May 29, 2006

The Trench

Finally managed a screening of Silent Hill these last fourteen days and have to say that I come away from it well and duly impressed. I was a fan of director Christophe Gans’ Brotherhood of the Wolf - mainly for its sensuality, in hindsight, and its unabashed appreciation of genre in its period action/martial arts machinations. Could be that I liked it more than I should have, but I’ve got the disc filed away next to the Gallic-neo-giallo, Deep in the Woods, nonetheless as modern examples of that peculiarly French predilection for renovating foreign mannerisms with nouvelle French trappings.

The picture moves – lots of pictures don’t.

I love the way I look at noir after Alphaville; at Hitchcock after Argento; at Ford after Leone.

So I was maybe built-in to give Silent Hill a chance – particularly since I also liked screenwriter Roger Avary’s hyphenate The Rules of Attraction from a couple of years back – but as the picture unspools along its own matriarchal logic: pulses of black, waves, undulations, expansions. . . It’s erotic in its treatment – and I credit Gans with that – and when Alice Krige, as the representative of, perhaps, a patriarchal belief system, is given a rather nasty barbed-wire send-off I recalled, in a perverse way, the means through which the Oracles of Delphi received their divinity.

It’s a smart movie and I disagree that it falls apart on itself because I don’t believe that it takes itself all that seriously. That’s the kind of assessment, though, that’s fraught with subjectivity and I think it might be safer to offer that essaying a video game fright with this level of existential pretension can only be handled with a sense of humor. I point to a trio of baddies, victims we presume of a mining disaster (contemporary! poignant!) in a dead West Virginian mining town, who carry around a canary in a cage with them.

Questions of purgatory/hell and so on are pointless to me in this conversation as I think the film lives or dies on the strength of its images sprung from/steeped in a particular feminine surrealism. There’s a lot of anxiety in this picture (castration and otherwise) – enough so that I wondered for the umpteenth time what people were thinking allowing their three-year-olds to see it at the dollar’s on a sultry, Colorado summer afternoon. At least the question of where all these twisted little kids in films like this come from has a possible solution.

Probably do a proper review one day if/when FFC gets a screener – but preliminaries on it are high positive. It’s better than the mega-blockbusters of the last three weeks, at least, which says little and a lot.

Missed my talk for The Misfits last weekend: a combination of exhaustion and a carburetor over-heating on the drive up I-70 – still emailed my notes and screen-shots to the librarian up there so that the talk could go on without me. Big regrets about that as The Misfits is just awesome. The first scene we get with Montgomery Clift’s rodeo cowboy character has him on a payphone to his mother assuring that his face has completely healed and that she would recognize him now. Devastating stuff and proof, I think, that Marilyn Monroe could have been a contender.

Also presided over a discussion of Aguirre: The Wrath of God which has to be one of the most enjoyable films to talk about with a group of people. The film is molten poetry and its ability to devastate and astonish remains unsullied by time and reputation. My two-hour lecture (with clips) of three early Jack Nicholson pictures went well, too. A busy week – capped by a public screening of X3 wherein all the fanatics sat on their hands and looked at each other throughout. People will go – just as people went to Da Vinci Code - regardless of what anyone says, making my profession in the public conversation exactly moot. You do it for legacy, man, all the rest of it is ash.

The question tickling my ivories: what collaborator, in front or behind of the camera, overshadowed say, like Avary in the Tarantino/Avary collaboration – might have had more to say about the success of certain celebrated projects than initially thought? My first salvo is any good film that Robert Towne wrote. Second is Tippi Hedren in The Birds and Marnie - but that could just be my libido talking.

Here’s the capture:

39 comments:

bhuvan said...

Uh... is that Catherine Deneuve in Roman Polanski's REPULSION or some other crazy babe in some other crazy Polanski film?

Erin said...

the Twilight Zone?

Joe f said...

Glad to see you enjoyed Silent Hill, Walter. That was a film I enjoyed alot more than I thought I was going to, despite poor Sean Bean's terrible attempt at the American accent - which he conveniently drops when he has alot to say (which recalls Keanu Reeve's English accent in Dracula).

David said...

I was thinking Polanski too -- fearless vampire killers?

As for collaborators, I thought Hedron was the weakness in those Hitchcocks, but what about Owen Wilson with Wes Anderson? Anderson nails the aesthetics, but I think it's Wilson who made the first three collaborations so personable (and less so each time, as Wilson's input decreased). There's a slightly superficial slate article on it here:
http://www.slate.com/id/2123292/

Stephen Reese said...

Walter,

Glad to read you enjoyed Silent Hill; I was really looking forward to seeing your reaction.

On a basic level, I was blown away by the best gore I've seen since Hellraiser II, and an unabashed nastiness that really made my jaw drop (partly because I'd drug along my 14-year-old cousin in the hopes of continuing his creative corruption; first flick I took him to was Princess Mononoke, when he was 8; and sitting beside him in the theater for this one I was wondering if I'd gone too far, felt a little embarrassed even).

Despite the extreme violence done to women in the film, I still deem Silent Hill a feminist object, maybe if only for the fact it's the women who get things done in this world and the men are powerless to help or hinder them - especially poignant in that final scene with Bean asleep on the couch and his two women excised from his sphere of influence or protection, perhaps forever. Loved that.

Also loved the fantastic monsters, Romantic visuals, unselfconscious preservation of dream logic in lieu of "narrative sense", and the unnerving sound design. I even forgave the contrivance of expository explanation at film's end, because it just made so much sense and was handled with grace.

Afterward, realizing the connection between the barbed wire and the fellow who met his demise on the toilet was the first of many post-film thoughts that assured me I'd got my money's worth and will get it again when I buy this cool little artifact on DVD.

Fun, fun stuff.

Jared said...

Any director on a movie Steven Spielberg has been executive producer on. Joe Dante in his great Twilight Zone: The Movie Segment and Gremlins, Tobe Hooper for Poltergeist, etc... How many people still think those are Spielberg films?

Bill C said...

Marcia Lucas and Polly Platt come to mind. With Marcia as George's conscience, he made American Graffiti, Raiders, and the Star Wars trilogy; they divorced, and we got Temple of Doom, Howard the Duck, and Labyrinth.

Similarly, after Peter Bogdanovich left Platt for Cybill Shepherd, stuff like Targets, The Last Picture Show, and Paper Moon suddenly gave way to At Long Last Love and They All Laughed. Unlike Marcia Lucas, however, Platt wasn't subsequently ostracized by the film community and actually went on to a rather prosperous career as a screenwriter (Pretty Baby) and producer (Say Anything...).

Anonymous said...

My screenshot guess: Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon?

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to sign that last post. Again, my guess is Night of the Demon.

- David H.

Alex Jackson said...

Okay, time to get deep into this thing.

Last semester the university was having a club fair and I was there to man the station for the Marriage and Family Therapy Student Association. Needing reading material I found myself wandering over the Christian students' association and picking up a Bible.

In the back, the people who issued it went through a spiel explaining why Christianity is the one true religion and why the others are not. Of Islam they talked about a detatched unknowable God. Of Christianity they talked about a human intimate God. Later on when talking about natural evil, they admit that there are some things that we are never going to fully understand here on Earth.

EEENH! Wrong. If God is intimate and knowable, you're not allowed to play that card. I'm convinced then that Christianity with its infallible but observably human deity is false because it can not co-exist with natural evil. If there is a God the Islamic view of Him, to name one of many other possible interpretations, is much more likely to be accurate as it at least can legimitately argue that "There are some things we're not meant to know" angle. Freshman philosophy to some of you and you have concretely and definitively resolved these issues once and for all, but for me this was an eye-opener.

Anyway, toward the task at hand, Silent Hill pisses on Christianity. Fine. But then it replaces the Christian ideal of God with motherhood. It says that "to the child, the mother is God". Never mind what this says about fathers (fathers are by and largely impotent and ineffectual in the film); this perpetuates the key problem with Christianity and it's incongruency with natural evil. This is just Christianity in a pink dress. We again have a human God and this world cannot be explained in those terms.

The deification of the mother archetype particularly bothers me as I've seen plenty of mothers in my day who have provided their children with little else but an egg and a womb. Learning that your parents are not omniscient or omnipotent but are flesh puppets just like you that bleed when you prick them and are just as capable of being selfish and cruel as they are giving and kind; is one of the key tasks not only of adolescence but of middle childhood. There is something regressive about the film's view of spirituality.

Feminist? Yeah, that's the problem. The Achilles Heel of pretty much all femimist theory is that it's chiefly interested in presenting countermyths as opposed to ones generalizable to the entire population.

And besides, there is too much narrative in the film to be truly be a non-narrative film and too little narrative to be a truly narrative film and Avary's faux giallo dialogue (i.e. "hold your horses", or a cop telling a shuffling zombie to freeze) would have him drawn and quartered if it appeared in any other film.

Anonymous said...

Responding to Stephen Reese: I... suppose you could call Silent Hill feminist, but keep in mind that those strong female characters turn out to be a) evil, b) flambe, or c) consigned for eternity to a vacant ghost world. Not exactly Not Without My Daughter, is it?

Walter_Chaw said...

would have him drawn and quartered if it appeared in any other film.

Yeah, but it didn't, of course.

I dunno if Silent Hill is feminist so much as it represents an idea of a feminine archetype set and means towards telling a narrative. I don't think that the feminine is deified in this picture, but I do think that it's a nice companion piece to The Da Vinci Code which also attempts, much less successfully, to debunk Christianity along its "inhumanity to women" line.

I mean, does Silent Hill shit on Christianity? It seems more interested in reclaiming its images as those of pagan fertility rites and so on (and Bauhaus aesthetics and so on). Someone mentioned Clive Barker a while back in another thread concerning this film and I'm reminded of his retelling of the New Testament: Imajica - reclaiming Christianity for queers and mutants, essentially. But in neither case is it as reductive, I don't think, as a straight fort/da - bait/switch - of fag for God or gal for God; rather, I think the drama of the transmogrification is akin to any minority reclaiming elements of a hijacked mythos: hence the barbed wire crucifixes.

True the problems with traditional rote feminism (as with any militant dogma, it's erected on the backs of the marginalized) - but Silent Hill doesn't seem aggressive in its politics so much as aggrieved of the conflict engendered (so to speak) by the conflict. I like that the femme cop is beaten by phalluses before her traditional immolation - but I wouldn't say that the men in it are impotent so much as excluded from the drama. Castration is the heart of the piece, sure, but more germaine to the topic is the idea that we're not really talking about men in the first place.

Scott said...

I always found George Lucas and John Milius's comments on APOCALYPSE NOW interesting. Lucas was originalyl supposed to direct it, and Milius was in on the development process the whole way. Their conversations in HEARTS OF DARKNESS hint at what wuold be a fasincating, full-length examination of that particular collaborative process.

Rich said...

Ahh, nice - Tennessee Tuesdays. Can't wait to read your thoughts on Night of the Iguana: a movie that completely blew me away when I saw it. In retrospect, I think Huston's direction is slightly off the mark, but the screenplay and acting are exceptional - particularly Richard Burton, whose performance in one of my all-time favourites (his role The Spy Who Came In from the Cold would be up there, too).

I guess I'llfinally check out Baby Doll - one that I have had in the queue but have put off watching for a few years now.

Alex Jackson said...

Was going to say. Glad I can break my "disagreeing-with-Walter" streak. Baby Doll is a bizarre, heart-breaking, near masterpiece.

I can't quite recall why I didn't out and out love it, might actually put it on the same tier as Streetcar if I were to watch it again, but I remember being mighty impressed.

Speaking of second bananas who ought to have been a first, I was reminded of this Slate article in praise of Owen Wilson the screenwriter a while back.

Not sure how much credit Avary deserves for the success of Pulp Fiction, but I can tell you that he has much better taste in movies than Quentin.

George Nada said...

Silent Hill would have been much better had Sean Bean's character been written out completely, I felt it was usless to the plot and broke up tension badly. imdb.com has this tid bit of information:

In the original script, there were only female characters. After submitting this, the script was returned to Gans with a memo saying "there are no men!". Sean Bean's character was added and the script was approved.

It certainly shows that Bean's character was just shoved in there, it felt like a seperate movie going on.

I don't know how this would enter your discussion on feminism, but it's worth noting that the main character looking for their daughther in the game is a male...

Alex Jackson said...

Silent Hill would have been much better had Sean Bean's character been written out completely, I felt it was usless to the plot and broke up tension badly.

Yeah, it would at least have keep us from talking about the demeaned role of men in the piece.

James said...

First time poster on here, came across it after Walter's interview on House Next Door. Definately enjoy the discussion, especially since I often disagree, but you guys mostly don't piss me off despite the difference of opinions. A rare sight (or should I say site) for me on the internet.

Anyways, onto the subject at hand, Silent Hill. I saw it opening night since my significant other is a horror buff - which also means I see a fair share of crap. And I loved it. It wasn't perfect, there were certainly some dialogue clunkers, but I absolutely could not understand the drubbing it appears to have recieved. Of course it is custom designed to my tastes in the fantastic, namely the said fantastic being both metaphor and reality at once. Like Twin Peaks or the old MTV animation The Maxx, it presses my buttons.

Also, it utilized elements of Clive Barker' visual style without Barker's context. This might annoy some, but I agree with Cronenberg in Walter's profile/interview of him - "When you talk about 'the sublime,' that's something that Clive is after, I'm totally not." In Silent Hill, the images were cruel and sad - appropriate as they were the result of terrible trauma - not cruel and beautiful as Barker might have them.

Silent Hill would have been much better had Sean Bean's character been written out completely, I felt it was usless to the plot and broke up tension badly.

I suppose I can see from this viewpoint, but his character worked for me because he provided context. Specifically, he grounded the rules the world of the film were operating under in a way that would have been missing without him. In the school scene with Bean and the burned cop, the cross-cutting showed us that Rose was not in some dream state, but in a physical space that duplicated the "real world" while being apart from it. Again, this hit my buttons, someone who preferred a "dream logic" could conceivably not. Also, the ending as it is could not function without the Bean character.

I'd have to hear a more developed take on the feminist angle to have a real opinion it. Given that this wasn't too popular of a film, I doubt we'll be seeing sprawling manifestos on its feminist standing anytime soon. But regarding the mother as god in the eyes of a child bit, that is an old saying if I am correct. It could just as easily be pointed at for traditional/conservative takes as feminist ones.

My main complaint for the film was what assume to be allusions to the videogame. Stuff liek the "memorize this map" thing may have been fun for fans of the game, but for me the pulled me right out.

In the original post, Walter says "I disagree that it falls apart on itself because I don’t believe that it takes itself all that seriously." I think UI agree with you, but this almost brings me to a separate point. I ear that "falls apart on itself" complaint alot about films that build with any sort of feverish intensity - genre films especially, but other fare as well. I'm hard pressed to think of films that build and build that don't either a. fall apart or b. fall in on themselves. What would be some people's examples of films that don't?

Cheers.

Jared said...

Roger Avary's original script was only women, he got it back from Sony execs with a big note on it that said "NO MEN"

Patrick Pricken said...

Maybe they'll issue a director's cut without Bean's character....

I was engrossed by the films visual and sound effects, and I desperately wanted to be swept up into the world of Silent Hill. But they kept cutting to the "Real World", pulling me out of it again and giving me explanations so obvious I could have guessed them, let alone have done without. The same for the flashback/exposition sequence. I didn't feel the audience needed that, cool visuals or not. Not only did it stop the film's momentum, but it tried to provide logic and reason where, to me, none was required. A dream world doesn't rely on explanations, especially not if it's done as successful as here: think of the creature design alone. Where I was willing to give myself over to the movie's internal logic, it kept telling me that there was more to it, that it all had a reason and an underlying structure.

Cut Bean (no matter how much I like him as an actor) and cut that flashback scene, and I'd wager the movie were much better and all we had to worry about would be clunkers like "in the eyes of a child, mother is god" (I'm sorry, what did you mean? That was too subtle for me. Could you, maybe, repeat it once more? Thanks).

Maybe I'll rent the DVD and make a VHS copy without the Bean scenes, then watch it again. Could be an interesting experiment.

George Nada said...

Patrick, I was thinking the exact same thing when I watched it. I'd love a cut with Bean's scenes removed (which is no reflection on him as an actor, I think he's a great actor). It's obviously what Avary and Gans intended in the first place and it shows.

Every time we cut to the Bean plot I was completely pulled out of the atmosphere which annoyed me.

I might do my own edit when it comes out just out of curiosity to see how it runs without those scenes (although his first and last scenes will have to be included).

James said...

Suppose I'm in the minority liking the part's with Bean's character.

Regarding a director's cut without it, though, I wouldn't hold my breath. I've always read it was Gans who gave Avary the "there are no men" note, not the studio. Anyone have any quotes that directly contradict that?

Cheers.

George Nada said...

I've only seen the note that I quoted earlier on a few posts up from imdb james. Obviously imdb isn't really reliable but that quote is pretty clear about who said what for what it's worth...

Bill C said...

I dunno, I think a Silent Hill Director's Cut is a pretty safe bet. In the past month alone, Sony (Silent Hill's distributor) has reissued The Patriot, Black Hawk Down, Casualties of War, The Missing, and Windtalkers in Director's or Extended editions, and last year they simultaneously released the theatrical and Director's cuts of The Exorcism of Emily Rose on DVD.

theoldboy said...

I'd been waiting a while to see what Walter thought about it. I think the film is messy brilliance. But it's messy. It's sloppy with its brilliance. Most of the brilliance is straight from the game--the atmosphere and imagery, even the soundtrack is straight from the game. The critics were total douchebags to it. It's like they had a perfect version of the movie in their head--another missing daughter movie with some supernatural goings on--like Flightplan 2:Townplan or something. Instead, they got Barker, Fulci, and Argento. Then, they tried to apply the logic of the film they had in their heads to the logic of the film, and thus the film failed for them. They accused it of being confusing, as if somehow that wasn't intentional--they couldn't trust the filmmakers, or the material, to have the integrity to be deliberately confusing. It's based on a game, it can't be trying to be intellectual, it must be because it's poorly made. Practically the only worthwhile positive reviews for weeks were from the Ain't It Cool News gang. Now, I think Harry Knowles is a bit of a big, adorable teddy bear, but he liked Armageddon. That is not a guy anybody really wants to get their recommendations from. Hopefully there could be some sort of new critical appreciation for it brewing on the horizon, perhaps.

petalumafilmcenter said...

Saw Keane, and I do understand all the fuss. So...any thoughts on the Keane re-edit by Steven Soderbergh on the special features menu? I didn't prefer it, but in an odd way it helped me understand the end of Solaris better.

James said...

Bill C:

You're right, I should have been clearer. I don't doubt there will be a director's cut, especially given that Gans original cut was evidently over three and a half hours long. But, I doubt Gans will cut Sean Bean's character from the flm, like some posters have been postulating (though at least one said they may do it themselves).

Personally, and I doubt I'm alone here, I can't stand the way the "director's cut" has become a DVD marketing phrase now. Did we really need two separate versions of the Exorcism of Emily Rose on DVD? I hated that fucking movie.

Cheers.

theoldboy said...

Gans said the theatrical cut was his directors cut, and the three hour cut was apparently just an assembly.

rachel said...

Ha!

But seriously, check out the rest of the site, it's pretty fabulous.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Screenshot:

Carnival of Souls?

Seattle Jeff said...

Forget about the term Director's Cut, there's now a new term: Final Cut...

Yep, Blade Runner is being released on DVD as a Final Cut...

Alex Jackson said...

Speaking of which, I just learned about this. If it's a joke, heads are going to roll.

George Nada said...

Beautiful packaging for that alex, although the no show of the Hearts of Darkness really pisses me off. I read that Coppolla might re-edit it before ever releasing it again which would probably annoy me more than anything Lucas has changed in the past.
It makes me regret losing my video copy of it now.

I'm happy about this as so far I've only had Redux on DVD, with the theatrical cut on VHS so of course I always end up watching Redux when I much prefer the theatrical cut.

Seattle Jeff said...

Screen shot:

Uh, Baby Doll?

mimo70 said...

Don't know if it's been guessed yet but...Viridiana?

Really a shot in the dark.

Rich said...

Also a bit of a shot in the dark:

Night of the Hunter?

Walter_Chaw said...

HA - holy crap - congrats Jeff - was about to put up a second screen grab.

The shot is from Elia Kazan's remarkably wrong Baby Doll; one of my new favorite films.

Seattle Jeff said...

I haven't seen it, but have added it to my queue following your lead. (I can't bear the thought that there's a good Kazan movie out there I haven't seen)

I thought I'd throw it out there as a guess since you just had talked about it.

That's the only way I can get on eof these right...if you actually mention the film in the blog!

Seattle Jeff said...

....oh, I guess I read your review as it's not mentioned in the blog...