It's been a long day of filming... hell it's been a long week of filming, but in film's defense I will say it is the most sublime masochism...the most magnificent fakery, and if i didn't have it in my life at this point I don't know what I would do.
It's been a long day of filming... hell it's been a long week of filming, but in film's defense I will say it is the most sublime masochism...the most magnificent fakery, and if i didn't have it in my life at this point I don't know what I would do.
It’s an age-old story: the prodigal son returns home on account of his bed-ridden father. How many permutations of this have we come across before? Some might argue we’ve run that well dry, both in the novel and film form. It was with some reluctance that I entered the theater seeking a French independent feature setting out to rehash a subject worn thin countless times in the past. The result was surprisingly refreshing.
30 year-old Antoine (Nicholás Cazalé) is struggling to make ends meet. His father (Daniel Duval), whom he severed ties with years ago, has a heart attack and Antoine begrudgingly returns to Provençe at mother’s request. In light of his illness, the family grocery store is in need of a cart driver and Antoine’s older brother, François (Stéphan Guérin-Tillié) insists that for once Antoine lend a helping hand. Accompanied by next-door neighbor and love interest, Claire (Clotilde Hesme) our surly protagonist begins a slow process of reflection and self-exploration, coming of age late in the game, but gracefully against a backdrop of the beautiful French countryside.
That’s one way of putting it. The point, however, won’t be found in the narrative. What resonate are the quiet, ineffable, and undeniably filmic moments that mold the film into what it is: a patient and rustic reflection of life and family embraced by the calm permanence of a pastoral landscape.
The film opens in a blur. Home movies shot on super-8 projected and pulsating; we’re in such a tight close-up that the shaky footage becomes broad brushstrokes of warm hues – the aesthetic of intimacy. We cut on swish pans to Antoine at the subway station, trains scream by in blurs. In the first few minutes directorEric Guiradobridges the bleak tones of a glum urban world and the tender, nostalgic imagery of childhood. As Antoine returns to the home he fled from ten years earlier, the rushing subway cars evoke memories of the faded celluloid that intimately documented his youth. It’s a really nice intro.
Antoine’s first foray into selling groceries door-to-door doesn’t go well at all. He’s got an attitude; he’s incredibly unfriendly and blunt. All of Provençe’s inhabitants are in their winter years – slow moving and hard of hearing. It doesn’t help that Antoine’s as cold and unapproachable as Camus’ Mersault. In fact, the most unpleasant thing about the film is its protagonist. Thankfully, The Grocer’s Son makes all the right turns and Antoine learns a thing or two about kindness and hospitality, transformed by the third act from a stone faced stoic into an affable young man who might be ready for a commitment or two.
Director Guirado develops a rich cast of characters (most notably the old folks) who engage in seemingly trivial interactions, but as the film adeptly demonstrates, it’s those moments in between that breathe life into the story, give the subjects dimensionality, and compel us to feel compassion for and identify with the faces we see on screen.
“The Grocer’s Son” (French: “Le Fils de l'épicier”) 2007. 96 minutes, 1.85:1 Aspect. Starring Nicholás Cazalé, Clotilde Hesme, Stéphan Guérin-Tillié. Directed and Co-written by Eric Guirado.Now playing at the Charles Theatre.
One of the greatest powers of cinema is its ability to distort time. The story within a 90-minute film can take place over the course of hours or decades. Single scenes can be sped up or slowed down by manipulating the order in which shots are presented, the duration of single shots, and the juxtaposition of related shots. This type of distortion of time generally maintains linearity; that is, the viewer assumes that each successive shot is occurring at some point later in time than the preceding shot. However, linearity can be successfully obliterated from film, and has historically been done so in multiple ways. The success of this eradication of linearity ultimately depends on the ability of the film to hold the viewer in ultimate suspense, suspense that supersedes time. Suspense keeps viewers emotionally engaged, and the linearity of time can be manipulated to build horribly terrific anticipation. The collision of multiple timelines into a single critical moment enables narrative pressures only possible in a realm outside our everyday experience, the realm of film. “The Killing” (Kubrick, 1956) uses this technique beautifully.
In the “The Killing,” the cunning and fearless Johnny Clay masterminds a perfect robbery and recruits a group of big-dreaming men to execute his plan. Kubrick introduces us to a number of intriguing characters in the first half of the film. He builds tension meticulously; back-stories and secondary characters become critical. In the style of classic film noir, a devilish femme fatale is introduced played by Marie Windsor. Her greed for money initiates a plan to backstab her husband and, with the help of her boyfriend, rob the robbers.
In the second half of the film, Kubrick takes us through the day of the robbery. Instead of presenting the crime linearly, each character’s part is presented one at a time. All of the suspense is built around one question: will they be successful? By showing one character at a time, Kubrick emphasizes that success depends on everyone. We spend the second half of the film just waiting for someone to mess up. With each successive person, the stakes become higher. It’s why Kubrick’s nonlinear presentation works so well. Instead of building suspense once, suspense is built with every character. The anxiety that a high-stakes robbery creates for the criminals is felt over and over again. It causes us to constantly question the plan; it’s too perfect to work. Amazingly though, it doesn’t fall apart. The robbery goes to plan… except for a small catch.
Underlying the entire scheme, we know there’s a plan to take the money from the criminals. This plot combines with the already rolling plots of each character at the climax of the film. Except for a late arriving Johnny Clay, everyone meets in the same room, and some, with guns ready. The tension is at its highest. Timelines and plots collide into a single moment. At the perfect time, the terrified George enters the room and automatically fires his gun. There’s a round of shots and several fall to the ground. The suspense is released in a single moment. The perfection of the crime is lost in an instant. It’s brilliant.
Ultimately, we are left to witness the fate of Johnny Clay, who, with a bit of luck, escapes with all the money. By this point however, we can guess that his fate will be the same as the others, we just don’t know how it will happen. In the end, luggage constraints and a small dog bring him down.
“The Killing” shows us just how successful a story can be told without the constraints of linear time. Tension around the same subject can be built more than once. We can become invested in each and every character’s role. It makes us fully aware that everyone is a piece of an intricate puzzle. Since 1956, a number of films, mostly in the crime genre, have repeated this style. Interestingly, “Reservoir Dogs” (Tarantino, 1992) was dedicated to Timothy Carey, an actor who played one of the criminals in “The Killing.”
“The Killing” was released in 1956. 85 minutes, 1.37:1 Aspect. Written and directed by Stanley Kubrick. Novel by Lionel White.
I have a horrible memory, but there are some things that stick out in my mind like a thorn on a rosebush. The first time I saw a Paul Leonard Newman film was on his 79th birthday when Turner Classic Movies ran a marathon in his honor. I turned it on near the end of Somebody Up There Likes Me, Newman’s first starring role in a major film. In it, Newman plays Rocky Graziano who goes through a troubled life and ends up being a successful boxer. Having missed the beginning, I was first hesitant to keep watching; however, I’m a sucker for a beautiful face. By the end of the day I spent with Paul Newman, it became less about his looks and more about how entrancing it was to watch him work; to watch him talk to someone onscreen, or even sit in silence was mesmerizing. Something about Paul Newman made me want to see more and more of him.
That same day, I was on a computer and trying to find out everything I could about Paul Newman. By the end of the day, thanks to imdb.com, I knew: his birthday (January 26, 1925, making him an Aquarius—I’ve been big on astrology since middle school), where he grew up (Shaker Heights, Ohio), where he studied drama (Kenyon College, Yale University and the Actor’s Studio in New York) and that he is the godfather of Jake Gyllenhaal (how, I don’t know). After several months and a few more praiseworthy Paul Newman films, I was applying to Kenyon University in a vain attempt to follow in his thespian footsteps. Getting accepted was a great honor, but Gambier, Ohio (where Kenyon is located) was a little too…quiet for me.
Because I didn’t know Newman personally, I can’t say all the qualities he possessed for certain. Nevertheless, I could see a lot of other Aquarian characteristics Goodman spoke of in the parts Newman played. Newman plays Eddie Felson in The Hustler (1961), and he takes on one of his most tragic roles. What makes him so interesting is the fact that Eddie possesses one positive Aquarian trait (devotion to his goal of beating “Minnesota Fats”), but he has negative traits (stubbornness and conceit) working against him. His tenacity keeps him from developing a lasting relationship with Sarah Packard (played by Piper Laurie), even though they seem like they could have saved each other. “Physical fulfillment leaves Aquarius emotionally empty and still wistful, failing to sense the Oneness with the mate—the final truth of love”.
In Hud (1963) Newman plays the title character as genuinely as possible. Aside from his performance, Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas unquestionably earn their Academy Awards for their supporting roles. It’s one of those movies that was filmed in black and white when it didn’t have to be, but it makes so much sense that it was. This is my roundabout way of saying, if you haven’t seen this movie, see it; if you can, see it on as large a screen as possible so when the camera pans the Texas landscape, you get the effect cinematographer James Wong Howe wanted it to have. Anyway, back to my Newman-Aquarian theory. Aquarians are said to be rebels, and Hud Bannon is a rebel in every sense of the word: he sleeps with married women, tries to take the family ranch from under his aging father’s nose, and gets into a fist fight nearly every time he goes into town. If you look at Newman throughout the film, you see him making every move impulsively; he says and does whatever he wants, regardless of the consequences. Goodman says, “If more conservative people are offended by the Uranus (the ruling planet of Aquarius) behavior, the Aquarian individualist laughs off their disapproval.”
Skipping a decade, I saw The Sting (1973) and couldn’t wait for every time Newman would come onscreen. Newman plays experienced con artist Henry Gondorff, and he possesses several key Aquarian traits, including far-sighted and intelligent. He was a supporting actor to Robert Redford’s lead, but the most memorable scene in the film for me is Gondorff’s poker playing scene with the bad guy, Doyle Lonnegan (played by Robert Shaw). Gondorff has the authority that Newman’s characters usually have, or at least pretend they have, which is something no one else can pull off. I’m scared to give too much more of the movie away for those that haven’t seen it, but if you watch it closely, you can see that Newman put a lot of work into this role even though his screen time is minimal. “Aquarius knows that the rigid rules of today’s society must sooner or later be compromised.”
Paul Newman inspired me to find a part of myself in the roles I play. Another Aquarian trait that I know I can attribute to Newman is brilliance; that is something I’ve seen in every part he’s explored on film.
New movies come out all the time, but you’re just a college kid without the money to go to the cinema five times a week. On the other hand, you do have plenty of free time and a student discount on that MacBook, so BitTorrent makes a lot of sense. I get it. Unfortunately, the movie industry has all the legal reasons to stop you… Or so they think.
As an aside, here’s why movie people get so worked up over piracy. Like I’ve said before, most movies lose money. If a movie makes $100mm at the box office, 40% goes directly to the theater. Of the remaining $60mm, the studio only gets a distribution fee of usually 30%, which would be $18mm. Even advertising could cost $18mm, so that $100mm box office still creates a loss for the studio. When it comes to home video, however, studios get 80% of sales, and it even costs less to burn DVDs than to develop miles of negatives. That is, a movie only gets made in the first place if customers will pay for DVDs.
In other words, these aren’t robber barons twirling their mustaches as they prosecute kids. These are stressed-out executives trying to stave off bankruptcy, and they depend on you buying DVDs, or at least theater tickets, to do so. Since copyright law exists to protect guys like them, they just ask that those laws be enforced.
Still I think they’re wrong – there may be plenty of legal reasons to protect file sharing. Strangely enough, understanding how begins with the Second Amendment.
Last year, the Supreme Court heard District of Columbia v. Heller, its first Second Amendment case in nearly 70 years. To determine the Constitutionality of DC’s small guns ban, the Court had to decide whether “arms” means the definitive guns that existed when the Bill of Rights was drafted (e.g., muskets and hunting rifles) or the technology of arms, which now includes automatic weapons. The Court ruled that “arms” is a technology, and the Second Amendment protects the entire technology regardless if criminals use them illegally.
The US Constitution specifically mentions only one other technology: the Press. The press is technology that disseminates information. Throughout our history, we have outlawed seditious writings or writings that infringe copyrights, but a technology that in and of itself merely disseminated information was never outlawed until Napster. By an argument of parity (and this theory has never been tested in court), the Constitution protects any technology that serves the purpose of disseminating information, and only individual users who abuse that technology (e.g., by infringing copyrights) can be prosecuted.* Since there are millions of users infringing copyrights, stopping everyone would be cost-prohibitive. If charged with that Sisyphean task, the studios have more or less admitted that they wouldn’t bother.
Of course, copyright law is also as old as the Constitution (Article I, Section 8: “The Congress shall have the power…to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”). But the Copyright Clause is premised on society’s general benefit, and the internet has radically transformed our society, mostly for the better. Accordingly, many argue exceptions should be made for digital copyright.
This is the traditional pro-sharing rationale, argued in the pages of Wired and The Wall Street Journal alike. Nevertheless, it has never prevailed on its own. But if this principle were supplemental to a First Amendment argument, then the legal balance might well tip away from the studios.
While we wait for the tipping point, just please obey the law for now…
*For more thorough scholarship on this argument see, Edward Lee. 2008. "Guns and Speech Technologies: How the Right to Bear Arms Affects Copyright Regulations of Speech Technologies" Available at: http://works.bepress.com/edward_lee/1
Imagine five weeks spent under the weight of heavy leather, steel chest plates and helmets, slogging through sludge and dodging volatile rapids in the dizzying heat and humidity of the Amazonian jungle. Writer-director Werner Herzog’s third feature, Aguirre: the Wrath of God is a well-lauded masterwork, its success due in part to Herzog’s unbridled approach to production.
There will be a screening of Aguirre: the Wrath of God on Thursday, October 30 in Hodson 303. Don't miss it!
In 1999, protesters opposing the World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference on American soil blockaded Seattle’s downtown. These demonstrators were trying peacefully to make their voices heard concerning the problems with conglomerate globalization. But peaceful protests became violent riots when anarchist groups took over, police brutality broke out, civil rights were defied, and mass illegal arrests were made. These events that occurred in late November were a rude awakening to many. Though the protests were overall successful in stopping the WTO conference, the events that transpired created much controversy over how the city reacted to the protesters. Many were appalled by the governmental response. Similar to the riots at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, the protests in Seattle have been an important part of history. And just as Haskell Wexler made Medium Cool (1969) about the DNC riots, budding director Stuart Townsend made Battle in Seattle (2007).
Irish actor, Stuart Townsend, successfully makes his directorial debut with this film. Townsend addresses the WTO conferences through the lens of many different people, all of whom are effected differently by the convention. There are the activists. These are the characters that have been organizing the peaceful protests against the WTO to raise awareness about the risks of globalization in Third World countries. There are the politicians. These are the ones who are at the heart of the convention, mainly Seattle’s mayor Jim Tobin (Ray Liotta). There are the policemen. The ones who are on the streets making sure that peace ensue. And lastly, there is the media, which is responsible for how the convention and protests are portrayed to the general public.
The meshing and crossing paths of each type of character is engaging but since there are so many important roles, none of the relationships among them get enough playing time. It seems that the audience is only allowed to go a little bit under the surface of many of the characters. Leader of the activists, Jay (Martin Henderson), is constantly fighting against corporation expansion, but also seems to be fighting something that is within him. The viewers (and even some of the other characters) learn what troubles Jay in snip-its, but never fully come to grips with what bothers him. Even when a reporter covering the convention turns sides and joins the protests, her actions seem somewhat half-hearted and the audience is not only left asking why she did this, but also wanting to know more about her. These characters and others’ stories are intriguing, but many of them are flat. They are little more than plot devices. A policeman’s wife, Ella (Charlize Theron), is attacked by his fellow officers, but her character’s purpose doesn’t go much further than that. She is simply a plot device to show another side of police brutality, to show that everyone was a target during the riots. Many of these character portrayals are only snapshots, a disadvantage to having so many characters.
But that’s not to say that aren’t any characters in the film that have meaning. Mayor Jim Tobin, the fictionalization of former Mayor Paul Schell, is continually at odds with how to save his city from violence while doing what is right. Often shot behind objects (obscured by glass, items on his desk, or someone else), Tobin struggles with his past as a Vietnam protester and his current political position. These shots make him appear as though he is lost behind a sort of barrier that constricts him from making proper decisions. He tells the protesters to “be tough on your issues, but be gentle on my town,” but when they don’t abide he calls in the National Guard to assuage the government’s nerves. On the other side of the issues is Ella’s husband, police officer Dale (Woody Harrelson), who is forced to patrol the streets though dealing with life-altering home issues. The audience sees Dale in heavy protective garb, wearing a helmet, and holding a billy club while crying. The discord of a powerful, strong man weeping is an emotion that resonates quite strongly. The image makes it clear that not everyone involved in the five-day protest wants to be there, not everyone agrees with what is being done, but still many have no choice.
The most poignant and heart-wrenching character though may be the one who has the least amount of screen time. Dr. Maric (Rade Sherbedzija), a physician representing Doctors Without Borders, depends on the WTO conference to inform and get support from the delegates so he can raise money for the prevention and treatment of disease in Third World countries. But as the activists work to stop the convention, Dr. Maric is left without an audience to plead to. His silent desperation is saddening. It’s an emotion that is furthered by the shot of Maric in is his empty lecture hall looking dolefully out the window at the protesters and rioters. They are making their point on the outside, while he is trying to make the same point on the inside.
It is more the composition of shots than the film’s characters that truly make the movie what it is. In order to keep the movie’s pace at a steady, heart-palpitating, and utterly nerve-racking rate, shots are never very long. Townsend is incessantly cutting from shot to shot in order to show many different types of action and perspective, but also to keep the viewers alert. The quickness of the camera imitates the high tensions, stress, and nerves of those involved - even the governmental officials in their offices with large desks and leather-bound books, move at a fast, anxious speed.
Another interesting technique Townsend employs is the use of actual footage from the 1999 protests. Just as other historical fiction films before it (such as Emilio Estevez’s Bobby ), Battle flawlessly weaves this live footage of the events into its storyline. This creates an even more urgent sense to the film. The viewers realize that what is being depicted fictionally actually occurred. Along with this emotional intensity created by the footage, realism is created with statistics. The film’s opening credits roll as a voice over explains what the WTO is and how it’s gotten to Seattle. The viewers are thrust into what they believe to be a illusory story, while all the while being constantly reminded that what is happening was, at one time, real. And though the audience sighs a breath of relief when the WTO conferences are officially canceled and the activists seem to have won, there is an ominous afterword. Words move menacingly across the screen reminding the viewers that the WTO still exists, that conglomerates are still ruining Third World countries, animals are still being killed, and these same protesters are still fighting an uphill battle.
Battle’s character’s may not be developed enough for our liking, but the emotion that trickles out of them along with the sentiments that the film’s cinematography creates is enough to make Townsend’s film a triumph. It’s a movie that should be seen as a reminder of not only what happened on the rainy streets of Seattle many years ago, but also as a reminder of the passion that protesters hold within them, even those in today’s political forum.
As I mentioned last week, film has the phenomenal ability to entangle the fates of its characters with the fates of its viewers. These intimate connections can last beyond the length of the film, burrowing themselves deep in our subconscious only to sporadically reappear in our world despite our expectance. Our connections to the characters can make or break a film; when we feel genuinely connected to a character, it’s a good film. If we can’t connect to any of the characters; it’s a bad film. (I use the word ‘connected’ in the since that when we are connected to a character, if they suffer a bad fate, we emotionally suffer, when they succeed, we are emotionally uplifted… at least a little.)
However, this is not always the case.
“M” (Lang, 31) is a psychological thriller set in Germany in the 1920’s or 30’s. In this film, a child-abducting serial killer, played by Peter Lorre, is on the loose and has the entire city in a frenzy. Both the police force and criminal underworld work separately to track him down, the latter being ultimately successful. Overall, the film is powerful, suspenseful, and cinematically beautiful.
The first time I saw “M," I kept trying to pinpoint a protagonist, someone to attach to, someone to intertwine myself with. Who was going to be the hero to emerge out of this dark thriller? In a murder mystery, my first instinct for a protagonist is the detective. Yet, the detectives in this film are far from brilliant, clever, or interesting. The criminals that track down Hans Beckert (the murderer) aren’t exactly the heroic type either. In fact, the closest thing to a protagonist in this film is the unyielding criminally appointed defense lawyer of Beckert, and he isn’t introduced until the final ten minutes of the film.
With no protagonist to attach to, I consider my other option. Hans Beckert. The poor defenseless child murder. But something about that doesn’t sound right… While Beckert does make a very noble and powerful, though slightly pitiful, plea for his life at the end of “M,” I find it really difficult to truly attach myself to a child murderer.
Unattached as I may have felt after watching “M,” I still loved it. Maybe it was the wonderfully cinematic quality of the entire film. There were some beautifully twisted shots; Fritz Lang found an incredible way to draw us uncomfortably close to many of the characters while still keeping us separated. There is a fantastic shot of Beckert as he takes two shots of hard liquor before preying on another young girl. The camera is brought slowly towards the crossing wooden planks of the thin fence separating us from Beckert. We peer through the holes of the fence and right into Beckert’s conflicted head. The film is full of other cinematically tense moments. This is certainly part of the reason the movie is so great.
Aside from how well shot and put together the film is, I still think there is something that keeps me emotionally connected, especially during the second half of the film. I believe the emotional connection stems from a sense of justice. Though I’m not attached to a character, I am attached to some moral obligation. By the end of the movie, I wasn’t rooting for a particular character, I was rooting for the right thing to be done. I wanted Beckert to get his fair trial. I think it is why his defense lawyer comes off as such a hero. At the end of the film, I think what the viewer hangs on to, is what monsters the citizens of the city had become. The ‘innocent’ people of the city become an angry, dangerous mob completely opposed to the idea of giving Hans Beckert a fair trial. In fact, throughout the film, we see many instances of injustices, and not just among criminals. The police force wants to break into homes, invade the privacy of their citizens, in order to find the murderer. The citizens want a killer, more correctly, a man who is severely ill, to suffer the treatment of a dog. We see corruption among criminals, police, and citizens. Thus, when justice ultimately wins out, barely, it is a sigh of relief.
Connections happen all the time in film… not necessarily to characters. Inevitably, we find something to cheer for. In the case of “M,” we end up putting our fate in the hands of truth and fairness, and by the end, we are moderately satisfied.
“M” is wonderful film and offers much more to discuss. Unfortunately, I’m out of room.
“M” was released in 1931. 117 minutes, 1.20:1 Aspect. Written by Thea von Harbou and Fritz Lang and directed by Fritz Lang.
Soon I will submit my usual post, but first I wanted to at least briefly mention the recent passing of Paul Newman. There are so many ways you can remember him, both on and off the screen. You can remember him for all the changes he brought to the world; in total, his donations to a number of charities have exceeded two hundred million dollars. His “Hole in the Wall Gang” camps have brought happiness to thousands and thousands of seriously ill children. You can remember him for his numerous memorable roles on screen. I love to talk about how characters can touch us deeply. Newman, always an actor before a movie star, had an incredible way of making the viewer attach to his characters. Hud (“Hud,” Ritt, 1963) was one such character (one of my favorites). Hud is a young, rough and tough, hot tempered cowboy that drives a pink Cadillac. He’s the kind of character you hate to love. To me, Hud stands out as one of the most lovable, conflicting characters in cinema. Hud was just one of many of Paul Newman’s unforgettable roles. We will all have our own ways of remembering him. I will remember how he used his smile, his perfectly delivered lines, and his true ability to act, to make his characters connect to his viewers.
There is a culture surrounding illicit drugs seen by most through the world of the motion picture. Not many people encounter recreational drug use in their everyday lives (or most who do at least won’t admit to it). I’ve identified 3 common subgenres of the drug movie: the drug lord movie (like Blow (2001) or Scarface (1983)), the drug adventure flick (something like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) or Harold and Kumar (2004) even), and finally the addiction stories, the last of which I will be examining here.
Addiction stories usually chronicle the rise and fall of the addiction process from the initial positive associations that go along with the early usage to the dramatic crash either physically, emotionally, or socially due to addiction and/or withdrawal. Three films stand out in my mind as perfect examples.
The first of which is Requiem for a Dream based on the book by Hubert Selby, Jr. Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 followup to his cult hit Pi (1998), went in depth into the culture of addiction. Ellen Burstyn plays an aging woman, Sara, addicted to amphetamines. Jared Leto plays a young man, Harry, addicted to heroin and dealing drugs to earn money to move up in society and start a business with his girlfriend, Marion portrayed by Jennifer Connelly. She is also hooked and is forced to whore herself for money. His friend, Tyrone, played by Marlon Waynes (and surprisingly well at that), wants to use the money as a way out of Brooklyn. All of them run into significant problems along the way and are displayed in great detail from arrests to psychotic breakdowns to physical illnesses. Each character is incredibly deep and well acted (especially considering many of the actors in the film are not usually praised for their dramatic talents – most notably Marlon Waynes) I don’t want to give anything away, but the last half of the film is not for the faint of heart. Each of the characters denies the severity of their situation until things get out of hand. (**Spoiler Alert**: Leto's character injects heroin into an infected open wound at his inner elbow which continues to become more grotesque looking. He must then get his arm amputated, all of which is shown. Also, Burstyn's character is given intense electroshock therapy.) Aronofsky enters into the realm of all types of addictions from prescription drugs to illicit drugs to mundane things like sex and television. Requiem uses special techniques to enhance the experience and allow the viewer to “feel the effects” of the drugs. A SnorriCam (a camera mount similar to a SteadyCam that keeps the actor stationary on screen while having the background move) is used during many drug trip sequences. Sights and sounds are, many times, hightened. Aaronofsky will also show graphic depictions of needles piercing the skin and pupils dilating. During most of the drug taking scenes, he creates a montage of images related to that mode of intoxication which is then followed by a short trip. It is a daring film that tries to depict the realities of addiction.
Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) is a Scottish “pitch black comedy” (Time Out London) film based on the novel by Irvine Welsh depicting Mark Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, among others, as an addict in modern day Scotland. The opening monologue (which had to be redubbed for the American version to make it more comprehensible due to McGregor’s strong accent) tells the audience that instead of choosing the traditional life, he and his friends have chosen a “less ambitious path”. They live mundane lives and use heroin on a regular basis. Renton vows to quit heroin and take a better path in life, but faces temptation around every corner. He eventually falls back into his old habits, but the group begins to learn the harsh realities of their lifestyle. 2 of the characters have a child together, but it is neglected and dies. The dead corpse of the child is shown in their run down apartment. They aren’t completely changed by the experience revealing the power of addiction. Renton is sent to a drug rehab center after being caught by police for stealing. After he is released, he returns to his old ways and ODs. Renton is forced to go cold turkey and a very strange series of images appear as the audience is forced to tap into the psychological disarray of Renton (one of the images is the dead baby crawling on the ceiling of Renton’s bedroom). His friend Tommy gets AIDS which proves to be the last straw for Renton. He moves to London to start anew. His former life follows him and trouble ensues until Renton finally frees himself from his drug ties and vows to lead a traditional life. The film shows the struggles and triumphs of an addict both on and off drugs. Along with the dead child, there are explicit images including those of heroin injection (done on a prosthetic arm made up to have track marks and all). Renton also takes opium suppositories. Shortly after doing so and leaving his apartment, he says, “Heroin makes you constipated. The heroin from my last hit is fading away and the suppositories have yet to melt.” He rushes to a public bathroom where after defecating in a disgusting public toilet, he reaches in and sifts through the fecal matter to find the excreted suppositories. If that is not a taboo thing to show, then I don’t know what is. The film is praised for its bravado in taking on such subject matter and was actually listed at #10 on the British Film Institute’s all time best British films.
Half Nelson (2006) is a film directed by Ryan Fleck about an inner city junior high teacher and basketball coach, Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling). Dunne is an inspiring teacher in the classroom, but outside he is addicted to crack. One of his students discovers him in the bathroom getting high leading to a string of events that create an in depth character study of an unlikely victim of addiction. This “realistic” portrayal has been widely praised and won numerous awards including the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (2 years after the Ryan Fleck short on which it is based won there). Gosling was also nominated for an Oscar for his performance. This film, unlike the others is less graphic in its depictions of drug use. It focuses more on the character of Dan Dunne and how the drug use affects his relationships with those around him. One of the most interesting filmic elements of Half Nelson is its use of a handheld camera. Except for one scene, the entire film is shot in handheld. This gives the audience a more personal point of view and allows them to be more involved in the characters’ lives.
Drug films take an interesting look at something that many “upstanding citizens” try to avoid. Filmmakers who take on such subjects by promoting the happiness the drugs lend while showing the terrible destruction they bring on get a lot of criticism, both positive and negative because of both its bold approach and stigma in society. The more “realistic” the portrayal, the more controversy it generates. And like I’ve said before, film takes on these subjects head on.