For Reel


Eraserhead (1977)
July 17, 2017, 11:13 pm
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Director: David Lynch
5 Stars
Eraserhead.jpgAs immediate and revolting as many of the images in Eraserhead are, they perhaps wouldn’t carry the same weight as they do without the film’s brilliant sound design. The film is accompanied by a constant roar—whether be it the wind, the industrial machinery, or the radiator—and each wail, step, and even closing of the lips is heightened with an upsetting sharpness. The effect is so maddening that the audience, just as Henry (Jack Nance) does, takes some comfort within the radiator, where Laurel Near hauntingly sings an oddly soothing lullaby (which, of course, happens to be about the release of death). More than just about any other David Lynch film, the protagonist is a figure the audience can identify with—he recognizes the horrors around him, and Lynch never pulls the rug out from underneath the audience in the way that he will in films like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. In this way, Eraserhead is oddly a film about a likable everyman in horrifying circumstances, and in that way the film feels as timeless as anything Lynch has done, and yet in its specificity it is wholly of its own world. It is more narratively straight-forward than some admit, and yet it remains a maddening enigma—a work so disarmingly singular that it feels as though it was given to us in a dream.

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Suspiria (1977)
October 27, 2014, 7:17 pm
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Director: Dario Argento
4 Stars
SuspiriaHow could Suspiria not preserve its reputation as the quintessential Italian horror film and one of the most memorable genre pictures of the latter half of the 20th century? As forgettable and familiar as the plot is, as humorous as the lazy dialogue and poor dubbing gets, it’s nearly two hours of unadulterated stylistic excess. The insistence on primary colors, the overbearing score by the Italian prog-rock band Goblin, the brutality and beauty of the deaths. Gimmicks are paraded in every shot–even the “down” periods are rendered memorable by the disorienting wide-angle lenses and radical shifts in color. This very style might be counter-productive to the genre–viewers are more in awe than terrified, eager to see the next orgy of color rather than fearing what might be around the corner. A montage of Suspiria’s best scenes would give close to the same effect as sitting through the whole movie, and yet the distinctiveness of its visual pleasures are resilient to any cynic’s attempt at defamation.



The Ascent (1977)
August 8, 2012, 11:31 pm
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Director: Larisa Shepitko

A pair of Soviet partisans trek through blinding snow in search of food for their squad in The Ascent, Larisa Shepitko’s fourth and final feature film and the winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1977. The two men – Boris Plotnikov as the noble, stoic hero, and Vladimir Gostyukhin as the craven survivalist – are soon captured by a German patrol and find themselves under interrogation from a traitor played by Tarkovsky regular Anatoli Solonitsyn. In the final moments of the picture, an inconsequential observer shouts “Judas” at Gostyukhin, further accentuating the already overstated religious allegory that sees Plotnikov as the holy figure and Gostyukhin as his betrayer. To depict the nobility of suffering under these terms seems fairly tasteless – given the extraordinary causalities faced by the Soviet Union during World War II, one can’t help but feel that championing such atrocities as being somehow transcendental is completely wrong-headed. Though Shepitko ultimately allows the audience to feel some compassion for the Judas figure, he is too often reduced to a sniveling coward, vilifying a man who is in a position that should inherently allow for some moral leeway. Considering that her Wings is a masterpiece of restraint, it comes as a disappointment that Shepitko’s final feature is both exploitative and slight, with the simple-minded duality of the story amounting to very little in the end.



The Devil, Probably (1977)
February 23, 2012, 2:03 am
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Director: Robert Bresson

The penultimate film of Robert Bresson, The Devil, Probably serves as the antithesis of his most whimsical feature, Four Nights of a Dreamer. An illuminated boat floating down the Seine is the first image to draw this parallel, and later in the picture Bresson returns to a familiar gathering of young folk musicians. Whereas Four Nights of a Dreamer identified the youthful as naive and over-romantic, The Devil, Probably features a protagonist, Charles, whose rigid cynicism sets him in stark contrast with Mouchette, who was resilient for as long as she could bare. Charles’ suicidal desire is not the result of his own victimization, but of his unwillingness to participate in a world in which he finds abhorrent. In the film, Bresson heavily uses stock footage to depict man’s destruction of the natural world. These images do not serve as an environmental sermon, but as a sort of passive judgment – man’s greed permits the potential for change, and so it is the burden of the young to either find a method of coping with the reality, or, as Charles will, removing oneself entirely. The key ideas that Bresson employed in his earlier work – transcendence, grace – are alluded to out of spite. In a sequence within a church, an organ is obnoxiously tuned while characters discuss the nature of religion, and, later, Charles camps in a church as if to become close to God without the contaminate of man. That he is so reasonable and articulate in his bitterness is perhaps what draws some away from the picture, which is certainly one of Bresson’s most uncompromising and upsetting. It is not a glamorization or a justification of suicide, though it certainly doesn’t pass judgment on the doomed Charles for his decision. After all, who are we to judge Charles, when our species as a whole is equally bent on self-destruction?



3 Women (1977)
June 8, 2011, 8:44 pm
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Director: Robert Altman

In 3 Women, Shelley Duvall plays Millie, who, although on first glance is pathetically obedient to the media’s projected image of social order, reveals herself to be a tragic figure whose bourgeois way of living serves as the most blunt of shields. Despite her fake exterior, however, Sissy Spacek’s Pinky admires her social competence. Though Altman’s vision is evasive, his mysteries are always involving. His tone, which is clearly influenced by Bergman’s Persona, is dream-like – achieved by, among other things, a constantly moving camera and the recurring image of ancient, monstrous females in battle, painted by the third of the titular women. The performances match Altman’s vision splendidly, particularly the eerie Spacek – first appearing childlike and innocent, and later suggesting an utter contempt for Millie not unlike the relationship between a pubescent teenager and their overbearing parent.