past lives poster

past lives [watched 7 oct 2023]

toronto pearson shoutout at docfilms! turned my phone off and totally surrendered myself to the image here and was constantly in superposition between muffled sobs and full body chills. those unacquainted with the emotions on display here will write this off as a slow burn but i found this to be one of the most intense cinema experiences i’ve ever had (and note: you must see this in a cinema). this was strikingly beautiful both in narrative and audiovisual. the score had me tearing up less than 10 minutes in and shots of korean streets, nyc skyscrapers and even the backyard of that soulless residency had me gasping throughout (sorry isak).

a lot of the humor wasn’t for me, but that’s okay. this movie has the eeaao touch when it comes to this perfect interspersing of intense sorrow and juvenile comedy. the audience jumps between giggling and sniffles, and even still tone remains unwavering and effective. past lives suspends you in this fabric of pure and raw feeling - allowing you a quick laugh while keeping you under the weight of the most commonly felt yet soulcrushing experiences central to the human condition.

i have a difficult time letting movies emotionally impact me. i have difficulty crying in general. past lives takes no survivors. as i work on my next short film, i’ve been thinking about how people seem to just fade sometimes - in and out of our lives, propelled by forces that seem to lie outside of our comprehension. i don’t have any grand or profound explanation or thesis here, just the observation of this motion’s omnipresence. it stands next to death as one of the few things in this life that are both tragic and immutable. sometimes in-yun brings people back to you, sometimes it doesn’t.

past lives puts a mouthpiece to so many modes of human connection like these: as we trace the history of nora and hae sung, the viewer connects the dots from camaraderie to envy, envy to infatuation, infatuation to yearning, yearning to resentment, resentment to regret, regret to reconciliation and reconciliation to heartbreak. from missed connections to silent conversations to words that might’ve been better left unsaid, celine song shows us the ways in which we grow toward and apart from each other as humans and the inherent impossibleness of our feelings. sometimes the desires and struggles of characters are vocalized (nora’s husband’s jealousy, hae sung’s pain incited by his fondness for him, nora’s indecision), but more often than not celine song uses silence and character actions to convey what the three are feeling. and she doesn’t need to do otherwise: on the sole basis of the audience also being human, we know the emotions they go through all too well. the director reveals the universality of pure humanness by letting the audience live through each of the characters as we watch ourselves immediately pick up on each of the emotions the screen nudges us toward. she does this invisibly and yet effectively - a master of her craft and yet this is just her directorial debut. you’re made to empathize, but past lives doesn’t need to force you to - we immediately and wholly understand the feelings of the three because they so accurately represent those that all of us share.

past lives left me feeling empty. reconciliation does not always entail reunion. yearning does not always facilitate attaining. you won’t always get what you want. as nora bids his Uber farewell and returns home, i thought too much about how two people - both clearly in love with each other - can be situated in the same time and space and still be unable to coexist and just started crying.

and even still the greatest tragedy of past lives beyond failed love is how it will be received. those grappling with the fundamental impossibility of being a human who feels will find themselves represented; those unable to sink into the tension lying beneath and between every shot will walk out bored and unentertained. celine refuses to cater to the latter and makes peace with the knowledge that everyone eventually will see themself in nora, arthur, or hae sung within their lifetime.

in the mood for love poster

in the mood for love [watched 23 aug 2023]

ive been thinking a lot from a more meta perspective about what any of us are actually doing when we watch movies, and what we’re expected to be doing as a viewer. a professor of mine last year said, (within the humanities) “our goal here is to extract meaning”. authors use media as a way to convey meaning. the author encodes their intended meaning into a medium, and then the audience is left to decode this meaning from the medium. the author creates and the viewer then consumes with the goal of the effective transfer of “meaning” — a term possibly hard to define in all of its contours but one which i care not to.

in the case of filmmaking, so much is done by the author (ex. kar-wai) in pursuit of this. years of directorship and production manifest in the motion picture, loaded with imputed and constructed meaning to then be bestowed upon the audience. i’ve been thinking about how much of a task movie consumption really is from this line of thinking. the viewer who prides themself on their intellect and taste is tasked with producing an adequate (or hopefully, thoughtful) understanding of meaning and the ways in which directorial techniques (and the intentions they symbolize) throughout the film lend themselves to that meaning. there’s so much to pick up on, and any missed detail risks the chance of missing the point of the film; switches between diegetic and non-diegetic sound, recurrent locations and motifs, revealing moments in dialogue, etc. in this sense the viewer is asked to, within each sitting, decode a movie’s meaning within 1-3 hours when its encoding likely took years. if not for the visual pleasure we derive in the process, i think we would discuss how insurmountable this is and how inherent this chore is of the moving image. there’s obviously also pleasure gained from deriving meanings, especially those which we resonate with, but this coexists with the regret or dissatisfaction with the potential of missed meaning.

instead of complaining about this, though, it’s made me wonder why we - viewers and directors alike - participate in this system. to what extent are movies, in their limited runtime and infinite details, inefficient and futile at wholly conveying meaning by nature? if the goal of all media consumption is for the the viewer to “extract meaning” from the products of authorship, why is filmmaking so popular? would it not be more efficient to simply tell the audience what meaning - be it a political stance, outlook on the world, or something else - you’d like them to contemplate over and skip the medium intermediary (and the meaning lost in the process of encoding and decoding) altogether?

this frames meaning transfer through media as an optimization problem, where the goal for the author is to convey intended meaning in the most efficient and straightforward way to the viewer with the purpose of maximizing their reception and comprehension; the intended meaning of the author and the constructed meaning of the viewer should be identical. movies - with their innumerable intricacies across the image, sound, plot structure, etc - create an unlimited space for interpretation, each varying in their congruency with intended meaning. are movies not obviously then a poor choice for the director in pursuit of this maximization problem?

still, though, people smarter than me and who have thought about media for decades longer continue to focus their work through this medium. and i think this is because this framing is crudely simplistic and unrepresentative of the true goals of movie directors and what meaning really is in itself.

for one, it places the utmost value on the meaning intended by the director. basically just generic death of the author rhetoric here - it’s likely that directors are interested in fostering viewer-generated meaning and might even see it as equally valid as theirs. simply telling the audience what the meaning is and what they need to take from it allows for minimal (if not zero) meaning creation on behalf of the audience, whereas encoding some level of intended meaning into a movie that exists and is distributed independently and beyond the author leaves the movie and the decoding of its meaning entirely in the hands of the audience, resulting in some marriage of director-intended meaning and viewer-constructed meaning within the minds of each viewer. the proportions of the two will vary between audience members based on perceptiveness of directorial techniques + the intentions they symbolize, the creativity and relevant lived experiences of the viewer, etc.

secondly, it ignores the inherent interdependence between media and meaning and how meaning itself changes as the medium does. the most efficient way of getting an audience to grasp something you want them to would theoretically be just to tell them what it is. however, i would argue (and so would thousands of others who have already said this following mcluhan), that the meaning conveyed to the interlocutor in that exchange would be different than it would be if the same intended meaning was conveyed through film, because the medium in question functions to construct and develop upon the meaning. this is to say that two things (that are not mutually exclusive): (1) the moving image offers unique ways to construct meaning, and in doing so meaning constructed within the moving image exists dissimilarly from meaning constructed within any other medium, and (2) the medium of the moving image itself embeds itself in meaning and the meaning is defined by the medium (the medium is the message yesss). the movie is uniquely advantageous in conveying meaning and meaning found within movies cannot be found elsewhere - can we effectively and wholly convey anything about the human condition without showing someone living through it?

extracting meaning through movies is difficult and almost impossible to do thoroughly and entirely, but we don’t owe this (or anything) to movies. i place this task upon myself for pleasure and pride, but the medium, by design, makes meaning boundless and defined by interpretation; interpretation produced by whatever combination of details a viewer notices out of the infinite presented to them over the course of a film’s duration. capturing meaning entirely is both impossible and contradictory to the subjective nature of meaning in itself, but meaning that exists within the movie cannot exist elsewhere. maybe that’s why we love them so much.

come and see poster

come and see [watched 8 jun 2023]

im getting back into the rhythm of watching movies again!! maybe. anyway i'm being genuine when i say i don't think there's anything i can write here that's especially insightful or informative. everyone on here has watched this, everyone on here has loved this; i too have now watched this and loved this.

come and see made it apparent to me that i'm generally emotionally divorced from the media i consume. i'm able to recognize disturbing subject matter, and flinch and grimace at gore, violence, and malice, but unlike a few people who have recommended this to me i didn't struggle to watch this. i found the film both captivating and horrifying, but i think i've always existed at a distance from the screen. this, or maybe just a lack of media literacy, is what i give credence to for my seemingly unique ability to easily sit through movies like these.

anyway: something that did resonate deeply with me about this movie was the portrayal of the importance of the icon. again, not a new insight by any means, but i found the ways in which humans of all sides united around some figurehead or image in understanding their wartime allegiances and political identity. obvious examples here are the skeletal talisman constructed by the belarusians to denounce nazism and express their rage upon. another would of course be the poster of hitler that flyora is angered by so deeply as to unleash a round of bullets on its glass covering. flyora is shown to destroy the icon both physically and imaginatively - as the frame shatters to pieces, reversed footage of nazi germany shows hitler's regime being undone: in effect undoing the existence of a worshipped being responsible for linking together one of the most evil forces of all time. to me, this is to say that humans are so strongly motivated and imputed with dogma from the figures and symbols around them that to destroy the latter is to nullify the threat of the former. and come and see shows this - before the belarusians capture the german village terrorists and kill them, they spit and condemn the nazi soldier mannequin they made.

humans are fundamentally simple-minded creatures capable of creating violence on the scale of a holocaust if the being or concept above them tells them it serves a greater purpose, and humans fight and clash over such socially constructed ideas and images. beyond the infamous hitler mustache and nazi salute, nations, religions, races, and even the concept of purity are weapons of mass destruction when people unite around them to forge division. in this way, i found that what stood out to me about come and see was its commentary on the human psyche within and outside of world war 2. phenomenal film!

magdalene cover

magdalene by fka twigs [written 3 apr 2023] [in firebird magazine]

up until magdalene, we’d only ever seen fka twigs be confident and coy. in the years from ep1 to lp1, her fans saw her climb within the dance and art pop genres; several of them caught on early and waited for more musical genius to come. from her coachella vogue performance, to a ballroom-infused remix of “give up”, to the stunning m3ll155x visual ep, her music oozed pop excellence and queer influence. collaborations with revolutionary contemporaries like arca, sophie, and jesse kanda framed the artist early in her career as one disinterested in the mundane. this quality that (still) characterizes all of her music led to her near-instant cult and critical acclaim.

during this era, she sang about being recognized from music videos, reservations about turning the lights on during sex, and even a tumultuous partner who’s “got a goddamn nerve.” don’t get me wrong, her discography has always been marked with emotional depth (ex. “water me,” her breakthrough), but on magdalene, the twigsnation was exposed to a previously guarded side of her: a woman vulnerable and weary.

while producing the album, twigs underwent surgery for excruciating uterine fibroid tumors; a condition she metaphorizes on the album as ”apples, cherries, pain” (“home with you”). running parallel to this condition, she withstood relentless racism from the general public in unjust retaliation to her relationship with robert pattinson — and his inability (or just incompetence) to shield her from his rabid fanbase. these two hardships — one emotional and one physical — took root and bore fruit in the form of the artist’s magnum opus, magdalene.

with this album, twigs soared to new heights. from tracks like “sad day” to “cellophane,” her music has never been more potent, vulnerable, cinematic, and ripe with emotion. we hear her cry out regrets toward pattinson (”if you'd had told me, i'd be running down the hills to be with you”, in “home with you”) and describe the position she held in the relationship as one under the scrutiny of “a thousand eyes.” the production of this album was an integral part of her journey in healing from her physical calamities. perhaps the making of her opus was also requisite for her recovery from her relationship troubles with twilight’s poster boy, and the intense scrutiny that inherently accompanies womanhood and blackness.

the suffering that twigs ensued is audibly evident to any fan of hers, from the hopelessness within “sad day” to the astonishing cries in the dark in “cellophane” (“and i just want to feel you’re there”). while twigs knows that she isn’t solely responsible for the shortcomings and failures of the relationship, she second-guesses herself on tracks like these and ruminates over how she could have been a better lover in the midst of internal and public turmoil.

a shining example of this theme lies in “home with you,” a single off the album and one of its highlights. the song chronicles her struggle to understand and satisfy the needs of her lover. mary magdalene, one of jesus’s disciples, embodies the traits that twigs wishes she has: someone who can satiate the demands and needs of the ones she loves. to twigs, this icon exists out of reach of her as she strives to mirror this quality within herself.

i wonder if you think that i could never raise you up i wonder if you think that i could never help you fly never seen a hero like me in a sci-fi but i'd save a life if i thought it belonged to you mary magdalene would never let her loved ones down

in this track, “home” refers to a safe place with her lover (“with you”), creating a metaphorical safe haven for her and pattinson where all is right and at peace. the intention behind using the word “home” could also be to symbolize privacy from the outside world — a space inhabited solely by her and her lover, safe from the unrelenting gaze and external pressures of the outside world. she wishes that she could have been there when she needed to be. maybe missed moments like those were what led to their demise.

“cellophane” continues exploring this theme of regret as another one of magdalene’s peaks. in one of the most heartfelt moments of the record, she asks, “didn’t i do it for you? why don’t i do it for you? why won’t you do it for me? when all i do is for you?” here, “do” is the operative that shifts in meaning across the verse.

in the first two phrases, do likely refers to her suitability as a partner through attractiveness and compatibility; in the last two phrases, its meaning shifts to its more literal meaning of doing something for your partner out of love for your partner. why didn’t robert pattinson protect her from the wolves who hunted in his name?

in “home with you,” she acknowledged that her intuition and emotional support could sometimes be inadequate. in these last two lines of the verse, she flips the token and charges him with his own personal failures and asks if he regrets them the way she does. while she may not have always ran down the hill to be with him, everything she had consciously done was for him; why didn’t he do the same for her? at this point, twigs permits herself to be selfish and recognizes that her own needs weren’t met either: “and i just want to feel you’re there.”

in songs like “thousand eyes,” she continues this non-linear storyline and bridges the connection between the relationship and the general public. at previous points in the album, her feelings are mostly internal and cover only the troubles experienced due to the faults of her and her lover. at this point, she externalizes the situation and gives context to how the intense fixation of a “thousand eyes” ultimately led to her fate as a woman tortured. she uses a thousand eyes to personify the public gaze; to characterize the overly critical lens she was subjected to at the hands of fans, tabloids, and the paparazzi. between racial slurs and dog whistles used, we know that the vitriol received was heightened on the basis of her identity.

she circles back to this on “cellophane.” according to twigs, “they’re waiting, they’re watching, they’re watching us, they’re hating, they’re waiting, and hoping we’re not enough.” she can’t both resolve their issues and worry about how she’s covered in the media while doing so: “i don’t want to have to share our love, i try but i get overwhelmed.”

the rest of the album follows this general sequence of ideas: the difficulties the two experienced, the added intensity of outside coverage, the retrospective regret and dysphoria, and the person she was left alone with to mend back together. indeed, despite the album's release nearly four years ago, these themes can still be felt in their entirety due to the music’s timelessness. at minimum, then, magdalene continues to exist as a masterpiece that demonstrates twigs’ vocal and lyrical capabilities as a creative and art-pop pioneer. at most, one can hope that magdalene served twigs as the medium she needed for her physical and emotional healing.