And I feel terrible about that ~ really, I do ~ and I do believe I have a remedy.


Settle down on the fanatical listing, finally accept that you all have more to teach me about music than I ever can teach you, and bring this back to basics. Which is to say, the thousand or more reasons I can think of to fall in love with cinema. An unranked rundown of greatest films large and small, unfurling one by one, maybe as I see them, maybe as they surface in my thoughts and dreams, to be looked upon as nothing more or less than a blindingly cool list of recommendations.

In short, my Canon.

You may have come across my top 100. That's not a canon. That list is a snapshot of my taste in film in the months immediately after my college graduation, and it amazes me just how much I've changed in the few short years since that came into being. Notable, I suppose, is my waning interest in ranking - hence the current project - and I'm not sure whether my resignation to the futility of such pursuits is from growing wiser or just increasingly jaded. Both, I don't doubt.

Anyway, I've loved and loathed and obsessed over many a film in the past few years, but despite everything, my very favorite remains Jacques Rivette's CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING. And that, friends, is as good a place to start as any. It's a good film for beginnings. Freewheeling. Circular. Groundbreaking. Rivette once said of Rossellini's VIAGGIO IN ITALIA that is was a door through which all cinema must pass, but with all due respect to that masterpiece (I don't doubt a future entry in this Canon), Rivette's own magnum opus is for me that door. It is, quite overtly, a film about finding your way between the walls, stepping into a wonderland where narrative structure as we know it is scarcely held sacred.

My kind of movie.

I don't intend to ramble on. The film is structured around the whimsical friendship of two women, who through the course of the story, find their way into an imaginary house, meddle in a recurring murder plot, and, like the bamboozled bourgeoisie in THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, devise an improbable solution to an improbable scenario. If that sounds even vaguely in your wheelhouse, then you owe it to yourself to track this one down. MULHOLLAND DR couldn't exist without it. Hell, having seen it, I'm not sure I could exist without it. Which is, of course, why it's numero uno. All films in this Canon may be created equal, but since their has to be an inaugural entrant, here was the only logical beginning ~ the door though which every other film will inevitably pass.