Given the recent news it feels apt to post the excised, deleted scene from the original cut of ‘Alien’;
I’ll always remember reading that incubation scene in the Alan Dean Foster adapation and in total film geek fascination wondered how it would have looked on screen, how it contibuted to the ‘Alien’ life cycle, back in those days you only had the odd issue of Fangoria or some associated SF film fanzine to rely on for inside production nuggets. How things change eh? I went to see the ‘Alien’ Directors Cut at the Odeon Leicester Square in 2003 and as I left the cinema Joel Schumacher (whom I later realised was in London shooting ‘Phantom Of The Opera’) walked past me and my mate into the next screening. I’ll never forgive myself for not shaking his hand for this then giving him a slap for this. I might be joking about one of those links…..
A provocative title for a provocative film. Cresting on a wage of indignant outrage and faux concern at the disintegration of the pillars of civilisation and claims of an assault on common human decency, Lars Von Trier, the self proclaimed ‘greatest film director alive‘ new film ‘Antichrist‘ opened in London this week and I took a quick trip down to Greenwich to see what all the fuss was about. In an opening which has more than a small debt to ‘Don’t Look Now‘, a psychiatrist husband (Willem Dafoe, listed simply as ‘he’) is making love to his academic wife Charlotte Gainsbourg (referred to simply as ‘she’), a supposedly tender moment which Von Trier brutally intercuts with their infant son escaping the confines of his crib and falling to his death, a sequence rendered almost beautiful with crisp black & white photography, a Handel soundtrack and expressive slow motion timing – a montage clearly designed to offend some sensibilities especially considering one graphic penetration shot. In mourning and paralysed with guilt the couple retreat to an abandoned cottage out in the woods to recuperate as the film veers into a very unsettling, narcotic fairy tale territory, ‘she’ becoming increasingly distraught and as the animals and woods themselves come to life around her, nature itself infected with the elusive evil that the death has released. He is a psychiatrist who intends to talk their way through a successful recuperation, a symbol of rationality and male authority, She is an academic who it is revealed has been working on a demented thesis on the nature of evil and the mythic female throughout history entitled ‘Gynocide’, thus they are both ciphers, they are the only characters in the picture and they remain nameless, a theatrical conceit which Von Trier employs to achieve a timeless, amorphous, nightmarish constitution to the film. The discussions and arguments descend into insanity, emotional rape and sexual violence as the nightmare psychosis overflows from the man and woman’s bruised psyche into the world….
For me its clearest antecedent is ‘The Company Of Wolves‘, a film I’m surprised not to have seen mentioned in the handful of reviews I’ve read but then again I don’t think that movie developed much of a cult in the States. It goes further of course, ‘Antichrist‘ can certainly be pigeon-holed as a so-called torture porn art-film which but it doesn’t quite match the notorious reviews it has already attracted, quite brilliantly from people who haven’t even seen the film, Von Trier must be overjoyed. Films which generate outrage and disgust amongst the right-wing press tend to be actually pretty good, don’t you think? It’s taken a few days to percolate and after reading some reviews from both sides of the fence, not matter how well written and argued (Bradshaw turned in a high quality account I think) I ultimately think that it is a genuine, anguished, celluloid howl of despair, when you disregard the publicity stunts and marketing around the project there is a terrible, diabolic centre to the film that has slithered out from Von Triers wretched imagination.
Hmm, that sounds derogatory doesn’t it? That’s not my intention, I mean words like ‘wretched’ in their ‘biblical’ sense, not the terrible, inept sense – the film is positively saturated with religious symbolism, the woods in which the majority of the film takes place is a fallen Eden, one of many binary oppositions inserted into the film (the opening life/death, male/female), which can also be observed in the films structure. The film is divided into four sections – a prologue, epilogue and two central sections, separated by cue cards which reinforces its artificial, allegorical flavour. In terms of the horror it is all internal, there are no manifestations of the id in monstrous form, no ancient allegorical monsters to defeat, the film is so utterly nihilistic that the films most memorable line – ‘nature is Satan’s playground’ – delivers up its central motif. Aside from the painful finale for me the truly unsettling sequences are derived from what I can best describe as the animal moments, it’s difficult to remain spoiler free but there are a collection of sequences that bookend the different chapters of the film and it is during these brief moments where I got a real sense of discomfort at the notion of nature, the natural as inherently evil in terms of our irrelevant moral code. I can’t summarise this unsettling and disturbing work better than Nina Power who concludes ‘Antichrist is disturbing because ultimately there is no separating the natural from the unnatural, right from wrong. There is trauma because there is life and then death, and none of it means anything’.
Is Von Trier a fraud? A hoaxer on the international film community who strives to elicit some false controversy through his empty, hollow movies? A deliberate purveyor of cruel punishment on his female characters? He is a founder member of the Dogme movement which, whatever your opinion of the movies themselves, proved in the 1990′s that world cinema remained a viable and evolving art form as an unexpected, organic film movement emerged in reaction to a conflation of cultural, economic and social forces just like German Expressionism did in the 1920′s, French Poetic Realism in the 1930′s or Italian Neo-Realism immediately after the war emerged before them. I happen to think that most of the Dogme films are actually pretty dull but that’s just me, it may be in part due to the hegemony of verite, reality themed material seizing and infecting all forms of audio visual communication over the past ten, fifteen years. When it comes to Von Trier’s oeuvre I’ve sat through the many hours of his Brechtian ‘Manderlay‘ and ‘Dogville‘ and I actually quite liked them both but can’t see myself ever watching them again, the same with ‘Dancer In The Dark’ and ‘Breaking The Waves’ which are all tough, challenging movies on the audience and his characters alike. He does put his female characters through absolute hell in every one of his movies and has attracted many accusations of misogyny as does Neil Labute, as did Hitchcock, as did Kubrick. I guess its subjective, Hitchcock’s women are actually fairly heroic outside many of the better known films (think of Grace Kelly in ‘Rear Window’ or Ingrid Bergman in ‘Notorious‘), in Labute the men are portrayed as so venomously cruel and duplicitous the women come out almost angelic in comparison. Von Trier has voiced his admiration of Strindberg which dissipates any lingering doubts for me. Maybe I’m being shallow but give me a Vincent Gallo, Von Trier or Abel Ferrera any day over a Ron Howard, Ed Zwick or Bruce Ratner picture, they may not always be good films but at least you’re not bored.
Anyone dedicating such a film to Tarkovsky, perhaps cinema’s greatest poet on spiritualism and faith (even a rabid atheist like me can appreciate these elements) is quite clearly aiming to induce an epidemic of apoplectic seizures amongst the world cinema critical intelligentsia, in any case the film has a beautiful visual texture provided by one of the worlds leading DP’s Anthony Dod Mantle. I kind of admire him for that controversial inclusion, having seen the film there are sequences which have clearly been filmed as homage’s to Tarkovsky’s unique style and as expected it was this dedication appearing on screen at Canne which resulted in more disgust and revulsion than the graphic nudity, genital mutilation and overwhelming cruelty. Whether he is being honest or not (I think he is) it’s a masterstroke of marketing guaranteed to result in hundreds of column inches of outraged hyperbole. I’ve read and heard a couple of interviews with Von Trier over the past week or so and I think it’s fair to say that he’s a fairly screwed up bloke. He’s suffered near nervous breakdowns, depression, has a series of crippling phobias and wrestled with a number of faith related ideologies, converting to Catholicism, engaging in drug induced shamanistic (experiences that Von Trier injected into ‘Antichrist‘ with the talking fox) practices as a teenager and suffered a life changing revelation on his mothers deathbed when she revealed that his biological father was not the man who nurtured and raised him in the family home – if you’re artistically inclined that has got to be quite a game changer and I’d say that he has poured his anguish into ‘Antichrist’, by far his most gruelling movie yet.
Here’s a quite infuriating list of some peoples ‘best‘ worst films (yes I’m still seething at the appearance of ‘Big Trouble In Little China‘ on that list, Erik Bryan you will face my wrath) which has led to a few more additions to my lovefilm.com list, I’m really looking forward to ‘The Last Boy Scout‘ again and a first look at ‘Liquid Sky‘. To keep things binary here’s a link to some ‘worst‘ best films, I disagree with ‘The Searchers‘ assertion – its a great film – but it is truly refreshing to see someone lay into ‘Jules Et Jim‘, a film which I thoroughly detested and hey, I like Truffaut. If you want to see, genuine, Class A, state of the art, inept film-making then you must see the underground classic ‘Manos, Hands Of Fate’, a film made by a farmer due to a drunken bet that anyone can be a film-maker. It’s sublime.
Given the reviews I’ve read of ‘Frozen River‘ since catching it at the Apollo a couple of weeks ago it appears obligatory to use the terms ‘frigid’, ‘blue-collar’ and ‘promising talent’ in any review of the film, the latter phrase referring to lawyer turned writer/director Courtney Hunt who has been working on her debut project for over ten years. Oscar nominated Melissa Leo is Ray Eddy, a trailer park dwelling mother of two whose gambling addicted husband has just fled the coup with the families savings that were intended as a down payment on a new home. The family lives in Northern New York state, an area which straddles the Canadian border on one side and a Mohawk reservation on the other, an enclave with its own state sanctioned legislation and customs where law enforcement are not welcome and will not tread. In the process of attempting to tracking down her husband and recover her savings Ray falls in with the similarly desperate Lila Littlewolf, a young Mohawk mother whose infant child has been remanded into the custody of the tribal elders due to her past criminal activities and grievances with the law. Both women, living in poverty, desperate to support and protect their families almost imperceptibly drift into the smuggling immigrants into the states from Canada, across Mohawk land, Ray’s white heritage ensuring their car won’t be stopped by the authorities. As you’d expect things don’t exactly go to plan…
It’s ‘Thelma & Louise’ in winter without the laughs. The film encompasses all the best that US independent cinema has to offer – good performances, strong characterisations, interesting locations and an emphasis on a social strata not usually covered in American cinema – the working class, the marginalised, society’s forgotten. There are plenty of ideas floating around to mull over, the themes of immigration entwined with the native American experience over the past few centuries is interesting, financial imperatives and fiscal survival driving essentially decent people into the realms of illegality, the landscape capturing the bleak realities of both women’s lives as they are of course both skating on the thin ice referenced in the films title. I thought I recognised Melissa Leo and it took a while to click that she was of course the great Detective Kay Howard from ‘Homicide’ back when it was good (essentially the first two or three seasons), I read that she left in despair when the suits started pressuring the shows creators to bring in more conventionally attractive actresses to supposedly boost ratings because of course the reason people watched a smart, cerebral crime procedural show like ‘Homicide‘ was to gawp at pretty ladies right? Idiots. ‘Frozen River‘ was good and recommended although I suspect you won’t be able to catch in the UK very easily, despite the unanimous praise it was showing on exactly two screens in London due to exploding wizards and child robots dominating the multiplexes. I may have got that the wrong way round.
From the intimate to the galactic, ‘Kubrick’s Moon‘ was a panel discussion at the NFT to discuss the movie ‘2001‘ in light of recent technological trends and developments rather than any specific discussion of the films mythology, themes or production history although some of these elements did creep into the fascinating discussion that took place. The delegates were drawn from a variety of disciplines, mostly non-film which was preferable as I didn’t really want to see a re-hash of the same articles, analysis, opinions and observations I’ve absorbed over the years, besides I didn’t want to embarrass anyone by leaping on stage to correct any inaccuracies. That’s a joke. Mostly. Documentary film maker Theo Kamecke was present as was author Simon Ings, BBC science correspondent Christopher Riley and Kubrick assistant Anthony Frewin was on hand to provide some ground zero, firsthand context to the discussions of the film itself and Kubrick’s intentions.
Will Whitehorn, the president of Virgin Galactic kicked off proceedings with a half hour riveting cantor through the past fifty years or so development of space travel, I’m a convert of what they can achieve with their project which has been built and begins detailed testing in December. Flights will begin at around the £200K mark so it’s probably best to start saving now. The panel discussion then opened up and it was swiftly confirmed what Kubrick got wrong (HAL) and what he got right – everything else. To clarify, we’re not talking about regular lunar commercial travel being in place by 2001, a date selected by Kubrick for its intrinsic elegance rather anything clumsy like 2347 or 2284, more the design and some of the specific environmental observations nestled with the movie. People seem to forget this – the film, after five years of production and shooting – was released before we actually set foot on the moon. Kubrick hired two of the top available specialists – Fred Ordway and Harry Lange- as senior consultants for the film and of course there are tales of how through these connections he coaxed out some of the films legitimacy from technicians actually working on the Apollo project. Frewin provided a comment that had crossed my mind the last time I watched the movie which was that when approached from one angle it could be said to be that 2001 is a film as much about the 1960′s as any supposed prediction for the future – a function of all the best speculative fiction, to take contemporary concerns and developments and extrapolate them into some imagined dimension to better explore their contours and implications without the encumbrance of realism.
The film has an inherent positivism, a vision of humankind reborn, evolved, transformed and the revelation of our sharing of the universe with some unknown, omnipotent guiding force which gives us succour in that we are not alone in a rudderless, indifferent, cold universe – and people say Stan was a miserable sod. The use of technology is simultaneously worshipped (via the monolith’s alien technology) and admonitory in the form of HAL, the films only real character with any sense of personality, one of Kubrick’s little jokes there. Some other general data and anecdotes where thrown around much to the audiences and panels amusement and fascination. A discussion about HAL led into the revelation that the Internet has recently overtaken the 1HB or One Human Brain threshold – it’s actually fairly difficult to track down any clear material on this phenomenon on the very vessel on which it resides – the web – which either can make you chuckle with the irony or like me develop a slight case of paranoia. I think the point is that the number of nodes, of websites and convulsions through its infrastructure has hit the same volumes of neurons firing off in one human brain, if the futurologists are to be believed at this rate of expansion it should equal the entire population of the planet by 2025. I don’t know about you but what with all the porn, conspiracy theories and self important bloggers (like yours truly) I don’t envy the prospect of the net becoming self aware as it would be, in a very real and literal sense, fucked in the head. I’ve seen ‘The Forbin Project‘ too thank you very much. NASA’s monthly payroll cost is $200 million. $200 million. A month. That’s more than the entire development budget for the whole Virgin Galactic programme.
Apparently James Lovelock, the founder of the Gaia movement had his eureka moment when he saw the mythical photograph taken of the Earth from the lunar surface and realised that our humble little planet could be viewed as one organism, all the facets of which are inter-dependant on each other. Whatever your views on the tree-huggers that instinct was instrumental in the detection and measuring of climate change which is a pretty important problem we’re currently facing. Some talk was made of Kubrick’s analysis of the Drake Equation (he thought it inevitable that we would make contact) explained by Carl here which led into thoughts of perhaps looking closer to home for purportedly ‘alien’ evidence given the recent exhumation of unusual silicon material from the Mariana trench by the Nereus. To end on a sombre tone, apparently the first message beamed into space from our paltry little rock was by the Nazi’s when they transmitted Hitler’s address at the 1936 Munich Olympics out into the galactic ether. Thanks guys, either some war-mongering, xenophobic green fuckers will pick up that transmission and assume they’ve just been offered out in the galactic equivalent of the pub car park or some peaceful, harmonious celestial solars will see this and decide to nuke us from orbit – we’re screwed either way. Here’s some Kubrick related stuff I’ve unearthed from youtube recently including a brief extract from the Academy Tribute event from 2007, finally if you are ever offered the chance to see this then decline, it’s terrible which was a shame given the pedigree of the people behind the camera.
EDIT – Ok, I was hoping that some of the ‘Avatar‘ footage might have leaked by now but apparently not, probably for the best. Instead here is the stunning Tron 2 trailer which I’ll admit has got my nerd button fully depressed, good ole Bridges is effortlessly cool as always:
Who knows, if it’s a hit then maybe, one day, we’ll finally get that ‘Automan‘ movie…
Adam Curtis is the man, even if he does make some tenuous connections his documentaries are never less than fascinating. His new effort – ‘It Felt Like A Kiss’ – is here, below is an interview which might whet your appetite.
Some more here…
…and here which I’ve never seen and just found. Excellent.
The term ‘epic’ is bandied around a lot these days, Transformers 2 is the greatest ‘epic’ summer movie, Australia is a sweeping, romantic epic, and American Gangster is a crime film of epic proportions. Let me be clear – no they’re not. Epic is a film spanning the life of a character, from childhood to old age. Epic is encompassing sixty, seventy years of detailed social history. Epic is fusing these strands into a captivating comment on the human condition. Epic is Once Upon A Time In America. Concealed within its gangster movie trappings the film is a detailed mediation on the notions of loss and time, filtered through the prism of the American Dream from turn of century New York to the 1960′s as it follows the rise and fall of a clutch of Jewish gangsters led by Noodles (Robert De Niro) and Max (James Woods) whose lives are chronicled from childhood friendship to twilight years and death – that is fucking Epic. There will be spoilers around for America and a few other films, we’re talking about movies that have been around for over 20 years here so if you ain’t caught ‘em yet then that’s your lookout pal. I’m being all tough n’ shit and getting into character ya frickin mook.
Based on the novel The Hoods by Harry Grey, America proved to be Leone’s final film, the first in yet another projected trilogy similar to the Dollars series. The film concentrates on three periods throughout its exhausting run time, the establishment of the gang – the main other players being Patsy (James Hayden) and Cockeye (William Forsythe) in the early portion of the century, their growing power and influence throughout the height of Prohibition in the early 1930′s and Noodles investigation of a mysterious letter that he receives in 1968 which draws him back to his home, thirty five years hence, all his friends and partners in crime believed dead and buried. Central to the tale is Noodles love for his childhood sweetheart Deborah, played by Jennifer Connelly in the early scenes and Elisabeth McGovern as an adult, a love that is not unentirely unrequited but complicated by Noodles criminal and Deborah’s artistic ambitions.
Out of all the musical pairings of Leone, for me one of the finest all-time Italian directors and Ennio Morricone, one of the all time finest screen composers this is my favourite, of course his spaghetti western compositions have become iconic and the harmonica moments in Once Upon A Time In The West are brilliant but I just prefer the cadence and melancholy wrapped up in the America score. Leone’s directing style, whilst identifiable from the Westerns is somewhat restrained and subdued when you compare it to the bombastic and exuberant methods at play in the likes of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. To echo the themes of memory and nostalgia Leone signposts many of the transitions with slow pans, POV’s and cuts between doorways and apertures, signalling a portal to another time, a journey through a doorway to reach the past. These visual flourishes are compounded with a judicious use of mirrors, smoke and mist throughout the picture to generate a period evocation that is palpable, especially around the 1900′s scenes with the young gang prowling the mean streets of New York, a sepia toned yet unforgiving, brutal playground.
What happened to Elizabeth McGovern? The best scene in the film for me was the 35 year reunion between Noodles and Deborah, that scene really nailed the haunting lamentation of lost time with performances that are given a chance to breathe with long takes and an almost palpable register of emotions raging across the actors faces. According to IMDB she moved into lots of TV stuff which is a shame, I guess she needed a better agent. More pertinently, what the fuck happened Bob? I won’t accept the usual excuse that there is not enough good stuff being green-lit to attract actors of his calibre, there are infrequent gems out there which I’m sure crossed his agents’ desk. Lets have a look shall we – 1973 to 1984; Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Godfather II, The Deer Hunter, 1900, Raging Bull, Once Upon A Time In America, King Of Comedy. 2000 – 2009; Meet The Parents. Analyse This. Analyse That. Meet The Fockers. Rocky and fucking Bullwinkle? I don’t know, I guess your priorities change as you get older and perhaps you want to take in lighter, fluffier fare but that is quite a catastrophic drop in quality. I like to think that he and Marty have one more outstanding collaboration in them but they ain’t get any younger so they’d better pull their respective fingers out, here’s the trailer for Scorsese’s next picture which looks, well, strange…
Let’s alight on the ambiguous ending. It was quite a feat to reach this point after nearly four hours in the cinema and everyone in the audience was absolutely silent or at the very least asleep. I jest of course, it was a fairly packed NFT1 crowd most of whom who returned after the brief intermission at the 3 hour mark. It was quite a moment to reach the crescendo as the music rises and Noodles turns to the camera to reveal that rictus grin after the marathon running time, like my Heaven’s Gate experience I can honestly say it didn’t feel that long and I found the finale quite affecting. Are all the scenes from Noodle’s betrayal in 1933 forward the fevered imaginings of his opium drenched mind? It’s a plausible scenario, after musing over the films opening movement, its almost non-verbal montage of events with the ringing telephone obscuring the soundtrack which occurs at the same point of time could is another signal of the dreamy, hazy mood of the entire film, not dissimilar to your own memories of past events. It’s an interesting take on the film but I prefer to take the movie on face value (if you’ll forgive the pun), one of the key central moments in Noodles life providing the ideal, final moment of reflection.
Gangster movies, I love ‘em. Other than America my favourites range from the genuinely classic and obvious to the cult and obscure, you have to go back to the 1930′s to see where this all started and I’m excited to see an upcoming Gallic take on the genre which has gone down like gangbusters in France. Then there’s the comedies, the art-house fusions, the noir hybrids, the chilly Parisian yarns, the obvious and less known British tales, the Yakuza translations and the pulpy oddities. I’m sure such a long running genre will continue to prosper as there is something magnetic about seeing people on screen violate the conventions of society, no matter how loathsome and violent they are you’re always secretly cheering them on to succeed and prosper, even though inevitably their accrual of power is usually met with a violent end or utter destruction of their humanity.
Good old Brixton Academy, although its called the o2 Academy these days I’m keeping it real. Or something. Anyway, Morrissey;
This will be brief, he was good and the band was tight but I really only cared about the ‘Smith’s’ tracks, I’ve never been a fan of his solo stuff so it won’t be making an appearance here:
Great fun for a school night and glad I saw him live, he didn’t deviate (much) from the expected set list though, despite some teasing about a taxi drive that took him past Buckingham Palace which I hoped would lead into this:
..but it didn’t. Still, half a dozen tracks I really enjoyed including one of the classics, could have been worse:
Says it all really:
OK, I’ll cut the snark – good work Mike, Buzz and Neil, good work….
I’ve got more lunacy to come (did you see what I did there?) after the ‘Kubrick’s Moon’ event over the weekend that needs to be written up and a review of ‘Frozen River’, however tonight is the epic screening of ‘Once Upon A Time In America’ at the NFT and tomorrow is another gig – this could take a while so here’s a few chuckles to tide you over;
I was first introduced to the film ‘Mishima‘ on possibly the greatest TV film season programme, the mighty Moviedrome, back in the late 80′s – great lovefilm list here. Even a poxy portable colour TV in the kitchen of my childhood home didn’t obscure what for me up until that point was a very different type of movie to see, once I’d made the connection that the guy who made this was the guy who wrote ‘Taxi Driver‘ I knew I was on to something. Schraders been in the UK to conduct some screenwriting seminars, a visit that coincides with a very limited re-lease of his 1985 movie at the ICA for a fortnight, I snuck in a quick viewing on Monday after the stag weekend and before the NIN gig – it’s nice to be busy, in the next few days I’ve got a couple more NFT visits scheduled and yet another gig to look forward too. But I digress…
‘Mishima‘ is a operatic biography of the controversial Japanese author and playwright Yukio Mishima who stormed a Japanese military HQ in 1970 with a crew of his students to protest at the governments progressive liberalisation, to champion the adherence to the Samurai code and reaffirm the Emperor as the sole ruler of Japan. After kidnapping a senior general Mishima delivered a chaotic speech to a group of hastily assembled soldiers in a insane attempt to ignite a coup-d’état. It’s not really a spoiler but to make his point in perhaps the boldest and most memorable way possible Mishima committed ritual seppuku which ensured his notoriety. I guess you can’t argue that he wasn’t a man unsure of his convictions eh?
The film follows three strands, the attack and occupation of the government building on the last day of Mishma’s life intercut with black and white flashbacks of the pivotal moments in his life coupled with vividly coloured re-enactments of scenes from three of his plays, the three interconnecting strands entwining thought-out the film, accentuating the links between his life and work. This was the Japanese cut of the film which meant that it was subtitled throughout and the voiceover which was provided by the late, great Roy Scheider in the international version was replaced with Ken Ogoto’s valorous tones. Mishima was obsessed with the notion of rituals and honour, beauty and perfection, almost quintessential Japanese traits when you consider the tea ceremony and strict code of Bushido. This is what I suspect attracted Schrader to the project, an interest in exploring these obsessions through the proxy of his trademark alienated, marginalised loner archetype.
Like Mishima’s life the film is stylised, just as the sensei sought to transform his life (and death) into a work of art so the film embraces a more ritual, more magniloquent one than your usual traditional, linear biography. The film is expertly cut to the music, a magnificent score from Philip Glass which never fails to get mentioned in any review of the film you care to read, it also gives the piece a curious connection with the Scorsese directed ‘Kundun‘ which also features a Glass score, both are biographies of eastern figures and both films feature American directors operating outside of the classical American film formula – they’d make an interesting double bill. Here are the best movements of the film as best I can track them down, the production design is outstanding.
This is why I write this blog, in the process of putting this entry together I stumbled across this, a fantastic collection of Schraders scribblings over the years which includes his seminal ”Transcendental Style In FIlm’ which I’ve been meaning to absorb for years – discoveries like this make all my amateur efforts worthwhile. The Criterion guys have a fine looking disk of the film which I may have to indulge in, I’m also going to track down ‘Karakkaze Yaro‘, the 1950′s yakuza flick which was Mishima’s one and only screen appearance that is briefly referenced in the film, any movie which attracts the review line ‘as brutal as a Sam Fuller picture’ incites my interest. I’ve just invested in a number of new movies on DVD to keep me entertained over the coming weeks, I’ve been looking for this for ages which along with ‘Strange Days‘ and ‘Point Break‘ should put me in the right frame of mind to catch ‘The Hurt Locker‘ which has secured some stunning reviews and gets a UK release next month. It has one of the best sniper sequences in film history ‘apparently. Speaking of war movies I’ve also finally got my hands on the epic, 289 minute (yes, you read that correctly – that’s almost five hours) ‘Apocalypse Now‘ workprint which should be an interesting (and staggered) viewing experience. I’ve had a quick look and the quality isn’t great but watchable, for a mere $15 including P&P from Kansas I really can’t complain….
Well, perhaps not quite the last tour ever that the press have been trumpeting but certainly the end of an era. I’ve always had a soft spot for Nine Inch Nails, they usually get lumped in with the like of Metallica and other US thrash stuff that exploded in the very early nineties which believe me is not my idiom, I do however enjoy NIN’s combination of industrial style arrangements with howling guitar chords, all overlayed with front man Trent Reznor’s charming penchant in self loathing and misanthropic lyrics – it puts a smile on my face. They are undoubtedly a stunning live band and this experience was another tour-de-force despite some initial reservations that they wouldn’t be able to fully connect to the audience in the cavernous reaches of the o2 stadium. Some of the links are far from great quality and I’ve substituted performances from other nights as necessary, this post is really for my prosperity more than anything else whilst I wait for the inevitable final tour Blu-Ray that I’m sure will hit shops around Christmas, how delightfully festive….
NIN have been supported on this final tour by Janes Addiction, a band I’m fairly ambivalent about but I did enjoy these two tracks of theirs, back in the day. We rolled up at the venue halfway through their set and got to see both so the evening kicked off on a positive note. They were pretty good and built up the audience for the main course, NIN debuting with the usual set opener ‘Terrible Lie’ from their first album;
A few faster tracks followed to set the tone before things settled down a little with a few B-Sides and covers rubbing shoulders with a couple of album tracks from NIN’s career, to be honest this didn’t exactly work for me and I felt that the gig was going downhill and they were losing the audience. The other times I’ve seen these guys has been in much smaller, more intimate venues and it is was proving difficult for the band to transmit their energy to the wholestadium, something they have always effortlessly achieved in the likes of the Brixton Academy or London Forum. Even with the ludicrously intense strobes and the lighting techs leaping around like nutters in the mixing booth things were ebbing away a little.
All these concerns were swiftly demolished when after a more tranquil couple of tracks they launched into the blistering conflagration of ‘Wish’;
…followed by the unexpected ‘Down In It’, their first ever single from way back in 1989, it was superb;
This was swiftly followed by quite a coup, the quite unexpected appearance of only Gary fucking NUMAN on stage to play a couple of tracks. I knew a Numan cover – Metal- was on the set list from previous dates but this was still a thoroughly entertaining shock (this reaction made me laugh) compounded by a swift launch into yet another Numan track, the one and only electro classic;
…and closed with a single encore of the track Hurt which of course was memorably covered by Johnny Cash a few years ago.
Quite a finale, I was somewhat relieved to see Trent and the gang pull out a stormer of a gig from what at the mid-point was looking to be a somewhat lacklustre final performance. Full set-list here. I’m not one to consider coincidences as particularly unusual but this merits attention. You may recall that I prefigured my last NIN gig back in 2006 by going to see the newly released ‘Inland Empire‘ with a matinee screening, an exercise I still believe to be one of the bravest acts committed by man outside the battlefield. This time after seeing NIN upon my swift return home I slumped exhausted in front of the idiot box and whilst channel surfing alighted upon this little gem of a scene before retiring to bed, someone is clearly having a little joke at Minty’s expense when you consider my recent ‘Moon’ movie review. Not enough? Well, what about this, the first apperance of Trent on screen in the film ‘Light Of Day‘ directed by Paul Schrader whose movie ‘Mishima‘ I saw earlier in the week and will be my next film review. Whatever’s going on….. please stop <sob…>…
I’m back from quite a legendary weekend in Brighton, celebrating the impending wedding of one of my oldest mates. Normal service will resume shortly with a review of the new print of Schrader’s ‘Mishima’ but for this post I am legally obliged to link to some material that was discussed over the weekend. Here’s the Pixes stuff I was talking about;
Here’s when Lovering lost it – I forgot to mention his Dad died whilst he was on tour so he had turned to the bottle…
Cannot wait to see ‘em again in October. I’ve linked to these scenes before but I can’t imagine a more apt moment to repeat myself;
Roll on September, just enough time to work on that speech …
It seems everyone’s going Lunar crazy these days. Screened as part of the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo landing ‘One Giant Leap‘ film season, ‘Moon‘ got a preview screening at the NFT last night and I was in attendance. First things first, lets get the gags about Starmen out of the way as yes, the director of the new cult UK SF movie is David Bowies son, Duncan Jones. We’ll come to the post screening Q&A below but suffice to say the similarities are there in appearance and voice, he was quite self-deprecating about the whole family connection which won over the crowd. But lets begin with the movie itself;
Sam Rockwell, whom I’ve always considered the most dishevelled man on Earth has transplanted his vaguely soiled demeanour to the dark side of the Moon as the solitary character Sam, a working class Joe who is working a solitary three year contract overseeing a tripartite of Hydrogen Isotope farming machines that are providing 70% of the Earth’s clean energy requirements – quite an important job then. Rockwell’s only company apart from intermittent messages from his wife and mission control is the base computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), a very deliberate HAL reference with a slightly more affectionate demeanour. With a mere two weeks of his sentence to go Sam is suffering from extreme fatigue and loneliness which seems to be manifesting itself in mysterious hallucinations of himself, his sorely missed wife and young daughter around the base. Are these figments of Sam’s deluded mind or are there more subversive elements at play? There’s not much more to reveal without spoilers which I’m loathe to unveil, I went into this film deliberately cold (I even avoided the trailer hence I’m not posting links to it here as I understand it reveals one early development), suffice to say this was a quietly rewarding, charming little film that trumpets the debut of a promising new talent.
It’s a minimalist film, certainly in terms of cast and what director Jones and producer have rendered on screen with the astronomically low budget of $5 million and a mere 7 week shooting schedule is quite remarkable. With it’s retro-design chic the film is very much a love letter to the character driven, working class SF movies of the 1970′s – ‘Silent Running‘, ‘Alien‘, and ‘Outland‘ although conceptually I’d say its Polanski’s ‘The Tenant‘ crossed with ‘Dark Star‘ divided by ‘Solaris‘ (either version), the latter two being films that are numerously referenced throughout the film along with just about every post 1975 SF movie that has endured and developed fan-bases of varying extent. This density doesn’t sink the movie however, they are nice touches for the genre fans to muse over as the main plot – this tale of loneliness and solitude -evolves into an examination of more contemporary and pertinent scientific development, an area I’m keeping quiet again for fear of spoilers. Uber-hip music composer Clint Mansell (I can dig it) provides an amazing score but this is Rockwell’s movie through and through, as practically the one man cast his charm and charisma holds the entire film together, sometimes twice in the same scene. Heh. Little joke there. Jones plays with the genre conventions nicely, even from my brief précis you may have already formed some opinions on what might happen and where possible threats may emerge but these tired expectations are for the most part evaded, your attention is held as you’re never quite sure how things will turn out for Sam, a character whom you increasingly begin to like and care for as the film meanders along.
Producer Stuart Fenegan and Duncan Jones were both thoroughly charming in the post screening Q&A and provided some fascinating insights into how the film got made with no evidence of nepotism I hasten to add, Daddy Bowie didn’t give them any money or lean on any contacts for assistance although Duncan did concede that he did manage to obtain a wealth of production advice on some of the SFX shots from the likes of Tony Scott and Spike Jonze. Jones recounted that he thinks his ambition to make movies sprang from one his earliest memories of being on the set of ‘Labyrinth‘ back in the early eighties and operating some of Jim Henson’s puppets, not a bad way to contract the film-making bug I guess? In another bout of serendipity the film was shot on the very same Shepperton Sound Stages that Ridley Scott constructed ‘Alien’ on exactly thirty years ago, the production also had access to some of the UK Film industries last remaining model effect and in-camera SFX technicians who loved practicing their dying arts on such a respectful and intelligent project. The camera team specifically sourced aged film stock to achieve that slightly more muddied, grainy surface to the film, a decision that I suspect simultaneously hit three core criteria – keep costs down, to again subtly reference the influences and help mask any potential SFX glitches.
Finally Jones recounted a wonderful Q&A he held at NASA after a recent screening which swiftly evolved into a full blown Moon exploration discussion between various science departments. After apologising for not being able to maintain the low-gi gravity realism throughout the film Jones was asked why he followed a bunker type production style for the film’s locale rather than the Eco-Dome, transparent half-sphere construction that has led the way on conceptual designs for lunar terra-forming over the past couple of decades. Jones answered that he figured that one day we would be looking to source the basic materials for shelter and survival on the moon from its atmosphere and he therefore imagined some type of dense building material forged from the moons rocks and dust. Quick as a flash a fellow NASA scientist got to her feet and explained that her department had been working on this very concept – which was termed ‘mooncrete’ – for a while with some success. A detailed discussion amongst the NASA intelligencia ensued. One imagines that Mr.Jones was pretty damn proud of that little exchange….
I love how they have made a SF film worlds apart (groan..) from what passes for SF these days, all adolescent CGI and explosions where the sheer purpose of the movie is to move from one set-piece to another. That’s fine in moderation – as I said I enjoyed ‘Star Trek’ – but it has dominated the landscape for far too long so this was a welcome alternative. I’ve been thinking about how the apparent rise in 3D will reflect on this type of film-making, whilst the expectation mounts around ‘Avatar’ and I’m sure the film will be a visual tour-de-force I’m willing to bet that Cameron doesn’t manipulate or employ the 3D conceptually, to use it as anything more than a visual tool when I believe it could be engaged with rendering the less tangible themes of a film in a formalistic, historically unique fashion - I’m thinking predominantly about Chris Nolan’s upcoming Area 51 type secrecy bound ‘Inception‘ which has been described as ‘a contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind.’ – now that could employ that type of approach. A Wong Kar Wai film with 3D sequences? What about a Kiarostami? The mind boggles at a Jodorowsky or even a Gasper Noe? OK, maybe not the last one. Still, you never know. Anyway, enough of this amateur prophesying, the producer and director team of ‘Moon‘ hope to follow this assured debut with a SF thriller called ‘Mute‘ which they describe as taking place ‘in a future retrofit Berlin which essentially is one big homage to Blade Runner – I’m sure after the indie cred they have generated (‘Moon’ hit big at Sundance this year), a succession of praiseworthy reviews across the press and a definite return on their meagre budget they should have no problems securing funding. Watch this ‘space’….
I’ve been waiting three years to delve into the work of one of my all time favourite film-makers Michael Mann, the great stylist of male machismo within the milieu of the crime film, the chronicler of the pursuit for perfection in not only what you do but how you live your life on either side of the rule of law. As a colour degraded Universal Studio title materialised on screen I knew we were in for quite a ride, as in all of Mann’s pictures every fragment of the film has been attuned to deliver a perfectly realised whole, in this case an assured 21st century update of the iconic gangster cycle of films unleashed by RKO and Warner Bothers back in the 30′s and 40′s.
It’s 1933 and America is in the midst of the great depression. Crime is booming as a parade of bank robbers, bandits and desperado’s unleash a tsunami of anarchy throughout the American landscape, a rogues gallery of colourful monikered criminals such as Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger making a mockery of the hamstrung police who are unable to pursue their quarry over state lines or make any concerted, integrated offensive to crush the transgressors. Johnny Depp is the infamous John Dillinger, the most successful and charismatic bank-robber of the era whose antics force the state, personified in J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) to create the nascent FBI, dispatching their top agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) to bring Dillinger and his crew to justice, dead or alive.
I’m not the first to realise that the film has a familiar structure to many of Mann’s other films and could slot quite easily into a trilogy with ‘Thief‘ and ‘Heat‘ – a charismatic central male protagonist who is operating at the very peak of his professional powers who is engaged in a tragic, doomed romance. The anti-heroes personal code of honour ultimately signaling his demise at the hands of powerful forces beyond his control be they the criminal syndicate perturbed by the unwanted attention his infractions are bringing upon their organisation or the forces of law and order who demand retribution and the re-establishment of the status-quo. When I first saw the trailer I was a little worried that the HD technique wouldn’t gel with the historical period, thankfully those concerns swiftly disintegrated as the film unfurled, the digital verite technique plunging the viewer into a state of gripping immediacy, fully immersed in the midst of the action so much so that you’re almost crouching down in the seat to avoid the bullets ricocheting around the theatre during the battles and quietly admiring the contours of the performances during the character scenes. As usual with Mann the production values are state of the art, the locations are beautifully decorated and lit, the costume design magnificent, the evocation of period thoroughly convincing.
The robbery and combat sequences are outstanding and prove once again that Mann is the finest action director in America, the high point being a pitched battle staged at the Little Bohemia Lodge out in the remote Wisconsin woods. Incredibly this was shot not only in the real cabin that the real Dillinger fought his way out from but the scene was shot quite unintentionally (Mann only realised the coincidence after revisiting the production schedule) on the same date – April 22nd – that Dillinger evaded justice some 75 years prior. That’s serendipity. The cast – and what a cast – are also uniformly excellent, even Bale invests his character with more than a simple brooding intensity which seems to be his autopilot mode these days, he’s a little more flippant yet still steely determined to take Dillinger down using the most advanced forensic methods available. Depp keeps things distant, you never quite get a grip on who Dillinger was or what drives his chaotic intentions, the only insight into his character delivered in a dialogue exchange with Billie where he replies to her concerns that she doesn’t know him enough to turn outcast with him - ’I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars… and you. What else you need to know?’ The likes of Stephen Graham (the nutter from This is England), Stephen Dorff, David Wenham, Lili Taylor and Leelee Sobieski round out one of the best casts I’ve seen for quite some time.
Mann is the undisputed master of the crime film and thoroughly understands its dimensions, archetypes and history. Beyond the pleasing references to prior masterpieces of the genre in the film he also alludes to some of the key components of gangster movies, the transformation from agrarian reform to the city that is manifest in the earlier Warner Brothers and RKO pictures as well as an almost abstract feeling of America in transition from the frontier world to mass industrialisation. This is evident when the rogues in Public Enemies flee from jail or successful robberies and emerge in the American wilderness in short thrift, as the crime cycle of Cagney and Bogart in the 1930′s usurped the popularity of the Western in American cinema its heroes shifted from the gunslinger to gangster, bidding a fond farewell to their cinematic forebears. So here then is a collection of some of my favourite moments and reviews of one of my most admired directors as best I can track them down, I will keep links to my overall favourite gangster films for my Once Upon A Time In America review. Let’s close on the climax of one of Mann’s other favourite films, Made it Ma, top of the world‘.