Thursday, September 1, 2022

So it Goes: Accommodating the Sublime

W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

“Having looked at a work of art, I leave the museum or gallery in which it is on display, and tentatively enter the studio in which it was made. And there I wait in hope of learning something of the story of its making.” – John Berger

Where to begin with the two greatest English landscape painters in history? So great that even an art critic is challenged to find the most accurate ways to extol their truly magnificent achievements? Well, in a diversionary tactic during which I can gather my far-flung thoughts into something resembling coherence, I may start by mentioning that persistent readers of Critics At Large, or even occasional readers with a canny eye, will notice that I have long been intrigued by dualities, polarities, alternates, dichotomies, parallels, binaries, opposites and what Dr. Jung called synchronicity. Far from being merely coincidence, or even what the good doctor called meaningful coincidence, he further explained that synchronicity occurs when two archetypes (images or ideas shared by all of us in the collective unconscious) arise at the same time in roughly the same place.

And so it is with two great painters, Joseph Turner (1775-1851), more commonly identified by the way he signed his works, J.M.W. Turner, and John Constable (1776-1837), the paired and most recognizable icons of landscape representation and also the two most daringly innovative risk takers in the history of painting. That history contains a basic template for presenting images to our insatiably hungry eyes: portrait (close to), still life (nearby), landscape (far from). But in the case of these two exemplars, both of whom were surprising emissaries for a fledgling modernism just then on the cusp of occurring with the advent of the French invention of the camera in about 1839, and the resulting plunge into overall pictorial abstraction continuing to this day, we have a unique case of merging the three formats into one single vertiginous entity.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Silver Screen Time Machine: Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020)

Tosa Kazunari in Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020).

Somehow, Kato doesn’t freak out.

The essence of time travel is narrative. Like the unread pages of a good book, the future has already happened; it just hasn’t yet happened to you. The metaphor applies doubly to filmmaking, which usually takes a narrative and shoots it out of order. Continuity must be maintained, and character and emotional arcs made convincing. If they aren’t, paradoxes manifest, the cinematic world collapses, and viewers branch off from the storyworld prematurely, each into their own individual lifeworlds.

2020’s Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (ドロステのはてで僕ら “We at the End of the Droste”), director-cinematographer-editor Yamaguchi Junta’s feature debut, realizes this metaphor in the most direct way. Beyond is shot to look like it was done in a single take, using just one phone, tripod, boom mic, the world’s longest power cord, and lots and lots of stopwatches. To give you a sense of its flavor, it was inspired by One Cut of the Dead (カメラを止めるな! “Don’t Stop the Camera!”), Ueda Shinichiro’s 2017 smash hit about a group of people tasked with making a one-shot microbudget zombie film. There are cuts in Beyond – of course there are cuts; it’s a time travel film – but to keep up the illusion, the requisite plot complications have to develop organically from the situation the characters find themselves in, and from who they are as characters, as people. Writer Ueda Makoto does a hell of a job in just 70 minutes.