The Shining Meets New Yankee Workshop

From the ridiculous to the sublime.  This 24-minute video is infinitely more satisfying and insightful than Room 237.  I had the opportunity to view LACMA’s Kubrick exhibit, and it was utterly fascinating.  Now I hope to see the traveling exhibit again, this time with Adam Savage’s hi-fi maze model.  He stated that the exhibit would be in San Francisco in 2016… so there you go.

Credit to Daring Fireball.

Venture More Deeply Under the Skin

Under the Skin

I’ve made the point before that I will not award a 10/10 rating to a movie until some time has passed after watching.  A 10 rating indicates not only something truly great, but a timeless film for the ages — a masterpiece.  A classification not to be doled out haphazardly.  Though just three months have passed since watching Under the Skin, its memory continues to pervade my consciousness.  It is a haunting film that has made an indelible mark on the landscape of cinema, and a lasting impression on me.  A film that I’ve not only thought about a great deal, but that has found its way into my dreams.  And the time has come to award it my 10 rating.

For such a short time to have passed, this is a bit of a risk for me.  I would look foolish if a year or two or ten from now I reflected again on Under the Skin and felt it did not warrant a 10 rating.  It is a testament to how strongly I feel about the movie that I’m placing the 10/10 label on it so soon.

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Under the Skin - Come to Me

If you read my original review, understand that my analogy to a cross between Holy Motors and Eraserhead, though still valid, is no longer the way I would couch a discussion of Under the Skin.  That was my best effort at wrapping my head around this extraordinary film, of digesting it immediately upon consumption.  My understanding of the film has deepened since then, and I realize now that it demands to be dealt with strictly on its own.  It is so unique that comparison to other movies is not particularly useful to gain an understanding of it, except as an academic exercise.

But indulge me for a moment while I contradict myself.  In a state that was half waking and half sleeping, another comparison came to me: 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Based on Under the Skin, the filmmaker Jonathan Glazer has been compared by at least one critic to Stanley Kubrick.  There are a couple visuals that bring to mind 2001; I cite examples below.

But beyond the obvious, Under the Skin may be seen as an incredible twist on 2001, and here it is: in 2001, we had the monolith.  But here, the girl is the monolith.  Under the Skin - monolith text block 2Her body — whatever that exactly is, her charming ways, her black pool, her entire alien presence.  The monolith has returned to earth, but it has folded in on itself and become this very human, and simultaneously very alien sexual being.  The blackness, the void — all the abstract and mystical bounds of humanity represented by the monolith of 2001 are now embodied with this young woman.  Instead of the monolith as something seen from afar, and hesitantly approached for a closer glimpse or a touch, it has now become something you enter, something that envelops you.

Now mind you, I don’t believe Glazer or the novelist Michel Faber had 2001 in mind at all when composing Under the Skin.  But you can tell that this movie has fired up a lot of synapses in my brain.  Know too that the whole idea of an interpretation of Under the Skin as a greatly distorted retelling of 2001 is but one point of discussion, not a way to contain, define or delineate it in any way.

Continued analysis, discussion and debate are often the fruits of a masterwork.

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This is one of those rare moments when a movie can just knock you over the head and flatten you.  Under the Skin operates on different levels: as a mystery, as a tale of survival, and as an exploration of sexuality and humanity.  Its profound depth is reinforced by its haunting, aptly-science fiction score and a darkened Scottish setting.  Just phenomenal.

With a movie this great, it doesn’t matter much to me what other critics are saying, but the high praise it has received is, I admit, reassuring.  Check out the official site and its culling of criticism — what might be hyperbole for a lesser film is anything but for this one.

But there were some negative reactions, among both professional critics and amateurs.  On Amazon, it only has a 2 1/2 out of 5 star rating.  A typical review:

A very beautifully photographed, but very odd film. Director was clearly a fan of Kubrick. Long, slow scenes with not much going on. Not appropriate for younger viewers and people that enjoy a faster pace.

Now I normally am not interested in citing dissent, but I have a point to make.  People who did not like this movie all have one thing in common: they just didn’t get it.  It went way over their head.  And I get that.  That’s the first level I mentioned: a mystery.  A mystery for the viewer to figure out.  Only then do the other two levels reveal themselves — that of  the survival adventure of the “lioness on the prowl”, as Scarlett Johansson put it, and then that of an exploration into human sexuality.

Under the Skin - depth text blockSo my point here is the fact that so many people did not like it does not indicate weakness or a lack of quality, but exactly the opposite.  A lot of people will be out of their depth with Under the Skin, and will not be able to get anything out of it.  As I said, I get that.  I had my hands full trying to comprehend this movie as I sat through it.  But if you can grasp it at all, it will stay with you.  You’ll be able to attain your own ways of understanding it.  And like any truly great art, its greatness will only expand from there.

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iTunes extras graphicLest I forget to mention, there are now iTunes Extras available when you purchase the movie from Apple — this, and the upgrade to a 10 rating, constituted my original impetus for this post before I decided I had a helluva lot more to say.

The Extras are only available with the purchase (not rental) of the movie in HD ($15), and include 10 featurettes.  My inclination is that if I’m going to buy this movie, I’d rather have the Blu-Ray disc.  Now a check on Amazon does not mention the Extras, but I found a review of the Blu-Ray that confirms the featurettes are included.  So if I decide to purchase the movie, I’ll get it on Blu-Ray, and perhaps return it if the featurettes are not there.  I don’t recommend anyone purchase the movie unless they’ve already seen it.

Personally, this movie is still so vividly held in my memory that I don’t feel a need to purchase it — yet.  But those featurettes I am curious about, so I will probably buy it sooner than later.

Escape from Room 237

As a big fan of Stanley Kubrick, arguably the greatest director of all time, I was eagerly anticipating Room 237 and wanted to make sure I saw it on the big screen.  I was hugely disappointed.  The documentary is comprised of interviews with a small group of Kubrick-leaning cinephiles that pick apart tiny details in The Shining and use them to justify various theories about the movie and Kubrick’s hidden messages.  The most prevalent theme is that The Shining is really about the genocide of American native peoples and/or Holocaust victims.  Another theory presumably presented as fact is that the footage of the moon landing was faked, and faked by none other than Kubrick himself.  Supposedly there are all sorts of hidden jokes also present in The Shining, which are really easy to see once you start watching the movie at home frame-by-frame, a completely ridiculous supposition given that the movie came out in 1980 and was meant to be watched only in the theater.  DVD did not exist then, and neither did widespread consumer VCR use, nor VCRs that could clearly pause movie frames.

Room_237 poster smallI am not saying there is no validity to any of the theories posited, but I am saying these people are reading way too much into the minutiae of the movie.  And I’m also saying ‘so what?’  After having visited the fascinating LACMA Kubrick exhibit (still going a little while longer), I was hoping for more juicy insight into Kubrick and the movie-making process, more of the type of truly interesting discovery that I found in that exhibit.  None of that is to be found in Room 237.

What makes this movie even worse is that it is not even particularly interesting.  Consider the mastery of great documentary film: The Thin Blue Line, Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, Catfish, Searching for Sugar Man.  These films present their story in such a way as to develop character and plot in a way just as engrossing as good fictional drama.  Truth is often stranger than fiction, and these documentaries fully exploit that concept.  But not Room 237.  It’s just the delivery of one hackneyed, minimally qualified idea after another which do very little to offer any true insight into The Shining or the making thereof.

The highlight of Room 237 is at the very beginning of the film, where an interviewee speaks of the British movie posters for The Shining promoting “The wave of terror that swept across America.”  From there it goes into the Indian genocide theory, which I found cogent.  This bit at the beginning saves the movie from a lesser rating.  But Kubrick fans should do themselves a favor and watch one of his movies again; they’ll get more out of it than watching Room 237.  2/10

Kubrick’s Killing

Having been re-inspired by the fantastic LACMA Kubrick exhibit [prior post], last night I watched Kubrick’s The Killing (1956, B&W, 85 mins, square A/R) which had lingered on my queue for too long.

It was an outstanding, taut crime thriller film noir.  It felt modern and fresh despite elements that would seem to date it: technology and manners of speech and society in the 50s — those elements that can sour  lesser movies of the era that fall into obsolescence.  Favorable comparisons can be made to Hitchcock crime thrillers, but also Fargo and even Pulp Fiction.

Narration, which can be an absolute bane (Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Y Tu Mamá También as prime examples), is used here as an effective tool, combined with a stark directorial style to rapidly deliver the salient facts of the case at hand.  Kubrick goes about in a mathematical way to present the story just as it is and let the action speak for itself.

Sterling Hayden in The Killing

Sterling Hayden in The Killing

The story is about a group of men plotting out and executing the robbery of a horse racetrack’s cash-on-hand.  Despite the matter-of-fact way the story is presented, acting and character development are also at work, to the point that empathy is drawn around the ringleader Johnny Clay, played by Sterling Hayden.  Just enough warmth builds around Clay and a few of the other characters to round out and make whole this great early effort by Kubrick.

The Killing is an antidote to the languid non-stories often propagated in film nowadays; to borrow from AMC, “story matters here” —  8/10.