kinocow

the grass is always green on the screen

2023 had been a great year for my movie watching. I clocked close to watching a 100 movies in the kinos, ranging from silent movies from the 1920s and indulging in the Barbenheimer hype on the first day. I didn't have this kind of access before moving to Berlin, in India watching a movie meant fitting into the latest Bollywood release cycle with a few pop-American movies thrown in. So for the most part of my life, access to world cinema was only through the internet, watching on a small screen with abysmal audio output. Though watching movies on a computer kept my cinema fantasies alive, it restricted my understanding of the intricate elements that make a movie truly immersive. Going to the kinos often showed that a mediocre movie becomes better when viewed in the kino while a great movie transforms itself into an altered state of consciousness that requires careful calibration post-movie to reintegrate into the world. I have been forgiving with most of the movies I watched in the kinos and when a bad one like Ridley Scott's Napoleon hit me I chose to have a nap instead.

Though most of my viewings in 2023 were the latest releases my plan for 2024 is to deviate from this a bit. The indelible movie experiences from last year were the older movies that I watched during the retrospectives in the Berlinale and the East Asian movies shown fortnightly at the Yorck kinos and the various festivals at Babylon Berlin. Movies that I watched previously enjoyed on the small screen or classics I saved for later viewings are the ones that I want to explore on the big screen, as that was the medium they're intended for. Another goal is to be more mindful about watching movies, prioritizing quality over quantity, I'd rather watch a movie I love five times than cramming four mediocre movies in the mix. This would further be supplemented by my informal film studies revolving around cinematography and editing, while also venturing into decoding special effects and understanding what makes a performance shine.

At some point last year I lost interest in film criticism as it reduced my movie watching exercise into constant intellectual masturbation, dissociating from the actual experience of being in the kino. I will try keeping movie criticism to a minimum while allocating these intellectual resources towards film philosophy and the contribution of cinema to our collective unconscious. If I achieve even 10% of my film viewing goals I'd consider it a success. Let's see what 2024 brings and see you at the movies!

#film #writing

Detective

  1. Hero: Main detective, a bit of an oddball, emotional wreck. Has chronic problems with their partner or love interest, bonus if they have a neglected child. Has a substance abuse problem or PTSD from a previous investigation which makes them not defer to authority. Everyone is against the hero because of their shortcomings until the very end where everyone realizes they've been wrong all along.
  2. Sidekick: Doubts the hero but has irrational urge to be with them until they have a point of revelation where they start worshiping them. They tone down the edge of the hero by a notch and are a conduit to authority and the audience. Their happy personal life also suffers. Bonus: Always shot or maimed towards the end.
  3. Victims: A young girl, SA for more shock value. Young boy for pedo angle, or a rich businessman or politician. It takes 10 homeless people before the police start to take notice so the equation goes: 10 homeless people = 1 young girl.
  4. Villain: Usually seen within the first 20 minutes and the story tries hard to direct your attention away from them. Normal but perverse, definitely a serial killer selling pizza or something. Comes in the penultimate scenes to shoot the sidekick. Likes to commit suicide. Otherwise they're the victim of their circumstances (war, bad upbringing, corruption around them) but they start a chain reaction of rampage they cannot control.
  5. Head of Police: Dumbest of the lot, makes you wonder why they're the head of police to begin with. Have no head, no spine, a bag of jelly to shut down the hero at convenient points. If a politician is the victim then the head of police is covert corrupt.
  6. Hero's love interest: Usually a nice person but they're sick of the hero's chronic lateness and lack of romance. Bonus: thinks the hero is cheating on them. The middle episodes are devoted to their fucked up love life.
  7. Victim's family: Broken, if it's a girl they're double broken. Seen gazing at the photos of the victim and banging their chest in front of police. At some point the male character lashes out at a potential perpetrator. They're humans made of glycerin.
  8. Other characters: Seen giving support to victims or the Hero, the killer usually hiding in this lot. There's a funny one here for the laughs, one of them is dispensable, usually the villain gets them. All of them are are potential suspects and all of them are interrogated by the police which turns the community against them. Most of them have served jailtime, were corrupt or have cheated on their partners.
  9. Pre-climax: Everyone zeroes on an Ersatz villain and the Head of Police insists an arrest be made. An arrest is made but the Hero can't sleep, they go rogue infuriating the Head of Police who already have the Hero suspended. Only the Sidekick realizes their brilliance and goes co-rogue usually without the knowledge of the Hero.
  10. Climax: Sidekick is shot, Hero's blood is pumping napalm and goes full ballistic. Goes after the villain alone even as Head of Police is waiting at the wrong place with a battalion enough to invade Moscow (homage to Silence of the Lambs). Hero fights villain alone, killing them. (if not, suicide)
  11. Last 15 minutes: Head of Police makes a joke of how stubborn the Hero is while toasting on the success of the investigation where they did jackshit. Hero is sleepless and mourns sidekick not being there (or they smile from the hospital bed). Montage of everyone healing, Fin.
  12. Themes: If a politician is a victim then there's the obvious political cover-up and Hero always finds the killer but the victory ends on a bittersweet note with them being transferred or the real crime not exposed because corruption perpetuates over morality. If little children/young girls are involved the themes of human resilience, emotions and frailty are pondered upon. If homeless people are the victims then societal apathy is the theme of the show. Obviously the Hero is the white dove in a sea of sewage.

#HowTo #detective #writing

The opening scene of Beau is Afraid has been haunting me ever since I watched the movie. It's a scene that lingers, etching itself into my mind. Baby Beau, just born, emerges into a world of obscurity, surrounded by a nebulous red hue. Then, abruptly, he is dropped onto the floor, his mother's screams filling the air. This vivid imagery forces me to contemplate my own journey into existence. Perhaps, in that moment, I too was greeted by a disorienting swirl of colors, with that same nebulous red as my first glimpse of the world. It's a jarring and unsettling scene, one that places the world around me into a disconcerting context. From that point on, everything I perceive has evolved, blossoming from that enigmatic red. This notion echoes the wisdom found in Tibetan beliefs, where a flashing red light accompanies our journey towards death, drawing us inexorably towards it.

The online realm has been abuzz with reactions to Beau long before the film's official release, and opinions have been sharply divided. A viral audio recording even went so far as to predict that this movie would be a career-killer for its director, Ari Aster. Another point of contention was its lengthy runtime, which presented a personal challenge for me as someone who struggles with prolonged periods of sitting.

Yet, the true essence of Beau extends beyond its narrative material; it poses a profound examination of our relationship with media consumption itself. In an era dominated by rapid-fire video clips and fleeting soundbites, we find ourselves inundated with a relentless barrage of media throughout each passing week. We are bombarded by fleeting glimpses into the lives of countless individuals we will likely never encounter. Beau, however, demands that we break this pace, compelling us to engage in introspection and confront the inner workings of our own anxieties. The impact of this experience was so profound that I found myself momentarily disenchanted with movies after watching it. Slowly, however, the film began to grow on me, leading me to ponder the timeless question: “How many movies are simply too many movies?”

Within the landscape of film criticism, where speed is of the essence, there exists a challenging paradox. We are expected to swiftly deliver our verdicts while the movies are still fresh and relevant. Unfortunately, this leaves little room for a movie to settle within our minds and for our opinions to truly take root. At first glance, Beau may appear disconcerting, almost bordering on unwatchable. Yet, in retrospect, it demands our undivided attention, reaching far beyond its runtime. Although I have no intention of revisiting it, my admiration for Ari Aster has grown stronger than ever. This film redefines the very essence of the cinematic experience, provoking us to contemplate the very nature of our existence.

When all is said and done, amidst the vast array of movies, TV shows, and TikTok videos, what remains is that nagging voice within our minds, questioning the purpose and meaning behind it all. Beau engages in a profound dialogue with that inner voice, leaving an indelible mark. For this thought-provoking and even emotionally challenging experience, the movie is undoubtedly worth watching, even if it proves to be a traumatic journey.

#BeauisAfraid #criticism #film

But not without annoying you

Beau is Afraid

The biggest surprise from Ari Aster's latest movie Beau is Afraid is how he managed to make the movie, considering that it's a total anxiety inducing oddball with one of the finest actors working in Hollywood today. It could be that his relationship with A24 has scored him this deal, with his previous two critical and commercial darlings Hereditary and Midsommar obviating him from any critical scrutiny.

Three hours long and filled with scene after scene of insanity and overindulgence, this is not your typical Hollywood bender but this comes at the cost of actually enjoying the movie. Who's your average movie watcher? A person who comes to a dark room post a long day at work and sits through a dreamscape that's a stand-in to escape their gritty life. Beau is Afraid takes this opportunity to submerge the audience deeper into their loser ethos with no salvation possible, you can chuckle at the little jokes peppered through the movie but it eventually brings you into confrontation of what is to painfully plugging fingers in your emotional wounds. Now that's a challenging watch, different from the happy sap sold week after week, but that also makes one question, how challenging should movies be? Beau is Afraid takes the lead a bit too far, often with a lot of disjointed experimentation that doesn't really make sense. Why is Beau hallucinating and what's up with his mom? When the reveals happen, the interest wanes at the long run time that meanders through a lot of nonsensical events, all of which pretend to have a greater meaning beyond the plot. It felt like Ari Aster wanted to pull something like what Charlie Kaufman did with Synecdoche, New York but to pull such a film there has to be a hook that is powerful. In Beau is Afraid it's about Beau wanting to meet his mother and it makes you wonder, if that's all the dramatic meat that's needed to sustain a story.

Crazy things keep happening that propel the story forward but none have any semblance over reality. We're supposed to believe that these things can happen but my biggest grouse was that the world building wasn't enough for me to be invested about Beau. Joaquin Phoenix breathes the character of Beau into submission and it's painful to watch him suffer but this suffering doesn't come from a point of empathy but rather disgust, and considering Ari Aster's previous horror credentials this is a compliment. The movie left me asking for more or made me wonder how it passed through multiple layers of scrutiny that take over a creative project. It's a movie that I won't be revisiting again (and unlike Requiem for Dream not for a good reason) but it's challenging watch that I'd recommend you to sit through because it's unusual filmmaking and when there's a lot of hullabaloo over cookie cutter movies, Beau offers a critical rethink of what can be a blockbuster.

#review #BeauisAfraid

White Noise and the disintegration of the American Dream

White Noise

Kafka wrote a book on America without ever having visited there and basing his visions of the country on the books that came his way. Having never visited America neither but being exposed to American media from a very young age, a composite view America exists in my mind, which is far different from the reality of it.

What is America? On one level, America as the kingdom of dreams is the idea that's sold everywhere. Opulence is the middle name of every American and the pristine, manicured American suburbia is what every middle-class person around the world wants to emulate. America is glitz and glamour, where chewing a toothpick and wearing a cowboy hat is symbolic of masculinity and it is the absolute center of the world: why else would aliens target America and then it's the loci of all modern day gods and superheroes? An alternate picture exists hidden in plain sight in the plumbings of reddit and twitter, of crazy hospital bills, no worker rights whatsoever, a crumbling society outside the moat of billionaires an image of a religious, conservative society that's nothing like the liberal idea of America and the American Dream.

Watching Noah Baumbach's White Noise based on Don DeLillo's novel of the same name, fleshes out the disparities between my imaginations of America as someone who has never been there and that of a top American dramaturgist in great form. The novel inspired a snapshot of images while reading it, especially the “The most photographed barn in America” or mind-bending line that predicted the future in 1985“In the future, data is everything”, though both of these are omitted from the story line, there are new additions, like the scene inspired by Apocalypse Now's opening brings in a new meaning to the source material, with Vietnam war PTSD replaced by the stresses of American consumerism and the impending fear of death that it helps mask. While lacking the literal acuity of the book, the movie wraps itself with the complexities that can be reached through filmmaking, the fact that the movie got made is a proof in itself as the White Noise was especially famous for not being “filmable”. Noah Baumbach as the film's screenwriter delivers the literary goods with dense writing aided by terrific performances and cinematography. It's a pity that the movie has been completely snubbed at all major awards this year, as it sits on the same level of ingenuity as Everything, Everywhere All at Once. But that's not a cause of concern, as I am sure that this movie will stand the test of time by being relevant, as it needs another global scale meltdown to truly appreciate this movie.

White Noise deals with contradiction between real and the imagined, showing the disturbed American as the focal point of its story. It's a vital viewpoint, once a decent living standard is attained and all the luxuries of life have morphed into necessities, what becomes of the human? Will life be some kind of paradise or will we be plagued by the same sense of ennui and purposelessness that propels us in the pursuit of material riches to begin with? The answer to this though obvious is often lost in the titillation of consumerism, in the hope that there is a product out there which will quench and absolve us from the dread and loneliness of existing. This is no better demonstrated by Dylar, the fictional, experimental medicine that is supposed to subdue one's fear of death, which Greta Gerwig's character Babette is constantly using throughout the movie. Dylar is the stand in for our next purchase, that glimmering item in the shopping carts of our minds, one which obfuscates our real standing as a living, breathing and decaying beings.

In the context of the 2023 Ohio train derailment which bears an eerie resemblance to the Air Borne Toxic Event from the movie, White Noise is more relevant than ever, both in America and the rest of the world that is permanently hooked to America through its news and culture. It's a movie that shows a rare glimpse into the weaknesses of utopia, that there's no rainbow at the end of the hamster wheel of development. What is America? Its our individual hopes and dreams mixed with desire and longing for something that's beyond the material world, where abstractions are framed as certainties. But we know deep inside, there are no answers but yet, we still keep buying.

#America #WhiteNoise #review #film #essay

After watching five movies at the Berlinale this year, I already feel a bit jaded. This doesn't really help as I have eight more movies lined up to watch before Sunday, which will be quite the Herculean task for someone who has lost the habit of going to the kino. Having the luxury of curating my own viewing schedule, having this power outsourced to a festival is overwhelming.

The proposed magic of a film festival doesn't seem to happen at the screenings but at the film markets which need a lot more preparation to get into. In an ideal world, I imagine a film festival for what it is: A festival, where people come and talk about their experiences and there's more socializing. It is disappointing to note that most screenings are sterile with as little audience interaction as possible. It feels like a cash grab for inventory that might not be marketable else where (would I watch Manodrome if not for the festival?), A better bang for the buck could be obtained by having a yearly card at one of the movie chains in the city which give unlimited screenings for the subscription period, meaning I could watch Everything Everywhere All at Once seven times over if I wanted to. A part of going to the movies is the buzz of conversation with friends after the screening is over, which at a festival is impossible as not many people are open for the gamble of watching an obscure movie.

Sure, there's a greater exposure to world cinema at film festivals but if you're an ordinary film goer, the film festival can be a lonely endeavor. Though I wouldn't classify my movie watching as anything but ordinary, I think I am just tired of watching two unfulfilling movies in a row and here's to hoping the next days will be different.

#Berlinale #filmfestivals

Berlinale 2023

The ticketing is broken, but the program is too huge to pick out any favorites. Given a chance I would just go to the retrospectives, considering a lot of classics there are films I've watched several times over (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) or films gestating on my watch list for too long (Aparajito). Considering that all the theaters are spread out in the city and the public transport can at times be whimsical, I figured the best strategy would be to pick times I'm comfortable watching a movie and then choose a theater that's easily accessible by public transport and then join this diagram with the tickets for shows that are available. Not being a picky watcher has its perks as I can watch anything thrown my way, which means my schedule for the Berlinale is unpredictable and the three movies I watched so far bear no relation with each other.

  • The Man who Envied Women by Yvonne Rainer
  • Laggiù qualcuno mi ama by Mario Martone
  • Past Lives by Celine Song

Though I tend not to watch animated movies, shorts or documentaries, everything else is on the cards. Having not been to a film festival in a while, I kind of forgot the commitment and stamina it takes to sit through movies at 10 in the morning or 10 in the night but as I get older, my movie going experiences have changed. I find it okay to now doze a bit in a movie if it allows for it (a pleasant movie will always makes space for a little nap, a great movie even aids in the dreaming process and a bad movie is a grating experience where no napping is possible) and also okay if a movie doesn't maximize my pleasure function. There is also the anxiety of the watching the movies itself, I didn't know that watching so many movies in such a short span is something I've done almost a decade ago, with streaming almost replacing my movie going habit. It's nice to rediscover the joy of being in a theater as it amplifies the out of body experiences movies induce me to. Center seats in the front third of the kino, here I come.

#Berlinale #kino #filmfestival

Saeed: Portrait of a serial killer

Holy Spider

One aspect that differentiates Ali Abbasi's European produced, Iranian serial killer film Holy Spider and the current crop of American movies based on female violence post Harvey Weinstein (Kitty Green's The Assistant, Maria Schrader's She Said) is the gaze with which the perpetrator or the victims are tracked through the story. The current American style seems to be completely omitting the act or the perpetrator from the view, focusing on the victims and their trauma while the perpetrator is shown as a invisible yet menacing threat within the story line. It does make sense to remove the temptation of male titillation to make a story emotionally relevant but the villains in both the cases are power and chauvinism. In America this patriarchal force has a subdued presence while in Iran it has the backing of the regime.

Holy Spider's political messaging is in stride with the Mahisa Amini protests against the Iranian regime, where women have been targeted for not following the strict dress code imposed by the theocratic authorities. The movie shows how the theological society almost sided with a serial killer who murdered prostitutes, by regarding him as a hero from “purifying” the city of Mashhad's streets. the conflict arises when an investigative journalist (played by arresting Zar Amir Ebrahimi) tries to see through the hypocritical bullshit of the police and takes it upon herself to find the killer. The movie relies on a series of implausible coincidences to drive the story forward but the stylistic cinematic choices alleviate from the conveniences of the plot. It devolves into a standard serial killer orgy towards the end, where we as the audience get to ogle at the Iranian version of the American pop cultural creation of the “interesting” serial killer. The result is a phenomenal religious serial killer archetype that Mehdi Bajestani feasts upon for his portrayal of Saeed, who remains as a lingering characters long after the movie is finished.

#Iranian #movie #review

“The cast and crew have to say goodbye for their desire to eat animal products during the course of the entire shoot until the day of release. All animals hurt and slaughtered in this film are 100% computer generated imagery. Slaughterhouse, in your favorite theaters soon”

A vegan film, an appropriate fight of our times. A film set powered by plant power, is this the birth of a new era?

#idea #film #vegan

seeing and power

Media consumption is a signifier of power, often the things we watch signal our intellectual refinement, political ideals, and our sophistication within the perceived status of the media being consumed. It's a subliminal caste system that separates the plebs from the connoisseur, the neckbeards from the aged oak barrel scotch sampling elites. Often these divisions have nothing to do with the actual economic status in itself, in essence, the media we watch and enjoy become vehicles for cultural consumerism and secondary tertiary social hierarchies aiding the ones entrenched by identity and monetary status. This cultural capital pays its dividends too, as it often helps in masking one's financial status and being a chameleon sailing in a sea of wealth. Cultural capital also acts as a signifier of privilege and pedigree, giving the possessor of the cultural capital greater access to the centers of power.

This differentiation can be seen in the classification of films into categories such as “low-brow” movies or “art-house” pictures, with each painting a stereotypical idea of the patron who consumes this media. Also, the conventional snobbishness over movies can be seen in how they are referenced: a movie is different from a film different from a picture is different from a flick, though the stickiness of the end product is almost always the same. We forget the movies we watched the moment we're out of the movie theatres, so any positive messaging in movies is lost after a day before our monkey minds latch onto the next piece of media to lose themselves into. This is of course factoring in the serious movie-goers who switch off their phones when in the theaters while discounting at home, doom scrolling while watching some faff, or watching a movie on the phone types. Though this kind of passive viewing is attached to the hypnotic states movies can offer us, a kind of meditation in-and-for capitalism, where burned-out workers soothe their ailing and lonely minds with familiar comforts of human presence.

What we consume also makes us who we are in subliminal ways, our associations and visions of ourselves are inspired by the dreams and visions we imbibe. Movies give us a way to imagine different power possibilities, after all the core tenet of dramatic writing is the hero's journey, oftentimes the hero's ascension to power. This channels our fluid perceptions of ourselves, giving us a worldview to filter and navigate. Each piece of media we consume becomes the foothold for the next, creating a cascade of interdependent interests which in turn become the narrowed field of vision through which we imagine the story of our lives. In a hypothetical space, all streams of consciousness have the same power but in a practical world with entrenched power structures where we know that certain consciousnesses are more powerful than the rest, this lends to media itself. What you see is who you are.

#media #power #philosophy

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