I love movies. I have loved movies all my life. I grew up on them. When I was eight years old, I managed to convince myself I would make movies when I grew up. Now I am in the process of getting a degree in Film Studies. I write about film more than ever before, partly because I have to for my classes, mostly because I enjoy it, because I have something to write about. Sometimes it helps me understand the film better; sometimes it helps me understand myself better.
I created this blog as a place to showcase my work, and also as an incentive to keep writing reviews, analyses, and essays over breaks, when there’s no one here to grade me.
I have tried many times, and failed, to explain in a coherent manner why it is that I love films. Here is my best—and most coherent—guess.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Through the Looking Glass: Buster Keaton’s "Sherlock Jr."

Over sixty years before Woody Allen had his characters pop off the screen and into the film’s reality in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Buster Keaton had done the reverse. In Sherlock Jr. (1924), the most silent of all silent clowns played a movie projectionist studying to become a detective. Falling asleep in his booth, he dreams himself into the picture, simply walking down the aisle and into the movie-within-a-movie, where he finds he is at the mercy of film space and film time. While he stands still, maintaining his space-time continuity, the “unreal,” cinematic environment surrounding Buster undergoes the editing process. His universe instantaneously shifts from a park to a desert, to an ocean, to a snowdrift, and the character, although maintaining complete control over himself and his actions, is powerless against the filmic montage that changes his physical surroundings.

The scene epitomizes and exaggerates the conditions in which Keaton the filmmaker has placed Buster the character throughout his career. In film after film, he battled immense natural forces and huge mechanical objects which were beyond his control; in film after film, he simply reacted to the environment and the situation as pragmatically as possible, generally in ways that would solve his problems. Again and again, with elegance, poise, and superb command of his body—at once the most malleable and most tensile of physical objects—Buster made impossible physical stunts look not only possible, but effortless. He used no stunt doubles, no tricks, no sleights of camera or editing.

Keaton’s creative ideas as director, his inventiveness and determination, parallel his ideas as a clown. When cinematic wizardry is used, as it is in the montage sequence of Sherlock Jr., it makes Buster’s life harder, not easier. But the sequence is more than just stunting. It is perhaps Keaton’s clearest realization of the cinema’s mechanical basis, his greatest expression of control over the first and ultimate machine of his career—the camera, that unique mechanical object capable of representing and reshaping reality at the same time. Because, as much as Sherlock Jr. pretends to be about something else, it is a film about film. By taking us inside the picture alongside Buster—and constantly telling us we are, indeed, watching illusion unfold—Sherlock Jr. drops its light comedic premise (about a young man’s wish to become a detective and his romantic troubles) and becomes an almost abstract, unwaveringly funny, look at cinema itself.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Middle of the Road: Alexander Payne’s Journeys

 “I had been sitting on this Nebraska script even when I did Sideways,” writer-director Alexander Payne said in May 2013. “But I didn’t want to go back to a road-trip movie right after that. I was really tired of shooting people in cars. It’s a drag” (qtd. in Alexander). Despite these misgivings, the filmmaker returns, again and again, to road trips. Recurring throughout Payne’s work is the idea of a pivotal physical pilgrimage that doubles as a journey of self-discovery for his typical protagonist, a damaged but basically good person riddled with unease and inner disenchantment.

In About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011), and most recently Nebraska (2013), Payne cannot help but place his characters on physical, psychological, and emotional journeys, ones that might not have a clear destination but which will take the protagonists—and the viewers—to completely unexpected places. More often than not, origin and destination merge, and the characters end up where they had started; they return home, whether that is symbolized by an actual location or by family connections or romantic relationships. The writer-director utilizes the dynamics of the road movie not to express the more common theme of a yearning for escape, but instead to emphasize the psychological primacy of belonging, establishing and—significantly—accepting one’s true home.