Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Ballad of Paul and Yoko: Artfully Linked

Yoko Ono; Paul McCartney.


Yoko One, "Death of Samantha," Approximately Infinite Universe, 1973.

The Firemen, Strawberries, Ships, Oceans, Forest, 1993.

To think of Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney in the same sentence, let alone in the same artfully appreciative article, might strike some people as a surprising proposition, and yet as a narrative ballad they share much more in common that you might at first imagine. Not just the fact that they shared an intimate partnership with a famous musician and pop star but also the fact that they have often been collaterally damaged victims of an ongoing mythology about who they actually were and what they actually did. To some extent, this might just be the occupational hazard of any huge cultural icon, but it could also be a revealing indication of how much we all want to believe what we want to believe, despite what the facts and evidence may show us otherwise. Luckily for us however, Peter Jackson’s masterfully edited documentary called Get Back at least contributes somewhat to their rehabilitation at celebrities anonymous.

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Lost Daughter, and Notes on Novice Directors

Jessie Buckley in The Lost Daughter.

When first-rate actors turn into directors, one thing you can usually count on is the quality of the performances. Rebecca Hall’s work with Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga in Passing is so finely tuned and so subtle that it feels almost preconscious, as if Hall kept catching the two women in the moments before their identification with their characters had translated into action. That description makes it sound as if the actresses weren’t actually engaged in the process of acting, because any good teacher will tell you that acting is action, and when actors don’t play an action (otherwise known as an objective) what they generally wind up producing is a wash of generalized emotion. (That’s what’s happened to Kate Winslet’s work over the last ten years.) But Thompson and Negga aren’t generalizing; they’re so deeply engrained in their characters that it’s as if Hall were simply on their wavelength, recording their process – except, of course, there’s nothing simple about pulling that off. I sometimes had that experience watching the actresses in Ingmar Bergman’s movies (including some of the bad movies) – the sense that the relationship between them and the director was as intimate as the one between a great photographer and his or her subject. The comparison seems especially apt in the case of Passing, which has the feel of black-and-white photographs from the twenties and thirties – and that may be the reason the movie makes some viewers impatient or bored. It’s a piece of experimental filmmaking in which the novice director is striving to get on the screen states of being that haven’t been dramatized before.