Goodbye, 2020 (Top 100)

*SPOILER WARNING*

Image for post
A crude attempt to show off the “set up” I established over lockdown to keep myself “nourished”.

If there’s one thing this year has lacked — amongst many things — it’s consistency. After what has seemed like a succession of increasingly miserable years, 2020 has been the peak of that trajectory (so far — global warming hasn’t killed us all yet, but we’ve still got 2021 to look forward to). Our standard sense of time has been eroded — that is to say, our confrontation with the notion that time suddenly appears irrational. I think what this pandemic has proven most about common perceptions of time is just how much that perception is built upon the pretences of capital — the clockwork of institutional power has floundered beneath the pressures of a Greater Threat, and so too has the capitalist calendar. Empathy, it seems, is incompatible with the free market — who knew?

I suppose taking glee from such provocative ideas as the collapse of time during a global pandemic that has killed millions worldwide — on top of the failure of our classical institutions to do all they can to help curb this disaster — is a tad ignorant and self-indulgent. But the provocation stands: it is through the tragedy of elite incompetence that the truth — for many of us — has begun to latently etch itself into our daily lives.

As such, I’ve decided to construct my end-of-year list with this “latent etch” in mind. Many critics and journalists have eschewed the standard “Best Of The Year” format in favour of one more befitting of this years lack of concrete temporality. These lists ask “what are the best new films I’ve seen this year, regardless of release date?” — well, the cinemas and film festivals have emptied, and the industrial necessities of the film calendar have collapsed. Writers are no longer as bound by the rigours of the festival circuit and industrial dump-periods leading up to Christmas and the award’s season. I can’t claim to be a part of this professional crowd, but the drunken march of 2020’s cinematic schedule has been just as chaotic and impulsive for the broadsheet payroll snoot as it has for the straight-outta-GCSE Media neophyte. The way I have consumed all media, not just films, over these past nine months has been dictated more by the logic of emotional drive than commitment to the mainstream psychology of custom.

These are the top 100 new films (and TV shows/visual media/who gives a shit) that I’ve seen this year. I wouldn’t normally feel compelled to do an ordered list like this, and a lot of these orderings are quite arbitrary and open to change. You could say I thought of this as a challenge, but whatever — I just wanted an excuse to talk about stuff I like. #25 and onwards will contain some personal notes on each film, with my top 10 accompanied with some longer essay style commentary. Perhaps all this was unnecessary, but given my lack of writing this year, I figured this commitment was decent enough compensation.

Any titles from #100 to #6 in bold are 2020 titles.

100–51

Image for post
(clockwise from top left) Never Rarely Sometimes Always / Moving / Vanishing Point / Hackers

As you’ll soon notice throughout this list, East Asian cinema dominates outside of UK and US releases — and some films here like Porco Rosso, Super Inframan, and Cutie Honey were unlucky not to make my Top 50. 2020 would also be the year that I give in to what I guess is termed “vulgar auteurism”. I’m not sure how I feel about that as a concept, but if it works in the context of my growing weariness towards social realism and art which offers little beyond agreeable monotony — and a submission to the visceral pulp chaos that my restless autistic brain sorely craves — then so be it. Maybe a few years ago, the comparatively-low Parasite (#92) would have swapped places with the likes of Event Horizon (#47) or eXistenZ (#53) — but not today.

100. Tombstone (dir. George P. Cosmatos, 1993)
99. Dark Waters (dir. Todd Haynes, 2019)
98. The Pleasure of Being Robbed (dir. Josh Safdie, 2008)
97. Education (dir. Steve McQueen, 2020)
96. River of Grass (dir. Kelly Reichardt, 1994)
95. Fatbaws (dir. Peter Mullan, 2020)
94. Moving (dir. Shinji Somai, 1993)
93. George Washington (dir. David Gordon Green, 2000)
92. Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2019)
91. Computer Chess (dir. Andrew Bujalski, 2013)
90. Babylon (dir. Franco Rosso, 1980)
89. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1979)
88. A.K. (dir. Chris Marker, 1985)
87. Mangrove (dir. Steve McQueen, 2020)
86. Transit (dir. Christian Petzold, 2018)
85. The Last Detail (dir. Hal Ashby, 1973)
84. Bunny Lake is Missing (dir. Otto Preminger, 1965)
83. The Woman Who Ran (dir. Hong Sang-soo, 2020)
82. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (dir. Peter Weir, 2003)
81. What Did Jack Do? (dir. David Lynch, 2017)
80. Alita: Battle Angel (dir. Robert Rodriguez, 2019)
79. The Booksellers (dir. D.W. Young, 2019)
78. Southland Tales (dir. Richard Kelly, 2006)
77. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (dir. Jim Jarmusch, 1999)
76. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (dir. Eliza Hittman, 2020)
75. The Hudsucker Proxy (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, 1994)
74. Possessor (dir. Brandon Cronenberg, 2020)
73. Dawson City: Frozen Time (dir. Bill Morrison, 2016)
72. Whisper of the Heart (dir. Yoshifumi Kondo, 1995)
71. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (dir. John Hyams, 2012)
70. The Invisible Man (dir. Leigh Whannell, 2020)
69. Tomato (dir. Mark Jenkin, 2017)
68. A Bullet for the General (dir. Damiano Damiani, 1966)
67. Miami Vice (dir. Michael Mann, 2006)
66. Shampoo (dir. Hal Ashby, 1975)
65. Vanishing Point (dir. Richard C. Sarafian, 1971)
64. Suzaki Paradise: Red Light District (dir. Yuzo Kawashima, 1956)
63. Weather Diary 6 (dir. George Kuchar, 1990)
62. The Devil’s Rejects (dir. Rob Zombie, 2005)
61. A Hidden Life (dir. Terrence Malick, 2019)
60. Hackers (dir. Iain Softley, 1995)
59. Porco Rosso (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1992)
58. Big Night (dir. Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci, 1996)
57. Super Inframan (dir. Hua Shan, 1975)
56. Cutie Honey (dir. Hideaki Anno, 2004)
55. The Other Side of Hope (dir. Aki Kaurismaki, 2017)
54. Detour (dir. Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945)
53. eXistenZ (dir. David Cronenberg, 1999)
52. The Slumber Party Massacre (dir. Amy Holden Jones, 1982)
51. Bringing Up Baby (dir. Howard Hawks, 1938)

50–26

Image for post
(clockwise from top left) Da 5 Bloods / They Live By Night / The History of the Seattle Mariners / The Grand Bizarre

There is unquestionably a degree of blur between the end of the last section and the beginning of this one — in fact, in my original conception of this list over a month ago, Death Becomes Her (#49) didn’t even make the Top 75 until I remembered just how much of a good time I had with it. Now it sits comfortably between the fierce spaghetti-Tercer Cine of Bacurau and the quaint imagination of Castle in the Sky.

A notable inclusion here is How To with John Wilson (#32) as the only TV show to make this list (if you don’t count Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology). I was going to place Season 4 of The Eric Andre Show and I May Destroy You on here, but considering I still haven’t finished either of them, it felt a bit wrong to include them. I was also tempted to place some other notable non-cinematic media on here — e.g. Conner O’Malley’s “Wonderful story” — but then that would likely involve me rummaging through the archives of every moving-image-content I’ve liked on Twitter over the past twelve months and, quite frankly, I don’t feel like doing that. Also I remembered that “Wonderful story” existed way too late into the writing process so I thought I’d just give it an honourable mention here instead.

50. Bacurau (dir. Kleber Mendonca Filho, 2019)
49. Death Becomes Her (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1992)
48. Castle in the Sky (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1986)
47. Event Horizon (dir. Paul WS Anderson, 1997)
46. Da 5 Bloods (dir. Spike Lee, 2020)
45. Who Killed Captain Alex? (dir. Nabwana Isaac Geoffrey Godfrey, 2010)
44. Dick Johnson is Dead (dir. Kirsten Johnson, 2020)
43. Only Yesterday (dir. Isao Takahata, 1991)
42. Winter Light (dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1963)
41. Eden (dir. Mia Hansen-Love, 2014)
40. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1984)
39. The Grand Bizarre (dir. Jodie Mack, 2018)
38. Strange Days (dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 1995)
37. They Live by Night (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1948)
36. Lovers Rock (dir. Steve McQueen, 2020)
35. Le Havre (dir. Aki Kaurismaki, 2011)
34. American Movie (dir. Chris Smith, 1999)
33. Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik, 2018)
32. How To with John Wilson (dir. John Wilson, 2020)
31. Rebecca (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)
30. A New Leaf (dir. Elaine May, 1971)
29. Autumn Sonata (dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1978)
28. Life Is Sweet (dir. Mike Leigh, 1990)
27. The History of the Seattle Mariners (dir. Jon Bois, 2020)
26. Dragon Inn (dir. King Hu, 1967)

25 — 11

25. Showgirls (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1995)

Image for post

A film which owes as much to Bob Fosse as it does to Spearmint Rhino. To think this film has been so viciously maligned. The ruminations of its narrative, set in the self-cannibalising hierarchies of the Las Vegas strip-club scene, could easily be played out in any beloved American institution (see The Wolf of Wall Street). But it says a lot of the puritanical (and certainly corrupt) sensitivities of America’s critical establishment that Showgirl’s agitated and loaded eroticism (as well as its exposure of the top-down culture of coercive perversion which permeates entertainment in general) should be dismissed as crass indulgent gratuity. On the contrary, this is something we should be celebrating — what better gel is there, that of Hollywood’s anti-trash trashiness, to lens Verhoeven’s world through.

24. Johnny Guitar (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1954)

Image for post

Nobody should dismiss the eclectic artistry of Nicholas Ray — a Classical-era filmmaker of such formal intuition and emotional tactility that it’s all-too-easy to take him for granted. Perhaps the most beautifully-coloured Western of the Technicolour-era — it easily usurps the formidable palette of Ford’s The Searchers — is it any wonder that Godard considered Ray the ultimate synonym of “cinema”?

23. Wild at Heart (dir. David Lynch, 1990)

Image for post

Blue Velvet insinuates the beginning of the sleaze and middle-class domestic corruption that would become Lynch’s signature, but it’s not until Wild at Heart that he truly reaffirms his relationship with the transcendental potential of cinema. It is far more dangerous than any of Lynch’s films up to that point in its proclamations of an America populated by the traumatised children of insurmountable spiritual decay, spoon-fed and lovesick on glamourised fairy-tales. A more fanciful, more caring, more generically-daring, and more insatiably-discerning style of filmmaking that he would later perfect with Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive.

22. Time (dir. Garrett Bradley, 2020)

Image for post

Appropriately bittersweet that Time should arrive with us this year. Time for us all has disintegrated, but what does time mean for those of us for whom it has always been a phenomenon of oppression? The family — so foundational to the concept of American stability — is a fantasy: a culturally-dominant idealist symbol which, in reality, is far more malicious in its mechanics than white domestic idealism lets on. Sibil Fox Richardson has all the time in the world for her husband Rob — but the supposed “precious moments” of family were not built for black lives. Time compassionately displays how the prison-industrial complex and its ceaseless racist grind contributes further to the precious concept of “time” as a plane of cultural privilege.

21. After Hours (dir. Martin Scorsese, 1985)

Image for post

There is a world that exists outside of Paul Hackett’s controlled masculine substrate. In the “after hours” from which he cannot escape, the logic of the fringes — of a world existing outside of Hackett’s upwardly-mobile neoliberal 1980s — is, to him, a descent in Dante’s multi-layered hell. We cannot help but sympathise somewhat with his central dilemma: he just wants to go home — Lord knows we all do — but he is no victim. He finds himself the false poster-boy for a string of late-night robberies — mistaken identity? Or is this just his presence as the outsider that makes him the criminal element? Here is a man confronted and alienated by the gorgeously haphazard and emotionally fragile; out-of-tune with the midnight rhythms that the world he represents has helped disregard. To say Scorsese serves, rather than subverts, the structures of masculinity is simply ridiculous. This is his Discreet Charm of the Patriarchy.

20. Sunset Song (dir. Terence Davies, 2015)

Image for post

From one vision of patriarchy to another. Davies does great service to the genre of social realism, if it can really be called that. Like so many of his domestic parables, Sunset Song is intermittent poetry, sung to the lives of women whose roles in this pastoral patriarchy is that of feminine subservience. Womanhood is not defined by violence and biological essentialism, of hearth and home — only in the emotions of the masculine superstructure is this true. Patriarchy is a curse: a son whose perceived inefficiencies make him prey to his own father, but also whose maleness allows him to escape; and a confused lover who sickeningly submits to the merciless pressures of war and its implicitly masculine philosophies. But at the heart of it are the women who live on in spite of it all.

19. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Celine Sciamma, 2019)

Image for post

The last film I saw at the cinema, all the way back in March. Back then, it would have easily been a contender in the top ten, but I have calmed a little on it since then — although, as evidenced by its placement here, I believe it still offers more than just the overly-fanciful and one-note-feminine whiteness that it has been (rightly, although perhaps not to the level some would argue) criticised for. It is a film whose beauty, of aesthetic tenderness and affectionate palpability, runs hand-in-hand with its narrative sensuality — the gaze on feminine sexuality thrust away from the grasps of male heteronormativity; and into the repressed woes of pre-modern sapphistry.

18. So Pretty (dir. Jessica Dunn Rovinelli, 2019)

Image for post

The importance of “space” as a concept in queerness is routinely understated in the way non-queer narratives impose themselves upon queerness, thinking only in terms of assimilation and/or distanced acceptance. So Pretty tells that understatement to fuck off. It is beautifully Utopian, constructing a kind of chill-out ambient universe around its characters; a radical celebration of community and intimacy. Comfort and the creation of spatial comfort — and what comfort means to everyone of us — as central to all love and all life. Dare I say, poly-tics.

17. Speed Racer (dir. Lana and Lilly Wachowski, 2008)

Image for post

Few filmmakers have understood the spiritual qualities of contemporary visual effects design quite like the Wachowskis. There’s a reason we remember “bullet-time” in The Matrix, but what about Speed Racer? The internal universe — omnipresent maniacs and hyper-capitalist score-settling, constant kinetic melodrama, and sugar-rush biology — can only be captured by a visual style that, by all rights, exists purely in the fabric of the green screen. It is the kind of bold rebellious fantasy that should be an expressive benchmark for all action cinema — more ideas in one 24-frame blink than the MCU has had since Iron Man.

16. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1992)

Image for post

This as a double-bill with Speed Racer. Although only moderately less hyperactive, it nonetheless operates within the same philosophy of visual storytelling — tone and rhythm and texture entirely in-tune with the internal logic of its story. Its carnal desires, the uncanny overlaps of violence and sexuality, give Coppola a basis for what may be the most visually-enchanting film in his oeuvre. What gives it the edge over Speed Racer? Although both of these films demonstrate the importance of feeling towards analogue and digital effects respectively, I am ashamed to admit that I am a sucker for analogue. Gary Oldman gliding into the bride pit is all the eerie goodness I could wish for.

15. The Cow (dir. Dariush Mehrjui, 1969)

Image for post

What does it say about this list — or indeed, me — that two films about a solitary cow make this list, and that both rank within the top 20? Marxist criticism could perhaps mine this work of some dialectic regarding material loss and psychology, and maybe there is an element of this — but its true power lies in something greater than simply historical materialism. Mehrjui uses this quasi-fable as a canvas, upon which he expresses a breadth of emotional dynamics; unapologetic in its neorealist frankness towards tradition and rural Iranian life, but so tender in its worldview. A film willing to explore the poetic frills and foibles of this emerging national medium.

14. Daisies (dir. Vera Chytilova, 1966)

Image for post

It’s from the embers of Czechoslovakia’s failed “realist” projections that Daisies is conceived, as Chytilova’s vision is one of anarchic transgression from the Eastern Bloc’s socio-cultural austerities. Visually choreographed by whim and chaos, and joyously disturbing the conventions of political stoicism that had overseen much of Czechoslovakian creative society, Daisies remains an important template for the radical spectacle of disobedience.

13. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (dir. Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross, 2020)

Image for post

Perhaps the impact this film had on me was heightened by the fact that, after four years, the pub I worked at has sadly closed its doors. Trump’s election lingering in the background of the “Roaring 20”’s final day is no empty timestamp, nor is it some insinuation of vague societal collapse which has dominated liberal democratic discourse over the past half-a-decade. For the Ross brothers, this moment is a tipping point worth “documenting”— a moment when the lingering anxieties of this global vs. local conversation around the economy has morphed into a bitter tangible reality. The real question asked at the end of this film is “what now?” — and for the characters who populate Bloody Nose, Empty Pocket’s Southern dreamland, the answer remains elusive. But for now, let’s party.

12. Videodrome (dir. David Cronenberg, 1983)

Image for post

Truth be told, I originally saw this film six years ago on a DVD I’d rented from the library. I got about half-an-hour in and turned it off — nothing against film per se, just that the DVD copy was clearly from back in the early days of CD cinema when the image was barely Standard Definition and cropped to a hideous 4:3 pan-and-scan. To think anti-piracy advertisement once sanctified this format as a signifier of quality. It’s a shame because coming back to it now — pirated in glorious 1080p no less — Videodrome is an astonishingly-layered visual encounter. The uncanniness of our ultimately material existence — the idea that has come to define much of Cronenberg’s filmography — is realised once again through Videodrome’s constant conversation with visual stimulation (no wonder it’s the go-to Cronenberg for cinephiles and film buffs). A prescient depiction of human biology, succumbing to this gradual hypertopic technological insurgency which asks us to “crave” — but who controls what we “crave”? Who feeds us? Who wants us pulled in to their static-fleshed bosom? On second thoughts, maybe I should never have picked up that DVD.

11. First Cow (dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2019)

Image for post

On to our second heifer-based entry of the list. Kelly Reichardt’s first film since the enchanting feminist triptych Certain Women back in 2013, it seems on the surface that Reichardt has now turned her meditative-critical gaze squarely towards the men who championed the Westward Expansion. This is partly true — her film, as suggested by its opening moments, asks us to look back on the history of the non-native American man. This wilderness is depicted by Reichardt as a complex verdant climate to respect, counter to the traditional depiction of early American “untamed” wilderness as the stage for colonial mastery. It is upon this previous traditional perspective however that the unfortunate stage of Reichardt’s world is set: the destruction and repudiation of masculinity that exists beyond the violence and proto-Social Darwinism of patriarchal philosophies. At the heart of this movie, however, lies our cow. And just like Mehrjui’s cow, she cannot simply be tossed aside as some cold inanimate actor within a material hierarchy. She is already a lonesome creature, at the unconscious behest of man’s compassionless dominance. Her one connection remains with Cookie — and yet, he is still caught up in this new society’s infantile structure of exploitation. The gendered reality of Cookie’s own non-traditional masculinity and our cow ignorant of but nonetheless exploited for her gendered biology is not a relationship of competing binary sentiments, but as a unified one born of compassion and in spite of oppression.

10 — 5

Before I begin I would like to congratulate the continent of Asia, whose cinematic outputs take up 6 of my top 10 spots — and *spoilers* all of my top 3. Sadly, however, no films from 2020 (according to Letterboxd release dates anyway) have made it this far. There’s still plenty of films from this hellish year I’ve yet to see, and maybe they’ll make it on to my list next year, but for the moment, I guess we can crown Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets as my film of 2020. Anyway, here’s the good shit!

10. UGETSU MONOGATARI (dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)

Image for post

Ugetsu’s Japan is a land left destitute by war. On the ground, humble lives fear for the rumours of evil beyond the hills that loom ever closer. To stand still, and let this darkness come to you, is to invite death. The only way out is to escape, but what escape is there in a land of ghosts?

Mizoguchi’s tale of familial bonds torn apart by human terror, and the survivors fractured afar, cannot help but feel like the inevitable causal response to a previous decade marred by unimaginable tragedy. Yet beyond a mere jidaigeki-ised account of the horrors of World War Two — Japan does not look kindly on those whose accounts mention little beyond the atomic bomb — Ugetsu looks upon the then-recent tragedies as but one of the many symptoms of an endless cycle of failure. Greed and conquest, competing ideologies and fragile egos: men chasing honour, while women and children are left behind in the wake of these male indulgences of pride. It lifts the emotions of a tragedy out of its era, drops them into the national past, and populates this past with the liminal infinity of spirits long-gone to expose the revolutions of this morbid cycle. The ghost of Lady Wakasa never knew what it meant to love and be loved; her murder a symbol of a ceaseless tide — of women for whom emotion and joy and life were stripped from them in favour of the primacy of masculine emotions.

Such are the images that cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa renders — a land awash with cloud and thick rains — that the spectres of Mizoguchi’s Japan erupt as pathetic fallacy. The word ugetsu means roughly “rain moon”, but more specifically, the fogs which shroud the moon after the rain. No doubt inspired by his love of ink-wash paintings, Miyagawa’s landscapes possess a black-and-white sfumato that imbues this “rain moon” with a haunting liminality, uncertain and without destination. Ugetsu Monogatari asks us to walk alongside our lost souls, cast out in the harsh mists, forgotten not through old age or memory, but by our own tragedies. Souls lost only because we — in our constant ignorance — chose to lose them.

9. CRUMB (dir. Terry Zwigoff, 1994)

Image for post

Often discussed is the idea of a protagonist so unlikeable that their very presence becomes a detriment to the story’s value. It’s an argument that, simply put, has no weight to it. Mark Kermode tried arguing this point with Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, but if anything, his disgust towards Belfort almost proves Scorsese’s point — why should I wallow in the self-gratifying financial elitism that Belfort surrounds himself with? As such, I ask — how unimaginative and tedious must it be to surround oneself with characters of the highest moral standing at all times, with people of only the most agreeable pedigree?

Now legendary underground artist Robert Crumb and his brothers are far from “great” people, but Terry Zwigoff knows this. Crumb and Co are a loose gang of libidinal slaves, bound to misogyny and verbal gratuities like their blood is made of it. They are deeply depressed, finding answers in the stimulations of their own complicated reactionary ways. And yet, here we are. Spending minute after minute with them — with their family and friends, their community, their whole social dynamic. Robert Crumb is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating real-life figures committed to the canon of American documentary cinema. Every question that lingers in the back of our minds, as dirty and repulsive as we may feel about it, Zwigoff asks and Crumb is only too happy to answer. It is a breed of documentary that feels impossible to make. Only adding to our own conflicts about Crumb is the fact that he is, undoubtedly, a singularly talented artist. Perverted and twisted as many of his images and narratives may be, they are utterly compelling. Rather than parochially casting him as the archetype of Absolute Monster that has come to dictate the austere market moralism of contemporary biographical cinema, Zwigoff wants us to debate. Here’s the piss, here’s the shit, here’s a hundred drawings by Crumb of him being sexually-dominated by giant women. Now tell me — how could you NOT want to know more about this dude?

8. WOMAN IN THE DUNES (dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

Image for post

Woman in the Dunes is often viewed as a commentary on the nihilistic futility of modern life — like post-war Japan’s answer to The Myth of Sisyphus. But where Camus sees a futile endlessness, both Kobo Abe and Hiroshi Teshigahara feel something else: there is no such thing as an infinite state. Just as rock turns to sand, life ages, communities die, and water dries up. Instead, what makes the terror of Teshigahara’s sand so existentially-exhausting is precisely that there actually is an end. Whether that end is submission to death or the promise of escape doesn’t matter.

All this feels secondary however to this film’s primary gift to us all: texture. No film does tangibility like this. The sand’s perpetual flow is a tactile marker of instability; of impermanence. It sticks to your skin, gets in your teeth and hair, browns your water, and gets caught in your eyes. Teshigahara makes sure to emphasise the irritability of this incessant dust with even more layers of competing textural tones. Sand on flesh: pulpy and soft, its diffused glow and sweat-speckled oiliness. Sand on hair: matted black like thick whiskers, plagued with gem-like particulates. Sand on cloth: the course dry cotton gently scratching away, baking you alive in this arid pit. And there’s the water: with all this aesthetic roughness, water is the only texture other than skin granted the relative pleasures of softness and bulbous beauty. Whatever Abe speaks through his story, Teshigahara communicates through an unwieldy imagination that celebrates the formal powers of tactility to wiggle into our most visceral nooks.

7. KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)

Image for post

It wasn’t until only a few days ago that I realised that I’d actually seen Kiki’s Delivery Service for the first time in January. It was an event that kickstarted my attempt to go through every Studio Ghibli film that I had — up to that point — never seen. Alas — despite some glorious feats — no Studio Ghibli film quite hits the exultant heights of Kiki’s Delivery Service (well, except maybe The Wind Rises).

Miyazaki’s fascination with flight is well established. It would be in The Wind Rises — my personal favourite Miyazaki — that his relationship with flight as an emancipatory metaphor would take on a far grander magical vision: battling the ideals that we as humans imprint upon technology against the authoritative powers that service its trajectory. However, Kiki’s Delivery Service — if you’ll pardon the expression — is far more down-to-earth. Miyazaki’s film finds the remedies of cynicism in humility: in the essences of community, of mutual aid, of camaraderie. It’s almost quixotically socialist in its vision, if not for the fact that everything — as is the sad fact of life — is grounded in labour. Kiki wants to use her power for good — she wants to topple the Amazon monopoly and start her own logistics franchise. That first bit might not be true, but that does not reduce the sheer life-affirming goodness that this film extols.

As far as stories go, it may not be the most complex, but that’s almost the point. It would almost fall into that category of “chill-out” cinema if it weren’t for the high-stakes blimp disaster that marks the finale. Few animated films can claim to be both grounded in such earthly human warmth while also performing as an optimistic celebration of animation’s boundless spectacle. The harnessing of one’s power, and the naïve but determined energy of youth, to spread joy and love and wonder throughout our otherwise disparate modern lives.

6. STOP MAKING SENSE (dir. Jonathan Demme, 1984)

Image for post

David Byrne was born fidgeting. From the cold valleys of Scotland to Atlantic America, every time he appears, his presence feels like a subversive jolt. It’s hard not to project my own autistic experiences onto him and his work — especially given that Byrne is openly contemplative about his potential autism — but I would strongly argue that his own work and that of The Talking Heads remains some of the most transgressive works of creative autism committed to both celluloid and vinyl. The convulsive rhythms and punching textures of Remain In Light and Fear Of Music continue to stick with me — I still physically phreak out every time ‘Crosseyed and Painless’ plays. That spelling — ‘phreak’ — really does feel appropriate here, for what is ‘Crosseyed and Painless’ but an endlessly-driving technological spasm. Its digital bleepy wee-wah’s and clunky cowbells reminiscent of an obscene tele-communication breakdown: of someone frantically smashing their portable Casio keyboard on a telephone.

But all this is about Remain In Light, what about Stop Making Sense?

Well, there isn’t one without the other. To really appreciate the full-force liberating power of Stop Making Sense one needs to look no further than ‘Crosseyed and Painless’. I was convinced for years that it was an uncoverable masterwork — that opinion stood firm until The Talking Head’s pretty much covered their own song right in the dying moments of Stop Making Sense’s 90-minute polyrhythmic seizure, and transcended it further towards David Byrne’s neurodivergent heaven. What better declaration of music’s ultimate emotional goal — the ludicrous acceptance of music’s ability to twist you to your bones — than to tell your audience to “stop making sense”. Give in to the funky jams. Rave. Rave. Rave. Come join our temporary cult and sail into our melodic hypnosis. Give in to euphoria. Love thy neighbour. Submit yourself to the chaos. Embrace the disorder. Whatever you do, just STOP. MAKING. SENSE.

TOP 5

5. DIE ANTIGONE DES SOPHOKLES NACH DER HOLDERLINSCHEN ÜBERTRAGUNG FÜR DIE BÜHNE BEARBEITET VON BRECHT 1948 (SUHRKAMP VERLAG) (dir. Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, 1992)

Image for post

2019 ended with Straub-Huillet — not with Antigone though, but with Class Relations. Their style came across as obtuse. It felt like a movie speaking down to me — a film with some kind of cynical view of cinema, conceived from a joyless, ascetic and emotionally-sterile heart. Cinema with a point to prove. Then I put on Antigone. It was its final day on MUBI, and I thought to myself “maybe I’m wrong about these guys”.

So anyway, here I am, admitting to you that I fell for it. As filmmakers, their subscription to the school of Brecht borders on the satirical — Brechtian distancing taken to its cinematic extremes. Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet have mastered the art of exposing and exploring artifice — every shot, expression of dialogue, locale and backdrop, impenetrable expression, and rigorous intentional blocking serves towards forcing the viewer into an intense state of scrutiny.

Its true title is Die Antigone des Sophokles nach der Hölderlinschen Übertragung für die Bühne bearbeitet von Brecht 1948 (Suhrkamp Verlag) — or roughly “The Antigone of Sophocles after Holderlin’s Translation Adapted for the Stage by Brecht 1948” —I assume ‘Suhrkamp Verlag’ refers to the publishing house that released Brecht’s adaptation. It is an utterly obnoxious title. It is totally gratuitous. Most cinema-going audiences and cinephiles alike will have probably never read either Brecht’s original adaptation, nor Holderlin’s original translation from Sophocles’ Ancient Greek to his contemporary German. I certainly haven’t, and I’m not sure that I much want to. Maybe there’s an argument to be made that Straub and Huillet intended for their movie to be seen only by a small cabal of polylingual nerds — as funny as that is to imagine, I highly doubt it. What is more likely true is that they are very aware of this obnoxiousness. The way I see it, Straub and Huillet are offering us a challenge — one that, beneath layer after layer of ardently-deliberate craftmanship, exposes a tragic human centre.

The story of Antigone is old — it never really changes despite its various retellings, voice after voice, medium after medium. No matter who performs it, in whatever form or style it is communicated, the essence of its narrative remains the same. It is the story of Antigone’s vow to bury the body of her brother Polynices (killed in war). Her actions are in defiance of orders set by the new ruler of Thebes, the prideful Creon. When Creon punishes Antigone for her intentions, the god’s decide to intervene. Antigone, his son Haemon (to whom Antigone was pledged to be wed), and later his wife Eurydice kill themselves in a mass display of grief — Creon is left with the burden of regret. It is a tale of prideful excesses — and, in anarchic fashion, the incapability of structural hierarchies to repress corruption and ward off its tragic consequences. In short, the dire incompetence of the powerful — a familiar ideological epithet found throughout Straub-Huillet’s filmography. It is a story that can be processed throughout history: as Brecht witnessed the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in his homeland, or Holderlin witnessed the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. It is a story of timeless timeliness. In 1992, we may project it onto the Gulf War? The end of the Cold War? The Yugoslav conflicts? Tensions in Northern Island? The Dili massacre?

In a way, Straub and Huillet are laughing at everyone — the incompetence of humanity to learn from its mistakes of pride and its inability to break the cycles of violence. It is a well-worn play. A frustratingly familiar story. A tragedy played out — hollowed and leaving only an exhausted alien energy — atop the ruins of the last tragedy. Antigone is no period piece, for its conceit is timeless absurdity. These people are ghosts, bored of telling their tale again and again and again until finally somebody actually listens. One shot says it all…

We focus on Creon, monologuing deep into the film’s dramatic artifice. After over an hour of aesthetically-appropriate Ancient Greek-ness — of shots overly-dedicated to the specifics of this character-driven tale — Creon is reduced to the frame’s margins. Now dominating our view is a highway, snaking through an open valley.

4. UNCUT GEMS (dir. Ben and Josh Safdie, 2019)

Image for post

Uncut Gems would not appear on UK screens until January 2020, despite the critical bells clanging away from across the pond for months on end since its debut at Telluride in August 2019. Six months isn’t really that long, considering some films can take decades to cross the Atlantic —and sometimes they just never seem to arrive at all (I’m still waiting on a UK-released Chantal Akerman boxset, and the rights for that are only a few miles over the Channel). Perhaps it was the hype that made six months feel like such a long time. In any case, I did eventually waddle into the Phoenix Cinema on a typically-wet January afternoon in Leicestershire to let whatever the Safdie brothers had concocted now just wash over me.

I have never seen an audience in a movie theatre react with such collective psychic harmony. Every compulsive gamble was met with a wave of frustrated groans. Giggles and murmurs were circling around as Adam Sandler’s Howard Ratner exchanged sexts whilst perving through his wardrobe doors. A fizzling masochistic relief from pain radiated throughout as those last moments saw Our Howie finally win his bet. And then came the gunshot. Like that, everyone turned to look at each other — what the fuck was that? What the fuck is going on? This can’t be happening.

It’s one thing to write and construct a thriller, it’s entirely another thing to pull off something as spiritually-quaking as Uncut Gems. Welcome to a post-global recession world. It’s 2010. The instability of wealth, in all its sanctified glory, has spurred on the march towards an unpredictable future. Marred by misguided optimism towards free markets, the acceleration of ‘capitalist realism’ will soon reach its violent ultimatum — and, of course, it is has to be New York City. But let us look elsewhere — where do the fruits of this chaotic capital blossom? New York is a land of products without an industry. The shiny streets, the jewellery, the neon lights and fast cars. Orange road sign after orange road sign, and nightclub after nightclub. Silk shirts. Bachelor pads. Basketball players. Popstars. High-class restaurants. Athletes as gods. Space upon space upon space, occupied by nothing but signifying everything. All this and more — stretching out along the Atlantic coastline — begins in one place. Africa. Ethiopia. Here, workers find a precious black opal — it is THE black opal. Commodity fetishism at its most rancid, most kitsch, most detached.

Howard Ratner, a jeweller in New York’s Diamond District, projects his dream of ascension from pain onto this black opal. Of course his issues lie elsewhere, but the anxieties which eat at him go unaddressed in the hopes that — with this magical gemstone — all his dreams will come true. His girlfriend will love him. His wife won’t hate him. His brother-in-law — and his hot-headed goon — won’t break his legs. He will no longer need to pawn off a novelty ring just to give himself ample betting credit. But he just can’t help himself. He soon finds himself in competition with Kevin Garnett who places his own spiritual projection onto the stone. This is how today’s laissez-faire economic pride twists us. Every rough-skinned New Yorker that populates this movie — people in a city on the cusp of the Atlantic, eternally connected to America’s migrant foundations yet still structurally abandoned — is driven by a constantly-fattened ego with illusions of control that American Capitalism has falsely promised them. Every one of them is bitter and angry, and rightly so. They talk over each other. They stumble over words. They say shit they shouldn’t say. They do things they shouldn’t do. But what else can they do?

Ben and Josh Safdie look at this world through contrast-boosted shadows and colours that feel almost as if they’ve emerged from a blacklight. For a city, it all feels subterranean — as if, in spite of New York’s glossy heights, the realities of street-level capitalist frenzy can never truly be masked by glamour. Oneohtrix Point Never’s go-to crystallised Blade Runner electronica placates to that central tension. It is digital necromancy for the 1980s: a deconstructed cultural simulacrum of an era — so readily-equipped as a nostalgic symbol of post-recession America — where the false valour of Reaganite prosperity is depicted with latent aggression and violence. And as the audience lean forward in their chairs, thrashed and thrilled, there is only one place where we (and Howie) can escape from it all now — in death. Howie looks up to the sky. Inside the bullet-hole that now adorns his dead face, a frozen smugness, is a tunnel of gems. We have transcended. The night sky is upon us. The disco has begun.

3. PERFECT BLUE (dir. Satoshi Kon, 1997)

Image for post

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Lee Chang-dong’s Burning — a semi-realist mystery that highlighted the inability for Korean women to define themselves outside of the omnipresent structural gaze of men, and its relations to the trendy machine of K-pop. Of course, this is not an issue unique to South Korea — quite the opposite, wherever patriarchy casts its shadow, so to does the struggle for women to structurally reclaim their bodies and their identities (which is to say, just about everywhere). While this central struggle persists, how it manifests itself in the world morphs around the contexts within which it saturates. For Perfect Blue, this context is the early days of the internet.

At a time when the crossovers of identity and internet culture were practically foetal in their conception — something which, up until that point, had been the reserve of a niche audience of phreakers or the cast of HackersPerfect Blue had tapped into the potential that lay in its future. But where those early ideas of identity were self-imposed, as the internet became more culturally-ingrained — more in service to states of power — those optimistic visions were overtaken by the reality that the internet’s control of information is open to corruption. Mima Kirigoe leaves her J-pop band CHAM! to follow her dream of becoming a movie actress — but her transition is, shall we say, tumultuous. Lingering in the distant crowd is the presence of Me-Mania — a violently obsessive fan who, viewing Mima like a ballerina spinning in the palm of his hand, can only watch with angst as his “idol” moves away from the stage and onto the screen. His distorted features, staring devoutly at a computer screen surrounded by clippings and photographs of Mima, make him the personification of controlling libidinal rage — hiding in the shadow of obsessive fandom’s new digital id. And although he attempts to murder Mima, his base confusions were escalated by another force — a mysterious Mima clone who claims to be the “real Mima”. This Mima clone just so happens to be Mima’s manager, Rumi Hidaka — enraged that her image of pristine J-pop royalty has been tarnished by the amorphous identities that come with acting work.

Though both Rumi and Me-Mania occupy both traditional binary genders, they nonetheless operate as agents within the distinctly patriarchal order. That Satoshi Kon should focus on Mima and the way that her body is exploited as an image by nearly everyone, and the way that psychological conflicts within her mind mount up to the point of temporal psychosis, speaks to the inherently gendered way in which this new system of images manifests itself. One need only look as far as Sasha Grey, whose relatively brief spell as the it-girl of late-00s porn still dominates her popular online identity despite her move into non-pornographic work nearly a decade ago. The ascendancy of free pornographic streaming sites like Pornhub and Xvideos has only placated to the assumption of female sexual autonomy as bound by the entitled expectations of a male heterosexual spectatorship. Pornography and pop music may be different fields, but both are crucially tied to the power of the image — something which the internet, in its ability for the mass proliferation of content, has embraced exultantly.

Kon does, one might say, a little too well at expressing this twisted spectacle. One of the blessings of animation — a blessing very apparent with anime from the late-80s/early-00s — is its ability to go beyond the limits of mere representation and embrace its stylistic malleability to express the abstract truths that photography’s relative realism scarcely achieves. With Perfect Blue, this includes the dark truths: the floating voyeuristic gaze, first-person diffused idolisation, the indistinguishable transitions between fantasy and reality that are such a violently-disassociating part of trauma and psychosis. Kon is able to masterfully and empathically balance the objective systemic cruelties of this new image culture, readily equipped as a weapon of subjugation, with the personal horrors that these cruelties act upon its victims.

2. NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: THE END OF EVANGELION (dir. Hideaki Anno, 1997)

Image for post

I think I overuse the word ‘transcend’. Transcendence (vague as it may be) is something I find myself attracted to — a kind of spiritual necessity to identify yourself beyond that which traps you. I figured that, after graduation, my life would take a nice step forward. And now, as I’m writing this at the arse-end of 2020, I am having to ration my sertraline dosages until the chemist opens up again. Those feelings are not new per se — just that this pandemic, and perhaps a splash of precarity, have exacerbated things. I find myself increasingly envious of people with religious devotions. It must be nice to feel content with the mysteries of the universe, seeking comfort in knowing that we don’t need to know everything. Faith in an all-loving God, such are the words of my culturally Protestant upbringing. Is that what I mean when I seek “transcendence”? That, in truth, I am actually just searching for some kind of mystery to believe in?

Nah. I just want to get off on watching people explode into bloody sinew and big alien robots fighting each other.

Actually, if Neon Genesis Evangelion has proven anything, it’s that these two sentiments are not mutually exclusive. The final episodes of NGE comprise of abstract cerebral montages, recalling the internal maelstrom that Shinji and company must navigate in order to free themselves from their respective depressive episodes. In the how, this comes through acceptance — a horrifyingly difficult process which Hideaki Anno ingeniously renders as existing outside of formal narrative logic. If stories are meant to guide us through the adventure of external reality, what of internal reality? The cycle of trauma is non-linear — it cannot be bound and understood by logic and reason, and for many, the repetitive potency of the “image” is simply insurmountable. This approach, upon initial broadcast, dissatisfied a lot of people. And Gainax being Gainax, the fan service remained strong — and so came The End of Evangelion.

Despite being viewed as a sort of “alternative” ending to the series, The End of Evangelion does actually still work within the show’s own emotional rationale. Both see a light at the end of depressive perpetuity — but where the TV show’s final episodes grapple with self-acceptance, the movie concerns itself more with the “objective”. All along, this “Human Instrumentality Project” — the real goal that permeated NERV’s and Gendo Ikari’s mission to combat the Angels — was actually a prolonged attempt to initiate the Third Impact. To unite all human souls into a transcendent (there’s that word again) singularity so that all suffering and loneliness could be expelled from humanity; our physical forms reduced to nothing so that our souls may live on in eternal joy. Shinji Ikari rejects this, precisely because it does not actually mean eternal joy. The Third Impact means an infinite non-existence: emotions cease to exist, and so too the ability to actually gain self-acceptance. The world may have now decayed into an inhospitable apocalypse, but the urge to survive — the fulfilment that we gain from love and loss not as polar opposites but as part of the symbiotic nature of emotional human experience — drives on.

Most importantly though is that The End of Evangelion does not insist that our own psychological truths are wrong, or that there is a single universal way to reconcile with our issues. Precisely the opposite — Anno’s vision of apocalyptic ascension is supremely beautiful. It is a frightening prospect, for sure, but one visualised with precisely the kind of conflicting tonal overlaps that make life such a singular experience. Inexpressible in its mechanisms — as if it is beyond our control, beyond objective logic, and even beyond our own internal logics. Giant ghostly bodies erupt from the surface of the Earth. Souls evaporate into a gleaming sea of heavenly crucifixes. Incomprehensible symbols float around us, begging not to be understood but felt. As our physical bodies are reduced to primordial gunk, the solace of eternal nothingness suddenly seems worthwhile. Whether or not this path is the right one doesn’t matter — all that matters is how we accept finality. All things must come to an end, for it is only because of an end that life has meaning.

Perhaps I would have been better off leaving this film and the series unexplored. I should have left this film to resonate on the level of feeling alone, as I assume was Anno’s intention. I do not need to endlessly deconstruct this, and I should just be at peace with the chaos. Hence, I am hesitant to express myself further — my endorsement of The End of Evangelion can simply be summed up with a familiar platitude: it has to be seen to be believed. Submission to the disobedient laws of the cosmos, and to continue on convincing our fellow man to likewise submit to the painful truth that we will always lack ultimate control. Agency amongst ourselves is more important than agency over the unknown. This is Anno’s idea of transcendence — a bombastic opera with bloodshed and tears; monsters and warfare; neglect and compassion. Mono no aware pushed to its aesthetic extremes.

  1. GOODBYE DRAGON INN (dir. Tsai Ming-liang, 2003)
Image for post

Traditionally, it is the spectacular that rise to the top. Their energy always stands out — they scream rather than whisper, strobe rather than dim. The End of Evangelion is such a work: pure spectacle, and a testament to the moving image’s resilience in a world of visual saturation and complex interactive media. Maybe on another day — when boozed up, adrenaline-shot, fuelled on amphetamines, or just sensing a deficit of attention — that movie would see itself climb to the top of the pile. Yet today I’m here for humility. There is absolutely more than one way to “transcend”.

Paul Schrader contemplated this in Transcendental Style in Film, now the seminal text for any film undergraduate delving into the spiritual devices of Bresson, Dreyer, or Ozu. “Irrationalism over rationalism, repetition over variation, sacred over profane, the deific over the humanistic, intellectual realism over optical realism” — it is a definition of transcendence that lends itself to broad interpretation, precisely because transcendence cannot be confined within the strict margins of a grand narrative; its inherent “transcendent” nature is simply incompatible with such a philosophy. Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson share in their ability to view cinema as a channel through which they can wrestle with their own transcendent socio-theological sentiments. Ozu’s is a cinema of Zen Buddhist humility, and a traditional patience towards the ephemeral — while Bresson, as conflicting as Schrader’s postulations may be, cannot help but look at the world through a lens of God-renounced suffering and one’s pining of release from it (take Au Hasard Balthazar for example). Quite incorrectly, transcendence and spirituality are given these rigid religious attachments. It is true that the likes of Ozu and Bresson have their devotions, but it is also true that to be an atheist/agnostic is not the same as divorcing oneself from the “experience” of spirituality and transcendence. Nobody watches a horror movie, inhabited with ghosts and zombies, only to decry its merits based on the joyless fact that their existence is implausible. It is often those films that ground their monsters and fantasies in passionlessly-scientific rationalism that leave us feeling the most hollow. It’s part of what makes Christopher Nolan’s rampant expositional woes — in his style as much as his dialogue — so frustrating, when deep down we know that the idea of multi-layered dream heists and love transcending (oh, there we go again) the space-time continuum is inherently cool. Art’s capacity to realise the magic we ourselves cannot manifest — its ability to help us transcend— should never be attacked.

So — after all that tangential waffle — what of Goodbye Dragon Inn?

If Tsai Ming-liang‘s Taipei cinema-house is a church, then its congregation has faded away, and — as King Hu’s Dragon Inn flickers on regardless of its spectators —its last sermon has been delivered. As much as the big screen acts as a portal to the world of the transcendent, so to does the theatre itself. Tucked away, its fleeting presence gently glows — a glow dispersed through a night-time Taiwanese rainfall. There are leaks in the ceiling. Cats are sneaking around. What few people exist here can barely communicate — their feelings are left unuttered, reduced to the realm of implied gesture. Are these people really people at all? Would three men pissing at a urinal really stand so close to each other — and for that long without acknowledgement? Are they looking for intimacy — if so, are these other guys looking for it? Why are they all suddenly walking around the cinema’s back-alleys rather than watching the film? And why, when one man tries to actually watch it, is he constantly disturbed? Feet resting by his ear from a person in the backrow; the familiar-yet-aged face of the actor on screen physically sitting in front of him; a woman whose devotion to crunching on seeds has enveloped the cinema floor with her discarded shells — only for all those shells to disappear moments later. And when the movie ends and the cinema lights turn back on — after all these lives buzzing around like lost flies — why is the theatre empty?

I’d hate to burden a film from 2003 with the label of “prescient” — as if Ming-liang was somehow attempting to proclaim the “death of cinema”, or the incoming threat of digital streaming. Yet it is appropriate that the recent glut of attention this movie has received should come at a time when the need to escape to the cinema has been more urgent than ever. If it is “prescient” of anything, it is of the death of local cinema — but this isn’t a trend unique to Ming-liang’s generation. In Tony Rayns’ liner notes for Goodbye Dragon Inn’s recent Second Run Blu-Ray release, he quotes a translated Ming-liang:

I often dream of an old theatre. In Kuching, Malaysia, where I was born and raised, there were seven or eight of those old theatres. Starting when I was three, my grandfather would take me to the movies. One theatre, I recall, was called the Odeon. The ceiling was very high and had hanging fans. It had more than a thousand seats and the curtains on the side doors would flutter in the breeze. The cashier in the Odeon was disabled. When a child reaches a certain height, it’s expected that they’ll need a paid ticket. But as I recall, no matter how tall I grew, Grandpa would always buy a ticket for himself and take me in without one, watched by the cashier. The cashier looked mean and I was always scared of him. Those theatres in Kuching are long gone and now, twenty years since I left, I seldom think of them. But the strange thing is that I still sometimes see the Odeon in my dreams. (p. 05)

Ming-liang clearly possesses a great degree of subconscious nostalgia for these old picture palaces — but in his words, he emphasises moments that speak to so much more than merely remorseful pining. He emphasises ceiling fans, curtains fluttering, an ocean of seats, the people that occupy this space day-on-day, and the esoteric customs which evolve from their presence. Every detail, fragment of light, gentle breeze, and audience faux-pas are just as important and as special to the joy of the cinema as the movie itself, maybe more.

Goodbye Dragon Inn is not so much concerned with waxing nostalgic for the cinemas of old, but asking us to enjoy the cinemagoing experience for what it is before the inevitable passage of time decays both us and our cinemas. Its transcendence lies in meditative patience. It possesses a willingness to sit on shots for minutes a time, but pack them with subtle actions — shifting in your seat, changes of light from the projection flickering on screen, repetitive rustles in the background. All of these moments seem disparate and incidental in reality, but on screen — when placed within the contemplative mechanisms of a narrative — their meanings as more than the sum of their parts erupt. The result is a “story”, rich with empathy and sly humour. Ming-liang turns something as understated as closing a toilet-stall door into one of the funniest moments ever committed to film. Every absurdly tiny gesture, performed glance, drip in a bucket, hesitant meeting in the aisle, and broken footstep plays out in reflective service to Goodbye Dragon Inn’s central motive. To allow us as an audience to submit to the thrills of our subjective capacity — to form a relationship with our own emotions, and to use this as the lens through which we perceive the world around us. To cast a subjective eye with inquisitiveness, not judgement. To appreciate our environmental subtleties in spite of our transient nature. It’s an idealistic spiritual ambition — but it’s one that Ming-liang commits to for what feels like an achingly-brief 82 minutes. An idealistic cinematic spirituality which I gladly yield to. Tsai, fuck me up.

Thank you for reading. Listed below are just some links to a variety of texts which I’ve been reading over the past year which may/may not be relevant to what you’ve just read, but are nonetheless influential in my conception of this article. Also, reminder — please pay your journalist for their work if/when you can. They need feeding too.

MA Film and Film Cultures / BA Film Studies and Visual Arts grad. Editor of [MASS]: https://medium.com/massartspop / Letterboxd: https://boxd.it/1luTR/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store