Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter is a bad movie, even an awful one. Many critics will write brilliant, funny words about why. Few will discuss the fact that its footage has been processed and projected digitally. But this is by far and away the work’s most fascinating aspect. You can tell that Hereafter print you’re watching is digital for at least three reasons: The camera’s continual speed and agility, the way actors keep melting-streaking in and out of focus while walking, and the ubiquitous white-blue-and-gray color scheme, which differs from the bleached-out look of a printed-on-film film like Minority Report in that the shades are less delineated. You stare at actors’ faces, and see pixels.
This is not to say that film is good, digital bad. Film usually reveals itself to audiences with splices and scratches, while Eastwood has shown how DV printing and projection can look pristine. Both Gran Torino and Invictus made handsome videos, in both cases because he used a more medium-friendly darker color palette, with lots of greens and browns (no overexposure), and because he used actors and situations (Clint scowling, Morgan considering) that lacked vibrant, dynamic motion, meaning technicians didn’t have to worry much about keeping the image in focus. When the action did kick up, like in Invictus’s rugby games, the running camera and recurring blurs added to the thrill by making viewers feel like they were chasing the scene.
An early Hereafter scene in which characters try to outrun a tsunami is similarly exciting, and points to how DV can succeed where film might fail. The script, acting, and editing would still be terrible in either medium, but the quick proximity of digital turns the run into a visceral sprint. The overly bright bodies dissolving, though, don’t play as well for scenes at the London Book Fair.
Yet Eastwood’s choice of look for the film is understandable; the movie is a ghost story, and any TV show can tell you that the path to the other world is a white light. But the technology he’s using doesn’t serve the narrative’s ambitions. This is a film about people connecting, and it’s hard to convey that when actors blob out of view.
Yet the film raises larger issues than how to digitalize visuals. This major film from a major studio by the currently most acclaimed major studio director seems to understand very little about technology. Consider the way that Hereafter fails the Internet, as a character switches from one YouTube clip to another without loading time or a different capsule description appearing. Good and bad reference points immediately leapt to mind. The bad was Aaron Sorkin’s claim at the press conference for the New York Film Festival’s highest-profile film, The Social Network, that he knew nothing about Facebook before writing the film’s screenplay, and created an account as research; the good was the moment in Film Socialisme, the festival’s most hotly debated film, when a cat becomes a low-res YouTube image and the woman watching it meows. The contrast suggested that Film Socialisme has more insight into social media than The Social Network has, and that Hollywood studio films are less with it than other parts of the world’s films are.
Both The Social Network and Hereafter use cellphone conversations primarily to advance plot, with incidental commentary on how people communicate without actually connecting. This differs from how Kiarostami handles cellphones in Certified Copy: A critic giving a lecture interrupts himself to answer his mobile, talks, hangs up, and addresses the crowd again, an incident that does nothing to advance the narrative but everything to advance Kiarostami’s demonstration of how this man (or anyone with an iPhone/iPad/iPod/Blackberry/laptop) can turn the outside world on and off at will.
In fairness, The Social Network knows that people toggle between technology and nature, but the movie’s look ignores this. Unlike Hereafter, David Fincher’s video flows so cleanly that if you didn’t know better you might think you were watching film. This is also the case in his earlier Zodiac. A work like Michael Mann’s Public Enemies declares itself revisionist by shooting a traditionally filmic story, the gangster saga, on self-evident DV; by contrast, I’ve frequently referred to Zodiac in my festival coverage this year because I regard it as the great video film, in the sense of a video trying to pass for film—video’s hunt for film mirrors the characters’ hunt for the killer. (Gyllenhaal doesn’t encounter the Zodiac in the film’s tensest scene, but a film projectionist.) That approach doesn’t work for The Social Network, though, because it’s wrong to say that the wired-in world and the wired-out world are indistinguishable. Rather, people can tell the difference, but more people more often now are choosing to stay wired in.
Both The Social Network and Hereafter try and fail to depict how a technology-based culture looks, sounds, and behaves; the two films’ visual styles contrast, but neither ultimately suggests that their characters are more than images. The festival’s worst movies, both film and video, followed suit by failing to add any self-awareness to their proceedings, keeping them stuck in genres ranging from thriller (The Robber) to prestige epic (The Tempest) to mash-up (the multiple old movie remixes that showed at Views from the Avant-Garde). Many of the best movies, by contrast, made their self-awareness a focal point: The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu stuck with as much ceremonial film footage as possible to leave you aware that you were being bullshitted about the real world; Carlos blended both 35mm color fictional and black-and-white TV news footage to suggest neither version of history satisfying; Jonathan Caouette’s short All Flowers in Time, the trippiest fiddling with DV that I’ve seen since Inland Empire, gave its characters orange eyes, scaly skin, deep, scary voices, and split-open faces to show how hideous TV characters might actually look if they stepped off the screen—and, conversely and subversively, how hideous people look when they imitate TV.
More so than at any other New York Film Festival I can remember, the notable films from this year’s lineup made the very form they took a key part of their meaning. Mysteries of Lisbon, Robinson in Ruins, and Black Venus used DV to suggest the present trying to learn an unknowable past. Shooting on film, by contrast, became a radically archaic choice, with the old-school tricks filmmakers used—Kelly Reichardt filming Meek’s Cutoff in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Manoel de Oliveira employing primitive magic tricks in The Strange Case of Angelica, talented film and video artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul shooting the Super 16 Uncle Boonmee in as many different genre styles as he could manage—further suggesting that their movies were past artifacts flowing upriver towards the future. Certified Copy towered over the other new releases by enfolding both film and video within itself, and in the process both old world and new. In blending film and digital stock into one coherent visual whole while blending modernity and the past into a coherent thematic whole, Certified Copy nailed our current moment, conveying how people are always simultaneously themselves and images of themselves better than any other movie I know. (Many Film Socialisme defenders would argue that their picture achieves the same goal, and after another few viewings I might agree.)
All of which leads us back to Hereafter, the festival’s closing night show, a ghostly video that I mistakenly identified several weeks ago as a film. My error was telling; even Eastwood is printing on digital now, and few filmgoers have probably realized this, showing how ubiquitous the ongoing switch has become. That even Eastwood hasn’t figured it out yet suggests how few artists actually have. But this is a good thing: It’s been nearly 25 years since artists first started using DV, and the medium is still surprising them. Place Hereafter and the other works all in a row, hit PLAY, and wire into possibility.
The 48th New York Film festival runs from September 24 to October 10. For a complete schedule, including ticketing information, click here.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.
Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.
Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.
On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)
Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.
As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.
Will Win: Green Book
Could Win: The Favourite
Should Win: First Reformed
Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer
Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.
British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:
A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
And below is the film’s first trailer:
A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.