Urban Exploration – extreme, to the max etc etc. Some of these photos are quite remarkable, taken by some nutters on a bizarre pilgrimage to ‘reclaim the streets‘. These were taken about a five minute walk from my work place, this sort of stuff reminds me of Chopper from 2000AD – a character who I think the writers stole from this unheard of movie.
I’ve opted for a Western of the spaghetti variety for this post’s film clip(s), specifically the notorious finale to the ’The Great Silence‘ a grim little number directed by Corbucci in 1968. Pretty grim huh? I remembering seeing this on Moviedrome years ago and thinking ‘but…but…they just killed them all. Where’s the hero riding in to save the day? A Western can’t end like this? Jesus Christ….’. Whilst we’re on the subject of films, here is Kermode pretty much hitting the bullseye on Tarantino during his recent review of ‘Death Proof’.
Here is a magnificent collection of links concerning the great Nick Cave, although they omitted one of his best (and certainly his longest) tracks. This is a superb wander through his career and music, generously laden with videos and live performance clips. Nick Cave I think is quite rare, as he is an artist who actually gets better – that is to say his new material and releases – as time goes on. Purists out there would no doubt burn me at the stake for saying so, but his last double album is light years ahead of his Birthday Party stuff.
I found an amusing thread on the Something Awful forums concerning charts and graphs – a small sub-genre of web published humour that has emerged recently so here are some examples. I like in the first one, as another friend noticed, how the logical cascade of actions leads you to attempt to get other people to solve the problem or just hiding the whole thing away before attempting to fix the error yourself. Bonus points for recognizing the song reference in the last one, a chart type that is a sub-genre of the genre – there’s some quite clever and subtle ones referencing songs or movies. Look, it’s the web, things can get a little……..strange….
The master of suspense and possibly the most influential film director ever, in my humble opinion he is the only cinematic genius we have ever produced in the UK. OK, Michael Powell and David Lean are immense talents – although I really struggle with Lean’s overblown epics – but no UK director has ever had such a masterful control of every element of film-making and produced a half dozen movies that are consistently ranked as among the greatest ever made. I recently picked up this terrific boxed set – OK so it’s missing ‘Notorious‘ and ‘North by Northwest‘, but those two aside this pretty much collects all the essential American Hitchcock pictures under one roof. I thought I’d concentrate on some of the lesser known movies rather than the classics for a change, if only to make my research a bit more challenging – encyclopaedias have been written on the likes of ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Psycho’ so it would be too easy to regurgitate common knowledge of these productions.
‘Rope‘ – One of Hitchcock’s more experimental projects and his first foray into colour, it’s a little hamstrung by feeling a little stagebound, but some of the innovations produced here are worth noting. Like ‘Lifeboat‘, Hitchcock restrains himself to one set, where two socialites execute the ‘perfect’ murder, apparently inspired by their charismatic teacher played by Jimmy Stewart. As the film opens, they strangle and kill their former classmate, then hide his body in a chest in a disillusioned attempt to achieve some form of Nietzschean superiority. A dinner party then ensues, with much suspense generated from the fact that the corpse is concealed in a case that serves as the guests table – nice.
This was shot in a series of 8 minute takes, the longest length of film reel available at the time. The effect is that you have a prowling camera, focusing in on details of costume and set design, swirling from character, from dialogue to reaction, in a quite mesmerising fashion. Stagehands would be constantly pulling out and replacing scenery and props and the Manhattan skyline backdrop also warrants a mention – as dusk falls the lights grow brighter in the backdrop and the lighting intensifies on the set, affecting a plausible passing of time. I like movies that fuck about with the medium, and this delivers – some of the sequences where you are teased that the body will be discovered are very effective, and naturally make you explicit in the crime. James Stewart is superb as always as the stoic and slightly eccentric professor who reads between the lines of the murderers jokes and begins to suspect foul play….
‘The Trouble With Harry‘ – I’ll tell you what the trouble with Harry is – when you punch this phrase into Google all you get is a few hundred links criticising Harry Potter mania - Not that I have a problem with that, but some links to the movie would be a bit more practical. Anyway, this is the closest Hitchcock got to making a full comedy picture, although of course the title refers to the dead body – Harry – and the attempts of a group of new England villagers to farcically prevent their peers and the local enforcement authorities of discovering his death in which they are implicated.
This is notable as it was Hitchcock’s first association with the great Bernard Herrman – a collaborator who like Robert Burks (Cinematographer), George Tomasini (Editor), Edith Head (Costume Designer and the inspiration for this character) would go on to help forge the masterpieces ‘Rear Window’, ‘North by Northwest’, ‘ Vertigo’, ‘Psycho’ and ‘The Birds’ – that’s quite a winning streak. The comedy has of course dated, but I found the bumbling British gentleman Captain Wiles to be funny, and Shirley MacLaine in one of her first roles plays it flippantly nonchalant about the death of Harry, an approach which adds to the macabre atmosphere.
‘Torn Curtain‘ – This is late period Hitchcock, when his regular collaborators had started to drift away. Paul Newman stars as a scientist apparently defecting to East Germany during the peak of the cold war. Newman is followed into the clutches of the communist swine by his doting fiancée Julie Andrews as she struggles to understand the treason he has committed. The film is remembered due to the notorious murder scene of the East German agent, played out in its uncomfortable and almost silent excruciating glory. This is Hitch utilising his ‘pure’ cinema, with point-of-view editing presenting the action and raising the levels of suspense and anxiety. Hitch pretty much dismissed the picture (it was a flop at the box office) labelling it a failure but I think it has it’s moments – some early scenes between Newman and Andrews work to communicate the gulf between them once he has seemingly betrayed his country, and it has a signature conclusion centred around a visit to the Ballet for which Hitch hired the same Art Director as Powell used for ‘The Red Shoes‘. Worth a look.
‘Shadow of a Doubt‘ – Hitch’s favourite of all the 70 odd pictures he directed, the motto of this movie is to be careful what you wish for. In another sleepy New Hampshire town we are introduced to Charlie Junior, a bored teenager who craves more excitement and intrigue in her life. Unexpectedly, Uncle Charlie (played with subtle menace by Joseph Cotten) comes to visit, a popular member of the family whom Charley adores. The only slight problem is that Uncle Charlie is actually a psychopath who preys on elderly widows, and as our heroine’s suspicions grow she finds herself in mortal danger
The Electra complex is evident in this film, with the uncle substituting the father figure (probably for censorship reasons) and it was roughly around this time that psychoanalytic themes started to enter the cultural lexicon of mainstream films directed by the likes of Hitchcock, Nicholas Ray and John Huston to name but a few, although this wouldn’t emerge as a model of film criticism until the 1970′s, along with Feminist and Marxist theory. I think these models can sometimes read too much into certain films, but with filmmakers as complex and erudite as Hitch these themes are apparent and he would have certainly intended to inject these concepts into his projects. It’s a compelling little noir, and probably overall the best of the four.
So, is Atonement as good as everyone says?. Keira ‘jolly hockey sticks, head girl’ Knightly and James McAvoy lead as a pair of doomed lovers in 1935 middle England. After McAvoy is wrongly accused of molesting a child visitor to the country manor by Knightly’s sister he is incarcerated for fopur years and released only if he agrees to join the army. He duly agrees, and separated from his unit he attempts to make it back to his one true love.
That’s barely scratching the surface of what the films about, but I obviously want to avoid spoilers. I liked the film, but not as much as most critics judging by the gushing reviews. It has a moving finale and unusual twist, and the chemistry between Knightly is powerful, it just feels a little too Oscar engineered for my tastes. I’m not the biggest fan of these epic, ‘worthy’ literary adaptations, movies like ‘The English Patient’ or the entire directorial career of Richard Attenborough, although granted they are more interesting than the latest London mockney snorefest or Richard Curtis atrocity. The fabled five minute tracking shot exploring the carnage of Dunkirk is fairly impressive and overall it has made me want to read the book, if only to understand how McEwan tackled the twist in a literary fashion. It hasa very British, very ‘Brief Encounter‘ feel to the illict romance which is why I suspect our native critics have overdone it with the praise. Still, it’s worth seeing on the big screen so pull your fingers out. On a final note, jesus Keira Knightly looks like she’s been liberated from Belsen for Christ’s sake – eat something woman !!
Speaking of movies (for a change) I’ve gone a bit mad and applied for over £100 worth of tickets for the various movies forming the London Film Festival. To be fair, that does include an application for both the opening and closing night gala’s at £25 each, plus a few other premieres of new movies. Keep your fingers crossed for me….
I’ve been watching a lot of espionage themed stuff recently, on a friends recommendation I finally tracked down the BBC classic ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy‘ and I have the sequel ‘Smiley’s People‘ on order from Amazon. Whilst ‘Tinker’ is a engrossing slow build to unearth the mole in MI5, the Bourne Films take a rather different tack and assault your eyes and ears with impressive pyrotechnics, frenetic editing and gritty fight sequences. It does go a little over the top – one fight sequence in Tangiers reminded me of this hilarious scene – but if you go with the flow you’re in for a fun ride.
Just to coin some cliches along the line of ‘Bourne is like James Bond on speed’…well, ‘The Bourne Ultimatum‘ is celluloid crystal meth, a two hour extended action sequence – I had to neck a six pack of Red Bull after the movie just to calm down. Matt Damon (yes, I will link to that every time I mention him on my blog…) returns again as Jason Bourne, the amnesiac uber assassin who is still trying to unearth the conspirators behind his conditioning for the secret Blackbriar programme. Solid support from the likes of Albert Finney, David Strathaim, Joan Allen and Paddy Considine keep you involved – It’s what good mainstream Hollywood film should be – exciting, fast and exhilarating. It hurtles toward it’s final conclusion and has a suitable ending (including a very nice touch with Bourne outfoxing his hunters) with space for possible further installments.
I think it will be a film (along with it’s predecessors) that lasts on some levels given it’s references on the infestation of CCTV, GPS and the need for ‘clean’ mobile phones, computer hacking and all the associated technological changes that build an atmosphere of paranoia in the era of the Patriot Act and development of charming new devices such as this – crowd control, or dissuading dissent. Hmmm….yes we’ve come to quite a point when as other bloggers have observed you find yourself agreeing with The Daily Mail….
One of the early sequences revolves around Waterloo station so it was quite amusing to head back home via this route. I’m sure those two Mediterranean guys were following me – I saw them get on separate tube carriages at Piccadilly Circus, but they were ahead of me on the escalators at Embankment station. If I don’t get a chance to finish this blog entry then make sure you retrieve my files from the safety deposit box situated in the Hollinger Swiss Bank on Threadneedle street – the passcode is 5525 and password is ‘Joshua’. In it you will <session terminated>…..
Never let it be said that I’m not a man of extremes. After the grimy, filthy, punk extravaganza of Sonic Youth in Camden, my next gig is situated in the heart of London’s cultural and artistic geography – the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank where I enjoyed the sonic styling’s of progressive jazz ambient futurist glitch master David Sylvian.
He’s probably still best known as the front man of new romantic poster boys ‘Japan‘ and specifically this track (which was played), but his solo work – if you can call it that since many/most/all – (Nick, help me out here) of the original band members still play with him, both live and on his albums and side projects, is far superior. The atmosphere he can generate both live and recorded is quite hypnotic along with his terrific, poetic lyrics and haunting voice – it’s an enchanting combination.
He pulled off some amazing compositions by beginning one track, segueing halfway through into another track, before returning to the original song – two for one. It probably sounds a bit clumsy but he and his supporting musicians make it work, and the net effect is some quite beautiful and ethereal pieces. The venue was pretty cool, I had seen Sylvian in the same place back in 2003 and the acoustics and sound quality are formidable.
It was a pretty good set, as well as the obligatory numbers from his most recent release, we were treated to quite a few old tracks, one of my favourites being ‘Before the Bullfight‘ and a few from his (for me) best album, ‘Secrets of the Beehive‘, and a number from ‘Brilliant Trees‘. He closed with the track ‘Wanderlust’ which was a bit disappointing as it’s a fairly mediocre effort of his, but I can’t complain given the quality of the preceding two hours.
Yup, another visit to the NFT, this time to catch Ken Loach’s new film, ‘It’s a Free World‘. You’ll no doubt be surprised to hear it’s another socialist tract, concerning the fortunes of Angie, a East End based single mother in present day London. As the film opens Angie is working as a recruitment consultant for a UK based firm out in Poland. After being fired for resisting the advances of a superior she decides to set up her own company, drawing in the unskilled and desperate foreign workforce that struggle in their poverty stricken ghettos, hidden below the margins of society.
On a micro level it’s obviously exposing poverty and the results of immigration in contemporary Britain, whilst on the macro level it’s nothing less than a powerful treatise on globalization and the horrific exploitation that is currently endured by millions of the planets poor and uneducated. Loach employs his usual neo-realist approach of utilising non-professional actors, a minimal use of music, a devotion to realism in plot and the characters experiencing the full consequences of their actions that are quite shocking and powerful – there are a couple of scenes which are quite horrific. Most effective of all for me was the ability the film has for making the audience at one moment sympathise with and like Angie, then suddenly being absolutely horrified by her actions and ruthless selfishness – she is a definite product of the 1980′s. It has a bleak ending but I strongly urge you to catch this on TV (or better still at the cinema) on Channel 4, who as part financers are screening it next week.
The Q&A was entertaining although it felt like more of a communist party meeting than a film discussion given the focus on global politics. Whether you like or loathe his politics, I think you must admire someone with Loach’s strength of conviction who has consistently delivered his own projects without interference, exactly as he envisaged them, undiluted or amended merely for populist success. It really is a crime that the right wing press in the UK frequently crucify Loach due to his left wing credentials, yet elsewhere in Europe he is admired as a first class film-maker who consistently wins prizes at international film festivals including Canne, Venice and Berlin. He was quite charming and eloquent, summing up nicely that peculiar trend in American film and culture that has always kept him away from Hollywood – the ‘ruthless sentimentality, or Disney and Regan as I like to call it…’
Given the date, here’s a bunch of miscellaneous links concerning…well…a bunch of stuff that’s been floating around – inspired by this sent in by our Leeds correspondent.
Let’s kick off with a few observations on the main issue of the day. If you waded through the ‘Rolling Stone’ article, perhaps you’ll be as gob-smacked as me at calling your defense company ‘Custer Battles‘ which seems to be a astonishing act of hubris.
Naomi Klein’s new book is imminent, and is being serialised in ‘The Guardian‘. I haven’t read ‘No Logo’ but her opinion pieces and reportage always seems well researched and constructed to me, so I shall be seeking it out, especially since she has teamed up with Alfonso Cuaron.
Martin Amis – firstly a comment piece from a week after the attacks which is still resonant, and here are his current musings. He states the bleeding obvious in the latter, but in his usual skillful and thought-provoking way.
Finally, this post was also partially influenced by ‘Fahrenheit 9/11′ which I watched again last night. Like many I have some problems with Moore’s presentation of the facts and conclusions, but you can’t deny his skill at stitching his particular brand of propaganda together – especially at the end. Right, I’m off to flog the ‘Socialist Worker’ at Richmond station, filthy sandal wearing commie swine that I am…
Ah, Film Noir. It’s one of my favourite genres and ‘On Dangerous Ground‘ which I caught at the cinema this weekend is one of the best if relatively unknown entries in the movement. The Ritzy Cinema in Brixton is the host of a season of crime movies, including some classic noirs from the 1940′s and 50′s. As well as starring two of my favourite actors, the film is directed by the legendary Nicholas Ray and features a score by quite simply the best composer ever to grace the cinema – Bernard Herrman.
Ryan is a cop on the edge, a cop who uses unorthodox methods but gets the job done, a cop whose partner is only a week away from retirement when he is gunned down in cold blood….actually that last one is a lie. OK, it may sound cliched, but Ryan’s fevered performance of Wilson details a man close to a breakdown, a man whose moral compass has drifted due to his suffocation in the world of crime, violence and cruelty that is threatening to engulf him. As the film opens we are taken through the usual motifs of noir – chiaroscuro lighting illuminating sleazy bars packed with lost souls, barren apartments populated by lowlife hoods, the rain drenched streets pregnant with menace.
Wilson has taken to beating information out of suspect criminals and is despatched to investigate a murder out of the city until a threatened lawsuit blows over. That’s the first of many unusual elements in this movie in conjunction with the genre – the second half of the film takes place in the wilderness ‘up north’ (the city nor outlands are ever explicitly named, just like in Se7en), the contrast between the snow cleansed barrens and grimy metropolis providing a neat visual metaphor for Wilson’s evolving psyche.
This is one of the great explicitly psychological noir’s and despite it’s happy ending – another unexpected departure for the genre – it’s a pretty dark film. Ida Lupino’s blind Mary Malden is almost saintlike, and I suspect it’s no accident that her name recalls Jesus’ mum. Incidently, Lupino went on to be that very rare thing – a female director who worked within the golden age production system. She made some terrific noir’s of her own, as well as a number of groundbreaking ‘feminist’ pictures such as ‘The Hitch Hiker‘ and ‘The Bigamist‘. For a list of key noir’s which you should see, take a peek here.
Well, thank god the tube strike has been suspended, getting to work has been tricky to say the least for the past few days, although delays have given me the opportunity to tear into the superb new William Gibson novel, ‘Spook Country‘. This is the first book he’s written set in the past – February 2006 to be exact – as Gibson feels that the speed of modern technological advancement renders future predictions redundant. The novel follows three divergent characters (typical of Gibson), a former rock star, a Cuban-Chinese criminal counterfeiter, and a pill popping addict mysteriously coerced into domestic espionage as they unearth a mystery concerning data exchanges on i-pods, contemporary virtual art, and a sinister cargo crate inbound from Iraq…
For fans, it contains all the usual cool references to otaku, fringe and hipster culture, riffing on fashion, design, architecture, computing, technology, consumerism, advertising, linguistics and just about everything else – you can feel very smug with yourself if you ‘get’ half the references. I missed Gibson’s London visit on his current book tour (ggrrr) but one of the regulars on his authorised website has put together a superb ‘Cyberspace guide to London‘ which isn’t as nerdish as it sounds – give it a look. Finally, here is a nice sypnosis of his first ‘sprawl’ trilogy of books.
For this post’s movie scene I’ve opted for another Scorsese moment, but for a reason. I stumbled across a post about a couple of Scorsese documentaries they’re screening in New York, which lead to this, and then to this – hence my choice. That Steve chap is quite a character eh? Talk about a ‘colourful’ life. I’ve been looking for a copy of ‘American Boy‘ for years so it was quite a moment to see it unfold on YouTube. If you’re interested and get through all six parts, you’ll note a couple of stories that Tarantino has stolen, verbatum, for his movies.
What if you were an alien, going about your space business in the wild lands of alpha centuri and this ricocheted off your windscreen? Would you know how it make it work? Yes, it’s a recreation of the gold disk on Voyager 1, now officially the most distant man made object in history. Great stuff, but any attempt to summarise human experience without a ‘Pixies’ track is woefully inadequate. You’d have thought <snigger>, that they’d have included ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ <guffaw> or perhaps, <chuckle> ‘Space Oddity’, oh dear, I kill myself sometimes. Seriously though, wasn’t it nice when we got together as a species and did things like this, like spend millions of dollars sending a gold record into space on a wild errand rather than bomb the fuck out of each other? <sigh>…..
Speaking of music, anyone remember the Melody Maker? Was one of your favourite sections ‘Mr. Agreeable’ adjacent to the letters section? Well, he’s back and is as insultingly inventive as ever. I’m sure I read that Charlie Brooker was the man behind the facade, can anyone else back this up? Anyway, here is some more indie retro madness, some genius has uploaded a selection of extracts from the countdown’s on ‘The Chart Show‘ – it gets a bit samey, but contains some hilarious footage nonetheless – I’d forgotten ‘Birdland‘ existed….