Well, before I launch into more film nonsense here is some miscellaneous material that I’ve collated over the past few months. I am was fucking sick to the back teeth of commuting through London Bridge, easily the worst designed central capital hub that I have had the particular misfortune to frequent. Here is a drone free look at how central London looks on Christmas Day - eerie isn’t it, especially if you look out for some human figure in the photos. Fortunately I can now report that after my assignment wasn’t extended at Folkestone I have been fortunate enough to secure a new role at Haringey Council which is a real blessing (secured in four days which is a personal best), the role and money aren’t particularly fantastic but in the current climate I’m not complaining. Door to door my commute is now down to a manageable 45 minutes and I always enjoy having a new manor to explore, hopefully I can keep this assignment running for the rest of the year. Result. My new stomping ground is typical London, bisected between the posh enclaves of Highgate and a to a lesser extent the recently gentrified Crouch End and Hornsey (where I think ‘Shaun Of The Dead‘ and ‘Spaced‘ was shot) on the West side, the more deprived areas of the borough such as the infamous Tottenham occupying the East although of course things have incredibly improved since the dark days of the 1980′s. I was touring the area last week with my staff who politely pointed out some of the more historic areas including Dennis Nilsen’s house. Nice. My knowledge of North London is sorely lacking so this is a welcome assignment from a personal perspective, I love this city and always welcome the opportunity to develop my command of our glorious capitals history and idiosyncrasies.
The cultural highlight of the week was seeing Pete Postlethwaite as King Lear at the Young Vic, I seem to have achieved my annual theatre visit early this year. This was a contemporary production in terms of costume, haircuts, props (guns not swords) and even accents, there is clearly something going on in the cultural wilderness as like the recent TV series ‘Life On Mars’ and ‘Red Riding’ this had a real Northern UK filthy, gritty feel to proceedings, quite an effective choice to mesh with the ye olde worldy language. I’ll admit I found my attention wandering a little during the first Act but as Act II developed the play took on a much more, well, theatrical flavour with impressive lighting and weather effects, back projections and stirring music. The venue was cool, quite intimate with the play unfolding in part in the centre of the auditorium, the actors and actresses wondering around in amongst the audience which gave proceedings a very vivid tangibility. If I’m honest the closest reference I could make was that this was ‘Straw Dogs‘ rendered on stage, Postlethwaite was as expected excellent but to his credit didn’t overwhelm the other performances, both Cordelia and whoever played Edmund were both outstanding. I have always enjoyed going to the theatre in the dozen or so times I’ve got round to it over the years, I really should make more of an effort. It was an unexpected four hours long though, still at a mere £20 a ticket I guess that’s value for money eh?
So I’ve finally had the opportunity to write-up my experience of the final Kubrick event at the NFT where his legacy and influence was discussed, as previously mentioned this was of particular interest to me due to the attendance of the legendary Michel Ciment, arguably the worlds foremost authority on Kubrick and his films given the unprecedented access and interviews he had with Stan over the decades although I’ll concur that the late Alexander Walker probably runs a close second. The other members of the panel consisted of Peter Kramer, Tony Rayns, Linda Ruth Williams (wife of Mark Kermode who was sat in front of me in support of his missus, BBC Radio 5 film review fans) and the event was chaired by Sight & Sound editor Nick James. The emphasis for the discussion was on Stan’s last film ‘Eyes Wide Shut‘, a film I’ve covered extensively on this blog so I’ll spare you any further insight from yours truly and move onto some of the choice insights from the debate that occurred.
As well as Ciment’s unique analysis this was particularly entertaining as it degenerated into something of a academic cat-fight with Williams and Rayns launching into some vaguely measured dismissals and rejections of Kubricks work, a position that did not meet with approval from the acerbic Ciment. Now let me make this clear, I have no problem with people disliking or rejecting films, books, albums or whatever that I like as long as that dismissal comes from a position of knowledge and vague understanding, besides life would be boring if we all agreed on everything now wouldn’t it? Making claims and observations which fundamentally betray an absolute ignorance on the text are something else. Much of the criticism revolved around the film’s ‘embarassing’ and ‘immature’ orgy sequence which as other members of the audience pointed out is kind of the point – if as many people accept that ‘Eyes‘ is a dream film (and that’s one take on it, there are of course many others), that all the events past Alice’s confession of possible adultery are in Bill’s mind (at least partially) and serve as the narrative drive of his nightly odyssey where he is constantly propositioned yet fails to get his rocks off, if it’s all in his head then of course the events and texture of the film are going to feel purposely slightly off and strange, I’m reminded of other criticisms that complained that the portrayal of New York felt fake and manufactured – well, exactly. That the point for the Christmas setting with gaudy lighting, Christmas being a period of fantasy and mystery, that’s why you can see the orgy sequence as the imagination of an upper-middle class forty something doctor who probably tunes into Playboy TV when his wife’s out shopping as his primary experience of ‘eroticism’. Rayns rejected this reading of the film by stating that ‘there’s no porn that looks like that’ to which the audience member who originally challenged him calmly explaining that he had in fact spent four years working for a European porn satellite broadcaster and he had seen hours of such material, cue laughter and one pissed off panel member.
The combative academics also put a huge amount of faith in the controversial Raphael book ‘Eyes Wide Open‘ which has been widely condemned by just about everyone else who has ever worked with Stanley, Jan Harlan (who was in the audience) clarifying the debate by recanting a phone call he had with Raphael where he took him to task on some of the outright fabrications that are in the book shortly after its publication which caused the offended screenwriter to slam the phone down. I’ve read it of course and believe me I promise this is from a neutral standpoint, it’s a book about how fucking great and talented and smart a screenwriter he is, it’s not about Kubrick and many of the observations (he was a self hating Jew for example) not in the least tallying with any other writing I’ve read on the man from dissenters and admirers alike. Make your own mind up. Still, some of the facets of the debate were intriguing (a connection of Kubrick’s fascination with control systems, from 18th century morality and society, the military industrial complex, the family and ultimately the universe itself) so all in all a satisfying climax to the retrospective if you’ll forgive the obvious pun.
As a huge fan of Japanese cinema (I’m reading this at the moment which is terrific) I am ashamed to admit a void of material on that wonderful countries proud and incredible cinematic achievements on my blog so I shall attempt to addresses this imbalance by nominating the prolific Takashi Miike as this entries choice of director whose work I follow with keen interest. He’s best known in the West for <SPOILERS> ‘Audition‘ and ‘Ichi The Killer‘ of course and this was the route that I fell into his work, I’ve caught many of his films in the past eight or nine years and whilst given the sheer volume of output he doesn’t always deliver quality material when he hits the mark he delivers some quite outstanding experiences. He has close ties with Cronenberg given his fascination with bodily functions and its reflections in society but it would be disingenuous at best (and culturally dismissive) to merely cite him as a Eastern Cronenberg given the other prevalent themes in his work including a fascination with the insularity of Japanese society and its suspicion of immigration, a particular continuation of the well-established cinematic Nippon traditions of duty and sacrifice in his many Yakuza themed films, a repeated focus on the disaffected and marginalised members of society and a genuine talent in turning his skills to a number of different styles of film and TV work, in fact one of my first ever blog posts was on such material but having revisited that post I’m not linking to it as it’s painfully inept, track it down at your peril. I finally caught up with ‘Sukiyaki Western Django‘ a fortnight ago which wasn’t brilliant but worth seeing as a quite unusual perspective on the spaghetti western fused with a modern Kurosawa style update on honour with some nice film references, I recommend his ‘Dead Or Alive‘ trilogy and the bizarre ‘Fudoh‘ as entry level films but be warned this is extreme stuff for adults only, there are scenes in much of his output which is very challenging, certain sequences in the notorious ‘Visitor Q‘ may make you wish for a memory eraser device. He’s already delivered two films this year if IMDB is to be believed, I’d best get back to Lovefilm.com and see what he has recently unleashed. Slightly connected as its a director I’ve covered before, here is the trailer to Jim Jarmusch’s new movie which looks terrific, I’m very excited to see him revisiting the crime genre with I’m sure his unique and idiosyncratic style.
I was sad to see the passing of Natasha Richardson, she was a very talented actress in my book but there are no appropriate video links to her performance in her best – in my opinion – role of ‘Patty Hearst‘ so here is a brief but accurate review. And finally, I have managed to collate a plethora of film blog and associated links which I’ve been perusing during the chilly winter months, now that Spring is here I find it best to withdraw to the crypt and shun the unholy sunlight with as many distractions as possible. Heh. Risking the eternal damnation of serious films geek everywhere I have to recommend the ‘Cult of UHF‘ website which enables you to download public domain B movies which kept me sane during some of my recent commutes, yes I know watching films on a tiny iphone screen is sacrilegious but hey, these films do not particularly lose their visual ‘strength’ on a portable device and lets face it, we have better things to watch with our increasingly limited leisure time so I’m willing to bend the rules – I doubt I’d ever devote time to properly absorb ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Die‘ unless I was confined to an essential train journey, I have a backlog of 20, 30 DVD’s at home to get through so that’s my excuse. It is strange to see the likes of ‘A Boy & His Dog‘ and ‘Bad Taste‘ on the site which in my defense I revisited on the computer at home, I’m also looking forward to re-watching the eerie and quietly influential ‘Carnival Of Souls‘ at some point soon along with some of the other more trashy material on the site. Here’s an update on Minty’s long running monitor on the still unseen ‘Sleep Dealer’ and finally an amusing yet unfortunately defunct blog dedicated to the mighty Werner Herzog, hopefully the recent excavation of the parody site which has been doing the rounds will generate more posts. Here is a bit of a nerd out link, ‘Blade Runner’ NFT Day reportage soon…..
And so finally part three, my last nerd-out for at least another year. Let’s start with a gods eye, ominous drift into the tale….
A mirror to the epilogue, but we’ll come back to that. As the Warner Bros. logo dissolved into the foreboding miasma of that breath-taking aerial montage I was pleased to note that this was a screening of the longer US domestic version of the film, a cut I recognised from the blue twinge to the credits as the shorter European cut has pure white colouration – yes, I think it’s fair to say that I know this film very well in both its incarnations. Truth be told I prefer the shorter version, the scenes with Lloyd the bartender are shorter and punchier, there is less unnecessary foreshadowing on Jack’s past which is explained in a couple of excised early scenes between Wendy and a child psychologist and the final scenes have some faintly silly scenes of cobweb shrouded skeletons in the hotel lobby which are not Kubrick’s finest hour. Still, it’s always nice to replay some of the scenes (I do have a Region 1 DVD copy of the film) and seeing the film on the big screen is always quite an experience in any format. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In one of his half dozen most iconic performances Jack Nicholson is the alcoholic, frustrated writer Jack Torrance who acquires a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, an auberge nestled deep in the Colorado mountains. Moving his family including his timid wife Wendy (a distraught Shelly Duvall) and his precocious son Danny to the hotel for the winter close-down Jack sanity explosively erodes as the hotels malevolent spirits become corporal and urge him to repeat past murderous tragedies that occurred on the hotels accursed grounds. Are these spirits stimulated into action by Danny’s ESP like gift of ’shining’, of being able to see past events in places ‘just like pictures in a book’? Are the supernatural events imaginations in Jack’s deranged mind? What exactly is in Room 237?
The Shining was recently voted as the scariest film ever made and whilst I personally don’t find it ‘scary’ in any conventional sense it is certainly one of the most brilliant achievements in the horror genre. For me it much more the whole sense of foreboding and unease which is gently harnessed and developed before exploding in the films final movements that nails it for me, there are a half-dozen electrifying scenes which have entered popular culture and can therefore obfuscate any fresh analysis of the movie but lets see what we can draw together eh? As always with Kubrick there is a marriage of his unique cinematic style and imagination in The Shining, technical and structural experimentation coupled with a host of possible interpretations and historical references which elevate the film far beyond its formal generic trappings. Many critics sneered down their noses at Kubrick resorting to work in the ‘horror’ genre, slumming it with the exploitation and B-Movie side of the business but they evidently failed to recall the enormous success of the likes of The Exorcist (a project which Kubrick was allegedly offered and rejected to his subsequent dismay) and Rosemary’s Baby which achieved both critical kudos and financial returns, as I think I’ve mentioned before there was a strong vein of business acumen to the man, he fully embraced the financial possibilities of his films which is evident from his unique participation in his films marketing strategies and release patterns.
Certain things can be so subjective when it comes to the movies, I and some friends are of the opinion that this sequence isn’t in the slightest bit terrifying and maybe just a little bit naff, others find it deeply distressing and affecting. Go figure. I think we can all agree that the Twins are more than a little unsettling (more on them later) but one of the elements to The Shining I most admire is that it is an uncannily eerie horror film that is exposed in bright, beautifully composed excruciating sunlight, banishing the traditional Expressionist foundations of the Universal supernatural cycle, the ‘old dark house’ cliché inverted from the shadows into the light which makes it almost unique with viewers weaned on decades of genre trademarks. Like the scattered low-fi Bosch zombie landscapes of Romero it’s the uncanny and strange, unnerving and raw imagery on-screen that is detailed in such an exposed fashion which is why it strikes such a chord with viewers. The framing, pace and sound in the film achieve a very real aura of unearthliness, even the notoriously self cannibalizing horror genre has not matched its remarkable atmosphere – I’d welcome claims to the contrary.
The sound design is amazing when you see the film on the big screen, the discordant chimes of Penderaski, Ligetti and Bartok really do jar the spirit in conjunction with the arresting images on-screen – you really need to ramp up the volume on this picture to achieve a definitive viewing experience, you can almost sense those chittering spirits gnawing on the celluloid. Whilst it wasn’t the first movie to utilise the Steadicam system is was certainly the first to use the process to such an extensive extent, it’s that simple energy of movement which generates tension whilst providing a mental landscape for the films events in the labyrinthine Overlook hotel, an observation that leads me nicely to this astonishing sequence which to this day has foxed admiring cinematographers as to how this shot was achieved in 1980 with only ‘primitive’ matte and other pre-CGI rendering methods. As always Stan the Man was on the cutting edge, constantly seeking and employing technical breakthroughs to push the medium forward.
The classic scenes are this, this, the classic reveal and of course for my generation this, personally I’ve always found this and this (that’s Kubrick’s daughter Vivian with the bloody handprint on her posterior who causes Grady to stumble into Jack by the way) far more arresting but that’s just me, I love the extreme deep focus on the establishing cuts of those bar scenes in the Gold Room which generate an unusual visual plateau to unconsciously signal a shift in the films environment from the natural to supernatural, from the tangible to incorporeal. Also note the traditional genre under-lit yet typically Kubrickian source generated lighting in Jacks face from the bar fittings to tableau a rictous grin on his homicidal visage. Heh, that must be one of the most overwrought sentences I’ve constructed for quite a while eh?
There are many readings of the film of which have been gleaned from many of the motifs in the film embedded by the native American mise-en-scene and its genocidal history serving as the tableau for a dissection of the nuclear family, a more direct commentary on the limits of the imagination and its stresses on the human psyche or even a simple comparison between the tortured creative Jack Torrance and Kubrick himself who had reputedly isolated himself, Prospero style in St. Albans, obsessively immersing himself in his complex and increasingly textured yet impossible projects. Regardless, the elements of myth and history that Kubrick and fellow screenwriter Diane Johnson injected into Stephen King’s source material marks The Shining as one of the most cerebral and majestic entries in the genre, a testament to Kubrick’s skill in approaching by definition a moribund genre and taking it stratospheric heights – here is the core touchstone that served as one of the films primary inspirations, and here is what I believe is the eeriest scene in film history;
I can’t remember where I picked this up but I did read a wonderful commentary on the film connecting it to the birth of cinema itself, coinciding as it did in the late 19th century with a rebirth in spiritualism, of photographing fairies, seances, ouija boards and photographing the dead which of course film does in another sense, the supernatural therefore being a natural even essential subject for cinema itself. I’m sure I’m not the only person to feel a slight unease and sense of mortality when looking at some of the older silent movies, knowing for certain that 99% of the people involved have now passed on to some other place, for want of a better metaphor. I like Kubrick’s assertion that in the final analysis The Shining is actually a feel good movie, life after death being confirmed in the films closing moments and the speculation on spirits and an existence beyond the grave providing proof that ‘However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light‘.
Quite unexpectedly I got this in the post recently, a friend had decided to play a little joke on the Mint and sent me a copy of Jack Torrance’s challenging debut novel without any card or covering note which I have to say was quite entertaining, an appropriate gesture of revenge is being considered. I did like the humorous dust-jacket blurb on the book which proclaims that the novel is a treatise on a writer ‘heroically pitting himself against the Sisyphusean sentence’, I’m about half-way through and I have to say it is a little repetitive but I’m intrigued to see how it all comes together at the end. If you’re in any way interested in further details then here is a comprehensive FAQ which should fill in any gaps, I know I said I’d write-up my experience of the final Kubrick BFI discussion event in this post but I think this entry has already become a little unwieldy so I’ll slot that into a miscellaneous post I’m compiling along with some other film material I’ve collated over the past few months. Here’s the making of documentary. Let’s close with that beautiful final shot of the film, a penetration into the foundations and history of the hotel that mirrors the movies opening sequence, bringing the film a metaphoric full circle, from the panoramic to the individual.
I like to think I’m fairly hard – if you’ll forgive the British vernacular – when it comes to horror movies. This isn’t some pathetic attempt at male machismo believe me, it’s simply a family trait I’m proud to have inherited – my grandmother was a big horror fan and used to borrow the latest Stephen King and James Herbert yarn from me and I have fond memories of watching An American Werewolf in London with her one New Years Eve when she was the extended families designated babysitter, I must have been about eight or nine at the time. My mother has the same tastes, she devours the same horror books and has a taste for the gruesome police procedural Patricia Cornwell novels, we went to see The Silence of The Lambs together which we both found hilariously entertaining. As such I’m someone who can watch the unrated version of Day Of the Dead whilst chomping on breakfast before work so news of any new terribly evil and horrific splatter film always pricks my curiosity. I believe I have mentioned the notorious Martyrs before on here, its already achieved a legendary reputation amongst the horror intelligentsia as a film that does match its stomach churning prestige. I was therefore overjoyed to notice a special premiere screening at the ICA last night ahead of its very limited UK release next month, given the fact it’s been banned across a number of countries and denied anything other than very limited DVD release in other territories I immediately snapped up a ticket and headed over to the Mall to be disgusted. Bring it on….
First of all here is film which quite simply doesn’t fuck around. During the opening credits we are advised through roughly-hewn news footage that a ten year old girl named Lucie made a miraculous escape from a brutal kidnap and prolonged torture ordeal at the hands of unspecified assailants. Cut to fifteen years later and with companion (and possible lover) Anna in tow a seemingly pleasant family bears the brunt of Lucie’s terrible revenge. That’s roughly the first ten minutes. Ensconced at the scene of the crime, a remote bourgeois home that we are essentially isolated at for the remainder of the film, things take some quite unexpected and horrific turns. I honestly cannot reveal any more for fear of even the most minor spoiler that would destabilise the films expertly balanced construction. Given this week’s news focus on the unconscionable Austrian ‘Fritzl’ case coming to trial I can’t imagine a more apt or uncomfortable time to take in such a movie, timing I’m sure that wasn’t lost on my fellow cinema patrons. This film is tough. Oh, and French.
Well, the first thing to say that this is a very, very good film with a definite purpose to its violence and cruelty. Too often these days I find contemporary horror films to be either empty remakes of classic films stripped of the originals efficacious subtexts or Twilight Zone episode / EC Comic tale rehashes which can be be fun in a cinematic exercise sort of way but lack any real potency, any real aura of dread, of threat y’know, any idea that this experience might actually be detrimental to your mental health. I’m therefore happy to report than in the era of 15 certificate horror film here is a genuinely unsettling and disturbing piece of work, a film which lingers in the memory not merely for its gruesome, sustained violence and torture but also for the mortal themes it eviscerates. It’s a film about pain, it’s a film about suffering no doubt, but the final images and turns in Martyrs elevate the experience to something quite unexpected. Director Pascal Laugier is evidently an expert in the genre (Argento is his all time hero I think) and cleverly signposts an obvious twist early on, only to make a subtle reveal roughly half way through the film to render the gore-hounds like yours truly flustered and flailing in wild mental speculation at where on earth the film can go next. Many of the so-called wave of new brutal French horror films and (we’ll come back to them later) have been quite accurately read as camouflaged comments on Iraq, globalisation and immigration fears rendered as some were against civic unrest and violence which echo horrors age old purpose as a mirror of society and it’s ills. Martyrs deviates from these contemporary tropes and lurches into the unique and unusual, the viewer has been dragged into a very dark Gehenna with all hopes of escape brutally crushed. You have been warned.
More to the point can someone please advise what the fuck is wrong with the French these days? Our Gallic cousins seem almost hell-bent on besting each other almost every year with a new, hugely controversial horror film which ups the ante on the last. I was thinking of spending a weekend in Paris this year, now I’m not so sure. Truth be told I didn’t find the film quite as viscerally shocking as expected, IЯЯƎVƎЯSIBLƎ for example still holds the medal on that one as a film which I will never watch again yet can admire its guts, construction and purpose. But I won’t ever see it again. As with my previous visit to the ICA to see The Terminal Man with the unexpected arrival of director Mike Hodges, director Pascal Laugier was on hand to calm nerves as the lights went up after the screening as were the two lead actresses, Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï. As I suspected Laugier confirmed that he intended this as a feminist film and this slots nicely into my detection of an unusual shift of the genre with female characters being as much the catalysts of violence and torture as its victims, quite what that says for equality of the sexes I don’t know. On the way out of the theatre I took the opportunity to have a quick chat with Pascal, shake his hand and thank him for a great piece of work - now gentle reader that is something which I haven’t ever done before so I hope that is some illustration of just what an exceptional piece of work this is, just don’t take Grandma.
Let the nerding commence. After two screenings of this flawed yet entertaining movie I think I’m finally in a position to let you know my thoughts. The reviews floating around veer from the criminally ill-informed criticism to blind praise without tackling some of the films fundamental errors, I think the truth lies somewhere in-between – how’s that for sitting on the fence? One thing I’ll say straight up is that this fully deserves to be seen on as big a screen as possible, if nothing else it is a visual tour de force and certain sequences were breathtaking at the IMAX. So, first things first, any paragraph of this post which contains spoilers for the film, and I stress that – for the film not the graphic novel – will be indicated as such, I will however talk freely around the original story as its been around for over twenty years and I’m assuming if you care then you will have the read the story anyway. So here we go.
The film follows very closely the plot and milieu of the comic, it’s set in an alternate version of 1985 where superheroes or more accurately masked vigilantes are real. The US won the Vietnam War, Nixon won re-election an unprecedented five times and superheroes have been outlawed or forced into premature retirement. The world teeters on the precipice of nuclear annihilation due to increasing tensions between the US and the Soviets, tensions exacerbated by the existence of the only real super-powered figure in the tale, the god-like (and American) Dr. Manhattan who serves as a one man nuclear deterrent. Someone is getting costumed heroes out of the way, a murderous campaign starting with the retired government stooge the Comedian being brutally beaten and hurtled through a twentieth story window by a powerful assassin in the film’s opening scene. The psychotic vigilante Rorschach (think Travis Bickle meets The Question) is determined to investigate the murder, the trail leading him and his partner Nite Owl (a retired Batman clone) to abandon retirement and unearth a vast conspiracy with apocalyptic consequences….
So first of all lets discuss the good stuff. The fact that this densely constructed, multi-textured tale got such a faithful adaptation and a hard-R,18 certificate and an almost three hour running length is quite remarkable. The fidelity to the source material is hugely gratifying and on a purely visceral level it was simply a joy to see the characters I first encountered and loved twenty years ago and have re-visited every couple of years since finally rendered on screen, word for word, image for image. Rorscrach was perfectly transferred from the graphic novel as was Dr. Manhattan, both the Comedian and Nite Owl were also very good and the remaining figures in the story were OK, I’m not sure why Malin Ackerman has received such a wealth of criticism as she was perfectly fine if not outstanding in the role of Silk Spectre II, I suspect much of this vitriol is emerging from the blogs of parent’s basement dwelling fanboys who detest any female incursion into their precious sacred texts. The transfer of the final main character Ozymandias however was a major problem for me but we’ll come back to that later.
I think its fair to say that Zack Snyder’s past as a promo and commercial director are his strengths and this ability to montage sound and image together populate the best sequences in the film, the opening titles sequence was exquisitely crafted to draw the viewers into this parallel world and impart key story elements but for me the entire Dr. Manhattan origin story sequence was far and away the film’s most brilliantly realised and executed sequence. Like any prospective director there are major difficulties in terms of pacing to overcome when translating a graphic novel from page to screen, Snyder certainly hasn’t overcome these problems but the shot for shot comparisons give a certain fanboy jouissance and the entire look and design of the film was wonderful to behold. The respect to the source material is explicit and whilst it may confuse and alienate audience members unfamiliar with the tale with my fan-boy hat on it was these dimensions that kept me riveted throughout my first viewing and keen to detect the more subtle replications throughout the IMAX experience.
On the flip-side I do have some problems with the film, I have devoted a full spoiler laden paragraph concerning the botched ending at the end of this post but I want to stress that this was not due to the changes from the book, in fact all things considered they retained the tone and style of the finale and selected an alternative which is in chime with the graphic novel’s slightly absurd climax, it was some of the other deviations that really disappointed me. I found that the fight scenes were ridiculous and utterly incongruous with the tone of the book, they really threw me out of the film and the whole Snyder stylistic ‘slo-mo/fast-mo’ technique is prepostorous and crucially has no narrative or stylistic function – when the Comedian leaps from the Owlship into a crowd of frenzied rioters unless I’m missing something there is absolutely no justification for such tampering – what is the point? I’d also like someone to explain why everyone in the cinema these days has to be some fucking post-Matrix martial arts ninja master, what’s wrong with some good old fashioned fisticuffs? These people are superheroes, sure, but they are human and that is an essential component of the book. The opening murder of the Comedian is almost comic (if you’ll forgive the poor pun), the punching through walls and excessive physical damage he endures left me cold. I’m not naïve, I understand that a $150 million comic book movie needs to appeal to testosterone fueled teenagers as much as the aging, cranky old fan-boys, it’s a personal thing which I can nevertheless overlook given the film’s other strengths.
SPOILERS ALERT – In full fan-boy mode I should explain that I absolutely love the end of the graphic novel. Whilst I’m sympathetic to those with the opinion that the graphic novels cataclysmic, earth shattering event could not translate to the screen without laughter from the audience I must admit that, erm well, I’m a sick fuck and I wanted to see those blood drenched, corpse strewn New York streets. The change to framing Dr. Manhattan as the culprit for decimating millions in multiple cities as a warning to makind is a good idea, however this all revolves the most fundamental flaw in the film and that is the lack of back-story to Ozymandias. His history, motivations and abilities are marginalised to one scene earlier in the film and a truncated speech at the end which is punctuated by more ridiculous fighting. For me this ultimately rendered the final battle as suspense free and I’m sure pretty damn confusing to an uninitiated audience. The actor who they’ve got was, well OK I guess (I’ve always thought that James Spader in his prime would have been a fine choice) and perhaps much of his performance is on the cutting room floor, regardless without a plausible motivation that is built throughout the film the paint thin veneer on Veidt’s reasoning for the immense slaughter that he conducts means the film concludes more on a whimper than a bang. The best line in the book and its most unexpected twist – ‘don’t be ridiculous, I did it forty five minutes ago’ – is delivered in such a monotone, neutral fashion that what should have been a brilliant inversion of the medium and a genuinely shocking and unexpected moment is lost. The climax, a terrible monstrous event involving the senseless murder of millions of innocents is rendered in the film as a transcendent, almost beautiful act – that is not what the book was about for me.
It’s just so uneven, after spending such scrupulous attention to detail for the previous two hours and then demolish all that achievement is strange. But hey, all this is academic. It’s impossible for me to objectively look at this as a stand-alone film, I am powerless to prevent myself not focusing on how it was executed given my proximity to the graphic novel (I brought the issues when they came out twenty years ago and was a full blown comic book nerd back then, I’ve been to Alan Moore signings etc.), ultimately I think there is a real lack of soul to the film, it’s all very surface laden which skims the surface and leaves many of the other contours of the graphic novel unperturbed and unexplored although again I will stress that this is not surprising given the films anticipated audience and scope, taken on its own terms and the stylistic reproduction on screen I did enjoy the film and I certainly recommend seeing it. I will give the directors cut a miss at the cinema (an extra 30 minutes of footage apparently) and wait for the Blu-Ray, I hope that goes some way to redressing some of the Ozymandias sized gaps in the tale. Some more footage of the Silhouette would also be welcome <cough, cough>. Thanks.
A good, comprehensive overview of the more disappointing differences between source material and film can be found here, like I said I don’t mean to dwell on this too much as I did enjoy the film and am certain this is pretty much the best version we could hope for, it just serves as an interesting read is all. I have collated some other miscellaneous links to the (SPOILERS) film, graphic novel and other work of Alan Moore which may interest you; I leave it entirely in your hands.
Seen it, going to see it again in IMAX tomorrow – what can I say, I couldn’t wait. Very quickly, 2/3rds superb with minor misgivings and problems, 1/3 finale which is a serious failure. I need to see it again as to its credit it is detailed enough to take some percolation, in any case I wanted to post this animation ASAP for sheer amusement. More soon.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Stanley Kubrick. I hope you are all in appropriate mourning attire and intend to watch at least one of his magnum opus this evening as a mark of respect, I’m seeing ‘Watchmen’ in IMAX today but will be making penance with the test drive of my ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ Blu-Ray that I’m itching to fire up tomorrow night. As well as the films I’ve seen and been blogging about the BFI and partners have also been hosting a number of events and installations to mark the anniversary of his passing, here is my round-up of what else I’ve managed to attend over the past few weeks in order to commemorate this auspicious occasion.
I really didn’t have much of an idea of exactly what on earth would be involved in a ‘Kubrick Study Day‘, it sounded a little bit too much like school for my liking. I needn’t have feared, what the BFI had actually managed to do was get together a collection of Kubrick’s artistic colleagues, academics, biographers and archivists to deliver a number of presentations, speeches, anecdotes and general discussions on his work and the efforts to preserve his legacy. The day kicked off with the ubiquitous Jan Harlan taking us through a personal recollection of the days leading up to Stan’s death and funeral including an amusing image of the bemused staff at Luton Airport suddenly being besieged with a phalanx of private jets from LA. This was followed with an explanation of the creative decisions made to complete ‘Eyes Wide Shut‘ from answer to final distribution print and concluded on the rather disappointing news that no-one in either Kubrick’s native New York or adopted home of London have approached the family or estate with any projects to install any permanent exhibits in either city. Next up was the corporate marketing video for the touring archive exhibit which was interesting, there was some previously unseen footage from the making of ‘Full Metal Jacket’ that made me happy, any new footage is always a treat.
Above are couple of photos from the mezzanine exhibit at the BFI with a shooting script and design sketches from ‘Lyndon’. Next up was a brief presentation from the curators of the Kubrick Archive at London’s University Of The Arts which was interesting, they are a mere 60% of the way through archiving all the material that was donated by the estate as seen in last years documentary. I really should get round to making an appointment and having a look at what they’ve got, it’s based in Elephant & Castle which really isn’t that difficult for me to visit. This was appropriately followed by a comparison exercise by screenwriter Cassius Matthias on the different, evolving versions of the script for ‘A Clockwork Orange‘ (yes, isn’t that the apes again?) which are contained in the archive, an exercise that arose as Cassius was performing research on his own ‘youth in contemporary Britain’ screenplay that he’s working on, naturally he decided to check out the relics of one of the best teen/youth themed films ever made. He also made a few nice general observations on Kubrick’s work, comparing the seduction scene in the liberated 1970′s of ‘A Clockwork Orange‘ to the post AID’s paranoia attempted seduction scene in ‘Eyes Wide Shut‘ in the 1990′s (yes I know it’s in Spanish but take a look at 2:32 and you’ll see what I mean, I’ve spent half an hour trying to find that in English and life’s too short) for example, a nice inversion and the sort of comparison you can tease out of many of Kubrick’s body of work.
After lunch events proceded with Alison Castle, the author of the most incredibly detailed and luxurious Kubrick book on the market. She took us through some of her favourite photos that she had collated for the book, themed by Kubrick on-set (including some rare colour prints from ‘Strangelove’), deleted scenes (the decapitation from the end of ‘Jacket’) and some details of the materials collected for her upcoming lavish book on ‘Napoleon‘, the ‘greatest film never made’, a bargain at £300 eh? Next was a meandering speech on Stanley’s love of technology from his personnel assistant of twenty years, Anthony Frewin. This was actually quite amusing, Frewin recounted how they were amongst the first people in the country to get fax machines and of course a behemoth of a computer which cost them £17K back in the early 1970′s, Stanley insisting on the exorbitant expense as the technology was of course the ‘future’. He did get a big laugh with his observation that ‘That’s the thing about Stanley, one minute he’d be quoting Wittgenstein, the next complaining that Waitrose granary bread cost 10p more than Tesco granary bread which was of a higher quality’. He closed with some speculation on what Stan would have made of the Internet and more pertinently digital photography, alas he shall never know.
The penultimate section was a panel discussion on ‘Barry Lyndon‘ including Gay Hamilton and assistant director Brian Cook, along with Frewin and Jan Harlan. The usual anecdotes were expressed confirming that Kubrick was was actually a very collaborative director, entertaining actors and other crew members ideas and input, dispelling the myth of the legendary control freak director. Best of all for me was the revelation of a film which Kubrick loved which may have been influenced by the film, Andrej Wajda’s ‘Danton‘, suffice to say I am on the case courtesy of Amazon.co.uk. The best was saved until last as the day concluded with a full hour Q&A session with the panel including all the aforementioned speakers and Kubrick’s daughter Katarina who made the most impressive statement of the day. She wrapped the entire event up nicely by briefly talking through how wounded and distressed the family had been immediately after her fathers death due to the blatant lies that were printed in the likes of the Daily Mail and Daily Express, propagating the misogynist, misanthrope delusion which was utterly absurd (A man with three daughters and a forty year marriage hates women? And as Frewin said ‘making a film is perhaps the most gregarious profession to have’), bursting with enthusiasm Katarina explained just how humbled and thrilled her father would have been at an event such as this, a superb conclusion to a thoroughly excellent (albeit tiring) day. I should also mention that the rumor that ‘Eraserhead‘ was his favourite film was finally put to rest, he liked it and it was screened to crew and cast before shooting on ‘The Shining’ commenced, but that was all.
Throughout the two month season a curious installation has been on display at the NFT, a video piece titled ‘Unfolding The Aryan Papers‘ which is a visual essay put together by artisits Jane & Louise Wilson following a two week research period through the Kubrick archives. The installation is essentially a twenty minute video comprised of screen and camera tests taken from the uncompleted project ‘The Aryan Papers’, overlaid with the verbal reminiscences of actress Johanna ter Steege who was cast as the female lead, transmitted on a double sided 4 by 3 metre screen, flanked by mirrors in a darkened space to produce an infinity effect. Quite honestly everything that needs to be said about it is reported here, I’ll just add the obvious remark that it’s almost painful to see an elusive glimpse of what may have been.
There would have been a third event to talk about but alas it’s actually three days away and I really wanted to get a post up to celebrate the anniversary of Stan’s passing, therefore we’ll just have to wait until I’ve completed my final Kubrick film review as I’ll incorporate details into that post. The final event is a a panel discussion chaired by Sight & Sound’s Nick James and is entitled ‘Kubrick’s Critical Odyssey’, it looks like a forum intended to discuss Kubrick’s legacy, influence and to reassess in particular his last movie ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. All well and good, what really appeals to me about this is the anticipated attendance of Michel Ciment, French critic and one of (if not the premier) Kubrick specialist, this book is a absolutely essential for any budding Kubrickophile.
Ten years man. I remember very clearly where I was when I heard he had gone, a friend rang me and simply said ‘put on the BBC’ and I instinctively knew what happened before the TV even flared into action, it’s scary to think that was a decade ago. Still, you know they say that you should never meet your heroes as you are bound to be disappointed, so perhaps it’s for the best eh? I still think its weird that of all the places in the world he could have settled and worked in he was ensconced a short drive from where I grew up. Hey, who knows, maybe we’ll ‘meet one again one sunny day’?
For a change of pace after my recent Oscar related cinema visits I thought some action orientated material would be in order, hey presto ‘The International‘ ambles into theatres to hopefully satisfy Minty’s need for frenetic gunfire, deafening explosions and impressive squib work. Much has been made of the prescience of the film that has been a good few years in the making, now emerging into the multiplexes as the global financial holocaust (I loathe the chirpy ‘Credit Crunch’ sobriquet) deepens around the globe. Alas gentle reader prescience is not a substitute for anything resembling an original plot, textured characterisation or that fatal death knell for a thriller/action movie hybrid, an onset of sheer boredom throughout 90% of this films running time.
Based on a real world scandal Clive Owen is Louis Salinger, a wronged Interpol officer who is on the trail of a powerful international bank which is bent on world domination through the control of weapons trading, conflict governance and debt management on a country wide scale in the developing world. After one of Salinger’s colleagues collapses dead in front of him from a supposed heart attack shortly after meeting a possible bank whistle-blower, our hero teams up with American Department of Justice agent Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) and the chase is on to find the murderer, foil the banks dastardly plans and restore justice to the world. This time it’s personal for Salinger, his career at Scotland Yard was wrecked when the bank liquidated another insider he had arranged to testify against them, he’s willing to go off the grid, turn in his badge and resort to any means to bring these villains to heel.
You may have noted a somewhat sarcastic tone to the synopsis above, I’m afraid this is not very good. Not very good at all. Ignoring some glaring contradictions (demoted from Scotland Yard to Interpol eh? Sounds pretty cushy to me and it appears that this omnipotent bank has more leaks than a Welsh farmer’s market), it’s effectively a Bourne movie except with all the, y’know boring action scenes and stunts cut out (with one exception which we’ll get to) leaving a hollow shell of a film which is uncertain in tone, which doesn’t know quite what it wants to be, a Bond clone or a cerebral contemporary thriller such as ‘Michael Clayton’. I listened to the Creative Screenwriter Magazine pod-cast interview with scribe Eric Singer and it is quite clear that this is a film that has suffered the fate of studio interference. A cut was produced which all the cast and crew were overjoyed with, then the execs saw the comments back from test screenings and panicked, a new cut was produced which removed the core 1970′s era conspiracy film flavor that Singer was supposedly aiming for, you can see the shards of his intentions in some scenes and the downbeat ending but overall this is a dull, hackneyed movie.
The film suffers from some of the worst expositionary dialogue I have ever heard in a film, face-palm inducing nuggets such as ‘Of course, we all realise gentlemen that this deal is the most important in our history and the very survival of our bank rests on our success’ and ‘Hmm, if we can bring in this assassin we can blow this case wide open and bring down this bank’, or best of all ‘The bosses have a gun to my head Salinger, we need to take this case down in twenty fours or it’s all over’ – all it needed was a subtle cattle-prod to the nuts to advise the audience that ‘THIS IS WHAT IS HAPPENING’ and ‘THESE ARE THE STAKES AND WHAT THE CHARACTERS NEED TO DO IN ORDER TO WIN’. Now if this was complemented with some excitement and it was evident that was the tone the film was aiming for, some adrenaline infused eye-candy then fine. However what do we get to close Act 2 is an admittedly well crafted action sequence executed in New York’s Guggenheim museum, an explosive showdown between a gun-toting newly crowned action superman Salinger and a horde of Uzi wielding goons who are expertly dispatched with ruthless efficiency. It’s utterly incongruous with the previous 90 minutes and remainder of the film, it’s almost as if they parachuted in some outtakes from Owen’s previous action-fest ‘Shoot Em Up‘ and whilst it woke me up it raises expectations for the remainder of the film which it cannot and does not equal.
I can’t make my mind up about Clive Owen, he’s been in some good movies such as ‘Closer’ and ‘Sin City’ and some films best left quietly alone to expire such as “Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ and the abysmal re-make of ‘The Pink Panther’, I find him to be almost an epicentre of blandness, a curious quality which strangely seemed to suit his character in ‘Children Of Men’. Naomi Watts is wasted, her most exciting scene concerns, I kid you not, exchanging e-mails with the slain whistle-blowers wife on her blackberry. Edge of the seat stuff eh? On the plus side they don’t ever descend to some cliched romance between Salinger and Whitman but that doesn’t really substitute the films many failures. It’s worth a cursory look for the Guggenheim scene but that’s the only asset in this bankrupt enterprise. If you want to see a good thriller concerned with the complex and murky world of international finance – and I know you want to – I’d suggest tracking down a criminally underrated film called ‘Rollover‘ from 1981, a film which truly deserves the best crystal ball prize by predicting not only the western world’s reliance on Arabian natural resources but also Jane Fonda’s marriage to a multi-national media mogul. Clip with spoilers here.