Stalker (1979) Written by Boris Strugatsky & Arkady Strugatsky Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Today I begin a week-ish long series called Worlds on the Edge of Chaos. My thought behind this series of movies is to look at apocalyptic films that aren’t Mad Max-ian, deep in the primal collapse of mankind. These movies are intended to be more philosophical about collapse, with characters existing on the precipice between the world that was and falling into the oblivion of the end. These pictures will vary wildly in tone and characters, but they will all explore the themes that arise when we confront the end of civilization as we know it. Many of these movies present their collapse with a melancholy quiet proposing the old adage that the world will end with a whisper.
Deliverance (1972) Written by James Dickey Directed by John Boorman
The opening dialogue of Deliverance, based on the novel of the same name by James Dickey, tells us everything we need to know to understand the conflict that underlies the entire film. The quartet of friends talks about a new damn built on the fictional Cahulawassee River and how this effort of modern industrial ingenuity is going to change the landscape. This plays out over scenes of massive earth-moving machinery and explosives clearing away cliffs. This will be a story about modernity clashing with primal forces of nature and how masculinity navigates how a strange old world redefines it.
Barry Lyndon (1975) Written & Directed by Stanley Kubrick
I think Stanley Kubrick was one of those rare directors who could dramatically shift tone & aesthetics between films without losing his core themes. On a material level, the differences between A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon is a vast gulf. Sex & violence is still present, but it’s meted out in a much more measured fashion. The goal of Barry Lyndon is to communicate with subtlety, to control the camera to an almost ascetic degree in how it delivers information about the characters & conflict. Kubrick also plays with structure creating two very distinct halves that tell us different things about the same character.
A Clockwork Orange (1971) Written & Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick has no shortage of controversy in his filmmaking career, and probably the most incendiary of his films is this adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 satirical novel about a violently out of control youth culture. In reflecting on my rewatch of this movie in the context of Kubrick’s body of work, I think it is shortsighted by people who are offended by the picture to push it aside so brusquely. The director has composed a movie that sits as a discomforting companion piece to Paths of Glory, asking some tough questions and making sure that our contemplation of these inquiries is not an easy task. The most important aspects of our society should be very hard to address and tackle.
Today is my 39th birthday. Last year, I posted a film for every year I’d been alive, so this year I will present a collection of movies where birthdays play a crucial role in the plot. I’m quite excited about next year, where I will be starting a series on my 40 Favorite Films of All-Time. For now, there are some pictures where getting a year old causes some complications.
Network (1976) Written by Paddy Chayefsky Directed by Sidney Lumet
Network is a masterpiece. This is true both in the sheer craft of Paddy Chayefsky’s dialogue and structure, but especially for how the themes are blended so perfectly in the narrative. One of my biggest complaints about the film has nothing to do with what we see on screen but with the audience’s popular interpretation. Most people know Network for the famous “I’m Mad As Hell” speech, which leads me to the belief they shut the film off right as the second act starts. The statement has to be viewed in the context of the entire movie and how the words of Howard Beale are used and twisted by institutions in power.
The Hospital (1971) Written by Paddy Chayefsky Directed by Arthur Hiller
The Hospital exists as a prelude to the masterpiece that was to come from Chayefsky’s pen. There are seeds of ideas here that are profoundly challenging. The film bores an ice core of the effect of modernism on American society circa the 1960s, never giving an excuse to wrong takes but laying out the psyche of a white privileged class that doesn’t know how to function in a new world. We also see a society that refuses to adapt and change to the demands of marginalized classes and does nothing to try and symphonize the cacophony of voices. The establishment would rather throw their hands up and complain then reconfigure the structural rot that runs through everything.
Black Lives Matter. If you find an issue with that statement, then your presence on my website is unneeded. The comment section of this post will not be allowed to house any sentiments contrary to this. There is no free speech in my little corner of the internet when it comes to white supremacy and fascist ideals. The history of abusing, mocking, torturing, and killing black people in my home country of the United States is too long and still happening. Cinema was used as a weapon against black lives during the early silent years and into the talkies. However, films have been made that lift up black people and show them as human beings. Here are some of those movies.
Phase IV (1974) Written by Mayo Simon Directed by Saul Bass
Saul Bass is primarily known for his graphic design work in the opening titles of films like Vertigo, Psycho, West Side Story, and many others. Phase IV was Bass’s first and only foray into feature film directing. Anytime you get a movie made by someone working primarily in the visual arts, it’s going to be visually appealing but not necessarily following the standard narrative structures. Kubrick was a photographer, David Lynch is a painter, and so on. Panos Cosmatos has cited Phase IV’s influence on his own Beyond the Black Rainbow. These directors aren’t so much interested in narrative points and character beats as they are as in establishing a potent atmosphere. Saul Bass’s Phase IV falls right into that same category.
Yesterday, I reviewed the atrocity that is Cats, a film that falls apart because of a mix of a muddled story and, most importantly, an over-reliance on computer-generated effects. I thought sharing my favorite musicals could be some fun. These are definitely all not your classic Broadway productions but things that skew more towards my particular tastes.