Archive for the ‘TRAGIC SATIRE’ Category


29 Jan

Her – directed by Spike Jonze. Psychological Romantic Drama. 126 minutes Color 2013.


The Story:  A thirty-something divorcé starts up a love-affair with a perfectly formulated human who is a voice on his computer.

The premise may seem so repellent as to keep you away. But the execution of it is so arresting you will remain riveted to the screen. And the reason for that is the voice is that of Scarlett Johansson who delivers the best performance of her life, a piece of work made more wonderful because she never appears before one, for Johansson’s physical appearance and mimetic awkwardness has been a detriment to her creamy advantage all along.

You will also remain riveted because, when you are not, you are riveted by your own mulling of the matter at hand. These recesses come up whenever the writing declines to the tropes, diction, and obligations of soap opera. For, alas, the director is also the writer, and when this happens a picture usually tends to fall foul of a want of critical acuity and an absence of slapping self-indulgence on the fanny. The divorce-papers scene between the man and his soon-to-be former wife is such a scene. It is not necessary, and it does not ring true, unless the two participants are stewed on daytime drama and their emotions are quotations hiccupped up from it.

The acting is helpless not to imitate these TV styles of histrionics. Joaquin Phoenix falls into the trap of the unnecessary smile, the puerile giggle, the senseless smirk upon which soap opera actors lean with toppling weight to flesh out the vapid moment and lend it a smear of good will. Amy Adams, as his chum, is no less a victim of the style. But it’s not their fault. There is no other way to play junk save as junk, unless you are Garbo – and, don’t worry, Garbo smiled a lot! That’s not the problem. The problem is the style. The style turns everything silly — silly without being funny. But that’s only sometimes. For:

However. And there is a big however here. We still have Joaquin Phoenix, who is the most sensitive actor before the cameras today, and we have Amy Adams who is as versatile as her hair-dos. And we have Scarlett Johansson, speaking endearingly, intelligently, gamely, with him. We have the ups and downs of their courtship. We have the surprises of her development as a character, as a human, as a spiritual possibility – and she is the only character who has these traits – and so the picture never flags. We are kept poised for the next interruption of her into his life. We are poised for the next unexpected. And it always captures us unpoised.

The story takes place in some unset time when all humans seem to conduct their lives in talk to earphones. Where writing folks’ billets-doux is parceled out to love-letter-professionals. Where jobs involve TV productions in which housewives fuck refrigerators. Where automaticity reigns.

Is Love a Machine? Is Romance a Fabrication? Companionship a Contraption?

Except that people remain absolutely themselves. Human. Real. Baffled. And yearning.

I should go see it, if I were you. It is the most unusual Hollywood film I’ve seen all year.


Street Of Shame

23 Apr

Street Of Shame – Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. Tragic Satire. The women of a bordello meet their fates and fortunes, one by one. 85 minutes Black and White 1956

* * * * *

Machiko Kyo, star of Teahouse Of The August Moon, Ugetsu, Roshamon, brings her young sensual power to the part of the volatile tart who enters the Tokyo bordello where this multi-character tale takes place. She is not alone in the attention she receives from the director. Each strand of each story weaves through the next, and Kenji Mizoguchi, whose last film this is, spares his camera now for this one now for the next, but always in community with all the other characters around, all women. The effect is Tolstoian, and has the power of Tolstoi — on two grounds — Mizoguchi’s sensibility in defining characters is ruthlessly economic and his sense of inherent, not imposed, moral inevitability is paramount. These characters are so unconscious they are funny, which is also Tolstoian, and, in their folly lovable, Tolstoian again. So the halo and aura of the picture exists as a greatness, brought on by the director’s handling of the individuals in collective scenes. Martin Scorsese must have studied this director for his strength in the handling of groups before a camera, and for free movement in cramped spaces. As in Tolstoi, in his The Forged Coupon, say, what is born is that rarest of forms, Tragic Satire. Does what I say make this film sound too serious to see? Not so. You may shake your head at what you behold here, but that is because it is so real that it is funny. Treat yourself. Watch it.


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