Saturday, May 23, 2015

Response to Werner Herzog's "Stroszek"

While I have seen his popular 2009 crime drama film Bad Lieutenant: Call of Port New Orleans and recall his small, corny villainous role in 2012's Jack Reacher, I have been aware of but not entirely familiar with Werner Herzog's work, although his odd-ball style is unlike any other and certainly one of the most memorable of the less mainstream, but well-known filmmakers. After watching his earlier film Stroszek, I could tell it followed many beats similar to Bad Lieutenant, with a story about a strange, lonesome protagonist who finds companionship with a prostitute, but eventually falls due to his destructive habits and general lack of direction, albeit with extremely quirky sensibilities that ultimately make the film more of a tragic comedy rather than a fully grounded and serious drama. That being said, despite the clear similarities, especially with the goofy, random cowboy song toward the end, Stroszek definitely has more humanity to it and is an original story that details issues of immigration and capitalism, whereas Bad Lieutenant is simply a reinvention of a film made a decade before. However, the story of Stroszek is not as important to me as its atmosphere and shooting style. In class, we talked lot about space and time, and with Stroszek there are clear elements of that. When Bruno is in Germany, everything feels cramped and from a past era, whereas when he finally comes to the United States, he is something from the past when everything else around him is not and much more bland and lacking history. Bruno tries to catch up with the then modern conventions of American culture and economy, but he ultimately fails because it feels so unfamiliar to him and is against his initial expectations. De Certeau says in concern with both physical and spiritual  embodiment of history and tradition, "This anonymous hero is ancient...the murmuring voice of societies...all ages. He does not expect representations...Slowly...[he] disappear[s ]from the stage [he] dominated...," and he, "...witness[es] the advent of the number. It comes along with democracy, the large city, administrations...a flexible and continuous mass..." (De Certeau Unpaginated). Bruno, although lacking a significant presence back in his home town, had embodied an unique, eccentric German history and cultural tradition, but once he had reached the United States, he slowly began lose relevance and slipped away through the commercialized woodwork.   

Stroszek (1976) Trailer

Bad Lieutenant: Call of Port New Orleans (2009) Trailer

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sam Taylor-Johnson - Defining Beauty Through Movement, from Budding Photographer to Rising Film Director

For my research project, I looked back at the career of Sam Taylor-Johnson, a British filmmaker and photographer from Surrey, England who has had a surprisingly fast transition from a relative unknown who remains part of a group of then young artists in the 90s called Young British Artists to a now established, mainstream film director, having worked on only two feature films, one of which a large blockbuster based on a popular erotica novel, "Fifty Shades of Grey," in 2015. The argument that I make is that in these twenty odd years of her career, Taylor-Johnson has always remained a purely visual artist whose primary focus has not always been the narrative so much as it has been capturing the "raw emotion" or beauty of movement made by the human body or other entity. Movement has always been somewhat of a central theme of her work, her music video UBerlin a documentation of physical movement of the human body, her short film A Little Death about the movement of decay via elapse in time, and her feature film directorial debut Nowhere Boy about cultural movement with the recreation of John Lennon and the Beatles' budding popularity in their early, developing years as a band and the eventual culture shock they delivered across the world.

*Natural transgression from short experimental film work to Hollywood blockbuster

A Little Death (2002)

"Brief Applause: Artist Sam Taylor-Wood" (2008)

Nowhere Boy Official U.S. Trailer (2009)

R.E.M.'s "UBerlin," starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson (2011)

Fifty Shades of Grey Official Trailer (2015)