June 29, 2004

on the back of a winged horse there is the sky

* Village Voice on Richard Linklater's Before Sunset. excerpt:

"It's no coincidence that early in Before Sunset, Jesse talks about wanting to write a book in the form of a pop song, with a mutable narrative that alternately stretches and collapses time—structural ambitions that match Linklater's. The director has always gravitated to compact durations: More than half his features take place in spans of under 24 hours (the existential head trip Waking Life breaks free entirely from temporal limits). 'Working in real time was the ultimate challenge for me,' says Linklater. 'Our back was to the wall, structurally speaking. You couldn't just drop a scene. There's no way to lessen or elongate a scene, no way to cut geographically. It couldn't have been more intricately planned out. But it was fun to get that obsessed about all those things you never see in movies—like paying the bill, leaving the tip.'

"With virtually no wiggle room, it was a production that hinged on the tiniest of details, from the amount of dialogue covered on a particular stretch of cobblestone to the position of the sun. 'Not only did we have just 15 days to shoot, but on any given day, we only had four hours,' says Linklater. Technically, it was an exercise in self-effacement. 'It was important that the Steadicam moves not draw attention to themselves or to the performances,' he adds. 'The point was to not draw attention to anything.' For the actors, the most daunting task was sustaining the illusion of spontaneity. 'The worst would be fake-natural,' Delpy says. 'To remember the lines and make it feel like it's the first time you're saying them, that's the hardest work.' Hawke adds: 'Rick's line to me was 'No drama.' What will make it dramatic is that there's no drama. It's the opposite of the direction you get for 98 percent of all other jobs, which is to amp everything up.'"

* In anticipation of the upcoming conventions, screen Haskell Wexler's 1969 film about the 1968 Democratic Convention, medium cool.

"At its sharpest, Medium Cool handles the chill of omnipresent violence with the feel of cinema vérité. Haskell Wexler penned his screenplay in anticipation of a blow-up at the Democratic Convention, and in many ways, he is clearly more interested in documenting the mob scenes than in telling a story. The protesters raging in the streets, the army methodically lining up for the counterattack - these are real, captured at the moment of trauma by Wexler’s camera. But Wexler is not creating a pure documentary (if such purity is ever possible), but grafting these events onto a fictional story. The plot itself is rather thin, as Cassellis drifts into a vague relationship with Appalachian transplant Eileen and her son (played naturalistically by Harold Blankenship, a real ghetto kid). Some of the ethical debates on Vietnam-era politics are obviously staged: in one scene Wexler populates the screen with real black militants and lets them make speeches about respect and the visibility of rebellion spoken directly to the camera.

"But when the film’s attempt to fuse its fictional cameras with its vérité surroundings works, it provides a damaging indictment of the objectivity of media. For example, when John and Eileen watch a televised speech by Martin Luther King, Eileen is absorbed by King’s ethical stand, while Cassellis can only admire the camera work and the potential for violence inherent in the gathering itself. These character-driven moments are interesting, and the sense in which the film chronicles the political turmoil of an era is also important - but there does not seem to be a clear sense of story to hang these two things together."

* Don't Let Your Youth Go to Waste, the Galaxie 500 DVD, gets released today.

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