“The setting is the Texas-Mexico border. The time is our own.”
This is how the synopsis on the back of the first edition of Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men begins. One of these things is inarguable: we’re definitely in the Southwestern U.S. borderlands, weaving along the imaginary line separating Texas from Mexico. But the other bit — “the time is our own” — seems at the very least a strange thing to say about a story set in 1980. Then again, one could sit through the Coen Brothers’ meticulous 2007 adaptation and reasonably assume it to be set in the present day. Maybe the dusty West will always be stuck in time throughout the future of American film, a land pioneered from the 1800s but never truly transformed in the ensuing centuries. One of two hints in No Country comes when Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) references Vietnam explicitly, having served in two tours in 1966 and ’68; the other, of course, comes courtesy of the oracular Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who holds up a quarter from 1958 and muses on the coin’s 22-year journey into his hand.
But the ill-defined nature of time is more than just a peculiar facet of this bloody yarn. We mistake the time period for today, and yet in actuality it’s nearly forty years in the past; if the film centers on the concept of progress, then this curiosity becomes darkly ironic. As is the case with nearly everything by the Coen Brothers (and everything by McCarthy, for that matter), the assertion of numerous interpretations and readings usually leads only to more questions, more ambiguities, more uncertainty. This uncertainty is admittedly fitting of the landscape of the film, and of its inexplicable antagonist. But moreso than “Chigurh as Fate” or “Chigurh as Death” or “Chigurh as Capitalism,” the implication of Anton Chigurh as the living manifestation of Progress seems to make the death knell of No Country for Old Men ring all the louder.
The thing we’ve somehow avoided discussing is the music of the Bond franchise. Excluding franchise themes written by John Williams — Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, etc. — Bond is arguably the film series in which the theme music is most inextricable from the mere notion of the franchise itself. You pick the theme out in an instant and you wouldn’t mistake it for anything else. When I hear the words “James Bond” the first thing I think of is this:
David Lean’s T. E. Lawrence film is a visual adventure boasting some of the most impressive and ingenious staging you’ll ever see. One might be tempted to test Steven Soderbergh’s theory on the removal of sound and color from Raiders of the Lost Ark, an exercise meant to highlight how well Spielberg’s film is staged and framed, although sitting through a soundless black-and-white version of the nearly four-hour Lawrence of Arabia seems an especially colossal task. So, instead, we’ll examine here a few of the visual cues that drive Lawrence the film and inform Lawrence the character, and in so doing might uncover what Lean’s epic has to say about the explorer’s fabled legacy.
One would be remiss to announce a discussion of the visuals of Lawrence of Arabia without beginning at the most famous smash cut of the film, one of the most famous smash cuts of any film:
This is how Lawrence gets to Arabia. Due respect to the Old-West-to-South-America-via-NYC montage of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but in Lawrence the journey to Arabia is not as significant as the journey in Arabia; but Lean’s matching of the two images does more than save time. There’s an ever-so-slight grin that Lawrence gives just before he extinguishes the match, enough to suggest a truth that he knows and we do not. Fire is one of the primary visual symbols of the film, and in retrospect the correlation between Lawrence’s ego and the story told by that single cut is highly revealing.
Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our original review of Inside Out.
The people have spoken. Original, well-written content is what they want, and they want it now! Down with all of these cliched remakes! I speak on everyone’s behalf when I say–what’s that? Ex-squeeze me? Jurassic World, of all movies, is breaking every box office record? Well then.
It’s hard to express how that makes me feel. I could scream and gag and cry and fall into a deep depression. And there’s no movie that can fix me. What’s that? Another off-screen interjection? I should look no further than Inside Out? So there’s hope after all… Continue reading Inside Out (2015): Pixar Goes to Therapy→
Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. See below for our original reviews of True Detective.
“Past a certain age,” advises Marty Hart, “a man without a family can be a bad thing.” This is 2012 Hart, slightly overweight Hart, reelin’-in-the-years Hart. This is the Hart that’s about to recount the majority of the events of True Detective‘s first season, the 1995 Dora Lange case that the retired detective has long since considered closed. This is also the version of Martin Hart that no longer has a family — he’s cheated on his wife repeatedly, notably in 1995 and again in 2002, and so she and the kids have long since left. After seventeen years he’s still the same person, though, as it’s very Hart-like that he should describe himself with such accuracy without even meaning to do so.
Family is a major theme at the center of True Detective‘s rookie year, and Hart’s judgement begins to reveal why. He approaches his family with more or less the same mentality he applies to his job as State Police Detective: it’s duty. His is the American nuclear family, traditional in the way that would make social conservatives nod in approval, with working father, aproned mother, two daughters, a front lawn, a white picket fence. To Marty this is very much a patriarchal nuclear family, which casts him as father in the primary role of moral authority, social privilege, property control, etc. Though our perception of this slowly erodes over the course of the eight-episode season, Marty, years later in 2012, refuses to believe anything else to be the case.
Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our original review of Birdman.
There’s a story about these guys, Jack and Murray, who head out to the countryside to visit The Most Photographed Barn in America. They follow the signs and arrive at the barn site, finding a visitor center, an observation deck, droves of people with cameras, the actual barn up on a little rise. “No one sees the barn,” Murray notes. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.” Jack says nothing as more tourists arrive, snap pictures, buy postcards. Murray continues. “We’re not here to capture an image, we’re here to maintain one,” he says. “Every photograph reinforces the aura.”
That story is from White Noise by Don DeLillo, an author who largely concerns himself with the same exploration of modern celebrity at the heart of Iñárritu’s Best Picture-winning Birdman. And that aura, so built up around the little red barn that the mass awareness begins to eclipse the individual identity, is not at all unlike the celebrity in which Michael Keaton’s actor Riggan Thomson finds himself trapped. The “public Riggan” — an image maintained in tabloids and represented by the superhuman Birdman — is so overwhelming that it obscures the real Riggan, the artist beneath the public persona, threatening to further that obscurity by tempting Riggan with Birdman 4. Plenty of films address Hollywood and modern celebrity in this way, and we’ll mention a few more from this past year in a moment. It’s Riggan, though, who most fully and tragically shows how impossible it is for an artist to escape the machinery of fame.