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Monday, 27 August 2018

The God of Small Things: the descriptions and choice of verbs/ adjectives

In the previous blog post about The God of Small Things, I wrote about the prose and imagery. Here is something else I love about Arundhati Roy’s novel—the descriptions, and the clever use of verbs or adjectives for humans for animals, plants, or objects. 
From chapter 1: 
“In the old house on the hill, Baby Kochamma sat at the dining table rubbing the thick, frothy bitterness out of an elderly cucumber.” 
(emphasis mine, as for the rest of the blog post) 
Later: 
“Only the vines kept growing, like toe-nails on a corpse. They reached through the nostrils of the pink plaster gnomes and blossomed in their hollow heads, giving them an expression half surprised, half sneeze-coming.” 
From chapter 4: 
“A swathe of dirty yellow sponge spilled out and shivered on the backseat like an immense jaundiced liver.” 
From chapter 5: 
“The slow ceiling fan sliced the thick, frightened air into an unending spiral that spun slowly to the floor like the peeled skin of an endless potato.” 
From chapter 7: 
“A column of shining black ants walked across a windowsill, their bottoms tilted upwards, like a line of mincing chorus girls in a Busby Berkeley musical silhouetted against the sun. Butted and beautiful.” 
Later: 
“Laughter curled around the edges of Rahel’s voice.” 
And: 
“The steel door of the incinerator went up and the muted hum of the eternal fire became a red roaring. The heat lunged out at them like a famished beast. Then Rahel’s Ammu was fed to it.” 
From chapter 8: 
“Wolves. Flowers. Iguanas. Changing shape as the sun moved through the sky. Dying punctually, at dusk.” 
Later: 
“The day that Chacko prevented Pappachi from beating her (and Pappachi had murdered his chair instead), Mammachi packed her wifely luggage and committed it to Chacko’s care.” 
Later: 
Escaped wisps of hair were recaptured and returned to white headscarves.” 
From chapter 10: 
“It leaned backwards as though the letters were reluctant to form words, and the words reluctant to be in sentences.” 
Later: 
“In the factory the silence swooped down once more and tightened around the twins. But this time it was a different kind of silence. An old river silence. The silence of Fisher People and waxy mermaids.” 

The God of Small Things is so beloved and acclaimed not because of the tragedies, not for the damning depiction of the caste system, patriarchy, and inequalities, in India. Its power is in the striking imagery, in the author’s bold choice of words and ability to evoke smells and feelings, in the mood and atmosphere, in the haunting sadness.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Thursday, 23 August 2018

A few films that have influenced or inspired me

Which is different from my list of favourite films. 
Persona (1966), Wild Strawberries (1957), Hour of the Wolf (1968), and Cries and Whispers (1972) by Ingmar Bergman 
Citizen Kane (1941) and F for Fake (1973) by Orson Welles 
The Exterminating Angel (1962), The Phantom of Liberty (1974), and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) by Luis Bunuel 
La Jetée (1962) by Chris Marker 
8 ½ (1963) by Federico Fellini 
The Godfather (1972) by Francis Ford Coppola 
Bicycle Thieves (1948) by Vittorio De Sica 
Three Colours: Blue (1993) by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Ivan's Childhood (1962) by Andrei Tarkovsky 
Taxi Driver (1976) by Martin Scorsese 
Dogville (2003) by Lars von Trier
3 Women (1977) by Robert Altman 


_____________________________

Every filmmaker is influenced by other filmmakers. Sometimes we may even be inspired by some aspect of a film we don’t like, like how I feel about Dogville
As a filmmaking student, I’m still learning the skills and techniques, and exploring the form, I have yet to find my style, but it’s still nice to make a list to acknowledge the influences and have something to compare to in the future.
Or maybe I just really like lists. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Something else I've just made

This is a test for another project.
Sydney Hinchliffe played the main role in my short film Footfalls.

Untitled from Hai Di Nguyen on Vimeo.




Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Dancing Plants: a new film I made

This time a fun thing.

Dancing Plants from Hai Di Nguyen on Vimeo.

The God of Small Things: prose and imagery

“He stared straight ahead with his mortgaged eye. He wept with his own one. 1 cheek glistened with tears. The other stayed dry.” 
 (Ch.2) 
I’ve been reading Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.



It’s a well-written book about tragedies in a family in India because of the caste system and such barbaric laws in Indian society. The story is not told chronologically, but in fragments, like memories, or pieces of a puzzle. It draws you in, though sometimes at the beginning it can be irritatingly cryptic, as Arundhati Roy doesn’t want to reveal the tragedy too soon. 
But I read more for the prose, the rhythmic prose, and the imagery in the book.
About Estha’s silence, from chapter 1: 
 “Estha had always been a quiet child, so no one could pinpoint with any degree of accuracy exactly when (the year, if not the month, or day) he had stopped talking. Stopped talking altogether, that is. The fact is that there wasn’t an ‘exactly when’. It had been a gradual wining down and closing shop. A barely noticeable quietening. As though he had simply out of conversation and had nothing left to say. Yet Estha’s silence was never awkward. Never intrusive. Never noisy. It wasn’t an accusing, protesting silence as much as a sort of aestivation, a dormancy, the psychological equivalent of what lungfish do to get themselves through the dry season, except that in Estha’s case the dry season looked as though it would last forever.” 
The description becomes more extreme:  
“Once the quietness arrived, it stayed and spread in Estha. It reached out of his head and enfolded him in his swampy arms. It rocked him to the rhythm of an ancient, foetal heartbeat. It sent its stealthy, suckered tentacles inching along the insides of his skull, hoovering the knolls and dells of his memory, dislodging old sentences, whisking them off the tip of his tongue. It stripped his thoughts of the words that described them and left them pared and naked. Unspeakable. Numb. And to an observer therefore, perhaps barely there. He grew accustomed to the uneasy octopus that lived inside him and squirted its inky tranquilizer on his past. Gradually the reason for his silence was hidden away, entombed somewhere deep in the soothing folds of the fact of it.” 
Gross. But that’s an interesting image. 
“The red has bled away.” 
It’s hard to say why I like this so much. Or this: 
“… Though you couldn’t see the river from the house any more, like a seashell always has a sea-sense, the Ayemenem house still had a river-sense. 
A rushing, rolling, fishswimming sense.” 
About Sophie Mol’s death, from chapter 1: 
“Chacko was Mammachi’s only son. Her own grief grieved her. His devastated her.” 
And later:
“It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so much longer than the memory of the life that it purloined.” 
That line resonates, to some extent. 
Now look at this choice of words: 
“In the cold home on the hill, Baby Kochamma sat at the dining table rubbing the thick, frothy bitterness out of an elderly cucumber.” 
And this simile from chapter 4—description of a taxi: 
“A swathe of dirty yellow sponge spilled out and shivered on the back seat like an immense jaundiced liver.” 
You get the idea. 

Sunday, 19 August 2018

My 10 favourite documentaries

Man on Wire (2008) by James Marsh 
Searching for Sugar Man (2012) by Malik Bendjelloul 
Deliver Us from Evil (2006) by Amy J. Berg 
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012) by Alex Gibney 
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) by Sacha Gervasi 
The Most Hated Family in America (2007) and America's Most Hated Family in Crisis (2011) by Louis Theroux 
Tickled (2016) by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve 
The Imposter (2012) by Bart Layton 
The Cleaners (2018) by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck 
Blackfish (2013) by Gabriela Cowperthwaite 
And F for Fake (1973) by Orson Welles, if it counts as a documentary

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Grandma's Room: a film I made

This is a personal project: the first film about my grandma. 
I thought a lot about it, and later may have regrets about sharing something so personal, but here it is.

Grandma's Room from Hai Di Nguyen on Vimeo.


Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Cannibalism simile in White-Jacket

I came across this draft from June, which I couldn’t finish as we didn’t have internet in the new apartment. 
An interesting simile from chapter 15 of White-Jacket: 
“I sometimes thought that the junks of lean pork—which were boiled in their own bristles, and looked gaunt and grim, like pickled chins of half-famished, unwashed Cossacks—had something to do with creating the bristling bitterness at times prevailing in our mess. The men tore off the tough hide from their pork, as if they were Indians scalping Christians.”
Grim. 
What does it say about the novel? 
  

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Meanwhile, I’m reading Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, after giving up on Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno
What are you reading?

Saturday, 11 August 2018

My favourite films from the 1970s

The 50s: http://thelittlewhiteattic.blogspot.com/2017/08/my-favourite-films-from-1950s.html
The 60s: http://thelittlewhiteattic.blogspot.com/2018/03/my-favourite-films-from-1960s.html 

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) by Billy Wilder
Harold and Maude (1971) by Hal Ashby
The French Connection (1971) by William Friedkin 
The Godfather (1972) by Francis Ford Coppola
Cries and Whispers (1972) by Ingmar Bergman 
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) by Luis Bunuel 
Last Tango in Paris (1972) by Bernardo Bertolucci 
Cabaret (1972) by Bob Fosse 
Solaris (1972) by Andrei Tarkovsky 
Play It Again, Sam (1972) by Herbert Ross 
Amarcord (1973) by Federico Fellini
The Last Detail (1973) by Hal Ashby 
Mean Streets (1973) by Martin Scorsese 
The Sting (1973) by George Roy Hill 
Sleep (1973) by Woody Allen 
F for Fake (1973) by Orson Welles 
The Godfather Part II (1974) by Francis Ford Coppola
The Conversation (1974) by Francis Ford Coppola
Chinatown (1974) by Roman Polanski 
The Phantom of Liberty (1974) by Luis Bunuel 
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) by Martin Scorsese 
Dog Day Afternoon (1975) by Sidney Lumet
Scent of a Woman (1975) by Martin Brest
Love and Death (1975) by Woody Allen 
Taxi Driver (1976) by Martin Scorsese
Network (1976) by Sidney Lumet 
3 Women (1977) by Robert Altman 
That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) by Luis Bunuel 
Annie Hall (1977) by Woody Allen 
Autumn Sonata (1978) by Ingmar Bergman 
The Tin Drum (1979) by Volker Schlöndorff 
Manhatttan (1979) by Woody Allen 
All That Jazz (1979) by Bob Fosse

Friday, 10 August 2018

Vertigo revisit

For the 60th anniversary, I’ve just watched Vertigo again, at Hyde Park Picture House. 
I don’t have much to say. 
In its restored version and on the big screen, Vertigo is technically accomplished, and more beautiful than I remembered. I still like it, but not as much, and can’t understand how it replaced Citizen Kane and is considered the greatest film ever made. Personally I think more highly of Persona, Citizen Kane, 8 ½, Sunset Boulevard, The Bad Sleep Well, The Godfather, or Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring; even among Hitchcock’s films, my favourite would be Psycho, followed by Rear Window, instead of Vertigo

Image may contain: ocean, sky, bridge, cloud, outdoor, water and nature

Structurally, Vertigo is divided into 2 parts, and in a sense, telling 2 stories. The 1st half is about retired detective Scottie (James Stewart) becoming infatuated with Madeleine (Kim Novak), an acquaintance’s wife that he follows, and losing her, not knowing that he’s tricked by the acquaintance, Gavin Elster, to cover up the plot to murder his wife.  
The 2nd half is about Scottie coming across Judy, a woman who looks like his lost love Madeleine, and changing her, reshaping her, trying to recreate in her the image of his dream woman, not knowing until later that Judy played the Madeleine he loved that didn’t exist. In the end, he loses both the dream woman and the real woman. 
Vertigo begins as a suspense film, and in the 2nd half, turns into a different genre. However, the 2 parts are united by the theme of male obsession and control. At the beginning, Scottie’s so obsessed with Madeleine that he doesn’t see what’s going on. Later he’s so obsessed with the memories of Madeleine that he can’t accept Judy as she is, but has to reshape her into the image in his head.  
From another perspective, if we focus on Kim Novak’s character, Vertigo is about a woman being controlled and reshaped by men. In the 1st half, for money, she lets a man (Gavin Elster) mold her looks, dress her up, change her hair and make-up, tell her how to act and what to say; she becomes a tool, a trap. In the 2nd half, she lets another man (Scottie) do the same thing all over again, for love. We might even see it as a film about Hitchcock’s use and control of women—Kim Novak as Madeleine is the quintessential Hitchcock woman, blonde and distant. 

Image may contain: one or more people

Roger Ebert has written about these themes and the qualities of Vertigo. It’s a well-written review—he appreciates the film a lot more than I do. 
To me, Vertigo is messy. The structure is, but not only so. How can somebody live that long without knowing he has acrophobia (fear of heights)? Why does Scottie not go to Madeleine’s funeral to see that Gavin Elster’s dead wife is not the woman he has been stalking? (I assume that they look similar, not exactly the same). Why is a detective so dim-witted? How does he think that he can follow someone so slowly without being noticed? Why does nobody in the house have any questions about a strange woman, dressed up like their master’s wife, going into and out of the house? Why do the police not try to verify the 2 men’s account of Madeleine’s mental problems and suicide? Why do we need the scenes at the asylum, especially the conversation between Midge (the average-looking woman who loves Scottie) and the doctor? We already know that Scottie loves Madeleine, and already know that Midge knows. Why does Gavin Elster not try to control or at least check up on Judy, in case she tells someone else about the murder plot? Why does Midge disappear completely in the 2nd half of the film? And can somebody with acrophobia just overcome it, as Scottie does at the end of the film? 
Maybe I’m just too literal. 
But then just recently I watched a video from Fandor about the influence of Vertigo. They talk about the technical and visual stuff, and the influence of the film on cinema, but then say that its admirers are indifferent to the plot. Martin Scorsese for example doesn’t take any of the story seriously. 
Then why do people like it so much and hail it as the greatest film ever made?

Thursday, 9 August 2018

On The Magnificent Ambersons, directors’ freedom, Welles and Kubrick

Anyone who knows about Orson Welles’s career knows that The Magnificent Ambersons is widely hailed as another masterpiece, “culturally, aesthetically, and culturally significant”, but a tragic thing for Welles, as the film was taken away from him—changed, re-edited, re-shot, and replaced with a new ending. Welles said “They destroyed Ambersons, and the picture itself destroyed me”. More than 40 minutes was deleted from Welles’s original footage, and everything is gone forever. We now only have the film in its mutilated form.
As a film student aspiring to be a film director, I have always believed that a film should belong to the director—not the producer, not the studio, not the distributor, and not anyone else. I also think that a film should have only 1 director, unless you’re as close as the Coen brothers. Of course a film is a collaborative effort, and everyone is important, but the director should be able to have a unifying vision for the film and make all the creative decisions without being controlled or dictated to by someone else, such as a producer. The tragedy of The Magnificent Ambersons feels to me a lot more personal. 

The Magnificent Ambersons Young George


Some days ago, I watched the film. In its bastardised form, The Magnificent Ambersons has many wonderful moments. Visually, it’s great to watch, especially the mise-en-scène and cinematography. Take the scene in the kitchen, George eating, aunt Fanny talking: Welles uses deep focus, everything in frame is in rich detail, from all the food on the table, the 2 actors, the pots and pans in shadow in the background, and the curtains far at the back. Instead of breaking it up into a series of shots and jumping back and forth between CUs of the 2 actors, as lots of directors would do, Welles covers the entire conversation in 1 continuous shot, which runs on as Isabel’s brother comes in, and he and George tease aunt Fanny about Eugene. The disadvantage of such a scene is that we can’t see each person’s face in CU, but we can see everyone in the frame reacting to each other at the same time. 
That leads to another point: the performances are 1 of the main reasons I would always choose Orson Welles over Stanley Kubrick. There was a time I very much loved and admired Kubrick, which has now cooled down. Looking back, I was mostly dazzled by the technical aspects, particularly cinematography and set designs, and in love with his choice of music. But even then, I saw that Kubrick wasn’t very good at working with actors and getting subtle performances from them, or he didn’t particularly care about acting. His actors always have a way of speaking very slowly and enunciating every single word that I don’t like, and they seem to lack something. Today I still see Kubrick as a giant, but I’ve discovered other directors and my taste over time has changed. To me, Welles has everything that I once admired about Kubrick, and more—his films have feelings. The Magnificent Ambersons have great performances and some wonderful moments—when the spoilt brat George realises that the weird looking duck he has been talking to Lucy about is her dad; when Eugene is hurt by George’s rude remark about automobiles but tries to be calm; when George knows he has offended Eugene but pretends not to notice; or when Lucy hears George’s farewell and keeps smiling and pretends not to care, and George keeps trying to get a reaction out of her but fails; or most of the scenes of Agnes Moorehead as aunt Fanny. 
However, as a whole, the film is uneven, especially in the ending. George is introduced from the start as a brat—spoilt, thoughtless, lazy, snobbish, self-centred, who never notices or pays attention to anything. He also has an inexplicable hostility towards Eugene. To me, there’s nothing particularly good or likeable about George, it’s hard to see how Lucy might like him and why they get engaged. Then in the later part of the film, there is a change. I’ve read that when Isabel is in her deathbed and Eugene wishes to see her, what Welles got is that George refuses to let them see each other and tells aunt Fanny to get rid of Eugene, and Fanny alone harshly tells Eugene to leave. In other words, George remains an arsehole till his mother’s last moments. What we have in the film is that George and Fanny don’t let Eugene in because the doctor has said that Isabel should rest in quiet, and they appear less awful, even more sympathetic. Then later when they are all in ruin and George gets a job, any risky job, to get money for himself and to take care of Fanny, somehow it feels abrupt, like he’s now a different person. 
And then we get to the ending, a Hollywood-style happy ending that is completely wrong in tone, and out of place. One wonders what The Magnificent Ambersons would have been like if Orson Welles had had complete freedom. 
In short, it’s an uneven film with a weak ending, but a Welles film is always visually satisfying, and always has much to learn from.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Brief reviews of 2 films I've watched recently: Thelma and Louise and Bound

- Thelma and Louise by Ridley Scott: 


When Thelma and Louise came out, I suppose it was acclaimed for itself and also for its subversion of the road movie and outlaw movie genres by having 2 lead women. The film is also about 2 women getting out and fighting back, especially in the iconic ending of them making their own choices and refusing to turn in. 
I can see Thelma and Louise as a socially significant film, but I love the film more for the script, characterisation, and acting, and the relationship between the 2 women. They are complete opposites—Louise (Susan Sarandon) is cynical and sees dangers everywhere; Thelma (Geena Davis) is naïve and sees dangers nowhere. In the film, such is a disastrous combination—they keep making bad choices, because of who they are, and things spiral out of control. At the heart of the film is the journey, the relationship between the 2 women and their dynamic, but the more fascinating character is Thelma, who undergoes the greatest change/growth during the journey. At the beginning of the film, Thelma is naïve, stupid, frivolous, and thoughtless, a housewife of a domineering husband, who goes out for the 1st time and wants to get a taste of everything that she hasn’t experienced. For a large part of the film, she annoys the hell out of me. But she changes, as she has to—she’s the one who becomes fearless, robs a store, and points a gun at a policeman. It’s like Thelma has always had a wild side, suppressed for years by an arsehole of a husband, but now it’s freed and pushed to extreme, as she’s fighting back and wishing to be in control of her life. We understand, and come to love her. 
Susan Sarandon and especially Geena Davis are wonderful in the film. The best acted scene is probably the scene near the end when they have been spotted by the police—they both talk about the future, but we can see on their faces that they both know there is nothing ahead, they’re just lying to each other and themselves. 

- Bound by the Wachowskis: 

It’s a heist film. From the social point of view, it’s important to note that the 2 main characters are lesbians. Bound is one of those few films in which the main characters are LGBT but the story is not specifically about their relationship, nor about their struggles, suffering, and coming out, i.e. LGBT+ issues. The 2 women, Corky (Gina Gershon) and Violet (Jennifer Tilly), embrace their own sexuality and have no shame in wanting another woman. They are also fully fleshed out characters, and treated like people—their lesbianism is part of who they are, but not the focus of the film. 
Apart from that, and more importantly, it’s an intelligent and captivating film, one of my favourite heist films, containing everything you need from the genre—an intelligent plan, great risks, dangerous and unpredictable psychos, things that go wrong, and our own uncertainties about the partners in crime. The best thing about Bound is perhaps the unpredictability of it all—you never know what each person might do and how they’ll react.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

On Orson Welles









I love Citizen Kane. I have never understood how Vertigo could replace Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time, but that label is also a curse—many people choose not to watch it, for fear of being disappointed, or because they expect it to be boring; people who love it, like me, are accused of being pretentious, or conformist, or both.
Citizen Kane is 1 of those films that opened up to me the possibilities and powers of filmmaking—like 8 ½, Persona, or Cries and Whispers. The film is great in many ways, containing and exemplifying everything essential to learn about cinema, but to me, the 2 most important aspects are about blocking/ shot composition and editing. With shot composition, Orson Welles makes me rethink staging and framing completely, especially with deep focus, the z-axis, the brilliant use of the long take with characters in foreground, middleground, background, and camera movements, instead of a series of shots, and the use of blacks or shadows. Citizen Kane has changed me so much that now when watching a film, I always notice if the director depends on the conventional triangle system of master shot, shot, reverse shot (pity, if only I had watched Citizen Kane before making my 1st film Bird Bitten).
Regarding editing, apparently critics tend to talk about the breakfast montage and the jigsaw puzzle montage, which are both wonderful, but I’m more interested in the pace, which is fast in the newsreel and gets slower and slower over time because of the mood of the film, and in the structure, which is not only unusual and revolutionary for its time but also perfect for the story about the multifacetedness of a human being and the inability to understand a person completely. If Persona or 8 ½ makes me realise that film is not only external but can also explore consciousness, Citizen Kane makes me realise that film can have different narrators, with conflicting points of view.
 (At the risk of sounding self-centred and ridiculous, I’d like to add that Citizen Kane helped save my 2nd film Footfalls on the editing table).
My 2nd favourite Welles film is F for Fake. The film is about Elmyr de Hory, a professional art forgery, and his biographer Clifford Irving, notorious for the hoax biography of Howard Hughes; and also about the director Orson Welles, as a magician and liar. The film is an investigation of the natures of authorship and authenticity, of forgery, fraud, and fakery; it is a damning mockery of (art) experts; it is also a playful joke on the audience, whilst suggesting more of the deceitful nature of filmmaking, specifically editing. By the last point, I’m referring to creative geography and the Kuleshov effect, especially in the sequence in which Elmyr and Irving appear to be reacting to, and arguing with, each other, about Elmyr’s signatures, whereas in reality they were not in the same location.
The editing of F for Fake is also fantastic in terms of structure, as analysed in a video above. To film students and aspiring filmmakers, Welles is showing how he can hold the audience’s interest whilst telling 5-6 stories at the same time and jumping from one to another.
Among the other films by Orson Welles I’ve watched are Touch of Evil and The Lady from Shanghai—good examples of what a great director could (and couldn’t do) with mediocre material. They are not great films, but the Hall of Mirrors sequence in The Lady from Shanghai and the opening shot of Touch of Evil, the 3-minute crane shot, are among the most ambitious and impressive sequences in the history of cinema, without exaggeration, and I can understand why the films are popular among the auteurists. (After all, I’ve read André Bazin’s book about Orson Welles).
I prefer a less known film, The Trial. It is understandable, but a pity nevertheless, that the name Orson Welles is always associated with Citizen Kane, and Citizen Kane only. His adaptation of Kafka’s novel is, like the book, unsettling, bizarre and nightmarish. Welles himself said “Say what you will, but The Trial is the best film I ever made… I have never been so happy as when I made this film.” I personally prefer Citizen Kane, but The Trial does have a grand visual style, with expressionistic lighting and extreme camera angles, and Welles successful depicts a terrifying, surrealistic world in which you wake up 1 morning to find yourself accused of something you’re not told, and no matter where you run, you always find yourself back in the Court. The wide-angle lens and camera angles are not a means unto themselves—they help depict a distorted world, a claustrophobic world that is like a giant python that squeezes tighter and tighter around Josef K’s body. My main complaint is about the changed ending, which rather ruins the film.
On a final note, between Ingmar Bergman and Orson Welles, I have more admiration for Bergman, and also feel closer to him. But I feel sadder for Welles—after Citizen Kane, he never had the immense freedom that Bergman had. He was always making films with 1 hand tied behind his back. 

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Fragmented thoughts on 3 Women


1/ 3 Women is a strange film, an enigmatic and ambiguous film that can be interpreted in multiple ways. 
If you think of it in the tradition of Persona, there is also a merging of identities, but Pinky doesn’t become Millie; she becomes the person Millie thinks she is.  
In this interpretation, 3 Women can be grouped with Persona and Mulholland Drive. But it leaves out Willie, the 3rd woman in the film. 
2/ From another perspective, Pinky (loses herself and) turns into her object of desire. 
3/ Another interpretation is that at the beginning of the film, Pinky has no identity, in her innocence and childlikeness, and is looking for one—the coma turns her into the person she wishes to become, and the transition at the same time frees her wild, promiscuous side. 
4/ I’ve also come across an interpretation of 3 Women as an allegory of mother-daughter relationship: 
“Millie is introduced as a bit directionless, always trying to fit in, but never garnering the attention, respect or love she longs for. He coworkers ignore her rants, her neighbors dismiss her, and her former roommate blows her off. But along comes Pinky, strangely childlike considering her apparent age. She is simply the daughter that enters this lonely woman's life. Not literally, but none-the-less, the relationship proceeds this way. Millie is suddenly the center of her new daughter's universe. We see Millie blush at the attention and adoration she has never received. Like any mother, Millie is constantly guiding and teaching Pinky the proper protocol for every situation - from what to wear, daily routine, entertaining guests--and Pinky absorbs it like a sponge. For many of us who love the film, there has always been something very relatable about the way they connect, even if it's hard to put your finger on.
But the dynamics shift when Pinky goes through a symbolic puberty (jumping into the pool). Not coincidentally, this shift is set off by Millie's betrayal of the 3rd woman (Willie, symbolically the grandmother in some respects). After coming out of a coma, Pinky is suddenly a sexual being. Watching how Millie reacts to the new Pinky is quite illuminating, considering that most parents experience this surreal process during their life. The mother has to watch her daughter blossom and have it rubbed in her face that she is past her own sexual prime (this is dramatized by the way neighbor Tom gives Pinky the attention Millie never was able to get). The Mother has to see her own bad habits and traits reflected back via her daughter's behavior (Pinky's new smoking habit and garish use of makeup). And most painfully, the mother falls of her perch as center of her daughter's universe. For those of us who appreciate the film, this is the real heart of the watching Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek go through the surreal turns of this story. It is something absolutely universal. Something our parents silently went through as we became new creatures in our blossoming adolescence.
By not presenting Millie and Pinky as literal mother and child, Altman may alienate some less-discerning viewers. But what he achieves is worth it: He presents how surreal and alienating these parts of the parenting process are. It's a mysterious shift in balance of power, in focus of affection, in bond, and it ultimately leads to a disturbing realization... something that can't be expressed in a self-help book or a parenting manual, but it's hauntingly expressed in the still-birth sequence at the end.” 
I’m generally not a fan of symbolism and allegories, but that is an interesting take on the film, with strong arguments. 
5/ Rewatching 3 Women, I now notice the bit about Pinky’s white underwear, and wonder what it means. White underwear is innocence, but what does it mean that she washes it and hangs it? We see it in 3 shots, the detail can’t be random, just like the murals. 
6/ The murals are Willie’s release, her way of coping with a bastard of a husband. She is silent—painting the beasts on the floor and in empty swimming pools is her means of communication, her form of therapy. Other than her cries for help after Pinky’s suicide attempt, it’s only after Edgar is dead that Willie really speaks. 
7/ This time, 3 Women feels more unreal. 
I know, the plot is unrealistic and like a dream, but what I mean is that it feels unreal, long before the swap of identities. In many of the scenes at the start, of Millie chattering, Pinky admiringly and obsessively watching, and others ignoring, Millie’s voice rises above everything else as though she’s the only one speaking in a world of silence. It is most distracting, even alienating, in the scene at the hospital canteen, in which Millie’s voice is the only voice we can hear, no matter where we are in the scene—the only clear voice against the ambience, even when we are watching Pinky getting food, where she shouldn’t be able to hear Millie, and the film is largely from Pinky’s perspective.  
Is it unreal, or surreal?