Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, at its most obvious, is, what could be described as, an open film. It is driven by color, using luscious deep greens, leaden powdery turquoise blues, hard reds, and soft brownish black darkness that seems to come from natural lighting. It has a deceptive simplicity in its use of framing, often taking up the screen’s space by a single physical central focus. Examples range from a close up of a man’s back to filming a figure, walking directly in the middle of the screen toward the viewer, as the man approaches a truck’s small rear window, by entirely filming his approach through the truck’s front window. The film is also driven by structuring the story around the genre of film noir and tapping the age old plot of a man’s hunt for clues to a lost past. At its most subtle, however, Long Day’s Journey Into Night is cryptic, with a tangled story, complex flash back devices, interposition of characters (such as a youthful mother or her older self), plot details that involve supernatural magic, a structure that splits the film into two parts (only the second half of the film is in 3D, requiring 3D glasses), and an elusive understory about China today and its current generations. That latter aspect of the film is particularly difficult for a foreigner with little knowledge of the culture to access and many questions arise. Are there references to films such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror or Djibril Diop Mambéty Touki Bouki? How would a foreigner know what they mean in this film, if they are actually intended to be there? What is the audience meant to notice or meant to miss? Is there a reference to the nature of entertainment and the nature of communication in China or perhaps that is a question applying to global communication in general? For example, throughout the film, in various scenes and in seemingly dilapidated settings, televisions are visible and turned on. In one scene, a man tells another man – “Nobody watches TV anymore.” What does this mean in the context of a film like Long Day’s Journey Into Night? An even more complex undercurrent is that under the noir-esque mystery hunt of a man seeking his unknown past, the film seems to suggest a situation of Bi Gan’s generation coping with the burdens of the unknown in the agonies and erasures of the generations behind them, much as ones such as, today, in Germany face or in the United States face. The film is an intricate, visually fascinating story, with great leaps of cinematic ambition that combine global arts, themes and politics into a noirish genre narrative. It has one severe downside to its use of the “noir,” in its portrayal of all the young women (including the lead) as the bigoted stereotype of the prostitute/bar girl as utterly vapid, without any core opinions, and often depicted as beaten. Something else that disrupts the film’s fascinating qualities is that this film is visually compelling with dialogue that is often a clue to what the scene is about and, because of this, this is the kind of film that should not have subtitles. Subtitles, in Long Day’s Journey Into Night (and other such films), wrecks the visual screen and causes the mind to have to read when it should be absorbing sound and image. Another way of rendering the film’s dialogue (such as dubbing) into another language, whatever its negative side, is far more supportive.
With all these many complex layers, Long Day’s Journey Into Night provokes the question - who is the target audience? - yet it does it in a way that makes the question immensely interesting and on point for an audience today.
A complex, visually fascinating story, with great leaps of cinematic ambition that combine global arts, themes, and politics into a film noir-esque genre narrative.
THE MEMPHIS BELLE: THE STORY OF A FLYING FORTRESS
DIRECTOR: William Wyler
A remarkable documentary following the American crew of the B-17 bomber, The Memphis Belle, from their training in the English countryside to their bombing missions on the European continent during WWII. William Wyler creates a direct, narrative documentary in The Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress following the young air force crew (pilots were often twenty years old or younger) in 1943 from their relocation to the English countryside and their training preparations to their flights over combat zones on the European continent. Wyler himself did much of the filming and his film shows how perilous these flights were, how crucial their timing was, for bombing and also for time in flight, and how vital these missions were for success in the war. Using a simple, clear form - explaining the process, along with location footage, via maps and photographs - the documentary was both plain and inventive, becoming a valuable piece of public information during World War II. By beginning the documentary in the bucolic English countryside, almost like a travelogue, Wyler paces it much as he did his feature films – direct, unsentimental but emotional - and he comfortably drew the audience into the story. Though the film was hardcore reportage on these difficult missions, Wyler’s narrative has a resemblance, at some level, to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s British 1944 film, A Canterbury Tale, also set in World War II, in England and made around the same time. Both films, seeming very different, encapsulate their stories in a narrative that is simple and one that poses its story as only best told as symbolic and literal. Both films have a sense of traveling in a living earth landscape - in A Canterbury Tale it is through southern England and in The Memphis Belle it is from the forest into the sky. Both show the people they follow realistically but imbue them holistically – involving courage, humanity, love of life, drive, wish and duty. Both have an ending that opens their protagonists’ lives rather than closes them. In this sense both films are set up as a “tale” and Wyler’s choice for that approach deliberately warms his documentary and humanizes the men.
A remarkable documentary following the American crew of the B-17 bomber, The Memphis Belle, from their training in the English countryside to their bombing missions on the European continent during WWII.
BE NATURAL: THE UNTOLD STORY OF ALICE GUY BLACHÉ
DIRECTOR: Pamela B. Green
A absorbing exploration of the life and career (starting in 1894) of French director, Alice Guy Blaché, who built one the foremost film studios at Fort Lee, New Jersey, Solax, where she wrote, directed, edited and produced, in genres of drama, western, comedy, thriller, crime and more, some of cinema’s great films. Historian Anthony Slide cited Guy-Blaché as one of the only true ‘auteurs’ in film history. Pamela Green, in her engaging documentary, not only uncovered much new material about Guy-Blaché and blended it what was known already, but brought forth Guy-Blaché’s work in ways that involve and excite not just a cinephile public but a general public. This alone contributes to opening up to a wider audience not only to the brilliance of silent era cinema but of the brilliance of Guy-Blaché’s films. The wider the audience the greater the possibility of raising funds for film preservation, of bringing to light erased talents - especially the work of women in the film industry - and of urging and inspiring more scholarship.
A absorbing exploration of the life and career of French director, Alice Guy Blaché, who built one the foremost studios at Fort Lee, New Jersey, Solax, where she wrote, directed, edited and produced, in genres of drama, western, comedy, thriller, crime and more, some of the great films of cinema.
DIRECTOR: Lee Chang-dong
An unusual, unfolding story that always remains a mystery, the South Korean film Burning is a narrative built around the arc in the life of a young man, Jongsu, played by Yoo Ah-in, who is introduced as ineffectual and benign and, at the film’s end, has become an explosion of raging violence. But Burning’s backstory is filled with unanswered enigmas. The narrative may focus on an elaborate scam or on a murder. The protagonist may be burdened by the painful reality of his father’s crimes and imprisonment but its unclear if that burden is because the father is loved or hated by the son. The young man’s mother is equally ambiguous – is she self sacrificing or predatory? Most importantly, the central young woman, Haemi, who is involved with Jongsu, and was once his schoolmate, is almost impossible to read: is she a seducer, exploiter, victim or revenger? These unexplained elements, at times, weigh down the film, as the loose threads can be too loose to follow where the story leads but one part of the mystery is always riveting - the actress Jun Jong-seo, who plays the schoolmate Haemi. She dominates the screen whenever present, playing her character with subtle depth and subtle realism that is alluring, magnetic and unsettling.
An unusual film focused on a young man’s final violence, posed as either a coming into self expression or as a descent into chaos, with an extraordinary performance by Jun Jong-seo, as the woman with whom he is involved.