Review

  • Warning: Spoilers
    Spoilers herein.

    There's a huge subterranean battle raging for the soul of cinema, and it may be one of the most important things in this waking life.

    A huge contingent sees movies as illustrated stories or recorded plays. In this world, the acting matters. The characters are expected to draw us into attentive focus on some matter, usually related to archetypes, situational humor or sex. Because this is so character focused, disciples of this culture feed a celebrity priesthood. The camera is a recorder only. Most people in this world cannot believe there is a larger world of cinema.

    Another group sees film additionally as a whole new vocabulary for perceiving and reasoning about the world. It is part of a new evolution in how we think and live. It is more visceral and communal than books, and takes far less skill to master. In this world, it matters what the eye is, who the teller is, what the form of the vision is. Images matter. All, even the actors and story, are tokens moved by greater forces of world-creation. Its where our future lies.*

    DePalma has always been in this second camp, and is often reviled because he just doesn't care to cater much to the theatrically inclined. For him, everything is about who the watcher is and what he/she knows or fabricates. His best film prior to this was `Snake Eyes' which was all about the camera, moving `Rashomon' from the level of character to narrator/camera. The snake here is the fluid eye, possibly untrustworthy. But with this new film he has achieved a whole new level.

    In terms of story, his films have always been about other films rather than life. For some reason, people only recognize Hitchcock, but Eisenstein, Welles, Kurosawa and Kubrick are more prominent. Here, we have them all plus Antonioni. Oh, and Lynch.

    Lynch is the only other living mainstream director that works this way. His strategy is to have simple folding and to have one of those folds reflect the spookiness of our own minds and how we mess up his movie by the lack of control over our own nightmares. He invented the notion of making film archetypes into characters. `Blue Velvet' was about the Capra movie bumping up against the noir; and so was `Mulholland.' dePalma adopts this by creating two films. See how the second is lit completely differently. See how the camera moves completely differently. See how Laure is a wholly different person; even the makeup in the parent's house is radically different.

    But where Lynch puts surrogates for our own demons, dePlama makes room for lots of self-referential commentary on what he is doing.

    So we have indications of the film within the film:

    --The first shot of watching a movie.

    --The heist is at Cannes, involving that serpent eye, and incidentally employing a literal serpent camera. Moreover, that heist is overlain on the screening of `Est - Ouest.' If you've seen that, you'll get the bait-switch and lying narrator joke. (And you'll also get the Bolero reference.)

    --The MacMurray character is a photographer who has given up celebrity photography. (See how the battle between the two film types is literally reflected?) He now spends his time making composite images. A fine point: note how the coloring of the pieces (of two types) are shown in the ending composite.

    --The girl being watched by the photographer who is watched by the security guy who is watched by the doublecrossed heist comrades.

    We have lots of folding:

    --The two futures

    --The two `identical' woman

    --The two lovers

    --The two screens

    And of course along the way we get the jeweled serpent eye, the camera. And no one in Hollywood has a more fluid eye, a more curious stance than dePalma. Incidentally, it drives me wild when people call this noir just because the camera is unnatural (and, I admit, because there is the venetian blinds shot). But this is something larger, it subsumes noir, because we WATCH the noirish elements.

    (*This battle for the soul of the mind is mirrored by wrestling match between avatars of the Microsoft and Apple/Linux worlds, which is why all the computers in this film are Macs.)

    Ted's Evaluation: 3 of 4 -- worth watching (may be elevated depending on what else appear this year, as I only allow two fours per year.)