10/14/2007

10-14-07 - 1

"Inland Empire" is a steaming pile of garbage and a very good barometer for detecting movie critics that won't knock the masters and just praise things they don't understand because they think they should. I'm a big fan in general of Lynch and his stream-of-consciousness style movies and the idea of literally getting lost in the movie, but this is just pure self-indulgence completely gone off the rails. Obviously "Blue Velvet" is his masterpiece, it brings his strangeness and style of metaphoric cinematic painting into a real world that we can believe is just under the surface, either in existence or in people's minds. Strangely, I really liked "Lost Highway", which most critics seem to think is inferior to "Inland Empire". If you compare the reviews of the two films it seems to show a retarded lack of logic; Lost Highway is widely criticized for "coming off the rails and making no sense and failing to connect the two stories at the end", while "Inland" is praised for the way you just get lost in the nonsense. To me that reflects a lack of subtlety in the critics who don't want to actually have to watch a movie and think about it. They want to know exactly what they're getting into from the beginning so they can compare it to their expectations. "Inland" to me doesn't work largely because it is just a pure stream of nonsense and you can never really get into. "Lost Highway" really does work because at first you think it's just a normal movie, albeit with some Lynch strangeness, but you try to watch it as a murder/mystery/drama. Then it makes the jump and you try to figure out what's happening, then you settle in to the second part and it seems like a normal movie again, and then the wrap up really leaves you thinking and wondering if you can figure it out or not. I still wonder about what the movie is supposed to mean and if you're supposed to be able to figure it out. In contrast, with "Inland" you very rapidly give up on trying to figure it out because it's just nonsense, you never mentally get to sink into that state where you don't know if you're in fantasy or reality, you're just always in fantasy, which drastically weakens the effect. I also feel like artistically, "Lost Highway" creates a more coherent and powerful mood through the lighting, the music, the cinematography, everything comes together to create this eerie, heavy atmosphere, like a humid southern day, so still it's spooky. On the other hand, "Inland Empire" does have a gorgeous pallet of really rich color and texture, and it does create some really sort of unnerving scary imagery (I watched it alone, late at night, in the dark, which is the only way to see it), but the impression is not sustained, it jumps into these ridiculous dance numbers, semi-normal scenes in the real world, and the mix diffuses the impact.

Oh, and the stupid digital video in "Inland Empire" is really gross awful. It's got tons of that nasty banding that happens when you shoot DV in low light. I don't know if that's just because of the crappy CCD response, or if it's actually the 8 bits of intensity revealing themselves. 8 bits really sucks, especially when you take dark stuff and blow up the contrast and the brightness. Human intensity perception is relative, so the difference between 0, 1, and 2 on an 8-bit image is immense. Now of course film also sucks bad in low light, but it is better, and even when the film shows its limitations, it does it in a pleasing organic semi-random way, rather than the chunky blocky banding that you get from DV. You can just compare the low light scenes of real film in "Days of Heaven" to the modern DV low light stuff to see what we're losing. It's also possible that they fucked it up in processing. I was semi-shocked to find that the classic Avid systems work in 8 bit, and they save intermediate processing to disk in that format, so if you do something like run through a bunch of frames and play with contrast, then run back through and undo it, you can totally destroy your image quality. I believe the newer high end Avids are now 16-bit which sort of makes this okay, but in general in the little exposure I've had to film I've seen a lack of understanding of digital image quality and how to process frames; there's sort of a culture of "if I do this step and it looks good on the monitor it must be right" without thinking about what's happening to the digital value registers and the information you might be losing permanently. Fortunately I believe the scientists have finally gotten the upper hand and we will eventually have full HDR video and editting pathways standard.

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