Monthly Archives: September 2008

Paul Newman

1925-2008

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At Sea

A second viewing of Peter Hutton’s At Sea confirmed a few suspicions I’ve held for a year now. The first part of the film is shot at a Korean ship building yard, with diametrically sound compositions unfolding in an almost cataloging manner. The images are bright, colorful, and dynamic, but from shot to shot, there is something missing. The second and third segments, taking place at sea and in a ship breaking yard in Bangladesh, show what’s absent in part one: a suggestive editing pattern, using equal parts impressionism and real time exactness, allowing one a closeness to the subject matter. There is a cold distance in part one which vanishes the first moment Hutton points his camera seaward. 

The second and third segments are also more playful and rich and near a poetic completion, where part one could’ve continued indefinitely. At Sea represents a sea change (apologies) for Hutton, as he edits with hard cuts as opposed to his typical separation of images by black leader. What that entails is both a curse and a blessing, as At Sea, which struggles to find its footing for twenty minutes, becomes something far more mysterious, out of Conrad or Melville. 

The trajectory of events in At Sea, the building of ships, the sailing of one, and the destruction of a few, maps the movement of goods in our consumerist culture. It’s a curious three act work and something of a bold move forward for Hutton, who tends to be drawn away from the formalism that he presents here. I’m curious to see where he takes his next two city films, one about Berlin in 1980 and the other in present day Detroit, though a part of me wishes he’d return to Lodz Symphony and Study of a River territory. A must see, regardless.

Portrait of the filmmaker (#1)

Peter Hutton 

23 September 2008

Ithaca, New York

Man on Wire

What’s so impressive about Man on Wire isn’t so much what it does, but what it doesn’t do: it largely ignores the life of Philippe Petit. Instead, this well-crafted and often times beautiful film focuses on a moment, both the wire walking of the World Trade Center and the mood in the late 1960s and early 1970s: what allowed Petit’s act was as much when he performed it as what he accomplished. Certainly walking on a wire in between the (then) two tallest buildings in the world is as gut wrenching to imagine as it is explained in James Marsh’s documentary;  Petit’s ridiculously animated personality, his anti-establishment acts acknowledge his danger at the same time of stunning those wishing to transcend the West’s greatest architectural and capitalistic triumphs.

Even if Man on Wire dips into the absurd, reintroducing its interviewees to diminishing returns, it feels like a crime picture where the supposed criminal is clearly the most sane. The overuse of Michael Nyman music creates a bombastic thrust wildly unnecessary considering the subject matter, though the film is nearly vindicated by its welcome use of Satie, however a popular piece it may be. And as a visual work, it’s stunningly well produced, employing (and trusting) its archival material and diagnosing Petit’s antics as something in Keaton, Chaplin, or Tati territory. Some of the recreated moments of the WTC wire walk fall painfully flat, while others elevate the film to new, strange heights. A flawed, but very beautiful film.

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man

One can hope that the release of Scott Walker: 30 Century Man means Walker’s work will become readily available. Scott Walker: 30 Century Man is a decent assemblage of rare images from Walker’s life, with some wise remarks from his peers. As a film, in the end, the results are sadly insubstantial: the private man remains so and the employment of weightless, digital renditions of Walker’s music remind me of screensavers. For this admittedly biased Scott Walker fan, one who asserts that Scott 4 is one of the great works of art of the past forty years, and The Drift one of the finest this decade, I realized that what I know and love about Walker was all there. What isn’t there, unfortunately, is a film that pushes the form and leaves more to be desired, much like Walker himself.