320 Great Directors: Jonathan Glazer

“The reality of photographing something that exists is completely different, in terms of emotional reaction, from a CGI sequence. You have to photograph the soul of something, you have to have it in front of you.”

Why This Director?: I wanted to talk about his latest film while catching up on the old, even if I generally wanted to avoid small filmographies (sorry Julie Dash).

My Last Experience Was…: His latest, but I needed to rewatch it.

What Did I Watch: Sexy Beast, Birth, and an Under the Skin rewatch.

Where Does He Fit: Let’s get right into the biggest noteworthy thing about Sexy Beast in the shape of Ben Kingsley’s Oscar nominated performance, which was nominated for an Oscar and probably should have won (although I have a few nominees to see). He claims to have based it on his abusive and deranged grandmother, which is pretty hilarious even if one has to feel sorry for him being saddled with such a lunatic. His Don Logan is a monster that devours everything in his path, a rampaging pure id that makes this standard little heist film pop and crackle with life while simultaneously smothering it. This makes him sound cliched, and he is not, but I certainly did not expect Sexy Beast to open with a shot that strongly recalls the beginning of Under the Skin by looking straight into the sun before we see Ray Winstone cooking like a lump of meat, enjoying his lovely life with his porn star wife and incompetent son. And that’s pretty much the mode for about an hour of the ninety minute movie, with the snarling sociopath sitting in one spot, spitting out curses to get him back on the job despite pulling off his “last job” already and having a happy retirement post-prison. It turns out that the first sixty minutes are mocking that particular cliche, while the last half hour of the heist itself goes for homoeroticism mocking. Much less successful, but still potent.

Where Sexy Beast was merely a promising if not exactly groundbreaking debut (mostly because of how silly it all starts to get once Kingsley is out of the way), Birth casually astounds thanks to Nicole Kidman getting to crib notes from no less than Marie Falconetti in the famous opera scene, with Anne Heche giving incredible support in a revelation that made me audibly gasp in how twisted it was. But the real stars are Alexandre Desplat on scoring duty and Glazer’s direction. He might give in to pure cinema or De Palma type “let’s make a setpiece” impulses often, but they intoxicate and say so much that I do not care. The thundering bass when it turns out just what was in that package, the final descent into the waters, and above all the many emotions that flit across Kidman’s face in countless moments. So many of the decade’s greatest achievements are wrapped up in this, and it says so much about class just by a single line acknowledging that the primary family has a lot of money, as their apartment and Lauren Bacall’s rich bitch work as Anna’s domineering mother would indicate. This is cinema, and it is the movie that foreshadowed ScarJo’s woman who fell to Earth.

My rewatch of Under the Skin only confirmed it as the movie that is one of the very best of the 2010s so far (and certainly the film most of its time while simultaneously feeling timeless), an unstoppable force of something that is simultaneously heavily steeped in narrative while fully embracing the avant garde in how it depicts the woman and her black room. Mica Levi’s score and Scarlett Johansson’s deliciously blank vessel of a performance are doing plenty on their own, but it is the shots of people being utterly terrifying that really takes hold, ranging from swimmers on a rocky shore to the women who do some dragging to a party for our poor unwilling participant. The fully abstract moments can be comprehended fairly neatly, yes, but that man on that motorbike is a pest, confounding everything we slowly realize with his final blank reaction shot and abuse of someone who may or may not be the Elephant Man stumbling across a field (it probably is, though). It’s as delicious as cake, but with something hidden inside of it that makes you gag. There’s an abstract sense of a genuinely horrible feeling looming about in everything from the 2001 homage to the ant on the nail as the dead woman cries…and that is precisely because of what we see.

And here is a tribute video.

Most Valuable Asset: He always manages to get one astounding performance.
Most Excited For: When is his next one coming out?

Coming Up Next: Maker of French epics Arnaud Desplechin.

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