Archives for the month of: February, 2014

It’s kind of amusing that Tywin Lannister is always cutting up animals in Game of Thrones. There’s the deer-butchering:

and the fishing scene (cut) from season 3:

This is why we get those pedantic scenes of Maester Luwin quizzing Bran about what’s on whose sigil. When it comes to teaching, I hate and love such moments – they’re surface-level touches that, thankfully, reward careful reading of the literal contents of the mise en scene. I love literal engagements with the text – what else is mapping the narrative locations of films but an avowedly literal approach. But I don’t know what to do with these scenes beyond the surface-level. Yes yes there’s the metaphor of butchery and blood on hands and so on and so on – but that’s all on the surface level. It certainly fills in the fictional world, but I don’t know just how much deeper it makes it.

On the other hand, something like Ballad of a Soldier (1959, Grigory Chukhray) throws out images that have somewhat obvious surface-level readings that, on further inspection and contemplation, take us to more interesting places.

There’s a wonderful continuous shot of Alyosha getting chased by a tank that does a now-standard flip (Danny Boyle uses a similar shot at the end of Trainspotting when Renton leaves with the money).

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The obvious disorientation and unsettling of the world emerges from the imagery, but I’d also note the grand absurdity of the scene. A man, on foot, chased by a tank. The tracks that criss-cross the field add to the disorientation, but also act to pull our vision away, however briefly, and in the upside-down framing, this creates something like a fog of war. It’s hard to believe that there’s a tank chasing a soldier on foot – and it is that very incongruity that helps Alyosha to escape. Our difficulty in making sense of the situation and the imagery exists within the narrative world as well.

My favourite image in the film comes when Alyosha is trying to find a ride back to his home town, where he wants to help to fix the roof of the house his mother lives in. Here he is flagging down a ride:

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It may be that I’m more inclined to prefer Soviet cinema to US television, but this image equals theĀ Game of Thrones bits above in its obviousness, but seems to signify much more. Alyosha echoes the power poles. Sure thing. Then again, Ballad of a Soldier takes place during WWII, The Great Patriotic War. That is to say, Alyosha as a member of the military, paired with rural electrification embodies things that are Great and Patriotic. The great works of physical infrastructure – one of the modernization plans – and the great works of human “infrastructure” (structures, I guess) are in concert, building, connecting, and preserving the Soviet Union.

I’m willing to be convinced otherwise – and maybe I’m stacking the deck in my favour by picking an historical example – but to my eyes, this obvious surface-level imagery generates a more complex and interesting reading of the film.

(The USSR’s modernization/industrialization projects weren’t too far behind the US’s: In the US the Rural Electrification Administration was a New Deal deal, established in 1935. It’s not that long ago: both my paternal grandparetns grew up on a non-electrified farms in north central Wisconsin. This post featured a lot of “buts”, I know.)

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There’s a lot to love in The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaucescu. After watching it, I don’t know if I’d want to be an autocratic ruler’s cameraman. It doesn’t look like much fun.

One home movie – in colour – features a moment that says quite a bit about Rulers for Life. Here are three stills of Ceaucescu spiking a volleyball in a backyard match, “subtly” pulling the net down as he jumps

Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu cheaty spike 1 Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu cheaty spike 2 Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu cheaty spike 3I admit to, in my younger years, practicing my dives for soccer. I don’t see too much of a problem with Luis Suarez or anyone else flopping. Even moving to left back didn’t cure me of my love of a good dive. But Ceaucescu is just plain cheating when he doesn’t have to. He’s the all-powerful strongman ruler of the country. The volleyball game that we see in the film is kind of hilariously half-assed. Except for Ceaucescu. He’s going all out, even on his net-dipping spikes. I don’t know if it shows something less than admirable about me, but I can quite easily find it in me to like someone who lives up to Jesse The Body Ventura’s “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat” motto. Even when (and maybe especially because) everyone’s letting him win.

Were Autobiography a fictional film, I would really enjoy the wonderful cruelty of Ceaucescu’s shirt coming up over his pudgy little belly, exposing his softness as he cheats.