Tuesday, November 07, 2017

we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars

Todd Haynes has now directed 7 period features and Mildred Pierce (2011), thus maintaining my assertion that he is the only filmmaker who hasn't set any of his work in the present.

Wonderstruck (2017, Todd Haynes) is a PG rated period YA mystery that plays out concurrently through 2 separate narratives.

The first narrative takes place in Gunflint, MI beginning in 1977 and centers on BEN (Oakes Fegley), a boy in search of answers about his family; while the second starts in Hoboken, NJ in 1927 featuring ROSE (Millicent Simmonds) and her voyage to find out more about her family.

Wonderstruck is the first time Haynes has directed someone else's script. And while it may not feel entirely like a Todd Haynes film, it is entrenched in his personal style. Rose's story is filmed by Ed Lachman in black and white (Eastman Double-X 5222) and Millicent Simmonds steals the movie. (I didn't even know they still manufactured black and white film anymore.) Rose's film-within-a-film is my favorite part. It's legitimately a silent movie. And it's important to consider the time it takes place, 1927; the year The Jazz Singer was released by Warners; the first year of sound movies. The silent movie is also (along with the rest of the film) superbly scored by Carter Burwell and remains true to the era, complete with emotional underscoring and stingers supplied by an organ. It's as fun and moving as the black and white B-movie aesthetic Haynes went all out in recreating in the "Horror" thread from Poison (1991, Haynes). And it has Juliane Moore.

Wonderstruck feels slight at times, but as the mystery is revealed there is a device that goes all the way back to Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988, Haynes) that is used to tie everything together, which made me realize just how intricate and subtle Todd Haynes, who graduated in semiotics from Brown, carefully crafted this sweet, beautiful, innocent film that happens to be his most mature work to date.

With all the dark, arty, ugly, sensual, violent elements I typically enjoy in cinema, Wonderstruck has instantly become vital to me as an instance of possessing all of the complexity, angst, and familial turmoil, with impactful images and sound that I would never have expected to find in a kids movie.

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