Top of the Heap, from 1972, centers on a black D.C. cop who’s frustrated with his job, but this is no run-of-the-mill seventies crime film. First-time director and star Christopher St. John creates a fascinating, volatile blend of police melodrama, Afrofuturism, counterculture satire, and sheer cri de coeur.
"You participate in the narration of the film with the light, with the ambience, with the climat of the image. So, the image is not only a technical performance, it is part of the storytelling, it participates in the narration. And that is the deepest definition, I think, for cinematography."
One of the key questions of filmmaking is the distance between camera and subject, or character. Do you remember any Rembrandt pictures? The question is not about composition and lighting. Why Rembrandt is crucial for art is because he’s choosing the right scale.
This may be the most touching moment in the film, but perhaps the saddest occurs through an earlier loss, the beginning of this absence—the moment we realize Dah’s voiceover has stopped, and is no longer phasing in and out of our experience of the film.
What grounds Soderbergh’s pop pastiche, I think, is that a revenge thriller is basically about a character’s desire for historical correction—an honor killing that rewrites the record. For the director, of course, that’s also a matter of carving up his influences.
I always find a bit dismaying those moments in globetrotting documentaries when it’s giddily revealed that, centuries of local culture notwithstanding, the kids in these far-flung locales actually just live for Top 40 hip-hop.
The humane accomplishments of the film, widely praised, do not need much defending, but I think it’s been insufficiently expressed how closely the experience of the film comes wrapped with a dissatisfaction belied by this mood of critical exultation.
Mona Lisa’s story, and its strength, lies in how this relationship develops, but that’s easier said than actually described, because Jordan’s skill lies in taking simple templates and letting loose the forces of genre, class, and gender that shape character, feeling, need.
Disney, however, was no father of mine when it came to Snow White. I have no formative story about snuggling up to the glow of the TV with my coloring pencils or absently humping a couch arm whenever the Queen appeared. (“It was not till years later that I realized…”)
How better to make a movie on love, trust, and desire than by example? Yet Tropical Malady’s plunge into the jungle asks us to set aside our own narrative desire for the romance between the two young men to work out on its slow but sure naturalistic path.