Thursday, March 19, 2009

Abbas Kiarostami on the Internet

Geoff Andrew's BFI Modern Classics volume on Abbas Kiarostami's 10 (2005) is the third book I've read on the Iranian director (the other two being Alberto Elena's magisterial The Cinema of Abbas Kiarostami and Jonathan Rosenbaum and Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa's collection Abbas Kiarostami). One frustration I've encountered in reading each of them is that they often discuss early Kiarostami films (many of them shorts produced prior to his more well known works) that I've never been able to see. This is not any kind of flaw in the books, of course, since I think in each case discussion of the early work is obviously justified (and I appreciate at least knowing about these early films even if I can't see them). But due to my own situation as a viewer and the poor (non-) distribution of Kiarostami's early work, at least in the U.S., it's still a problem.

It is for these reasons that I was happy to find that at least a few of Kiarostami's early films are now available on the Internet. Everything I've found so far has been posted on You Tube and on other download sites, although I imagine more digging might reveal more digitized Kiarostami lurking elsewhere. (If I come across any more in the future, I'll add them to this post, barring copyright restrictions). I thought it would be useful to have what I could find located all in one place. These are no substitutes for the actual prints or high-quality DVD transfers of the films, the latter of which I hope exist someday. But at least they give us some sense of what Andrew, Elena, and the other authors are writing about in their monographs.

These videos are organized chronologically. (The Chorus, by the way, was never released in two parts; that's merely how it's presented on the You Tube site).

Bread and Alley (1970) (Note: Due to copyright restrictions, You Tube had to remove the soundtrack from the film, which features a piece of music that could not be reproduced. However, if you look hard enough, the full version of this film is available w/soundtrack on the Internet. Google, my friends).

The Breaktime (1972)

2 Solutions for 1 Problem (1975)

The Chorus (1982) (file divided into two parts):

Monday, March 2, 2009

It's in the genes: The Films of James Gray

Time for a bit of straight-up auteurism, since that seems like the best approach to discuss the merits (and also the possible limitations, at least in his work as it has been realized so far) of this fascinating filmmaker.
In an interesting recent interview, director James Gray described his approach to telling stories as a search for "authentic emotionality." It is perhaps telling that such an intelligent filmmaker has to use an awkward, and potentially misleading, phrase to describe movies that are so carefully, elegantly, and intelligently crafted. Gray intends "authentic emotionality" as a description (or at least the beginnings of a possible description) of the four films he has helmed - Little Odessa (1994), The Yards (2000), We Own the Night (2007) and Two Lovers (2009). We can understand the phrase more concretely through Gray's commitment to understanding character and relationships between characters, and the ensuing commitment to derive narrative and stylistic structures that organically emerge from the dynamism and development of those relationships. Ultimately, then, these films suggest a far simpler word to describe them: classicism. Gray is not quite as immediately brilliant as Wes Anderson or Paul Thomas Anderson, whose films operate no less beautifully - and with no less acute a sense of what is needed cinematically to suggest character emotion and relationships - but in ways that tend towards a more noticeable use of style. (Of course, here a massive footnote would need to be inserted to discuss all those things that pass by quietly on a first viewing of films as rich as There Will Be Blood and The Royal Tenenbaums, but for the sake of time and argument I'll just assume it's a safe move to regard the Andersons as far more "stylish" than Gray). Neither are his crime films as immediately gripping as Scorsese's (who has, in his flawed but still interesting recent work, become more mannerist relative to his earlier classicism), even though both The Yards and We Own the Night have stayed with me far longer after I saw them the first time than anything the Italian-American maestro has made since Casino. "Classicism" seems like the right word because I have come to value these films' tendency towards that quality of lingering - the gesture of an actor, or a camera movement, a mise-en-scene, or a color scheme - that in classical cinema registers its affect almost imperceptibly, the image otherwise being devoted to simply telling a story.