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Oh Balthazar!
21 November 2007
Critics everywhere agree. This film is worthless to everyone. Now, it's usually pretty easy to disagree with the critics, as most of them are vain and intellectually void creatures, but there's no argument about this film. It's impossible to find worth here.

One might be quick to blame the black and white photography, which is atrocious in every sense of the word. And one wonders why M. Bresson did not just stick with pure white photography, as was popular at the time. It's also easy to blame the acting, especially from the donkey who lacks presence completely and drags the film to halts at time of emotional eruption. The blame, however, lies heavily on the thighs of the director, M. Bresson, who was notorious for his psychological problems, particularly his religious hang-ups.

Here guess-work is only possible at what could possibly be going through M. Bresson's head as he brought this film to life. Clues lie in the diary he left us, curiously titled "Notes on Cinematography." In it, M. Bresson expresses a bitter distaste for the theatrical and says that it must be separated from the cinematic. It's strikingly odd, then, that M. Bresson would use theatrical traditions in all of his films, including this one ("Au hasard Balthazar"). That is, he is filming performances, staged with the utmost diligence and practice, establishing the uniquely theatrical 4th wall, and relying on theatrical narrative techniques. Why all this theater in a mind of anti-theater? Why all this theater in a medium that is rich with other possibilities of sight and sound? We can only wonder what went through this shattered head as it pieced together this film.

So perhaps it is possible to fight the opinion of the critics... It seems there is worth in this film; specifically, it is worth a glimpse into a psychically traumatized brain. Although there are many more examples of traumatized brains that are more clear and disturbing than this. In fact, on second thought, this film even fails to illustrate M. Bresson's warped thought-process as clearly as his other efforts do (try "L'Argent" for instance). Alas, it seems that my effort to redeem this picture from the painful words of the critics has failed. Perhaps it is easier to give up. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps... Yes, I must agree with them. This film is worthless to everyone. There is no worth here.

~nobly *stamped* by the RG Reviewers Tradition~
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Intimate Lighting
20 November 2007
I'm assuming that if you've stumbled across this review, you have some interest in "Intimate Lighting", to which I might also add you probably know something or other about the Czech New Wave. This film is squarely in the Czech New Wave, but I must say I detest the use of the phrase "New Wave" (those ruinous French again).

Anyway, if I assume these things (which I'm certainly not allowed to), I submit that this film is a Must-See.

This is a film of remarkable simplicity. The camera is detached from any character's point of view and approaches the characters objectively, no judgment, which gives the film a bit of silliness (in an entirely humane way). Its simplicity and silliness are almost profound in their subtle implications of life.

And the ending -- oh, the ending! -- is what will likely vault the film high in a viewer's memory. The film is short (I love short films), so the ending springs on you almost unexpectedly. I won't ruin it, of course, but the ending is a masterpiece of subtlety (as a certain idol of mine might call it, a "moment") that lays bare (to the astute viewer) the simplicity and absurdity of humanity and our habits.

Key word: simplicity. I'm sure you're tired of my using it, but this is what gives "Intimate Lighting" (and some other CNW films) its power. And in its spirit, I've kept this review as simple as possible and hope that those of you reading this who express interest in seeing this film see it as soon as you can. If you have seen it, share your thoughts and encourage others to watch it. It is a must-see.
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Borderline (1930)
20 November 2007
In the fall of 1927, a British film magazine appeared titled "Close Up." Of its purposes, it was trying to elevate film to the status of "art", it was trying to promote the educational qualities of film, it was trying to kick the British film industry into high gear (indeed, all the articles lamenting the poor British film industry grow wearisome), etc., etc. Of these purposes, it was also championing the minorities, blacks in film being one of the main focuses of this purpose.

The brainchild behind this "Close Up" was a man named Kenneth MacPherson, whose name you'll also notice under the Writing and Directing credits of "Borderline", the film in question of this review.

I watched "Borderline" because I'm a fan of this old magazine. Back in these days, the writers had a much clearer sense of film and its potentials, and their writing has a pop and vigor, the type that would transform into the raging "wit" that today's writers pass off. With MacPherson, two others edited and contributed to "Close Up". The first of these is Winifred Ellerman, pen-name Bryher. The second is Hilda Doolittle, pen-name H.D., American poet, actor in "Borderline." Other personalities, of course, frequently appear in the publication, but it is these three whom I'm quite fond of, especially the two women. Quite naturally, I had to see these personalities materialize on film, their only film.

It's amazing how well this film corresponds to these personalities I've loved. The rhythm, the technique, the good-humor of "Borderline" is so apparently theirs. Of course, I say this from bias, but I still say it is uniquely the product of MacPherson, of his person and people. And the jazz score on the Criterion disc compliments this personality well, I feel. It compliments the film. It compliments the rhythm, the technique, and the good-humor. Oh, I should probably define these. Hmm... The rhythm is difficult to describe. The cutting is strange and... jazz-like (undoubtedly, the jazz score again biases me). The story is more rhythmic than coherent, and apparently this throws people off (as evidenced by the few uninformed narrative junkies who have submitted embarrassingly bad reviews to this humble IMDb page). The technique is often impressionistic. "Borderline" is beautifully photographed, if I may say so, and the Criterion quality is the standard of excellence. The thoughtful angles, the focus and lighting, the good-humor... all shines through on the DVD. Oh, the good-humor! Well, that's something you have to experience.

I'm thankful MacPherson made a film. He should have made more. Well, anyone who's interested has some writings they can turn to. In fact, more than "Borderline" I'd like to recommend "Close Up" to the intelligent film-scholar. You'd be surprised how finely clear these writers' thoughts are and you'll get a very good look at the industry of the time (and the people who drove it). Worthwhile.

P.S. Robeson is really good, too.
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