Tag Archives: Experimental

THE SEVEN FACES OF JANE (2022)

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DIRECTED BY: Julian Acosta, Xan Cassavetes, Gia Coppola, Ryan Heffington, Boma Iluma, , Ken Jeong, Alex Takacs

FEATURING: Gillian Jacobs, Joel McHale, , Emanuela Postacchini, Chido Nwokocha

PLOT: Jane experiences love, loss, joy, and bewilderment on a road trip mapped by eight different directors.

Scene from The Seven Faces of Jane (2022)

COMMENTS: To stimulate creativity, the early Surrealists created a game where one artist would build on a previous artist’s work without seeing it. They called the game “exquisite corpse” after a sentence born of this process, a sentence which is also the first thing the viewer sees in The Seven Faces of Jane: “Le cadaver equis boira le vin nouveau.” “The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.”

Jane is an exquisite corpse, a surrealist experiment. There are overtly surreal moments, such as the garishly eccentric diner patrons laughing at Jane (Gillian Jacobs) fighting her doppelganger. But the very design—8 directors contributing to the same story blind to what the other directors are doing—leads to Jane being the same but different in each segment, highlighting the nature of character as the collaborative product of writer, director, actor, and so on. With eight different directors, there are actually eight different Janes. (Seven segments plus bookends = eight.)

Jane drops her daughter off at camp and finds herself on a bizarre and unplanned road trip. The southern California backdrop ties the film together visually. Each director showcases it differently, but from the beach to the desert to mountain trails, from Mexican street vendors to early 20th century bungalow neighborhoods, So Cal is the mainstay in this ever-fluctuating movie.

Each segment explores someone Jane could be, or could have been. Most tell stories of love and loss and identity in straightforward or dreamy ways. But the last one, “The Audition,” directed by Alex Takács (AKA “Young Replicant”), takes the story right off the rails in the best kind of way. Set in a mausoleum and a sedan on the back of a car hauler, “The Audition” uses the absurd and the surreal to prod its character’s consciousness.

Jacobs, who is a steady force throughout, continues to deliver as someone on the brink of coming undone. Seemingly no longer able to sustain all the different versions of herself, she fights, gives up, regresses, and disappears, only to become who she needs to be when it’s time to pick her daughter up from camp.

Jane has some shortcomings. The quality of the segments is uneven, and because of the brevity of each piece, there’s no time to build sympathy for any character besides Jane. It is also a disconcerting juxtaposition to have such an ordinary subject for such an experimental movie. The Seven Faces of Jane has been called a “failed experiment.” And by the standards of a mainstream movie, maybe it is. But as an experiment, at least for the Surrealists (and this is a surrealist experiment), if the exquisite corpse stimulates creativity in the artists, it’s a success.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The problem is that most of the segments are too tied to a bland realism and narrative cliche to create the collective sense of unease and/or delightful disorientation that the surrealists prize.”–Noah Berlatsky, Chicago Reader (contemporaneous)

 

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: I’M NOT THERE (2007)

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
“(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”–Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

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DIRECTED BY: Todd Haynes

FEATURING: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, , , , Kris Kristofferson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julianne Moore,

PLOT: The intermingled stories of an itinerant child blues guitarist, a folk singer-turned-preacher, a philandering movie actor, an indulgent rock star, an aging outlaw, and a poet under interrogation, all of whom represent facets of the life of Bob Dylan.

Still from I'm Not There (2007)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The biographical film is a genre ridden with cliché, perhaps an inevitable result of trying to condense decades of life into a limited running time, as well as the absurdity inherent in calling upon famous people to embody other famous people. I’m Not There sidesteps this issue by shattering its subject’s life into fragments, echoes of Dylan who are never quite Dylan, but united in the spirit of an artist with the soul of a poet and an aversion to being analyzed. You won’t leave the film having learned a single fact about the man, but you will feel like you know him far better than any encyclopedic review of his life could impart.

COMMENTS: Facing down his interrogators, a poet lays before them the seven simple rules for life in hiding. Our protagonists, despite some of their very public lives, seem pretty adept at the first six, having created chameleon-like personalities that defy categorization or understanding. But it is the seventh–“Never create anything”–that trips them up. As much as they want to avoid capture, no matter their revulsion toward fame or notoriety, as much as they want to leave past choices behind them, the urge to create is inescapable.

Todd Haynes is in love with metaphor. His films luxuriate in the power of a thing standing in for another thing. Some examples are more blatant than others (this reviewer has previously chronicled one particularly unsubtle instance), but he always comes back to the idea that coming at an idea directly is rarely as interesting as something more tangential. That makes him a good match for Bob Dylan, an artist who is noteworthy for his refusal to ever say anything right out. In Dylan, Haynes has found a muse who indulges his vision of the world through fun house mirrors. If Dylan is never just one thing, Haynes surmises, then he must be many things. And that’s what he sets out to dramatize.

The result is something of an anthology, with stories that sometimes intersect or echo each other, but are always their own narrative. This procedure permits Haynes to indulge in ambitious flights of fancy. To depict Dylan’s early interest in folk music, for example, the singer is embodied by a young black boy with Woody Guthrie’s guitar, the spirit of an early-20th century bluesman, and a hobo’s life on the rails. None of these things are literally Dylan (and the racial dimension just barely avoids issues of cultural appropriation), but they get at the heart of his curiosity and determination to slip the chains of his past identity to explore a new one.

Sometimes these depictions are very literal, such as Bale’s Greenwich Village troubadour. Other times, the symbolism is extremely heavy-handed, like naming Whishaw after Arthur Rimbaud, a poet who inspired Dylan’s lyrical obfuscations, or Gere assuming the character of Billy the Kid, whose own biography Dylan famously scored. Interestingly, the most Dylan-like character is Blanchett’s Jude Quinn, who takes on the precise look of the star’s “Judas” heyday, and yet occupies a esque fantasy landscape of parties in white rooms and giddy romps with coy models and fawning pop stars. Most of them revolve around music (but not all), many of them incorporate a faint whiff of impersonation of Dylan’s notorious nasal drawl (but not all). The one thing that unites all six version of Dylan is a stubborn refusal to be seen, to be captured and measured and sized up. Haynes wisely turns that inability to present the man into his boldest technique.

The biopic has matured over the decades, as filmmakers have largely abandoned regurgitated womb-to-tomb accounts in favor of more telescopic views of key moments from the life. In so doing, they’ve been willing to play with the form, demolishing linear time (like Chadwick Boseman’s electric embodiment of James Brown in Get on Up) or providing on-screen commentary (as in the to-screen objections of characters in 24 Hour Party People). Haynes does them all better by presenting a biography that doesn’t even feature its subject, Because while my review keeps saying Dylan Dylan Dylan, you’ll never hear that name in I’m Not There. Not once.

I’m Not There is definitely a weird watch because it has completely rethought the language of its genre. The life of the subject here is not character, it’s not plot, it’s not dialogue. It’s theme. And as such, it leaves interpretation to the viewer, even as its subject resists interpretation at every turn. So make of it whatever you will, knowing that you’re on your own. How does it feel?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The movie looks and sounds so purely pleasurable in isolated moments that I thought, more than once, that Haynes would’ve better served Dylan by putting together a DVD of music videos. In a way, that’s what he’s done anyway, and perhaps the whole weird, scattershot thing might play better when you can skip-search to your favorite bits.”–Rob Gonsalves, Rob’s Movie Vault (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Brad. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)