Tuesday, March 26, 2013

No (2012)

WHO: Directed by Pablo Larraín, completing a sort of trilogy of films made about Pinochet-era Chile.

WHAT: The Wikipedia article on Cinema of Chile suggests that filmmaking within the country's borders from 1973 through 1989 was negligible. If true, it's understandable, as dictatorships can produce a "brain drain" of artists with distinctive voices; the two best-known names of the "New Chilean Cinema" movement, Raúl Ruiz and Patricio Guzmán, fled their homeland and made their names internationally known while working in exile. Tony Manero, the first in Larraín's trilogy, involves a Chilean obsessed with a cinematic icon not from his own country but from one of the Hollywood imports that dominated Chile's cinema screens in the seventies (Saturday Night Fever). I have not seen Post-Mortem yet, but based on Tony Manero and No Larraín's trilogy is clearly interested in exploring dialogues between moving images and citizens living under dictatorship. In both cases television becomes the arena for local image production.

I don't want to recount a plot summary of No other than to say its drama concerns the political use of television advertisingThere are a lot of recent reviews of it out there, and probably the most thoughtful and thorough one I've come across is by Roderick Heath. I just want to comment on Larraín's aesthetic strategy of shooting the entire feature on the very outmoded analog video format of 3/4-inch videotape. Though there are examples of movies shot using this medium (also known as U-Matic) such as Rob Nilsson's 1986 feature Signal Seven and some of George Kuchar's video diaries, its domain was really the world of television. It seems safe to call No the first feature film made in this format since the advent of digital video in the 1990s.

This use of analog video cameras certainly makes Larraín's film stand out visually. Artifacting makes forms appear to have softer edges, often with unnatural color interference. Color is muted and made pastel throughout the film (making bright yellow subtitles stand out all the more), and when Larraín lands his camera on a light source, whether a lamp or a reflection or even the sun, color can be blown out almost completely, a screen-whitening effect very different from that of filmic looks cinemagoers have grown accustomed to. But this aesthetic choice is not a mere gimmick, as it reduces distinctions between the film-world diegesis and the frequent television imagery incorporated into the film, much of it real archival video that was shot on 3/4-inch tape and broadcast into Chilean homes in the late 1980s. On a few occasions Larraín's editing rhythms give viewers the disorienting sensation of not being sure if the image we're seeing is part of a broadcast being watched by characters, or part of the world they're existing in at that moment. This boundary blurring, impossible to achieve had Larraín used more conventional technology, plays right into No's themes of political image vs. political reality, of observing vs. taking action, etc. There are few films that can have characters use a word like "semiology" and get away with it without coming across as hopelessly academic. In fact, No may be the only one I'm aware of. 

WHERE/WHEN: Screens at many venues around Frisco Bay through April 4th, from the Camera 3 in San Jose to the Summerfield in Santa Rosa, including the Rafael in Marin, and at Landmark cinemas in four cities: the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Shattuck in Berkeley, the Piedmont in Oakland, and the Aquarius in Palo Alto.

WHY: Though I haven't heard much new on the topic in several months, last year there was a lot of discussion about the impending transition away from 35mm distribution towards digital. For habitues of multiplexes, the change wasn't impending, as a great many of them had already made the change by 2011. But last year was when traditional "art houses" began tearing out their 35mm projectors to make room for digital systems. Last fall, the Landmark Theatre chain turned several of its most frequented local theatres into digital-only ones, and ceased operation on two others, the Lumiere and the Bridge, leaving the company with only (by my count) the Opera Plaza and the Clay in San Francisco, the Guild in Menlo Park and the Aquarius as venues for 35mm presentation.

I've begun to hear rumors that another wave of transition is coming to Landmark theatres in the next few weeks or months. You know rumors, they can be awfully unspecific. But anyway I wouldn't be surprised if the Opera Plaza isn't the last remaining Landmark venue running a 35mm projection system before summer. According to the Film On Film Foundation the Clay is expected to screen Rocky Horror Picture Show in 35mm at least twice more: this Saturday and April 27th. But The Guild and the Aquarius could make the changeover at any time. Right now the Guild is screening Quartet, directed by Dustin Hoffman, while the Aquarius has No and the Walter Salles adaptation of On The Road; the latter will be switched out for Australian crowd-pleaser The Sapphires, but No remains.

HOW: Via the afore-linked Bay Area Film Calendar, No screens in 35mm right now at the Aquarius and the Camera 3, and presumably digitally elsewhere. I saw it via DCP at the Embarcadero but I'd be curious to catch it in 35mm to compare how its analog video look translates to an analog (non video) format rather than a (non analog) video one.

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