As Avatar jumps on, off and through the cinema screen in revolutionary 3-D format, Christian Seiersen takes a look at another five films which cannot be watched anywhere else but in the theatre.
1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wo Hu Cang Long, 2000)
If all fights were as picturesque as in this movie, then the street brawls after English soccer games would be shown on the Arts channel, and not on late-night cop shows. Unfortunately, though, it takes the trained eye of director Ang Lee to turn the ridiculous—such as combatants’nonchalant gravity defying leaps—into the sublime. A deserved showpiece for the elegant imagery of the Far East, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon gave the martial arts genre a philosophical tinge whilst also creating a visual spectacle.
Set against the backdrop of dynastic China, where sword duels are contested across blossoming trees or villages’ fashionably slanted roofs, Ang Lee’s cinematography shows a healthy disregard for the confines of reality. If, in his earlier days, kung fu legend Bruce Lee had frequented local opium dens, this is what would have emerged. Although I had not followed in these particular footsteps before seeing the film, I found it to be a sensory feast and one that is perfectly suited to the staging grounds of a cinema.
That being said, Crouching Tiger is no slouch in the department of storylines and the plot unravels graciously into an epic tale of love that has justifiably been compared to the likes of Titanic. Some may be deterred by the endless waves of subtitles, but the script is the film’s‘hidden dragon’ and well worth keeping track of.
2. Apocalypto (2006)
With a cast including the likes of Rudy Youngblood, whose name conjures images of a failed American folk singer, Apocalypto resuscitates the ancient Mayan civilization for a big screen makeover. My prior knowledge of the society had been confined to the drawings of an artist who had, to say the least, a wild imagination, but being doused in a bit of Hollywood glamour did them no wrong.
In the hands of a director—Mel Gibson—who is notorious for having few limits both on and off-screen, the film exercises little in the way of restraint and fully earns its‘R rating with gruesome scenes that would put Braveheart to shame. Kudos must also go to Gibson for dreaming up, arguably, the most evil-looking bad guys. Unfortunately their sinister demeanor is, at times, let down by the inclusion of loincloths that leave little to the imagination. The variety of costumes certainly add to Apocalypto’s exotic flair, and it would be little surprise to see the liberal piercings and skeletal headgear being adopted by the next generation of ‘Goths.’
Although the story line can be likened to cartoon duo‘Tom and Jerry’ for its propensity for chase scenes, the film is elevated by its powerful imagery. It is therefore, understandably, in the cinema where the movie comes into its own, and the lush rainforests and towering monuments are captured with an artistic flair that defies the director’s relative inexperience. Having already directed Passion of the Christ, with his new offering, Gibson saw what he had made and, behold, it was very good.
3. Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno, 2006)
Whether by natural means or by reproducing the drug fuelled hallucinations of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro possesses nothing if not a distinctive imagination. How else would you explain his inclusion of such characters as a branch-limbed fawn or a creature with eyeballs in its palms?
Spanning boundaries is something of a calling card for Pan’s Labyrinth and, through the eyes of the young female protagonist Ophelia, it flicks between harsh reality and twisted fantasy. A dark undertone certainly lingers over the film and its setting in postwar fascist Spain opens a door of political allegories for the astute audience.
Metaphorical nuances are, however, spared when the film comes into contact with the villainous Captain Vidal, who personifies the brutality of war in his treatment of rebel captives. The ensuing torture scenes provide the film with an edge and, whilst steering it away from inevitable comparisons with Alice in Wonderland, also makes Ophelia’s world of escapism all the more disturbing. It is a world that is as creative as it is unusual and Guillermo’s subtle combination of CGI, music and physical movements creates scenes of atmospheric beauty that are a must-see in the realms of a cinema.
4. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Not to be confused with the ex-British Prime Minister’s campaign for tolerance of this misunderstood hobby, the film single-handedly dismantled the traditionally joyous occasion of a camping trip. Nature-loving fathers the world over are cradling their now impotent sleeping bags and ruing the day their children were lured into the movie.
For the true connoisseurs, you must return to Blair Witch’s theatre roots to comprehend the hype that surrounded its screen release. Before going, I was recited a casualty list of the film’s previous victims as if I were undertaking a quick day trip to Somalia. Cinema attendants, temporarily undertaking medical roles, had reportedly carried out viewers, whilst others needed no encouragement to escape the flickering forest.
The film paraded under the auspices of a student camp-out in the woods that had been filmed entirely by a hand-held camera. A camera that, afterwards, was supposedly‘found’and, in honor of the teenagers who were brutally murdered, the footage was made into a horror film. I’m sure the fictional mothers were thrilled.
Despite the film’s humble origins, it is best seen in the theatre. This provides the public setting to exhibit one’s horror movie credentials and, later, bask in the feeling of camaraderie between fellow viewers. Although I was expecting at least a back slap, all I got from the film was insomnia and a distrust of oddly-shaped sticks.
5. City Of God (Cidade de Deus, 2002)
The screen-child of director Fernando Meirelles, the Brazilian succeeds in replicating the rawness of Rio de Janeiro’s slum-life in his portrayal of its favelas. As the camera sprints between labyrinths of alleyways, brothels and drug-houses, the audience is thrown into the slums of one of the most dangerous places on earth with nothing but the narrative of Rocket, a fisherman’s son, for company.
I decided that only a movie theatre can do justice to its vigorous soundtrack; the high tempo Brazilian beats clash with the blaring AK-47s to follow you around the cinema and throw you into the midst of the vicious street battles. The gritty camerawork captures the precarious nature of daily life and, in the theatre, the giant screen surrounds the viewer and brings a sense of reality into the favelas. Something which the movie’s documentary predecessors failed to do.
Working besides these shots of cinematic adrenaline, a diverse and poignant story line pans out and lends the film a tangible element. By focusing on the younger generation in the slums, Meirelles is able to emulate the audience’s naivety in his own characters. This allows for the steep and brutal learning curve of favela life to be experienced on both sides of the screen.
How Theatrical! is a series on the delights of cinema-going, the dark pleasures of a theatre that go beyond cinema itself. Catch Christian Seiersen on christianseiersen.wordpress.com.