Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

Discuss DVDs released in the Eclipse and Essential Art House lines and the films on them.
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knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#26 Post by knives » Sat Oct 23, 2010 3:55 pm

I opened this set with Warrendale last night and I don't think I'm yet ready to process it. There are many reasons for that, not least of which are my own experiences in this sort of thing. I'm definitely going to be rambly and miss out on much of what I want to say.
First off this thing has an art and beauty in audience emotional abuse like nothing I've seen before. For at least a third of the movie I had my head covered, unwilling to confront the raw horror of these kids. Even as early as the inappropriate wake up I was biting my lip off. I suppose this very thing relates to my concerns at the beginning of the thread. Does this count as audience manipulation, is there any sort of way to 'safely' show these events and would they be morally better for it? I'm not sure at all what the right answer is, but the way King shows compassion, primarily through Walter, I think the film manages to be on the good side of the fence. Beyond that compassion I have no evidence as to why I've chosen that conclusion and I'm not sure if I want to see the film again to find a more solid answer.
What I think makes this all the more difficult is that the film barely resembles a documentary. There are a number of inserts, especially at the beginning and end, and the movie follows a loose but existent story. In that sense these people really are characters with Walter as something like the lead tying all the separate pieces together. This story structure manages to create a fourth wall, a bit of a safety net for the audience to separate themselves from the action with. King manages to dig through this though by occasionally reminding us that this may be a movie, but it's one filmed in the real world. Towards the end there's a particularly punchy example where Walter discusses what to do with the film crew before the climax. This suddenly turns into a few minute philosophical discussion on if the film crew should have barriers. It's frightening, disturbing, gives away all of King's cards, and is totally successful. Writing it out I'm reminded a bit of the coffee shop scene in Mulholland Dr. The scene in this movie succeeds in exactly the same way.

If nothing else this should be the most discussed release of Criterion's this year. I can't think of anything anyone released this year that has activated more of my neuroses.

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knives
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Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#27 Post by knives » Tue Oct 26, 2010 11:24 pm

I've managed to watch the next two films, A Married Couple and Come On Children, and what I've really come to notice is that King has this compulsion to build up walls of fiction while tearing them down. He seems completely unsure if he wants us to see characters or people. The Gilligan's style theme song, which opens up it's own set of questions, for Come On Children probably expresses this in the most forward manner.
Another big thing all three seem to latch onto is the idea of a living death. All of these people are trapped in situations and in the most extreme cases bodies that refuse to allow them to live the way they need to, seemingly losing their own sanity in the process. This makes me very curious with what will happen when he treats death head on in the next installment.
Talking in more intimate terms I have the sneaking suspicion that A Married Couple will become the unfavorite of the set. It's not bad, it's great in fact, but the questions it poses and the narrative it weaves is far less explosive than anything else here. Maybe it is because the subjects so intent on their own destruction just for an act. The movie begins to be more a question on the genre than it's Scenes From a Marriage storyline and characters. This is a very thorough examination of acting in life and for the camera. The husband can barely contain his winking long enough for him to be treated as real and the wife in an amazing moment goes from this intentionally goading dive to a reasonable and self examining woman in her one scene outside of the marriage with a friend. In fact I find her acting which seems to be less for the camera and more from the organic situation to be more interesting than the much talked about husband's goofing. We know that at least some of this is for her husband, but is there any of it for the cameras?

Come On Children also asks some of these questions, but I find this odd subversion of Lord of the Flies to be more interesting because that is only an element. This seems like the Casino to Warrendale's Goodfellas. There's also less an emphasis on narrative here than in the previous film. Right now I'm having a hard time talking about it because I don't want to be repetitive to the Warrendale comments. While these kids are much stronger on the mental side of things, though many if not all are or were drug users, they are still trapped in a cage that seems to suffocate them. That's no more powerfully stated than when Alex Lifeson confronts his parents on his decision to be a musician. It actually speaks a lot to King's quality as an editor that even with hindsight the drama of this moment still makes for a stunning climax.
I can't wait to get to the next two and hopefully a few more people will have duginto this invaluable set by then.

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knives
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Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#28 Post by knives » Thu Nov 04, 2010 12:06 am

For the last group of films in the set King comes across as a very different man. Age and experience has a lot to do with this, but I think that the shifting of interests has a greater effect. Many of the themes and theoretical concerns are presented much more literally here. Death is very specifically outlined rather than being a metaphor for modern society. Even his compulsions of building and destroying his stories at first comes across as a feeble shout of desperation, but I think that this is more the case of him growing subtle with age. Had he shot these films in the earlier decades he wouldn't have made like this at all. For example while he has always toyed with making a story out of reality in Dying at Grace he goes for the full monty. That film has as deliberate and exacting a three act structure as can be seen. He plays with that so silently though, mainly in emotional push rather than the more theoretical stuff he did early on, that I didn't realize the trick being played on me until the very last frame. He's not above breaking the fourth wall though, but does it with purpose here. In fact it is absolutely essential to appreciating the key emotional relationship of Memory. Not only does he have the tools, but he uses them. Also I was very skeptical about him shooting in SD as I have a great distaste for the look, but somehow he of all people manages to use it, in a way very different from film, that is totally gorgeous. Some shots are on the level of the red one.
Sadly there is one major issue here, but the moral tightrope that King always balances may have snapped. The first big issue, and somehow I was awakened to it here even though it does apply to Warrendale also, is that these people for the most part have no say in being in the movie. From my understanding King is claiming he got permission from these people, but two are basically vegetables in Dying at Grace and everyone in Memory could not have given that permission. We witness these mentally deformed people for this catharsis, but should we be allowed? It's immediately obvious that King needed these movies, but should his audience watch them? This leads me to my biggest problem which is such a central part to Dying at Grace that I'll have to spoiler things out.
SpoilerShow
The very last shot of the film, I'm not sure how long but it feels like five minutes, is that of a woman dying. We see her alive, we see her take her last breath, we see her die. It's obviously not a snuffing, but I have to wonder if morally it is on the level of a snuff film. Is it right for anyone beyond King (who I can't put forward enough needed this) and his to view? This question has been haunting me since I saw that film on Sunday.
With that bit of nastiness out of the way here's the good of the meat. If Warrendale is about dead children and Come on Children is dead adults, than Dying at Grace is that last step of dead elders. While I mentioned the film as having a three act structure it also the most successful bifurcation I can think of. I guess that's just one of those subtle little toyings I mentioned. The first and most successful section follows two women. One a woman who immigrated to Canada from Italy and is essentially a physical vegetable, though she seems to have her wits, and the other is a feisty woman who questions her whole situation. Without getting into specifics she has a lot to hate in life. That she lives as happily as she does is amazing. She's also the person who accepts her situation the best. She knows she's dead and is fine with it. The second section Follows three people who seem like splits off of the previous two. Both sections are connected by a woman with who at first doesn't seem afflicted. She even manages to joke about how she'll be out soon. The most interesting thing about how the stories connect for me is that the second set of stories seem like the beginning of the first set. The only story that plays out linearly is of the 'healthy' woman. She manages to be the hope of the story, so of course how things end up should be predictable.
Looking back on when I was talking about Warrendale I'm laughing a bit that I thought that was audience punishment. Here King gives a light and just murders you with it. It's not as immediately painful as Warrendale, but it stays so much longer and only seems to get worse. There really is no hope with death he seems to say. That's where Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company comes in. It works as an epilogue to the whole series, life after death. We even get a guide down there in the form of a little Chaplin. The characters here are in a purgatory of alienation and loneliness guaranteed to last forever. One event in particular as it plays out over and over again in reminiscent of Memento. Despite the presence of sadness over the whole affair it seems to suggest hope and the possibility of attaining happiness. Again hope has a personification that leaves us. That he remains even absence is very important and makes the whole endeavor worth it. That's not even getting into my favorite character a woman who feels an explosive amount of emotion for seemingly no reason occasionally or even the way it toys with isolation within the isolation such as a moment where the most disturbed patient is teased because of rumours that she was nesting with a goy.
Last edited by knives on Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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aox
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Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#29 Post by aox » Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:10 pm

Thanks so much for that review (and the previous ones), knives. I really want to see these films now. I know I can get this box for $35 right now at the B&N sale, but I just am not sure that this box needs to occupy space on my shelf. I am not even sure I would revisit these films after seeing them.

I suppose I could netflix them, but they'll get lost in my queue.

Is this worth a blind buy?

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swo17
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Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#30 Post by swo17 » Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:13 pm

You can't netflix them though.

I found several of these films quite fascinating, though I'm not sure I could stand to watch them again. You should certainly watch them at least once.

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knives
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Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#31 Post by knives » Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:23 pm

These, with the exception of maybe A Married Couple and Come on Children, would be a really difficult rewatch. I'm not sure if I could manage the strength to see them again until same time next year. That said this has been such a valuable experience that I suggest anyone with the stomach for it at least rent these films from the library if you can.

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aox
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Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#32 Post by aox » Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:26 pm

Aww, see I originally thought you couldn't netflix them which had initially caused me to consider purchasing this set. When I double checked a few minutes ago, I guess I was looking at the place holders (I wasn't on my computer or logged in to my account, so they appeared simply listed).

It appears the NY Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library don't have them either. Columbia has them, but you can't check out media. Well you can, but it isn't allowed to leave the building. You have to watch it there.

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swo17
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Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#33 Post by swo17 » Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:38 pm

Can't you request that your library purchase the set? That's what I did.

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aox
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Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#34 Post by aox » Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:49 pm

swo17 wrote:Can't you request that your library purchase the set? That's what I did.
That's what I will be doing this afternoon. But I have no idea what the return will be.

I am kind of shocked that leading library institutions, like these two in NYC (with their budgets), don't buy on day 1 every Criterion and Eclipse that is released.

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mfunk9786
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Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#35 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Nov 04, 2010 2:24 pm

Or you could buy it during the sale with a coupon, then sell it off once you've watched The films, after the sale. You might even make a profit.

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Max von Mayerling
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Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#36 Post by Max von Mayerling » Thu Nov 04, 2010 4:21 pm

I've been considering buying it in the sale and then giving it to my local library (which also isn't carrying it). I should ask them if they take donations that way.

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Lemmy Caution
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Re: Eclipse Series 24: The Actuality Dramas of Allan King

#37 Post by Lemmy Caution » Fri Nov 26, 2010 5:18 am

Dying at Grace would be a tough re-watch.
I didn't have trouble with the idea of permission, as all the patients seem to be accepting of the camera crew. It's possible even the older folks enjoy the attention and company. I assumed that family members agreed for the patients who are worst off, but then Lowell (I hope I have the name right, it's been a few weeks), who is in the worst shape is offered privacy from the camera when he seems to be rapidly fading, and he clearly says that they can stay. As in Warrendale, the structure is designed for maximum effect.

A Married Couple is kind of sad and low-level disturbing.
Billy seems to admit that his inability to satisfy his wife -- separate bedrooms! -- and fear of her dominance causes a lot of his behavior. He's almost afraid to compromise, seeing that as compromising his male role. The way he is so quick to anger on such petty matters is tough to watch ( I really recoiled when he calls her a "stupid cunt" just over the vacuum cord and when the threat of physical violence comes in a couple of times).

The sexual subtext going on is almost comical. When Antoinette asserts her independence and sexuality, Billy reaches for his pipe. She prances around the house in little fuck-me lil-bo-peep outfits. Initially he tries to keep pace by walking around naked or in his undies, but by the end of the film he's switched to what looks like an orange prison jumpsuit. Not good. She almost turns that into a costume, reaching inside it to toy with his chest. She starts popping his zits -- little male explosions! -- and he's horrified.

Sidenote: I've had a few girlfriends who were just fascinated with popping pimples and causing white stuff to ooze out. At first, I thought it was odd and awkward, the kind of thing you should do yourself in private. But since they found it so intriguing, and it was a physical grooming ritual which could easily lead to greater intimacy, I realized it was a good thing. I'd still prefer a back massage, but you take what you can get.


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