Wednesday, August 5, 2009

So Long, Farewell, auf Wiedersehen, Good Night

"Goodbye Dragon Inn" (2003) Directed By Ming-liang Tsai

If you hold a shot in a film for 5 minutes people call it boring, if you hold it for 10 minutes you’re a genius. I like movies that tend toward the grandiose, baroque, and awe inspiring, full of sumptuous visuals and sounds, elaborate decorations, filmed from extraordinary angles, but I know this is just a personal stylistic preference, a private prejudice and fetish of mine.Die-hard fans of minimalism share a similar, though inverted preference, for absence, emptiness, and stillness. They are both seperate but equal ways of telling stories, each with their pro's and con's, like anything. In particular, “Goodbye Dragon Inn”, is a movie I wanted to like, not for it's bold glacial style, but because it’s a movie about going to the movies.With no dialogue it's basically a modern silent film for cinephiles. It shows us a theater, on its final night of screening. It’s last showing is of the 1967 martial arts, sword-fighting epic, "Dragon Inn."The detached camera of Ming-liang Tsai, observes a cleaning women with a limp, scuttling up and down the halls, and various patrons sitting in the dark, humorously annoyed at people putting their feet up next to them, or making too much noise. While other’s cruise the theaters bathrooms and labyrinth basements for casual sex. Samuel R. Delany's book Time Square Red, is a livelier and more intimate account of cinema as modern bathhouse, which tries to capture not just the sex, but the myriad kinds of interactions between people in darkened theaters.Like Times Square Red, Goodbye Dragon Inn expands the idea of recording all the micro-happenings that occur on the periphery of the theater going experience is a fascinating one and the film’s elegiac tone lends an emotional gravitas, to the mundane proceedings. Such tenable connections will be lost in the multi-plex world to come (if another movie theater is to built at all, it’s uncertain), and so even the smallest gesture or moment of connection becomes romantic. Unfortunately the film’s steam runs out around the first hour mark, and it drags on another laborious 20 some minutes, simply watching the characters sit some more, and clean up. There are some interesting flourishes early on where the dialogue in the film, ironically or directly comments, on the actions of the audience watching them. The film itself has no character’s speak until 45 minutes in, and then it’s on “This Theater is haunted”, with no more dialogue until a few minutes toward the end. If you enjoy minimalism for its own sake, for purely aesthetic reasons, this is well worth seeing. Personally I think it outstays it welcome, which in the delicate art of “time sculpting” , for film as flat, silent, and dimly lit as this it's disastrous to overshoot even by minutes. Minimalism is a tight rope act, where if given the opportunity to look down and notice we are suspended by nothing, but a desire to reach the other side of the wire (finish the film), we have already begun to fall, out of interest and patience. If you have to look down at your watch, the magic is over. More humor might have helped, more of the film in the film might have helped, thin, and redundant as some of this became, anything else might have helped. In fairness up till the last 20 minutes or so it holds up pretty wellIt’s a shame too, just a little shorter and this would really have been something special, as far as movies for people who like watching movies about people who like watch movies, go.

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