Elephant Screen 5 articles

Elephant

1989

Elephant Poster
  • Every one ends with a held shot on the murder scene, a forced contemplation in silence and sudden stillness. By the third or fourth, the viewer is primed to cringe at anyone walking anywhere, since the endpoint is always the same. The formalist rigour and factual basis distill the art and social concern of his work, and the film is the supreme manifestation of his experiments with withholding context towards the social purity of the physical event.

  • Nearly 25 years after its release, predicated on a conflict now gone cold enough to be entirely irrelevant to most viewers, this should be all but fossilized, but Clarke’s film has such a neat diagrammatic structure that it’s applicable to any social issue you can imagine.

  • Each modular mini-narrative plays like an excerpt from a more conventional crime thriller, but here they're stripped of causality, dialogue, motivation, or anything else that might help the violence "make sense." They're arranged in a serial structure common to much avant-garde filmmaking, and as with many a-g shorts, Elephant invites the viewer to tease out the subtle variations between its chapters, as if in a sick and numbing twist on one of those "spot the difference" games.

  • In Elephant, Clarke’s “anti-” game would be on point: antiwar, anti-Troubles, anti-violence, anti-complacency, anti-narrative... You can watch Elephant dozens of times and still feel scraped raw every time at the sheer waste of life. Even Clarke’s hard-man fans can’t help but feel as if they’ve been gut-punched.

  • No survey of the unregulated border between television and film is complete without a discussion of Alan Clarke, a true original among British TV directors... Here in the States, Elephant is probably best known for inspiring the Gus Van Sant film of the same title, though Clarke’s is head and shoulders the better movie, as well as one of the most inspired and morally committed uses of television to come out in the 1980s.

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