One of the joys or indeed adversities, depending on your outlook, of being a film student is that you’re introduced to a wide range of cinema. Recent ventures have been the very first film in the history of cinema, Lumiere’s Sortie d’Usine, Russian silent documentary The Man with a Movie Camera and Almodovar’s Talk to Her. I’m still struggling what to make of them all.
Sortie d’Usine is helpful in that it lasts only 50 seconds long, has no narrative, no dialogue and technically no characters; it merely consists of factory workers leaving a factory. What could be interesting about that? Well first of all is the fact that people filing/cycling/running out of two doors can be so deeply analysed. At face value it seems that Lumiere has just plonked his camera in front of the factory and start rolling, but gradually you see the construction of this piece. The way women come out one side and men the other, or how they go in different directions. The way the camera has been placed to include the right amount of action and limited empty space; it literally initiates what is to become direction and the manipulation of the spectator. Its also a very cheery, energetic piece with some bouncy French music that accompanies the masses as they roam on home. A simple affair that opened the gates to a very important art form and industry.
I’m still reeling from Talk to Her and I can’t say I particularly liked it. I would consider myself pretty open minded when it comes to art-house cinema and unusual films, goodness knows my Dad would agree as he evens funds my own lovefilm account so he doesn’t have to sit through some of the more bizarre choices I’ve made.(Dogville anyone?)But this just wasn’t for me. It involves a man crawling inside what is quite clearly an unrealistic looking vagina; call me prude, but I find this more disturbing than erotic. But perhaps that’s the point. The film explores the relationshop between two men, both of whom are caring for women in comas and with one; Benigno, there is a very fine line between diligence or benevolence and obsession. Indeed it is a line he crosses. Perhaps upon further review I’ll come to love it; it wouldn’t be the first time, but I say with absolute certainty it isn’t my favourite Almodovar and never will be, Volver has already claimed that spot. The filmmaking itself however cannot be faulted, Almodovar deals with risky material in a very artistic, almost poetic way; full of symbolism and surrealism. I have no doubt it will be interesting to critique in terms of gender theory, considering the plot involves sensitive men, female bullfighters and in some cases a reversal of gender roles; with the men caring for the women. However it also features men’s incapacity to listen to women and the desire and desperation that can ruin a relationship. No doubt it’s an intelligent and original film, just not for me. Also if you do happen to watch it, don’t let the first 5 minutes put you off… or maybe do, it does set the tone for the entire film. I’ll let you be the judge.
Finally, its The Man with the Movie Camera, a Vertov classic that I, against all odds, throughly enjoyed. Our film teacher set this one up as ‘a documentary about Russian peasants…watch all of it in your own time if you can be bothered’. Oh good, this is bound to prevent me from napping. Well, this just so happened to be a very good example of the well known phrase that is ‘never judge a book by its cover’ or perhaps in this context ‘never judge a film by its label’. Either way it was a pleasant surprise. Part of what makes it so captivating is the montage that makes up this film; the audience are confronted with a barrage of images depicting urban Russian life. There is a very uplifting atmosphere to the film, the subjects appear happy as they continue through the cycle of life; we see birth, death, marriage, divorce, work and play. Ultimately this is effective propganda. Vertov glamourises mundance occurences in order to evoke Communist ideologies, such as the harmonious relationship between the economy and the masses, between the industry and its people. Its easy to see how the film itself is an allegory for modernism, with its plethora of cinematic techniques. Vertov utilises everything from jump cuts, split screens and freeze frames, perhaps emphasising that film can go anywhere. Despite its perhaps controversial message, more so for a modern audience, this was a groundbreaking piece of cinema as it set the precedent for film becoming synonymous with political or ideological agendas. And even if you chose to ignore its political importance, it’s still an amusing film.