Friday, March 11, 2011

One Gab at a Time

Werth: So, join us next week for some up-to-the-minute laughs on Film Gab!

Wise: Um, why are you starting out with our tagline?

Werth: Because it’s Daylight Savings this weekend and since we spring ahead I thought maybe if we began at the end of this week’s blog and went backwards to the beginning, we might be able to tear a hole in the Space-Time continuum and get back that missing hour of sleep.  

 Wise: Wouldn’t it be more productive if we discussed the many surprising and elastic ways that film manipulates time?  

Werth: Are you talking about the two hours we’ll never get back from watching X-Men Origins: Wolverine?  

Wise: What I mean is how strange it is that a two-hour movie can encompass a ten-year epic of war and romance, or it can follow a single afternoon.  Films are able to bend time, to stretch it, to take us into the future or into the past—

Werth: To before we actually paid for our tickets for Wolverine.

Wise: One of my favorite films to use time in an unexpected way is Gary Ross’s Pleasantville from 1998 because it uses time as a place, a sort of sideways neverland where the past and the present have a chance to interact.  Tobey Maguire plays David, a 90’s teenager who idealizes his favorite 1950’s sitcom and who longs to live in a world where complications are easily resolved and and the moral choice is always clear.  His sister, Jennifer, played by Reese Witherspoon as a fast-living, boy crazy tartlet, thinks he’s nuts for wanting to live such a straitlaced life.  When a mysterious TV repairman, played by Don Knotts, arrives unexpectedly, he sends them hurtling into the fictional world of the titular TV show.  

Werth: Where all their problems are solved before the final fadeout... and you said titular. 

Wise:  A lot of David and Jennifer’s problems do get solved by the end of the film, but for the most part the lesson they learn is that the world is an ambiguous place and that sometimes appreciating the multiplicity of life is a lot more rewarding than sticking firm to any preconceived ideas.  

Werth: I’d like to stick firm to Tobey Maguire.

Wise: Ross uses a lovely metaphor: through their interactions with the black and white inhabitants of Pleasantville, David and Jennifer gradually bring color and beauty to their lives. Shot in the shadowless, square-framed style of 1950s TV, the landscape of Pleasantville begins to bloom with color, taking on the vibrant blush of classic Technicolor.  Of course this rupture of the staid world of black and white brings conflict, but it also brings passion and life, and in the end, David and Jennifer have to make some tough decisions not only about how they live but when.  

Werth: I’m glad that you covered a place so pleasant, because my place in time is very uncomfortable.

Wise: As uncomfortable as your Tobey Maguire comment?

Werth: So uncomfortable it originally earned an ‘X’ rating. Time plays an integral part not just in the plot, but in the filming of Stanley Kubrick’s violent opus, A Clockwork Orange (1971).

Wise: And it has ‘clock’ in the title.

Werth: Based on Anthony Burgess’ controversial work of the same name, Kubrick’s provocative sci-fi morality play is set in a dystopian future. What is fascinating about Kubrick’s use of time setting is that we aren’t quite sure how far in the future it is. The fashion style has elements of the British mod movement and the architecture and artwork have a distinctly late 60’s feel, mainly because most of it was shot on location in England at that time. But unlike other sci-fi epics, there seems to be no advanced technology. This leaves the audience, especially modern ones, with the feeling that they are in both the past and the future at the same time.

Wise: Kind of like Cher’s face.  She’s looks both seventeen and part of the master alien race.  
Werth: The “hero” of Clockwork is Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell), a walking, talking id that feels no remorse for the violent and sexual attacks he and his “droogs” perpetrate on innocent victims. However, once he is captured by police, he is subjected to an institutional brutality that Kubrick (and Burgess) would argue is as cruel and immoral as Alex’s previous predations.

Wise: Oh, so you’re saying Alex did time?

Werth: Kubrick also uses the concept of time in his actual filming. For the scene where Alex decides to nip some dissent in his ranks in the bud, he lashes out with his cane and blade at his henchmen. It’s all shot in slow motion, Alex’s voiceover speaking his thoughts as he makes the decision to hack at his own men. The violence is lessened and stylized, making it a visual counterpoint to the previous scenes of real-time carnage. In another scene Kubrick shoots Alex’s bit of the old “in-out, in-out” with two girls in time lapse. The sexual exploits of an afternoon are compressed into a couple minutes, speeding the action up and making the scene comical, the sex meaningless. It’s like the sped up car traffic in Ron Fricke’s Chronos, only with people, clothes and a bed.

Wise: Nakedness can often make a film suddenly watchable.

Werth: Alex’s final fantasy that proves his mind is free of the Ludovico Technique is also shot in slow motion.  The vaguely My Fair Lady crowd applauds Alex’s “performance”, giving his character and the audience the time to relish his new-found freedom.
Wise: Since we lose an hour Saturday night, I hope everyone has time to enjoy both these films.

Werth: If not, we’ll pick two more timely films to gab about next week!

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