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tom moody

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Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow: A Great "Problematizing" American Movie Director
(Near Dark, Strange Days, K-19: The Widowmaker)

1. Her IMDb bio: "A very talented painter, Kathryn spent two years at the San Francisco Art Institute. At 20, she won a scholarship to the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program. She was given a studio in a former Offtrack Betting building, literally in a vault, where she made art and waited to be criticized by people like Richard Serra, Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Sontag. She later graduated from Columbia's Film School. She was also a member of the British avant-garde cultural group, Art and Language. Kathryn is the only child of the manager of a paint factory and a librarian."

2. Excellent article on K-19: The Widowmaker. In a nutshell, this is the true story of the maiden voyage of the USSR's first nuclear sub with missile launching capability, in the early 60s. The reactor sprang a leak and the ship almost exploded--World War III narrowly avoided. The captain and crew were heroes for saving the ship but Russia hushed it up till the end of the Cold War.

Excellent movie, beautifully, kinetically filmed, as with all of Bigelow's work. Not a big commercial hit, and how could it be? Aside from the presence of bankable stars Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson (the latter way better than the wooden former), it's contrary to every Hollywood formula and enfatuation. All male cast--no submariners' wives back home, crying and clutching hankies. Female director, like, there's about two of those, and as the article above discusses, this was entirely Bigelow's project. She went to Russia, did the research. Doomed ship: People die horrible, pointless deaths because of bureaucratic stupidity. Russian subject matter: the US Navy lent very little assistance, like they do for Top Gun and all that crap, because it wasn't about the great American military.

We've seen a lot of K-19's moves in Das Boot--the "other side of the war," men on boat undermined by civilian leadership back home. The latter very relevant now with our troops getting chewed up in Iraq because of bad leadership by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith. What's unique and very Soviet is the nuclear theme, with its resonance to Chernobyl--the possibility of death and disfiguration from unseen radiation, caused by the negligence of your own side, is much creepier than just running around evading Allied depth charges.

I read somewhere that women, in polls, say they hate movies like Crimson Tide where two men butt heads to see who has the greater authority. Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman basically bicker throughout that entire dreadful film. "Mutiny" is a subplot of K-19, too, but it plays out in a less expected, more anticlimactic way.

When I first saw the work of painter Kara Hammond, she was drawing Precisionist style graphite drawings of old Russian satellites and spaceships. The "other" of Soviet tech piques a fascination of American artists who are forcefed images of our own wonderful gear. K-19 is a (cinematically centripetal, ever-changing) museum of old Russian tech. See paragraph one about Bigelow's background. More needs to be written about the artistic subversives running silent and deep within the Hollywood system.

Bigelow with Stars

Image from IMDb. One quibble, and another big reason for the film's lack of box office buzz: the title. "K-19: The Widowmaker" sounds like a combo of some scientifically formulated dog food and a lethal bar drink.


- tom moody 2-05-2006 10:40 pm [link] [4 comments]