Khoi writes in with more on space and film:
For a great example of effective spatial narrative in film, watch (or re-watch) Soderbergh’s underrated Out of Sight. The last act of the film is about a gang of thieves taking over a home; they’re all split up in different parts of the house, but somehow Soderbergh makes you understand exactly where they are in relation to one another. It’s something very few directors can do.
While we’re on the subject of Soderbergh, I’m reminded of this excellent appraisal A.O. Scott wrote about the director back in 2000, as Soderbergh was preparing to release Traffic. Ten years later, the article remains insightful and fresh. Here’s one of Scott’s takeaways from The Limey:
[The] director uses the plainness of the story as an opportunity to linger over telling details and explore its rich subtext. The movie, with its jump cuts and its forays into fantasy (Mr. Stamp’s character imagines the death of his antagonist many times before it happens), becomes an extended meditation on the puzzling relationship between personal and historical time. Specifically, it’s about the 60’s, a much-mythologized decade evoked not by costumed flashbacks but by the flickering shadow of Mr. Stamp, a young, brash, beautiful star of the period, in clips from one of his old movies.
One of my top five favorite films, The Limey, turned ten this year, and independently of that started popping up on the pop-culture radar again in a few different places. First in January on Elvis Mitchell’s wonderful podcast The Treatment, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh described his newest film, The Girlfriend Experience, as his most “Limey-like” film since the original. It’s about an elite call girl working in the pre-election hubbub of October 2008 and stars real-life porn star Sasha Grey. Then recently on The Onion’s awesome “New Cult Canon” series (which last week canonized another favorite of mine, Eyes Wide Shut), critic Scott Tobias added not just The Limey but also the film’s DVD Commentary track to its stellar lineup of films.
It was watching The Limey’s DVD commentary several times that spurred me to begin thinking about it in relation to another film I love, Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. In 2001 I was taking a course on Hitchcock and proposed an extended comparative essay about the two films as my final project. Most of the introduction is dry and overly academic, but the following paragraph cuts to the core of my interest in making the comparison:
Some of the most heated debates of the ’60s/New Wave were Marxist-Capitalist debates, but in these two films Hitchcock and Soderbergh actually visualize these opposing ideologies by consistently placing them in formal opposition to one another and moving their characters between them. North by Northwest, made in 1959, came at a cusp point of the Atomic Age amidst the post-WWII prosperity in America, and its finale, in which both Communism is thwarted (though it’s not said outright) and a marrage is made, wreckons with these twin late-’50s predicaments. The Limey, made in 1999, came after the end of the Cold War and amidst a wave dot-com prosperity in America. That the Marxist is a villan in one and a hero in the other speaks volumes about these thrillers. That both films are thrillers helps determine exactly how. Again and again, Soderbergh and Hitchcock use the idea of exchange over time, and, more importantly, over space to discuss Marxist and Capitalist ideologies. By coupling movement—which is concerned with the formal kinetics of the characters, camera, and shots—with ideology—which is concerned with the social implications of the films’ content—both directors formulate a relationship between the way things move on screen and what they ideologically represent.
The finest parts of the essay, however, are not these broader theoretical constructions but the two sections that work hardest to closely observe how these films move, how their directors work with the camera, and how their editing schemes organize the scenes and story. This is done first on a formal level and then on a more narrative level, as the each of the films’ characters and settings are aligned with different types of transactions, both political and economic. The essay’s methodological cousin is Frederic Jameson’s worthwhile high-wire analysis of Hitchcock’s film, “Spatial Systems in North by Northwest,” available in its entirety on Google Books here. —RG
There’s definitely music in the air on L&UL lately. Especially movie music. Kottke recently pointed me to this excellent post on The Morning News by RadioLab’s Jad Abumrad. Abumrad rounds up some of his favorite movie music moments, and I must say my jaw dropped when I saw his list beacuse it was so close to my own. Alexandre Desplat’s lush orchestral score for Jonathan Glaser’s extraordinary film Birth takes the Disney fairytale sound and throws it ever so slightly off-kilter, perfectly matched to the eerie magic of Glaser’s lush fantasyland on the Upper East Side. Huge Soderbergh fan that I am, I agree with Abumrad that the only really redeeming thing about his remake of Solaris was Cliff Martinez’s incredible, minimalist score. With overtones of Steve Reich and Terry Riley, Martinez’s looped percussive phrasing is hypnotic—listen to this music while you’re in motion and your journey will be transformed. Also on Abumrad’s list are Bernard Hermann’s great scores for Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Psycho, the jarring high notes of which both Abumrad and I see shades of in Jonny Greenwood’s superb soundtrack for There Will Be Blood.