Wavelengths 1: Analogue Arcadia: It’s only the second day and it already seems unlikely that this year’s Toronto International Film Festival will offer a more moving film than Tacita Dean’s Edwin Parker, a portrait of Cy Twombly in his Lexington, Virginia home during the last autumn of his life. Dean approaches the problem of filming the notoriously reticent Twombly by finding the most cramped, hidden spaces to stick her camera; the feeling isn’t voyeuristic, but more like Dean’s camera has itself become a part of the environment, and filming Twombly as he goes about his dull daily routines (the first words we hear from him are asking an assistant if a package has arrived, and later he takes a gallery representative to a local diner, where he orders a sliced turkey sandwich with lettuce and mustard, and apple sauce) is the most natural thing in the world. The compositions that Dean gets from these ferreted camera placements are, like Twombly’s art, a conflation of the ordinary and the astonishing. From the opening, a zoomed in shot of bushes through blinds, that collapses space to explode it when a car suddenly enters the frame, to its final image of Twombly’s sculptures in twilight, Dean’s film, with its decentered, eschatological beauty, is the rare example of a documentary that does justice to its subject on the level of form.
The first Wavelengths installment offered a uniformly strong slate beyond Dean’s marvel, with Ben Rivers’s Sack Barrow, a micro-scale inversion of Peter Hutton’s thesis in At Sea (the decay of industry as a necessary condition of global capitalism viewed from inside the decay itself, as small artisan labor dies in the face of mass production), and Sophie Michael’s 99 Clerkenwell Road, a revival of the Fischinger-McClaren tradition that breaths new life into their exquisite formalism by discovering it in the material world.
Keyhole: For his first feature in HD, Guy Maddin has inverted the scenario of his last couple of films: Now, it’s the space that’s haunting the characters rather than the characters, and their memories, which are haunting the space. Jason Patric stars as grizzled Ulysses, a hood leading a raid on his own past with the help of a grating gallery of oddball types. The plot is too convoluted to bother summarizing, but it involves a naked, chained uncle who serves as a self-styled Oedipal figure, a romance between Ulysses’s wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini, not doing particularly much) and a menacing man named Chan, a beautiful, also often-naked Tiresias figure, a house whose rooms seem perpetually in flux based on whether or not there’s a ghost present, and a hogtied son named Manners who turns out to be the closest thing to a hero. If last year’s foolhardy Hauntings installation suggested a new route for Maddin by rendering his conflicted nostalgia in the spatial juxtaposition of his desire to reclaim these lost films, Keyhole only cashes the check on that project’s weakest aspect, the overt genre play—here mapping The Odyssey and the haunted-house film onto the ’30s gangster picture—that squeezes out the personal investment that in the past has made his affectations easier to forgive. As characters blink out like lost memories in the end, only the undefined space of this Freudian house remains, as empty as the film itself.
The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8—18.