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Saturday, 12 November 2011

The shakes and Melancholia

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

13 November

I have already made a couple of postings about this film. However, there is something reassuring about seeing one's views echoed in print.

In my first response,, I commented on the camerawork, so I was drawn to a letter about Melancholia called 'A pan too far', which appeared in December's issue of Sight & Sound.

It is from a correspondent in Tenterden, and I quote the relevant part (the edit is a comment about film-makers in general using this practice of hand-held cinematography):

But what is it with this handheld camera stuff? [...] I found the first half of the film quite dificult to watch as the extreme fast panning and wobbling of the frame made me feel quite dizzy. I can understand the representation of manic-depressive urgency that came over as a result, but I do feel rather glad that the film was not showing in IMAX!

It is unclear whether Mr Bruce's concern was for others who might have seen it projected in that way, or relief that he had not, but his point was well made:

I did not see the need to be made anxious to understand another's anxiety, not least since it is my experience that being anxious inhibits one's ability to empathize with someone else's feelings.

However, Mr Bruce also found:

The opening sequence with Wagner's music was quite thrilling, evoking memories of 2001.

I do not disagree about being reminded of Kubrik's film and how it used the tone-poem of Richard Strauss, but I also thought how monumental Kubrik's use had made a piece that had not previously been much known, and now Also Sprach Zarathustra automatically has connotations of the vastness of space and man in it.

The Wagner, by comparison, already has well-established connotations of grand Germanic and even Nordic mythology, and it still seems to me that they were being appropriated, rather than the pure music itself. To my mind, this part of Wagner's canon is too well known for a use such as Kubrik made in 2001 or even, much later, in Eyes Wide Shut.

The link that I see between the music and camerawork is as if the director is saying:

I want to make my images in the opening music seem grand, so I will use imposing music to import that quality. I want the scenes at the wedding to seem as awkward as possible, so I will use camerawork that impinges viscerally on the viewers' senses to unsettle them and so cause them to share the sense of unease in an extreme way.

So is that legitimate - as a critique, or as a director's prerogative to use what is available?

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