Archive for November, 2008

Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972)

November 2, 2008

In true Werner Herzog style ‘Aguirre’ delves into the depths of human greed and insanity played out against a landscape of epic proportions. Klaus Kinski (Herzog’s sometime friend) becomes Don Aguirres, a ruthless Spanish conquistador on a mission to find the legendary gold of El dorado. With a small group, which also contains his daughter Ines, he journies through the Peruvian mountains and then constructs a raft which transports them down the Amazon River. Aguirre’s journey is fraught with disaster and finally he falls victim to his own grandiose fantasies.

The opening scene shows a line of human traffic descending from the clouds, down a treacherous mountain path. Herzogs determination to shoot this difficult scene pays off, as you get the sense that man is battling with nature, unwilling to admit defeat but making painstakingly slow progress. The surreal electronic music which accompanies the shot makes the scene unearthly as if these men are Gods descending from heaven.

Kinski, with his pale, skeletal face and wild eyes is captivating. He limps around, moving stiffly, with utter contempt and hatred in his bearing: he has metamorphosed into Aguirre, there is no sense that he is acting. At the end of the film, his daughter is shot and he remains the only one left apart from the dozens of monkeys that have assumed control of the raft. Kinski’s voiceover proclaims “I am the wrath of God, I will marry my daughter and found the purest dynasty” , as he is shown drifting aimlessly down river. The camera work is disorientating as the shot moves in circles around the raft and the lone figure of Aguirre; the futility of his plan is apparent.

Herzog succeeds in creating a film dense jungle, monkeys and a baby sloth are all observed closely and are as much part of the fabric of the film as the actors. It is also a testament man’s loneliness and estrangement from his natural surroundings in accordance with his belief that “nature is cruel”. Herzog is also a master at creating tension between characters, he concentrates on minute expressions and brings out the claustrophobic and combative relationship between the conquistadors who are squabbling for power. ‘Aguirre’ is a timeless story of a meglomaniac’s demise.


The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

November 2, 2008

The Shawshank Redemption (1994), directed by Frank Darabont, was adapted from ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’ – a short story written by Stephen King. It is the tale of two men, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a successful young banker and Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman) a man given life for a serious crime comitted in his youth. The men first become acquainted in Shawshank prison when Andy is sentenced to serve two life sentences back to back having been found guilty of the murder of his wife and her lover. The film is essentially about the triumph of hope in a prison where hope, according to Red “can drive a man insane”.

Tim Robbins is convincing as the slightly arrogant and determined Dufresne. Unlike most of the prison inmates who have become “institutionalised” – totally reliant on the prison system, Dufrsne retains a rebellious streak that remains intact and defiant even after repeated rape by inmates and punnishments doled out by barbarous prison guards. The development of Dufresne’s character from the cold, immovable “tall drink of water with the silver spoon in his mouth” to the man utterly committed to providing education for inmates is touching. Robbins is able to convey the humbling and humiliating effects of long-term incarceration as well as the defiance of a man who will not be beaten by the system.

Freeman gives a stellar-performance as ‘Red’ the “guy who can get you anything”. He is mesmirising on screen as he brings both depth and sincerity to his role. The most poignant moment in the film is when he has his third and final parole review. It is clear that after forty years in prison he has completely lost interest in gaining his freedom “you go ahead and stamp your form sonny because quite frankly I don’t give a shit”. His short monologue underlines the absurdity of the justice system: the notion that a prisoner can be rehabilitated after a lifelong sentence. The interaction between Dufresne and Red is also very moving. Freeman as Red is able to display a deep affection for Dufresne without seeming at all slushy or sentimental.

Darabont is a craftsman of classic cinema: he weaves the story with an assurance that leads to a perfectly rounded conclusion. The villains get their come-uppance and Red and Dufresne live happily ever after.

Gummo (1997)

November 1, 2008

Bunny BoyGummo, directed by Harmony Korine, is a quirky and disturbing look at life in the tornado-wreaked town of Xenia, Ohio. Two boys, Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and Tummler (Nick Sutton) burn time by killing cats, sniffing glue and having sex. The social landscape of the film is fleshed out by other eccentric individuals. Korine adds a man who pimps his mentally ill wife, a black midget, two bleached blonde sisters, a twelve year old transvestite cat killer, and a good helping of white trash. The film does not have a linear structure but instead provides a dozen fly-on-the-wall style vignettes of these characters daily lives.

Bunny boy (Jacob Sewell), a lone skateboarder who wears large, pink bunny ears is the film’s most interesting character. He makes his first appearance on a delapidated bridge spanning a motorway, spitting and pissing on the vehicles, later he is accosted by some young cowboys with cap guns who beat him and leave him unconscious. Korine does not grant him a voice, instead he remains a silent and fragile icon whoose passivity is celebrated in the sexually liberating swimming pool scene near the end of the film. Sewell is very convincing in this role, he manages to merge the role of young vandal and ethereal being.

Solomon’s secretive yet desensitised account of the tornado at the beginning of Gummo lays down the atmosphere of the film. His narrative accompanies pictures of carnage; severed houses, a cat corpse on a tv antenae and a small child flexing his biceps. Although Solomon is well-adjusted to his environment the film hints at his dissatisfaction. He appears keen to escape the deteriorating landscape through frequent glue sniffing escapades with Tummler. After his naive sexual encounter with a mentally ill woman he is shown weightlifting cutlery trying to build up his stunted and emaciated body, an apparent source of shame. As an actor, Reynolds is noteworthy firstly because of his unusual appearance and physique; he looks like an old child. I found his performance intensely captivating, he does not appear to act at all, but convinces us that this is his world and his reality.

Gummo is certainly an artistic triumph for Korine. The cinematography is commendable, the acting almost flawless. My one point of contention is Korine’s own presence in the movie. Korine plays a homosexual who gives an overt emotional monologue to a black midget whilst sitting on a sofa. I found the scene unneccesary and tedious, it didn’t give anything to the film. Gummo is a difficult film because it is a little inacessible and often grotesque, however it is well-worth watching and trying to unravel its layers.