Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Requiem for a Dream

I've had to leave myself out of Nathaniel's Hit Me With Your Best Shot series lately, but amidst a regular surge of gratitude that Nathaniel is in the world (and on the web), and amidst an equally regular moment of feeling stuck on a transition in what I'm writing, and amidst a curiosity to sit through fast-forward through Requiem for a Dream in advance of seeing Black Swan next week, I'm darting in to name some of my favorite images in Aronofsky's widely worshiped second movie. (Nathaniel's Requiem entry, including links to other bloggers' contributions, is here.)

Favorite Shot, Just for What It Is:

The monochromatic spectrum of this very early shot is closer than the ostentatious Requiem almost ever gets to the comparatively modest templates of Pi, though the salmon-violet hue helps to make it softer than anything I remember from Pi. Yes, I just used the word "soft" in relation to this film, however qualifiedly so! Some of Requiem's big set-pieces do move me, or at least "get" me, and a lot of others just feel irretrievably show-offy for a director thinking too overtly about bold presentation, in a way that treads too far into dehumanizing the characters. By contrast, this shot, which is lovely but also a little dingy, and captures the characters doing something totally pathetic but poetically incongruous with where they are, suggests a more direct, ground-level, parallel-universe version of Requiem for a Dream that I enjoy imagining. I feel sorry for these guys, I have a good and frankly judgmental guess about what they're up to, and I find myself thinking about addiction from an unexpected angle, tinged with absurdity and a certain understatement (maybe not total understatement) instead of just pummeling relentlessness. You still see how much Aronofsky loves his symmetrical compositions, especially when there's a circle he wants to nail into the middle of the frame. But I like the tension between the buggy, diagonal angle, the lopsided weight of the landscape from left to right, and the blown-out sun presiding so bleakly and centrally over the stupid, sad errand of this burned-out son.

Favorite Shot, Very Close Runner-Up:

Often Requiem seems unduly repetitive and heavy-handed in saying, "Do you understand that [whatever], too, is a form of addiction?" But I like the looser, funnier, nonetheless sad way in which Sara Goldfarb is obviously addicted to her son Harry. She leaps at him with the incessant, incorrigible abandon of a compulsive gobbler, but it's a merrier kind of addiction than we see elsewhere in the film. She makes me laugh, with her line readings and her herky-jerky movements, even though there are dark shades underneath both, and I do find Ellen a little intense in this performance. But if you freeze the frame, look how scarily she's swooping in on him, coming to get him, the way her refrigerator will later try to gobble her. In fact, she's white and orange, just like the carnivorous fridge. But how can you not also feel sorry for Sara? Observe how, the closer you get to her side of the frame, the whole world dissolves into empty nothing.

A Shot I Love, But Mostly Down to Foley and Editing:

Again, the movie plugs some humor into its day-to-day grind, before we hit the all-out wall of despair that we surmise is coming. Has the annoying betrayal of a responsible, scaled-down meal that fails utterly to fill you up ever been hit home so simply? This resembles a Jane Campion shot, and you might know what that means to me.

A Shot I Love, for Extra-Curricular Reasons:

The first of two times I saw Requiem in a theater, I remember watching this overhead, 360° spiraling zoom-out on Marlon Wayans having a passionate f*** with his girlfriend, and thinking how seldom American movies allow black characters to experience sexual pleasure so candidly, and even more than that, how seldom an African-American man and an African-American woman seem to be having a great, frank time together in bed. It's an absurd aporia in American movies. For all the sex we see on screen, it's just bizarre how unusual this feels. I hope it's not prurient to say that it made me like the movie more... even though the movie's aloofness from Tyrone relative to the other characters certainly makes me like it less.

Favorite Moment in the Movie, By Far, But Not Just Because of the Shot:

In a high voice that almost cracks at the pause, and again at the italicized word, but is still trying to file as direct a plea as possible: "Harry... Can you come today?" A quiet, heartbreaking climax for the film's best performance, from an actress who has never again been used as well, although I can't figure out why this is. She gets cast so unimaginatively, and pushed to recycle the least interesting beats in previous performances, when she's surely up for more. Anyway: I hear this line of dialogue in my head remarkably often, I love the way the sleeve has inched up over half her hand, and I'm glad the shot captures Marion's brokenness but still allows her to be beautiful. You really, really wish Harry could come today.

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Blogger James T said...

Nathaniel has really given you a chance to shine!

Your comments on the shots (not only for this movie) have really inspired me to think harder on those specifics but I'm afraid my brain would explode!

By the way, I. don't. get. this movie! But it's the first time I admit it. When the "scenes" of her being on TV were floating (if I remember correctly) in the room, "WTF" was all I could come up with. That's obviously not a valid criticism but it was my reaction.

9:24 PM, October 06, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Nathaniel gives everyone a chance to shine. It's just the way he is.

9:43 PM, October 06, 2010  
Blogger Notas Sobre Creación Cultural e Imaginarios Sociales said...

I completely agree about that sex scene! I tried hard to think of another movie where black people had fun sex and couldn't come up with anything else! African American sex is usually relegated to silly spiritual cleansing (I'm thinking Halle Berry sex) or something monstrous and evil (I'm thinking "Precious" sex).
This shot with all and the actors' gorgeous physiques is one of the smartest things this movie does.

11:45 PM, October 06, 2010  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

on this sexual note:

there's a pretty randy moment with Kerry Washington and her man in Mother & Child for what it's worth.

Nick -- i love this piece. I'm happy to hear reservations about a film i totally love when they're expressed so clearly and they're actually interesting.

12:13 AM, October 07, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Jose: Lovely to be agreed with. It's weird that the rampant, chronic, and racist sexualization of black bodies in so much of our media culture somehow almost never gets around to showing black people enjoying having sex with each other in a totally believable way that isn't completely sensationalized. For some reason, I was worried people would think I was nuts for saying this.

@Nathaniel: Hey, glad to hear it! And I absolutely reacted the same way to Kerry's scene in Mother and Child, even though the movie itself didn't have the staying power with me that this one did. (Go figure!)

12:19 AM, October 07, 2010  
Blogger Colin Low said...

Had I been able to get my hands on a DVD, that shot of a wholly unsatisfying meal would have been my pick, precisely for being one of my earliest encounters with the stripped-down power of sound edits and match cuts.

(Looking forward to tomorrow!)

10:52 PM, October 07, 2010  

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