My frame of mind is considerably improved since my last sleep-deprived post
, which Groucho could've summarized: "Whatever it is, I'm against it." But today I resolve to be less of a negative space cadet, to not vent or take gratuitous swipes, and generally endeavor to avoid sounding like I'm auditioning for Factotum: the Musical
. Boat drinks all around.
Pan's Labyrinth deserves such a toast: it is a nearly perfect film and has more than earned its extravagant reviews. Its only real weakness is a certain sentimental orderliness, a fairy tale classicism that softens the irrational edges of beauty and terror a bit ? but then even Cocteau had his minor weak spots, and they haven't exactly dimmed the timeless allure of Beauty and the Beast or Orpheus. That's the league Guillermo Del Toro's playing in here, but young Ivana Baquero has the startling presence ? such a mixture of immediacy and remoteness ? to makes the whole heavily latticed fantasy/reality conceit work. Her powers of imaginative concentration are astonishing; if people are watching this film fifty years from now, and I believe they will be, this performance will remain the skeleton key that unlocks the fable: Baquero has already taken her place with the immortals.
I can't help but think of another exploration of the inner life of children, Rebecca Miller's 1995 Angela. A strange buried treasure of American indie cinema, it is as patchy and uneven as you might expect from a metaphysically ambitious debut, with not fully assimilated elements of David Lynch, Flannery O'Conner, and even Andrei Tarkovsky floating around inside it. Yet it is film that genuinely deserves to be called haunting ? it sticks with you long after the typical flavor-of-the-month sensation has receded from the mind, disturbing in a modest, oblique way that doesn't smack of scare quotes or shock value. Miller tapped into a primal vein, feeling her way into the rawness in a very poised, focused fashion; Miranda Stuart Rhyne made Angela both a heartbreakingly plausible kid and an embryonic mystic who has conjured her own private little religion out of scraps of knowledge and delusion.
The shoestring budget and unrealized aspects don't diminish Angela's poetic validity, any more than the occasionally forced notes or strained associations derail Olivier Assayas's Cold Water or Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. The cumulative effect is what counts, and the movie's near-primitive inquisitiveness works in its favor ? it cuts through to an emotional core a schematic, impressively formalized technique might insulate itself from. Miller gets the unmediated, bottomless feel of an ancient folk ballad using semi-modernist means.
In the tone she finds, there's continuity with that of Sandy Denny's plaintively stoic voice on some of her Fairport Convention recordings. I'm thinking of the way Denny sang "Some people are very kind" in "I'll Keep it With Mine," with a melancholy and awareness as commonplace as it was supernatural. Or how she delivered "A sailor's life/It 'tis a merry life," as though she were singing on board one of the clipper ships Lou Reed longingly mentioned in "Heroin." It's a heady feeling that passes through you like a ghost and makes the hair on your neck stand up in awe.
For me, the most poignant of all such moments comes when Maureen Tucker steps forward to sing "Afterhours" at the end of the Velvet Underground's third album. It is the brazen simplicity, the offhandedness of her delivery, that makes the song's suicidal nihilism so sweet, so touch, so right: "If you close the door/The night could last forever."