“I couldn’t live without the weight of the both of you on my back.”
That line, the purest and most poetic I can remember in either film or theater in ages comes from Winter’s Bone and all of you should make sure you see it before it disappears. It is truly great, a work of art, all that shit, beautifully acted and so real and true it’s hard to believe they are actors at all, but it’s the pain of it, the hardship, the honest ways in which human decency comes into play. And, like Wendy and Lucy and Frozen River, it’s a woman director who dared to go into such real places. It is unlike any other American film you’ve ever seen. I read the other day that Fritz Lang once said that when people talk about film, they never talk about dialogue, they only talk about images and Lang suggested that film hadn’t yet found its Shakespeare. Of course images are the poetry of film, and you won’t forget any of the images in this film, but I purposely started this note with a line from the film, because, maybe, in Winter’s Bone, film has found its Shakespeare. The director/co-writer is Debra Granik. Dark, sometimes ugly, its the backwoods, the heartland, it’s where the world has failed its people but its also about the way people survive. And it has in it all the best elements of noir, except its not walking down dark urban streets. It’s in the yards strewn with all the things we’ve thrown away, in the swamps where dead men lie, men who are never found, it’s the country.
I would stop short of calling Winter’s Bone something equivalent to Shakespeare. Aside from the line you quoted, none of the rest of the dialogue in the film jumps out as poetic.
But it is an excellent portrait of modern rural life in the age where the image of innocent country living has firmly been replaced by a world of meth labs and the walking ghosts that crank turns men into. It also, somewhat indirectly, illustrates why middle America is so obsessed with the Second Amendment. Although I don’t recall a shot actually being fired, the presence of guns as a way of life, for protection and survival, is definitely felt, like we’re living in some kind of gunfighter nation.
It’s extremely well made and definitely worth seeing.
On a completely different track, and with a huge dollop of reservation, the Tilda Swinton film I Am Love (Io Sono L’amore) is, if nothing else, unique. It’s arguably all style and no substance, but definitely worth discussing.
I obviously liked Winter’s Bone more than you did although time will tell how it holds up; it was just such a breath of fresh (or should I say rancid?) air and so strong and centered, I fell under its spell. And everything you said is absolutely right on.
I also agree with what you said about I Am Love. Special. Unique. Worth seeing. Worth talking about. It’s just that films about the way the rich live—if there is a minimum of ironic detachment or critical objectivity—drive me up the wall. It ain’t The Leopard. It ain’t even Cluny Brown. And certainly not The Rules of the Game.
Films about how the rich live that lack any ironic distance invite the worst kind of projection. Buying into the complete delusion that the wealthy experience any more happiness than the poor. This is one of the things that makes Killer of Sheep so remarkable—the dignity it gives to the economically oppressed. This is why Berlusconi is mostly so insufferable. And it’s one of the things Rosselini gets so right in Voyage to Italy—the wild, inner desperation of those well-heeled characters.
Anyhow, just to concur with Mr. Perr….
K a couple quick thoughts.
The trailers for winter’s bone look very promising. I will see it. Let me clarify a couple things…Shakespearean is not a synonim for poetic. There might be a silent film i would call Shakespearean. It’s about a tragic sense of life, and about a sensibility that carries moral weight.
The loss of a tragic vision has been much discussed…all the way back to the German Romantics. It’s a complex discussion and perhaps i will open a thread on it vis a vis Un Prophet and a couple other potentially neo-tragic films of recent date.
Much as i dislike Harold Bloom, bloated old reactionary, he wrote a pretty decent book on WS…called Invention of the Human. Its worth a look, as are Empson’s essays on Shakes, and Berryman and of course Ted Hughes’ opus—which is a sort of almost Jungian critique of Shakespearean themes and tropes. But one of the basic notions of the Bloom book has to do with man reflecting upon himself out loud and in public (in a theatre, on stage). Dante was antiquity…Shakespeare the cusp of modernity. Note the change of how character is presented.
The potential for Shakespeare in Winters Bone I suspect is high. Only from a pov wedded to poverty and degredation, and a de-romaticized notion of labor, can that moral weight be carried.
One of the virtues of Brokeback Mountain was its examination of working class life in the American West. That was actually what upset Americans…not gay kissing, but honest assesment of alienated labor.
Alienation is worth a discussion as well…since it might be a worthy venture to look at the precursors of the modern alienation as it appears in Shakes.
Ok, thats all….oh, and lets keep in mind the difference between a fan and a critic. Between a film enthusiast and a critic……or a reviewer and critic. Fans simply envoke agreement…and reviewers tend to want to keep contained that which, in real art, is not containable. Critics traffic in that which exceeds itself.
Reviewing will want to push things outside….off the canvas and to keep them in a domesticated sort of definition. A critic wants to seek out what has escaped. Calasso is a great one for that.
Ok, well, more soon.