Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The mind is deceptive above all things

Last week was a different kind of week for me, cinematically speaking. Since graduating, I've been trying to catch up on the movies I should have already seen, but hadn't.

Oh, all right, I'll come clean.

I was one of those people who didn't take classes like American Film 1 or American Film 2 or World Cinema. You know, the kind of classes that make you watch 3 films a week, inhibit your social life, and force you to watch stuff you might not want to watch or be in the right mood for. Overcome by a tremendous, mind-numbing sense of guilt that's disturbed me to the point of not eating or sleeping, I've been trying to watch more of the movies that I would have watched in those types of classes. Besides, I was getting hungry.

So, in my comings and goings since graduation, I've watched films by Scorsese, Allen, Soderbergh, the Coens, Anderson, Kieslowski, and Mendes. But last week, like I said, was something different. Over the course of 48 hours, I watched two films that are so far out of the "mainstream" I'd be surprised that they even know what water looks like.

On Thursday afternoon, I went to see Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. While Kaufman's been renowned for years as one of the most gifted writers at work in film today, this was the first time he stepped behind the camera to tell one of his own stories. I can honestly say that Synecdoche, New York is one of the strangest films that I've ever seen. It's been almost a week since I saw it, and I'm still not completely able to make heads or tails of it. I think it's one of those films that's attempting to make a grand point about human existence, and how we're all the same, my problems are the same as your problems, and the like. I'm not very sure if most (if not all) of the events in the film take place in the "real" world, a dream world, or something else altogether. On a positive note, Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a terrific performance, and the supporting cast is solid. Unfortunately, Synecdoche, New York did something to me that most movies don't. It lost me.

I'm not suggesting that I never find myself confused by a film. That happens all the time. What was different about this film is I actually got to a point where I was ready for it to be done and wasn't willing to give it any more time. That doesn't usually happen for me with a movie I'm enjoying. To be honest, I really would like to understand Synecdoche, New York, because I think it's got potential on that front. Unfortunately, I don't feel like Kaufman gave me the tools to work on figuring it out for myself. He surprised me in how good a director he was, on his first attempt, no less. However, I wonder if he might not have been reaching too far with this one. So, did I like it? I don't know. I think the film needs to be seen by anyone who considers himself/herself a fan of the movies. Just be aware that it's Kaufman on steroids. If you thought Adaptation was somewhat labrythine, just wait.

The very next day, just when you were thinking my week couldn't get any weirder, (Come on, I know you were thinking that. . . at least, I would like you to have been thinking that. Same thing.) I watched David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Wow. If you've never heard of Lynch, he's definitely an American original. Look at it this way: he's one of those people who, when you watch one his films, you know that he's either uncannily brilliant or just plain nuts. Could be a little of both. He's a surrealist, with a thing for old pop songs and beautiful people in bizzare settings. I quite liked Mulholland Drive for multiple reasons. First, after the frustrating experience that was Synecdoche, New York, seeing a film that was just as unique in a much more fulfilling way was refreshing. In particular, after doing my homework, I was able to understand the film, which is no small feat. It starts in a very clearly defined "world," continues that way for about 2 hours, and then, for the last 20 minutes, pulls out the rug and puts the viewer somewhere completely different. Second, the story is very compelling, and the two lead actresses, Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring, were perfectly cast. Harring, specifically, is great in the vulnerability that she shows in her role, not to mention the fact that she is a truly gorgeous woman in the tradition of an older brand of actress. There's a really terrific scene where the two of them go to a club and hear a singer (Rebekah Del Rio) sing an a capella version of Roy Orbison's "Crying." It was remarkably moving. Third, Mulholland Drive is nothing if not completely engaging, despite the way that it plays with the viewer and the viewer's expectations and ideas of what's "real."

So, I'd recommend you go out and catch Synecdoche, New York before it's completely out of sight. It's got the originality to power about 15 mainstream Hollywood movies. Let me know if you understand any of it. I'd be really grateful for the help. I have to say though, my personal favorite from "weird week" is definitely Mulholland Drive. Like Kaufman's film, it's not for everyone, but if you're a fan of art-house movies and mind-twisting stories, I wouldn't miss it.


Senor Granto said...

Hahaha! No apologies necessary, there was a period of time when I had to watch 10 films a week and I have to admit some of them were so excruciating that I just skipped through them or watched the special features so I'd get the gist of them.

I haven't seen the Kaufman film but I did see Mullound Drive (sp?) for my contemporary film class I believe. I'm surprised that Laura Elana Harring hasn't been in more major films since then.

Adam said...

Did you actually like Mulholland Drive though? I'm curious. . . I found it to be a very engaging film with Lynch in full control of his craft. It was nice to see a film that moved with such fluidity. I went on IMDB that night and looked the boards to try to understand the film. It came as no surprise that the bretheren had figured it out. Pretty cool story too.

I completely agree about Harring. She's one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen on screen. She really should be in more movies.

Senor Granto said...

I did the same afterwards since it is one of those films that you don't get everything from in one sitting. I enjoyed it but its not my favorite work of his, one of my good friends is a huge fan of his though and I was hoping to meet him someday after one of my film professors said that they almost got him to visit CSUF like they did with Costner a few years back.

No doubt about it, very natural looking too. The last real commercial film I remember her in was the original Punisher from a few years back.