Thursday, July 18, 2024


"Elvis Was a Hero to Most"

I shared some of the Cinephile-Rock shock when Shout! Factory's Shout Select line bugled a new restoration on Blu-ray of the near-3-hour 1979 made-for-hire TV-movie: Elvis — directed by none-other than Master of Horror John Carpenter, who had just achieved brilliant success with his blockbuster of one year prior, Halloween. Supplements on-disc explain the circumstances around the project's genesis. 

So: Why Elvis? I mean to ask, not so much, why did Presley receive (or project) the mania specific to his prime, but rather, aside from the gyrating pelvis and backbeat knee-bends: Why Elvis?  The black-mascara'd, fairy'ish alien ready to reintroduce (if only subconsciously) a strain of dandyism unique to our American gossamer: a natural outcome following the century's breakthroughs in the novel, poetry, painting, jazz music, and a general avant-garde. The film exists consciously to capitalize not only on "the King"'s 1977 passing but also on the success of 1978's The Buddy Holly Story by Steve Rash.

Carpenter's direction / mise-en-scène in Elvis registers as 'flat' in a good way: Carpenterian straightforwardness, not to a fault. Part of the reason I love John Carpenter comes down to his tendency, or method, of burying the metaphors within the symbols — like, say, in the pleasurable but admittedly demanding works of Wallace Stevens.

The Kurt Russell-starring Elvis is oddly moving, in a way that Baz Luhrmann's recent Elvis vehicle of 2022 can't possibly match given, as it were, the fact that Luhrmann's movie was developed in pure bad faith. Carpenter's version exists now as a picture far superior to the latter-day trash-can Baz-baroque, even on the Russell-level alone: he incarnates the King magnificently, and reminds us just how underrated this performer, a Carpenter fétiche, has been to the mass and cinephile populations over the years. But I could have sworn upon even the opening hour of the film that Russell was doing his own singing vocals, so great is the looping and syncing of the actual and uncanny Ronnie McDowell's belting pitch-perfection. 

Let's refresh our minds with a recent photo of Baz Luhrmann, who in one second given the opportunity would make a musical number out of Oswald's assassination at the pistol of Jack Ruby.



More writing on the films of John Carpenter at Cinemasparagus:

Wednesday, July 17, 2024


Follow the Tracks — Sic Transit

In 1969, Macunaíma initiated a new, final, "middle-to-late" period for Joaquim Pedro de Andrade — the films' political subversion stitched loud on their baba-cool sleeves and hems. In the frame posted above, Macunaíma drops from his mother's womb like a... how to put it... 'an adult foal'? Three times throughout the course of the film Macunaíma will be incarnated in different forms, the ink-ling's parallel path through a pathway of political readjustment in the modern flux of Brazilian society. As already mentioned, the picture is an entry into the "politically subversive" movie of the late-'60s —a trend grandfathered in by Godard's 1967 La chinoise and Weekend — replete with a wild beautiful color palette, a dubbed audio track, bright Klieg éclairage, 'tableaux' compositions, and the plausibility of cannibalism metaphorical and literal.

Consonant with that last aspect, Macunaíma further exemplifies the era's political strain countered by surrealism. When springtime hits 'the hero,' Macunaíma turns white and takes more immediate and tangible control of the anarcho-disruptive cell to which he belongs. This 'Brazil of the imagination,' full-flow tropicalia, remains to this day Joaquim Pedro's most popular film; its US Blu-ray release from Kino initially appeared as a standalone disc; shortly thereafter, they released a 3-Blu set that includes Macunaíma along with the rest of his entire body of work. Why buy one film, when for slightly more dollars you can have the complete works?


Monday, July 15, 2024

Brasilia: Contradictions of a New City

All Mod Cons

Ever wonder what the story is with that spot in Brazil with the name? You need look no further than Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's Brasilia: Contradictions of a New City [Brasília, contradições de uma cidade nova, 1968]. The year prior, the Italian manufacturer and industrial design firm Olivetti commissioned Andrade to make a documentary portrait of the pre-planned city-in-progress, known from before its 1960 construction as "Brasilia." Note the hopeful, utopian ring to the name — if it sounds at all naïvely paradisiacal, that's because it was intended by the civil bureaucratchiks to signal to the people a place conceived as the modern metropolis, one in immediate congruence with the electro-technical times. Over a short span, however, the new capital Brasilia came more to reflect any other city's struggle in maintaining equilibrium among the classes, serving as an environmental/ambient eradication-zone intended to quash class and economical differences across-the-board. In fact, as experienced by all states which eventually give up on 'big ideas' (washing their hands of a Brasilia's now all-but-obvious infeasibility), the project metamorphosed less into "Ys" than into a gilded Potemkin village. And maybe Olivetti had some stake in its progress, or in the propaganda that might keep it at least a semi-functioning, or exploitable, asset. So their man Joaquim Pedro takes to the ground with camera in hand, and the producers are taken aback by this film whose title promises "contradictions."

Raul Marques on Letterboxd wrote: "Ingeniously starts out as a straight-up propaganda for the modernist utopia of a planned metropolis then proceeds to increasingly deconstruct itself to reveal the cracks in the concrete sand castle. Slips at affirming the almost immaculate qualities of the city's design, yet correctly addresses the inescapability of the country's issues independently of a deliberate urban experiment."

Chop My Money + In Memoriam January to July 2024

Life, with a Leak

Before his brilliant 2016 Rat Film, Theo Anthony made a few preceding pictures, of which Chop My Money [2015] counts as the first. It's the portrait of a group of Congolese street-kids, lives born into near-continual slow-motion, all haze of weed and cheap hooch. They are 'gangsters.' They go to military-school from 7:30am to 1pm every day to study math and English. Their medicine man has unwittingly lent an aspirational nickname to the toughest in the crew: "the Bill Gates Congo Man." The BGCM opens the film with the voice-over:

"This world is not the world. This life is not the life."

You can view Anthony's film at his website here

Writings at Cinemasparagus about the films of Theo Anthony:

Chop My Money [2015]


This year I've been keeping a list of deaths of note. I'd wished to have fully obituarized each in a few lines, but this will have to do for the current installment:

Jose Luis Vasquez (The Soft Moon)

Mary Weiss

Sandra Milo

Damo Suzuki

Eleanor Coppola

Dickey Betts

Laurent Cantet

Robert Towne

Donald Sutherland

Willie Mays

Anouk Aimée

Martin Mull

Shelley Duvall

Dr. Ruth Westheimer

and (I'd planned to go long on this final passing in a separate entry, but the world seemed to wholly have my back on this one) —

The Smartest Guy in Any Room: Steve Albini