About Grant

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New York, NY, United States
Film director and screenwriter. Cinephile since birth. Director of DREAMS OF THE WAYWARD (2013). Film Studies MA student at Columbia University.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Film Review: David Fincher's "Gone Girl" (2014) 3.5/5

     It's been three years since David Fincher's brooding, wintery adaptation of Stieg Larson's novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011), and his latest film enters what may appear on the surface to be similar territory.  The menacing and chilling tone of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is replaced by a simmering atmosphere of unrest and Sweden is substituted for Missouri in Fincher's mechanical film Gone Girl (2014) - an adaptation of the novel penned by the book's author, Gillian Flynn.  
     Like a police procedural, the film unravels as information is revealed.  However, working against that is another thread to the story - the inner mechanisms of its protagonists.  Beginning with a point-of-view shot of the top of Amy Elliott-Dunne's (Rosamund Pike) head from her husband Nick Dunne's (Ben Affleck) perspective, the film is already introducing ideas of identity and motive.  One can never know exactly what another person is thinking, and its ideas like that which fuel this film.  Over the opening credits, we see all of the locations that we'll eventually encounter as the film progresses.  Right now, these locations are meaningless, but they're about to be given value as characters interact within them and clues to this mystery become attached to individual locations.  Starting with Nick Dunne leaving his home to go to a bar, simply called The Bar, we're already on edge as it is revealed in dialogue that it's Nick and Amy's anniversary and he's having a morning drink with the female bartender – who he seems to know pretty well.  The identity of the bartender becomes one of the first reveals of the film as the audience is essentially tested to look at a character from the outside and make assumptions - the bartender is not a romantic interest but is actually Nick Dunne's twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon).  Gone Girl is filled with these blurred lines within relationships, and no one is ever who they seem.  When Nick returns home from The Bar, he finds that his house has been broken into and he can't find his wife.  He calls the police, and the investigation into where his wife is (and what happened to her) begins.  Suspect number one: Nick Dunne.  As these kinds of cases go, the suspect is put under heavy scrutiny from the media and those within the Dunne's circle, and as Nick's secret personal life is exposed it fuels suspicions that he killed his wife and covered up the evidence.  Though we have no reason to think that Nick Dunne actually killed his wife, we're never totally sure.
     What makes these two interweaving elements (investigations and motivations) not entirely effective is the use of voice-over.  The film is structured in a non-linear fashion with Amy Elliott-Dunne's diary as a guide.  This diary is read aloud, primarily, throughout the first half of the film by Amy, which asks the question of why we are hearing from a dead girl.  She is not introduced as being dead (as in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950) where we are guided through a dead man's journey by himself), so it sets up an odd feeling as though she is speaking from beyond or is still among us.  This is setting in motion a reveal that could've been much more effective, even at the middle of the film (much like Hitchcock's 1958 film Vertigo).
     Further, there's a level of artifice that finds its way into many aspects of the film: a small example being, what's probably an aesthetic choice, to have pay phones used several times even though the film takes place in 2010.  Additionally, the performances are taut, and the dialogue is perfected to the point of sounding insincere at times - similar to Fincher's The Social Network (2010), but lacking Aaron Sorkin's touch.  All of these details of artificiality build toward the theme of Gone Girl - artificiality in people.  There may be obnoxious crane shots looking down at Amy reclined beside a swimming pool, but Amy is a highly artificial person, as nearly everyone in the film is revealed to be.  Even the casting of Gone Girl plays with audience assumptions as actors like Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris are all playing roles that disagree with the way viewers usually perceive them.  Nothing is as it seems on the surface.  Beyond casting and details within the mise-en-scène that express artifice, Gone Girl has an element that brings it close to many of his previous films in that the film appears to be one thing, but is actually something else.  Zodiac (2007) is essentially split into two parts - the first being a history of sorts, and the second half being a character study on obsession and failure.  Once the mystery has been solved in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the story keeps going but in a more personal direction.  Similarly, Gone Girl begins as a mystery but transforms into a film about being trapped in a bad marriage.
     Though this film is not as successful as Fincher's more recent work, it is a tightly wound film that usually unravels in dramatically satisfying ways.  It's a film that fits into today, where people wait outside of courtrooms to be in the same room as Casey Anthony, or where news correspondents jab at the way a suspect in a trial carries themselves.  Who are these people who end up in the spotlight?  Who is telling the truth?  These questions are on everyone's mind (as no one can truly know everything about someone), and those questions carry Gone Girl all the way to the end.

My rating: 3.5/5
IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2267998/

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Film Analysis: William Friedkin's "Cruising" (1980)

     Ten years after adapting The Boys In The Band (1970), Mart Crowley's play portraying the complexities of life for those who happen to be gay as seen from within the culture and from the outside, William Friedkin returned to that territory with a genre-defying slant.  Cruising (1980) is, on the surface, a police procedural murder-mystery of the serial killer variety, but it is much more than just a conventional genre picture.  Much more than a whodunnit, Cruising is a study of the parallels between violence and sexuality and an examination of masculinity as a man begins to lose himself in, what is essentially, a role.
     Beginning with part of a body being found in the Hudson River, Cruising expresses a dark reality where decaying bodies get found, examined, and there are no suspects.  As the opening sequences begin, we're introduced to police officers in the 6th precinct who rattle off remarks about the women in their lives and the gay club world around them that sound as though they could have been lifted from one of Travis Bickle's voice-overs in Taxi Driver (1976).  "One day, this whole city is gonna explode," says Officer DiSimone right before they stop two men in drag and force them to perform sexual favors.  While they two men in drag are in the squad car at the mercy of the corrupt lawmen, a killer is on the prowl.  Leather and chains squeak and jingle as a mysterious man enters a shady S&M club where he picks up an Al Pacino doppelgänger.  The mysterious leather-clad man proceeds to take the Pacino lookalike to a hotel where they have sex, and the mysterious man then stabs his boy-toy to death.  
     In Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (1967), a complex variation of the Kuleshov Effect is used to express an inner thought that a character has.  In "The Dawn Of Man" sequence at the beginning of 2001, one of the apes picks up a bone and uses it to smash the skull of a dead animal.  During this scene, Kubrick intercuts footage of a live animal falling to the ground as though it is being hit and places it after the image of the skull being hit.  The result of seeing the ape, seeing what he is actually hitting, and then seeing a live animal reacting as though it is being hit allows for the audience to infer that the ape is imagining using the bone to kill a live animal.  This similar visual idea is used to graphic effect in Cruising during the first on-screen murder in the hotel room.  As the knife enters the back of the Pacino lookalike, footage of unsimulated anal sex in extreme-closeup is intercut to express the idea that the violent act of killing the man is sexually stimulating to the perpetrator.
     Enter – more than fifteen minutes into the film – Officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino) who is hoping to go up in the ranks as fast as possible.  Edelson offers Burns the task of going undercover in the West Village gay S&M scene to attract the murderer who seems to have a taste for men "[in their] late twenties; hundred-forty, hundred-fifty pounds; dark hair; dark eyes."  With some reluctance, Burns takes Edelson's offer – Edelson's offer and the way he presented it to Burns seems to be the first test of Burns' sexuality and masculinity.  From the moment that he accepts Edelson's offer, Burns begins living a double-life that even his girlfriend (Karen Allen) isn't privy to.
     To defy genre is to consciously act against audience expectations.  As the film progresses, Cruising does just that.  It's a film uniquely sure of itself, in that it never falters or disrupts the tone that the first fifteen minutes of the film effectively establish – even though the audience doesn't have a protagonist to follow.  The first fifteen minutes make the threat of a serial killer seem authentic, and even though we've seen the killer's face, somehow Friedkin manages to trick the audience repeatedly with doppelgängers of heroes (if they can really be described as heroic) and villains.  Were Cruising in the hands of a different filmmaker, after Burns is given his assignment, he might have gone through a humorous S&M 101 class where he learns a thing or two about pretending to be gay and participating within the niche culture he is about to infiltrate.  Instead, we learn about Burns cover identity and the extent of his knowledge as he is given the opportunity to use it.  It is not to say that Cruising is a humorless film, as it has some incredibly well-done comical moments, it's that the humor is reflective of the tone of the film and consistent to its message.  That cohesiveness is reflected in an interrogation scene that briefly transforms into a torture sequence both comical and morally disturbing when a gigantic black man wearing only a cowboy hat and a jock strap walks into the room and slaps Burns so hard that he falls out of his chair and has a bruise on his face in the shape of the man's palm for the remainder of the film.  Within the context of the film, that particular moment of absurdist humor not only works on a comedic level, but as the scene continues it reveals the level of corruption within the police department – particularly when the gigantic black man enters the room a second time and hits the suspect.  Suddenly what was once funny (only a few minutes ago) is frightening (as it should be).
     Friedkin, as a filmmaker, is at the top of his form in this film that combines the moral decay and suspense of The French Connection (1971) with the haunting visual precision of The Exorcist (1973).  His approach to depicting the seedy culture of the S&M clubs is gung-ho in that nearly every sexual act imaginable is depicted in some way (albeit, often obstructed by a column or the shoulder of voyeuristic onlookers).  Regardless, it's a bold move for the year 1980 and is still thoroughly shocking today.  One of the elements that has maintained the provocative nature of these club scenes over the past thirty years is Friedkin's attraction to implicative imagery that sits on the borderline of erotic exploitation.  Where contemporary filmmakers like Gaspar Noe graphically depict S&M club activity with headache inducing camera movement and loud rumbling bass with a disregard for the MPAA in Irreversible (2002), it's Friedkin's traditional Hollywood approach to filming a scene that makes the imagery in Cruising shocking in a different way.  The filmmaking is honest as a camera seated on a tripod observes from Burns' point of view a man standing over another man who is reclining in a sex hammock.  Friedkin then cuts back to Burns in closeup (Pacino is staring with a cold expression), and then Friedkin cuts back to the man at the sex hammock – but instead of showing the events from a realistic vantage, Friedkin shows the reverse shot in an extreme closeup of the man's hand as he lathers it up with a lubricant.  Friedkin's static compositions express a different kind of reality compared to Gaspar Noe's handheld presentation of the S&M club called "The Rectum" in Irreversible, even though the same behaviors are being exhibited in both films.
     Less explicit, is the depiction of masculinity that reflects not only the homosexual club culture, but the workout culture spawned by the first two Rocky films (1976 & 1979).  Sure, there are bulges in pants and everything else that comes with leather bars, but there are several scenes that involve the curly-haired Pacino lifting weights (a very Stallone-like image) – this particular kind of scene begins after his first exposure to the S&M culture.  The importance and role of image in the kind of clubs that Friedkin portrays makes stereotypically masculine builds essential to Burns' success undercover – it's much more than just a change of wardrobe, it's a dedication to a culture that bares all.  
     Though Cruising is a film set within the gay S&M culture, it is first and foremost a thriller about a man who loses his identity and not as much a thriller about the actual pursuit of the perpetrator.  The shocking presentation of the culture is constantly borderline exploitation (as opposed to being truly exploitive), as the graphic content is intended to also have an effect upon Officer Burns in addition to the audience.  As Burns begins to get more sexually frustrated with his girlfriend, it's understandable that he is effected by what he has seen with his exposure and proximity to such explicit degrees of debauchery that are foreign to his own lifestyle.  Specifically after the interrogation sequence, Burns begins to question why he should continue his undercover operation.  From that point forward, Burns begins to truly get lost in his role as a homosexual S&M club frequenter.  By the time that Burns successfully lures the murderer, the event of actually stopping him is so quick that it may be disappointing for most audiences.  However, as the perpetrator heals from the knife wound that Burns inflicted upon him, corruption continues to permeate through the law as the murderer is given the opportunity to shorten his sentence if he claims to have committed similar crimes so that the police department can close a few extraneous cases.  Murders continue to happen, and Burns is back with his girlfriend – but he's a changed man, even though the landscape of the film appears unchanged.  The opening shot of a tugboat in the Hudson River is recreated, and the film cuts to black.  How Burns is changed is a bit ambiguous, but that's what the film is about.  It's not a film concerned with specifics (as the first fifteen minutes might want the audience to believe), Cruising is more concerned with the captivating atmosphere that creates double standards, double images, and double lives.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Getting "Under The Skin"

     Already being praised and compared to the likes of Stanley Kubrick's 1968 science fiction masterwork 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jonathan Glazer's third feature film Under The Skin (2014) is indeed a superb work, but a very different kind of experience.  Where as 2001 stands as a monolith within the film canon as a result of its grandeur and epic scale, Under The Skin might be more akin to Ingmar Bergman's groundbreaking Persona (1966) as an achievement in narrative filmmaking.  Defying conventional genre expectations (both visually and narratively), Glazer has made a film that - similar to Persona - doesn't give all the answers to its audience and challenges the viewer with recognizing that they're watching a film.  
     As the film opens, we see what may be a distant star approaching.  A light in a dark void shines towards the camera, and then a circular object - perhaps a planet - begins to obstruct the light.  Within the circular planet-like objects, the light appears to be refracting - are we watching a lens being formed on a camera or a film projector?  Eventually, several of these dark circles pass in front of the light source until the light has been fully blocked.  Scarlett Johansson's voice begins to gradually fade in from off screen as she begins to train her tongue to be familiar with speaking - presumably, for the first time.  Her sounds gradually begin to get more complex until the sounds finally form a word that resembles the sound of the word "film".  Having the word "film" as the first official spoken word within the movie asks the audience to be aware of the filmic nature of Under The Skin from the very beginning as vaguely discernible images that could be galaxies, camera lenses, or a human eye transform and fluctuate during the course of the first three minutes.  Eventually the image becomes something truly definitive - a human eye in extreme close-up.  
     Within the mind's eye, galaxies can be seen, and with the Kino Eye life can be observed and preserved in cinema.  Soviet documentary filmmaker and cinema pioneer Dziga Vertov coined the term "Kino-glaz" or "Cine Eye" to express man's connection with the motion picture camera.  The concept of the Kino Eye flows throughout this film as an outsider, Scarlett Johansson's unnamed character, tries to make her way through an unfamiliar landscape.  At one point in Under The Skin, the narrative seems to vanish as the film begins to focus on real people in the streets of Scotland for several minutes before cutting to a close-up of an eye and eventually overlapping all of the documentary-like footage that was just shown over an image of Johansson driving to express that we (the audience) were seeing the world through Johansson's eyes (or the filmmaker's).  
     Furthering the idea of the Kino Eye in Under The Skin is a sense of verisimilitude throughout the course of the film.  With the exception of the highly controlled opening scenes and the more abstract sequences that occur sporadically throughout the course of the film, the camera is generally hand-held giving a cinéma-vérité air to the subjects on screen.  Simply by using uninterrupted long-takes in real locations, the synthesis of editing and cinematography makes the film feel as though it is actually happening.  In the vein of an Abbas Kiarostami film like Taste of Cherry (1996), much of the film takes place within the confines of a car observing an often silent protagonist.  Reminiscent of the traffic sequence in Andrei Tarkovsky's science fiction epic Solaris (1972), the camera looks forward at the real world and captures all of its lackluster flaws that differ from the pre-conceived notion of what a sci-fi film should be.  While driving through Scotland, Johansson tries to coerce willing men into her vehicle so that she may trap them in her web of sex and lies.  That we are in Scotland at all isn't fully apparent until the cast of non-actors begin speaking - their accents express the local patterns of speech, and Johansson takes it all in with ulterior motives.  
     The moments of abstraction, specifically Glazer's highly stylized depiction of Johansson capturing her seduced prey is stunning.  Photographed in precise dolly movements against a solid black backdrop, the men follow after Johansson leaving a trail of clothes behind them but gradually find that they are sinking into a black liquid in the floor.  These sequences occasionally resemble the body studies that the early cinema pioneer Eadweard Muybridge conducted in the late 1800s which observed people walking and doing normal activities while being photographed at high frame rates to create the illusion of motion ("motion pictures").  Similar to Muybridge's body studies, Glazer photographs Johansson and her prey in a full-body wide in profile as she walks seductively in reverse as the seduced slowly wade into a mysterious black liquid until they are completely submerged.
     Adding to the ambiguity and mystery of this film on a narrative level is the concept of duality.  Within the first ten minutes of Under The Skin, there is a scene that depicts Scarlett Johansson standing beside another version of herself against a blinding white backdrop (a stark contrast to the pitch black aesthetic of the seduction sequences).  Like something out of Persona, the line between who is who is unclear as one of the Johanssons appears to be dead, yet in a Cries And Whispers-esque moment a tear rolls down the cheek of the "lifeless" Johansson after it has been undressed and the two have officially switched places.  Something is amiss with the Johansson character from the beginning, but Glazer doesn't allow for the audience to be privy to the reason why or her true function in a traditional narrative sense.  Instead, the film becomes more about human empathy - which comes quite naturally as the film is so grounded in the real world.  
     Exploring the nature of the human soul and the place that love has within sexual relations is a key theme, and Under The Skin is a much more theme-driven film than plot-driven.  The plot is never addressed - there is no "call to adventure".  We do, however, experience change within the soul of our protagonist as she discovers her own nature and the nature of those around her.
     Under The Skin is not a traditional science fiction film, but it asks big questions that bring the film to the heart of the genre that it stylistically rebels against.  To propel those big questions, the film is aware of its own cinematic nature and uses that knowledge to great effect to turn the lens onto the audience as we are asked to fill in the blanks and make meaning of the content on screen.  Though Under The Skin lacks the monumental surface of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Tarkovsky's Solaris, it is an important contemporary work as it challenges the conventions of narrative form and the boundaries of cinematic aesthetic.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Faithful Adaptation: Pasolini's "The Gospel According To St. Matthew" (1964)

Pier Paolo Pasolini was an atheist and a homosexual, but – most importantly – he was also a filmmaker.  Narratively, his work often dealt sympathetically with debauchers and lower-class Italian citizens trying to make the best of life, something demonstrated in his 1962 film Mamma Roma which follows a mother who desires to take care of her teenage son by leaving her life of prostitution behind even though it may not be possible.  He had a knack for recognizing why people push themselves into such difficult and immoral lifestyles, and his films often made the unheroic and despicable people in society heroes while vilifying the aristocrats and individuals that would generally make for more traditional film protagonists.  Identifying and associating himself with social outcasts in real life and within his films was not always a popular choice, in the same way that Jesus’ championing of social outcasts by associating with tax collectors and harlots was reproachful during his ministry.  Perhaps that, in a more external sense, is why such an honest depiction of the life of Christ could be made by a non-Christian.  Taking on the book of Matthew – the first of the four Gospels in the New Testament of the Bible – Pasolini respectfully brings the text to life in his film The Gospel According To St. Matthew (1964), artfully follows the scripture to an astonishing level of exactitude, and yet manages to make it a true adaptation.
Though it is not exactly clear who physically authored the book of Matthew (from the title alone, it is often believed to be the apostle Matthew’s account of the life of Christ), with it being the Bible, all of the text was God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).  The detached language used to tell the story of the Messiah reads more as a strictly historical document with little to no signs of a writer’s voice (compared to, for example, the epistles of Paul).  Suggesting that it was, in fact, written by the apostle Matthew could have possibly played a role in Pasolini’s selection of which book of the Gospels to utilize as the source material for his film.  Matthew was a tax collector – an outsider because of the level of greed inherent with the job and his proximity to the Roman Empire.  
The book of Matthew, in comparison to the other two books of the Gospel that comprise the synoptics (John, the fourth book of the Gospels, is excluded from this sub-category), is the least miraculous of the three.  “Basically, Matthew is the most earthly of all the evangelists,” Declared Pasolini (Stack 94).  By excluding the manger scene (fantastically documented in the book of Luke) containing the birth of Jesus, Pasolini’s point is proven from the very beginning of the book.  Instead, the book of Matthew begins with a lineage leading up to Jesus’ earthly father Joseph.  Joseph, for Pasolini, would be the ultimate symbol of humanity as he did not actually partake in the conception of Christ and is really just a witness to something unexplainable – something that Pasolini himself doesn’t believe to have happened.   Matthew then skips straight to when Jesus is visited by the Magi from the east.  The first of three key scenes in The Gospel According To St. Matthew closely follows the arrival of the Magi: the slaughter of the children.  In other films about Jesus, the sound of Bethlehem being raided by King Herod’s men might be heard in the background, but instead Pasolini chooses to show women with babies being knocked over and trampled as children get torn from their arms and hacked to pieces.  Though it is only three brief verses in Matthew chapter 2, Pasolini makes the chaotic scene over two minutes long set to the devilish score from Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky (1938).  A similar moment, and the second key scene in Pasolini’s adaptation, observes Salome as she dances for the approval of King Herod II.  This is another area where Pasolini chooses to dwell on the darker and more perverse elements of the book of Matthew, as he focuses on Salome for four minutes of screen time.  Upon pleasing Herod II with her dance, Salome demands the beheading of John the Baptist.  The scene, as long as it is in the film, is quite brief in the scripture, but it adds to the tension and animosity from the Roman authority towards Jesus and his supporters.  Finally, at the conclusion of the book of Matthew (Matthew 28), Jesus meets his remaining eleven disciples and delivers the great commission but does not ascend into Heaven (it’s not written that he doesn’t, the book just happens to end before he does).  It is not so much that Pasolini actively tried to depict the Biblical events as Matthew documented it (which he did), but that Matthew’s account of the ministry of Christ was most within Pasolini’s realm of expertise.  Christ’s resurrection alone is a miraculous event, and it was probably advantageous to Pasolini that he doesn’t ascend to Heaven at the conclusion of the book as his presence amongst his disciples expresses the continuation of a ministry – as lead by a revolutionary Christ.  The pageantry of Christ’s ascension would have defied Pasolini’s vision completely for the film.  In The Gospel According To St. Matthew, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is about the closest to a theatrical religious moment as the camera pulls out from Jesus giving a near bird’s eye view of everyone witnessing the Holy Spirit as it descends upon Jesus like a dove.  The theatricality of that moment is in the text, so it is implied that it must be a grandiose moment.  In the more grounded selections of Matthew, Pasolini’s decision to use the actual scripture as it was written as the source of dialogue is dramatically strengthened by his understanding of tone and atmosphere as he brings the audience to the reality of Christ’s existence.
The opening shot from The Gospel According To St. Matthew.
The Gospel According To St. Matthew is a rare submission in the Biblical film canon as it does not glamorize or romanticize Jesus’ life or suffering – rather, it grounds him in the same way that the book of Matthew does.  Yes, Jesus performed miracles and was the son of God, but he was also a man living in a very real world.  Pasolini took it upon himself to make Jesus a tangible figure, so he cast a Spanish non-actor named Enrique Irazoqui to portray the son of God – a normal looking man with a unibrow.  Similarly, Pasolini chose to shoot the film in his native Italian and physically shoot the film in Italy; a decision that helped keep the budget low as casting would be simplified and the remains of the Roman Empire were within his reach.  Concerning Matthew’s account of Christ’s ministry, Pasolini stated, “he is the most revolutionary; he is nearest to the real problems of an historical epoch.” (Stack 95)  This revolutionary approach to Christ’s ministry is most strongly characterized in The Gospel According To St. Matthew during the Sermon of the Mount sequence in which Pasolini shows Jesus for three straight chapters (Matthew 5-7) delivering words of wisdom exactly as it is written in the Bible.  Each topic, as divided in the scripture, gets its own shot that begins as a medium and then dollies in on Jesus’ face as he speaks to his disciples who are unseen.  The effect that the dolly movement has upon Jesus as an entity on screen is tremendous as it gives momentum and power to his words, and makes for what could be a rather lengthy scene a more vignette-like declaration of the principals of living Christ-like.  That we never actually see the disciples that he is teaching on screen during the Sermon of The Mount, it is as though he is preaching to the audience – which is radical in its own right as the film is suddenly serving the same function as the Gospel rather than simply depicting or dramatizing the events from the written Word.
Pasolini setting up a shot.
Expounding upon the idea that the book of Matthew is “revolutionary”, Pasolini also stated that, “nobody in Italy reads the Gospel, really nobody.” (Stack 79)  This is where Pasolini’s interpretation and presentation of the material in the Bible really becomes a point of discussion.  Having the dialogue in Italian, the locations set in Italy (not only near the remains of ancient Rome, but within reach of the Vatican), and knowing that the filmmaker is a non-believer all become relevant topics of discussion when dissecting The Gospel According To St. Matthew.  Speaking about his approach to the source material, Pasolini candidly stated, “I wanted to do the story of Christ plus two thousand years of Christian translation, because it is two thousand years of Christian history which have mythicized this biography.” (Stack 83)  The translation that Pasolini is referring to is reflected in the opening shot of the film – a close up of Mary as she looks somberly forward.  Behind her head is an arched stone structure that alludes to the form of a nimbus as she may have been presented in Italian paintings like Cimabue’s “Madonna and Child Enthroned”.  Additionally, throughout the film he depicts things as they were interpreted in paintings from the renaissance, specifically the Roman soldier uniforms.  Rather than having the Roman soldiers wear the traditional shiny armor and feathered helmets, Pasolini has them clothed in medieval suits of armor with kettle helmets similar to the way that Juan de Flandes would have depicted them in his painting “Crucifixion”.  Not only does he tap into art from hundreds of years earlier, but Pasolini also utilizes contemporary music to express the contemporary element of Christ’s ministry.  The song “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” (as performed by Odetta Holmes in 1960) is a reoccurring motif throughout the film that makes Jesus more than a figure from two thousand years ago, but a part of the present as well.
       Though Pasolini was not a Christian, his attention to detail and respect for the source material is strongly demonstrated in his masterful film The Gospel According To St. Matthew.  Using the medium of filmmaking (a synthesis of both written and visual arts), Pasolini was able to portray the ancient Biblical account of Christ’s ministry from the book of Matthew in a way that held true to his own standards and principals as an artist by depicting Christ’s life as he would depict anything else: honestly.  Even beyond Pasolini’s realistic approach to the sacred text, he still managed to express his voice as an artist through his interpretation of the book of Matthew in both a visual and dialogue driven manner.  Pier Paolo Pasolini’s visual flourishes (or lack of them) and idiosyncrasies as a filmmaker make his adaptation of Matthew a true companion piece to the Gospel as it does not merely dramatize the events in the text, but manages to repurpose the text through filmic language to feel as though it is happening in the moment, which can stir up the Spirit in viewers and encourage in the same way that the Bible does for those who read it.

Stack, Oswald. Pasolini. London: Indiana UP, 1969. Print.