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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

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Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in martin scorsese (6)

Monday
Jan232017

In Which They Have Placed Jesus On The Ground

Suited to the Cloth

by ETHAN PETERSON

Silence
dir. Martin Scorsese
161 minutes

Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) is at his absolute best in confinement. His legs seem to only go up to the wooden bars that represent the limits of his world. Abdicating to the sun and air makes him inconsolable – his faith is best processed in private, and he does not like to be disturbed. This makes him on a surface level a decent, albeit somewhat flawed candidate for priesthood.

His friend Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) is much more suited to the cloth. Persecuted by various Japanese warlords/government leaders, the two separate early on in Silence, Martin Scorsese's lengthy adaptation of a novel by the Catholic writer Shūsaku Endō based on oral histories of the period. Both are driven to service the various spiritual needs of this secular country.

Scorsese shows the missionaries at work early on so we get a fairly good sense of what they are there to do. Rodrigues is forced to hold a midnight mass in a dimly light underground cavern – in many ways in Silence, we are meant to think that the mere act of worshiping God is penitence. After he is betrayed to the authorities by his guide Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), Rodrigues has much better accommodations. His hosts place him in a small cell in the middle of a village. In freedom he is forced to eat small, roasted lizards; in jail three meals are delivered to him so he may recover some solidity in the abdomen area.

Garfield is one of those performers who is convincing when he speaks but terrible at listening, which makes him a strange choice for the lead role. He seems mostly to have been selected for his resemblance to the historical Jesus. At one point he sees Jesus in his own reflection, which is either serious apostasy or serious flattery. Either way it does not take much for him to abandon his faith by stepping/falling on an image of Jesus laid on the ground – in doing so he follows in the footsteps of his mentor Ferrera (Liam Neeson).

In one scene, a Japanese convert named Monica asks Rodrigues straight up what the problem is with dying if they are all just going to paradise afterwards. It is the only scene in Silence that possesses a philosophical jocularity. It makes Rodrigues sad to think he causes the death of all the innocent people, even if indirectly, and indicates his lack of faith. The difference between he and his colleague Garupe is made manifest in an astonishing scene where Adam Driver, emaciated and disturbed, tries to save Monica and drowns himself in the effort. Rodridgues screams and cries, but never does anything to help.

Filmed in Taiwan, Silence seems perilously out of time, and that is probably why very few people even managed to view it. The film's hopeless advertising attempted to transform the project into something of a thriller, and final cut retains something of this relentless movement. Scorsese tries very hard not to indulge himself or any of the characters, and the voiceover that he does include is directly necessary to giving us a sense of how we should be processing these events.

Scorsese clearly enjoys himself the most when he can channel Kurosawa's characteristic roving angles in the village scenes. Such moments are brilliant homage, but fall a bit short of a transcendent originality. Even among its stunning sets and energizing performances, the aspects of Silence meant to reassure us we are watching something familiar and understandable end up distracting us from faith. This is a strong thematic point.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


Tuesday
Mar292016

In Which We Pretend To Be Andy Warhol Or The New York Dolls

Factory Living

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Vinyl
creators Mick Jagger, Terence Winter, Rich Cohen & Martin Scorsese

The massive list of producers on Vinyl reads like a bad joke: a Brit, a Jew, an Italian and an Irishman walk into a bar... A lot of people were involved in making Vinyl, probably hundreds, many of them very talented. The two-hour pilot alone cost $18 million. There is a person of every possible race and ethnicity in HBO's Vinyl, except Asian. (Didn't you know there were no Asians in New York in the 1970s, at least none involved in the music industry in any significant way?)

Let's talk about the music, since Vinyl plays a lot of songs. Figure that the people behind this show don't sit around watching tons of television to know that half the stuff they play has been in every generic movie released in the last fifty years. The music alternates between wonderful and terrible, but the worst part of the aural situation is this: no one seems to care very much how is it made. We never see anyone writing songs or tuning instruments.

Instead of focusing on creative individuals, Vinyl concerns itself with Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale). When he is lucid, which is not often, Richie occasionally (this is rare) might say something semi-intelligent. In Vinyl, we live for these moments, since witnessing him destroy himself with cocaine and alcohol, and hurting the feelings of all New York's not-Asians is pretty hard to watch after awhile.

Richie is Italian, and he relied on his former secretary Andrea Zito (Annie Parisse) in so many ways. They slept together when he told his wife Devon (Olivia Wilde) that he would be working late. He kept a white woman at home and an Italian woman in the city in a reverse-Tony Soprano situation. This ethnic switcheroo is never explicitly explained, and I sometimes think it must be like watching aliens from space for people in other places to view Vinyl. Then again no one watches the show anyway so does it really matter?

Despite the fact that Richie is a complete asshole to everyone except his kids and his employee Jamie Vine (Juno Temple), he has to murder a guy in self-defense and he spends most of Vinyl's episodes whining and crying about this. The man he killed to protect himself was a dirtbag who owned some radio stations. The guy had no wife, no children, and no one who cared if he lived or died outside of the prostitutes who depended on him for their living. His company and family are falling apart, and all Richie Finestra can think about is this piece of shit.

It makes no sense whatsoever, but then maybe treating Vinyl as an actual series with characters who might have positive and negative qualities is giving it too much credit. It is more about an overwhelming sense of style which never coheres or agrees upon itself, and so becomes ugly. This period in American life was a great deal more disgusting than either the 1920s or the 1990s, the focus of Terence Winter's previous series. The colors all clash, the outfits are ghastly, and there was no antibacterial solution in all of New York.

Winter's writing has always been among the very best on television, and he has a few artistic crutches which make it into everything he works on. He loves showing people by themselves, following them even after the scene he is writing would traditionally end. He focuses so intently on every moment having something at stake that he makes anything he constructs into a thriller of sorts. This works a lot better in noir, because people can live or die based on events. On Vinyl it just means we have to care about who gets a record deal.

When Finestra first meets his wife, he has sex with her in the bathroom of the Factory. He puts his hand around Devon's neck to choke her a bit. She slaps him but seems to enjoy his sense of play. I hate to say it, but Olivia Wilde is about as plausible in this role as it was when Whoopi Goldberg put on a nun's habit.

But even if she did seem like the kind of person who would be a Connecticut housewife, the sheer number of fakes on Vinyl makes the entire show seem a comedy sketch. I guess using actual footage of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop would have completely changed what they were going for, but no one wants to watch actors play these people and lip synch their songs. There is a reason Milli Vanilli did not have a lasting career in the business.

This is essentially the conundrum: making Vinyl fun would make these people seem like heroes glorifying excess and theft from the musicians. Without those guitarists and vocalists, there would be no great sums of money to pay for the ample suppy of cocaine, heroin, and prescription drugs. So instead Vinyl is utterly depressing to watch and be a part of; every single person on the show is permanently unhappy and completely ashamed of their lives, which is not only terrible to witness, but not really realistic when you think about it.

Worse than being immersed in the darkness of these pagans, however, is the fact that Vinyl is completely out of date. Period pieces needs to comment on contemporary times, but Vinyl has nothing to say about who we are now, since whatever authenticity was present in this period evaporates by reconstructing it. The only possible conclusion is that the 1970s was as fake as the modern concept of celebrity, which is not really something we need told to us by an expensive television program.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"You're Gonna Get Love" - Keren Ann (mp3)

Tuesday
Jan172012

In Which We Charm Absolutely No One

Notes on Margaret

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Margaret
dir. Kenneth Lonergan
150 minutes

Kenneth Lonergan’s hold on the countless ways we fail to communicate is Margaret’s most bewitching coup. Rather than gaining mileage from what is unsaid, his teenage protagonist, Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) clashes with each person in her ever-growing sphere as she tries to reconcile with a fatal bus accident in which she feels partly responsible.

Discovery, as Lonergan lays bare, is often achieved with fight. Shushing, shouting, crying, dismissive arm-waving, passively listening, correcting someone’s grammar, mimicking, misunderstandings, storming out and slamming doors, all inch Lisa further from resolve but closer to breaking through her childhood safeties and habitat, the Upper West Side — a character unto itself in Margaret.

Anna Paquin is terrific as a teenage girl. She struts to her desk. She pouts. She still has baby fat. Her skirt is too short and her henley shirts, too tight, but with stretched sleeves to pull over her hands in more contemplative, panicked moments. Her hair is greasy at the roots. Her eyeliner, reapplied regularly. Her eyebrows are over plucked and her stare is restless no matter the emotion — eagerness turned frustration, grief turned anger. Her attitude thaws with adults who outdo her wit or minutes before she loses her virginity.

On screen, teenage rebellion is charming. But not Lisa Cohen’s. Hers is not easy to look at — it overcompensates, it’s at times ugly and a bit ridiculous. It’s authentic. For years on screen, Kirsten Dunst sought to be Lisa Cohen.

In one scene she wanders drunkenly around a party, stumbling from a boy named Paul to another boy named Darren. She is bold and willing with Paul in the bathroom but it’s the way her body flops down on the floor in the hallway to make-out with Darren, only to struggle as she gets up, that is exact.

Lisa Cohen is both the heroine in a 19th century novel and a character from a post 9/11 graphic novel.

Margaret is cut somewhat messily; some jumps are more abrasive than others. In this way, everyone’s story is told alongside Lisa’s. Everyone is defenceless, including the audience.

She dismisses a boy’s phone call and we are immediately dropped in his bedroom where he sits on the edge of his bed, crying beside his Pavement poster.

A conference call with lawyers and loved ones, and Lisa, contrasts with three New York buildings — Lisa’s urgency calmed momentarily, not by a parent or a friend, but by her city.

“What’s Indiana like?” Lisa inches in to ask her teacher. They are sitting on the couch in his sublet. Seconds later the camera cuts away, and in the next scene, she stands at his front door as he apologizes for what just happened.   

Like Maurice Pialat in A Nos Amours, who too directs and plays the father of a teenage daughter, Lonergan is Karl, Lisa’s dad who lives in California, remarried. Shots of Karl pacing outside his beachside house as he speaks somewhat idly to his daughter, contrast with her relentlessly shifting world. His sky is blue and empty while wide shots of Lisa walking home after school are peopled and hectic — a huddle of boys part as she digs her hands in her skirt pockets and passes them, bothered by the unwanted attention.

Margaret slows in parts to truly appraise emotions. Instead of dialogue as a tool used to forward plot, it rationalizes a character’s feelings. Lisa’s mother, Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) is dating a man named Ramon played by Jean Reno. One night she asks Lisa’s opinion about a date outfit. Their exchange is immediately cruel and spirals as if on each side, the breaks have jammed. But neither is in fact mad. Both are hurting and experiencing the kind of homelessness only possible in one’s own home, at the end of a week that crawled with failed attempts. A mother readying herself for a date is no match for a daughter afflicted with misunderstood angst.

Lonergan’s long takes ripen as Lisa’s emotions, no matter how sincere, heighten. It’s as if something on screen thickens, like batter, when the camera sticks with a conversation that at first appears to have no direction. It’s exhilarating. 

At an outside terrace, Paquin, Jeannie Berlin, who plays a dear friend of the deceased, and a lawyer meet for lunch. They discuss legal options. Lisa interrupts a number of times. Salads are served. It brought to mind a scene in Olivier Assayas’ Summer Hours where three adult children, mourning the loss of their mother, discuss her will and the family’s summer home. They speak diagnostically much like in Margaret where emotions turn to equation. In both films, unglamorous details are entirely involving. 

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She last wrote in these pages about the city of Los Angeles. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

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