Posts Tagged ‘city’

In the great Westerns of Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More) and Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven) a man always comes to town. The man in question – like Eastwood’s Man With No Name in Leone’s films – is an imperfect protagonist (or anti-hero) who brings retribution to an also corrupt society. The brilliance of the documentary Welcome To Leith is that is also revolves around a man who comes to town, yet he is no hero, but a frightening real-life antagonist.

Leith, North Dakota was founded in 1910 and is one of America’s smallest cities, with a population of 16 as of the 2010 census. After the railroad was abandoned in Leith in 1984 it became deeply isolated, yet there is a close-knit community within the city. In 2012 Craig Cobb, the notorious white supremacist, rather anonymously moved into the town and quickly and easily began buying up land from the locals. Things became scary when he started moving neo-nazis into the town, stocking up on weapons and patrolling the streets.

Welcome To Leith picks up this story, initially from the point of view of the long-term locals, who become aware of Cobb’s plans to grow the town into a majority white supremacist enclave and endeavor to kick him out by any legal means necessary. While the film does deal with the legal aspects of this standoff, the real thrill of watching the film comes from the way in which the tension between Cobb and the town boils over into physical action. Much like a Spaghetti Western, the opposing forces frequently come into direct conflict, which makes the ideological struggle very real.

The film also offers Cobb and his supporters screen time, which sheds light on their perspective and builds tension, but it never plays in their favour (as the British TV documentary The Battle for Barking also didn’t for the BNP.) To hear Cobb’s views from the horse’s mouth leaves no doubt that this recalcitrant man offers a senseless vision of division, chaos and hopelessness. Only those whose political leaning comes from a place of irrational prejudice, entitlement and anger could be convinced.

Directors Nichols and Walker do well to create a real sense of isolation in Leith; beautiful cinematography of the sweeping landscapes outside of the town shows just how cut-off this community is. There is a vital sense in the film that Leith is really the frontier between a compassionate and accepting American way of life and a despair ridden white nationalism. Ultimately the film’s open ending leaves a sense of frustration in the viewer – perhaps there’s room for a sequel – but also a crucial sense of vigilance towards this ongoing struggle.

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Restored in fine style by Studiocanal and the Independent Cinema Office, Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1962 Cannes Special Jury Prize winning L’Eclisse returns to cinemas – with a first time appearance on Blu-ray – 53 years after its initial release. The film remains both a visual marvel, as well as an astute and troubling critique of life in a modern world; it’s a vision that feels eerily timeless.

The final entry of a superlative, yet informal, trilogy also comprised of L’Avventura (1960) and La Notte (1961), L’Eclisse finds Antonioni exploring his existential concerns upon an increasingly grand scale. While La Notte focused on the relationship breakdown of Marcello Mastroianni’s self-absorbed writer and Jeanne Moreau’s wealthy, unfulfilled wife, L’Eclisse finds a similarly hopeless pair as they encounter one another in the midst of a stock market crash.

Monica Vitti, returning for the third time in the trilogy (and on routinely brilliant form), leaves her older lover and soon encounters a young stockbroker played by the annoyingly stylish Alain Delon (Plein Soleil, Le Samouraï.) In Antonioni’s trademark style, the two drift into each other’s lives, in a casual, non-committal manner and this is how their relationship remains. It is the petit flirtation that makes the pair so enticing to watch, but their city lives and aspirations limit them from forming a meaningful connection.

Such lack of humane engagement is best displayed in one would-be-tragic sequence, in which a drunk steals Delon’s sports car and comes to an unfortunate end in a river. The characters respond to this ostensibly tragic moment with frivolous discussion of the repair costs for the vehicle. Yet, Antonioni’s approach is never particularly critical of this behaviour; it is as if the director regards this as the natural state of people in this time and sets out to at least enjoy it with his detached (and technically virtuosic) image of cool.

While the film is perhaps less captivating in it’s depiction of the failings of modern relationships as La Notte, L’Eclisse truly endeavours to deal with something bigger: the transience of the human story. Just as the impeccably cool leads forget the ill-fated drunk driver, the film itself eventually disregards the protagonists themselves (and perhaps for the best, given Vitti’s character’s less-than-enlightened colonialist behaviour in an early scene and Delon’s detached moral outlook.) It is this bold disregard for character and plot that leaves us as an audience in a genuine state of crisis and makes the film so powerful.

Contrary to the life goal often attributed to James Dean (and actually spoken by John Derek in Knock on Any Door (1949) – to “live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse” – Antonioni seems to tell us not to put faith in our more superficial desires. What mark can we hope to make on a world of stock markets, fast cars and good looks? L’Eclisse is a fascinating essay on this question and it’s all the more profound due to the master director’s refusal to offer us an answer.

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