East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Nearly new movies: Who needs flesh?

The Descent (Neil Marshall)
In which a bunch of young women go into a cave; not all of them make out. Despite a worrying International Standard Art Film opening (mitigated by shock value), the rest of this Brit-horror chiller is accomplished. Claustrophobia builds the tension even before the gore starts, and the real horror is delayed until some time after that. Three or four of the characters are distinct enough for us to care about their survival; the demises depicted are an apt mix of the noble and the needless.

For the US release, Marshall has ditched the last minute of the original version (still easy enough to find on YouTube), so that what was formerly a trick ending is now the final beat. I-want-more fans have whined, but the new ending is about a zillion times more psychologically frightening. To survive a situation like this, you have to primitivise yourself, which requires suspending your acquired morals for something baser. But that's not something you can just walk away from.

Drawing Restraint 9 (Matthew Barney)
In which Bjork wails while the Japanese whale. It's the Da Vinci Code of gallery film, except it's better because Barney has enough respect for images to prevent boredom. His vision consists of a bunch of things he likes, and even if you don't like the same things, his Melvillian fascination with processes, from tea ceremonies to petroleum jelly-setting, is kind of sweet in a outcome-obsessed world. OK, so his discussion of Orientalism is nothing more than a directive to think about the subject, but his imperatives to contemplate texture and tactility have some aesthetics to motivate them. The mutual flesh-stripping of the finale is terrific kitsch at the least, and the bigness of the Field Emblem (TM, all rights reserved M. Barney) is effectively documented. If Barney knew how to deploy his camera more effectively than Ron Howard, he might have made something Spectacular Spectacular.


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