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motion
  • 310257.0854

    Now Saturdays at 9:30 AM

  • 310250.0732

    (This was written for Hero Complex, but without Geoff Boucher, it's better seen here. Screenshots of Poltergeist will be added.)

    The summer of  ’82, the year the blockbuster became incidental. In order of appearance, Road Warrior (a sequel posing as standalone), Clash of the Titans, Wrath of Khan (the first reboot ever, and on a two-year turnaround), Poltergeist, E.T., Firefox, Blade Runner, The Thing, Tron. For many teens in the audience, it was the summer we began to ‘think-in-movies.’ Moviegoing kids of the eighties had eureka moments hooking us on the blockbuster as a kind of cognitive genre.  My moment was the flickering coda of Raiders: The Washington Monument reveal, an engineered déjà vu that no one’s aware of. Sitting in the dark in summer 1981, I eyed our national obelisk, on the mall, framed in its reflection pool.  We’d been shown one earlier as a model in the Map Room scene, then moments later as a fallen ruin at the Tanis dig, framed by Jones's surveying dumpy level. Spielberg and Lucas paralleled the U.S. as a present day Egypt. Popcorn films born in the 70s were now sending us dark commentary, blended incidentally.


    Only ten months later I stand in line for the May sneak preview of Poltergeist on Times Square. To see Poltergeist a month early, we line up and watch the dead-on-arrival thriller House Where Evil Dwells. A ceremonial holdover of archaic film releasing rules, to get to Poltergeist the sell-out crowd has to sit through this unintentionally funny horror film set in Japan.  Haunted soup was on its menu. A spectral samurai peers from a steaming bowl, the daughter cowering: “Mommy what kind of soup is this?” That got the biggest laughs, and there were more; it was like having a pre-recorded comic warm-up the crowd.

     

    Poltergeist begins. The first thing that hits the audience is MGM/Leo’s new stereophonic roar. Then The Star Spangled Banner hails from the darkness. A few of us laugh right away as downfront, someone stands up patriotically. Color-crushed TV fades in extreme close-up, now everyone begins laughing as they realize it’s station sign-off, the universal signifier for insomniacs of the TV-age. As if continuing from Raiders’s coda not twelve months before, imagery of D.C. now appears on a television, linking both films. Television has come back to haunt us. The laughs fade as the audio dissolves from brassy stereo to creepy mono. The switch from automated ceremony to horror film takes only a few seconds and it’s encoded in a signal.  A very blonde, sleepwalking girl touches her TV screen’s white-noise and static fizzes. Credits follow along suburban landscapes down into encroaching development. The trees that penetrate this suburbia stare down at the houses; bicyclists orbit a monster without leaves. The arboreal personified, gigantic and malevolent.

     

    Then we enter at street-level, toy-level, the storytelling shows us electronic transmissions as a precursor to supernatural types. Poltergeist starts with two gags using signals. Racing radio-controlled cars cross, cutting off an adult on a bike. It’s an ingenious inversion of ‘cross-cutting.’ And the gag evolves seconds later into the signals crossing neighbors’ remotes. Two visual jokes about almost the same thing. Signals interrupt both the bike rider and the passing play the TV-party watches. There are thoughtful discrepancies: The children play an active game, the adults watch one.

     

    Poltergeist is instantly cognitive. A visual story cues the audience in before the characters know what’s going on.  A girl speaks to a television while her household sleepily gathers around. It looks like a mirror of a family drama on TV only here, the drama happens outside the TV, while it’s off signal. These children of the TV-age, Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg, employ the nation’s comforting boob-tube to scare us witless. The TV provides endless framings. This family Freeling (comically-named after Looneytoons director Friz) first encounter death when their pet bird Tweety dies ominously. A night later, before a dose of CE3K’s clouds during magic-hour, vaporous streams pass through the daughter from the TV’s white noise, and the ghosts begin laying siege. In rapid turn they create an invisible portal through the two younger children’s closet, kidnapping one. Cloned kitchens dissolve eerily, chairs and steaks travel, mirrors do not behave, trees attack in diversion. This trickery is treated physically rationally. And there’s jokes galore, both visual and spoken. An innocuous dialogue predicts coming terror: Craig Nelson play-dives from his bed, scenes later they mistake their daughter’s disappearance as a drowning in their unfinished pool.

     

    While the film begins with daytime, wide vistas of tiny homes below, it ends night-marishly with a miniaturizing house folding into inner dimensions, consumed finally in light. Beatrice Straight and Zelda Rubenstein play respectively the logos and the mythos versions of the same ghost hunter archetype. Zelda is right out of Hooper’s world, Straight is from Spielberg’s. Most movies would embody this stabilizing persona in one character, here, the risk is taken to split observation into a competitive form of storytelling, and it pays off. Two women delineate the haunting. Zelda directs the return, Straight plays surrogate mother. The tennis ball Zelda uses to prove the portal works is instantly recognized as a comment from The Shining (remember, this is 1982), so everyone at the preview laughs. They get the TV references are sly taunts at a seemingly inert Shining, where a family escapes a hotel, here a family escapes to one (and ejects its TV). Of course, there are plenty of other references: VW Bugs spin upside down and there's mention of "indian burial mounds."

     

    And the characters are developed in single scenes. Sometimes single lines. The young daughter previews the unknown she’s heading for through her bird’s funeral rites. The elder daughter knows the motel they’re going to; the haunting is a blessing in disguise for socially active Dana. These character moments are imprinted tautly into the film’s fabric. Even ye olde cap-covered-lens gag works. A ghost processional through the California split-level plays back on videotape like a sinister recall of a Twilight Zone’s broadcast. After her daughter’s retrieval, JoBeth Williams sports streaks of gray in her dark hair. A superhero’s mark she acquires supernaturally, it predicts a final role as her children’s savior. Even the audio delivers crazy data, Leo’s new roar is reused as a door guardian’s warning. But it doesn’t stop her, she finally pulls her children to safety from the mouth of the monster’s portal, a vision first invisible, now realized melting, seeping through their closet door. Spielberg slyly dresses the children’s room first in Star Wars sheets, where even a Darth Vader poster begins the film, tacked right next to the bilocating closet. Later the closet ends with the ferocious ILM master-effect trying to eat them. This isn’t the metaverse we inhabit today, with David channeling Lawrence through O’Toole while Elizabeth Shaw reduxes Lisbeth all in the same movie. Back then, the sly, circular portal back to Lucasfilm was Spielberg’s masterstroke of closed-universe storytelling. His are a type of American New Wave jokes, amping while folding seamlessly into its genre. And genres get blended by the joke, this is no longer horror or scifi per se, this is the blockbuster. The age it got smart. He winks at the audience to lure us deeper, not force us into self-consciousness. And Spielberg’s closed universe is doubling even further that summer, the first time he has two films opening the same season. It’s also circular, here the Freeling children’s closet is revealed and then rerevealed as their gateway to hell. Two weeks later, Elliot’s bedroom closet reverses our fears: it becomes E.T.’s sanctuary.
     

     

  • 310231.1203

    Frontline's four hour, two-night dissection of the financial collapse of 2008. Like its exemplary 1996 post-mortem of the Gulf War, Michael Kirk and Jim Gilmore describe in detail staggering omissions in oversight, clashes of personality, and a stunning presidential leadership vacuum as Bush neared the end of his term. Even more frightening, a majority of banks appeared not to comprehend the full extent of their leveraged holdings, employing companies like AIG to insure their riskiest securities.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/money-power-wall-street/#a
     

  • 310203.2208

  • 310198.1354

  • 310193.0612

    A bleak tale of vampirism and famine, Asura is based on a dark manga set in a Japanese farming village. One screening only.

  • 310188.1026

    Master mathmetician Roger Penrose intersects math, physics, neuroscience and cosmology to attempt to answer "the big question." While he gets as close as anyone could have in 1990, he fails tantalizingly to convince readers that outerspace and the brain's innerspace are integrally related. Like a fundamentalist he begins with Turing and using that as a model for the human brain's A.I., he ventures from algorithm to particle theory to cosmology to neuroscience. His detractors (like Edelman) make mincemeat out of his simplistic computational aspects of the brain, but Penrose is going for the biggest picture possible: space/geologic-time. Like Tipler-Barrow's Anthropic Comsological Principle, which he cites repeatedly, Penrose has built a key foundation for time-travel in multiple dimensions.

    Top: The big-bang eventually splinters into black hole singularity Bottom: Particle-wave theory. Two slits reveal how photons (light) behave like particles AND waves.

     

  • 310187.1040

    The masterpiece of analog cinema, Stanley Kubrick's 2001, simulated all levels of digital through unadulterated waveforms. HAL 9000, circuitry board repairs, guidance simulations, even picture-phone calls, all are imagined digital elements rendered through analog craft. A voice tempered Douglas Rain imitates a digital computer while thousands of hours on animation stands give screens the appearance of digital computation. Its insurmountable visual effects simulating space-travel were also rendered through time-consuming animation stand compositing. Original camera negative was sometimes stored for months as mattes were designed in multiple passes scheduled weeks apart. Never before or since have analog techniques been tweaked to such extremes. Now 2001 has made the crossover into a digital medium for large-scale projection. Museum of the Moving Image is screening the new DCP version of 2001 as part of its new See It Big! series (also making its DCP premiere Apocalypse Now Redux).

  • 310182.1035

  • 310181.1731

    Legendary director Chung Cheng Wa presents his two great films Five Fingers of Death and his personal favorite The Swift Knight. Both are in 35MM and are shown at Lincoln Center's part of the New York Asian Film Festival. The master makes personal appearances at both screenings. Chung's mastery of plot compression and action potential is on full display. Humor parallels fortune, music is sung to augment themes, color and darkness are expertly played with. Treachery and righteousness go hand in hand as pre-Bruce Lee Lo Lieh masters baddies as well as his self. Despite his shooting speed (two films per year) Chung kept his visuals meticulous, saving close-ups for monstrous moments. His punctuations are carefully placed. Zooms that open fight scenes are precise. It's his style Tarantino copies predominantly in Kill Bill's kung-fu, but QT can't decide if he's parodying or paying tribute (imagine Kill Bill's MAD Magazine send-up, it doesn't need any new jokes).  Both are must-sees.