My Apocalypse: Metallica Through the Never

Originally posted on Letterboxd

I find it a little bit odd that my two favourite bands (Metallica, Bikini Kill) from my teenage years ended up getting films made about them in 2013 (the other being The Punk Singer). My relationship with Metallica is a lot less complicated than the one I have with Bikini Kill. It basically comes down to the fact that I always thought their music kicked ass, and as juvenile as it sounds that’s still pretty much the crux of my relationship with Metallica. There was a time when I was so heavily into the band that I listened to Master of Puppets daily. My relationship has since cooled, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the sheer absurdity of Metallica’s Apocalypse Concert film Through The Never.

During the first few minutes of Through the Never I thought for sure this was going to be nearly cringe worthy. I mean Lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist James Hetfield drives by in a car that shoots flames out the back, a rabid Metallica fan arrives at the show first and starts screaming the band’s name at the top of his lungs, and Bassist Robert Trujillo literally is playing bass in a room with vibrations coming off the walls that it distorts the image. Then something came to me. I’m watching a concert film about Metallica and they have NEVER been a subtle band, and once I actually started to go along with some of the more bizarre narrative moments I settled into the groove of what the film was trying to do and that’s represent the spirit/attitude and imagery of a live Metallica show. Much like the way 200 Motels would represent the filmic version of what Frank Zappa’s music sounded like Through The Never does the same for Metallica. It’s in your face, brash, and very straightforward.

However, the concert itself is where I think most of the strength of the picture lies. They recreate some of their albums covers on stage and even go back through some of their greatest hits of stage antics (the flaming man who ruins the stage is taken from 1996’s Cunning Stunts and Lady Justice falling apart was a staple of their …And Justice For All tour in the late 80s). It’s always fascinating to watch and never feels like four guys just playing on stage. They definitely perform with the intentions of the stage show being as great as the music they perform and that was an admirable decision. Nimrod Antal also keeps the show interesting in the way he shoots the band. His framing is way above par for the home video releases of the previous concert films the band has released and also injects some nice visual moments into the picture. One moment of hazy red lighting from above casting a warmness over Hetfield as he stands between each cymbal on the left and right side of the drum set was an especially strong image, and probably the finest visual moment at hand.

I think this is best suited for fans of the band, but there is probably enough here to keep non fans interested for 90 minutes. The concert always looks dazzling and the band has been performing long enough that they know how to work an audience. They have a level of professionalism that only comes with performing live for 30 years, and it shows in just how appreciative they seem of their audience while still being as aggressive as they can be in their middle age. This is a band still at the zenith of their popularity making a movie that they probably all wished they could have made when they were 16 years old, and I find that youthful charm to be refreshing after the self seriousness of Some Kind of Monster. These are still basically the same guys who recorded Kill ‘Em All, and it’s only fitting that when all the dust settles and all the story ends it’s just four guys sitting in a room playing, because they’ve always been a band that prides themselves on the music they create whether people love it or hate it, and I’m sure they feel that same pride about this film.

Dreams and Dissolves: 3 Women


Spoilers

I think we involuntarily create what can be described as cinema when we sleep, and in that way I think dreams and cinema are inherently linked. It’s incredible the way that dreams are often cryptic, can conjur up any image imaginable and tell any story inside of your own head without your consent. In a way we all create movies when we are in our unaware sleeping states. Robert Altman’s 3 Women is essentially a film where the director finds himself trying to recreate a dream. Altman is a director who has always used techniques like slow zooms and dissolves, but never have they been more radical than in this film. The techniques that Altman uses throughout function to create a film that visually is reaching for a dream like state, and he succeeds. There is one scene specifically near the end of the picture that I’d even go as far to say is Altman’s greatest sequence. In this sequence Altman uses dissolves in a way that perfectly encapsulate the way dreams feel. His images fade on top of one other, shift, double, are cut in half, and morph, and it’s punctuated by Gerald Busby’s ominous score. It evokes everything Altman was trying to do in creating this dream/nightmare world and a moment of pure stylistic power.






However, the masterful dissolve dream wouldn’t be what it is without everything the picture does prior to that moment. Millie (Shelly Duvall) and Pinky (Sissy Spacek) are our guides through this underpopulated, seemingly sinister California town. They meet each other by chance after Pinky applies to work at the same health spa as Millie. The shy Pinky instantly attaches herself to Millie’s buyout personality and cheery disposition. After getting to know each other a little better Pinky and Millie agree to live together. Pinky is really blown away by Millie’s perfect apartment and her beautiful clothes. It almost feels like she tries to become her. Millie grows increasingly bothered by her roommate’s personality to the point where Pinky actually tries to kill herself. There is a feeling of impending doom in all of these scenes and that is all released in her suicide attempt.  When she recovers her personality has shifted with Millie and the two have reversed roles. There is no explanation why and the clues we’re given in regards to her identity are minimal (the social security card, her parents). I’m unsure at this point if she even exists. In many earlier scenes Millie needed a friend. She was alone and chatting away to herself while people around ignored her. She may even be a manifestation of Millie’s own personality and her need for someone when she was alone. The idea that 3 Women is a dream picture lends itself to vastly different interpretations, and what I really love about it is that there is never a clear cut answer to anyone’s hypothesis. It gives the film a kind of looseness and unpredictability that I think is entirely necessary for it to succeed.


I haven’t mentioned the 3rd woman yet, and I think she is possibly the most cryptic of all these characters. She doesn’t say much in the film and her screen time is much shorter than Pinky and Millie, but I think Willie (Janice Rule) is perhaps the most important character in 3 Women. I think she represents God. She has a few big scenes that I think unravel the meanings of her character. In the beginning she is seen mostly as a silent artist who is painting on everything. She creates these odd murals everywhere she goes, and I’m still not sure what they mean, but they are an example of creation. She often destroys her own work as well when she takes a gun to it, which backs up the idea that she is a God like figure if you assume her art is the life she has given in this world. The other significant scene that backs up the idea of a God figure is Pinky’s second birth. Right before Pinky attempts suicide Altman cuts to the pool she is about to dive in and zooms in slowly on Willie’s mural. It’s a creature that is pregnant with a child. When Pinky jumps and is then pulled out of the water she is reborn with an entirely new personality by way of Willie’s art. Everything in this world, at least the two characters we follow, runs through Willie first. She’s an omnipresent figure and her presence looms over every scene.

After saying all of this though I’m less interested in interpretation than the feeling the picture evokes. These two theories clash and perhaps that is another reason why the film is dream as well as cinema. Nothing has to make sense all the time in this world and I’m not sure anything does, but Altman evokes those feelings of submersion, haze, and mystery that infest all of us when we go to sleep at night.

Revisiting Scorsese: Who’s That Knocking at My Door?

Originally posted on Letterboxd

Scorsese’s first feature begins with a shot of a Catholic mother making food for her family. The image dissolves at the sight of a virgin Mary statue and cuts to a group of young men standing around talking. Pop music begins playing over the image and the men are compelled to beat up other men. It’s almost humorous how perfectly Scorsese would capture nearly every last theme he’d play around with for his entire career in the first two scenes of Who’s That Knocking at my Door?. It’s a testament to his talents as a filmmaker that he came right out of the gate knowing exactly what he wanted to say, but then Scorsese has always been an almost autobiographical filmmaker. You get the sense that Scorsese knew these people when he was growing up and both admired and feared their actions. Throughout his entire career Scorsese would romanticize violence through the usage of music only to show the horrors and repercussions of these actions later. It was a lifestyle that he never ventured into, but one he understood, because in a way he lived it. The Catholicism present here is also looming over every scene. When R.J. and the girl kiss you can see crosses in the background. When they approach the idea of sex it’s shot down when pangs of guilt overcome our protagonist. Then there is the flurry of catholic imagery that closes the film cementing RJ’s solace in god despite damning his relationship with the girl due to archaic ideas of purity and virginity.

The other thing that I find extremely interesting here is how Scorsese treats men and women. It’s the 1960s and second wave feminism is only just starting to gain any kind of traction so the climate at this time is still very much difficult for women. The idea of women’s liberation has only just started so for Scorsese to make a film that is partially about the problems women had to endure during this time when it comes to rape is something admirable. Scorsese certainly places the narrative in the hands of RJ but he gives the girl in this film the space to push back when need be and reject RJ when he blames her for her own rape. The rape scene itself is shot differently than the rest of the picture. It’s much more brutal, disorienting and the music is doubled over to create a horrific effect. This is a picture where the girl and the guy don’t end up together and it’s ultimately the woman’s choice to end the relationship, because of RJ’s horrible behaviour. She’s hurting, but she doesn’t end up saddled with RJ and that is progressive. In regards to RJ’s presence in the picture he sets up the kind of archetypical character Scorsese would create for years to come in pictures like Mean Streets, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. RJ is a gangster troubled by catholic guilt. He was very set ideas about what’s right and wrong, and how men and women should act and it’s ultimately his undoing. He still has his boys and his god, but he lost his girl which makes this film a little different from some of Scorsese’s other films.

 What might be Scorsese’s greatest talent as a director is knowing how to use music to play a scene and it’s amazing to see that he’s always been perfect at this. In RJ’s fantasy scene he perfectly used The End by The Doors and in the already mentioned rape scene he took Don’t Ask Me to Be Lonely and doubled it to muffle her screams in a scene that is truly horrific. These two scenes play completely differently and showcase the different ideas these two characters have about sex. For RJ it’s a type of ritualistic fantasy and a rite of passage and for the girl it’s something to be afraid of and something that has been taken from her that she can’t get back. It’s something that I never even noticed when watching this film when I was 13 years old, and revisiting it nine years later revealed an almost completely different film than the one I remembered. The one constant between myself at 13 and 22 is that I still find this to be a really interesting debut showing the kinds of things Scorsese would perfect years down the road and the things he’s still trying to understand.