For years, I ran some form of LabuzaMovies.Com as a film review site and blog. As other academic and professional duties, I had less time to update the blog function (not to mention much of the material was quite poor in writing and ideas). However, over the years, some material was published there that I still find intriguing and engaging. Not all of it is my best work per say, but a few of these essays found an engaged audience. I have preserved those essays below with notes about their publication date. If you arrived at this page searching for another blog post that does not appear below, you may be able to find it by visiting the old blog page. Otherwise, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Classicists at War: An Unfinished Image Essay (August 30, 2015)
I also began work because the attacks on Eastwood’s film, especially in regards to its xenophobia, reminded me of the years of attacks on The Searchers, where critics and scholars have mistaken Ford’s portrayal of racism as a direct reflection of the director’s own values. Finally, Eastwood and Ford interested me in what has been called a type of “classicism” of directing, where editing and gestural actions are kept in a balance to turn simplistic images into iconographic and representational ones.
There is a sense in Blackhat that the digital world has collapsed time and space—when Lien and Hathaway must escape at one point, there is an ad for a wristwatch literally looming behind them in the window—but if you can have a tangible body, then you have something to hold. “She’s never been this happy,” Dawai tells Hathaway. But what happens when that material is no longer there? If Hathaway is simply part of the network, his corporeal self is a program waiting to be erased.
Comic Ideology: Richard Fleischer’s Mandingo (January 16, 2015)
But often what’s striking about the characters—both white and black—is how they look with distrust not because of ideological reasons but their own personal drives. It is simply that the system they live them allows those personal drives to be used for easy exploitation—Hammond discovers Made’s fighting abilities while at a visit to a brothel, and will use his prowess to essentially supplant his sexual desire (a choice that comes back to haunt him).
Philippe Garrel’s Jealousy (December 15, 2014)
Garrel’s shots have a simplicity that simply puts characters’ bodies in direct relationship to physical love. Loving moments always take place in master shots, where two bodies collapse on top of each other. Fights always appear in shot-reverse shots, the emotions unknowable within the same frame. To not embody the same space is to create suspicion, and it is only when the ugly truth is revealed can Louis and Claudia employ the same frame while showing their ugliness.
Three on A Doorway (December 11, 2014)
An Image Essay focused on two doorway sequences featuring three characters, from The Awful Truth (McCarey, 1937) and Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944).
Milkyway Goes America: John Wick (October 31, 2014)
In fact, what makes the film both brutal but also stunning is the specificity to the sequences. Wick treats each bullet like a part of the physical matter. Men aren’t just shot—they are hit in the arm, a leg, or a head. Reeves actually holds and aims a gun, so that there is a clear visual eye-line created between the aim of the weapon and the eventual entry point of every bullet, and most random baddies require multiple shots in a variation of bodily locales to actually sedate them.
Closed For Interpretation: Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (October 2, 2014)
Like many of his “New Extremism” contemporaries (Noe, Dumont, Haneke), part of responding to a Von Trier film is the fact that one must either feel pleasure or pain, and it is in responding to that bodily function that one finds meaning. This is what makes Nymphomaniac most compelling—what happens when we remove the body from cinema?
What’s astonishing to watch is how each little jump brushes up little specks of rock and dust throughout, each moving with total respect to the physical universe these CGI creates are visiting. The integration of Bay’s physical elements and his digital effects is astonishing, especially given the amount of dirt, rock, glass, concrete, and other material that makes up any given frame of his film. There’s particularly a shot of the camera gliding toward a boat in an early action scene as marines are about to raid a Transformer where I noticed how many separate elements the camera was catching without feeling overwhelming.
The End of Men: Images by Hong Sang-Soo and Louis CK (June 26, 2014)
An Image Essay focused on male-female relationships and male subjectvity in Woman is the Future of Man (Hong, 2004) and episodes of “Louie” (CK, 2014)
Frame of Reference: Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves (June 13, 2014)
But they never grapple with the practicalities of their ideology—Josh makes a remark about society destroying salmon in favor of keeping their iPods running, but it seems like a false remark based on little he sees. Even the bombing itself becomes a metaphor—they simply stare straight as the camera stays focused on their unblinking faces. If they’re also Marxists, they may want to go check the chapter about products of our labor.
Henry Fonda, Opposite Grave (February 18, 2014)
An Image Essay featuring scenes where Henry Fonda visits a grave, one in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and a sequence shot by Lloyd Bacon by the request of Darryl Zanuck for Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946).
Miklós Jancsó (1921-2014) (January 31, 2014)
Jancsó shifts emphasis throughout – information (ie. the characters) enters and exit the frame; they become the dominant center before suddenly retreating to the background. It’s different from what Robert Altman would do, because Altman treated everyone equally. Jancsó’s shifts are more sudden and jerky; scenes are always interrupted by the presence of new information.
System Malfunction: Spike Jonze’s Her (December 4, 2013)
Jonze’s films have always placed emotional territory before intellect, but I wish he would search more for the intellect within these emotions—how and why we process them, and what radical possibilities can be unlocked by them. This is what we see in the forbears of melodrama—Griffith, Mizoguchi, Sirk—and the filmmakers who continue to use the styling of melodrama today—Wong, Garrel, Gray, and Wes Anderson. Jonze uses palatable “cute” surfaces as covers to his raw feelings, but this embracement of brash and unrefined material strikes me as more dubious than revelatory.
Wanderers Before God: Alexander Sokurov’s Faust (November 28, 2013)
What makes Sokurov’s cinema so exciting is that he’s an original, not obsessed with the type of references to his elders that defines too much of contemporaries. While certainly owing debt to Tarkovsky, his most apparent references are outside (that cinema became his art form of choice, despite his mastery of it, seems coincidental). He seems more indebted to someone like De Tocqueville’s inquiring sociological eye, Dickens’s melodramatic realism, Dostoevsky’s conversion narratives, and certainly Chekov’s absurdism. Even Quixote’s windmill makes an appearance, another man chasing dreams of greatness only to be overcome by them.
Gina Telaroli’s Traveling Light (November 13, 2013)
Opening with the passing of two trains that feels less like a moment of everyday banality and more like an excerpt from the “Beyond Jupiter” section of 2001,Traveling Light travels on an Amtrak from New York to Pittsburgh. But it’s not a film pushing forward, but seemingly always looking back and what is disappearing, of space and time falling behind. The world is always passing by in windows, the shadows overtaking the frame, and trees pass by via the reflection in a laptop.
The Philosophy of Histoire(s) Du Cinema (November 5, 2013)
Godard essentially places cinema between two tracks—art and technique. Both fascinate and frustrate him. It’s clear Godard loves art and cherishes it deeply—he constantly putting various cinema images alongside various paintings dating back to the Renaissance to his contemporaries. But he’s also frustrated by the tyranny of art to represent reality and how cinema took off on that track as well.
Kurosawa, Cinephilia, and Seven Samurai (October 25, 2013)
Kurosawa might go bold, but he undercuts his moments; the broad humor of the discovery of the armor is played against the revelations that the peasants have been holding out on them. The romance of the budding spring is played against the tragedy of the stolen wife. If Kurosawa’s characters speak directly, they also speak in contradictions.
Three Capsules from the New York Film Festival (October 13, 2013)
Three short reviews examining Only Yesterday (John Stahl, 1933), At Berkeley (Frederick Wiseman, 2013), and Bastards (Claire Denis, 2013)
A human body is now part of this reality, a room in which we still don’t understand where and how it exists, and yet it is now part of this world. The camera continues upwards and we get up to the window of this perch, and thus we can now see the top of the ship where two men are meeting. Did this exist before it entered the shot?
My proposal is that images are necessarily excessive of their text—they propose a that-ness to the text’s the-ness. While many of the theorists and critics who have written on this issue in the past see this as a point of political discourse and ideological interpretation, my goal is to push this debate of narrative excess to the Bazianin tradition of “the real,” the ontological element that has necessarily been a part of cinema and continues to be one of the dominant factors of its attraction. I will finally stake the faith of the future of film studies not in the critic or academic, but the 21st-century cinephile: the one who searches for meaning in cigarette smoke instead of the tracking shot—the moments that expose the design of cinematic excess.
Evidence and Processing: The Social Network and Computer Chess (July 25, 2013)
There’s no doubt that Computer Chess is developed to mirror the contemporary relationship between machines and men (and an occasional lady, who must be constantly gawked at for being a lady). The film’s characters might be parody, but they recognizably mirror our neuroses about technology—not the fear that the computer will destroy us, but that we must cede control to the digital world.
Vulgar Auteurism relies too heavily on the pause button: the ability to rip images from their original narrative context and give them their own meaning outside of the film itself. The aesthetic of the image can be striking—hues of orange and blue crashing against each other, intensely symmetrical frames, highly striking uses of focus—but often it means removing the image from what is being represented in the image.
Radical Democracy: Mythos and Politics in Saving Private Ryan (April 7, 2013)
The facts are facts, but the one thing that can never destroy the Bixby letter is the sentiment and rhetoric behind it. This letter is read aloud not by Hanks and his crew, but by a general far away from the carnage. For him, the details don’t matter, but instead he is interested in preserving the American mythology of our nation.
Fearless: Jazmín López’s Leones (March 20, 2013)
This is not a coming-of-age tale in which characters discover who they are, but one in which they discover who they are not. The major dynamics that are played out are only interesting because they don’t cause a major rupture in the dynamics of the group. This is not an a-b-c journey, but one that spirals back on itself and then through another dimension.
Hill, Hopper, Mann: A Study in Stoicism (March 11, 2013)
The Driver ends with a closure of narrative, but not a closure of character. In fact, the one thing the characters never do is change. They remain convinced of their ideals and motivations as much as they were at the start of the narrative.
Between the Pitches: Baseball and Slow Cinema (April 17, 2012)
But each one of these pitches can lead to something extraordinary, yet there are no signifiers (visual or audio) that suggest that a home run is going to be hit on the same pitch. In that way, I was reminded of the tension I felt while watching Jeanne Dielman during the second half, as Jeanne slowly makes mistake after mistake. I gasped when the milk bottle was almost spilled, and felt every muscle in my body tense up for the rest of that film. In baseball, I do the same, even though there is nothing telling me that a big sequence is coming up.