The Royal Tenenbaums

04 Oct Contemporary American Cinema: Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums

Wes Anderson is one of the prominent figures in the American contemporary cinema, especially in the field of dark and gritty comedies. Meanwhile the image he represents from the contemporary American society along with the aesthetic characteristics of his films (As we see in the movie Rushmore) show the director’s signature. One of these defining characteristics is the high tempo of his films that virtually makes the audience chase the narrative.

A point about his films that in way brings Abbas Kiarostami’s films to mind is his stylization. Which means tweaking the universe in certain style and representing it as the filmmaker sees, or wants to see. In a formalist dialect it means getting as far as possible as realism or the universe as it is and showing it as it should be.

Anderson’s films are heavily stylized. In his movies, the colors are warmer than what we see in the real world, the charaters’ reactions are more exaggerated than what we experience in the real world and the pace of what happens is much faster.

Lest we forget that this kind of stylizations are not limited to someone like Anderson, but upon watching his works we realize that the dose of fantasy in these films is higher than others. This sort of stylization also exists in kiarostami’s cinema, but of another kind. As evidenced by his films that seem to be realistic by are not devoid from this delicate touch. For example, looking at his trilogy: ‘Zendegi va Digar Hich’ (Life and Nothing Else), ‘Khaaneye Doost kojast?’ (Where does the Friend Reside?) ‘Zir-e-Derakhtaan-e-Zeytoon’ (Beneath the Olive Trees), We realize that behind the director’s simple view of the world, which is like the camera has turned on by itself and is recording life in its whole without a director present, let alone a director busy with stylizing this universe, the cinematic details are there with such a powerful presence. The routes that the children in Kiarostami’s movies take are carefully selected and planned, and are the same ones that the characters in ‘Zir-e-Derakhtaan-e-Zeytoon’ (Beneath the Olive Trees) take. Kiarostami has managed, in the most masterful and wonderful fashion, to hide his trace and present the result as if the life is going on in its most nrmal form. And of course the viewer is watching the life in its normal for, as Kiarostami created. In a metaphorical sense, his interevention in the narrative is quite close to the omnipotent creator’s intervention in the universe. The harmony in this universe {Kiarostami’s Cinema} is so delicate that it seems there is no director.

Anderson’s films are heavily stylized. In his movies, the colors are warmer than what we see in the real world, the charaters’ reactions are more exaggerated than what we experience in the real world and the pace of what happens is much faster.

Gilberto Perez, the prominent Cuban – American film expert has published an article on Kiarostami’s cinema in Sight and Sound magazine dated May 2005, titled ‘Where is the Director?’ that attest to the masterful flow of the ordinary narrative in these films. The kind of delicate details like the repetition of the scenes with the routes as mentioned above. This is what we call the creator’s stylization. This is where the creator; while staying hidden from sight, guides the way. An interwoven mesh of convergences, divergences, repetitions and interventions that at their vantage point the characters get closer to or further from each other. Kiarostami and Anderson’s cinema is a dialectic of unmediated stylization.

Now in Wes Anderson’s cinema we see another form of stylization, that is does not serve to create realistic representation of the world. His films seem to be aware and self-reflective regarding this fact. That is why in Anderson’s works one can draw a hypothetical line from the center of the frame and clearly see that this universe in highly and intentionally symmetrical. This symmetry can be observed in the placement of characters or the place where an object falls in the frame (That unlike the real world, always happens in the center of the frame). It is as if the film is announcing out loud that: I am aware that I’m stylized, and that I have little to do with the real world.

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Grin Without a Cat

04 Oct Chris Marker’s Grin Without a Cat With Saleh Najafi

“Two people impressed me… with something I couldn’t find in others: Their gaze. Chou-En-Lai and Che Guevara. In both there was an inner strength. In both there was resolve. In both there was irony.

Imagine now that the person who did this film in 1977 had the opportunity to see this images after a long interval. It could be, for example, 1993, 15 years later; What youth lasts. He could meditate about how time passes and look at what has changed in a very simple way: Listing words that had no meaning for the people of the ’60s. Words like: boat-people, AIDS, Thatcherism, Ayatollah, occupied territories, Perestroika, cohabitation. And this acronym, that replaced USSR, that no-one would recognize: C.I.S.

The communist dream is over. Capitalism won the battle, if not the war. But in a paradoxical logic, some of the staunchest opponents of Soviet totalitarianism, these men of the New Left to whom this film is largely devoted, fell into the same whirlwind. (Portugal, 1974) The left opposition died with Stalinism. They were dialectically linked, like the scorpion and the frog in Orson Welles’ film. It was their character. For the fourth time, the terrestrial arms exposition, has taken place in Satory to promote the exportation of the most modern arms available. One hundred fifty expositors present seven hundred pieces of military equipment to forty foreign delegations. Thus, our author marvels at the ingenuity of History, which always seems to have more imagination than ourselves. He thinks of the ending of the film he finished in 1977, where he compared the arms trade of the great powers with the plans carried out to try to keep the population of wolves at an acceptable figure.

Guess who are they arming today? However, there’s one comforting thought; Fifteen years later, there are still some wolves left. The real authors of this film, though they haven’t been consulted about the use given here to their documents, are the countless cameras, sound engineers, witnesses and militants whose work relentlessly opposes that of the Powers That Be…and who will not leave our memory.”

In sum, A Grin Without a Cat is not a lesson in history but a lesson in how history is dismembered and remembered by every generation in its own faulty way. The film is like a dream gradually coming into focus, or rather, a dream having its last bursts of energy as it gives way to newer but equally skewed patterns of cognition, imagination, and wishful fantasy.

To explain the title of the film; it was originally called Le fond de l’air est rouge which means the ‘essence of the air is red’. The title refers to the 1960’s which is also called the ‘Red Decade’, a decade which led to the rise of a new form leftist political resistance in Europe, Asia and Americas.

After the release of the English version, the title change to ‘Grin Without a Cat’. A blatant reference to Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland in which the Cheshire cat begins disappearing bit by bit until only a grin is left. Here the author quotes Alice saying that: “I have seen many cats without a grin but I have not seen a grin without a cat before.”

In the film itself, the country in which the reality of the neo-capitalist world presents itself is Japan. The scene where the cat festival is taking place in Japan, the voice over mentions that cats are never aligned with the authority, and in the following scenes we see a few disabled cats (implying that they were not aligned with the authority), while their images becomes parallel in a metaphoric manner with the image of a young handicapped Japanese man.

Hence, the title is a reference to the history of the leftist movement and what is called the ‘Red Decade’ as if Marker is trying to say that there is but a grin left from those ideals and all else have been evaporated within the structure of the authority.

Many believe this film to be a cynical one, and of course it is a melancholic depiction of a lost decade. As if the author and his comrades who thought they have found new means of resistance in 1968, now find themselves in 1993, in world full of terms and concepts completely alien to the people who lived in the past two decades. David Sterritt; one the prominent contemporary film critiques writes: “In sum, A Grin Without a Cat is not a lesson in history but a lesson in how history is dismembered and remembered by every generation in its own faulty way.” Lest we forget that this linear method, first incorporated in 19th century literature and then in the American narrative and the contemporary news media, does possess the perquisite of ‘Dismembering’ and then ‘Remembering’. Chris Marker’s old friend; Alain Renais, and others whom had a proper understanding from Marker’s character believe that what makes Chris Marker the futuristic narrator of the 21st century in the middle of the 20th is this ingenuous form of dismembered historical narrative which can only be compared to the modern literature. More importantly, in Marker’s works, the buried truths are exposed in the midst of this act of dismemberment. Regarding the last sentence of the film’s finishing statement “The communist dream has ended” it must be noted that even the countries known as the birthplaces of communism were implying the end of this dream. A year has passed since Mao’s demise, Perestroika has taken over the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro has become a comic figure in Cuba. As the communists used to say: “History only repeats itself as a comedy.”

David Sterritt elaborates: “The film is like a dream gradually coming into focus, or rather, a dream having its last bursts of energy as it gives way to newer but equally skewed patterns of cognition, imagination, and wishful fantasy.”

Therefore, the film’s logic is to encourage the audience to contemplate on waking up from a long dream and giving in to the new world order, while simultaneously hinting at things that will happen in the future. In other words, the famous Fruedian notion that people experience the fulfillment of their suppressed wishes and desires. This way of looking at the communist dream; especially from the person who is known as one of the oldest left-wing activists, filmmakers, poets and photographers, is immensely courageous. We must know that Chris Marker is his pseudonym and he never uses his actual name. To summarize Chris Marker as a director, he is the one that has changed the concept of film direction. The form that defines his work is known as film essay. In Europe, essay is a different concept from article. In essay, the author uses writes in first person, as soon as this pronoun enters an academic text, the author steps down from the seat of objectivity. The person who writes an analytic text, avoids convoluting her ideas and preferences with the analysis. Essay style, was introduced by people like Adorno who believed it is sometimes impossible to keep the self from the object, because doing so will result in forming an ideology. So in order to resist against ideological and realist forms of analysis, a new form was required. Chris Marker was among those who introduced the essay form to filmmaking. While in the 1950’s filmmakers such as Jean Rouch believed that cinema is becoming an ideal medium throughout the history for representing and recording the reality. Marker however, uses his techniques to create films with the essay formula. To do this he puts aside the classic way of filmmaking, be it the American way of directing or the Frech ‘Realism’ and utilized a technique known as ‘Image Scavenging’. In this form of filmmaking the images are not produced, yet images that have been produced are collected, edited and appropriated with the final narrative mounted on them in the form of a voice-over. Hence, in this technique instead of director, we have an ‘Image Sweeper’. This image sweeper keeps reviewing and referencing a vast archive of images, some of which seem unusable at the first glance. In this movie the references are pointed Eisenstein’s cinema for what has been known as ‘Militant Cinema’ is visually quite similar to the afore mentioned archive footage. Looking at ‘Battleship Potemkin’ and its famous stairway scene (Which itself was parodied in 1970’s by depicting the girl who kept going up and those stairs to guide tourists), they seem like some old archived footage, yet these images are placed together and produced in the past. There have been many attempts to emulate this effect, notably in ‘Schindler’s List’ where pictures seem like a newly discovered of an unknown incident in 1940’s in which Oscar Schindler regains his humanity and rescues some of the imprisoned Jews from the Nazis. But then, an era slowly emerges, an era that Baudrillard rightly describes as the ‘Hyperrealism Era’ or the ‘Inflated Reality’. When we realize that the images we see on our television screens, even a football match, seem more real than our reality. This is what we face at the end of the communist dream and Marker’s political approach to move against this system by referring to archived and pseudo-archived footage. Throughout the film we see pieces of footage from the same subject but with different colors that mainstream filmmakers may label as unusable but they add a poetic quality to the film. One of the best examples for this effect is the speech of Salvador Allende for Chilean workers, where we see that even the images from a single archive differ in quality and that results in a dream-like effect with the footage exploring different aspects of this dream.

Marker’s film might be one of best examples of loyalty to the incidents of May 1968, among which was the loss of credibility among the mainstream media. In one of the posters of that era which was being quickly reproduced and distributed, a television wrapped in barbed wire along with a police loudspeaker, conveying the message that mass media are the bourgeois government’s communication apparatus. So anyone planned to recite these incidents, they needed to revolutionize way of communication.

What Chris Marker does in this decade, is an attempt to avoid falling into the trap of either making a film with revolutionary content and concepts, or a consistent narrative about the revolution, its roots, rise and fall and failures. But the power of this film lies in the fact that unlike what is expected from a left activist in 1968, this film is not about complete disappointment, but about complete loyalty. Even though it speaks of the end of the communist dream and failure, but the part it mentions that wolves are still alive, it pledges its complete loyalty to the ideals of the time.

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