From the canvas to the cinema.
David Liu | 22 November 2013
Lynching Tree (Steve McQueen, 2013; light box with color transparency)
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
With more panache than most contemporary feature filmmakers, McQueen abstracts the passage of time through carefully distilled images of historical and human extremities. Prepared as a companion piece to his stunning 12 Years a Slave, Lynching Tree currently inhabits the Schaulager art space in Basel, Switzerland and was featured as a stylized backdrop in Kanye West’s performance of “Blood on the Leaves” at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.
McQueen first came upon the tree while on a scouting trip for the film in New Orleans. In a conversation with a local landowner, he learned that the indentation marks in the soil underneath the tree indicated a burial site — a grim monument to a nation’s unenlightened past.
Ron Howard’s Rush
David Liu | 3 October 2013
Ron Howard’s best films generate exhilaration out of unlikely real-world scenarios, and like 2008’s Frost/Nixon before it, Rush unfolds as a never-less-than-riveting portrait of dueling personalities. In its depiction of the rivalry between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One season, Rush establishes itself as the Amadeus of racing movies, a vigorous ode to human competition and spectacle.
The dichotomy here is obvious: Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is a charismatic British playboy who vomits before races, and Lauda (Daniel Brühl) is a moody perfectionist who hails from a wealthy Austrian family. After the latter wins the World Championship in 1975, Hunt emerges as the biggest obstacle in Lauda’s quest for a repeat title. As the film navigates us through the major races of the 1976 season, Peter Morgan’s script juxtaposes the thrill of individual rivalries with intimate glimpses of the participants’ essential flaws: Hunt the womanizer and substance abuser, Lauda the lonely, obsessive careerist.
Despite the narrative’s cursory treatment of machismo, Rush genuinely delivers in the sensory department. As Hunt and Lauda’s ambitions intersect on the track, Howard and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle treat us to some of cinema’s most astonishing racing sequences, as visceral and accomplished in their own right as Jake La Motta’s boxing conquests in Raging Bull. Shooting on location at renowned tracks like Germany’s Nürburgring Nordschleife, the filmmakers balance historical verisimilitude with technical wizardry. The drivers’ life-or-death devotion to their profession is reflected in impossible close-ups, quick pans and virtuosic montages — elemental symphonies of movement and sound.