Epics: The Great Tradition Of A Lazy Bank Holiday Weekend

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It’s something of a tradition to watch a Hollywood Epic or two over the course of a lazy bank holiday weekend. This weekend I’ve adopted a more subversive approach to that most typical of occurrences in my choice of movie. Inspired by my answer to this week’s Criticwire Survey I thought it worthy of expansion in a bona-fide blogpost. This serves a double purpose too, given the lightness of the site over the past week or so thanks to the emphasis placed on the now-completed second issue of Periodical.

A second viewing of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained was the first film on the agenda, courtesy of the films recent Blu-ray release. It translates well away from the big screen, although the episodic nature of the film did become more prevalent (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing). Some of the beautiful vistas look *so* great that they actually look artificially created at times!

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Following on from Django Unchained, I used the upcoming release of Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel to revisit the director’s earlier Watchmen. Long-time readers will be well aware of the conflicted relationship I hold with the film. Growing up Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ was essentially my favourite book, and I found Snyder’s adaptation to be ultimately rather lacking. Gone, I felt, was the all-important and much vaunted subtext of Moore’s ambitious comic-book series, and instead Snyder offered up an array of increasingly poor choices of musical cues and some ropey performances. While those complaints still stand (Carla Gugino’s old-age era Sally Jupiter particularly) the film now actually stands in moderately high regard for me. The ambition of the thing is pretty awe-inspiring, even if it is a different kind of ambition to the type captured in Moore’s book, and it’s an effective enough movie. It’s flawed, for sure (‘Hallelujah’?!), but I’m happy to admit that I can see through said flaws for the most part these days. I’m still yet to experience either Snyder’s Director’s Cut, or his Ultimate Cut, which incorporates the use of an animated adaptation of the ‘Tales From The Black Freighter’ sub-comic from the original books, but may give them a shot in the near future.

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I followed up Watchmen with Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. I wasn’t expecting it to fit in here, that wasn’t ever my intention, but I’m quite surprised that it actually kind of does. Something of an intimate epic, in which grand ideas are presented in a minimalist fashion, Upstream Color is as ambitious a work as any of the 3 hour-plus, thousand-strong cast, Hollywood mega-picture of old.

Hypnotic,beautiful and unusual, Carruth’s apocalyptic tome , and also acts as something of a musing on the superhero genre (and specifically the super-villain) in the shape of it’s science-fiction overtones and the opening salvo which incorporates obtuse Mad Scientist-riffing origins elements. Carruth’s film is so aesthetically driven that dialogue is almost moot: there’s nary an A4 sheet’s worth of the spoken word, although the audio angle is pushed to it’s limit in an extended section which sees a sound recordist at work. It’s remarkable work, and a film which I look forward to examine in greater detail in a future issue of Periodical.

As per my Criticwire Survey entry, I’m now going to close out this bank holiday weekend with Jacques Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse.

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