Sound On Sight Radio #151 – Kathryn Bigelow

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Hailed as one of the preeminent stylists of contemporary Hollywood filmmaking, Kathryn Bigelow was often too easily pigeonholed as a female director with a flair for traditionally masculine movies. After making an unusual entrance to cinema by way of the art world, Bigelow put her distinctive stamp on standard genre films like the Western-twinged vampire flick, Near Dark and the feminist-themed cop thriller, Blue Steel.

Today we will focus on three of her films; her financially successful surfer bank heist picture, Point Break which allowed, Bigelow to enjoy a newfound status as a mainstream director. Second we take a look at her so called most challenging film, the futuristic Strange Days and finally her most recent movie, The Hurt Locker, an Iraq war drama as seen through the eyes of members from the Army’s elite Explosive Disposal unit. Gaining rave reviews from critics world wide she has returned to the spotlight of Hollywood directors and today Sound On Sight spotlights a portion of her career.

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  1. Novi Filmovi says

    Film picture some vision of futurity. The world is turning into a big party. Strange Days is one of my favorite films. It have some magic. Ralph Fiennes was great on the role of Lenny Nero.

  2. […] Listen to our review of The Hurt Locker from podcast #151 […]

  3. martin_j says

    no worries. I rattled that out during an especially boring coffee break. Evidently, without bothering to think about the mess I was making, or what it might say about my caffeine intake. I could just lean on some line to the effect of ‘it’s a sign of a great movie when…’ as an excuse for all of that self-indulgent, diarrhea-like commentary. As far as the original show though, great reviews once again (probably could have used a bit more props to gary busey in the point break segment though, that man has created some unforgettable characters).

  4. martin_j says

    I’ve got to agree with Ricky on the The Hurt Locker ending, although it is a bit of a close call – I do like the moment we find James in the supermarket, largely because the abruptness of the cut almost (not quite, but almost) works similarly to the classic cut in The Deer Hunter, when Cimino shuttles us from the scene in the Clairton bar to the napalming of a Vietnamese village. But of course, Bigelow reverses the order of significance.
    Flushing this out would be too exhausting, but suffice it to say that the way Cimino’s cut makes Michael’s role in the war a deeply ambiguous one, and connects this ambiguity (which is palpable in the film’s famous, and hotly debated ending) to ambiguities that are more or less inherent in Michael, as a character, are roughly comparable to the way Bigelow’s cut makes James’ role as a family man (and more generally, as a friend and father) very ambiguous and problematic, and connects this with ambiguities inherent in James’ character when he is in the war-zone (ambiguities as to, for example, what to make of his recklessness and ‘addiction,’ which by the film’s end can’t be straightforwardly elevated to any moral high-ground – again, much like Michael’s commitments in Deer Hunter). Both characters also, incidentally, share the same kind of arc, which hinges on realizing that the cowboy routine has its limits, defined by consequences that are entirely outside of that character’s control (there are three clear instances of this point in The Hurt Locker, which each make a distinct point regarding this theme).

    I do agree that the sequence after the supermarket, when we follow James back to his home with his child and (ex?)wife, is too heavy-handed and should probably have been cut. But I think it might have actually worked had the scene at the supermarket been done in a way that would move James abruptly, directly from the checkout line back to Iraq (‘checking out’ of his home-life), giving the feel that the brief cut to the homefront is for him on the level of a kind of otherworldly flash — which is how the war is made to look in Deer Hunter. This would make the point that, whereas in the 70s Vietnam was portrayed in hollywood as a reality so nightmarish it could only feel to soldiers like a movie, in the 2000s Iraq is a reality so palpable that it makes the life we live at home look unreal, ie, a product of the movies.

    1. Ricky says

      OK I need to defend why I don`t like the end of the film. As I said on the show, I felt I already had a clear understanding of the character and his family from the first two hours watching him on his missions, hearing his stories of his life back home and watching how he interacts with other people. Mariko mentioned on the show that the only thing he is good at or knows how to be good is his job disarming bombs. That may be what he thinks but he has a greater quality. He has people skills and shows a great amount of affection for those around him, be it the man with a bomb strapped around his torso, the bootleg DVD selling kid called Beckham and his colleagues. I understand why Bigelow included it in the film. I just personally don`t like the idea that it breaks the flow of the film for something I already understood. Also I think he is too strong of a person, too smart and cleary loves people so much that I think his decision to leave his family is a bit more complicated than feeling like he is of no use to them because he can`t pick out cereal. This man loves people. He shows more compassion than anyone else in the film and he clearly loves his child. I am not sure about his relationship with his wife but he loves his child. So I have an extended ten minute scene that reinforces what I already know about him but also draws a lot of unanswered questions about his home life which wasn`t a part of the first two hours.

      1. martin_j says

        um, yeah, I was, and am, agreeing with your points over the ending, so there was no need to defend them or anything. And I didn’t mean to suggest – nor do I think that I actually did suggest at all – that the James character is not a loving father or a compassionate person (neither did I suggest that Michael in Deer Hunter is a bad person — he does everything in his power to save the people close to him so it would be a pretty hard point to argue). My point was only that maybe more could have been brought out of the supermarket scene had it been framed a bit differently in relation to what precedes it, and had the scene at his house been dropped entirely.

        This was only an idea, and was based on other themes more closely related to the previous two hours and tied to James’ characterization, themes that could have been played into in the supermarket had that scene been chopped down (maybe even made in a way that we can’t tell for sure if it isn’t just James just imagining himself back home — again, just an idea, and probably a bad one at that).

        For what it’s worth, my impression was that James, as a character, has remarkable depth given how little background we get — specifically, that while he comes off as a compassionate, loving person, he also is faced repeatedly with situations in which the consequences of his actions radically exceed those things that he himself can control. His ability to control outcomes is, I think, one of the major themes of the film (and the point of comparison with Deer Hunter), and, while it can be argued against very effectively, I do think that this is a spot where his character experiences some kind of growth, or arc, from where we find him at the beginning, to where he ends up.

        Namely, by making his last bomb (or last two) a kind of ‘living’ bomb, I think that he experiences more viscerally how personal his job really is, and that it is not something that is so completely at odds with any personal life back home, as we might have been led to believe.

        (in fact, one of the things that made me agree most strongly with you in the end was was that the kid who sells him dvds serves in the film like a kind of stand-in reminding us, and him, of his son back home, and to then show his son in the film kind of ruins this effect). Also there are the repeated declarations that the last guy he tries to help is a ‘good man,’ ‘a family man,’ ‘with two kids.’ And so in a way his commitments to his job (and not, by comparison, his failed attempt to go vigilante) end up being very closely tied into the family, even if it isn’t his own (I wouldn’t want to go too far overboard in this line of interpretation).

        I don’t think all that the first of the last two scenes (and only the first) can say is that he finds he is no use to his family, much less that picking out cereal reflects anything about his character or his motivations. Paying close attention, there is nothing about his picking out cereal there that I find to be at all different from the average father, really. He buys groceries just fine, even if he looks tired, maybe even detached, doing it. Of course, whether or not the scene succeeds in saying anything else is anyone’s argument.

        In the end I only suggested that maybe it could have been taken in a different direction, but that it didn’t go in that direction in the final cut. But if the scene is just there to tell us he feels out of place, or out of step, at home compared with his clearly vital and expert role in the warzone, then yes I agree hands down it is unnecessary.

        My speculation about the supermarket part and that part alone, was only that the supermarket scene could have been used instead to show that his role as a caring father is not something that is tied to a particular space he has to be in physically — that he is not going to be all that fundamentally different as a person if we were to follow him home (– and the supermarket is, as I thought the cereal aisle was meant to show, ironically a very impersonal space anyways, which makes the previous parts of the film, shot in a very realist style, look that much more personal from James’ perspective). When he goes back to his house this effect is kind of ruined.

        The film is definitely rewarding either way, and even though I did a shitty job trying to contribute to the discussion, I thought I was, at least generally, agreeing with your points, and not at all contesting them. The internet is full of senseless bickering about films as it is, and bickering was not at all what I was aiming at. My apologies if it came off that way.

        1. Ricky says

          Sorry Martin,

          That wasn’t directed to you in any way.

          1. Ricky says

            but thank you anyhow for the feedback. I feel bad that you had to type so much….

  5. Tim says

    I dont think you can call Point Break a cult film. It made $83 million world wide in the box office. And it’s not a guilty pleasure, it’s a great movie!

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