Thursday, July 25, 2019

On Nonverbal Cinema: Obscure (2019) and The Color of Pomegranates (aka Sayat Nova, 1969/2014)

Kylr Coffman in Obscure (2019)/

Cinema began as a record of physical movement. The advent of sound brought it more in line with the naturalism of everyday life, but it also de-emphasized the camera’s possibility for intimacy. The last half-decade or so has seen a reversal on that front, with renewed arthouse attention to microgestures and minute shifts in affect. I’m thinking of films like Her (2013), Gone Girl (2014), 45 Years (2015), Moonlight (2016), A Ghost Story (2017), and Phantom Thread (2018) , among others. (A Ghost Story would fit perfectly in this piece, too.)

The latest film to join the trend is writer-director Kunlin Wang’s debut Obscure (2019), which has only one line of dialogue in 92 minutes, and it’s in a reinvented version of “an obscure European language,” to boot, Wang told us in the Q&A following the festival screening I attended. Everything else is conveyed through framing, staging, facial expressions, visual situations, and score. Wang said that the script was originally written with dialogue, but when revising she cut all the lines she felt were unnecessary and ended up with just one, the only moment of exposition that couldn’t be avoided.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Skin of Our Teeth: A World in Crisis

Ariana Venturi in the Berkshire Theatre Group production of The Skin of Our Teeth. (Photo: Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware)

Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth made a splash on Broadway in 1942, where it starred Tallulah Bankhead, Fredric March and his wife Florence Eldridge. America was at war and Wilder’s loony conceptual vaudeville, which presented the history of the human race in a modern American setting, intertwining Genesis with anthropology – in act one a dinosaur and a mammoth shiver in the back yard; act two ends with the animals marching onto Noah’s ark – addressed the struggle for survival and struck a chord with audiences. But after World War II it disappeared from the repertory (though there were two TV adaptations, one with Mary Martin and one with Vivien Leigh). Now, with its references to climate change and refugees and its presentation of war as an eternal verity, it’s popular again all over the country.