Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Film Reviews, Seattle Screens

Seattle Screens: Immersed in ‘Leviathan’

This month’s round of “Framing Pictures,” a lively conversation about the current cinema with Seattle film critics Robert Horton, Richard Jameson, and Kathleen Murphy, takes place at NWFF on Friday, April 5. The event is free and the conversation begins at 5pm. Mr. Jameson teases a few of the topics up for discussion at Straight Shooting.

‘Leviathan’ – Just off the bow

Leviathan continues the impressionistic, observational mode of non-fiction filmmaking in Sweetgrass in 2009. It’s from the same team (co-director Lucien Castaing-Taylor and sound editor Ernst Karel), and they take the cameras from the mountains to the sea to observe life on a fishing boat. Documentary doesn’t seem nearly as definitive a term as it once did, not when films like this are technically under its umbrella. This is a non-fiction moving picture document, but it feels more like an avant-garde expression that Stan Brakhage would love. It’s not simply that there’s no narration or interviews. For the first few minutes, you have no idea what you’re even seeing in the screen: a dark frame with flashes of color along the bottom edge and a soundtrack of ocean swells, clanking chains, and diesel winches. It turns out these saturated color flashes is a matter of bright work lights catching the red slickers and yellow gloves of the men working the nets and machinery on a fishing vessel ship. Even as the camera slowly takes in more information, the woozy handheld long take still only offers up fragments and pieces, indistinct shapes and objects captured against the darkness. Then the camera catches the horizon and the blue of the dawn finds the border between the sea and the sky.

That’s the opening shot, which takes us to the fish catches, the workings below deck, and the men working the machines relentlessly. The abstraction of the shooting makes edits almost disappear and the image seem to keep moving on through the motion and momentum of the work and the camera. It’s immersive yet refuses to frame the experience. Instead of going from the big picture to the details, we work from impressions that build into the big picture. We don’t learn much about the business of deep sea fishing and trawling, but by the end we do have a unique sense of texture of the experience, and we get a film that is, quite simply a unique piece of work, with intense, vital images and an immersive soundtrack that surrounds and transports us. It could be a sixties avant-garde project, a real experience made at once immediate and abstracted. But it sure is beautiful. Plays for a week at NWFF.

The Uptown is shining through this weekend with a run of the documentary Room 237 (I reviewed it for Seattle Weekly), a lively engagement with five distinct and unusual takes on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, as well as a revival of The Shining itself for a five-day run. On Wednesday, April 10, you can see the film “Forwards and Backwards,” an experience inspired by one of the subjects of the documentary.


The Place Beyond the Pines reunites director Derek Cianfrance with actor Ryan Gosling, who plays a motorcycle stunt rider who becomes a getaway driver.

Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong, his follow-up to the killer tire movie Rubber, opens for a week at Grand Illusion. The film “embodies the kind of breezy absurdity that knocked around in the early 1970s, but it lacks anything that might give it weight: a little satirical edge, or maybe some anger,” writes Robert Horton for The Herald.

At SIFF Film Center, the new film Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean plays for three days over the weekend, with screenings of Rebel Without a Cause (on Friday, April 7, and on Sunday, April 7) and East of Eden (Saturday, April 6).

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