Thursday, August 12, 2010

A long piece on Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void Director's Cut at Lincoln Center last night

(I've been revising this since it went up last night and I think I've finally gotten it right and corrected)
There is a story here. I’m not sure how to tell it, but there is a story here. I’m not sure what the story is but there you go.

Last night at Lincoln Center there was the New York première of the directors cut of Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void. It’s his first feature in almost ten years (he did a couple of short films in between). The director was in attendance, the stars were in attendance and various people of note were there (Gavin Smith from Film Comment, Marc from the NYAFF, writers, critics and other people who seemed strangely familiar).

I was there with my friend Lou. We are fans of Noe’s having been turned on to his in your face style by Irreversible, his troubling film about a rape told in reverse. From there we sought out I Stand Alone and Carne and his other films. Some are brutal and make you sit up. They are the sort of films you don’t so much like but admire because they are forcefully about something and force you to deal with them. We are such fans of his films that we riff and reference his filmmaking style into long conversations and jokes.

Sadly for me I’ve found the two short films that Noe has done since Irreversible to be weak and not really worth mentioning or of note. They seemed lazy and more intent on just cheaply provoking a reaction rather than making you think afterward (They are like someone jumping out and saying Boo).

The film was introduced and then the audience went silent as the film started.

The opening credits blew the audience away. Many of us were applauding.

And then the film proper started…

And it went on and on and on... and on and on and on...

The woman in front of me fell asleep. The guy next to me fought to stay awake. There were some twitters of laughter and mumbling at some in appropriate moments…and then the film in its blurry final moments crashed into a cliché riddled pile as some of us were laughing loudly at the silliness of it all.

The end credits rolled. As I semi shouted “You have got to be kidding” a man in the front row leapt to his feet and applauded wildly. Some people applauded. Some woke up. Some just got up and walked out. Many others stayed to listen to the Q&A.

Lou asked what I thought and the first thing I said was “Well it’s three f-ing hours long” which shocked him because I rarely use profanity (as he said that was the second time in 25 years)

Lou liked it more than I did and he wanted to stay for the Q&A. So we stayed, briefly until the first question became a long discussion of drug trips. We then got up and walked out.

The remaining audience glared at us for leaving but frankly I had to deal with the director’s crap on the screen and while I’m normally hesitant to leave especially when the director could see, I was happy to make a show of going, more so after I had to deal with what he put on screen.

What followed was an on again off again discussion of the film that lasted almost two hours. Once I got home I began to write up my feelings for the film, basically annoyed that Noe got the film visually and technically right but imploded when it came to the story, the drama and some of the performances.

As today has gone on I found myself blathering on about the film endlessly to anyone who would listen and to some who wouldn’t. If Gaspar wanted to provoke a reaction in me he succeeded but not for the reason he wanted.(I’m not sure if that makes the film a success or not.)

As part of this long puzzlement over the film I wrote it up yet again, this time with an eye at putting a piece here. In rereading it I’m not sure I completely like it. I know I’m not certain about the earlier piece either. Because of the great debate in me I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, I’m going to give you the two pieces I wrote about the film roughly twelve to 20 hours apart.

First up is a link to a piece I wrote for Live Journal (If you follow the link be warned there are spoilers). Forgive the piece it’s from a personal blog where I just let things go. Its rough like my LJ, not polished, not fixed and things just are, but it kind of gives you a sense of the emotion that was flowing through me right after the film ended. After you’ve read that you can read the more refined and more thoughtful piece that follows. This is the result of meditation on the film and is calmer and more reasoned. They both say basically the same thing one with more passion, the other more thought. Take from it what you will

The Unseen Films version:

This is a writing exercise. The purpose of the piece is to write up the latest Gaspar Noe (Irreversible, I Stand Alone) latest film with out this turning into an uncontrolled rant. I’m not sure how this is going to turn out.

Last night Lincoln Center ran the uncut director’s version of Enter the Void as the opening night film of their Summer Melt Down

The film, told entirely in the first person point of view, is about Oscar and what he sees and experiences before and after his death. The film was inspired by a viewing of the classic film Lady in the Lake Noe had while on some drug (I’ve read mushrooms, I believe he said acid last night though that may have been somewhere else). It’s a film that Noe has been trying to make for years

The plot of the film has Oscar and his sister Linda living in Tokyo. Linda goes off to work as a stripper and Oscar stays home to get stoned. While he’s tripping he gets a frantic call from Victor to bring his share of the drugs that they were to sell to the Void. Still tripping he get the drugs and heads over with a friend in tow. The meeting is a set up and the police are waiting. Oscar tries to flush the drugs down the toilet, but his shouting "I have a gun" provokes the police to shoot him dead. Freed of his body Oscar begins to follow the course of the next life as laid out by the Tibetan Book of the Dead (about which there was a discussion of moments before the shooting.) From here we watch as Oscar relives his life, and floats around the people in his life before…well I’ll leave it there because you’ll be able to figure it out.

At times one of the most visually arresting films ever made (the opening credits got wild applause) the film presents images that are the equal to the visual splendor of 2001. The drug imagery and some of the floating scenes are amazing and their marriage with a dynamite sound track are the reason the film should be seen an a really BIG screen with a great sound system. I don't think these images will play well on anything other than a huge screen.

Unfortunately the film’s POV style is full of flaws that work against the film.

First off during the time Oscar is alive Noe has put an artificial blink into the film. The blink is distracting because it's not the way we see the world. Think about how we see the world,we are not aware we are blinking and the artificial blink breaks the connection to the film. (I suppose this goes along with Noe’s love of stroboscopic effects which he’s used in some of his previous films. I know that strobbing at a certain frequency can trigger an effect in the brain-like a seizure in an epileptic-but it can also annoy an audience.)

Secondly the singular point of view results in sequences where we watch the pavement or the stairs as Oscar walks to his fate because that's what he's looking at . It maybe what he's looking at but its visually dull. We get this because the POV camera doesn't really see things as we do, it only see what it's pointed at. Think about it, if you stop and watch how you see things you'll notice how your eye darts from thing to thing, from here to there and back again. Since the camera can only point and shoot one thing and its so much more limiting.

More damaging are the after death flying sequences where we watch the world from high above as Oscar floats around going through walls, rooms, objects and over streets again and again and again. Its monotonous. We watch Oscar take the full trips to everywhere he goes and after a while (the third or fourth trip out of say three hundred) you go numb. It gets so bad that all I could think about was the Mystery Science Theater 3000 off shoot Cinematic Titanic and their DVD riff of Alien Factor where they crucify the film for endlessly showing people walk to and from various locations. As they rightly said, most audiences are adult enough not to need to see every step to believe that a person walked between two places.(Actually it's as bad a period version set version of War of the Worlds by Timothy Hines. It came out in the wake of the recent Spielberg version, ran three hours and consisted of mostly people walking from place to place)

Having thought about the film almost nonstop for 24 hours I find that as much as I have problems with other areas of the film, this is the point where the film falls apart since it seems like most of the film is the through the walls/streets/object/people nonsense. I'm hoping that if the US cut of the film does away with that nonsense-Noe said he didn’t cut the sex or violence- the film may play better. (The aforementioned War of the Worlds was cut to remove the endless travel and did improve)

I’m going to say something that will draw a line in the sand by stating if you are a sensualist and just want to experience something on a physical level you very well may like the film more than those who want a film with a plot and ideas behind them. I say this because the film really doesn’t have a great deal going on.

I don't think anything beyond a simplistic story of death and rebirth is anywhere in the mix. Try as I might, other than spending time with some people on the down side of life, I don’t know if there is anything to this story. Certainly the ideas behind the rebirth cycle are far from earth shaking. If you've done any reading on the subject you've run across the ideas presented. Even the the Oedipal connection to sex isn’t original. I’ve been here before, and I would have thought that Gaspar Noe, a director who has made three films that challenged me to think, would have been there ages ago as well. At the very least I would have thought he would have been able to give me an exploration of the ideas that didn’t seem to have come from a note card

As I said to my friend Lou, "he took three hours to tell me THAT?"

This is Noe on cruise control. What I mean by this is that Noe’s ability to shock doesn’t work. He seems to have picked some ideas that he thought might provoke a reaction and threw them together, but didn't actually do the work to make them shocking or thought provoking. What few jolts in the film come not from the images or the ideas but from the loud bang from the repeated replay of the auto accident that kills Linda and Oscar’s parents. Other scenes that should have shocked us, say of the abortion or the graphic sex, fail to shock or titillate (actually the sex is down right boring and silly with glowing genitals).

This is a film that really pissed me off. Partly because it’s long and dull, but mostly because the film is a clear indication that while Gaspar Noe while a technically stunning director,seems to have lost his ability to make films that are challenging on anything other than a superficial level. Honestly I haven’t thought much of any of his three films since Irreversible, finding them obvious and only interested in tweaking sensibilities in remarkably lazy ways.

I don’t know what to say. I’ve been thinking about this film for 24 hours now and I don’t know what to make of it. Its an 800 pound Frankenstein monster in the room, sure some people like the way it looks but mostly its this large thing that doesn’t really work because its got a damaged brain in its head.

I reserve the right to change my mind upon seeing the short version when it hit theaters and IFC pay per view in September, but right now it’s a film to pass up except if you want to see some amazing visuals on a big screen.

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