How Jared Bratt Stopped Hating Film Studies
In my articles, I have gleefully taken a few opportunities to rail/bash against my ‘Film Studies’ education/upbringing, so now I figure it’s about time I backtrack a bit, clarify where my heart stands and pay my respect where respect is due. When I was studying ‘Film Studies’ (in Montreal), I was somewhat bitter about my time there only because all I wanted to do was make movies and be on the production side of things. I never wanted to critique or write about film. I hated being surrounded by (what I felt was) an overabundant circle of “wannabe” pseudo-film-intellectuals, and I still hadn’t broken out of my shell just yet so not being able to speak in public certainly didn’t help matters in terms of maturing my mindset or in me appreciating the healthy diet of films that I was constantly being exposed to on a daily, hourly basis. But hey, I guess one of the beauties of life is being able to look back on certain memorable experiences and ultimately appreciate the the things we unfortunately couldn’t find ways to recognize or condone at the time, in the moment of said crucial life-happenings.
Being that my life is all about film (I’ve got the tattoo to prove it) and now that I am finally able to put my educational-credentials to long-overdue use, it would be entirely selfish of me to not give credit to five and half years of study that (I can say this now) helped shape and mold my own language for both dissecting and discussing film in an analytical theory-based context. I possess absolutely zero regrets in plowing through my essay years, and if anything, I remain incredibly grateful for most of the “class-act” professors I studied under and the films they screened unto my unappreciative younger eyes.
Now while I can’t recall every single film that I sat through (my demeanor back then was debatably on par with Malcolm McDowell’s tortured captivity in A Clockwork Orange), there are still indeed a hand-full of movies that, for their own distinct and wide-ranging reasons, will forever remain ingrained into my cerebrum. I’m not saying these movies are all necessarily “must-see” masterpieces (really I am!) but, nevertheless, I am advocating their worth because for me these pictures have passed the “test of time” maintaining a stern grasp on my whacked out sub-conscious — This very fact alone tells me something significant… because as we all know the best films, the long-lasting ones, are the films we can’t forget even if we tried. Subsequently speaking, here are 10 flicks I would have never laid eyes upon if not for school — These movies have honestly not left my mind since and looking back on these gems now, I wouldn’t have written the life-script any other conceivable way.
#1 Nanook of the North (1922)
One of the most groundbreaking documentaries of any time, and accused of what every classic doc is eventually accused of doing (manipulating the truth), Nanook of the North sticks with me as a masterful marvel in committed filmmaking, both on a technical level and on a focused-story related one. Following the rituals, trials and tribulations of an Inuit family and their leader, Nanook, the film famously documents the historically significant Inuit way of life (in 1922) to painstakingly meticulous extremes. Depicting a culture (virtually unknown to the Western world at the time), practically untouched by industry and technology, the documentary simultaneously feels like both a lyrical sonnet, carried by an apparent expressionistic aesthetic, and a masterpiece in ‘Cinema Vérité’ filmmaking. Also, knowing that director Robert J. Flaherty spent approximately one year of his life cutting the picture only to accidentally drop his cigarette on the camera-negative in 1916, forcing Flaherty to return to Nanook and his family and make-up for incinerated celluoid — Well that just pigeon-holes the film right there as an ingenious example of artistic achievement and determination against all odds.
#2 ‘M’ (1931)
Segueing into expressionism, Fritz Lang’s M is another film that has managed to haunt my brains with its plenty shadowed, always busy “mise-en-scene” and its set-up disturbing plot-beats depicting both the police and mob’s efforts in bringing a local child-killing/serial-killer to justice. Eerie in its atmosphere, tone and in the film’s subsequent form of execution, and kind of like some sort of ‘Art-House’/nightmare version of ‘Film-Noir’ itself, Lang’s tale of murder and evil as an uncontrollable desire/disease is definitely one for the books. Maybe it’s Peter Lorre’s brilliantly effective performance as the story’s antagonist, or maybe it’s the picture’s own nerve-unhinging use of the classical symphony “Hall of the Mountain King” in whistled form — Whatever filmic-element it is, something unsettling about this movie remains alive and kicking within me.
#3 Jules and Jim (1962)
I’m a sucker for the trifecta love-triangle story so the set-up to this film alone is already a major ‘in’ for me. But even-more-so than the picture’s plot, it’s the film’s editing that makes Truffaut’s Jules and Jim a resonant pic in my head. Well around the time I was starting to edit video myself, the works of Rdoriguez, Scorsese and Aronofsky were starting to inform me of my own technical tastes… in this crucial period of coming to terms with one’s visceral sensibilities, I peeped Jules and Jim and immediately gravitated towards the Truffaut ‘French-New-Wave’ style of cutting. Jump-cuts, cross-cuts, and dissolves of lengthy smoothness galore, the way this film is composed, for me, borders on finely tuned rhythms meshed with increments of sporadic jarringness. These are the exact elements that awoke me from my class-time slumber and caused me to listen up… both in terms of me realizing I might actually discover some films that I liked amidst my school-time hours and in regards to me keeping an eye out specifically for a movie’s post-production process.
#4 Goin’ Down the Road (1970)
When we think of the “Road-Trip” genre nowadays, I think we generally think of a “grand ol’ good time had by all.”. Nevertheless, in the 70′s, the words “Canadian” and “road-trip” in the same sentence could only mean that the film’s audience was actually in for a collective depressing time at the movies. Even today, Goin’ Down the Road still stands proud and tall as one of the most oppressing watches I have ever witnessed… but please do not misinterpret my words here because I mean “oppressing” in that the film’s story is brutally honest and ”cut-throat” effective in its non-fantastical depiction of two high-school dropouts, Pete and Joey, as they travel from the disheartened east-coast of Nova Scotia all the way to “big-city-living” Toronto, Canada. Naive and full of “dreamer’s disease 101″, Pete and Joey’s story ultimately downward spirals into a cautionary tale of sorts… about disillusionment and about what happens when you — Well quite simply put, what happens when you don’t think things through long enough to form a rationally based plan in the first place. Donald Shebib’s Goin’ Down the Road is a significant window into 1970′s working-class Toronto and it simultaneously marks a period in Canadian cinema, and in an economically-disenchanted era of Canadian culture, when certainly things were not all “sunshine and rainbows”.
#5 Eraser Head (1977)
Stumbling across Blue Velvet at some point in time I suppose was always in the cards, but getting to see Eraser Head and subsequently falling in love with the works of David Lynch even more… hard to say if I would have actually made the effort to reach back blindly to 1977 ‘Art-House’ on my own without a course syllabus to guide me. Lynch’s methodical, yet relentlessly experimental, use of audio is on full display here and I still keep this brilliantly dreamy creep-show on cerebral-file as a go-to reference for pure “sound as character” innovation in film.
#6 Rabid (1977)
Prior to Rabid‘s production, Marilyn Chambers, the film’s infected, zombie/disease-carrying bombshell, was simply known as a working-class, well-established adult-film star. I only mention this fact as means to say: This movie is flat-out absolutely bonkers. Following through with the now-infamous classic Cronenberg tropes of eroticism, satire, violence, paranoia and gore, Rabid remains true-to-form as a delightfully sexed-up, sordid entry in the iconic Canadian filmmaker’s cannon of work. But maybe I’m just being biased and sentimental because they filmed a scene in which Santa Claus gets gunned down (by a hail of bullets) in a shopping-mall, amidst an epidemic/outbreak sequence, only twenty feet away from where I used to live as a child in the suburbs of Montreal (the film itself takes place in Montreal)… if you’ve ever wanted to see Cronenberg flex his take on zombie-rage, here it is.
#7 La Guerre des Tuques/The Dog Who Stopped the War (1992)
While the French and English translations of the title are way off, the movie itself is anything but. Reverting back to elementary-school with this one, this film just won’t vacate the premises of my sub-conscious and I need to acknowledge why that is. Maybe because up there with films like Stand by Me, The War, or even something like The Sandlot, La Guerre des Tuques/The Dog Who Stopped the War also tackles hate, friendship, war, death, and love, all through the eyes and perspectives of kids — And let me just say that anytime a film uses the backdrop of a “kids movie” to subversively tell what is essentially an adult-themed story at the end f the day — Well you’re guaranteed to be in for some sort of endearing tearjerker of a flick (and yes the film contains a big, lovable dog).
#8 Hard Core Logo (1996)
Oh Hard Core Logo, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… not only do I consider this film to be my favorite mockumentary ever produced, but I also consider this film to quite possibly be my favorite rock n’ roll/punk picture ever committed to celluloid. The acting is phenomenal, the film’s style of cool is so thick it practically leaps off the screen and grabs the audience by the throat — “Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” has never been done better, and I say this adding to the fact that I also consider Bruce McDonald’s Hard Core Logo to be eons superior to Rob Reiner’s own rock/mocumentary, This is Spinal Tap. When I first laid eyes on this flick, I remember just being utterly absorbed by its universe, and even though I had already been informed of its farce exploits, I was still left scratching my head wondering “is this real?” Tidbit #1 Unfortunately, I have to report that Bruce Mcdonald’s Hard Core Logo 2 not only taints the classic stand-aloneness of its predecessor, but by comparison, the sequel is a total abomination and I actually wish it was never conceived in the first place. Tidbit #2 The DVD cover to Hard Core Logo boasts: “Quentin Tarantino presents”… I’m thinking he aided and abetted in the film’s DVD distribution but I’m not entirely sure on the details here, I just know that I was never aware of any sort of Tarantino influence until picking up the movie on DVD years later after I had already seen it. Anyone know what the deal is with that?
#9 Gerry (2002)
I remember showing up ten minutes late to my ‘Film Aesthetics’ class and seeing that scary as all hell note posted to the screening-room door: “Exam in progress.” Instantaneously sucking it up and trying to play down the sweat-factor, I sauntered into class, quickly took a seat and irritably gazed up at the glowing screen. To my surprise, however, the film playing was actually a movie I had always wanted to take a peep at for quite some time — Gus Van Sant’s Gerry. Starring, written and improvised by Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, the actors play two friends who accidentally wander off a desert hiking trail and subsequently find themselves hopelessly lost in the great American wilderness. To say this film is “slow-burn” would be an understatement, but hey, Gus Van Sant knows “artsy” so if Castaway meets Elephant sounds like your sort of thing, I highly recommend this watch. Gerry contains some of the most breathtaking cinematography I have ever seen, and I think the movie showcases some of the most powerful scenic-imagery since Van Sant’s own My Own Private Idaho. Forget, Elephant and Paranoid Park, Gerry is the contemporary Gus Van Sant ‘Art-House’ film that I feel (unjustly) never received its much deserved acclaim. I was so moved by this film that after the exam was over, I went out and bought the DVD and watched it again about two hours later. That’s a lot of walking to sit through, but on the plus-side, Finding Forrester this ain’t!
#10 Palindromes (2004)
I watched this film in an auditorium with about 500-plus (if not more) other people, and let me just say, you could have heard a pin drop in there… everyone was just too engulfed in the on-screen happenings. It was truly a memorable movie-watching experience in of itself. Being that this is indeed a Todd Solondz film though, part of the auditorium’s collective silence, I’m sure, was inherently brought on by just how uncomfortable this film is to watch sitting next to someone you don’t really know or care to whisper to “are you seeing what I’m seeing?” I still can’t even say If I actually like this movie (or most of Solondz work for that matter) but nevertheless, I have to acknowledge that Palindromes has never escaped my memory, so at this stage in the game, for me, the film is here to stay and I have to give it credit on that note alone. Now I kind of think that really the only people seeking out Solondz’s movies are the people who actually want to watch his movies… I mean Solondz strikes me as a filmmaker whose never really managed to appeal to an audience outside of his own fan-base, so if you’re not familiar with the man’s work, maybe it’s best to stay far, far away, but that being said, if you’re down for experimenting with all things taboo, disturbing, and shocking… Palindromes might strike your fancy (oh ya, and as messed up as his stories typically are, comedy does ensue).
Well thanks for bearing with me — There you have it, 10 films I would have never seen if not for school, 10 films I will never forget (hopefully). Go education!