Only Theo Panayides Has Wings

This is a blog about Theo Panayides, the cyprustician online critic that writes reviews of movies old and new on his website ( He is very good. In fact, he is awesome. It is also an exercise for my english-writing abilities, as I'm from Brazil.

Location: Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil

Saturday, October 15, 2005

All The Primer's Men

Here's what I'm gonna do. Since I am not getting drunk tonight or doing Karaoke renditions of Arcade Fire's "Cold Wind" (no, you're the fanboy! Fuck off) and I've already seen like eighty movies today, so what I'm gonna do is write about a few movies I've seen recently. Nothing to do with my obsession with Theo's work or with movies anyone really gives a shit about anymore, and these comments are more about my particular tastes than the films themselves, so this is pretty much useless to anyone who is not me. So don't bother. In a few days I'll be back at writing about how awesome Theo's new festival blog is or how the São Paulo Film Festival is already in the process of revealing it's selection (which is exciting) or one of those random thoughts posts.


I've recently seen Alan J. Pakula's ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (I'm not going to do a Vern-acularized version of this title because I intend this commentary to be (half)serious, but anyway, it would've been something like THE PRESIDENTS ARE ALL MEN (ha ha ha!)). It's the first time I've seen and in no way I expected it to be so awesome. What it is with this particular movie is that it's crafted with a documentary approach. There are no shaky cameras, but Pakula gives it an intense sense of reality with naturalistic details and performances. I can't point you out to many examples, because I've seen this movie a few days ago, but there's a six minute shot of Woodward (Redford) in his office, with him in the foreground making calls and trying to investigate clues, while in the background a group of people gather around a TV set (the content of which you don't see), dissipate, another co-worker out of focus tries to get Woodward's attention, heads and bodies enter and leave the frame, gesticulate, and Pakula shoots it with a really slow zoom in. It's not just that the content of this particular scene is tense, but that it feels like you are looking at the scene from a secret security camera. Or maybe, more to Pakula's intensions probably, from a spy camera, installed by a governement conspiracy.

Another realistic, genius element of PRESIDENT'S is that it never explains much to the audience. There's no cheap exposition. You have to work twice as much to follow the investigation and what exactly the characters are doing. It makes you feel like your part of the mystery. Names and places and numbers are being thrown around, and you have to sort everything out, like a jigsaw-puzzle, until a hazy picture starts forming in your head. Even if you are not completely aware of the events, you know you absolutely must have it all cleared out, because you are in the brink of a huge Revelation, an important, massive one. Pakula and screenwriter William Goldman make you feel like they know something that most people don't, a Secret. The filmmakers take pleasure in bringing you into the mystery, not just because they want to throw a particular political message at you, but because they know that we generally (well, at least I do) wish to be the Woodward and Bernsteins. Regular people, realizing that reality itself, as you percieve it, is breaking down, and that there was another reality under it all along. The giddy pleasure I get from watching it is one I often reach for in movies, and rarely recieve. It's the What If. It's the presentation of a particular recognizable enviroment, and then having the rug pulled under you. It is orgasmic. This is why I love (real) science-fiction, and PRESIDENT'S is more science-fiction than most sci-fi movies.

Admitedly, it's a lot easier for a movie create this feeling when it's mostly based on actual events. But there's no denying of the mastery of Pakula's silent, precise, brooding direction, Gordon Willis' dark, ominous photography, Goldman's "try and catch me fuckers" plotting and structure and great dialogue, the all-around fantastic, realistic acting, and sureal, hilariously brilliant, unbelievably friggin' tense scenes as the one where Woodward, after being told his life may be in danger by Deep Throat, arrives at Bernstein's apartment, and fearing planted bugs, turns up the volume on some classical music and procedes to have a conversation with his partner through a typewriter (this was so awesome. I mean, Jesus). I gave it an 87, and then upgraded it to a 92 after days of reflection, which safely puts it on "this is one of the greatest movies of all time ever thank you very much". Another upgrade I did lately was for Shane Carruth's sci-fi masterpiece PRIMER, which went from an (coincidently [or not]) 87 to a staggering (as Theo puts it) 96. I did not rewatch the film in these last few weeks, mind you, though I've seen it three times already. The upgrade occured because, after seeing PRESIDENT's and have it hanging over my mind for some time, I realized how closely they both resemble, and how significantly more amazing is PRIMER's achievement.

I'm not going to pretend that my realization of the similarity between the two movies is some kind of discovery. Shane Carruth basically said it himself in the interviews, something like this: "I watched ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and wanted to make a movie like that". And who could blame him. But I don't remember reading any interesting comparisions between them, and though I will not be making said any extensive analysis on how they are similar, something struck me about them that made me understand a personal fetish in cinema (and sci-fi) for me, one that I already suspected. What it is is that PRIMER also takes the realistic approach that PRESIDENT'S took: they both have the same intense attention to detail and naturalism and recognizable, erratic, human behaviour; they are both shot in the same static, ominous, silent, ultimately frightening medium shot style of Pakula; they both feature screenplays where the plot and the content is thrown at you in an almost incomprehensible way, and make your mind race many times faster (which is very exciting, for those who care) to catch up; they both involve a couple of characters, regular guys, discovering a big Secret, that will change the way they look at the world, at Reality.

What makes PRIMER even more disgustingly awesome is that the Secret, in this case, is not political (something that affects a relatively small portion of our reality), but a Scientifical/Metaphysical one. The quest for Knowledge that Aaron and Abe go through leads not to resignations and arrests for political figures, but something so massive and otherwordly that it seems unbelievable. And the potency of the film comes from the fact that it makes you (or, at least me) believe it. Their discovery could easily be equated (in terms of importance) to the discovery of a proof that God exists. And only two Texan muffin-eating baseball-wathcing scientists know it (like Theo said, it's the juxtaposition of the mundane and the transcendental). And belive me, is this movie fucking transcendental. I mean holy fucking shit. There's a scene about 20 minutes in, after the realistic vibe has been stablished, in which the movie takes such a sudden, gigantic leap into the realm of sci-fi that I actually cried. It is when Aaron first sees Abe's clone through a binoculars, preceded by Abe urging him "not to scream, no matter what" and proceded by Aaron almost losing his voice, saying "Who was that, Abe?". The following stretch of the movie -- the next 10 or 15 minutes or so -- the sequence where Abe explains to Aaron in voice-over narration how did he travel through time (before, during and after) while Carruth plays the exact same thing the narration is explaining, but later on, with both Aaron and Abe... this sequence is so masterful that I do not even know how could people not consider this a major achievement in the Cinema (let alone by a first-time filmmaker, with a 7000 dollar budget). The people who do not consider this a major achievement in the Cinema must be fucking retarded.

I'm sorry, I don't mean that. Entirely.

So, there you go. Pakula's and Carruth's pictures are both firmly placed among my absolute favorites, bacause of some weird psychological background that cause me to enjoy movies that deal with metaphysics and the nature of reality in a mature and inteligent and realistic way (like in the great Philip K. Dick). I also love DONNIE DARKO* and TROPICAL MALADY for the exact same reasons -- to cite some recent movies I fell for -- and could easily write long, dull posts like this one about how unbefuckinglievably awesome they are (look for Jim Emerson's essay on DARKO that's somewhere on Ebert's site. It's genius). I'm not gonna, though (unless the fanbase of The Theo Blog requests it, har har). I think I've already made pretty clear what do I think is so amazing about these kinds of films that are willing to tackle the Fantastic with seriousness and to build it around a reality. It is, in a way, why I watch movies. It's not just to have filmmakers point to behaviour that I can see in the everyday and analyze it, but to have them also point outward, to what we may not even be aware of (master Antonioni also does this). It's not that movies (or art in general) will always reveal secrets and conspiracies, or that it's some form of escapism out of boring, mundane life, but just that fact that it's willing to go there already says a lot.

*How convienient, a movie about a teen who wants to delude himself that reality is not as boring as it really is by inventing in his head a weird surreal plot involving himself. He's also an atheist but makes himself believe he isn't one (because he can't handle the implications of being an atheist). He also wishes he'd not grow up, but go back to childhood, back when he believed in the mystical and the magical and in the easter bunny (geddit?). Anyway, Theo, 57? C'mooon...

PS: Mike D'Angelo, I know you did an Esquire review of PRIMER. It is not available for reading purposes. You have to buy it. I am not willing to pay dollars-converted-into-reais(our currency) to read your review. I do not feel it is worth that much. Although I do feel it may be worth something. So if you could e-mail it to me, I would be grateful. Though I wouldn't hold it against you if you didn't, since I am stupidly making this request in public. The Esquire team could be reading this. They could hack into our e-mails. They have the technology. They really do. I saw it in the movies. Our lives may be in danger. You should ask Deep Throat first. Put the red flag on your balcony, etc.

PPS: THE CONSTANT GARDNER (36). Brazillian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles, are you retarded. Thanks. Panayidettes do not watch THE CONSTANTLY STUPID/BORING GARDENER. Theo do not rate this movie over 45.

PPPS: There may be spelling errors in this post. Many of them, bad.

PPPPS: I would like to thank teenager baaab and baseball & politics asian guy Ryan Wu for the linking. And whoever else linked me (you know who you are, I am sure). Keep up the good work, etc.

PPPPPS: I do not even know what the fuck "PS" means. I think it's some latin shit. Like Post Scriptum. Or Post Scrotum.

PPPPPPS: I see my prediction failed on Theo's A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE grade. That is sad, but also ok. There are other predictions, other movies, etc.


Anonymous V said...

I like to see Theo's appreciation of HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. I mean, 81, wow. He's even more of a Miyazaki fanboy than I am.

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