Thursday, November 22, 2007

Watched October 22 - 28, 2007: Sayles and Zhang

The Secret of Roan Inish (John Sayles, 1994)

Some films, it seems (eventually) wear out their welcome. Roan Inish has been a long-time family favorite. We bought it when it came out on video -- and when we got our first DVD player, it was one of our very first DVD purchases. Our family revisited the film, for the first time in a few years, and discovered (to our dismay) that the film is staring to seem a bit frayed at the edges. The underlying story was enchanting, and many images remained magical, but the talking went on and on sometimes, for much longer than was needed. It was as if Sayles wasn't willing to fully trust the power of his own pictures. On too many occasions, Sayles' words distracted us from his film.

On looking for images to capture from the DVD, I saw something I'd never consciously noticed when watching the DVD on television. Namely, that this is not a terribly good DVD -- and that the print used to make the DVD had apparently undergone color shifting prior to the time the DVD was made. I think we will give this still fondly-remembered film a long long vacation -- probably until a new, digitally restored version shows up.

Ying xiong / Hero (ZHANG Yimou, 2002)

I rather suspect that I might need to watch Hero quite sparingly, as it might be another film that could wear out its welcome (sooner or later) if subjected to too frequent revisitation. I am a big fan of Zhang's earlier films -- and I liked Hero reasonably well (and found it conceptually interesting), right form the outset, but never was totally carried away by it. I never really understood either the heights of adulation or the depths of reprobation this met with. Overall, I responded more strongly to Zhang's later (more "operatic") House of Flying Daggers and (much maligned) Curse of the Golden Flowers.

It strikes me that the criticism that Zhang was somehow celebrating (or justifying) oppressive totalitatianism in this film is offbase. This is not a documentary about a real historical ruler, but a prescriptive depiction of what a ruler (under certain conditions) should be like. It also is, more than a little, a cautionary tale. But most of all, this is a film about color and movement. And, from this perspective, it is a mostly very rewarding film. My one reservation turns on how well the fairly schematic structure will hold up after many repeated viewings. One can never be certain, but I expect it might hold up to more wear and tear by re-viewing than Roan Inish. And, in this case at least, the DVD presentation (the Edko DVD from Hong Kong) doesn't undercut the film.

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