Monday, April 18, 2011

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Stiener

Die Gro├če Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner (The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner), 1974
Dir: Werner Herzog

Like most of Herzog's documentaries, this works because he is fascinated by the paradox of humans who endeavor to exist in a place where they really shouldn't (think of later films like Grizzly Man (2005) or Encounters at the End of the World (2007). With Walter Steiner, a 23 year-old champion ski flyer (which is slightly different than ski jumping, I guess), Herzog has found someone unable to stop "flying" despite constantly knowing the dangers he places on himself by doing it. Walter is one of the best, and the administrators keep pushing him to try to break records (thus increasing intrest and revenue) by increasing the height of the ramps. Sometimes he'll pull of a great jump, but when he's interviewed at the bottom he'll bash the higher-ups for trying to hurt people. Sometimes though he actaully will crash and burn. But what can he do? He loves to fly. He needs the ecstasy. Those around Walter tell him that he broods too much, but this only seems to sink him further into his psychological state. The TV station providng funding for the film's insistance that Herzog himself be in the film sort of makes it feel like "Werner Herzog's Wide World of Sports" at times, but I think a lot of what Herzog tries to do (at least in his non-fiction) can be traced back to this.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Morvern Callar

Morvern Callar, 2002
Dir: Lynne Ramsay

It might be telling that Ramsay hasn't made a feature (well, her next film is coming out this year) since this, and some of the stuff that I've read ("Hipsters fucking suck") in reviews definitely reflect this. The strange thing is that there aren't really any hipsters in the film (there is a crazy party at the beginning, and I guess you could call them hipsters if you wanted to, but the film doesn't go out of it's way to label them as such so I'm not really sure what the problem is). And it definitely isn't a "mumblecore" film or some such nonsense that might be a label thrown on people making those types of films. But Morvern (Samantha Morton) isn't. She's just a poor Scottish girl from a small coastal town whose boyfriend commits suicide.

This isn't a film about her trying to cope with that the whole time though (thank the gods). She's obviously distraught at first, but after discovering that he had an unpublished novel, she decides to send it to the publisher under her own name. She then hacks up his body and buries it in the hills. When the publisher answers back that they are interested in publishing it, she takes money out of her boyfriend's bank account, grabs one of her friends, and heads to Spain for a "holiday." The film ends with the publishing representatives actaully coming to Spain, and her signing a contract.

Now, you might think with that description that this film would be pointless, but you'd be wrong. Morvern seems like a typical girl most of the time, but the more the movie progresses, the more you know she is a fraud in more ways then just not having written "her" novel. That might make her a bad person, and it might not, but it makes the film supremely interesting. That deep current of who Morvern really is mixed with Ramsay's poetic observational style (it's almost like Wong Kar-wai mixed with Herzog being told in a BBC Drama) really kind of captures something that resonates in kids nowadays (or, at least I think so). The last sequence in the film (after she gets the contract) is just a slo-motion close-up shot of Morvern's face as she dances (in London I presume) away engulfed in noise and strobe lights. And my first reaction was "Oh man wait until she's finally exposed for what she really is." But then again, she might never be. It doesn't matter. She made choices and changed her life. Definite A+. Gonna check out some of Ramsay's earlier stuff soon. Decent soundtrack in this too.