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April 24, 2005

Moving Targets

I've seen a few good movies recently, one was "Model" by Frederick Wiseman, a documentary about a model agency in NYC. I saw Wiseman's "Titicut Follies" some time ago and was deeply impressed, a documentary made in a Massachusetts asylum for the criminally insane with guards and doctors who are blatantly sadistic and abuse the inmates (who for some reason are stripped naked most of the time) on camera. Scenes of systematic humiliation are intercut with Vaudeville show numbers organized in the asylum by a guard, the "Titicut Follies" of the title. In these scenes, the bulky inmates with their sad, dead, empty stares are made to wear party hats, wave pom-poms and sing jolly songs. I'm convinced that this movie was a formative influence on David Lynch. Anyway, "Model" was nothing as impressive, but it gave good insight in the way a model agency functions. Apart from that, I had the impression that Wiseman first tried to make a courageous statement on the commodification of beauty and its insiduous effects (lots of shots of showroom dummies in the first half of the movie, plus beautiful model faces contrasted with not-remotely-as-beautiful faces in the street.) But then he just became distracted by the sheer glamour of the models; at some points the camera stops keeping an objective distance and just stares, open-mouthed. And rightly so, but why should I watch this? Another movie I saw was "Los Angeles Plays Itself", a three-hour film essay by CalArt teacher Thom Andersen about the depiction of L. A. in the movies. I thoroughly enjoyed most of this unsystematic, rambling overview, especially the parts about the way real buildings were used in movies (e. g. the Bradbury Building in "Blade Runner", "D. O. A", "Wolf" et al.). There was a fascinating sequence on the changing uses of Bunker Hill, interesting takes from black, independent movies with a "neorealist" aesthetic, and a good rant on the fact that the modernist architectural landmarks of L. A. are mostly used as the homes of villains in Hollywood movies. Sometimes the film came across at a bit too opinionated and pedantic, but in the end I had the impression that this was the best movie I'd seen in a year. The third feature, "The Price of Survival" by Louis van Gasteren, is a documentary about the family of a Dutch holocaust survivor who recently died and had been so utterly traumatized in the camps that he never found his way back into regular life and instead dragged his wife and three children into his persistent memories. Some of the movie felt somewhat formulaic and some of the interviews intrusive, but an image that I think will stay with me is a shot of the father standing up from the sofa in their living room and reporting his "prisoner number" in German; the tone of his voice, his look and his posture just make it tangible that, in a way, he still is in the camp at this very moment.


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