Brattle Theatre Film Notes Posts

Editor’s note: On August 28, 2018 Daniel Gaucher, Professor in the Department of Visual & Media Arts at Emerson College, introduced Robert Altman’s The Player, part of the Brattle’s Elements of Cinema program. These are his introductory remarks. –Jessie Schanzle, Film Notes editor

I wanted to watch The Player tonight not only to see all the nice designer suits everybody wears in it from the 90s, but also to get a sense of what was called the developing shot. Now you might, if you’ve seen The Player, think to yourself, “well crap, they do a lot of long takes in that, don’t they? Where’s all the editing?”

October 29, 2018 / / Scene Analysis

According to Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), the protagonist of Darren Aronofsky’s directorial debut Pi, math is a language – a series of distinct characters, each with values that, when strung together in an equation, express a new value. It is like Spanish, or music, or code. Yet Max’s assumption, though, is that math is not just any language but the language of nature. And it is this assumption that drives Max to search for a pattern within the mathematical constant pi so as to explain the operations of the universe, a pattern he believes he can find in the stock market.

October 26, 2018 / / Main Slate

Hollywood never goes too long without holding up a mirror to itself. Biopics like Ed Wood or Hollywoodland explore (somewhat) true stories of Hollywood. Other films explore Hollywood through a more fictional lens and include King Kong , Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ In the Rain, The Day of the Locust, Sunset, Get Shorty, and Adaptation. God’s and Monsters, a film adapted from the novel, The Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram, does both, offering a fictional take on the final days of James Whale, who directed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. But in choosing a fictional account of James Whale’s life for the silver screen, Hollywood perpetuated its troubled relationship with queer identities that it has grappled with since the birth of film.

October 23, 2018 / / Main Slate

There are four brief yet deeply unnerving dream sequences in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, each a disruptive and surreal slice of imagery that presents the audience with nearly identical visions of the same event. In each dream, a mysterious cloaked figure emerges out of a creepy abandoned church. This church is where a group of researchers and a priest discover and ultimately unleash an ancient, otherworldly, and demonic force into the world. Garbled narration in each dream reveals that they are actually a series of broadcasts from 1999 (the near future in relation to the film’s 1987 release). Frighteningly, they are mediated warnings of impending demonic doom sent directly to the minds of several key players across the film, most prominently lead researcher Professor Birack (Victor Wong) and young academics Walter (Dennis Dun), Catherine Danforth (Lisa Blount), Lisa (Ann Yen), and Brian (Jameson Parker).

October 18, 2018 / / Main Slate

Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Because of its past and the rumors swirling around it, a building — like Shirley Jackson’s Hill House or Robert Bloch’s Bates Motel — can suggest to an impressionable mind, an evil presence. A person stuck such a place for a whole weekend with a guy who tells her he saw the ghost of a dead woman there might be on edge. If she gets little sleep, drinks a bunch of crappy beer, and struggles with bouts of asthma, she might careen right off the edge.

October 18, 2018 / / Main Slate

Following the monumental critical and commercial success of The Blair Witch Project in 1999, it would have been safe to assume that found footage was the next big thing in horror cinema – and it was – but it took a while to get there. Rather than replicate the 16mm, and lo-fi video look of Blair Witch, filmmakers in the early 2000s turned to the increasingly democratic and cost effective landscape of digital video, eventually leading to the Spanish horror film, [REC], arguably a major turning point for the sub-genre. It would go on to spawn three sequels and an American remake that was fast tracked and released in 2008.

October 5, 2018 / / Main Slate

For those accustomed to Ingmar Bergman’s more serious fare, such as the austere Winter Light or his foreboding The Seventh Seal, Smiles of a Summer Night is a light-hearted, utterly amusing antidote. It is the Bergman film for people who don’t like Bergman. Of course, the film has some of the usual touches of the Swedish director: familiar actors such as Gunnar Bjornstrand and Harriet Andersson, a theater scene within the film, characters revealing their most intimate thoughts to others, etc. However, while Bergman typically dedicates an entire film to the intense inner turmoil of one or two characters, in Smiles there are many characters struggling with anxieties that are often exploited to a farcical end.

October 5, 2018 / / Scene Analysis

The confessional scene from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal follows Antonios Block (Max von Sydow) as he struggles through a crisis of faith. The film’s opening sequence sees the physical embodiment of Death (Bengt Ekerot) come for the knight’s life but, for reasons explained during the confession scene, Block challenges Death to a game of chess to decide his fate. Traveling through a country devastated by the Black Death, Block is also dealing with the societal wreckage left in its wake. His confession in this scene is a direct response to his confrontation with the personification of Death and the actual death he has already encountered.

October 3, 2018 / / Main Slate

With Thirst (1949), Ingmar Bergman, a visionary master of cinema, made his first contribution to the exploration of marriage — a topic he would return to most memorably in Scenes from a Marriage (1974). It is often argued that Thirst’s imbalanced and loosely connected storylines and intermittent flashbacks muddle the overall effect of the film, but the individual scenes stand as brilliant musings on relationships between men and women. Pieced together from a collection of short stories, the disconnectedness of the narrative can be excused. As an early example of classic Bergman themes and aesthetics, Thirst is an interesting piece to analyze due to its raw examination of the nature of men and women as two emotionally distinct species.

September 18, 2018 / / Main Slate

Bo Burnham understands better than most what it’s like to be a lonely kid trying to find the joys of online invisibility in the real world, and with Eighth Grade, has taken a sledgehammer to the outdated myth that high school is the worst part of growing up. High school is confusing, sure, but it’s nothing compared to the three year caravan of misery through halls of kids carrying SpongeBob USB drives and horny teens begging for Snapchats.