Quandt on Ozu

One of the best writers on film today, James Quandt, hasn’t authored any book-length studies I’m aware of–although he has edited several definitive compilations–and one of my dreams is that he’ll manage to compile his own writing into such a book someday soon. As the Senior Programmer for the CinÈmathËque Ontario, one can catch his fleeting essays on their website from time to time, but there doesn’t seem to be any archive for preserving this writing for posterity.

It’s a shame, because Quandt’s ability to balance a love of poetic language with precise and knowledgeable description makes him a consistently enjoyable read, as can be seen in his latest essay posted in conjunction with the CinÈmathËque’s Yasujiro Ozu retrospective:

The scrim of reverence that has enshrouded certain directors, particularly those considered spiritual or visionary–Dreyer, Bresson, Tarkovsky, Brakhage are obvious examples–has veiled or obscured many aspects of their work. Political, sexual, or psychological readings of their films have been regarded as tantamount to blasphemy, a besmirchment or distortion of pure and inviolable texts. So too Ozu, venerated as a “transcendental” artist, whose international fame has long rested on a half dozen of his (mostly late) films: muted, minimalist home dramas, esteemed for their “eternal verities” about family, death, transience, tradition; for their poignancy, Zen serenity and quiet sense of resignation–subsumed in the concept of mono no aware or “sensitivity to things”; and for their delicacy, restraint, and formal rigour.

Itís pointless to deny these qualities in Ozuís work or that the late films are sublimeñ-atmospherically, with their limpid, summery calm; formally, with their low-slung, symmetrical and stationary compositions, cut straight and punctuated by gorgeously extraneous “pillow shots” or disorienting ellipses; and emotionally, with their roiling undercurrents of disappointment and smiling despair. But their decorous sense of dissolution has too often been mistaken for Zen transcendentalism and probity, and in the process much of what comprises the Ozu universe has been ignored or suppressed. (As Donald Richie notes above, Ozu himself downplayed the miscellany of his career.) Booze, brats, and boxing figure in Ozuís work, as do gangsters and prostitutes, scatology and fetishism, dragnet girls, femmes fatales and gun-wielding wives. Crime films and proto-noirs, neorealist narratives and melodramas, vulgar comedies and knockabout student satires (of the subgenre known as “erotic-grotesque-nonsense”)-ñall influenced by Hollywood cinema (Lubitsch, Lloyd, Sternberg)-ñstipple Ozuís prewar filmography. Unlike the evenly lit, statically shot, and abruptly cut late films, the earlier works feature chiaroscuro, virtuoso camera movement, and fluent transitions; many are so movie-mad that their overt references to Ozuís beloved directors (through homage or citation) make him occasionally seem like an erstwhile Godard.

You can read the full essay, here.