Hold me close and hold me fast: Reset, Remembered, Retold

Posted in Uncategorized by Joie on July 3, 2008

Louis Armstrong – La Vie En Rose


Amnesia has always been a narrative shortcut for dramatic effect, particularly one of suspense, inserted in the beginning of a film (as the plot mobilizes into a detective investigation of identity) or towards its very end (as a requisite hurtle before the sappy reunion). While Wall•E is no stranger to this rule, the film and its titular character do however share an uneasy relationship to the processes of remembrance and memorization, the twin halves of what we normally assign to as “memory.”
Segwaying into Meg’s post about the hazy “new order” between programmes and personalities, on the most basic level, Wall•E and the Gels aboard the Axiom are “humanized” exactly because they learn to replicate what they see and hear from stored cultural knowledge embodied by the Hello Dolly VHS and the computer’s memory bank of our civilization before Earth was trashed. Humanity abides not to the laws of biology, but whether one possesses the mental capacity for acquiring and recalling information, followed by enacting it within a wholly contingent situation. Alanis was right: you live, you learn. If comedy is the result of miscommunication, then our laughs and sighs during Wall•E and Eve’s initial courtship stem from watching signs of affection being misread and ignored by someone who’s oblivious to their intentions. Eve has only one directive so far: to find the MacGuffin (seedling in a boot).
By the second act, everything slowly changes for both robots and humans alike, culminating in a sumptuous scene of emotional recognition by Eve of her own recorded memory, her POV video as surveillance footage. It’s like watching your home movies 10 years from now and noticing details that escape your attention the first time around.   Eve not only witnesses Wall•E’s persistent dedication during her downtime, but the same identical scenes she experienced before, now in a radically different light.   Walter Benjamin couldn’t be more prescient about this triumphant moment of self-awareness through the unconscious mechanism of film:  tapping into a realm where objects are more fleeting than concrete, visible only within the frame that hold its precious cargo of frozen moments, gone then, here forever.
Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye – if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man…The act of reaching for a lighter or a spoon is familiar routine, yet we hardly know what really goes on between hand and metal, not to mention how this fluctuates with our moods. Here the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, it extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions.
Coincidentally, Benjamin’s observation mirrors director Andrew Stanton‘s own attitude in hiring talented cinematographer, Roger Deakins, as a lighting consultant for recreating the photographic apparatus’s penchant for flaws and blemishes, an absent trait in the world of animation, where imagination soars without limit, often without direction either.
We actually had a lot of stuff that wasn’t correct in our software. The math wasn’t doing the right thing, so all the subtle imperfections that you’re used to, that you don’t pay attention to that happen with the camera lens — the way things go distorted in the background, when they do it, how the plane of focus works, what things do in the foreground — all that was either slightly or majorly incorrect with our software, and had always been. I wanted to use the camera much more directly as a tool for intimacy in the film. I mean, I got a metal box falling in love with a metal box and a dystopian background, where am I going to get the intimacy? I’m going to use it with the camera by how shallow of a lens we use and how shallow the focus is, how narrow the lens is. So fixing all that and having Roger there to sort of confirm that we were in the right ballpark with it visually was just key to getting a lot of what comes, I think, unconsciously when you’re watching the film.
Luckily enough we do not need a monitor screen to access our memory, but the film, being a work of science fiction, never treads away from articulating a future where scientific wonders afford the ability to prosthetize our mind from its body. Look up the Precogs from the grandmaster himself, PKD. Instead of being confined to a particular individual or even a localized site (the brain), memory as potential and kinetic energy is transferable and disperse, to be memorized, to be recalled, to be used again and again. 
Eve fidgets with her hands as she reacts tearfully to the  “It Only Takes a Moment” scene from Hello Dolly, echoing the same movement of yearning that Wall•E expressed, their behavior results from imitation, their hands gradually engraved with familiar reminiscence.    Through this uncanny refraction by media itself are the two able to meet eye to eye, heart to heart. This is the stuff of remembrance, in which knowledge is retrieved in a manner that speaks beyond the level of barebone plots to byzantine associations worthy of prophecies and elegies, where meaning seeks confusion as an equal adversary.
When we finally reached the final act, the threat of amnesia leaves Wall•E in a state far worse than death itself, bereft of soul and spirit.  Reading the weekend testimonies, men and women, young and old wept when Wall•E reverted back to his automated self; saving him from deletion inadvertently made the adorable spunky cube into a flat square, a shell of wires and silicon chips.  Of course, this also happens to be the moment when the film succumbs to the cheap miracles of resuscitation by the ‘Snow White’ kiss (in this case, a spark of electricity), one can only eye-roll the numerous times Matrix got through that ordeal unscathed from fanboys booing at the incredulous act of faith performed by Trinity to the dying Neo.   But I guess that film was an allegory of religion or something, I prefer its simpler elements:  leather, bullet time, and Keanu.  Most people subscribes to what Richard Corliss recently stated in his appraisal of Wanted that fantasy films work because of a built-in motor aptly called “movie sense” in contrast to the scriptures of our common sense.
This answer may be sufficient for most audience members leaving the theater, but I think Wall•E already has its own built-in logic for this unexplainable feat of life after coma.  Recall that the film returns incessantly to a pair of hands in dire search of its righty and lefty, and that the explicit origin of this romantic desire comes from a fragment of an 1960s Hollywood musical.   Despite of its revamped setup, the indirect reference that director Andrew Stanton, the know-it-all movie magpie, wants the smarter kids out there to think about is Chaplin’s City Lights.   Joe Morgenstern beat me to the chase, but I’ll have my revenge soon.  For a more nuanced study of physical comedy’s legacy of jesters and simpletons (Wall•E has a vast family tree), look for the related post from Keaton.   In the 1931 silent film comedy, the tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl, he finds money for her surgery but lands himself in the slammer.  With her sight restored along with a new flowershop, she gives the downtrodden tramp a flower, only realizing when their hands touched that he was her mysterious benefactor.  She utters, “I can see now,” and these final words of the film verbally substitutes for the inexpressible warmth of their third skin, a crossroads of caresses between forgotten soulmates.   Stanton gleefully simulates this classic scene by dividing it temporally and spatially (and gender reversal!), first with Eve’s metaphoric blindness, then at the end, with Wall•E’s amnesia as mechanical blindness, both overcome by the power of touch, of hands enmeshed into one, holding its own form of material memory.  In short, a love conquers all ending that isn’t a deux ex machina, it’s all there, like bread crumbs leading up to the satisfying payoff.  
What’s truly delightful and moving about Wall•E’s intricate layering and retracing of past relics with present crises is the sentimental grasp it has over the viewer, paralyzing us to believe fully in the utopian dimension of the film, and I’m not referring to the optimistic epilogue, but rather how memory is fluidly passed on from human to robot, robot to robot, and on a metalevel, old media to new media, almost to the point of near indistinguishable.  Yesterday’s mass culture is today’s national treasure.  So much of the film, of form and content, relies on the fetish of live action by animation, the meticulous rendering of digital bits into its analog reality, and with that, comes the possibility of actual affect through special effects.  What Wall•E hopes we remember after another 700 years is that it too was a special time capsule, a host of cultural history and emotional relevancy, waiting to be imitated by a new classic far far away.  
P.S.  I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I wasn’t re-viewing the tragic fates befalling on our star-crossed lovers, it would’ve be relentlessly cruel for Stanton to end on the lingering mood of The Notebook or A Very Long Engagement.  Rated G for happily ever after.  

Alzheimer ‘R’ Us in The Notebook


It Only Takes a Moment: An Ode to Stephanie Zacharek

Posted in Uncategorized by Meg on July 1, 2008

The format of writing a film review for a daily or weekly newspaper and magazine is a difficult format to tackle.  For such a short amount of space and time to write, the review is usually left to being a series of plot points and a set of opinions that must be simplified into “good” or “bad” piles, otherwise the rating of a man sleeping with his hat on his belly or a man flying off his chair clapping cannot be determined.  While the result is a slough of written articles that begin to feel like the same article, but with each new writer pressing shift+F7 on a few words within the text, there are a few writers out there that have been able to work within the film review format but add a little more depth in their understanding of the film.

Wall•E by Stephanie Zacharek

Though she has the reputation of purposely being a devil’s advocate to the dominant paradigm of opinions for any given film, Stephanie Zacharek of salon.com still manages to eloquently discuss the problems any given film may have.  Her review published for Wall•E is no exception.  Being one of the lonely splats on Rotten Tomatoes for the film (though I still do not know how the website decides which way to swing for mixed reviews), Zacharek is able to express the low points of the film with great precision and thought.  While some may judge her for being a Debbie Downer to King Disney/Pixar’s parade, her points are well spoken and honest.  That said, though my fellow Pixar kool aid drinkers focus on the negativity of the review and search for ways to discredit her opinion (i.e. “You can’t listen to her! She gave The Love Guru a glowing review!”), I focus on how her words of disappointment and critique reveals how the shortcomings she sees in the film can ultimately be interpreted as part of the narrative.

For Zacharek, it took only a few moments in the film for her to change her opinion from dazzling piece of art to disappointing Hollywood trash.  She writes:

Toward the end of “WALL-E,” Stanton tries to circle back and recapture some of the wistful magic of the movie’s early scenes, but the spell doesn’t take. “WALL-E” gives us a hero who, by culling through the masses of junk that we so casually throw away, becomes a repository for human memories, a living (though not breathing) creature who has more feeling than actual humans do. Then it shows us actual humans — lazy, fat, brainless ones who have squandered and abused their free will — and asks us to forgive their foibles. The gloss of preachiness that washes over “WALL-E” overwhelms the haunting, delicate spirit of its first 30 minutes. This clearly isn’t a movie made by a robot; the drag is that it ends up feeling so programmed.

What has become a staple in all of the reviews for Wall•E is the comparison of the first act in Trash Planet, with the second and third act in the Axiom and concluding back on Earth.  For viewers like Zacharek, Wall•E would have been a flawless film if the love story of Eve and Wall•E would have continued on the amazingly rendered sets of the abandoned Earth, never once having Flubber-y humans enter the scene.  The film would have been on par with Ratatouille’s critical success if it didn’t have gratuitous chase scenes inside a spaceship for the young boys or the “let us robots and humans pass this plant boot so we can go to Earth for the first time” scene of overt environmentalism.
While this is the sentiment Zacharek expresses in her concluding thoughts on the film, the play on words she decides to use within her critique opens itself for an interpretation that fits the film’s themes as well as reconstitutes the precise depth that she claims diminishes by the end.  Because of the glossy preachiness that is in line with Al Gore standard at the end of the film, Zacharek concludes that the film was clearly not made by a robot, and that the breaking point of the film was it’s feeling of being “programmed.” Using the future occurrences as told by Wall•E, civilization exists where robots are more human than the humans themselves.  If this film is to be a cautionary tale about the near future, then the clarity in the film’s second half not being “made by a robot” is evidence that the role reversal of robot and human has already begun.  The impending dependence of humans on machines to the point where they become programmed by the machine is shown in the narrative of the second half as well as the glossiness for which the film is being criticized.  While the story of humans on the Axiom may seem too polished/less like an art film at your local Landmark theatre than the Wall•E, Eve, and the cockroach as they traverse the dusty lands of Earth, the polarity that exists between the two halves of the film for which Wall•E has been criticized is precisely the contrast that points to the film’s call for a new order.

It Only Takes a Moment

Put on your Sunday Clothes: T-minus 2 days until launch

Posted in Uncategorized by Meg on June 25, 2008

It’s Wednesday of premiere week and still no A.O. Scott or Stephanie Zacharek filling the WALL•E profile on Rotten Tomatoes.  The only thing posted as a top critic is Richard Roeper’s review and when you click the link to read more, the review does not exist!  An attempt to creating a compilation post of various reviews has proven unfruitful as the overall silence amongst the critic heavyweights is deafening.  

What appears as a display of silence and secrecy in reality is perhaps an inability to write about this film in normal review writing fashion.  How does one write a review for a film that converges past (Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd), present (3D animation), and future (the destruction of Earth)?  How does one translate the pantomime of a curious archiving robot into a writing style that requires an end point such as “Will be successful domestically, but mediocre internationally”?  How can one not want to say and write more about this film than what is allotted to them on page E1 and E15 of the Art & Entertainment section of the paper?

In any case, here at Le Repertoire, we cannot express the level of excitement of this film’s premiere to the world.  Yes, some of us may have a certain bias, ahem, but WALL•E is the second film, beginning with Ratatouille, to concrete the new wave of Pixar films, quite parallel to the Disney Renaissance of the mid-1990s.  However instead of a re-invention of the musical via feats of 2D animation and solid melodramatic stories, the Pixar Renaissance shines through the depth of their stories that provide an open door for technological advances in animated shot composition.


Here are a few words from reviews that have been published (more to come):

Richard Corliss (Time) writes: Yet, as we spot the fret lines above his eyes and see the carcasses of other robots on the junk heaps, we realize that WALL•E is a lonely guy. There’s an instant poignancy to his puttering around the late, great planet Earth like a solitary child on an abandoned playground, or an oldster among his souvenirs. WALL•E’s special ache is his nostalgia for a life he never lived, for the intimate connection only humans enjoy. 


Robert Wilonsky (Village Voice) writes: Many will attempt to describe WALL-E with a one-liner. It’s R2-D2 in love. 2001: A Space Odyssey starring The Little Tramp. An Inconvenient Truth meets Idiocracy on its way to Toy Story. But none of these do justice to a film that’s both breathtakingly majestic and heartbreakingly intimate—and, for a good long while, absolutely bereft of dialogue save the squeals, beeps, and chirps of a sweet, lonely robot who, aside from his cockroach pet, is the closest thing to the last living being on earth…Such reverence for movie history in general and sci-fi in particular is vital to the story, because it’s what ultimately gives WALL-E its wow factor and its weight—this reinvigoration of the past on the way to the future of filmmaking. (Charlie Chapin … in space.) 


Mark Millar (creator of the graphic novel for which competing film Wanted is based on) states: Wanted 2 already being planned and they’ve asked me how I can develop some of the other stuff from the book into the sequel. We’ll see what box office is like at the weekend, but everyone knows this is going to make a LOT of dough…Wall-E permitting. Fucking bastard of a wee robot.

Wall•E Trailer

Hello Dolly!