Sunday, October 08, 2006

"As I look at an Ozu film, I often times feel very contemplative and relaxed. When I leave an Ozu film, I feel rested and at peace. And frequently with modern Hollywood films, when I leave the theatre I feel a sort of disquiet; I've been all wound up, my emotions have been pitched to a very high level for a long time with no release--except the end of the film. So Ozu's films are very contemplative, very peaceful."
-Roger Ebert, from his DVD commentary for Yasujiro Ozu's Floating Weeds.

Last week I got into a fairly heated discussion with Owl about movies. Owl had said that she didn't like movies at all, and I was a bit flabbergasted. It resulted in me arguing a little more forcefully than I ought to've, thereby accomplishing nothing as Owl seemed to increasingly become too hurt to hear what I had to say in defence of movies and my belief that it is an art form.

I'm not a particularly volatile guy, but one thing I can get fanatical about is art, and particularly movies, which are my favourite kind of art. When I was in seventh grade (around 13 years old, for non-Yank readers), during a classroom discussion about art during the Renaissance, one of my classmates asked the teacher what was the point of art, asking why people poured energy and resources into it that might be better spent on other things. I immediately replied, "Because art makes life wonderful!"

Mind you, I almost never said anything in class, and was never a good student, but this got me going. I launched into a tirade before the astonished teacher and class. Later, during a parent/teacher conference, I heard my teacher explaining to my mother that it was clear to him that art was I what I was entirely concerned with, and that's why I didn't do very well at anything else; nothing else mattered to me.

It's probably still a fair assessment, though I'd probably say that art simply matters more to me than anything else.

I often find myself quoting Oscar Wilde's preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray; "All art is quite useless." The whole preface is dead on, in my opinion, about the importance of art, but that last line in particular. The use of art is that it is useless; unlike religion, art proscribes nothing. It reveals, and if anyone's doing any proscribing, it's you. In fact, when art tries to tell us what to do, it invariably fails to work on intelligent people; they realise the lie instantly. Because most people prefer to figure things ought for themselves, art plays an important function in not, in its essence, forcing philosophies upon us. It's possible to completely disagree with an artist's beliefs while still enjoying his art. It's finding truth through beautiful complexity, and that excites me.

Anyway, I had little time to do much of anything last week but work on Boschen and Nesuko. Despite the fact that the newest chapter doesn't look nearly as good as the previous chapter, in my opinion, it actually took a lot more colouring than I expected, simply for the large quantity of characters. But I did listen to movie commentaries while working, and Roger Ebert's statement, which I quoted above, struck me as being strangely prescient; one of Owl's complaints about movies--and she specifically singled out Hollywood movies--was that they were considerably more stressful, and less "wholesome" than nature.

I doubt an Ozu picture would convert Owl, but it was a so oddly relevant statement, I felt like sharing it anyway.

Ebert also spoke about Ozu's commitment to style above more mechanical and standard conventions of plot and even continuity. Ozu believed every shot ought to be a beautiful composition in itself, something one might conceivably want to hang on a wall. And his camera never moved--never panned, never zoomed; nothing. The movie is literally a series of moving pictures.

1934's A Story of Floating Weeds and, the remake, 1959's Floating Weeds (both directed by Ozu), are about a travelling Kabuki company coming to a small town. The company's master has a son with a local woman, but it's a secret to his mistress, an actress with the company. Here are few screenshots from both movies;

An opening shot from the 1959 film juxtaposes a lighthouse and a bottle.

Later in the film, the shot is mirrored by this one, with father and son in place of the bottle.

Machiko Kyo as the mistress. Ozu frequently liked to place something red in the lower righthand corner of the image.

A shot Roger Ebert particularly liked; it lasted less than a second.

The umbrella in a later scene, as the master and mistress argue after she's discovered his secret family.

The same scene in the older film.

The mistress asking a younger actress to seduce the master's son.

The same scene in the older film; the black and white picks up the glittering head ornaments a bit better.

The young actress meets the son by a dark tree.

In the 1959 version, the two sit together at a shipyard. Here's an example of Ozu caring more about composition than continuity between shots. Watch the red boat;

Ozu's movies contained many "pillow shots"; lingering, quiet shots of props and places between scenes.

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