Sunday, 26 July 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: Apocalypse Now (1979)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
DoP: Vittorio Storaro
Composer: Carmine & Francis Coppola

Winner of both Best Sound and Best Cinematography at the Oscars in its year of release, this entry to my Visual & Sound Diary requires little justification. The 70s was arguably the most significant decade of American cinema and director Francis Ford Coppola riding in on the New Hollywood wave, managed to close the legendary decade with the greatest war film ever created to this day. Many of the most respected filmmakers have tried their hand at depictions of naval, air or land battles. The result is an array of war movies, each in a distinguished style. Such examples include Steven Spielberg's classic epic Saving Private Ryan, the vague and poetic The Thin Red Line, invariably spawned from the twisted mind of Terrence Malick, Quentin Tarantino's comedic, indulgently violent Inglorious Basterds and of course the unflinchingly brutal Platoon by Oliver Stone. But Coppola's feature, chronicling a man's mission to terminate a rogue US colonel in 1970 Vietnam, supersedes any of these features in place of the ultimate military film. More revelatory, more engaging, more appreciative and exploitative of its cinematic medium, Apocalypse Now is a vivid glimpse into wartime beauty, that summative genre piece which encapsulates perfectly, the singular qualities of war cinema.

Ceremoniously saturated and strangely hallucinatory, Apocalypse Now subtly captures both the physical toll and the mental degradation of soldiers thrown into the violent light of established warzones. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro utilises spectral imagery to illustrate the unconventionality of the Vietnam war. Perceptions of reality waver in mesmeric ways, the intense humidity traps the soldiers in a deep, idle haze as they travel through Vietnam to Cambodia, experiencing varying sights of air raids, the elaborate destruction caused by a napalm sortie, bridges under attack, a Playboy concert, tribes and villages alight and a Cambodian temple, inhabited by the worshippers of the US colonel, acting as a demigod. It is the feature's narrative arc which distinguishes its unique style, as the key characters of the feature are, for the large duration of the film, merely moving through the conflict.They are, like the audience, mere observers of the hellish landscape and are rarely ever directly involved in combat. Hence, a somewhat dream-like disconnect exists between the viewer and the violence. Striking visuals are accompanied by a stately pop and rock soundtrack with entries such as Shirley and Lee's 50s track "Let the Good Times Roll", The Rolling Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and the classic "Ride of the Valkyries" in the iconic napalm, air raid sequence. Apocalypse Now is a regal film, a hypnotic synchronisation of image and sound.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: Ida (2014)

Director: Paweł Pawlikowski
DoP: Łukask Żal, Ryszard Lenciwski
Composer: Kristian Eidnes Andersen

Ida is the product of cinematographers Zal and Lenciwski's love affair with still photography, elaborate framing and natural light manipulation. Darkly moving and silently potent, the feature depicts the hybrid world of 1960s Poland, still scarred by the German occupation of World War II, a time of new world meets old. A trainee nun's exposition to a corrupt, superficial world blossoms in the wake of jazz concerts, young musicians, her worldly and wild aunt, a harsh woman wrapped in cynicism and vanity, and the discovery of the savage history of her late family. The stoic title character Ida is the less intriguing of the two key characters, her aunt Wanda is an evocative figure, both politically and personally. The film panders to the audience's desire to see Ida encounter the intricacies and brutality of the world outside her own by compressing them into the character of her volcanic aunt. For this, an undeniable charm invades the feature, the film afflicted by simple beauties which would, in any other realm, be considered guilty pleasures if not for its religious, political and emotional heft. 

The directors of photography emphasis the backdrop over the subject, faces drift about in the corners of each shot. Each scene is achieved by a single shot, the camera ever static. The visuals are strikingly sharp and vivid, an appreciation of detail is apparent. Moving images stun in variety: from tired parties to baron hospital rooms, stained glass windows, graves, ghost towns, dark forests, baths, places of worship, suicides and slow dances. The imagery is directly reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman. It carries the sentiment of Wild Strawberries and  echoes the religious prowess of Bergman's God's Silence trilogy. Musical contributions are sparse in Ida, the score holds off completely until the end. In this manner, the film is laced with technical symbolism. The cathartic conclusion to the film is marked by the introduction of music and the abandonment of still photography. The imagery whilst austere is hardly mundane. The film illustrates Post-War Poland in a vibrant light, as an era of vivid artistic revolution. The music I wanted to pair with the imagery was "Transcendence" by elusive Dutch composer Jochem Weierink but it is still unavailable to the public. Instead i've selected "Ich Ruf Zu Dir Herr Jesu Christ" (I call to You, Lord Jesus Christ) by Alfred Brendel. 

Monday, 6 July 2015


A formula is beginning to take shape amongst acclaimed foreign features. The directional styles of Russian drama Leviathan, Aghar Farhadi's The Past and now Estonian-Georgian feature Tangerines echo each other, their resounding similarities a distraction from their storytelling integrity. Such familiar traits include the use of minimal editing, careful, naturalistic dialogue and mundane goings-on, interrupted by jarring, sensationalist events. They test the viewer's patience, an implied promise of lurid payoff always lingering at the back of our minds. The general intention of this stylistic choice is to assert that such destructive events of suicide, brutalities of civil war and political reverence are jarring, events that can never be expected in the mundane sensibilties of everyday life. This formula is evidently suffice to solicit an Oscar nomination but striking content, the Academy makes clear, is only a baseline requirement. Critics argue greater artistic license should be exercised to distinguish these features, noting the unusual photographic techniques of Ida, the emotional prowess of Blue is the Warmest Color and the decorative, expansive scope of The Great Beauty. So in answering the question of whether this new formula detracts from the quality of the feature? In terms of originality it does devaluate the viewer experience but Tangerines does well in compensating its predictable narrative with absorbing dialogue and a palpable chemistry between rich, layered characters.

Tangerines captures the simple life of an ageing Estonian immigrant, Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak), during the violent conflict of Soviet Russia's dissolution in 1992. He and another immigrant farmer, Margus (Elmo Nüganen), remain in Georgia with the intention of harvesting a final crop of tangerines. But the war advances rapidly, violent conflict befalls on their very doorstep and Ivo takes in two wounded soldiers from opposite sides, Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze), a Chechen, and Niko (Mikheil Meskhi), a Georgian. Gratitude and respect for their peaceful saviour keeps bloodshed from inside Ivo's home, vow as they may that once they have recovered and step outside of Ivo's household oasis, war will proceed. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

DEAR AFI: Please Consider Rolf de Heer

To the Australian Film Institute,

I would like to make a recommendation for the 2015 recipient of the Longford Lyell Award. Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer has made numerous invaluable contributions to Australian screen culture, particularly in the sorely underrepresented realm of Aboriginal cinema. His films have sensitively portrayed Aboriginal culture so that it may appeal to and beguile even international audiences, being well received at numerous international film festivals including Cannes Film Festival and Venice FIlm Festival. These films have shed light not only on the rich and cultivating history of Aboriginal culture in such features as "Ten Canoes" but also the tentative modern condition in his recent work "Charlie's Country". His endeavours have also featured a most unique collaborative stream with renowned Australian actor David Gulpilil, the result being resounding pieces of cinema which ring true to Aboriginal custom, illustrating the manner in which colonisation has shaped its contemporary condition. His works have illuminated the all-encompassing faculty of cinema as a means of educating audiences on multi-faceted issues which plague society today and which yield no simple solutions.

Rolf de Heer strives and succeeds to creating not only important films but films which provoke and stimulate its audiences into appreciating native Australian culture. He has fostered significant interest and attention to a salient sector of Australian culture, serving as both reminder and inspiration. For Rolf de Heer to be presented with the Longford Lyell Award would be a timely recognition of his singular efforts to an area of cinema at risk of being marginalised.

I hope that you will consider Rolf de Heer for this honour as both an appreciation of his enrichments of Australian cinema and an encouragement to continue his endeavours. He may not be the only patron of Aboriginal cinema but he is surely its most qualified and dedicated guardian.

Kind regards,