Tag Archives: there’s always a girl

Defenestration the Movie, by Everything Is Terrible (2010)

by Carl Wilson

Action-movie trailers slam together a film’s most explosive eruptions of sound and vision to promise that the actual blockbuster will deliver an escalating sequence of adrenaline jolts and leave the viewer exhilarated and spent at the end of the orgy. A film, of course, seldom fulfills that exactly. If it’s a good one, it deliberately defers into suspense and expectation, like a good lover, to heighten the release when it comes – and also forge attachment to the characters, raise plot stakes and other Robert McKee “Story” steez, so the kaboom affects feelings, not just feeling.

But what would it be like if movies really were like their trailers? One hint lies in this extended montage of window-smashing movie moments by a member of the U.S. collective Everything Is Terrible, one of many groups that continue the found-footage tradition begun in the pre-digital decades by the likes of Bruce Conner and other 16-mm pioneers. EiT generally mines gems of VHS trash from garage sales and junk shops to spotlight awkward and incongruous moments in cable-access, educational films, direct-to-video films and the like. But here they’re drawing on big successful Hollywood films (thus Defenestration: The Movie‘s absence from the group’s YouTube channel).

The auteur teases that he’s got a 30-minute version he hasn’t posted, which I would happily pay for, but the seven-minute-plus version is a start. It’s the most relaxing film I have seen in a long time, more and more with every viewing. I don’t know if a sequence of hundreds of shootings or bomb blasts would have the same effect, but it doesn’t take long for the illusion that someone is being thrown or jumping out (or into) an actual window to dissolve, supplanted by a sense of watching a little magic trick being done by scores of different magicians.

The “glass” is usually, as many movie fans know, just boiled and (temporarily) hardened glucose known as sugar glass or candy glass. More recently it’s probably computer generated, which is less fun. In either case after repeated exposure it no longer looks sharp and dangerous but sweetly flimsy, its jagged points more like tinsel icicles on a Christmas tree. Each broken pane becomes a nostalgic reminder of the shards a few clips ago. You begin to hear the limited range of crashing sounds in Hollywood’s collective audio library, so that there’s a minimalist-score rhythm of repetition and variation. The actors’ bodies, detached from story or celebrity, are just floppy-doll projectiles, secondary in importance to the glass they shatter.

The one time somebody, as you sensibly would in real life, uses a heavy object to break the window rather than hurling themselves through, it seems like a clumsy breach of the rules of broken-glass aerial ballet: What’s the matter, you never learned fourth position?

But beyond its tinkling, tumbling aesthetic quality, there’s an additional draw about Defenestration: The Movie for me: I once threw myself through an actual pane of glass.

I was maybe 6 or 7 years old, and my family was visiting friends who must have lived somewhere near Niagara Falls, Ont. (because I know that what happened made me miss a much-anticipated trip to Marineland). I no longer know who this family was, but one sunny summer afternoon I was playing some sort of chasing game with their kids (I remember a daughter about my age). A not-especially-swift runner, I was lagging behind when one of them ran in the back kitchen door. I saw that the window in the door was raised, and thought I could shave seconds off my time and cinch the tag by diving through it. I did not take much time to consider the wisdom of this.

The door was just very clean, it explained with a crash. There was blood in gushers.

I was gathered up in anxious arms and barreled off to the hospital, and had the rest of the weekend to contemplate the stitches in my arm and a few different places in my head, wrapped in gauze, drinking Koolaid and reading comic books, while the other kids went on their summer field trips.

I still have the scars, though since I turned 30 the one I was proud of, the mark of identity on my forearm, has sadly faded to a phantom of the angry and insistent thing it was in my teen years, when I rather hoped strangers would misinterpret it as an unspoken signal of some kind of a dark and violent past. (Which had a certain psychological truth, though not a literal one; it wasn’t only posturing.)

Aside from minor car crashes and unpleasant but not-so-dramatic physical assaults, that glass-door-dive is probably the closest experience I’ve had of movie-style violence. And I wonder if this is what makes Defenestration especially soothing. If there is something to the Freudian idea that we are drawn to repeat our traumas, literally or symbolically, then this movie is custom-made therapy for me.

Though I no longer remember the pain or distress that must have been involved, and have only a cinematic recollection of it myself, there’s probably a trace in my subconscious. Or at least some level on which I feel, through the medium of my visible scar, that the sound and sight of glass breaking is an element of what’s made me myself. That stitching sutured an element of the story-of-Carl to my body. (In Jane Siberry’s song “Hockey”: “He’ll have that scar on his chin forever/ Someday his girlfriend will say, ‘Hey, where …?’/ And he might look out the window – or not.”)

And perhaps Defenestration also works as a kind of exposure therapy, the way that if you have fear of heights (as I more certainly do) they say the best thing is to go higher than you feel comfortable over and over, and then a little more. Although it’s also the increasing unreality, the dissipation of what little threat a through-the-window movie scene carries into ritual and trope, that’s so easing and ultimately meditative about it.

I’m sure for more profound traumas there’d be no equivalent effect. Although a montage of the Bush years looped over and over might be nice. To get to see the Terrible turn to farce and then to poetry, and then to complete abstraction, to light and form and Foley music – that’s a grace that might only be found out past the policed boundaries of Story.

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Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Metropolis, by Fritz Lang (1927/2010)

by Chris Randle

Last week, I watched the almost-fully-restored new print of Metropolis. It was my first exposure to Fritz Lang’s monumental spectacle, but in truth I had seen large chunks of the film already, filtered through the homages, reinterpretations and outright swipes of eight decades. If you can sample people, these are sampled images.

The sinuously designed, poorly named Machine-Man, iconic after five minutes of screentime; a vast cityscape filling the sky while machines churn below; the precise clockwork movements of those hellbound proles, both anticipating music-video choreography and recalling Marx’s words: “It is not the workman that employs the instruments of labour, but the instruments of labour that employ the workman.” Even the final showdown atop a cathedral seemed familiar, because Tim Burton borrowed it for Batman. As we left the theatre, my friend Catherine said: “That movie had everything!”

Squint for meticulous order in a horn of plenty and you’ll be disappointed. Those aforementioned workers, for example, are shown toiling on one machine with a massive wall of dials and no apparent purpose. For its ludicrous dream that enough coaxing could move labour and capital to literally shake hands and make peace, Metropolis is sometimes called proto-fascist, but it’s hard to picture Mussolini bellowing Lang’s epigram: “The mediator between brain and hands must be the heart.” The film wedges religious allegory and industrial-relations homilies into the structure of a fairy tale, rebellious heir and all; I’m grateful for what little coherence it has.

Some of the politics are so confused that it begins to seem intentional. Brigitte Helm, just 18 years old during filming, plays both saintly Maria (champion of the downtrodden, love interest) and her android doppelganger. The plutocrat Joh Fredersen has the former’s likeness grafted onto the latter, scheming to incite a rebellious prole-frenzy with her jerky gyrations. (When the sexy psy-ops plan actually works, he sends in the security forces does nothing.)

The movie’s juxtaposition of demure protector and Evil Robot Slut is not subtle. But Helm is so obviously delighted by the sheer carnality of her character, vamping it up in Babylonian drag, that I started to think of the original as “False Maria.” She urges the revolution to devour its children with lip-smacking glee. No wonder that android keeps winking.

The new restoration job is impressive – the print’s only missing one major scene. I can’t imagine how earlier versions hung together, though I still have a perverse desire to see the Giorgio Moroder/Freddie Mercury/Pat Benatar cut. The new/old footage is projected at a smaller scale than the rest, and its flickering scratches are a humbling reminder that even radical modernist artworks can become worn and fragile.

Much of the rescued material involves various subplots. One features Fredersen’s creepily fastidious underling, the Thin Man, his face as sharp and toothy as a shark’s. Another fleshes out the mad scientist Rotwang, explaining why he plots to betray his hated master (there was a girl). I was struck by the fact that, in a city split between heavenly towers and industrial caverns, his lair seems far older than either, a snug little church for your next black mass. If the film has a great sight gag, it’s the shot of him fidgeting in a tuxedo at False Maria’s debauched unveiling. Rotwang is on neither side of the class struggle; maybe that’s why he turns out to be the real villain? (In this and other ways, he reminds me of a more oblique Bat-parallel: “I am the hole in things, the piece that can never fit.”)

After nearly a century of allusive references and unconscious transmission, Metropolis retains a strange power. Restored or not, the film can still inspire longing; Owen Hatherley once argued that its soaring skywalks are an example of the better tomorrow we’ve been denied. Though there are minor consolations. On the walk home post-screening I realized that my first glimpse of the movie wasn’t its famous expressionist poster, or a particular filmmaker’s tribute, or even some knockoff robot – it was this animated GIF. (Scions of capital all like to watch, apparently.) I’m not sure the monocled Mr. Lang would approve, but it’s the future we got.

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Filed under chris randle, movies