Late November. Can’t believe it’s almost Christmas again. I dunno, I suppose it’s getting older but time does seem to accelerate as the years roll by. Then again, my dad’s been saying much the same thing, that he feels that time seems to pass more swiftly than it did ten, twenty years ago. Modern life eh? (tsk…) One thing that I enjoy about Christmas is the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with my favourite Christmas movies – yes, including the obvious – so what are your festive flicks?
Here is a nice series of articles in the New York Times where they get a actor or director to sit down and provide a running commentary of a ‘classic’ film. I haven’t read them all yet but have naturally gravitated to the two Kubrick efforts, particularly enjoying the story of Barry Sonnenfield ending all his studio memos with a quote from ‘Strangelove’. Inspired. I think I’ll do likewise with my work e-mail correspondence, I’ll be on the streets in ten minutes….
This has been doing the rounds, and I think it’s hilarious. Compare and contrast the most popular search requests punched in here versus those entered in Conservapedia, the right-wing, republican version of the on-line encyclopaedia who don’t like the mean, liberal, vegetarian, terrorist supporting moderators on wikipedia. Perhaps you’d expect some queries into right-wing foreign policy? Or fiscal responsibility? Maybe even some consideration of the separation of church and state, and the role that religion plays in the contemporary world? Not quite. The results are quite revealing ain’t they? They seem to be thinking about this subject. A lot. I don’t think you have to be a psychiatrist to draw your own conclusions from that one….
For the movie clip (or rather promo clip as all ‘proper’ clips have been taken down), I’ve opted for ‘28 Weeks Later‘ due to a quite amusing coincidence. Regular readers may recall I caught this movie when I was out in LA before I’d started my new assignment at Tower Hamlets. I watched the movie on DVD over the weekend and was pleasantly surprised to see the exterior of the building that I work in used for some location shots early in the movie, and more to the point it was satisfying to see the whole place torched at the 2.08 mark, blink and you’ll miss it. Toasty!! Always nice to see London get fucked up….
EDIT – OK, who’s trying to freak me out? The actress who played Robert Carlyle’s daughter was sat opposite me on the District line this morning (23rd November). Luckily she (and her Mum, or agent) got off at Hammersmith, if she’d followed me onto Blackwall there might have been a scene….
As it’s approaching frigid winter I’ve finally upgraded my mac and am preparing to join some friends in the MMORG of Eve. This has only been available for mac from this month (and I refuse to let a game dictate my Mac v. PC preference) but now it’s on both platforms I have no excuse. After the excesses of Christmas, January and February are usually quiet for me and I can think of no better way of passing the time than re-living my youth playing games such as Elite, except this time a slightly more advanced version! I played World of Warcraft for a few months between assignments last year which I enjoyed, Eve seems a little more adult with less teenagers spamming the discussion and talk boards, endless grinding and all that associated nonsense. Finally, here is some food for thought.
Well, it quite honestly doesn’t get much better than this.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, my favourite film-maker is Stanley Kubrick, the great pioneer and iconoclast of post war cinema. Last Friday I was privileged to attend a BAFTA & AMPAS co-sponsored event to celebrate the life and work of Stan the Man at London’s South Bank.
The evening was comprised of a lengthy cantor through Kubrick’s career, with clips of each movie in the official oeuvre (nothing from ‘Fear & Desire‘ here!!) interspersed with reminiscences and anecdotes by some of the talent that Kubrick attracted to each of his projects, both behind and in front of the camera. Our guide was none other than Alex himself who peppered the evening with his own stories and recollections and also served to dissipate some of the wilder rumours that have coalesced around the great man. I’m a bit of a victim of my own obsession, as none of the stories of anecdotes were new or unheard to me – hardly surprising given that I own and have read just about every Kubrick book on the market.
McDowell delivered the old ping-pong payment story from ‘Clockwork Orange’ (recording the narration over two weeks, Kubrick only paid him for one as the other was spent playing Ping-Pong) and the ‘Barry Lyndon’ amputee story (1st AD travels the world to find a suitable stand-in for Ryan O’ Neil for the final shot of the movie showing Barry with one leg amputated, struggling his way into a carriage, seen from behind. After months of frustration and rejections from SK the AD finally finds and flies in a perfect stand-in from a Belgian circus, AD proudly stands in foyer at Borehamwood relieved that his ordeal is over, Kubrick strolls past, glances and barks ‘wrong leg’ and continues on to the set…) along with some of the technicians and actors who collaborated with Kubrick over the years, adding their thoughts and memories, including his personal assistant for twenty years Anthony Frewin, the ravishing Marisa Berenson, legendary Production Designer Sir Ken Adams, Kubrick’s brother in law and Executive Producer Jan Harlan, cinematographer Oswald Morris and frequent first assistant director Brian Cook.
A good friend of mine, knowing of my obsessive devotion to Kubrick once posed the question – but why Kubrick? What is about him that elevates his films above those of Welles or Bresson, Scorsese or Lang? Well, here goes;
Firstly, one of my first memories is of seeing the Stargate and ‘human zoo’ sequence in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘. It was on TV, I simply remember being utterly freaked out and scared so much so that my Dad had to pick me up to settle me down. I was 22. A-ha. But seriously…..no, I must have been four or five and it has always stayed with me so much so that the Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite sequence is for me quite simply the best collection of images on celluloid. Ever. Full stop. End of story. To think that this sequence was in a ‘normal’, US studio massive big budget release is breath-taking. Cinematically speaking, you have not lived unless you’ve seen 2001 on the big screen, as intended – I’ve caught it twice, once during the re-release appropriately enough in the year 2001, and once last year with camera operator Kelvin Pike in attendance.
Secondly, he is a unique talent not only in the unprecedented total and utter command of every aspect of production of every film from ‘Lolita’ onward, but for me he has made one of the top five films ever made in every genre he worked in. Think about it – the Hollywood epic, the crime film, the literary adaptation, of course the Sci-Fi film, the Horror film, and take your pick of the war films.
Thirdly, the cinematic choices. The incredible fusion of image and music – Beethoven in ‘Orange’, the discordant eerie score of ‘The Shining’, Ligetti and the Blue Danube in ‘2001‘. The use of source lighting as de rigour in every film including using the fastest lenses ever, developed by NASA and adopted for the candlelight scenes in ‘Barry Lyndon’. The glacial, symmetrical compositions, the operatic tracking shots, the invention of the reverse zooms – the constant search for perfection.
As well as being one of the finest technicians in film, no-one straddles that fine-line between commercial and art film in quite the same way as Kubrick. Every one of the films are densely conceived, obsessively researched, prepared and executed. He told stories in a different way, ‘pushing at the boundries’ as Sydney Pollack put it, developing and evolving the very form of cinema.
Fourthly, on a personal front I share the views and opinions expressed through the films – we are a pretty absurd and ridiculous species, and the world is a deeply corrupt, cruel and inhuman place. I share the cynicism and pessimism evident in much of his work however this is punctuated with some celebrations, some optimism – the image of humanity evolved as the Star Child, the resigned finale and support of fidelity in ‘Eyes Wide Shut‘, the affirmation of life at the end of ‘Paths of Glory’ that I’ve linked to below (which opened the evening). OK, let’s move on from that charming insight into my psyche…
Finally there is the fact that ‘Barry Lyndon’ is the most beautifully shot film in history, that ’2001′ has the most audacious and visionary edit in cinema history, that in ‘The Shining‘ we have for me the most hypnotic and unsettling scene in cinema history……well, I could go on. No-one, to my mind has made the same achievements, has pushed the very boundaries of the art form formally and technically, and has conjured up such memorable scenes than Kubrick. Here endth the lesson.
I’ve published the programme here for your perusal, and to make the members of the yahoo.alt.movies.kubrick net group insanely jealous – hi guys !!. Here are the clips that were used to illustrate the great man’s career, as best as I can find them on youtube (apologies for the Italian clips of Lyndon, and awful soundtrack to the ‘Shining’ clip as that was the clip they projected, but what can you do?). I should also mention that I was lucky enough to be sat directly behind Kubrick’s second daughter Anya and had a perfect view of the proceedings from a aisle seat on the fourth row. So maybe, just maybe I can finally forgive the BFI for not supplying me with tickets to the David Lynch Q&A earlier in the year. And yes I did use the word ‘oeuvre’ in this entry. I should be ashamed of myself….
Its early winter, and we’re in the inhospitable North American town of Barrow, Alaska. It is swiftly revealed that the town (population a measly 152) annually suffers 30 days of perpetual darkness due to the seasonal fluctuations of the earth. As the film opens the town’s Sheriff Eben Olemaun investigates a series of unusual incidents (the town helicopter is sabotaged, satellite phones stolen, internet failure) which emerge to be the chilling preparations of a posse of vampires who are intent on murdering every human in the town, be they man or woman, young and old…
Where to begin? Sketchy characterisation collides with some clumsy fore-shadowing (hmm, why look one guy drives a scythe-wielding industrial vehicle!! Ah, I see the town has a lethal shredder waste disposal compactor – I wonder if we’ll see them in action later on?) ensuring that you have just about enough emotional investment in the main players to care when the undead begin their gory rampage. Josh Harnett and Mellissa George are as usual pretty average but solid, with robust support from some genre supporting players. For me, the lack of any explanation or allusion to where the vampires have come from or who the leader is betrays a lack of imagination in the script – I haven’t read the graphic novel on which the film is based but I would think that the source material would take the time to develop the bad guys appropriately.
I’ve always preferred my vampires to be perverted souls, unholy spirits divorced from god that we see in films like ‘Salem’s Lot’ or the classic Hammer ‘Dracula’ cycle, rather than the vampire as a different species, as animals that we see in the ‘Blade’ movies and in this effort. The vampire myth has always been a potent metaphor for other angles or areas – immigration, infection, sexual repression, AIDS etc etc. but none of this is apparent here. I know this all sounds negative (rhesus negative? Ho ho ho….) but I actually quite enjoyed this, it’s a Friday night, beer and pizza movie with no pretensions to be anything else. It’s genre cinema that you can let wash over you, by the numbers stuff that you can guess the outcomes off although to be fair this does have a nice touch toward the end which I don’t think I’ve seen before. Oh, (heh..) and I have to say it has the best decapitation scene I’ve seen for a long time. Enjoy !!
For the record, my favourite vampire movies are probably ‘Nosferatu’ which is still genuinely eerie and creepy despite (or perhaps because of) its 85 years vintage, ‘Near Dark’, the aforementioned ‘Salem’s Lot’ (I still have vivid memories of Mr. Barlow making his gut wrenching appearance!!) and this oddity – a Corman produced cheapo AIP picture from 1964 with the superb Vincent Price. It’s the third adaptation of one of the ultimate vampire novels ‘I am Legend‘ by Richard Matheson. In fact, we will be treated to the long gestating third version early next year with Will Smith taking the lead. The trailer looks…..OK but I’d ‘stake’ my life on the fact that they’ve jettisoned the gloomy ending of the novel. We shall see….