What We’re Watching – 6/30/11
As I finished some exams a few weeks ago, I’ve been able to watch a lot more films recently. In fact, I’ve probably seen more pictures over the last couple of weeks than I caught over the preceding couple of months. Here, then, are a few of the things that I’ve seen this week.
In the theater:
I’m glad I saw Asif Kapadia’s Senna (2010) before it left the cinemas. The biopic of the Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna undeniably provides more than just a view of the man in the context of the sport at which he excels. Newspaper reviews over here in the UK have suggested that the the film transcends the concerns of motor racing, focusing instead on the personality of a unique and exceptional man—who just happens to be a driver. But I found that the excellence of the picture comes from its refusal to turn completely away from the cars: while Senna is a subtle and moving portrait of a faithful man, it’s also inextricably rooted to the oil and the computer-controlled suspension systems of F1 in the late 80s and early 90s.
Senna himself hints at such a split when he considers Ayrton the driver as separate from Ayrton the man. But the film suggests that he cannot be removed from his chosen profession, and that his character is thrown more fully into relief only alongside the context of the motorcar. This belief is revealed in the formal design, which uses only archive footage. Interviews are audible but do not interject the flow of these images: there are no shots of well-lit interviewees sitting in ominously black rooms. Instead, with such a variety of extant footage to use, the exciting narrative unfolds like live action, rather than being presented as an event long past. The effect—a wonderful portrait of a driver rich with internal contradictions—would be quite different (and I don’t think as successful) if the film had been constructed differently. I’ve written elsewhere about my favorite shot, which, coming in the funeral, is the culmination of the emotional effect achieved by this innovative and challenging use of archive footage.
If Ayrton Senna borders on madness in his devotion to God and his commitment to the racetrack, then, in comparison, Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinsi) is emphatically nuts in the title role of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982). With a premise delightfully simple, childish and surreal in equal measure, the film presents a man moving a boat over a mountain in South America. The juxtaposition of the opera with the jungle is wonderfully inventive and allows each to provide comment on the other. There’s artfulness and there’s feeling in the Amazon, as well as pain and unpredictability in the voice of Enrico Caruso.
The Amazon jungle and the surrounding area seem to have a hold on Herzog’s imagination, providing the setting for his earlier film Aguirre, The Wrath Of God (1972)—which also stars Kinsi—as well as his documentary The White Diamond (2004). In Les Blank’s Burden Of Dreams (1982), a documentary detailing the production of Fitzcarraldo, Herzog reveals that the jungle provides him not only with a location but also with an ideology centered on chaos—which is in some senses admirable—as well as the misery that comes from it. As an expression of this ambivalent belief, the closing sequence from Fitzcarraldo is difficult to beat.
Here is a relevant clip. His deadpan delivery is amazing.
On that topic, I’m very excited to watch Rob Reiner’s Misery (1990), as well as seeing Frank Capra’s Mr Deed Goes To Town (1936) and, for the second time, Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1968). Unfortunately, for now, these three pictures have to be put on hold, as I’ve lost the discs. Any comments on the quality of the films—and whether it’s worth trying to find them—would be appreciated.