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Author Topic: Top 100 Club: Sam the Cinema Snob  (Read 7057 times)

oldkid

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Re: Top 100 Club: Sam the Cinema Snob
« Reply #130 on: December 29, 2020, 07:19:44 PM »
STALKER (1979) - I have enjoyed films with long silences and takes that often are meant to be thought provoking, such as THERE WILL BE BLOOD or long, strange adventures in ERASERHEAD or APOCALYPSE NOW, but here with STALKER this was a bit of a trudge. It is likely I missed something, some great pondering that I never quite caught the gist of.  In fact I initially thought this was a commentary on Chernobyl, only to find out this film was made a number of years before STALKER. I am not well read in Russian literature, but I did see glimpses of the prison of the mind that Raskolnikov from CRIME AND PUNISHMENT suffered as does our protagonist and guide into the Zone called the Stalker. He cannot escape this prison because he has been imbued with some wisdom to lead people into this area that appeared suddenly and is dangerous, but holds a secret room that will grant the lucky explorer who finds the room the wishes of his desire.  The Stalker knows where this room is and how to avoid the dangers of men guarding the Zone and the strange (possibly alien) mind traps inside the Zone. The long sequences that often focused on the back of the head of the Stalker or his companions were hard to really get into and I tried, but I felt like it was intentionally dull or abstract. There are some interesting ideas of how the Stalker is cursed to know where the room that unlocks dreams is located, but if he uses it himself he is doomed. Still this knowledge and ability also imprisons the Stalker and poisons the relationships he has in the real world. Maybe it is a thought exercise on how selfish we all really are and are imprisoned by our own desires and motives which will be all of our undoing (and our own prison).  I think there are some film influences that probably touched the moviemakers I mentioned above Lynch, Anderson, Coppola, but I found it hard to really get into.  I really enjoyed SOLARIS that had some similar themes, but I think I enjoyed the story more than the mysterious Zone.

What helped unlock Stalker for me is the idea that the guide through the zone is a priest and the path is the ritual of religion and the end is the promise of religion that some receive and some do not.  The long sections walking through the zone shows the necessary relationship between a religious leader and an adherent, forcing extraordinarily precise rituals and paths, although there is no obvious rhyme or reason for it all.   It made sense to me in that way, but the long stretches were still long.
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colonel_mexico

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Re: Top 100 Club: Sam the Cinema Snob
« Reply #131 on: December 29, 2020, 09:09:16 PM »
STALKER (1979) - I have enjoyed films with long silences and takes that often are meant to be thought provoking, such as THERE WILL BE BLOOD or long, strange adventures in ERASERHEAD or APOCALYPSE NOW, but here with STALKER this was a bit of a trudge. It is likely I missed something, some great pondering that I never quite caught the gist of.  In fact I initially thought this was a commentary on Chernobyl, only to find out this film was made a number of years before STALKER. I am not well read in Russian literature, but I did see glimpses of the prison of the mind that Raskolnikov from CRIME AND PUNISHMENT suffered as does our protagonist and guide into the Zone called the Stalker. He cannot escape this prison because he has been imbued with some wisdom to lead people into this area that appeared suddenly and is dangerous, but holds a secret room that will grant the lucky explorer who finds the room the wishes of his desire.  The Stalker knows where this room is and how to avoid the dangers of men guarding the Zone and the strange (possibly alien) mind traps inside the Zone. The long sequences that often focused on the back of the head of the Stalker or his companions were hard to really get into and I tried, but I felt like it was intentionally dull or abstract. There are some interesting ideas of how the Stalker is cursed to know where the room that unlocks dreams is located, but if he uses it himself he is doomed. Still this knowledge and ability also imprisons the Stalker and poisons the relationships he has in the real world. Maybe it is a thought exercise on how selfish we all really are and are imprisoned by our own desires and motives which will be all of our undoing (and our own prison).  I think there are some film influences that probably touched the moviemakers I mentioned above Lynch, Anderson, Coppola, but I found it hard to really get into.  I really enjoyed SOLARIS that had some similar themes, but I think I enjoyed the story more than the mysterious Zone.

What helped unlock Stalker for me is the idea that the guide through the zone is a priest and the path is the ritual of religion and the end is the promise of religion that some receive and some do not.  The long sections walking through the zone shows the necessary relationship between a religious leader and an adherent, forcing extraordinarily precise rituals and paths, although there is no obvious rhyme or reason for it all.   It made sense to me in that way, but the long stretches were still long.

I really like that take on it, especially because the path of ritual and/or enlightenment usually requires extreme devotion and perseverance to reach that level of serenity/heaven/nirvana.  Most people are not able to separate themselves from the material things of the world to reach those heights and I would probably be afraid to let go of everything to seek nirvana. The Stalker is a priest in the sense that he holds the keys to the doorway to enlightenment and he has to let go of the earthly relationships to foster that connection he has in the world next (more in the Christian context).  Very interesting perspective thanks for sharing.
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smirnoff

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Re: Top 100 Club: Sam the Cinema Snob
« Reply #132 on: March 15, 2021, 08:16:23 AM »
Black Narcissus

"I think you can see too far", says one of the nuns who, since coming to this palace high in the mountains, is suddenly having 20 year old memories come back to her. These memories are causing her great distress. Other nuns experience something similar. I think that one nun hit the nail on the head though... "seeing too far" seems contradictory to life in most convents. Restriction, keeping your head down, working hard. Restriction is even part of the wardrobe. At times it is built into the very architecture.

The door to the dining hall in Alcobaca Monastery in Portugal.


But these nuns aren't in a convent. They're in a former harem which they are merely repurposing. The architecture is not designed so that it's occupants focus on their work, or to force them to fast if they consume too much food, it's about soaring views. It's about about being able to smell the mountain air, no matter which room you occupy. The colourful and erotic decor of the former inhabitants still adorns some of the walls. The nuns can remove the pictures, but they can do nothing against Mother Nature. It is a place, a palace, designed to take your mind off of your work.

As crude as the film may be in it's depiction of the natives, it does show that the misunderstanding goes both ways. It is not the nuns idea to inhabit this place, but rather General Toda Rai. He thinks it a good spot for a convent of nuns. For his people he desires the school and hospital that the nuns would operate. For the nuns it is a chance to spread their work. But the General's knowledge about "what's good for the nuns" is as poor as the nuns' knowledge about "what's good for his people". When asked what food should be provided for the nuns he confidently declares that they shall have sausage, since he knows that all Europeans eat it. A sausage party at a convent... I not sure if the film is actually this crude or not. Nevertheless it demonstrates the general's ignorance. You cannot simply add a bell to a harem and call it a convent.

A local hero, a holy man, sits on a nearby boulder. He is the extreme opposite of the nuns, doing no work at all, never indoors, and always starring at the landscape that so distracts the sisters. He's the sort of person that seems suited to the location. The sisters look at him with great caution, and so they should. For that seems to be the fate all those who dwell there too long. That or to become a cartoonish old shrew who haunts the hallways of the palace.

I found the basic premise an interesting one. The young mother superior's task of establishing this far away convent is as compelling as that of a young inexperienced captain being given his first command aboard a ship. It is a complex job of managing personalities, maintaining dicipline, ensuring the repetitive and arduous jobs are being completed, achieving the goals of the mission, and all the while trying not to lose the favour and obedience of those you oversee. It is a delicate and difficult job and those who manage it well, and create a harmonious functioning environment are admirable.



But somewhere along the way Sister Clodagh's story was no longer interesting to me. She begins to herself lose focus. The whole endeavour is unravelling and nobody seems to really understand it. In a similar Star Trek TNG plot I might look to Data to heroically save the rest of the crew from themselves, himself unable to be affected by whatever alien virus is spreading through the Enterprise. But nobody saves the sisters from what runs through the convent. They have no Data. Clodagh is as vulnerable to it as any of them. Her leadership style exacerbates matters. Mr. Dean is right, she's too stiff necked. That kind of stern methodology may work elsewhere, but it's no match for this place.

The one strength of the film which endures throughout is the impressive setting and cinematography. That is undeniable. But the dramatics for me became too drawn out. All this mental anguish depicted with sheer lighting, shrill music and extreme closeups. I wasn't moved by it. The writing and characters didn't really do it for me either. The periphery characters were a constant nuisance. The prince, the seductress, Mr. Dean, the old shrew. Mr Dean and his bizarre wardrobe were especially annoying. His character is just badly written. At times he's the proverbial plumber in a porno, other times he's a confidant to Sister Clodagh, but he's also the General's man. Is he there to seduce them with his perpetually bare chest? Who goes to a convent dressed as Tarzan? It's like he's intentionally trolling them. Then later he has the gall to act righteous. A nun turns her life upside down to throw herself at him and he dismisses her as if she's crazy. The film throws around its erotic content very wildly. It simply confuses things.

There's very little that transpires in the film that feels positive. The whole endeavour and everyone involved in it fails in their own way, and there wasn't anyone at the end of it I rooted for. It makes the experience a rather bleak one, and I'm not sure I find the juice worth the squeeze. What is the moral here? Beware misguided endeavours in high places? It's an interesting idea to make a thriller in this setting with these characters, but the execution was not for me.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2021, 10:28:21 AM by smirnoff »

 

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