Dunkirk (2017) — Rhythm and Blues and Oranges

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by Will Ross

If you were to concoct a movie concept for Christopher Nolan to direct that would play to his strengths and mitigate his weaknesses, you could certainly do far worse than Dunkirk, a war movie that rigorously adheres to the perspective of British men involved in one of the most triumphantly remembered wartime losses of any national memory. The concept is: to intercut between three separate stories of different time spans, one following those on the beach being evacuated for a week, one following a small boat of civilians who cast off from home to offer whatever help they can in rescuing the troops for a day, and one following a fighter pilot’s hour-long mission to interrupt the German air force’s attempts to strafe and bomb the fleeing British navy into oblivion; to follow numerous characters and plot strands without especially emphasizing their personalities or any kind of “arc”; to stage the entire film as though it were one almost never-ending suspense set piece, closing the noose throughout. Its divergences from that concept and its principles are the primary source of its failings, but it also shows signs that Nolan may be too enmeshed in the commercial sensibilities that have made this, his longtime dream project, a reality. It is precisely because Dunkirk is his best film in over a decade (a compliment, in my estimation, if a slight one) that it also lays out the clearest case yet that he may never again make something as uncompromising and dangerously unsatisfying as Memento.

Nonetheless, hopefully the successes here portend new directions for Nolan, as they are the result of creative choices that would be risky for anyone, one of which is that the tight focus on the evacuation distances this from the excitement of a combat film. He never puts German figures or faces on screen, giving no greater representation to them than their airplanes. Besides mostly eliminating combat from the proceedings, the unseen enemy goes some way towards Dunkirk's resemblance of a disaster movie, abstracting the threat of death into something as random as it is inevitable: bomb after bomb, bullet after bullet, torpedo after torpedo shreds across the beaches and escape ships, the desolate sands and seas withstanding the explosions and absorbing the corpses, unmarred and impassive, while soldiers die by the thousands waiting in line for ships that may never come. Early on, the film's single most striking shot literalizes this systematic yet arbitrary procession of death, as one soldier cowers in the sand in the foreground while we watch an out-of-focus line of men in the same position blasted by bombs, eradicated one by one as the sand explodes from the ground closer and closer to the camera — until it stops short.

It's an atmosphere thick with dread, and the film's commitment to its concept produces and holds that atmosphere for most of its running time. But two of the three stories break from that schema in a fashion that suggests Nolan may have been more curious about the effect of splitting the standard duties of conventional storytelling among different strands than he was about removing them altogether. The civilian boat, for instance, has a hard-nosed but passionate older man, identified only as Mr. Dawson, (Mark Rylance) taking the aid of two teenage boys, one his son (Tom Glynn-Carney), the other a ship hand (Barry Keoghan), as he takes his vessel across the Channel to France himself rather than letting the Royal Navy commandeer it. Rather than that sense of encroaching death, of catastrophe avoided by the narrowest of margins, their story relies more on psychodrama. That kind of material has never been Nolan’s strong suit, given that he tends to populate his films with characters who are too thinly drawn for interpersonal fireworks to register much beyond the surface, just one of many ways that broad strokes have been the auteur’s bread and butter, and details his achilles heel. When that psychodrama goes haywire, the aftermath is maudlin and unrevealing, the sort of pitying ode to sacrifice that more suggests an effort to satisfy an audience’s desire for heroes than an effort to say anything interesting about who they were, what they thought, and what their sacrifice may have signified beyond tearjerking sentiment. Was it right or responsible for Dawson to take his ship out himself, a prideful act that likely caused far more suffering than if he had let the Navy take it from him? It’s a fascinating question, naturally suggested by the story, so much so that it’s staggering that Dunkirk seems either unaware of it, or unwilling to address its moral complexity at the expense of its concluding nationalist strains.

In the pilot’s story, much the opposite problem takes hold, as Nolan reaches for pathos in a feather-light story and a character who barely registers as anything more than a mask and muffled speech (played, in what must be a rare moment of witty self-awareness for Nolan, by the film’s most famous actor Tom Hardy, who last worked with Nolan playing the infamously-masked and indecipherably-voiced Bane in The Dark Knight Rises). This story is at its best when it accepts that it is the most anonymous of the three, as a Spitfire pilot named Farrier hunts for Germans long after his fuel gauge is broken. The cracked glass over that gauge — a timer that demarcates how long Farrier has before he must land or die — is the most potent metaphor for the film’s fragmented treatment of time. As all three stories work towards a common point at different rates, the sense that time is out of everyone’s hands and that death could come at any time is omnipresent. Yet Farrier (and we) can’t help but keep glancing at the broken gauge.

Unfortunately, in order to motivate Farrier, he must have a mission, and it just so happens that his mission is to engage Germans in combat, the only prominent violation of the film’s otherwise well-guarded avoidance of definable antagonists. This might be an acceptable concession, except that Nolan is not particularly good at staging combat, be it fisticuffs, shootouts, or dogfights. Rather than any sense of logical decision-making or escalating spatial tension, his oppositional action scenes inevitably boil down to a series of events without a perceptible causal chain, i.e. this happens, then this happens, then this happens, without a “because” or “therefore” to give weight to the battle or meaning to the decisions. And so it goes when Farrier comes across a foe from the Luftwaffe: he swerves, fires, misses, swerves again, fires, misses, breaks chase, swings back, and finally gets a killshot, and there is little means to explain why one moment follows the next.

Corresponding to its dullness when taking the perspective of a hunter, Dunkirk’s best scenes are most always when it plants us in the boots of the hunted. The beach story — titled “The Mole” in ominous contrast to the other, plainer titles, “The Sea” and “The Air” — is genuinely nightmarish and surrealistically frightening in a way his fairly mechanical depiction of dreams in Inception never approached. “The Mole” is a feedback loop of failure, as we follow the mostly silent trials of Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), the only survivor of a squad we see picked off in the film’s prologue. Tommy, it seems, is among the very last men to arrive at the evacuation zone, which puts him last in line for rescue. Seeing this, and realizing that explosions will rock the beach constantly until he leaves or dies, he tries again and again to escape the shoreline, meeting bureaucratic failure at best, catastrophic near-death (by drowning, burning, bombing, or even friendly bullets) at worst. Meanwhile, the film gives a surprising (and admirable) amount of screentime to British officers who don’t appear to have much more influence over their fate than anyone else stranded on the wrong side of the English Channel, primarily Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh). Instead of the strategizing or rousing speeches an officer would typically deliver in a film like this, their time is spent either confirming that yes, their only possible option is the worst-case-scenario, or mournfully reflecting on their helplessness. (“You can almost see it,” Bolton says, looking over the water, “home.” But the horizon line is mercilessly straight and clear.) That Branagh gives what seems to be a terrific performance is a shame, because as long as Nolan insists on burying dialogue in his sound mixes, the performances in his films can scarcely do more but “seem to be.” Elsewhere, the sparseness of spoken word permits Nolan and regular sound designer Richard King to indulge on their thick, detailed sound designs without effectively muting important dialogue, but it's inexplicable that the dialogue issues persist, since they're the most universal and longstanding complaint about the technical elements of Nolan's films.

By default, then, Whitehead is best in show. I don’t mean that as a backhanded compliment; his paucity of spoken lines allows his work to exist solely on his weathered, frightened face, unblighted by the overwhelming sound mix. The most impressive feat of Whitehead’s work here is the growing sense that Tommy knows that he can’t possibly survive this, and attempts escape only because there is no other choice but to swim into the water and die, as he grimly watches one man do. In a cast packed with unfamiliar faces but featuring a few bona fide stars, it’s telling that his — at once wide-eyed and despairing, accepting that each new escape is, at best, a distraction from the inevitable — is the most memorable.

So “The Mole” is handily the best part of Dunkirk’s three-pronged story, and yet I’m not sure that the film would be better with its other thirds excised (though I’m curious to see someone try with an inevitable fan edit). Perhaps the most obvious means in which Dunkirk appeals to Nolan’s gifts as a filmmaker is his structural ambition and rhythmic grandiosity. That tends to manifest in puzzle-narratives that take the moment the last puzzle piece clicks in as their emotional climax, and in intercutting that takes on an operatic intensity. While both of these habits and their merits are often scuttled by the sloppiness that tends to mar his screenplays, here they’re mercifully free of any gaping plot holes or laughable character turns. It's hard to overstate just how vertiginously magnetic Lee Smith’s editing is, be it the tightening corkscrew of its nested timelines, which converge on the climax of the evacuation with breathless certitude, or the raw, moment-to-moment decisions, as in the late scene where a German plane comes in for a bombing run of men on the beach, and Smith gives the overwhelming majority of screen time to the men who are about to be bombed, both extending the moment to thunderously huge proportions and giving the plane an almost cosmic frightfulness by keeping it a mostly unseen presence. The one and only edit I take issue with is the one that leads into the final shot, a use of a fade to black and hard cut so bizarre and disjointed that I keep wondering if something's gone over my head. I even suspected that my theater's projector may have suffered some sort of malfunction; whatever the case, the effect was far more jarring than any intent suggested by the material.

That this movie is replete with fantastic cutting is a particular boon, since the shots that make up the montage are, in and of themselves, underwhelming. How, exactly, the film has received its reputation for superlative visuals isn’t clear on the merits, though I’d wager an extensive marketing push for seeing it in an IMAX theater affected a lot of folks' impressions before they even reached their seats. Dunkirk makes use of a fairly extreme dichromatic palette, limiting its colours to fall within two hues. As the film begins, with its faded reds and cyans, one might assume that Nolan is replicating the look of an old, two-strip technicolor film. There are two major issues with this theory of Nolan’s motivation, and the first is anachronism: by 1940, the old red-and-blue process had been obsoleted by a more polychromatic three-strip technicolor, famously used the year before in The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.

The second issue is that Dunkirk’s governing hues change from scene to scene, and sometimes even from shot to shot. While the film starts with a two-strip look, its median colours are run-of-the-mill teal and orange, and it’s hard to think of any way that palette choice contributes to the sense of place or emotional impact, other than to make an ensemble war film look like any number of tentpole blockbusters made in the 2010s. Even more surprising, given the technical demands and pedigree involved, is how inconsistent it is: within a single scene, a character may step out of a boat’s interior with his face as orange as a carrot, then, after a single cutaway, his skin will have calmed into a less-intensified apricot. For a movie that takes such pains and pride in recreating the conditions of the Dunkirk disaster (the credits make frequent mention of production details like the use of actual boats that were present at the evacuation), made by a filmmaker who has been as loud a critic of digital filmmaking as any in the mainstream sphere, Dunkirk’s single most distinctive cinematographic stylization is often a distracting intrusion of a digital cliche into a bleak, meticulously drawn period setting.

Further evidencing Nolan’s simultaneous skill as a technician and blindness to the shortcomings of his technique is his customary insistence on swapping aspect ratios. Depending on the format you watch in, every time a scene cuts between 35mm and IMAX cameras, the aspect ratio changes along with it. This is particularly damaging since the film is cut and structured as one continuous suspense sequence, making the changes especially distracting. It may help matters that the vast majority of the film was shot with IMAX cameras, lessening the number of switches. But there’s one way in which the switches aren’t a big deal, but should be: Dunkirk is not well-framed enough for it to be clear whether or not it would look best at 1:43:1 or 2.20:1. Those are enormously different ratios for a movie to coexist within, and its a mixed blessing that the camerawork here just isn’t good enough to be particularly hurt by it. Whatever the case, Nolan’s reliably pedestrian sense of composition does not scream out to be seen in a premium format.

On the other hand, while Hans Zimmer has tended to be one of Nolan’s most stalwart liabilities, his score here makes a trend of his just-fine work in Interstellar. Played almost wall-to-wall and mostly free of significant dynamics, it recedes into a near-ambient effect as the film proceeds, more important for its tempo and general textual contributions to the sound design than as a distinctive musical voice. Among the worst traits of Zimmer’s fairly woeful career trajectory over the last decade has been that his music insists upon itself at the expense of the film it’s meant to complement, and this score mostly sidesteps that fault by focusing on his love of heavily digitized production and refraining from his annoyingly extreme dynamic shifts. That said, a brilliant or flawless score it most certainly is not, largely because, as usual, Zimmer seems incapable of any sort of effective musical development from the beginning of a movie until its end. The most common melodic motif, a nervous loop of methodically rising brass, repeats itself beyond what its simplistic bombast can sustain. Still, the score’s offerings help preserve the unrelenting sense of doom and tension, and the repetition does share a sort of thematic kinship with the miserable trial and error in “The Mole”.

It is, even with its short (for Nolan) running time of 106 minutes, a behemoth of a film, almost single-minded in intent and all the better for it. But while simplicity and even cliche don’t preclude the profound or the cathartic, the flag-waving finale and its incantation of Churchill’s iconic “never surrender” speech suggest that the film is uninterested in asking us to seriously grapple with its events in particular or war in general, instead evoking nothing more than a pat on the boys’ back for going through hell. It’s a shame that Dunkirk ultimately capitulates to such platitudes — succumbing to the mythic triumphalism long enshrined by Churchill’s famous invigorations — instead of offering us ideas or conclusions we could not have come to without stepping into the cinema. In fact, the ending works against everything that came before it. It’s as destructive to Dunkirk as the jingoistic shot of the American flag that ended Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was to that film. The denouement is a bizarre outgrowth, a betrayal of the nightmare that came before, and given that its from the same auteur who has suggested so bitingly throughout his career that humans are too often willing to accept a palatable dream over hard truths — in the last shot of Inception, in the shifting public personas of his "Dark Knight" trilogy, in the fog and self-doubt of Insomnia, in the illusions of  The Prestige, and, most comprehensively and affectingly, in the manipulated amnesia of his still-best work Memento — it’s especially stinging that Dunkirk’s worst missteps are when it turns away from itself.

Cinematheque 2017 Movie Marathon Liveblog!

THE POST MORTEM

Devan

Instead of live-blogging the end of the marathon from the comfort of my bedroom like I had intended, I immediately fell asleep for six hours. Now that I'm of reasonably sober mind, I'll dive right into the post-mortem.

How did this stack up to the two previous marathons Will and I attended? On the whole, I'd say that this was perhaps the most consistent slate of programming yet; virtually every film was worthwhile and the sequencing was basically spot-on. There were no momentum killers like Cinema Paradiso at 6am in 2013 or the double-whammy of Orlando and A Brief History of Time at midnight in 2015. Speedy got a sleepy response, but I can't imagine a better film to be drifting in and out of than a highly episodic silent comedy. It's also gratifying to see the an uptick in the number of non-english-language films and a greater diversity of decades represented; we got not one but two films from the 1920s!

In fact, my main programming complaint is more about what wasn't there: namely, something truly weird or campy. In 2013 we got the wacky Italian giallo film Demons, still my favorite viewing experience at any of these marathons, and in 2015 we got Army of Darkness and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, both of which qualify as pretty demented. This year, the closest we got was Attack the Block, which is... fine. It's a completely lucid and pretty alright science fiction adventure flick, but it doesn't really come close to scratching that late-night b-movie itch. As a result, I felt like something was clearly missing when things wrapped up, and I can't help but think that some sort of surreal or otherwise mind-addled film could've taken its place and elevated the evening.

The way this year's theme (urban living) was dealt with was somewhat different from how 'Movies about Movies' and 'Time' were; it felt more loose. There was an overriding focus on race, gender, and class-based divisions in urban society; Killer of Sheep, Do the Right Thing, and Tangerine felt like the linchpins of the evening in this regard. The downside of this specific theme was that there was little room for surprise or clever interpretations; cities are cities. To take one example: time, as a more abstract concept, offered a whole lot of room for lateral thinking in terms of how the theme was interpreted. RopeBefore Sunset, Primer, and Army of Darkness all intersected with the theme on totally different narrative, metanarrative, and subtextual levels, and that's just not possible with cities.

So, to sum up:

Highlights: Pelham One Two Three, Tokyo Godfathers, Chungking Express, Man With a Movie Camera.

Weak Points: Attack the Block, and maaaaaaybe Tangerine; it's a tall order to take in ninety minutes of sensory assault at 5am, but it's as close to an impossible-to-program slot as there is.

Best Presentation: The Criterion restoration of Speedy. I've seen a lot of great restorations of 20s cinema, but the transfer on this thing is so impossibly pristine that I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn't some modern recreation of a 20s silent comedy.

Weakest Presentation: The White Balloon. It was what appeared to be an ugly DVD screener with a Sundance watermark in the bottom right corner. It's almost certainly a difficult film to track down, so I can't complain too much; there is a much better PAL DVD release out there, however.

Best Discovery: Pelham, of course!

Best Overall Film: Either Rear Window or Man With a Movie Camera.

Cinematography Ranking: 
You know, I didn't realize just how darn consistent this screening's visuals were until writing this down just now. Any programme where the cinematography of Do The Right Thing isn't even in the top half of my list is pretty stupendous.
1. Chungking Express | 2. Rear Window | 3. Man With a Movie Camera | 4. Cleo From 5 to 7 | 5. Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 | 6. Speedy | 7. Do The Right Thing | 8. Killer of Sheep | 9. The More The Merrier | 10. The White Balloon | 11. Attack the Block | 12. Tangerine

Well, that about does it. Thanks, Cinematheque team! 

 10:09 am - Will

 It's over! The final film was Rear Window , a great pick (it's the only film of the bunch that focuses on the unique elements of domestic   urban living), but surprised me; I ruled it out earlier on the basis that the 2015 marathon also included a Hitchcock (Rope ). I've probably seen Rear Window upwards of 20 times; it used to be my favourite film and hasn't fallen an inch in my personal estimation. It was a pleasure to sit through. And I'm not sure why, but all three marathons have ended with a 50s Hollywood film (others were High Noon and Singin' in the Rain ). Don't know why, but it feels like that kind of film works very well as a capper for these things.

Anyway, it's time for a feeble attempt to restore my sleep schedule with a nap. Devan will be chiming in with his parting thoughts below, and I'll have a separate post summing up and analyzing the whole experience either later today or tomorrow, but let me just thank those who have tuned in to any of this liveblog. If you liked it, please consider bookmarking this blog, which will have more content forthcoming, or if you have thoughts (critical ones even!), please feel free to give me your feedback on Twitter, where you can find me by the handle SadHillWill. Good morning and good night!

 7:43 am - Will

 They played Speedy , which is funny but hardly drew any laughs at all. Looking around, a lot of people were asleep, and the second to last film tends to suffer the most in these marathons, so it's not hard to see why. Poor Harold.

Devan: I definitely fell victim to this - my energy fell off a cliff half an hour in. Also the film is kinda episodic and has the tendency to boil down to a series of semi-connected and slightly repetitive gags sometimes lolz

 5:48 am - Will

they are serving breakfast bless you movie persons

4:14 - Will

Well, current film is Tangerine, which I've seen before, and I have to admit I'm not really nuts about it. Its low-fi energy and the socio-cultural realm it gives representation to are both laudable and important, but I find its improv pretty painfully self-conscious, and a lot of its aesthetics are more concerned with posturing as low-culture than with really complementing (let alone enhancing) the material. Will be interesting to hear what others think. So, gonna use this as nap time and give my all to whatever's left.

4:00 am - Devan

first short just played, what the heck did I just watch? Then two minutes of black. Will just informed me that the short was called "let forever be", a music video for the Chemical Bros. Neat! Up next: Daft Punk! This is fun. I was expecting, like, Chaplin shorts or something. 

3:50am - Devan

Taking of Pelham 123 was fantastic! Was not on my radar much before this beyond "that well-thought of 70s thriller that I occasionally mix up with Assault on Precinct 13", but it's pretty close to a top-tier NYC school 70s crime thriller (which is saying a lot!) It's got just about every NYC character actor of the era in it, to boot. Great, great stuff. 

Will: Ah, but Devan, you underestimate just how many NYC character actors there were in the 70s! Agreed. Fantastic piece of suspense and a really funny satire of public institutions. Everyone is contemptible, everyone has contempt for US institutions. 

2:08 - Will

New underwear and socks, I am reborn babyyyyy!  

 1:59 -Devan

Attack The Block is the midnight movie this year. First viewing for me, and it's fine - nothing to set the world on fire, but a good space invaders yarn. As a midnight movie, too staight-laced for my tastes, though. It's a fairly lucid and straightforward film, and I'm hankering for some delirious fever dreams.

Speaking of which, I finally changed my socks, and I feel like a new man! A new man!!!!

Will 

 A fine film; hopefully not the peak of genre wacky fun as Demons  and Army of Darkness  were before it, but those actually played at around 2/3 am, so the next film could be the real banger. We'll see!

But Attack the Block is more or less as I remembered it: successful all around, though its successes are fairly modest (aside from the meta-accomplishment of making an alien film with such a low budget).

10:57 - Devan 

Christopher Doyle's work in Chungking Express is just beyond words. Perfect handheld camera operation, perfect use of foreground objects, perfect softening filters, perfect source lighting... it's one of those aesthetic-defining films that just completely redefines how what it's portraying is portrayed. Flaws and artifacting are everywhere but only serve to deepen the sense that we're watching a world where everything is chaotic, alive, a little dangerous.

I've lost count of the number of times I've seen Do the Right Thing, so I'm also taking a breather. I can confirm that it is indeed one of the gr8est films of the 80s, though. 

Also, Will decided to turn the marathon into an impromptu Bach party for me (I'm getting married in a week), so that's fun! Here's my bizarre panorama selfie of all of us at Breka. 

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10:39 - Will

Do the Right Thing is playing, and it's the second movie in a row that I've seen multiple times, and most recently in the last two months, so I'm taking a quick breather in the lobby and then might try to catch some sleep to stock up energy for the post-midnight daze. It's also a flawed presentation, which isn't really the Cinematheque's fault — the blu-ray lacks the intended orange tint that's supposed to be applied across the film, emphasizing the extreme heat of the New York day, but it's a tough call to choose between the detail offered by the blu and the colour offered by the Criterion DVD. (In case you can't tell, I love the film, and my skipping it is in no way a knock on it. You should see it if you haven't.) The Chungking Express screening, on the other hand, used the Criterion blu-ray, and it reminded me how incredible that disc was. Just a tremendous audio-visual presentation; it's a real shame it's out of print.

 10:10 - Will

Fuck that movie's good. This might have been my best viewing yet (my... 4th? I think) of Chungking. One thing that amazes me about it is how it colloquializes mundane moments and emotionally weaponizes them. It's not that chef's salad is a complex metaphor that makes it worth using in both stories, and so affecting when it recurs. It's that when we first see it mentioned, someone is binging on it to cope with their feelings, and that sense of emotional intimacy and almost unwitting disclosure remains. Aesthetic pyrotechnics aside, that stuff is all over the movie, and I love it.

8:23 pm - Will

I like the idea of lengthier intros to certain parts of the marathon (they're doing one for Chungking Express  !) but I'm not sure making them so academic is the right move, and they don't really tie the elements of the marathon together (first one: all urban living theme, no movie talk. this one: all movie talk, no urban living theme). Still, a nice way to settle into seats and break up the monotony and I could see it working well with future marathons, I'm just not totally sure of how much it's really adding to the viewing experience itself. 

Devan: Yeah, it feels like a bit of an intrusion on the flow of the evening, like we're taking a  break from our endurance test to attend film school. 

Will: Thank god they're not having class discussion, tho.

7:51 pm  Will  

Dinner break! Cleo from 5 to 7 was a great pick that I never would have expected. Seeing how modernist/post-modernist life affects the way we process emotions in urban spaces through a real-time lens made for a great supplement to the theme, especially given that this is the first explicitly upper-class depiction of urban life of the marathon so far.

5:49 Devan

Tokyo Godfathers! It was great! Pulls some pretty great tonal tricks, and ends with a "catch the baby!" chase scene that's basically straight out of Raising Arizona. 

 Will

My headache was gone by the start of that! It was great. Vastly preferred this to Paprika , the only other Kon I've seen. His relatively meagre sense of composition is vastly compensated for by his grip on other elements of mise en scene. Also its plot may be a little too brambly at times — nitpicks. Devan got at the good stuff before I did. 

4:12 - Will

 Killer of Sheep, first film where fatigue most definitely sapped my full engagement. Have had a headache lingering since the first film that took full bloom here (Devan rescued me with ibuprofens). The photography and sense of tonal despair were really impressive nonetheless.

Devan

This is my second viewing and I've yet to feel like I've 100% engaged with Killer of Sheep, though I've been greatly impressed with said tonal despair both times. Some great visuals, particularly during the Sheep massacre scenes. Had a bit more energy for this than I did the panahi. 

2:35 - Will

 The White Balloom , which was presented in a pretty shoddy condition to say the least: there was a Sundance logo in the lower right corner of the screen during long stretches. A very kindhearted film by Jafar Panahi, though certainly not my favourite of his —  doesn't have the social or moral depth of the other films of his I've seen. Or maybe fatigue is setting in and I'm getting cranky.

 Devan

Getting sleepy. Should not have had the free soda at noon.  

1:07 - Will

The More the Merrier, which i had never heard of. The cast is really good, then Joel McCrea shows up and the chemistry hits the roof. Occasional unfortunate wartime undertones of xenophobia, and some uneven direction at the start, but a really terrific farce.

Devan - I'd never heard of it either. That was so damn silly. Stevens seems like a messier wartime comedy director than Sturges or Lubitsch; his comic timing is strangely laconic and he gives the performances a lot of room to meander in fun ways. 

11:18 - Will

  Man with a Movie Camera ! Pretty natural choice for a first film — rock solid canon pick, super energetic, and depicts urban life using a distinct ideological approach to cinema. Never been a fan of the Nyman score, but still great!

Devan -  Here are our predictions. My super long shot hope is Claude Lelouch's crazy short C'Etait Un Rendezvous. 

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 10:07am -Devan

All movie marathons ought to start with an urban planning lecture. 

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 10:05 am - Will

 We are starting with a talk by a local architect (I forget his name) about how boring urban spaces+living in Vancouver are bad. There are PowerPoint slides on the big screen, but it feels like a bit much for the start of a movie marathon — I'll try to keep an open mind.

9:57 am - Will

They're playing "Cities" by Talking Heads in the lobby playlist — feeling pretty good about my theme guess!

Ah, they just announced the theme: urban life. Here we go!

9:41:32am - Devan

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Pre-show pano!

9:15 am - Will

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The Cinematheque is cagier than usual with this year's theme and film selection — usually they announce one of the movies a day or two in advance and give a few pretty big clue about the marathon's connective throughlines, but this year the schedule we're given when we walk in has no trace of a film title, and the most substantial clue to the theme is an illustration of a city skyline in the advertising. If the theme is "cities", I think that could be incredible — it's a theme with so many avenues to tackle that it could be a rich experience. But even that's not far from a wild guess.

 

8:32 am – Will 

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Well, it's live, anyway. Hello, and welcome to the Sad Hill liveblog for the 24-hour Movie Marathon at the Cinematheque in Vancouver! The festivities will be getting started in a little over an hour, but for now it's the critical morning-of prep period I've got  most of my gear all prepped and ready: full change of clothes, ample snacks, moist towelettes, blankets, deodorant, toothbrush/paste, and a notepad to draft thoughts for this liveblog for the movie. A quick trip to the neighbourhood supermarket for some gum and fruit, and I'll be ready. I try to overstock on the food factor a little — inevitably, someone sitting nearby will neglect to bring enough or will get a sudden craving when fatigue hits, and I'll lose a banana or a granola bar or two to the greater good.

24-hour Movie Marathon liveblog tomorrow!

Tomorrow, I'll be embarking on my third experience at the local Cinematheque's biannual 24-hour Movie Marathon. The event is really cool, shows good movies (that are not revealed before the event!), and if you have a curious mind, the will to endure, and a lot of spare time this weekend, you should swing by.

Over the four years since the first marathon, it's taken on a lot of personal significance for me, being just about the fullest mind-and-body commitment to cinema that I know how to undertake: intellectual discovery, social communion, local art culture, physical presence. And they always throw a goofy Midnight Movie in there, so that's fun.

So, this year, I will offer some vicarious experience of the event by posting about it between movies right here, as the (long overdue) inaugural posts on the new Sad Hill Cemetery blog. Expect efforts at honest connection, emotional reportage, and analysis to be slowly corrupted by the demon that is sleep deprivation. I'll also be making some Tweets when I get a chance, both for more fleeting and trivial thoughts and to give a heads up for new updates to the liveblog, so hit me up on there if you wanna connect live during this thing.

So, come back tomorrow and get ready to refresh! It's gonna be a long ride.

EDIT: Devan will also be liveblogging, apparently. So, you know. Be ready for that.

-Will