Baraka (1992)

baraka

Jules: What does spirituality mean if the only reality is physical? Does it connote anything more than aesthetics; the appropriate appreciation of a natural setting, or artistic conceit? Does it mean anything more than a type of experience that is unusual in some way, perhaps due to a drug? Baraka reaches for an answer to these questions, among others; but does a spiritual reality lie behind its images and sounds? And what would, or could, that mean, at the end of the second millennium?

David: In this second part of our survey of the human condition, we move from HG Wells’ s 1930s to a voice from the 1990s with no words. Rather than an obvious narrative, Baraka paints a canvas, bringing into focus piece by piece an image that turns more and more of its facets to the light but doesn’t really progress. As if it were less a film than a mandala, a shrine or a temple, it could serve it’s purpose equally well on an eternal loop with an audience free to come and go. Perhaps referencing its own form, Baraka queries the value of advancement over stillness and contemplation. But we’re not invited  to contemplate the void so much as observe ourselves within it. Do we value simply being? Or only uncertain notions of betterment?

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Things To Come (1936)

thingstocome

David: We embark on a two part examination of the human condition, beginning with the movie of H.G. Wells’s 1933 novel of imagined future history. This modernist manifesto posits that humanity is distinguished from the animals by little more than ambition and the march of progress. There seems to be no alternative for us but onward, onward to the stars. Wells begins his fable with war, disaster and rebirth, perhaps meaning to describe the arc of civilsation from a fresh beginning, but also expressing pessimism about progress as the early 20th century defined it – sandwiched as it was between two world wars. Though inspired by the promises of science, Wells is perhaps poignantly aware that a shark-like need for forward motion down a one way street may harbour the seeds of its own doom.

Jules: What distinguishes a desire to change one’s local world in some aspect – access new sources of fresh water, say – and a desire to transform it entirely? Is crisis always a requirement for such transformations? If the management of crisis is an essential part of statecraft, what rules out crisis-creation as a moral method of change?

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Mad Max Fury Road (2015)

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Jules: Sequel, prequel, reboot, or mashup? Or just the logical conclusion of director George Miller’s deconstruction of genre, gender, and guzzlene?

David: We bookend our survey of 1979’s Mad Max 1 with our overview of the latest 2015 instalment. On Fury Road there’s lot to recognise from our own time. Much of the human degradation in it’s murdered world seems to be with us now, already.

Note this is a post-viewing discussion not a synched commentary.

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Mad Max (1979)

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David: As Mad Max returns to cinemas after 30 years in the wasteland we look back even further to Mad Max’s origins, as well as contexts like seventies oil shocks, road death tolls, bikie gang terror in the media and a director moonlighting as a doctor in an emergency ward.

Jules: The most financially successful low budget genre film (until 1999’s Blair Witch Project) or something more? What does director George Miller deconstruct as he assembles his mythos?

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Sunshine (2007)

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David: Science fiction has been crowded from our movie screens by a plethora of comic strip adaptation. Sunshine raised the flag for serious sci-fi cinema in a very lean decade. It recalls Kubrick’s 2001 in positing space as a spiritual destination, with the sun, the source and nurturer of life, not unlike a god to its hapless progeny, who are on a precarious mission to keep its dying light alive. In the end one of Sunshine’s revealled truths is that a film cannot transcend its script. Much vision and beauty unravels as the story switches genres and loses its way in the third act. But for all that it stands tall, because it dared to dream.

Jules: Saving the world is often an extremely external affair: places, (often generic) people, and objects relating in a way that either guarantees or negates an apocalypse. Here, an internal story is attempted, where beliefs, perceptions, and personalities are the focus.
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The Night Porter (1974)

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Jules: Is there such a thing as essential human nature, or can we turn ourselves into whatever we think we ought to be, whenever and wherever it suits us? And if we can, are we still human?

David: Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling must decide whether or not they are each literally to die for. Meanwhile a technical anomaly causes the Overlooked team to narrate the film with the second and third acts switched out of order. Hilarity doesn’t quite ensue but perhaps an enhanced perspective is enabled on the movie’s themes of crime, passion, pragmatics and lots of baggage.

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Performance (1970)

performance

David: An art movie, a drug movie, Nicolas Roeg’s directing debut, a Mick Jagger acting debut,  a late, post-swinging 60′s bohemian manifesto, but underpinning all that one of the best British gangster flicks around. It features a foulmouthed, thuggish, head kicking turn by the erstwhile toffee nosed James Fox as bovver-boy Chas. Finding himself on the run, Chas comes in for some heavy deconstruction when he chooses the dark cave of a retired rock-star recluse to lay low in. Not an atom of machismo survives. Add mushrooms and flip genre. Tasty.

Jules: The reality-distortion of fame, and its possible relation to the shamanic undercurrents of consensus reality, seem to intersect in this glimpse inside British counterculture. Cammell and Roeg expertly oversee the somehow-mythic triumvirate of Fox, Jagger, and Pallenberg in this postmodern Greek tragedy where normalised sociopathy substitutes for humanistic virtue.

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Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) (1958)

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Jules: Louis Malle pre-empts Jean-Luc Godard’s advice about girls, guns, and movies, but also adds a stuck elevator, a forgotten grapnel, a shopgirl, a streetpunk, and a gull-wing Mercedes-Benz to the mix. We join Jeanne Moreau on her existential walk of shame as she waits for news from her special forces lover and his perfect plan to murder her wealthy husband. The ready-to-hand surroundings of late-Fifties Paris intersect in a kind of metaphysical perfection with the desolation of Miles Davis’ score (which, judging by the album liner photos, was recorded in one session, with Moreau in attendance). In eighty eight perfect minutes, Malle essays desire, ennui, jealousy, and dread, before a final disintegration of all emotion.

David: Once again the plan for a perfect crime falls into the hands of very imperfect criminals, in the form of not one but two pairs of star-crossed lovers. Though tightly plotted, Malle’s jazz-toned noir closely preceded  and presaged films like Breathless, The 400 Blows and other first works by seminal French new wave auteurs.

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Le Mans (1971)

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David: Steve McQueen departs the sixties at high speed, driving for team Porsche. The Le Mans car race pushes the limits of endurance over a non-stop 24 hours as McQueen pushes the envelope of stone-face cool, shifting his schtick into the autistic spectrum uttering barely a word of dialogue for the first half hour and not much thereafter either. A racing manifesto and vérité documentary infused with the barest hint of plot somehow feels curiously innovative. Death hovers over the proceedings and the film deals creatively with the edge where speed flips into sudden violence.

Jules: In retrospect, it sometimes seems like race car drivers could have accrued the occupational reputation of, say, naval divers, or firemen, or test pilots. But, for whatever reason, we shower the fastest drivers in the world with money, fame, and fandom. Why are we attracted to the words and actions of these particular technical experts, rather than others? This film calmly and methodically lays out some of the (artistically embellished) facts for our consideration. If Freud’s ‘death drive’ is true, perhaps it intersects the world of motor-sport, industry, and media, and provides something by way of explanation.

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Æon Flux : The Purge (1995)

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Jules: Our commentary expands to include the small(er) screen in this episode, namely the stellar Æon Flux series of MTV short films from the 1990s. Are we all the self-deluding victims of deterministic circumstance, or can we freely choose between possible outcomes as truly moral agents? We examine the cases brought forward by arch-provocatrix Æon, dictator-for-life Trevor, and gonzo-comedian-psychopath Bambara.

David: We attempt to bring our rational thoughts to bear upon the mind-mangling dream logic of Æon Flux, and observe the absolute power of Trevor Goodchild corrupted by absolute existential quandry. The spidery form of his nemesis-love-idol weaves a web of irony around him and all the while sticky pleasure traps to snare them both abound.

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