Read + Write + Report
Home | Start a blog | About Orble | FAQ | Blogs | Writers | Paid | My Orble | Login
 
Film Criticism by David O'Connell

Vernon, Florida (Morris, 1981)

August 20th 2014 08:34



The story goes that director Errol Morris, preparing his second documentary, a follow-up to Gates of Heaven (1978), encountered a killer story in a small American town. Vernon, Florida was home, it seems, to a small but growing band of out there folk intent on lopping off the odd limb or two to claim insurance money. Smelling a juicy documentary in the works, Morris pounced but soon found his own life threatened should he appropriate details of their plan for the purpose of broader distribution. The director necessarily backtracked but still felt compelled to hone in on some of the town’s other residents, perceiving another interesting take on a shiftless place built on the colourful collective bursts of sporadic insights that both illuminate and muddy the shape of things in etching the life of a backwoods community.


The resultant 55 minute film, Vernon, Florida (1981) is a slow-moving, curiously compelling portrait of aimlessness and a strange devotion to the indefinable art of rambling. There are no articulate, insightful reminiscences, only a spate of locals whose verbal tics and storytelling gifts drift beside and well beyond the point. A turkey hunter provides the richest, lavish detailing in his tales of stalking that account for countless hours of futility, though the rows of creepy trophies he keeps lovingly tacked to his wall attest to the artful endurance of his gifts.

Deadly earnest in their telling, the lives of these locals prove to be authentic oddities, no less relevant for the decaying milieu and sociological context they pinpoint and illuminate in jagged, fragmentary recollections. A pertinent query – and one we might instinctively supress in our mind if it weren’t for the insistent, recurring nature of its source – might be, are these simple folk of sound mind? There seems ample evidence to the contrary but in sketching Vernon through its residents, Morris has constructed, modestly, an endearing confirmation of these lives in their time and place. An open air asylum it may seem, but there’s a low-fi poetic beauty to be plundered from these denizens of the deep South whose legitimate, distinctly American identities give them a compelling sincerity. For Morris, this would be his final calling card before his ground-breaking next work, the startling crime story The Thin Blue Line (1988), in which he redefined the form of the modern documentary.










20
Vote
   


Raze (Waller, 2013)

June 25th 2014 03:52



A brutal, no-holds barred dive into an arena of death in which women battle one another with only their fists and survival instincts, Raze (2013) is not for the faint-hearted. Unashamedly exploitative and B-grade, Josh C. Waller’s film will either be perceived as hateful, misogynistic fare or an allegory for female empowerment. The central figure of this bloody drama is Sabrina, played with relish by Zoe Bell, the stuntwoman and occasional actress best known for her work on Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007). It’s Sabrina journey through the round robin stages of combat as the ranks of contenders are whittled away to a pulverised two that commands our attention. Bell’s emoting is limited but her lack of inhibition and strong physical presence make up for these deficiencies. Waller and his co-writer Robert Beaucage immediately drop us into his nightmarish scenario with Jamie (Rachel Nichols) as she wakes to find herself prone in a blank corridor. Soon, her opponent enters; she grasps for a perceived ally but of course, she’ll need to kill to survive thanks to the whims of a puppetmaster, Joseph (Doug Jones) and his equally twisted wife, Elizabeth (Sherilyn Fenn), a former winner of their yearly contest. A handful of retrospective snatches relate the ways in which the chief protagonists were snatched from their real lives, but Waller’s chief arm is to create carnage without a repertoire of weaponry or computer assistance. Raze is resolutely old-school and even if the dialogue is generally underwhelmingly bland and hardly insightful, the rawness of his premise is fully realised thanks to some willing participants, especially Bell as the credible, ruthless Sabrina. Composer Frank Riggio‘s low-budget score is another shrewdly utilised element, his contributions often ramping up the drama to invest moments of wordless, brutal contemplation an unlikely, near Tarantino-esque sense of ‘cool’. Though it’ll never win mainstream critical plaudits, Raze is at least a memorably original guilty-pleasure contender - not to mention a propulsive, visceral throwback to a more uncompromising form of storytelling that’s all too rare these days.










24
Vote
   





With his first documentary feature Zachary Heinzerling has produced an exceptional piece of cinema: an intimate glimpse into the ordinary domestic lives of a married couple, a pair of Japanese artists whose disparate approaches to subject matter is but one of the fascinating insights into their working methodology. Venturing to America 40 years ago, Ushio Shinohara became the subject of much attention in the art world for his conceptual approach to painting and sculpture. His best known approach can be appreciated in his prolific ‘boxing’ paintings, in which he straps on a pair of boxing gloves dipped in paint and bashes away on a large canvas to produce an abstract, often monothematic chain of smears. Now 80, he’s earned international acclaim but nothing close to a fortune. He and wife Noriko live in cramped quarters in a mundane New York apartment, struggling to forage together past works from his studio to attract sellers, mostly to no avail.

Heinzerling’s homely portrait reveals a domestic ordinariness that slowly opens up poignant, troubled realms. Ushio and Noriko clearly share a profound affection and love, though his past battles with alcohol have left Noriko wounded, especially as the disease manifested itself in their only child Alex too as he grew older. She uses her drawings, tales of Cutie and Bullie, as a direct outlet to deal with these and other biographical elements from their long marriage. From the dismissive, aloof way in which Ushio addresses her art – or not; he seems casually, sometimes cruelly dismissive of her ambitions – it’s clear that, to this day, he occasionally creates a negative space around her. Yet love conquers all, and though more than 20 years in age separates them, they endure. In its examination of the film’s most powerful theme, so too does the calling of the artist endure. This demonic urge that usurps the will must be fed - often to the detriment of financial prosperity, the security of domestic bliss, and to the psychological well-being of those who hear the calling of this persuasive internal voice.

Cutie and the Boxer (2013) is one of the finest documentaries of recent years; as fine a portrait of a fascinating couple from a humane perspective as it is a sensitive meditation on the vagaries of art, on its rawness, and the apparent simplicity that gets muddied by tides of complexity. Heinzerling, through his compelling subjects, also muses on the sometimes harsh degrees of subjectivity that establish perplexingly fine lines between fame and notoriety; fortune and the eternal struggle. Real world pressures forever impinge upon the artistic calling - the demonic urge usurping your will - simultaneously attempting to strip the mystery, allure and danger of creative credibility from its moorings. But in the case of Ushio and Noriko, there is a remarkably ordinary tale to tell: of life lived on its own terms, in abeyance of the relentless, subjective vision that keeps them alive, passionate and entrenched in a sometimes wavering but forever devoted union.




Cutie and the Boxer is now out on DVD through Madman Entertainment.







24
Vote
   


24
Vote
   


Dom Hemingway (Shepard, 2013)

April 29th 2014 02:31
23
Vote
   


Cheap Thrills (Katz, 2013)

April 23rd 2014 04:15
25
Vote
   


How I Live Now (Macdonald, 2013)

April 14th 2014 06:42
22
Vote
   


22
Vote
   


Ginger and Rosa (Potter, 2012)

April 3rd 2014 01:51
22
Vote
   


20 Feet from Stardom (Neville, 2013)

March 26th 2014 03:43
26
Vote
   


More Posts
1 Posts
1 Posts
2 Posts
594 Posts dating from April 2008
Email Subscription
Receive e-mail notifications of new posts on this blog:

David O'Connell's Blogs

146928 Vote(s)
9150 Comment(s)
1430 Post(s)
Moderated by David O'Connell
Copyright © 2012 On Topic Media PTY LTD. All Rights Reserved. Design by Vimu.com.
On Topic Media ZPages: Sydney |  Melbourne |  Brisbane |  London |  Birmingham |  Leeds     [ Advertise ] [ Contact Us ] [ Privacy Policy ]