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🎬 #52 How Can A Film Rated 'U' Feel So Provocative?
The first week of the New Year is almost over and with it comes 1 year of Video Shop. I’m really happy that so many people continue to read my ramblings. Thank you.
It’s good to get going at times like these, accelerate into the possibilities that another shot at a year brings. I wish that all of you out there reach for things out of reach, take more chances, or just be. I have to remind myself to not let time slip away, never let it slip away, grab it this year.
Don’t be like Newland Archer.
Prime your mind for anything that comes your way.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
1993 Dir Martin Scorsese
You’re in the upper echelons of high society - away from anything real. Everything is choreographed and planned. Even what you wear has you trapped in. Concealing anything bodily, anything that signifies you as a sweating, breathing - emotion- propelled ape. The pomp and ceremony of your engagements and daily routine keep you as out of touch from your true emotions as the wealthy are from reality - kept at a distance by their elaborate mansions and landscaped holiday homes.
You are Newland Archer - Daniel Day Lewis’ young attorney who has fallen desperately in love with Michelle Pfeiffer’s separated Countess, while engaged to her cousin. Someone partly shunned by the uptight conservative elite. In fact, Archer seems to be the only one who treats her with any respect and dignity. And it’s from the kindle of this tender, caring friendship that this all consuming passion is set ablaze. It soon burns out of control like a wildfire through the elite of conservative Manhattan society.
But it’s the restraint of the performances and of Scorsese’s direction of the relationship that make it so provocative. Not an inch of flesh is bared and yet you can feel the hunger of Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska as they grow closer. The looks that last just a little too long and the jealous outbursts over other possible suitors. These are feelings that feel overwhelming, uncontrollable and yet Scorsese’s gilded, composed frame anchors them, tries to constrain them. It’s this interplay between the composure of the image and the power of the feelings expressed within it that makes every moment so tantalising.
One particularly passionate, but innocent moment is when Newland fantasises, not about tearing Helen’s clothes off, but about her just embracing him. Again, it’s this restraint, these buttoned-down feelings, this innocence, that keep this relationship fizzing at a glasses edge throughout the film.
At points, even the tightly composed frame can no longer control, or imprison the feelings between these two. The edit creaks under the emotional burden and from between frames, burst flashes of red. The passion flaring out at us like a sun burst. It always amazes me how expressionistic Scorsese’s editing is, especially here.
This is a beautiful, elegant tale of love in a society that survives on a tradition of repression - the things you should do. Not the things you want to do.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hrs 19 mins of my precious life watching this? Slip into Scorsese’s love affair made prisoner by the sumptuous settings of high society.
*Available for free on Netlix and for a small rental fee on Amazon, Chili, Sky Store, Google Play and Apple TV.
Fact: The title sequence was co-designed by Saul Bass.
Bonus: Look out for editor Thelma Schoonmaker’s name on a building side.
FILM TWO: STUTZ
2022 Dir Jonah Hill
From suppressing feelings to learning to use tools to live a better life by getting to know them - Stutz, is Jonah Hill’s second film. This time he uses the documentary form to tackle the huge topic of mental health through his friendship with his eponymous therapist and in the process open up therapy to millions of people.
In many ways this is a buddy movie - the story of two unlikely people finding a deep meaningful connection and in the process growing together in ways they could never have expected. Summed up by the easy fact that Jonah respects and loves his therapist so much he wants to make a film about him. Stutz’s fingerprints are all over the film, not least in the titles and the illustrations that pepper it. These are hand drawn by him - and in a way he’s almost as much of the filmmaker as Jonah is - it’s his life, his methods - he controls the narrative as much as being its subject.
This is a relationship that’s as charming as the tools it exhibits are helpful. The narrative through line is anchored by a very practical approach to mental health. A series of actions you can do to arm yourself against depression and get to grips with reality. It’s stripped down, easily digested advice - delivered in a film that’s stripped down and easily digested.
The film plays with the idea of artifice and the self-aware, self-reflective challenges that come about when a filmmaker tries to make a film about his therapist while he's also a client of said therapist. The film’s design strips back preconceptions to reveal the truth - kind of the aim of many of the tools - the linchpin of which is the ultimate truth that we can’t escape - there will always be pain, there will always be uncertainty and there will always be constant work.
In a way the filmmaking process is therapy for both of them - as they almost take turns becoming each other’s therapist - revealing more about their own personal struggles in the process.
This is a fun, charming and comforting look behind the tools of Jonah’s therapy and the therapist who created them, so you can use them too.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hrs 36 mins of my precious life watching this? Enjoy a lovely friendship and learn some things that might come in handy when it comes to dealing with life.
*Available for free on Netflix.
Fact: Strong Baby is Jonah Hill’s production company - the logo of which he has tattooed.
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