Feature Friday: “Syndromes and a Century” (2006)

Easily one of the best films of the past seven years, by one of the greatest living filmmakers, Apichatapong Weerasethakul.

A funny story: I actually knew him, when I lived in Thailand (2003–5). I was given his cell phone number by a mutual film friend. One day I went to visit him at his studio in northern Bangkok. We sat around for a while, talking movies. Finally I asked what he was working on. [Note that this was in 2004, by which point I had seen only his first feature, the brilliant exquisite corpse Mysterious Object at Noon (2000).] He told me that he was finishing a new film, trying to get it ready in time for Cannes. “If we finish in time, we go,” he said. “If not—mai pen rai” (“no worries”).

That film turned out to be Tropical Malady (2004), which went on to win Cannes’s Jury Prize, effectively launching Apichatapong’s career. I’m glad I didn’t distract him overmuch!

Two years later, Apichatapong followed it up with a film some consider even better. (I myself rank them about the same, which is to say that they are both essential masterpieces of contemporary cinema.)

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We would gladly have repainted the trees and the sky

Peter Greenway’s film A Zed & Two Noughts (A.K.A. Z00) [1985] begins with a swan crashing into a car, killing two people. The driver survives, but lives the remainder of the film as an amputee having lost her right leg. By film’s end, the amputee decides to remove her one remaining leg and falls in love with another double amputee.

Writing is an act of disability

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#AuthorFail 2: Sean Beaudoin

Welcome to #AuthorFail (want to get in on this thing? Check here for guidelines.)

This week’s installment (cue old-timey radio-play music), traces Sean Beaudoin’s novel-that-never-was-which-almost-became-an-app-that-never-was. Picture Sean right now, perhaps playing around with one of the project’s sprawling sentences the way a cat beats about a bloodied mouse.

Lawd, take pity on us poor writers.  See you next week.

***

Six years ago I began a crime novel called Render Janes Is Dead, in which Render Janes, a cheapjack desert evangelist, is killed in the first scene. It was (is) a murder mystery with over a dozen characters that converge on the fictional New Mexico town of Madred, where Render’s cult-like flock awaits his return in blue teepees. The novel mainly follows a pair of hapless ex-cons whose car breaks down on the Madred exit ramp, as well as Sheriff Nyall Riggs, formerly of the LA police department, a man disgusted by the Rodney King riots and now looking for a little peace of mind. There’s a crystal meth sub-plot, sister cults in Sweden, a hot blonde assassin named La Marcel, a psychotic bookie named Car Lester, a few million in laundered cash, and more permutations than most people are inclined to stuff into any given 400 pages. Continue reading

A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: Source Code, Friends, Woody Allen, The Man from London, Sucker Punch, Zardoz, Tron, Willow, and Shoot ‘Em Up

[Last weekend, while en route to Abu Dhabi, my good friend Jeremy swung by my cold-water Chicago flat. After a lengthy Indian-wrestling match, we headed downtown to the AMC River East 21, where we caught a screening of Duncan Jones’s latest film, Source Code. Two hours later, expelled into the brisk April evening, we hunkered down at the nearest Applebee’s and, after ordering multiple appetizers and pitchers of Stella Artois, recorded the following conversation.]

A D: Jeremy, did you like Source Code?

Jeremy: It didn’t offend me.

That’s high praise. I can envision it emblazoned across the film’s poster (which is hideous and which did offend me).

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Schrödinger’s Laura

I had a stray thought recently about Otto Preminger’s classic 1944 noir Laura (1944), based on Vera Caspary’s 1943 novel of the same name. The film’s first half revolves around the murder of the title character, although of course it’s more complicated than that. And I’d like to argue that it’s slightly more complicated than even that, owing to a quality that’s perhaps inherent in plot itself.

(This contains spoilers—although, as we shall see, they may not spoil much of anything…)

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The family showroom

Guy Ben Ner’s excellent video Stealing Beauty (2007, about 18 minutes) was featured in an architecture talk that my husband attended. When he came home I was eager to hear about what invited speaker Vito Acconci had to say. The reply? “Forget Acconci, watch this!” In the video the narrative imitates a typical American sitcom, but the artsy twist here is that it’s shot in various IKEA stores, without staff permission. Complete with punchy theme music, outifts that coordinate with the showroom sets, and dialogue that centers around the value of money and family, the video is a hilarious performance piece. Rather than commercial breaks to cut up the action, scenes take place in different showroom sets, sometimes in an entirely different store. The transition between spaces reminds one of Borges, the family chatter going on in kitchens folded into other kitchens. When a certain action (dishwashing, showering, watching a porn flick) can’t be performed in the store, sound editing fills in. IKEA showroom set as narrative constraint–brilliant! Watching the family perform their lives just like the showrooms perform perfect and desirable furniture sets produces that delicious familiar/strange feeling, and leaves you wanting to run to your local IKEA store with a video camera and a script. Watch Stealing Beauty at UBUWEB.

Still from Stealing Beauty by Guy Ben Ner

Family values among the IKEA price tags