James Benning’s 1995 masterpiece Deseret screened at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year, and Benning himself attended the screening. After the screening, I asked him about the extent to which he sees cinema as editing: the compression of time from an inexorable linear continuum into a matter of hours. Benning replied by saying editing, especially Eisensteinean modes of montage, contains innate fabrications; that it hinders accuracy and truth. The Benning of late has focused on an observational, verite form of filmmaking. His Ten Skies (2004) entirely comprises ten ten-minute worm’s-eye-view shots of the sky; his Nightfall (2012) consists of a single 98-minute take.
Wong Kar-Wai has proven himself to be a great director – In the Mood for Love is one of the greatest films of the 2000s. However, all the creative talent involved in the production of Chungking Express, including veteran actor Tony Leung and Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle, could not save Kar-Wai’s breakthrough film from being a mawkish structural mess that fails to engage on either an intellectual or emotional level. Doyle’s aesthetics are certainly dazzling, but its oneiric formalism is ultimately empty and its post-structuralism is overwhelmingly ineffective.
Two of the most renowned postmodern films are Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and Benoit Poelvoorde’s Man Bites Dog. These two films provide a censure of hyperreal violence to an audience who are somewhat willing to listen – the arthouse crowd who are challenged and disturbed but not life-altered by the films. It is a shame that the mainstream – the real target of Funny Games and Man Bites Dog – would never watch a foreign-language, post-structuralist film of that nature (even Haneke’s 2007 shot-for-shot remake of Funny Games in English starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth flopped at the box office). Writer-director Rick Alverson’s The Comedy too was a financial failure; its niche is so narrow, resulting in box office earnings of a mere $40 000. Perhaps unlike the aforementioned postmodern films, The Comedy has no delusions of targeting and attacking the mainstream. The only people who would ever watch The Comedy are the people who are being critiqued by the film, which makes it so thematically acute, affecting and economically doomed.