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TIFF Day 11

Film Recommendation / Blade Runner: 2049 (2017)

‘Blade Runner:2049,’ is perfect.

It’s got everything I’ve been writing about. Whether that’s due to the nature of film storytelling, an inherent quality of human narrative, or my own knack for blending synchronicity and purpose, I cannot say.

Each of the elements I’ve mentioned, these ‘touchstones,’ work together in translating my own thoughts on the nature and value of sentience as explored in BR:2049.

Sentience is a cold word when used to describe humanity. It’s broad. It’s not coloured by feeling, or warmed by memory. It is sentience at the root of everything human.

Seeing I don’t have the time to write much fresh for this post, I’ll excerpt part of an email I wrote a few years ago. It doesn’t approach the whole of what I’ve intended this series of posts to present, but it starts the process, if you choose to imagine what it is I am getting at here.

...BR:2049 is presenting a series of questions on the nature of sentient life. On one hand, it poses the question of whether sentience is something other than a mechanistic system of input and output. On the other, it asks whether or not there is a soul, and what it’s nature and origin might be. If we attribute the greatest of human qualities to that which we think of as the soul, we can list as among it’s components: empathy, a capacity for love, forgiveness, a sense of justice, hope, courage, and the autonomy which makes those things meaningful. All these qualities, in humans, have been viewed as proceeding from the divine in man. The characters who most readily display these qualities in BR:2049 are all Replicants, or are synthetic. They are all governed by programs and rules imposed on them. These constraints all have the effect of undermining what might otherwise be celebrated as the organic development of a soul. If sentient life exists within a rigid framework, then can the elevation of a being’s existence become exceptional? Is it possible for the result of a program to be divine?
…consider here the character of Wallace, the man-god and rebel who persists in destroying the possibility of any human divinity other than himself. I’d love to spend some time applying the term hubris to his character and contrasting it with the imagery they chose to identify him with, the machine eyes which are the…is it antithesis(?) of the VK test indicator for empathy, the pupil, the iris. Is it that his character is so completely without empathy, without humanity, that makes him so aggressively Luciferian? Or is it his reliance on the technology that has built his base of power that has made him so? Maybe one day when I’ve got the resources to brush up on my essay writing (and the use of Biblical stories in film and literature) I’ll make an analysis. Until then I’ll content myself speculating about the connection between the greater eye and vision metaphor the movie opens with and the vision, memory and dream metaphor present illuminating the character of Deckard and Rachael’s child.

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TIFF Day 10

Film Recommendation / Reprisal (2019) x TOTDY (2019)

‘Reprisal,’ and ‘Too Old to Die Young.’ These series are included because I’m making eleven posts instead of ten. This has been a kind of ‘winging it’ effort, of necessity, and I made the mistake of thinking September 8th to September 18th meant ten posts.

There’s simply too much to say about each of these works to go into them in any significant way here. Also, I haven’t got the time to re-watch 20-plus hours of drama.

Vision is the touchstone here. It distinguishes each of these series’. They exist in crafted worlds, built for the purpose of story. Elevated by the vision of a creator, stories told with such a through-line offer us an experience distinct from what we might otherwise settle for. As it happens, vision plays a significant figurative role in both ‘Reprisal,’ and ‘Too Old to Die Young.’

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TIFF Day 9

Film Recommendation / Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

There’s not much most can say about Banksy but that he’s committed. ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop,’ is a piece of art manifesting this trait so well it becomes perfect in ways I don’t have language to describe.

‘Exit Through the Gift Shop,’ embodies influence, time, evolution, identity, reality, framing, context, fantasy, and humanity — all packed into an 80-minute-long spiel outlining a generalized sort of contempt for a specific sort of person.

The documentary itself is easy to lose sight of. It’s Banksy’s film yet he presents as only a subject. That shapes our perception, significantly.

It’s not his glib put-downs, or the questionable integrity of his narrative that grates on me; it’s a significant act of cruelty. It’s Banksy’s hand in the creation and birth of the entity ‘Mr. Brainwash.’

Artistry is the touchstone here. ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop,’ is a perfect documentary on street art, and a perfect composition of elements built to present its case.

(Perhaps a more accessible film would’ve been the choice to make. ‘Knight and Day,’ is a great one. It’s from 2010. It also offers high-quality meta engagement (sorry, pun), high-level artistry, and also a lot of fun action and laughs. Ignore all the roofy-ing! It really is just a harmless plot device, I swear. Seriously, though, these two films have a lot in common, and a lot to recommend them for this. ‘Knight and Day,’ is one of the few movies I keep on my list of favourites.)

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TIFF Day 8

Film Recommendation / The Yakuza Papers: I-V (1973-1974)

Narrowing the choice of film for today has probably been the most difficult of the project. There are so many options I might use that I considered writing about the use of lighting, colour, or genre. Instead, I just went all-in and chose a series of foreign language films from fifty years ago.

‘The Yakuza Papers,’ is a five-film series from the 1970’s. The quintet delivers so many of the elements making film important as a cultural product. Set in the world of Japanese organized crime, these films are an invaluable cipher through which to interpret the human experience.

It’s been a couple of years since I last watched these films. They are persistently engaging and sometimes shocking. Even when juxtaposed against your experience of ‘The Godfather,’ these movies will stand out as exceptional vignettes on life lived according to an outsider code.

Contiguity is the touchstone here. Nestling up against our own reality, drawing a line or connection in theme and context to events and characters, great films weave themselves into our own meta-realities.

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TIFF Day 7

Film Recommendation / The Sound of Silence (2019)

Sound in film has never stopped evolving. Musical accompaniment, voice, stereo and surround, the pairing of film with sound is core to our cinematic experience.

‘The Sound of Silence,’ is a film I have mixed feelings about. This, I think, is intended. The atmosphere of the film resonates within the viewer, playing across our perception of the moment and the space we are in.

The aural dimension of the film is subtle in its power. It evokes something within us, something not easily comprehended. By the end of the film, it’s as though we have drawn from us aspects of our self-perception, exposing the anchor points of our self image and self worth. This is a real accomplishment, and the filmmaker makes use of it by contrasting that knowledge and the amity we seek with the protagonist.

Sound, clearly, is the touchstone element here.

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TIFF Day 6

Film Recommendation / GWH (1997) x HH (2015)

‘Good Will Hunting,’ and ‘Hardcore Henry.’ Giving you both barrels here. One barrel is filled with a precocious writing team, the other with extreme violence as framing device.

‘Good Will Hunting.’ There’s so much packed into this film, it’s hard to focus on only one aspect. I’ll say only this: experiencing this film as a middle-aged man I recognize the talent on display in the writing of the script. It’s hard to believe two twenty-somethings produced such a well balanced, emotionally informed work.

‘Hardcore Henry,’ is an exceptional work of action cinema. It spends the first few scenes fighting its way past your preconceptions. The first-person camera work looks like a gimmick at first. The explosions, the guns, the sci-fi elements all work in collaboration to tell a story we need to hear.

Perspective is the touchstone here. Layering in the element of time, we have the opportunity to ask some important questions. If you’re not able to come up with any of these yourself, I have no idea what you’re doing here.

(If you’ve not yet seen ‘Hardcore Henry,’ I recommend not viewing the trailer and just watching it cold.)

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TIFF Day 5

Film Recommendation / The Vanishing Lady (1950) – Escape

This is another departure from film as a medium. You’ll forgive me. Storytelling elements, even when flawed, have a lot in common across mediums. Media? Mediums? Medium? Whatever.

‘The Vanishing Lady.’ has something of a pedigree. Originating as an urban legend dating from the 1880’s, it has been catalyst for a number of performances, novels and movies.

The story is told in flashback. Events are fairly straightforward. Tension within the story is conjured artfully. The effects and performers are evocative. Its plot, however, is flawed. Maybe I’ve got that wrong… Plot? Story? Which is which? Anyway.

Plot Hole is the touchstone for this example. The entire plot is constructed around a single decision. The drama, though, is rooted in a set of hard-to-believe choices not conforming to logic beyond driving that drama.

On the up-side, the episode does have a happy ending; in some versions of the tale it’s pretty damned grim.

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TIFF Day 4

Film Recommendation / Lions for Lambs (2007)

‘Lions For Lambs,’ is a film which only really comes into its own when viewed according to a process. Up front it’s fairly simple. It’s when we grab hold of the film’s story as an object, as a whole, that we see its complexity. Held in the palm, considered, turned and assessed, turned again, ‘Lions for Lambs,’ doesn’t reveal itself, unfold, or present a universal truth. Instead, we find common planes, angles and lines. By some standards (and in spite of the figurative grabbing-hold I just described), we can think of it as holographic — a structure made of light presenting a layered, three dimensional image. In a clever bit of synchronicity, the term holographic also has a meaning related to creation, to writing.

The film’s title is a reference to a quote by German Artillery officer, Max von Gallwitz. After the Battle of the Somme, commenting on the quality of the enemy he wrote, “Never have I seen such brave lions being led by such lambs.” It’s a deep, enduring criticism of torpid, entitled leadership and its use of power.

Mise-en-scène is the touchstone here. I’m stretching it beyond the most conventional use of the term, to be sure, but it works. Typically, mise-en-scène is a quality of presentation, an aesthetic unity of elements, visuals and sound. Here, ‘Lions for Lambs,’ does well in it’s traditional expression of the element, and then goes farther. It so cleanly interlinks conceptual qualities, layering them into our experience of the narrative that we begin to feel a little cramped, trapped, perhaps spurred to action. That’s remarkable given the form and pacing of the film.

Given the power and the opportunity to do anything, why do this?

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TIFF Day 3

Film Recommendation / YOU – Season One (2018)

If you haven’t seen this series, you are doing yourself a disservice. It’s funny, and dark, and moving. It’s well written, and well made. Despite being a signal flare, a warning of the general threat posed by social media, ‘You,’ is deeply compelling. It’s a story, in some ways, about unpleasant surprises.

‘You,’ plays on some big ideas. It takes an approach both micro and macro. It explores identity, agency, personal history, culture, dark undercurrents, and place in the world. It’s about boundaries — those we hold, those we transgress, and those we discover. As the series progresses, we are prompted to recognize the difference between the roles we are assigned and the identity we choose. Tough questions to grapple with.

Character is the touchstone here. A character can be a an archetype, caricature, or a comforting lie. Character may exist as environment, as cipher, as memory. Often, a story’s character will function as a prism through which we can view some part of our own identity, drawing us closer to the perspective a writer is sharing. We’ve all asked ourselves, ‘Who am I in this story?’

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TIFF Day 2

Film Recommendation / You’re Next (2011)

Horror is a genre I’ve never found to be worth much time. Standards are consistently low, narratives badly constructed, and stories lazily told. ‘You’re Next’ is different.

Well-paced and solidly built, ‘You’re Next,’ is an independent genre film outstanding in its terse simplicity. The film delivers a story anchored in a set of awkward emotional family dynamics before launching into motion, showering the movie’s subtext with blood.

It’s only briefly touched upon, but the patriarch is a retired executive for a defense contractor. His family is victim of a brutal home invasion. That facet is elevated, in its brevity, to a kind of poetry.

Structure is the touchstone here. ‘You’re Next’ is conventional in its rhythms while consistently managing to keep ahead of the viewer. (Also, I’m a sucker for a badass female protagonist.)