Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Michael Sporn (1946-2014)

Sad news indeed. One of the strongest voices of the independent animation scene has become silent last sunday. If, like me, you had made it a daily ritual to read Michael Sporn's Splog, you may have noticed in his writing over the course of the last few months that something was seriously wrong. But still it came as a shock to hear that Michael has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer last sunday.

"And time went on without him..."

I have never met him in person, just had a few e-mail conversations. The last one about his current POE-project I was eagerly looking forward to. I am grateful for the vast amount of artwork and insight he so generously shared on his blog. And most of all, I am indebted to him for putting me on the map when he spread the word about this site even before I wrote about Walt Peregoy's color design.
"The thing to do is simply hold on..."

Michael Barrier and John Canemaker as well as Mark Mayerson have already put together obituaries. May he rest in peace.

Thanks for the inspiration!

All screenshots and quotes are from Michael Sporn's poetic animated HBO-special THE MARZIPAN PIG (1990), featuring soothing voice-over narration by Tim Curry.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

LE PASSÉ (2013)

Happy Groundhog Day!
What a fitting epilogue to a year that made me feel like a hamster in a wheel with missing rungs: After studying Asghar Farhadi's new masterpiece LE PASSÉ (THE PAST) which closes on a character stuck between the past and the present, 2013 ended with a 35mm screening of GROUNDHOG DAY, a comedy classic I have missed so many times in the past twenty years that I almost didn't think I was ever going to see it. But I finally did - and enjoyed it tremendously.

And today I managed to start my year in movies with another highlight: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON by one of my favorite directors Kore-eda Hirokazu. It was almost Fordian in its simplicity and deep look into characters (but without the artificial sets and acting).

So here is my traditional list of the ten new releases that impressed me most deeply in 2013:
  • THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN (Felix Van Groeningen, 2012): A Belgian Carter Family in a Greek Bluegrass tragedy told in an intuitive non-linear way that mirrors the associations of human memory. Easily the most emotionally involving film of the year.
The rest of the list in alphabetical order:
  • A PERDRE LA RAISON (OUR CHILDREN, Joachim Lafosse, 2012): Ever since UN PROPHÈTE, films starring Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup are on my must-see list. A tense character study of a woman losing her grip and one of the best "sing-along-in-the-car" scenes.
  • BEFORE SUNRISE (Richard Linklater, 2013): This third film in the Linklater-Delpy-Hawke-Trilogy is even better than the first one. We are treated with more mature characters and hilarious wall-to-wall dialogue about all the little things that come up when romantic love gives way to family management.
  • DJANGO UNCHAINED (Quentin Tarantino, 2012): When was the last time I enjoyed a revenge fantasy so preposterous and intense at the same time? Though not entirely flawless, the sheer amount of pop references made me see a continuous film of referenced scenes in my mind's eye. The movie that finally made me understand the DiCaprio formula of screen acting.
  • JAGTEN (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012): A Danish Thriller about group dynamics. One of two great thrillers (the other being PRISONERS) revolving around men as fathers and custodians.
  • LA GRANDE BELLEZZA (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013): Italian cinema is not dead, at least not when Sorrentino is at the helm. Melancholy but finally upbeat update of LA DOLCE VITA: an audio-visually overpowering portrayal of Italy's shallow bohemian class.
  • LE PASSÉ (Asghar Farhadi, 2013): Maybe not as complex and gritty as A SEPARATION, Farhadi pulls off another prime example of mathematically precise storytelling and emotionally intense film making that provides us with more questions to chew over than INCEPTION.
  • PARADIES GLAUBE (Ulrich Seidel, 2012): The centerpiece of a trilogy (of which I have only seen two parts) about lonely Austrian middle class women disconnected with society. Hysterically funny and deeply unsettling.
  • SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012): A hard-to-believe feel-good story about a working class philosopher whose songs blew me away. Actually, this pick is a tie with the Coens' INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS which is a far superior film that treads more familiar waters however.
  • VATERS GARTEN (Peter Liechti, 2013): An experimental film maker reconciles himself with his parents by showing the spiritual abyss that lurks beneath the surface of their old fashioned lifestyle.
Red vs green screenshots above taken from Farhadi's FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY (2006).
La grande bellezza della musica italiana 
As I have mentioned a year ago, 2013 started out with researching Technicolor epics like GONE WITH THE WIND, borderline blaxploitation fare like MANDINGO and TAKE A HARD RIDE as well as the dirty Italian westerns by Sergio Corbucci that influenced Tarantino's "southern" DJANGO UNCHAINED. The success of the resulting lecture paved the way to additional screenings of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY and Eastwood's early masterpiece THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. Talking about Corbucci and Leone of course required analyzing how they depended on and used the scores of Ennio Morricone.

Coincidentally I was also able to witness the maestro conduct a concert of his own music in Verona during a wonderful three-day trip to Italy. Italian film music also took center stage in my bi-monthly soundtrack column for Filmbulletin. In addition to reviewing a new "earBOOK" of Morricone's movie themes that fortunately does not overrepresent western cues but is heavily biased towards Edda Dell'Orso, I wrote about the eclectic mix of contemporary classics and disco hits in LA GRANDE BELLEZZA. This gave me the opportunity to compare it to the pastiche of Nino Rota's score for Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA and his completely different portrayal of modern life in Milano for Visconti's ROCCO E I SUOI FRATELLI he wrote around the same time. I was also able to see the brand new restoration of Daniel Schmid's documentary IL BACIO DI TOSCA about retired opera singers in the Casa Verdi in Milano.

Red vs green screenshots above taken from Farhadi's ABOUT ELLY (2009).
History Repeating
What I have written a year ago is still valid: "Many films have probably resonated with me more deeply than new releases simply because I have already seen and liked them before while gaining new insight by seeing them within a larger or different context. I also like to revisit interesting or favorite movies for the sake of reliving the emotions and discovering how my focus changes according to my growing older. As a matter of fact, I keep seeing many more facets every time I revisit a film."

My favorite (re-)discoveries of 2013 in historical order (* marks films I have never seen before):
  • GONE WITH THE WIND (Victor Fleming, 1939) 
  • I VITELLONI (Federico Fellini, 1953)
  • PATHS OF GLORY (Stanley Kubrick, 1957) along with LOLITA (1962) and DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)
  • TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (Robert Mulligan, 1962)
  • THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH* (Nicholas Roeg, 1976) 
  • PERIINU MONOGATARI* (TV-series, Hiroshi Saito/Shigeo Koshi, 1978)
  • IL BACIO DI TOSCA* (Daniel Schmid, 1984) 
  • GOONIES* (Richard Donner, 1985) 
  • GROUNDHOG DAY* (Harold Ramis, 1993)
  • THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
  • MICHAEL* (Markus Schleinzer, 2011) 
Red vs green screenshots above taken from Farhadi's A SEPARATION (2011).
The Future Is Red and Blue  
I have also seen many films that were interesting to me because of their colors. Complementary contrasts of red and green still seems to be a dominant concept in those parts of the world not specialized in James Cameron type action movies as you can see from the screenshots in this post. Red against green is also prominently used in both THE LITTLE MERMAID and KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE (both 1989) the storytelling and colors of which I have analyzed quite extensively. But as yet I haven't found nearly enough time to start conforming them to a comprehensible format.

The same could be said of a parallel project (currently on hold) about the rise of saturated red and blue as companion colors and excessive pink/magenta in mainstream animation. Among the films that displayed these characteristics most vividly were: 
  • SUSPIRIA (Dario Argento, 1977): A film giallo that depends almost exclusively on sensory attraction and excitement. 
  • ONLY GOD FORGIVES (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2013): Stylistic masterpiece full of gratuitous violence and a story less interesting than the cheapest Charles Bronson vendetta. 
  • FROZEN (Jennifer Lee/Chris Buck, 2013): Reminded me of Mary Blair's color design for CINDERELLA (1950). With all the snow it is a perfect showcase to see the effect of colored light.
Color is also an excuse to mention two more animation titles I have seen in this weak year (regarding animated features). The French adaptation of MAMAN EST EN AMÉRIQUE (Marc Boreal/Thibault Chatel, 2013) incorporated the stylized two-color palettes of the graphic novel into the backgrounds. And in Kevin Schreck's technically challenged documentary PERSISTENCE OF VISION I enjoyed the sometimes strong color work in the highlights of Richard Williams' THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER.

The Morricone book finally convinced me to give the films of Dario Argento a try.
Red vs. blue screenshots taken from Argento's SUSPIRIA (1977).