A Bookshelf On Top Of The Sky

Tonight I saw A Bookshelf On Top Of The Sky: 12 Stories About John Zorn· at the Coolidge Corner Theatre·’s summer jazz program·, an excellent documentary about one of my favorite non-categorizable musicians·.

In the film, Zorn rails against facile attempts by critics to pin him down into a packageable description (“Ornette Coleman meets Klezmer Music”). He talks about people judging with their eyes (“Oh, trumpet, sax, bass, and drums, I know what this is”) rather than their ears, complaining that our culture is far too visually-oriented even when it comes to music.

This film is as much about the filmmaker, Claudia Heuermann, as it is about its subject. Halfway through the making of the film, John Zorn apparently refused to answer the phone or return Heuermann’s calls, and she couldn’t even locate him. So she turned the camera back on herself. But of course this is the case with all documentaries to some degree, it’s just more transparent here. In this sense, A Bookshelf On Top Of The Sky was reminiscent of My Architect· (IMDB link·), the story of the son of legendary architect Louis Kahn and his journey to figure out who his absent father really was. You never find out who Louis Kahn was, but the insight into the character of his filmmaker son Nathaniel is profound.

Zorn did see the final product and approved, although enigmatically. I believe he said something like, “Nothing is changed.”

Kill Bill Vol. 2

I’ll admit outright that I loved Kill Bill Vol. 2, even more than I loved Kill Bill Vol. 1. I would love to see a Tarantino lecture on the film—or even better, I thought that a semeter-long film course could be designed around Kill Bill, looking at the works of each great director to which Tarantino pays homage.

Uma Thurman’s defense of the film’s alleged violence was a little less intellectually profound than I might have hoped, though:

She said, “People have to have creative freedom. I love violent, sexy movies.”

The Triplets of Belleville

The Triplets of Belleville· was the most delightful film I’ve seen in a long time. I give it my “best animated feature” award 2003-2004.

It’s best not to know too much about the story, I think, going into it, so I won’t say anything here. (Why am I even bothering to write about it at all, then? So you’ll go see it!)

My favorite little detail was in the Triplets’ apartment: just for a second or so, a poster for Jacques Tati·’s Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot· appears. The film pays homage to Tati throughout, and most likely alludes to other French films and directors that were beyond my surface knowledge.

If you want a more detailed description of the film, check out Roger Ebert’s review·. I have to agree with his hesitant characterization of the film as “Marquis de Sade meets Lance Armstrong.”

Kill Bill

Unlike Steve, who hated Kill Bill, (and like Ebert, who gave it his top rating), I loved Kill Bill, Volume 1 (see also Kill Bill at IMDB, which curiously already has a listing for Kill Bill, Volume 2).

I’m perhaps influenced by Tarantino’s introduction to Iron Monkey, a film which Tarantino brought to the United States. Tarantino is clearly a disciple of masters like Woo-ping Yuen, and in Kill Bill, he shows he now has achieved a respectable level of mastery.

One of my favorite quotes from Tarantino’s interview in Iron Monkey describes how the kung-fu film can’t be only a comedy, or an action film, or a drama, or a love story: the audience for the kung-fu film demands all these things in one sitting. Tarantino achieves this sort manic roller coaster ride in Kill Bill (okay, well, maybe it’s not much of a love story, but it has everything else).

I’m reminded a bit of modern jazz artists like Wynton Marsalis, whose every note is a tribute to their heritage. Marsalis may not be as “original” as was Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie, but he’s still a lot of fun to listen to, and his technical mastery exceeds that of his musical mentors.

Tarantino may not be “original” in Kill Bill, but I believe originality is highly overrated—and essentially impossible. In fact, the premium on novelty is a modern invention. In the past, artists sought not to do what had never been done, but rather to perfectly imitate their forerunners.

Chung King Express

Kar-Wai Wong (people say “Wong Kar-Wai”) made Chung King Express (Chong Qing Sen Lin) in 1994 as a break from an epic film that he was having trouble finishing (I believe Ashes of Time). The film was shot in about two months, without a script.

The film is visually astonishing; the stylized cinematography is a transformative experience regardless of whether you understand the story. I’m not sure there really is a story, actually. At first, you’re following a woman involved in a complex international crime operation; but then it’s about a love-struck police officer; and then finally, about another love-struck police officer.

Although quite different in style and substance, Chung King Express conjures a visceral experience akin to Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. If the imaginary and the visionary provide you with spiritual sustenance, this film will satisfy.