Review by Trylon volunteer Colette Ricci.

(Before we start dear reader, I promise you: this does not devolve into an anti-corporate diatribe.) For centuries corporations have been claiming public as space their own, while the public simultaneously fights to get those spaces back. As a youngster I didn’t understand “taking back space.” If you defaced (or otherwise misused) private property, weren’t you plainly in the wrong? But, my narrow stance started to waiver as I saw more and more blank space converted to ad space. I began to wonder: what aspects of my space do I own? I own this shirt, but not the name printed on it. I own this beverage, but not the image plastered to the can. When struck by inspiration on a trip to Disneyland, what ownership would I have over those ideas?

People call the Disney theme parks magical, but it’s not just princesses and anthropomorphic mice. Disney parks invoke awe inspiring public experiences, the magic they talk about exists in every corner of the park: childhood memories walk around real as life, people laugh, people cry, parents argue, people fall in love, expectations become letdowns, dreams are born. That magic resonates through time, spanning 50 years into the past and surely decades into the future. It’s a magic personalized to the individual, but it’s experienced collectively.

And all these experiences; they’re tangibly owned by someone. (Technically a group of someones, but owned no less.) As an artist I am limited to what I can do with my Disney inspirations while staying clear of “infringement”. It’s painful knowing a company can design magic to happen, then hold an iron grip on what people do with that magic outside of “brand identity”.

When Randy Moore and his brave crew waltzed through Disney World’s gates, shot Escape from Tomorrow without permission and then released it to the public, they brazenly put that iron grip to the test. And then more magic happened: Disney did nothing. Legally speaking there’s not much they could do to prevail in a courtroom, but companies do typically attempt to silence de-branding public commentary every way they can wether it’s likely they’ll win or not (see: “McLibel” or  Mattel Inc. v. Walking Mountain Prods.). Disney spending millions to financially ruin Moore (taking his film with him) isn’t farfetched, it’s exactly what everyone expected to happen. Yet Disney still does nothing.

It’s likely Disney executives hoped this weird movie would just go away. But there’s an infinitesimally small chance they were intentionally making a larger statement. Maybe they, too, are tired of living in a world where people are literally faced with branding at every turn and are silenced if they express apposition to it. Maybe someone very high up, in one of the most influential corporations on the planet, thought: I’m tired of forcing the idea of what we are, let’s allow our captive audience to be freely inspired; let’s allow them to define us.

Wether we like Escape from Tomorrow as a movie is irrelevant. Right now it is freely roaming our world of corporate ownership, protected by forces unknown, opening doors that have been slammed shut on artists for decades. And that fills my heart with magic.

Colette Ricci writes, photographs, crafts jewelery, draws, has a really killer idea for a magazine, and works retail 40hrs a week. If you know of a way to create time, please contact her, she is desperate.

Escape from Tomorrow screens tonight at 7:00 & 9:00 (no shows tomorrow.) Purchase tickets here.


Review by Trylon volunteer Amy Neeser.

Lolita is perhaps the best known, but not often talked about, film in the “Underrated Stanley Kubrick” series, as it comes with a lot of baggage. This was a tough one, even for the great Kubrick–not only is it an adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel (which is considered one of the twentieth century’s great works of fiction), but the story is about a romantic relationship between a middle aged man and a twelve-year-old girl, a controversial topic even by today’s standards.

The story is told by the slowly unraveling Humbert Humbert (James Mason), a professor who becomes obsessed with young Lolita (Sue Lyon). He marries Lolita’s mother Charlotte (Shelley Winters) in order to get close to Lolita, but is eventually foiled by the many faces of Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers).

Kubrick had to make a lot of concessions to get this film approved, including casting an older actress to play Lolita (who was disallowed from attending the film premiere because she was underage at 14) and filming outside of Hollywood in London. Despite having to cut lines and shorten the seduction scene, Kubrick managed to do justice to the original masterpiece by capturing Nabokov’s dry and twisted wit with interesting cuts and clever use of double entendres.

Amy Neeser is a scientific research librarian at the University of Minnesota. She has a background in film and specializes in New German Cinema, animation, and representations of the apocalypse. 

Lolita screens at the Trylon microcinema Friday and Saturday, one show only, at 7:00, with two shows on Sunday at 5:00 and 8:00. Purchase tickets here.


Review by Trylon volunteer Matt Levine.

SPOILER ALERT–this review reveals significant plot points.

Barry Lyndon begins with a killing—the murder of Barry’s father, no less, in a gentlemanly pistol duel. Observed in a static long shot that sees the minuscule characters dwarfed by an awe-inspiring landscape, this opening scene is a perfect encapsulation of the film to come. As the narrator sardonically states, Barry’s father is killed as the result of a disputed horse sale—a seemingly insignificant motivation for murder that emphasizes the “civilized” violence of Britain in the 1750s, as well as suggesting the cruel twists of fate that alternately lead to wealth or ruination. As we’ll see, this opening pistol duel also foreshadows the climactic standoff between Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal) and his stepson, Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali), as the sins of fathers are hauntingly reaped upon their sons in an act of twisted, cosmic irony. Finally, the fact that this opening duel is viewed so distantly that we couldn’t even describe what the dead man looks like seems to corroborate the common claim that Stanley Kubrick was a cold formalist indifferent towards the people who occupy his frame—though this often wasn’t the case, and certainly isn’t true of Barry Lyndon.

Based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon, Kubrick’s adaptation is split into two “acts.” The first—“By What Means Redmond Barry Acquired the Style and Title of Barry Lyndon”—follows a charming but ineffectual Irish roué after he first leaves his modest family home. Seduced by his cousin, the fickle Nora Brady (Gay Hamilton), Barry is devastated when she leaves him for the dandified British soldier John Quin (Leonard Rossiter), who resembles (in both his crimson wardrobe and prancing airs) a peacock forever hoping to attract a mate. After shooting Quin in a duel (the second of many in the film), Barry is forced to abscond to Dublin, where the constraints of poverty force him to enlist in the British army.

Barry’s regiment is sent to Germany in the midst of the Seven Years’ War, whereupon the senseless bloodshed of warfare (including the death of a family friend) leads Barry to avow that he will seek only a life of wealth and stature. He spies his chance when he encounters a British courier, steals his horse and identification papers, and hightails it to Holland—though he’s stopped en route by a Prussian Captain who will return Barry to the British army (who will surely execute him for desertion) if he does not join Prussian forces. This is how the Irishman Redmond Barry proceeds to fight for the British and Prussian armies during the course of the same war—an irony that points out how little national allegiance means both to Barry and the armies who enlist him, though nationalism is the ostensible motivation for the war in the first place.

A further series of events, dominated either by fate or mere happenstance rather than human causation, has Barry working as an agent for the Prussian army, keeping tabs on a foppish gambler named the Chevalier de Balibari (Patrick Magee), who himself might be a French spy, by acting as one of his servants. Yet Barry almost immediately reveals his true identity to the Chevalier, ultimately acting as an accomplice in his duplicitous schemes to cheat massive fortunes out of Europe’s noblemen. The narrator informs us that it is Irish brotherhood that compels Barry to align himself with the Chevalier (who also turns out to have Irish heritage), though the audience—recalling Barry’s inner vow to attain wealth at the earliest opportunity—suspects that it is the Chevalier’s lavish mansion and elegant clothing that are the real motivations. In any case, it is as the Chevalier’s right hand that Barry ultimately meets the Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson), the beautiful wife of aged, decrepit Sir Charles Lyndon (Frank Middlemass), and seduces her shortly before the old man dies in a hideous coughing fit. His marriage to the Countess of Lyndon ensures that Barry will acquire the fortune he has so thirstily (if ineffectually) craved.

This first half of the film is similar in tone to Thackeray’s source novel, which is satirical and mordant in undermining the pomposity of 18th-century warfare and societal mores. After all, in desiring social stature above all else, Barry is merely perpetuating the values that dictated European civility in his time. Barry Lyndon has a reputation as a cold, stuffy costume epic, but the first hour and a half is wickedly funny; indeed, aside from Dr. Strangelove, Act I of Barry Lyndon counts as Kubrick’s only comedy. Not unlike Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones (1963), the machismo and vanity of a supposedly civilized era provides plenty of opportunities for caustic wit. This especially comes through in Captain John Quin’s ridiculous attempts at virile brawn (his perpetually upturned lip is hilarious in itself) and the polite highwayman who robs Barry of twenty guineas, graciously allowing him to keep his boots as he forces him to walk the rest of the way to Dublin.

Yet if Act I of the film is amusingly acerbic, Act II tragically proves the axiom that money is the root of all evil. After marrying a beautiful countess and attaining a massive fortune through the scantest possible effort, Barry’s life falls into ruins, flooded with hardship and misery. He openly flaunts his infidelity and spends most of Lady Lyndon’s money on outsized expenditures (including some of the most expensive paintings in Europe), all the while forcing his wife to remain secluded in their opulent estate. The countess’ ten-year-old son by Sir Charles, Lord Bullingdon, despises his stepfather and considers him (aptly) a disloyal opportunist. Barry and the Countess have a son of their own, Bryan, whom Barry dotes on adoringly, yet the spoiled boy is killed in a horse-riding accident (a plot point lifted from the novel by Margaret Mitchell for Gone with the Wind some years later). The tragedy sends a grief-stricken Barry into debilitating alcoholism and Lady Lyndon into a pious religious zeal, thus ostracizing both of them from their noble peers. Ultimately, Barry’s downfall is swift and all-consuming: penniless, loveless, and missing a leg—the result of yet another pistol duel (with Lord Bullingdon, one of the movie’s finest scenes)—Barry is forced to leave England and never return. In a shockingly sad turn of events, the only remaining connection between Barry Lyndon and the Countess is the annual annuity checks that she signs in order to ensure his permanent exile: if money initially ensured Barry’s attraction to (and, perhaps, love for) the beautiful Countess, it is money that will remain their only trivial tether.

The theme that materialist greed destroys everything in its path is a common one, though it’s conveyed with especially tragic power in Barry Lyndon. A subtext of greater interest in the film is more existential: is it fate, destiny, mere chance, or human agency that controls our lives? Given the narrator’s repeated allusions to fate, one might assume that Barry’s bleak downfall was preordained before he even existed: “Fate had determined that [Barry] should leave none of his race behind him, and that he should finish his life poor, lonely and childless,” prophesies the voiceover early in the film. Barry’s astonishing lack of initiative would seem to verify this point—he must be one of the most passive antiheroes in all of cinema. Things happen to Barry Lyndon; he rarely instigates them. True, the entire plot is set in motion when Barry challenges Captain Quin to a duel for the affections of his cousin; but it was she who seduced Barry in the first place (by daring him to fetch a ribbon hidden within her cleavage) and stoked his jealousy. From then on, Barry stumbles from one situation to the next; he joins the British and Prussian armies only because he happens upon them, and allies with the Chevalier because he is forced to spy on him by his superiors. He has no need to seek out his future wife, as she miraculously sits across from him at a gambling table; and he seduces her merely by kissing her wordlessly (in a ravishingly gorgeous scene).

And yet, just when we think Kubrick has no faith whatsoever in human agency, choices are made which determine the outcome of Barry’s life. It is not, in fact, fate that solidifies his downfall; the climactic pistol duel with Lord Bullingdon (an episode absent from Thackeray’s novel) is especially important in this regard. Barry has a choice: he can easily kill his stepson, and thus inherit Lady Lyndon’s fortune (depleted though it may be). That Barry magnanimously chooses not to fire upon Lord Bullingdon seals his fate; for better or worse, it is one of the only ethical decisions that he consciously makes in the film.

It might seem that Barry Lyndon proves Kubrick’s coldness, his indifference (or even abhorrence) towards his characters. His detractors (notably Pauline Kael) have often claimed that Kubrick’s meticulous style, his bitter bemusement at his characters’ actions, prove how disinterested he is in the human experience. Certain moments in Barry Lyndon might suggest this, most notably the death of Sir Charles Lyndon, which arrives at the very moment he venomously accuses Barry of cuckolding him: as we watch Sir Charles desperately search for his array of pills, the narrator begins voicing an obituary of this nobleman allegedly printed in London newspapers—though this elegiac voiceover fades out abruptly into the film’s Intermission, seemingly ridiculing both this character’s life and death.

Yet if Kubrick’s attitude towards his characters is rough and cynical, there is sympathy in his bitterness. At the very least, he identifies with their confusion at the incomprehensibility of life, and with the combustible emotions we experience in our deepest despair. One scene late in the film is a turning point in this regard: following the death of young Bryan, we observe a black-cloaked Lady Lyndon, consumed by despair, kneeling at a church altar, praying austerely. Many shots in Barry Lyndon begin with a medium-shot or close-up and then steadily zoom backwards, moving from the personal to a tableau. Yet this moment is one of the few in which the camera zooms inwards, towards Lady Lyndon, clearly identifying with her all-consuming grief. It is with the countess that the final shot of the film allies as well: the camera is unmoving as it registers her beleaguered emotions, which she stoically (and unsuccessfully) attempts to conceal. She has been taught by her society to strive for calm reserve, for meek obligation; yet this “civilized” impassivity has led her to a life of misery.

While Barry Lyndon was received somewhat coldly upon its release, both commercially and critically, its stylistic accomplishments have never been in doubt. Indeed, it does not seem hyperbolic to claim that this is one of the most visually stunning films ever made. Kubrick’s copious period research (conducted when he was initially planning his biopic of Napoleon, following 2001: A Space Odyssey) is manifested in the astounding costume design (by Ulla-Britt Söderlund and Milena Canonero), art direction (by Ken Adam, Roy Walker, and Vernon Dixon), and cinematography (by John Alcott), all of which won Academy Awards. Though based in historical detail, each stylistic decision serves the film’s emotional tone: certain palatial foyers carry an alienating opulence to them, while the Chevalier du Balibari’s ostentatious costumes portray a man forever desperate to prove his own significance.

Much has been made of the technical innovations that went into John Alcott’s cinematography, most notably the reengineered Zeiss 50mm lenses that enabled shooting in candlelit interiors with no other artificial lighting. (The narrow depth of field necessitated by these lenses’ huge apertures results in a soft focus for many interior nighttime shots—which is appropriate, as it recreates the dreamy intimacy of such 18th-century painters as William Hogarth.) Yet the cinematography is stunning not only for its visual beauty, but for its uniqueness and intelligence. As mentioned before, many shots begin at a relatively close distance, only to slowly retreat backwards and end at a distanced tableau of the scene. Kubrick’s indebtedness to painting has never been more prominent, as these backward zooms seem to point out the emotional volatility taking place within discreet fragments of classic pre-Romantic paintings (in addition to Hogarth, Barry Lyndon’s aesthetic recalls the work of Antoine Watteau and Thomas Gainsborough). It’s important to remember that Kubrick began as a still photographer, and was therefore well-versed in the differing capabilities and resonances that moving and still images could convey. One of Barry Lyndon’s most fascinating ambitions is to propel landscape painting into motion, to hint towards the dramas that might be playing out in the scenes created by the classical masters—in other words, to make the kind of film that Watteau or Gainsborough might have in the late 18th century.

Barry Lyndon’s initially tepid reception has been refashioned since its original release in 1975; Jonathan Rosenbaum, Martin Scorsese, and Roger Ebert have all championed the film’s uniqueness and richness, allowing the film to take its place among Kubrick’s finest. It may be flawed—the two acts of the film are jarringly contradistinctive, and certain plotlines (such as Bryan’s death) are emotionally lukewarm thanks to Kubrick’s steely remove—yet to paraphrase Jean Renoir, no masterpiece is perfect, and most masterpieces are made more interesting by their imperfections. Each time I rewatch Barry Lyndon, I become increasingly convinced that this is Kubrick’s most eternally rewarding creation: it may be less mind-bending than 2001, less haunting than Eyes Wide Shut, and less prescient than Dr. Strangelove, but it has more mysteries and oddities smuggled into its ravishing frame than any of those films. It is simply (and profoundly) the story of a man stumbling through life, thinking he knows what happiness is yet beset by cruel, cosmic torments—and who cannot relate to that?

Matt Levine is graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Film Studies and Comparative Literature programs, and obtained his M.A. in Film Studies from Emory University in Atlanta. His writing has been published in Milwaukee’s ThirdCoast Digest, in Emory’s online repository, and in Walker Art Center publications. He is also co-author, with Jeremy Meckler, of Still Dots: The Third Man Project, published by Colpa Press in summer 2013. He is also (slowly) working on his first novel. Watching Jacques Tati movies rivals record-shopping as his most beloved pastime.

Barry Lyndon screens Friday and Saturday at 7:00, and Sunday at 5:00 & 8:30. Purchase tickets here.

Les salauds poster


Review by Trylon volunteer Elizabeth Doyle.

The word “elliptical” has been tossed around a great deal when discussing Claire Denis’s latest film, Bastards (Les Salauds), a noir set in Paris.  It is a shadowy puzzle whose dark subject will not be illuminated, at least not enough for us to comprehend the horror of events until the end.  In the beginning, we see a young girl walking naked (save for a pair of high heels) down a rain-slicked cobblestone street, her expression opaque. We will return to this girl from new angles and with more comprehension as the film progresses, shedding light on the context of this troubling image.

The drive of the film is this: Marco (Vincent Lindon), a ship’s captain, has given up his post at sea to return to the city, heeding the cry for help of his sister and niece (the wearer of the heels), following the suicide of his brother-in-law and the impending bankruptcy of the family business. We are told that behind these family tragedies there is a powerful man, Edouard Laporte (a hollow-eyed Michael Subor), whom the law cannot touch. Marco is, we assume, returning to sort this thing out since the police will not. Following his return to land, he quickly moves into the apartment building where Laporte’s mistress, Raphaelle (played by the captivating Chiara Mastroianni), lives, and the two become involved.

The world of Bastards is one of immense loneliness, most palpable in a scene where Raphaelle curls up on her bed next to an empty white shirt that she has carefully laid out in the shape of a man.

There is hardly a single eye in the movie that doesn’t reflect despair.  In the beginning, Marco and Raphaelle take turns watching each other on the street from their balconies, their heads surrounded by obscuring tendrils of cigarette smoke.  We get the sense that these people will never truly know one another, despite sexual encounters and attempts at understanding through fragmented conversation – they will remain as distant as that street and that balcony always were.

Though little is said, the few words spoken mean much. Denis herself has compared the script to barbed wire – “thin and pointed”.  When characters do speak, they say things to each other like, “You’re alone. You’re in this thing all alone.”

The violence takes its time to unravel, always alluded to ominously, boiling just below the surface. For instance, violence lurks beneath the story of sexual abuse Marco hears about his niece. Later, he is handed a gun and told that he will need it. Directly following the receipt of that grim gift, we are shown a dark road so laden with curves that we cannot see what waits ahead.

This is a chilling and beautiful noir worth seeing, with the harrowing end reveal set to a Tindersticks cover of an old Hot Chocolate song. Bastards has the power to turn stomachs.

Elizabeth Doyle resides in Prospect Park, works at a food cooperative, is interested in everything (Gemini), plays accordion, dances, enjoys exploring tiny cinemas abroad when she can, and will strike up a conversation about movies with anyone.

Bastards (Les Salauds) screens at 7 & 9 on Monday and Tuesday night at the Trylon. Purchase tickets here.

killers-kiss-5This weekend, as part of our “Underrated Stanley Kubrick” series, the Trylon presents the first two films from the master himself: Killer’s Kiss, an early noir, and Fear and Desire, his first feature film, thought lost until the early 90s, and newly restored by the George Eastman House.

Review of Killer’s Kiss by Trylon volunteer David Berglund.

Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss is a disorienting little film–not only does it tell a winding story of seedy betrayal and urban danger, but its verité sensibilities stand in striking contrast to the usual Hollywood noir. It outright rejects the concept of slick operating criminals and detectives, instead opting to present all its characters as inept sad sacks prone to lustful downfalls and clumsy mistakes.  These characters would to most be more befitting of neorealism than a crime tale climaxed by a stylized chase sequence, but here we find them.

Perhaps more disorienting than this is that the film is nearly devoid of the intense sentiment so prevalent in the noir genre. While the standard noir approach would inject melodrama and heightened emotion to its twisting plot, and there is ample opportunity to do this with the film’s romantic impulses, Kubrick examines his plot with a distant curiosity.  In this, Killer’s Kiss not only foreshadows the revisionist noir tales of the late 50s and early 60s (most commonly, and wrongly, believed to be kicked off by Welles’ Touch of Evil), but it clearly foreshadows Kubrick’s long and influential career as a cold, deeply cerebral, and unendingly interesting filmmaker.

This early, budding glimpse into Kubrick’s genius is more than enough to justify a viewing. The fact that Killer’s Kiss is carried by a high attention to detail, striking chiaroscuro lighting contrasts, and arrestingly understated performances from its leads only makes the proposition sweeter.

David Berglund is a proud Longfellow resident and ardent cinema junkie who previously wrote on film with his wife, Chelsea Berglund, on their Movie Matrimony blog.

Killer’s Kiss screens Friday at 7:00, Saturday at 8:30, and Sunday at 6:30; Fear and Desire shows Friday at 8:30, Saturday at 7:00, and Sunday at 5:00 and 8:00. Purchase tickets for Killer’s here, and for Fear and Desire here.