An Elephant Sitting Still

By Mark Peranson

The Cinema Scope Top Ten of 2018

1. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo)
2. Le livre d’image (Jean-Luc Godard)
3. La Flor (Mariano Llinás)
4. Transit (Christian Petzold)
5. What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? (Roberto Minervini)
6. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan)
7. Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)
8. Burning (Lee Chang-dong)
9. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)
10. High Life (Claire Denis)

Special mentions: Asako I & II (Hamaguchi Ryosuke), Ash Is Purest White (Jia Zhangke), The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack), In My Room (Ulrich Köhler), L. COHEN (James Benning)

Lying in a cozy bed covered by blankets and surrounded by paper is an image I can very much relate to, which helps explains this issue’s cover, the film from which it comes notwithstanding (OK, the film isn’t bad either). Such is the idealized image of the writer and/or editor, dating back at least to the time of Proust, though as far as I know we don’t have any moving-image documentary proof to validate this. But, as the saying goes, when in doubt print the legend. This free association, while trying to think of anything at all to write about besides the yearly top ten list—again, the product of a simple group poll of Cinema Scope writers and editors of films that debuted in the calendar year 2018—led me to think of Documentary Now!, now in its third and so far, after the four episodes that I’ve seen, best season to date.

Which is not exactly the truth, which is exactly the point. I’ll admit that as part of my usual procrastination, I watched the stellar Cate Blanchett as Marina Abramovic in the “Waiting for the Artist” episode last night, then watched it again, and then followed it with eight others in rapid succession. These included the earlier satire of Swimming to Cambodia (1987), in which the stellar Bill Hader makes ample use of free association, and rams home the point of how a certain type of artist takes raw material and distorts it for his art. As the series has progressed, it’s moved beyond a high-level SNL-style extended parody sketch (highlight: season two’s “Juan Likes Rice & Chicken”) to something placed in the subgenre of “loving unauthorized remake,” which of course is dear to my heart.

Maybe re-creation is a better word because of the increasingly impressive formal exactitude the filmmakers apply. This is a hall of mirrors for sure when one considers the meta-practice at play—re-creating (sometimes incredibly obscure) documentaries?—and it’s done in a way that never feels laboured, with the utmost admiration and affection for the subject matter and the varied forms. After watching something brilliant like “Original Cast Album: Co-op,” a jam-packed-into-24-minute parody of, of all things, D.A. Pennebaker’s Original Cast Album: Company (1970), I’m tempted to ask myself, “How the hell is this insane undertaking on television?” only to remember the common fallacy that one assumes one is unique in one’s own likes, desires, and obsessions, when actually that’s never the case. Still, how the hell is this still on television?

Anyhow, unfortunately it appears that I have run out of space. If you’ve seen all the films on the list on the right—even if I can’t recommend all of them wholeheartedly, there’s something there for everyone—I suggest moving on to Documentary Now!, which will give you more film history to catch up on.

Follow

Friend me on FacebookFollow me on TwitterRSS Feed

From the Magazine

  • Cinema Scope Issue 86 Table of Contents

    The Cinema Scope Top Ten of 2020 Interviews The Girl and the Spider *En plein air: Denis Côté on Hygiène sociale by Jordan Cronk *The More →

  • The Cinema Scope Top Ten of 2020

    1. Days (Tsai Ming-liang) 2. The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) (C.W. Winter and Anders Edström) 3. The Year of More →

  • Gag Orders: The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Judas and the Black Messiah

    Bobby Seale makes a cameo of sorts midway through Judas and the Black Messiah, as Martin Sheen’s porcine J. Edgar Hoover—checking in personally on the progress of the FBI’s campaign against Chicago Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya)—is shown an artist’s sketch of the BPP’s national chairman gagged and shackled in the courtroom during the Chicago Conspiracy Trial. This revolting spectacle understandably serves as the mid-film dramatic highpoint of The Trial of the Chicago 7, when the repeated, suitably indignant demands by Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) to serve as his own defense counsel in the absence of his hospitalized lawyer—and presiding judge Julius Hoffman’s (Frank Langella) incredible refusal to grant this right, instead directing that Seale’s defense should be undertaken by the representatives for the other defendants—ultimately lead to him being bodily removed from the courtroom by marshals and returned in chains. That image of a defiant Black man, forcibly silenced and immobilized in a hall of American justice, became one of William Burroughs’ “frozen moment[s] at the end of the newspaper fork,” when everyone—including those who would applaud it—can see what they’re being fed. More →

  • Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, US)

    Entering Riz Ahmed in the disability cosplay sweepstakes as a young drummer coping with hearing loss, Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal originated as a lightly meta vehicle for husband-and-wife sludge-metal duo Jucifer to be directed by Derek Cianfrance, with whom Marder co-wrote The Place Beyond the Pines (2012). That the final result is more surprising than the rote uplift narrative suggested by its edifying logline is a testament to both Ahmed’s cagey intensity... More →

  • The Primacy of Perception: Ramon & Silvan Zürcher on The Girl and the Spider

    Near the midpoint of The Girl and the Spider—Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s overdue, much anticipated follow-up to their masterful debut feature, The Strange Little Cat (2013)—a character launches into another of the Zürcher brothers’ distinctive anecdotal monologues. Mara (Henriette Confurius), who is as close as this film gets to a protagonist, describes for her neighbour, Kerstin (Dagna Litzenberger-Vinet), an incident that occurred the previous day between herself and her newly ex-roommate (and perhaps ex-girlfriend) Lisa (Liliane Amuat). “I was in my room while Lisa was on the toilet,” she recounts. “She asked me to bring her a roll of toilet paper. Instead of giving it to her, I walked past the door from left to right, from Lisa’s point of view.” The image cuts to the scene while she recalls it, privileging us with a more objective account of the incident: a fixed shot showing Mara stand up from her desk, grab a package of toilet paper, and march past the door, her arms outstretched like a zombie. More →