Sunday, 22 November 2015

In Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, objects speak volumes: the shards of a broken teapot, mended and broken again, then discarded on an open fire; a branch cut from a tree, given to rich widow Cary Scott by gentleman gardener Ron Kirby, her glances at which bookend an uncomfortable night at a country club cocktail party; the vivid flowers and angled mirrors that seem to reverberate throughout Sirk's cinema, present and prominent as always, offering glimpses of fleeting lives lived beautifully. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the large trophy that sits proudly above the fireplace in the large suburban home in which Cary, five days out of the week, lives alone. Her husband, whose life is never discussed and whose name is never spoken, won the trophy as a young man, but for what, exactly, remains unclear. The only context for its existence is relayed by Harvey, a respectable businessman and suitor of Cary, and an old friend of her husband. He tells the family, including Cary's two grown children, Ned and Kay, after refusing a second cocktail: "You know, my reform started the night your father won this trophy. He filled it with champagne and made us drink it. I can still remember it." In spite of this long-standing relationship with their father, the two children see Harvey as a suitable new husband for their mother. Kay pointedly tells her: "I like Harvey. He's pleasant, amusing, and he acts his age... All in all, he's remarkably civilised, and the only bachelor around here," while Ned calls him "sir" and makes him a "Scott special" cocktail.

Cary, however, is more interested in marrying Ron, whose carefree and boundless love for life enthrals her, while to him, she is unlike the other society women whose gardens he works on. She treats him as a person , offering him coffee and showing a genuine interest in his life and his work, with little to no regard for the class and age divide that is evident (and indecent) to many of her friends, at least at first. Their relationship is a blissful one, and Kay soon tidies her former husband's trophy, a relic of the life she is trying to put behind her, away into the basement. But Ned, already against her mother's choice of husband, notices the empty mantelpiece, and confronts his mother. "Haven't you any sense of obligation to father's memory," he says. "How can you even think about marrying a man like Kirby when you've been father's wife?" The children want her to be happy, but only if it aligns with their idea of happiness - wealth and sophistication. Her friends at the club snootily share Ned's disdain, and baseless rumours persist that Cary was seeing Ron when her husband was still alive. Nothing of the sort is said of Harvey, of course, even if his romantic pursuit of his friend's widow is more suspect than Ron's - he drank champagne from his friend's trophy as a young man, and now he wants his wife. But then he's "civilised" and, perhaps more importantly, rich, while Ron is seen as an uneducated thug. At a cocktail party, Howard, an odious businessman with eyes for Cary, drunkenly forces himself on her, and Ron rushes over to drag him off. An unmistakably noble gesture, but as the mortified couple leave, one of the partygoers fearfully says to another: "why, he might've killed poor Howard, and in Sarah's lovely house, too."

It's a feeling shared by all of them. Ron can do nothing to alleviate their pre-emptively negative impressions of him. But love will endure. Even as her friends turn on her, even as her children ignore her, even as her world falls apart around her, Cary never retrieves the trophy from the basement. She never truly loses hope, even when all seems lost. The door will always be open for true love.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Crash | David Cronenberg, 1996

Monday, 9 November 2015

In Francis Ford Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married, the titular character, a middle-aged mother of two, is transported back to her youth after collapsing on stage at her high-school reunion. She lives a past tense life in her new present, tackling all the issues that seem important to a sixteen year old girl in high school with the life-experience of an adult. One afternoon, her mother asks how her day at school was, and she replies: "oh, well, it was nice to see everybody again." Then the phone rings, and Peggy answers to hear the voice of her grandmother, a woman who, in Peggy's real present of the mid-1980s, would have died a long time ago. As ready as she was to face boys, cheerleading practice, and the social hierarchy of high-school, she wasn't expecting this - so she freezes. There's no mention of Peggy Sue's grandparents before this moment, and the complexion of the film shifts suddenly from comedy to tragedy. Coppola covers the hallway in shadow, at odds with the sun-kissed idyll of previous spaces, and introduces a low-key piano melody. Peggy runs up the stairs, and her mother, bemused, follows after her. She tells her mother that she dreamt that her grandmother died, which isn't true, but the real reason would make no sense. "I love her so much," she says, "and I haven't seen her in so long." The untroubled freedom of her youth disappears for a moment, painfully reminding her of everything she has lost. But the unique situation she's in affords her the opportunity to make it right - and that's what makes Peggy Sue Got Married so beautiful. It's not a film about reliving the glory days. Rather, it's about coming to terms with the pains and regrets of her past.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Story of Women | Claude Chabrol, 1988

Two men escape the scene of a heist in the opening of Michael Mann's Thief, and head back to their hideout in the city. As they reach a bridge, the streetlights of Chicago come into hazy view through the rain-soaked windscreen, luring them home like moths. Suddenly, the driver turns onto a darkened side-street. The lights can only be followed for so long, and the shot cuts, soon revealing the detour as the way back to base. Hidden in the shadows of the illuminated city, this backstreet lock-up keeps the thieves out of sight; a means of self-preservation, allowing them a place to lay low and conduct their business without attracting the unwanted attention of cops. But the lights seen fleetingly from the bridge are also landmarks of home. There's a safety built in to their presence; a vision of normalcy glimpsed momentarily before retreat into the darkness. Crime as a means to a romantic ideal of life, just out of reach but forever on the horizon. The themes of Mann's career outlined in a single shot, barely ten minutes into his debut feature.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

There are no safe spaces in John Carpenter's Vampires, only safe times. In the daytime, vampires shield themselves from fatal sunlight, hiding underground or in boarded-up shacks. Skilled hunters know what to look for, and, despite their physical disadvantage, their prey are easy to defeat. At night, however, the tables turn, and the hunters are no match for their unencumbered prey. Time is more important than anything. Hunter Jack Crow frantically says "we've got less than eleven hours until the sun goes down," while vampires stalk their prey from darkened buildings, waiting for their chance to strike. Carpenter's camera turns to the sky as often as the hunters do, tracking the ever-setting sun, but if the vampires find what they're searching for, a way to walk in the daytime, all of this time-keeping becomes futile. Vampires is a film about preserving a way of life. The vampires want to extend their power beyond the limitations of night, removing their only weakness, while the hunters, of course, cannot allow themselves to be placed at a disadvantage. They're winning, but for how long? Carpenter sees a sky filled with clouds. As much as they move and change in time, there will always be clouds in the sky. Time keeps things alive, keeps things moving. Time is hope. But you can't see clouds at night.