The Rear-View Mirror: Lincoln in the Bardo (2017)

In 2017, Eagles on Pogo Sticks ended its ten years of soaring and went into a steep yet controlled ascent. After a quick dip into one of the few remaining phone booths, a suspiciously familiar-looking blog emerged: A Damn Fine Cup of Culture. Now, almost a year after we reinvented ourselves (or, more accurately, revealed ourselves as the cuppaholics we are) we’re launching a weekly feature: The Rear-View Mirror, where each Friday we’ll look at the cultural goodies, whether grande, venti or trenta, that may appear closer than they really are. We’re starting in the year of our (re-)launch, 2017. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Lincoln in the Bardo

Back when I was a student, I was pretty much subscribed to the Booker Prize winners. From Midnight’s Children (which, admittedly, I read more than 15 years after its release) via the likes of The Remains of the Day and The Famished Road, The English Patient and The God of Small Things to Amsterdam and Disgrace, I knew that the winning novels would be well worth reading. When I left university, though, I realised that life is very different when you’re not paid to read literature. After a day at the office doing things other than literary criticism, I found that my brain wasn’t necessarily in much of a state to plonk down with a book, and instead I’d watch an episode of something or play video games for an hour. The Booker Prize lost its appeal as any new books I ordered piled up on one of my Billy shelves. I still enjoy reading a lot, but it’s no longer the thing I do most of the time on most days, it’s something to do before going to bed (if I’m awake enough), over the weekend and especially on holidays. Continue reading

Out of Sight – not out of mind…

Out of Sight will always have a special place in whatever chamber of my film nerd’s heart is reserved for films. For one thing, it was my first taste of Soderbergh’s work – and, in spite of his lesser films, he remains one of my favourite directors. However, and this may sound strange, I like him most for the editing of his movies… even though he didn’t edit most of his films.

Nevertheless, it’s obvious that he doesn’t just leave the editorial work to his undoubtedly talented editors – many of his films play with jump cuts, freeze frames and achronological editing, whether he’s the one sitting in the Avid chair or not. There’s a strongly impressionistic feel to how Soderbergh places his scenes in relation to each other, to the point where it can become annoying for audiences that aren’t made up of editing geeks like me. The Limey is a case in point (and, even more film nerdy, the director’s commentary on the DVD edition plays the same games with jumbled chronology as the movie – I got a kick out of it, but chances are I’m part of a very exclusive club there).

What strikes about Out of Sight is how effortless the fractured chronology is presented. People were confused by Pulp Fiction‘s B-A-C-style narrative, but that’s nothing compared to how this film jumps, starting pretty much in the middle and liberally moving back and forth. Nevertheless, you’re never confused as to what is going on in the story. Soderbergh hides his positively avantgardeĀ  editing in plain sight.

And it’s rarely been done as successfully as in the love scene between George Clooney (pretty much at the beginning of his career as an actor rather than clothesrack) and Jennifer Lopez (has she ever been better than in this film?), which cuts smoothly back and forth between the actual lovemaking and the buildup. The spark between Clooney and Lopez is made into one of the most erotic love scenes in American filmmaking. Yet the fades and the music also have something sad – it’s clear, somehow, from watching the scene that this will be the one and only time the two characters are in effect together.

P.S.: To be fair, the scene is not entirely original. Soderbergh has obviously watched his Nicholas Roeg closely, getting his inspiration from the Julie Christie/Donald Sutherland love scene in Don’t Look Now (gotta love the accidental synchronicity between the two films’ titles) which jumps back and forth between sex and the couple putting their clothes back on afterwards, infusing the mundane married life with the erotic.

P.P.S.: For anyone interested in the art of editing, do read In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, Jarhead).