I’m in Berlin this weekend, then Ghent two weekends after. I did go to the exact same places last summer… no matter. A good friend is making a trip from Australia to Ghent, so that’s reason enough on its own to go back there. And who has to justify repeat trips to Berlin? I won’t.
When I consider it, I’m not sure if I would watch Irreversible again. I don’t think anyone needs to see the underpass scene twice (let alone once, you could argue), so I’d be planning to watch a film that I rate highly while skipping key scenes, which doesn’t feel right. Anyway, it’s not for similar reasons that I won’t be rushing back to Enter The Void, Noe’s third full-length feature.
The content won’t disturb any theories of the audience in the same way, but the cinema mechanics do bear some similarity. Noe has said that he used the disorientating aerial camera work and long shots of Irreversible as a dry-run for Enter The Void. For sure, the key grip certainly earned his/her keep in Void. There is some fantastic, fresh-looking cinematography, even if it eventually gets a little tedious. In fact, that’s the issue with this film in general: Noe doesn’t know when to say enough.
The movie relies heavily on visual techniques and motifs, and they all fall foul of overuse and repetition. The sheer length itself eventually does for the experience as a whole. And it’s a shame, as the first half, up until Oscar’s flashbacks reach the starting point of his shooting and death, would have worked perfectly well as a self-contained, 90-odd minute feature. The back story is touching, tough and moves along well once it gets going. But once we catch up to where we began, we just keep going and the story loses it’s tautness and purpose. The director’s cut adds another half hour or so again, which brings us over the 150 minute mark.
From the liner notes in the DVD case, he says that had been carrying the idea of Void for years. Such long-gestated dream projects will always run the risk of ending up overwrought, even more so in the hands of a Renaissance Man (Noe is credited as Director, Screenwriter, Editor and Producer). There’s a fine movie in here, but it’s waiting for someone to come along and find its shape.
If Wings of Desire represents for me the high-point of Wim Wenders’ work, after which there’s a perceptible decline (Buena Vista Social Club excepted), then so far I’d only seen The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty previous to it. So I started filling in the gaps with Alice in the Cities. It’s a charming, understated film about a German journalist who finds himself adrift in America and resolves to return home. By chance he meets a German woman also trying to get home and he ends up in care of the woman’s daughter as they journey home ahead of the mother, who stays to salvage a relationship. When the woman fails to show at the agreed time, he must take responsibility for the safekeeping of Alice while money runs out and his own future choices remain unclear. The performances are great, the pacing just right, and when the resolution comes, it’s subtle and believable. Interestingly, the scenes in America seemed to me a nod to the great American photography of Winogrand, Friedlander, Eggleston etc (albeit in auteur-grainy b/w here). Wenders is no slouch himself with a stills camera, I wonder if that was his intention.
Also this week, 1984 loses none of its impact over time, and the self-conscious charms of The Breakfast Club also remain strong, even if it is always impossible to believe Bender is in high school and the sharp social observations eventually blunt a little against the need for clean endings.
I suppose it had to happen eventually, and so here it is. The latest album by The National is – wait and aim your missile, you may as well get me right in the face for what I’m about to say – not as good as their other albums. That’s right. Not as good. It’s not bad, or the sound of a band in crisis, it’s just not.. particularly amazing. I should probably reserve judgement longer, as High Violet took a while to click with me, but that was different. I just wasn’t sure I liked or got it at first. With Trouble Will Find Me, I found myself skipping a couple of tracks half-way through, on the second listen, because they were a touch, well, mundane (let loose, throw whatever you have to hand now).
I like that they’ve scaled down the rich, epic production of Violet to something more straightforward and present: there was nowhere else for that to go. And certain pleasures are as reliable as ever: the clever, tom-heavy drums, the shimmering guitars, the general sonic warmth of The National sound. It’s all still there to beguile and soothe, but it’s the first time I’ve heard a set of songs by this band that feel a little samey, a little predictable in places, almost like a set of b-sides or refurbished demos. Even Berninger’s usually brilliant turn of phrase is more absent than not. On its own merits, it’s still a decent set of songs, but more of a set of footnotes within the tradition of literary Americana that this band have almost single-handedly defined and owned.