Monday, November 22, 2021

Favorite (four), seventy-five

 Just like in my other seventy-four posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only a very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Frederick Wiseman's Juvenile Court
Because Wiseman likes to leave his films unadorned - long takes, zero non-diegetic music and mostly a static camera - one of the main factors determining a work's impact is the quality of speeches (or conversations) his subjects deliver.  In his works, these speeches tend to be long and his subjects range from being highly intellectual and articulate to having difficulty putting forward coherent sentences.  The interactions Wiseman captures in his exploration of the juvenile court system are powerful and emotionally affecting, and the "speeches" in this work rate alongside his most effective films.  

Alan Rudolph's Remember My Name
Only the third film of Rudolph's I have seen so far and my favorite.  It meanders and never feels like it needs to make itself more  conventional, comfortable or easy for those watching.  It inverts a story we have seen often and makes us realize how foreign a simple swap for a female lead in this type of story can make us feel.  Often I have read how Altmanesque Rudolph is as a filmmaker but this film seems to have influenced Altman (Short Cuts and The Player) rather than the other way around.   

Frederick Wiseman's Near Death
A film that makes the case that it is Wiseman's fearlessness that could be his greatest asset, even more than his intelligence, his rigor or his patience.  Once again, because of Wiseman's approach, the impact often hinges greatly on the ability of the subjects he selects to speak clearly and articulate in a manner that is compelling and engaging.  These speeches are the music of his films and the doctors and nurses in particular in this work are responsible for some amazing passages.  This work also examines the staff's feelings about their profession in a way I have not seen before in a Wiseman film.  

Shatara Michelle Ford's Test Pattern
A highly effective indy.  I know nothing about the filmmaker but the two actors are strong and the direction is patient and efficient.  It is difficult material but the way the filmmaker sets it up in the beginning adds a sense of danger to the first 30 minutes.  Once we are caught up with the narrative Ford is still able to maintain the suspense by focusing on the couple and whether their relationship will survive the horrific events of the night before.  It reminds me of Sciamma's Tomboy in the way it successfully incorporates suspense elements of thrillers or mystery films in material that generally does not contain such characteristics.