Thursday, February 21, 2008

Encounters #61 & #62
What Community #17 & #18
"Give me the Blood, Eli."

[The sound is a bit off in these clips, but, still, while they're up, enjoy these highlights.]

It's a movie about surfaces, clearly. And depths. And the reserves erupting forth. This dynamic informs the whole of the film, including its finale, which really isn't as out of synch with the rest of the picture as detractors think it is; it's just another confrontation, but bloodier, bigger. There's a perpetual swelling. The finale is the final catharsis, after the midway-through expulsion*. Given that the film is about this oil, and equates Daniel Plainview with the oil, with modern technology pushing forward (dig that shot of the camera-as-train upon Daniel and HW's arrival in Little Boston), and with the art of movies (it's what he's working on, like a conductor, like a director), you could say, as I hinted in my year-end piece, that this is a film about film as catharsis. (Or, more broadly, art as catharsis; however I'll stick to the film being an argument about/for film since it is, of course, a film.) The working over of fears hidden by the everyday, by the will to dissimulate one's life. (Isn't that all Plainview does? Does he ever, truly see plainly? When?) Film as an the opportunity to shed light on unrealized or forgotten passions (such as love and fear and avarice and joy) is also at play in Punch-Drunk Love**, I'd argue, but that film sees film (art) as a dizziness of affect, not a skyward jet stream or a pipeline or a bowling alley. These last two PTA pictures work all too well together and I may just have to write something else about the two when There Will Be Blood hits DVD and I can capture all those great compositions. Say what you will, but I think PTA knows where to put the camera, and how to move it, in the way he wants; Blood seeps and Love glides. Both are kind of perfect to my eyes (and hilarious*** to my ears). Then again, so are those Pirates movies. --RWK


*This talk could easily slip into a discourse on sex and cumming and all that, but I'm not going there, although Keith may.

**One thing that may set PDL above TWBB, at first glance, is its explicit argument about sound in cinema, what with the harmonium and all those phones. But what's great about the new picture is its insistence on score as its argument about sound as a space in cinema (what I've called the operatics of the film; which can be seen to point towards the finale's alleged grandiloquence).

***PTA's humor always runs dark and nervy, which is why the almost slapstick spectacle of the baptism got me to guffaw, even here at home in this shitty youtube clip. But it's not all willy-nilly silly. There's consequences in PTA's worlds. And, like our world, moods shift rather quickly, and subtly, which is why I buy into the hug there at the end, when Daniel is back in his seat on the pew.

1 comment:

  1. I left a long comment on Glenn Kenny's blog just now. Here it is, re-printed, or something. ---

    I had an interesting conversation with my father today at lunch about why TWBB doesn't work for him. He said something along the lines of "The greatest joy I get from fiction, from storytelling, is when I get put into the place of another human. And that's just what I didn't get from TWBB. Every time there was a great, dramatic, tragic moment, PTA pulled back and turned it into a joke."

    All I could counter with is that I don't think this is a movie about humans, or humanity, in that kind of way. It's more about the not-human parts of humans. Or something. The argument is a simple inversion on the surface, but it's bigger than that. I don't want to get jargony but it's not even about the emotions of Plainview; it's more about him as a force of affect, or will. Which is not to say that my interest in the film purely structural: I'm wary of Deleuze as much as I'm wary of anybody but using some of his models works as an entry, I think, into why I get so excited by this picture. My friend Daniel and I like to call it a viscous film. Its architecture is liquid, surely, and part of why I think my dad thinks PTA pulls back is because it's not he's pulling back (even if that wide shot of the slapping is why the baptism starts to get chuckles), but pushing the picture -- absurdly, hyperbolically. It's a film that seeps and explodes.

    Maybe it's easier to swallow _Punch-Drunk Love_'s disconnect, or something, for more people, but I find TWBB to be characterized by a pretty similar movement of interruptions, or eruptions. That TWBB plays more like horror than comedy, and that its humor is pitched dark, speaks to this aversion, I think. PDL is tense, yes, but it's outright a comedy -- a romantic comedy -- complete with satisfying resolution and gags and one-liners more pointedly designed to get laughs, to release that tension. TWBB may leave us with the horror of its obsessions (avarice, faith, family), but it's always hand in hand with a joke. I walked out of TWBB in November elated, giddy, kind of wild eyed. I walked out of NCFOM reticent and tired, eager to get home. It's from there that I start my project of understanding the two and while I still think NCFOM is ostensibly perfect, it doesn't show me much new, nor does it send a tingle through me as often as TWBB does. Plus, you know, it's bleaker. I've grown to understand the ending as a kind of acceptance of the world as it is, but it's still so *wise-y* -- after all that death -- that I find myself resisting it. (I also think this says more about me, and my taste, than it does about the movie, so there.)

    I'm glad _No Country_ won, though, if only so Ethan Coen could give those two, um, speeches. And I'm glad Javier Bardem won. Has anybody blogged about how the two male winners probably constitute the scariest pair of characters (to win an Oscar) in a single year? Also funny: Javier Bardem is great looking in real life and terrible looking in that hairdo in the picture while DDL looks plain wacky in real life and is (oddly) more compelling to look at in TWBB. (Or so says heterosexual, I-dig-Ellen-Page-as-much-as-any-other-bored-boy-with-the-internet me.)

    Finally: something else I tried to ask my dad: When you're dealing with non-humanist art, why try to impose a humanist reading of it? If there's one thing I've learned in school it's that you deal with the object as it is, not as you want it to be. What's really weird is how TWBB's defenders seem to always find themselves talking around the film to talk about the film. The idea of speaking darkly about something -- something like Socratic irony -- something like that TS Eliot aphorism: "The best criticism of a poem is another poem." But maybe this topic of conversation is exhausted already?

    I should probably stop this, in any event, as it's approaching an epic length for a blog comment. In lieu of further blabbering, I offer that I wrote similar things here: