15 July 2011

Incident at Loch Ness

The idea of a mockumentary about a film crew trying to capture the crazies who believe in the Loch Ness Monster is a good one, but taking it to its mockumentary logical-extreme and casting Werner Herzog as the documentarian in question elevates this from a good idea to a great one. Standing on the shoulders of Herzog's mystique and living-legend status and skewering himself as a baldly (if incompetently) narcissistic "Hollywood producer" is pretty brilliant. He exploits everyone: he willfully sabotages and undermines the legitimacy of Herzog's art, repeatedly risks the lives of his entire crew, and even in life-and-death situations has no capacity for honest confession or anything but a self-serving, paranoid and cynical nature. But instead of making that character a villainous one-dimensional scoundrel, Penn turns it into a buffoon, a moron incapable of distinguishing between real and fake (the film repeatedly mentions the difference between truth and fact).

Sidenote: By coincidence, I first saw this film a week before I saw Grizzly Man in theaters. I therefore had a very, very hard time taking the story of Timothy Treadway at all seriously, and in that light much of Herzog's self-aware-but-un-self-conscious narrative style and editorial choices struck me as hammy, melodramatic, even a little vaudevillian. But back then I hadn't seen many Herzog films, so I just assumed his thing was to skirt the line between fabrication and fact, looking for realer truths than a straight documentary might uncover. (Which, by the way, I was completely fine with. Not to get pedantic, but facts reveal nothing, and fiction often reveals many truths.) Now I know better, and while Incident is still a beautiful turn-it-on-its-head story of real and fake, I know that Herzog himself is generally far more intensely earnest than the tone of this film. Which really, is why it works in the first place.

09 July 2011

Taxi Driver

Again, another film I wish I'd had more time when I saw it to talk about, because there's so much to say. I guess there's nothing I might say about Taxi Driver that six million college kids haven't already said before, but still.

This is a film I have only seen a handful of times, actually. All the major plot-points and sequences stuck with me pretty well, but I'd forgotten the permeating sense of melancholy the film has. I remember it makes you a little uneasy, and you never quite know if you should like/side with Travis Bickle or loathe/suspect him, but I don't remember feeling this sorry for him last time I watched it. More than anything, Taxi Driver strikes me as one of the saddest films I've seen in a long time -- and it actually reminds me even more of Observe and Report than I expected it to -- a film that, when I saw it, I tried to convince people wasn't a farcical comedy, but a disturbing black-comedy/character-driven absurdist tragedy in the vein of Big Fan or Taxi Driver).

Not scary (I mean, it has its moments). Not thrilling (again, same). Not funny (I could go on). This film is sad. Bickle was so broken from before this starts, there was nowhere to go but down, and we have no choice but to watch him lose it.

Dead Man

It's tragic that life got so busy I couldn't blog about two amazing and blog-worthy films I saw recently. So it will have to suffice to say I watched them, a couple of days ago.

Dead Man is almost certainly my favorite Jarmusch film, and one of my favorite films in general. It is everything about a western upside-down. It is the transcendent poetry of Blake turned pensive and existential. It is one of the best examples of true Absurdism in film that I can think of. And it's dark and poetic and funny as hell.