Interviews: Wong Kar Wai, Jason Kohn

Over at my day job, I’ve done new interviews with Wong Kar Wai

The visual style of your films [shot with DP Christopher Doyle] — the

saturated colors, the way the camera moves, looking through glass or at

reflections — is very much present in My Blueberry Nights. What specifically is in the frame, how should the colors look — is that a conversation that you had with [DP] Darius Khondji?

WONG KAR WAI: Not so much about that. Darius is a very sensitive DP and very

talented. And also, given the schedule and the locations that we shot

in, it seems to me the final look of the film was a natural choice.

When we shot in New York, the restaurant was so small it was hard to

squeeze in all these cameras and a big crew, so we shot mainly [from]

outside. It also makes sense to the story, because at that point we are

still behind something, to observe what’s going on. And then the frame

of the pictures — New York is pretty much like Hong Kong. It’s a

vertical city, with vertical lines. And then when the character

Elizabeth moves on to other parts of the country, we see the vertical

lines become horizontal. And that’s why we shot in Cinemascope [2.35:1

aspect ratio].

We don’t talk much about the framing of things, because I think framing

is something the director should be responsible for. It’s a matter of

choice, a point of view. And the rest I just leave to Darius.

… and Manda Bala director Jason Kohn, whose film I caught up with — and liked a lot — after watching it win big at the Cinema Eye Awards last month.

A lot of documentaries these

days seem to be made to argue a specific political point of view. It’s

like an instrument for mounting an argument rather than —

Somebody from the PBS POV blog [POV series producer Yance Ford, in this post]

mentioned that the lowest-rated POV show is seen by more people than 99

percent of the theatrically released documentaries out there. It’s a

really important point. I don’t believe activism is a necessary or even

a very useful part of the nonfiction film genre. I don’t think

nonfiction films were born out of an activist tradition and, quite

frankly, I don’t think it’s an effective forum for activism.

So you don’t see your motivation in making your film as activist at all? Or trying to catalyze change?

Absolutely not. No way whatsoever. Let’s say the activist’s dream

scenario came true, and Jader Barbalho was ousted from power, which is

the only specific goal that one could possibly, in an alternate

reality, expect this movie to have. Nothing would change. The problems

in Brazil are institutional. This wasn’t about trying to effect change,

because I genuinely don’t believe documentary film is a great form for

that. But I do think it’s an important historical marker. It exposes

very real connections between large-scale political corruption and

violence. But first and foremost I made a film. My personal politics

are in there because they are my politics, but I was way more driven by

the oddness of the frog farm, the ingenuity of the plastic surgeon, and

the opportunity to film in a city that I didn’t think many people

really understood was as rich or powerful as it is.

DVD Traffic Report: April 8, 2008


Manda Bala: Send a Bullet (City Lights Video)

First-time filmmaker Jason Kohn’s documentary about life amidst the violence, poverty, and pervasive corruption of urban Brazil is frighteningly easy to watch — he shot on 16mm film using anamorphic lenses that stretch the image to an eye-popping ratio somewhere to the wide side of Cinemascope, and cinematographer Heloísa Passos ably captures a range of images that include the unfortunate amphibians inhabiting an overstuffed frog farm, the drably colorful favelas of Säo Paolo, and the too-colorful cosmetic-surgery procedure that’s put to use in oder to replace the ears torn from kidnap victims by their abductors. Set largely to the urgent, jazzy stylings of tropicalia music from artists including Tom Zé and Gilberto Gil, Kohn’s vignettes eventually cohere in a patchwork portrait of a country under siege by the twin threats of violent crime and the shenanigans of corrupt politicians whose money-laundering schemes fuel the kind of economic disparity that creates lower-class desperados. There’s something to be said for chutzpah, and you can’t accuse Kohn of laziness — the film includes a low-key confrontation with Jader Barbalho, the villain of the piece, and a nervy interview with one of the masked gunmen who makes a living dealing drugs and snatching members of the upper classes, securing their (mostly) safe return in exchange for money he claims to re-invest in his community. Kohn has been criticized for a certain sensationalism in his approach, and it’s true that Manda Bala is a nonfiction film with the sensibility of pulp fiction. (Its gangster-movie tone actually reminded me a bit of the similarly in-your-face City of God.) But Kohn doesn’t claim that he’s trying to change the world. This is more of an essay film — a colorful, eyes-wide-open trip through the cities and slums of Brazil with a gutsy young filmmaker who’s poking around to find ways to illustrate the connections between crooked politics and systemic violence. The ride more than repays the time you put into it — but it’s an ultimately pessimistic trip that’s unlikely to make you feel any better about the wide world outside.

Buy it from Manda Bala

480_twbb.jpgThere Will Be Blood (Paramount)

The movie that finally turned me into a P.T. Anderson fan is even better on a second viewing, and if the inevitable high-definition home-video version hadn’t fallen through the cracks created by the implosion of HD DVD, I’d be ready for a third go-round, like, tonight. Home video isn’t the perfect environment for the fiery visuals of this grim descent, spectacularly photographed in widescreen by Robert Elswit. It may, however, be a good place to appreciate the score by Jonny Greenwood; it sounds radical enough as film music to make me frustrated by the moribund, this-is-how-we-feel-now style of too many composers, who labor in the long shadow of movie-music kingpin Johnny Williams and his work on behalf of the Lucas-Spielberg syndicate. (Not to knock John Williams, who has done some pretty solid work, but his success in a very familiar, “neo-romantic” mode has established a kind of hegemony in mainstream movies.)

Buy it from There Will Be Blood or There Will Be Blood (Two-Disc Special Collector’s Edition)

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