🎬 #13 Glazer, Altman & Strange Visitations
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This week we have two films that deal with the shocking return of characters. Both tackle the central character’s trauma when confronted with a seemingly impossible visit from an old lover, in one form or another. Both are mysteries, that keep us hanging on right until the moment of revelation. One is laden with unease, another goes full on psychological horror. Whatever you choose, you’ll be glad you did.
Happy choosing, happy viewing,
FILM ONE: BIRTH
2004 Dir Jonathan Glazer
This frame is from the opening scene of the film and is one of the loveliest and most memorable openings of any Glazer film. Alexandre Desplat’s score perfectly underlies the visuals in an almost alt-Hollywood way. Refined, full orchestral classicism but on top of a challenging story that’s undeniably modern. This sets the mood perfectly for Glazer’s impeccably photographed and art directed film. I read a review that called it a ‘period piece.’ Indeed the interiors, the choice of locations, the lighting and dress do seem like something that could be from another time. This all serves to heighten Glazer’s incredible formal execution. It’s an elegant film, a classic piece of storytelling applied to a not so classic story. Even the restrained performances serve the icy, fraught atmosphere that permeates the film like a looming dread. There’s a touch of Douglas Sirk about it - the dominant interior shots, the interpersonal, familial drama, the injection of an outsider that upsets the perfect veneer of Manhattan society.
The central theme here though is enduring love. Sweet you might think - but Glazer is never straight forward and he challenges us to see it through the story of a 10 year old boy claiming to be the reincarnation of the main character’s dead husband. A challenging subject matter, but Kidman’s portrayal of Anna and Cameron Bright’s
10yr old incarnation of her late husband Sean is nothing short of frighteningly apt. The filmmakers treat the arrival of the fantastic with an eery truth. What if someone claimed to be the reincarnation of someone you loved, what would you do, how would you feel, how would everyone else react? This film and the characters within it behave in as realistic a way as you can imagine such a scenario playing out.
The late Harris Savides photographs the film with a distance that adds to its matter of factness - that almost displays the elements of the story as if a painting, framed beautifully behind glass in a gallery.
The film was the subject of a lot of debate and controversy due to one scene in particular. But this is the reason why this film is so good - it’s willing to go to those uncomfortable places and make us sit and stare at it. The scene I’m alluding to is one that’s incredibly tense but at the same time, one where almost nothing happens.
There is a compulsion to the way the film is constructed that puts us in the same position as Anna - someone under the spell of hope, the promise of a loved one - returned. This was only Glazer’s second film - a filmmaker who’s known for his meticulous choice of subject - someone who waits for as long as necessary to find the story he wants to tell next. He is one of the few filmmakers whose trademarks can be felt not just in the big creative choices but even in the grain of the film stock, the way the crane slightly sways or the cue of dogs crossing a path. For these reasons and so many more I suggest you spend a couple of hours this weekend caught in Glazer’s uncomfortable, yet irresistible spell.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 40 minutes of my precious life watching this? Glazer and Kidman take us on a tension-filled, eerily rendered modern fairy tale ride through plush Manhattan as her deceased husband seems to have taken the form of a 10 yr old boy desperate to reconnect with her.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play*
Fact: Kidman took the role, that she considers her best performance, because she was a huge Sexy Beast fan.
FILM TWO: IMAGES
1972 Dir Robert Altman
When I think of Robert Altman I never think he would make a film like Images. Your mind goes to the big ensemble films. But the more I discover about him the more I prefer his ‘experimental’ films. This you might argue is one of them. Ostensibly a horror film - it’s the only one that he made.
It’s the story of a woman visited by her past lovers. The key is that she’s not sure if they are really there, or are apparitions of her traumatised mind. Altman handles this ‘real or not’ premise not just in the film’s title but in the repeated shots of a camera the central character uses for her creation of children’s book illustrations. There is an acknowledgement of the ‘image.’ The mirage of what a film is - the seeming depiction of reality and the inherent short comings of really showing what’s true.
One stand out moment centres around their arrival at a country house while a second Cathryn witnesses the arrival. It reminded me of the passing of a baton, the way Kubrick jumped time in the final scenes of 2001 - as one version of Keir Dullea’s character gives way to another. Executed simply through the look of the actor at something we can’t see. A cut to their POV to see their character standing ahead of them - then a cut back to see that the original character is no longer there. In Images, this further heightens the sense that things are clearly moving in a direction that is almost metaphysical.
The framing, the editing and almost pastoral beauty of the locations creates not only an unsettling atmosphere but puts us firmly in Cathryn’s state of mind. Reality is slowly disintegrating, dissolving in front of her - to the point where she just assumes almost anything she sees is some kind of phantom.
Susannah York is excellent as the tortured protagonist, a worthy winner of the Best Actress award at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Her disconnection from reality felt in every sinew of her body. Altman delivers a lingering, chamber piece that feels like something totally unique in his filmography. I hope you enjoy diving into another side of Altman.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 44 minutes of my precious life watching this? Be deliriously unsettled by wild countryside weirdness as Susannah York tries to figure out if her exes are really there or are just a figment of her dark imagination - before long though she decides to not even try to decide - in this tale of haunting revelation.
*Available for free on Amazon Prime, and BFI Player or for a small rental fee on YouTube, Google Play and Apple TV*
Fact: The music was composed by, now household name composer, John Williams before he truly hit the big time.