And there was me thinking that nothing was being ‘delivered’ last weekend. As is the way, after a couple of dry weeks in June a glut of films have been escaping over recent weeks, amongst this celluloid tsunami it was refreshing to see a revisit to a sub-genre that has been criminally overlooked for years, a mini-genre that can loosely be clustered together under the term ‘body horror’. This particular species of dread tends to embrace a number of thematic strands – disgust at our disintegrating bodies and the puny carapace to our immortal souls, a fear of disease and parasitic infection, the interfaces of the physical human creature in our environments developing contours. A promising new addition to the genre, Splice punctures this traditional genre membrane and comes at things from a slightly different perspective, as with the more traditional monster movies the film deals with mutation and hellions running amok, coupled in this case with some thoughts on our medically advancing society, an impetus that seem to be outpacing the moral and ethical questions that this progress raises. Although this promising tale is hamstrung in its last act for the most part this is an interesting piece of work that marries its SFX design and delivery with its subject matter, a fulfilling experience despite its predictable denouement.
In the films most blatant reference to the original Frankenstein legend Elsa and Clive are a pair of brilliant scientists who have achieved the tentative first steps to the medical breakthrough of the century, they have manufactured a new slugish life-forms which can be used to incubate glands that path a cure to some of the greatest diseases of our age, we’re talking about Alzheimer’s, we’re talking multiple sclerosis and perhaps even certain forms of cancer. Their corporate overlords are hesitant to launch into the next step of the programme until their breakthrough can be independently peer-reviewed, an obstacle that irritates Elsa (Sarah Polley) to the point of irrationality - she convinces her somewhat reluctant husband (Adrian Brody, faring much better here than he did in Predators) to secretly take the programme to the next step and splice human DNA with the animal hybrid that they have crafted. Whilst they prosper in their professional life they are struggling with their personal relations, Clive wants a baby but Elsa seems to be grappling with the fallout of an unspecified abusive childhood, both being workaholics they’ve not had sex in months. The risk initially pays remarkable dividends as the striking new creature demonstrates intelligence, cognitive progression and a wealth of animal characteristics due to its unique genetic formation, a human and beast amalgam that must be kept clandestine at all costs due to the moral and ethical codes that their actions have violated. As they become more and more attached to their creation whom Elsa christians as ‘Dern’ they begin to devise a rudimentary education programme and dress their surrogate in human clothes, all the while ignoring the potentially disastrous consequences of their unholy actions….
For the first two-thirds or so this film was an engaging, interesting slice of contemporary SF/Horror which grapples some of the pertinent issues of the day – the use of embryos for medical experiments, corporate malfeasance, unchecked and unexamined science, not to mention the numerous issues surrounding reproductive medicine that continue to drive a wedge between the religious and secular communities of the world. For the most part the film is a smart, tempered balance between cerebral concerns and genre manipulation, the SFX are very good for such a modestly budgeted project and the requisite levels of goo and gore should retain the gorehounds attention. Polley and Brody are convincing as the ambitious partnership whose moral compass comes adrift and the realisation of Dren is captivating, her growth and development shifting a perspective from the interior to exterior, to what may come next as the result of our genetic meddling. The films two most memorable scenes – and believe me they are memorable but I’m keeping them secret as to remain spoiler free – could have been culled from an early Cronenberg picture and from its Canadian locations, cast and crew the film does project a slightly more canted, frosty angle to proceedings than one assumes a more straightforward studio financed picture would entertain – although it’s a product of the Dark Castle slate it is trying something relatively new. I guess you could infer a plethora of meanings on to this film such as the fear of parenthood, the perils and attraction of sex, the dangers of technology without checks, that curious miscegenation of SF and horror cinema that always warns us not to screw with nature (Them!, Jurassic Park, Kong, The Host, The Fly, amongst numerous others) or in the case of Splice let nature quite literally screw with us - let me hand the reigns over to (who else?) Cronenberg here.
It’s a real shame then that such a potential four star movie gets demoted to three for following the predictable final act ‘chase through the woods’ paradigm, a poorly utilised conceit that wasn’t required as the film could and should have ended ten minutes earlier and consequently been much more rounded and satisfying. Any genre fan will see the final revelation and potential for Splice 2 coming a mile off, nevertheless Vincenzo (SPOILER WARNING!) Natali is a career to keep an eye or four on. I’ve mentioned his previous effort Cypher on here before which was good, he’s also the man behind the cult hit Cube back in 1997 which despite its terrible sequels still retains a certain level of genre kudos. Rumours abound of his being the man to resurrect the adaptation of Neuromancer and I can’t say that I was throughly energised by this prospect , but better him than any of the hacks out there in Hollyweird. Overall, Splice is worth a look for some fine design and effects work, some thoughtful questions being raised, an urbane antidote to the bombastic summer season.
Quite coincidently I caught up with some other body horror of a Japanese variety this weekend, please raise your hands if you remember Tetsuo from 1989? Director Shinya Tsukamoto has been quietly forging a career over the past couple of decades which has seen him throw out a dozen or so pictures, he’s not quite my cup of tea and Vital certainly wasn’t his strongest – check out Bullet Ballet and A Snake Of June for his best efforts – but his work is consistently interesting at the very least. For you trivia fans out there he also dabbles in acting, perhaps most memorably as the CGI muscle -guy in Ichi The Killer. Something different this weekend, no movies as I’m off to the Field Day festival which should be fun, I’m mostly looking forward to seeing the mighty Fall for the first time in about twenty years – and this is hilarious.
I think I’ll give this a whirl tonight:
After all, I have to get the stench of Disney out of this blog somehow and begin preparing for Frightfest….right?
I think it’s time for another trailer round-up to break up the film reviews, I saw Splice yesterday and it was OK despite a poor ending, as I’m not really in the mood to throw together a full review here is some other stuff that’s been barging around the internets in the wake of Comic-Con. In ascending order:
I really don’t care that they’re remaking this, life’s too short to get mad about desecrating original movies but I have to say this film does look fairly redundant. I’ll still probably go and see it though….
A day after I threw up an embed to the Tron: Legacy teaser the new trailer was released – that’s not great timing. I’m a little more unsure about this having seen that CGI of Bridges which didn’t convince me, I’m sure that visually it will be awe-inspiring but little more than that. I’m no big fan of the original so I’m not pulling any sort of fan-boy card here, I just hope the plot and script at least try and be interesting. I’m not holding my breath but give me 3D light cycles and all that paraphernalia and I’m there….
I’ll save the best for last – the ‘introducing Don Johnson’ tagline still makes me chuckle, Rodriguiz has some ground to recover after the Predators failure but I think if you go into this in the right frame of mind it’ll be a blast. September can’t come too soon, if only so I can stop having to think up these lame post titles…
Its confession time again. When I was a younger and smaller film geek there were a cluster of movies that could be guaranteed to make me weep like a big girl’s blouse – and when I say younger I’m talking pre-teens just to be absolutely clear. There was the Oliver Reed starring Hannibal Brooks which I’m now mortified to see was directed by Michael Winner, although to be fair his films have been making all sorts of people weep for very different reasons in the intervening thirty years. Then there was The Day of the Dolphin and that scene of the anthropomorphised mammals desperately crying out to their human trainer George C. Scott as he abandons them to prevent the evil government goons from co-opting them into some suicidal mine planting exercises – it looks faintly ridiculous now. Of course there were the usual suspects that I think emotionally butchered everyone who saw them; I’m talking of course about the likes of E.T : The Extra-Terrestrial, The Plague Dogs, Bambi, SS Experiment Love Camp, that sort of thing. The granddaddy of them all for me though was Silent Running, Douglas Trumbull’s debut directorial effort from 1971, a pioneer and heralding call to arms for the sustainable eco-warrior movement for decades to follow.
Its eco-apocalypse time again. In the unspecified future mankind has once again polluted our home planet to the point of extinction and a fleet of spaceships are ferrying the earths remaining flora and fauna into deep space for safe keeping. On the starship Valley Forge the four human and three robot crew receive orders from the government that the ships resources are required elsewhere and they need to eject and destroy the bio-domes, at a stroke wiping the final traces of non-human life from the universe. Whilst three of the crew rejoice in this decision as it means a return home and hopefully a more exciting mission the fourth crewman Freeman, played with an atypical intensity by Bruce Dern mutinies at this horrific order and attempts to salvage some fragile remnants of his homes once fruitful bio-diversity. After re-programming the robot crew to assist him in his quest he leads the ship into uncharted seas around the rings of Saturn, hopefully evading the human rescue teams that are trying to track him down…
This film has got pretty clunky but given its limited resources I think you have to overlook those shortcomings, even if some basic mistakes were quite jarring – you’d think that the camera man would at least know how to rack focus on the characters and not the background in a couple of early dialogue scenes. The environmental theme was incredibly prescient even if it is delivered in a occasionally comic fashion by todays standards, the scenes of Freeman standing in his garden of Eden, dressed only in a monkish robe whilst the animals flock to him reminded me of that Simpsons episode when Homer goes all earth-mother and healing crystals. Nevertheless its standing in the SF pantheon is assured, just consider Wall-E and Moon, two of the most respected SF movies of recent years which both owe Silent Running a huge debt, that sense of solitude amongst the vast cosmos carrying through all three pictures. It’s the end that used to get me y’see - so obviously SPOILERS – its just the idea of that little fella, all alone amongst the infinite, continuing his noble quest to maintain the creatures and plants around him, its just so…..(blows nose noisily into handkerchief)…it’s so….so sad. The soundtrack is pretty hysterical though, lets just say my melodic radar wasn’t very well attuned in my younger years.
I loved the format of this event, a framework that was replicated for the next night at the 2001: A Space Odyssey screening but we’ll come to that later. Trumbull delivered a 40 minutes presentation on the film’s production rather than any analysis of the films message, purpose or influence, leaving all those dimensions of the text to the post screening Q&A. He took us through some behind the scenes photographs garnished with some choice production anecdotes, explaining the films genesis in the wake of the sixties summer of love and civil rights accomplishments. In the case of Silent Running this was quite interesting, after the explosive success of Easy Rider Universal instigated something of a ‘light touch’ film fund to encourage young filmmakers to produce product that their aging executives couldn’t possibly understand, in a bid to embrace the same youth culture audience that Hopper and Fonda’s indiscretions had ignited. $1 million was invested with no questions asked and on condition of no studio interference, the producers of the film having to make up any potential shortfalls elsewhere. Tod Browning’s controversial Freaks served as the inspiration for the three robot designs, using amputees as surrogate operators to obtain a natural sense of movement that the SFX of the era couldn’t deliver, at least within the films mediocre production budget – I doubt that such a left field solution could be bettered today to be honest.
The Q&A was quite technical and thus I won’t reproduce much of it here other than to say some general film technology points were clarified for me – the reason why many of the 3D movies look quite dark is that the illumination process in the projector cuts the light levels in half which results in a degraded image across the colour spectrum – or something like that. Trumbull considers celluloid film-making as a redundant dinosaur that will shortly be extinct, given that almost all mainstream film techniques involve transferring the celluloid negative into a digital format for SFX compositing (optical compositing is near-death as well) then transforming them back into a camera negative for distribution and exhibition, (pauses for breath) this expensive process will eventually be phased out as more and more cinemas adopt the digital projection technologies as the industry continues down the computerised image capture path with digital cameras such as the popular Red technology becoming the industry norm. He did concur with most reasonable minded folk that a combination of techniques seems to prove most effective these days in terms of SFX, the use of miniatures, optical effects (mattes, front projection etc.) and CGI are infinitely more effective at engaging and dazzling the cerebral cortex than just the latter, evidently Lucas and Bay never got his memo. What is more interesting is what is on the horizon in terms of frame rates, James Cameron has already begun early tests on Avatar 2 with a projection rate of 60 frames per second, quite what that means in terms of image definition and quality I confess to not knowing as he lost me a little here, but I’m sure it all means something very special and exciting. He also kept pushing his Showscan projection technology that he developed back in the eighties which never quite got off the ground, he sounded a little bitter to be honest but given how badly he has been treated by fate during his career – Natalie Wood drowned during the closing production stages of Brainstorm, numerous projects of his were sanctioned and then cancelled at the studios whim due to executive shake-ups and corporate manoeuvring – but I can forgive him these qualities, lest we forgot this is the man who was instrumental in the imagery of Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, The Andromeda Strain, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, shall I go on? Just be a little flippant he’s also a fellow on the Kepler Project and believes that we will, in the next two or three years, finally identify extraterrestrial life. So that’s nice.
I did attend a panel discussion event prior to the screening on the Gaia theory but I’m not going to get fully into it as it was something of a wasted opportunity. Although the guests were interesting – Dr. Simon Lewis, Dr. Rachael Armstrong (whom I now have something of a crush on) and Trumbull were eminently qualified for the panel and had fascinating contributions to make the chairperson was so irritatingly inept that discussions frequently ground to a stilted halt. Some interesting observations about emerging technologies, about methods to combat climate change and reduce CO2 emissions were made but as the discussion progressed the links between what we can potentially learn from nature in terms of an enormously complex, inter-related eco-system were obscured when we should be concentrating on how an exponentially multiplying species will inevitably consume all the resources in its environment, and as such is doomed to extinction. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, some recent developments and breakthroughs may signpost a way out of this mess and Trumbull made one of the greatest recommendations I’ve heard this year - why don’t we establish, in a kind of Manhattan Project style initiative, a multi-border, cross nationality cabal that the worlds leading practitioners in specific scientific fields can discover, nurture and develop new renewable energy sources? I realise it all sounds very sandal wearing, Guardian reading pseudo-hippy nonsense but some of the developments and issues that did emerge were very interesting, given that it all related to the field in which I now work (the panelists operating on a much higher plateau I hasten to add) it almost felt like being at a work conference, in a good way.
It’s more spoiler time for Inception I’m afraid, I wanted to share perhaps the most comprehensive analysis I’ve seen on the film yet which may interest some of you fellow viewers who can’t get this film out of your god-damn mind. A second screening for me evaporated some mysteries whilst throwing up others, I think there are some intentional ambiguities, particularly during the last ten or so minutes and I’m not just talking about the increasingly debated and celebrated final shot – wait a second, that’s his wife totem so what does that imply? Why is that early chase through Morocco handled in exactly the same fashion as the supposed dream set-pieces - in both the ‘projections’ appear to materialise from nowhere, replicate around every corner of the chase and Cobb ducks down a swiftly shrinking alleyway – hmmm. Saito’s dialogue in Limbo is front loaded in the films earlier scenes - ‘take a leap of faith’ and ’you don’t want to die as an old man, all alone’ – raising all sorts of suspicions as they are comments made by a character before he got to that surreal state of stasis. Nolan has alleged that he didn’t intentionally make the reference between Marion Cotillard winning the Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in Le Vie En Rose and the use of the Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien track to signal exit strategies throughout each of the dream levels – yeah, right. I’ll buy that it was in a draft of the script prior to that film being released but you’re not telling me that no-one remarked on that blatant reference during the sound-mix or shoot. I like the theory that the whole movie is driven by Cobbs mentor, his father (the Michael Caine role) who has tricked Cobb into recruiting Ariadne to effectively de-programme him and incept his subconscious, to finally release the guilt and regret he feels over the death of Mal by the film’s conclusion. This is all intellectual masturbation of course (ooooh, does the totem drop or not?) and utterly pointless, so lets close with a little fun that I have posted before as a link, however I think it deserves its own presentation;
I’m not seeing anything over the weekend as there isn’t much out and I have other plans, so I’ll get cracking on my 2001: A Space Odyssey review – I will try to make it galactic….
Lets begin with a challenge gentle reader – name the best third film in a franchise that surpasses the others. Go on, I’m patient, I can wait. You can’t, can you? Godfather III? Not likely. Star Trek 3? Superman 3? No way. Jurassic Park 3 ? Back to the Future 3?, Heck, Revenge of the god-damn Sith? Hell no. Army of Darkness? Pfft. Three Colours Red? The Return Of The King? Well, maybe but it’s not a straightforward argument. It’s not easily possible is it? It couldn’t be done, at least not until this weekend when Pixar continued to break the mold with the release of Toy Story 3D, the eagerly awaited final installment of their only franchise, although that situation is set to change shortly. It’s nothing particularly new in terms of plot but as you’d expect from the greatest animators on the planet – oh OK, OK, maybe the joint first animation studio on the planet – you are in for visually thrilling, expertly crafted and genuinely funny portion of lightweight entertainment. It’s the perfect aperitif after the gluttonous density of Inception but they have their similarities at their core, essentially they’re both heist pictures….kinda.
Fifteen years after the original story Andy, the toys living owner is all grown up and preparing to live for college. After a misunderstanding the toys find themselves mistakenly donated to s local children’s daycare centre, only Woody (Tom Hanks) it seems destined to remain with Andy as he moves onto the next phase of his life. At the daycare the usual suspects Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jesse (Joan Cusack), Hamm the pig (Pixar’s lucky charm John Ratzenberger), Mr. & Mrs Potato head, Slinky the dog, Rex the dinosaur and Barbie soon discover that the idyllic Sunnydale is under the iron grip of the renegade bear Lotso (Ned Beatty) a poisoned whose mistaken abandonment has left him bitter and cruel. Well, as cruel as a Pixar movie gets. Will out heroes escape Sunnyside and get back to see Andy in time? What are you asking me for?
They’ve done it again. I’m not the biggest fan of this particular franchise but I can always appreciate another step forward in this strand of visual communication, especially when it’s just so much damn fun, pure and simple. The textures, colours and lighting just seem to get incrementally better and better with each film, probably, I suppose, because they do get better and better in tandem with the progress of computing prowess. How’s that for a redundant sentence? The Ken and Barbie material whilst a little obvious was probably the funniest, once again an exciting sequence of chases with clear choreography shame the likes of Bay, McG and Ratner and exposes them as the charlatans they are, and the gags and references are as enjoyably whimsical as the other episodes in the series. I didn’t find it quite as touching as other reviewers given the films faintly obvious but dexterously delivered conclusion, then again I prefer to consider these films as less a kaleidscopically energetic children’s film and more a mediation on time and loss, or perhaps even a buddhist exercise in instilling all objects in the universe with an intrinsic form of animated energy, perhaps as something of an existential manifesto – OK, OK, I’m joking. Mostly.
As per usual with the handful of Pixar Q&A’s I’ve witnessed - in this case with director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla Anderson - I almost felt physically ill. Two perfectly tanned individuals, wielding million dollar smiles and extruding a boundless spirit of American optimism leapt on stage to rapturous applause and yells of adoration – god it makes me sick. Nah, just kidding again, as per usual the two guests talked through the films hesitant production in a charmingly arresting manner, how they balked at the prospect of expanding the scope of the franchise to take in over 150 talking characters and many more background details, their ambitious efforts yet again pushing the boundaries of modern animation techniques forward. Unkrich half-joked about how they all under enormous pressure at Pixar and don’t even want to make films anymore and risk being ’that’ person that ruins the studios perfect 11 batting average, before delving into how careful they were to ensure that another Toy Story could at least match if not potentially surpass the enormous affection that the previous two installments have gathered.
Whilst Peter Doctor got to visit some of the most amazing South American landscapes for his visual research for Up and Brad Bird got to dine throughout the Michelin 5 star restaurants of Paris for Ratatouille Unkrich and his crew got the short straw with this project and had to visit the local dump to shoot their reference footage whilst flies crawled over their face – nice. Apparently it took twenty hours to render just one frame of this project, at twenty four frames per second, sixty seconds a minute out of a 103 minute picture – well, you do the math as our American cousins would say. For the techies out there was some other interesting stuff, when they went back to upgrade the previous two installments for their 3D re-release earlier this year they weren’t entirely sure you long their state of the art computing rigs would take to crunch the enormous volumes of data that were required, when they activated the process for Toy Story (which does look fairly primitive now) it performed the operation in real time, enabling them to watch the film run through its usual timeframe, as the production crew silently mouthed ‘wow’. For you fan-boys out there the nasty boy Sid returns as an older garbage collector toward the end of the movie (some fans sighed in appreciation at this revelation from Unkrich) and they did track down the original voice actor to reprise his duties, there is also a fairly blatant Miyazaki reference with a toy version of Totoro making a reverently mute appearance in one of the films more amusing scenes. Stick around for the traditional final credits gag-reel which again rounds off another triumphant episode in Pixar’s history.
I’m getting tired of the continual 3D bashing. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious we’re all aware of the moans and wailing directed at certain technical developments throughout the past century, the introduction of colour stocks or the various widescreen formats in the fifties, hell for some cinema academics and purists the jury’s still out on whether the introduction of sound was a good idea. It’s another tool, another instrument in the film-makers arsenal (of a certain financial strata admittedly) which like any other can be applied and utilised appropriately to enhance the film-going experience - Up, Avatar, How To Train Your Dragon - or inappropriately which apparently seems to be just about every other project from what I’ve read. Will Woody Allen’s next film be in 3D? No. Will Jennifer Anniston’s next film be in 3D? No (although if I had my way it would be shot in 4D, in another dimension and thus invisible to the human eye), I seriously doubt the format will become the de-facto method of visual distribution. Will the executive cretins eventually understand that just because Avatar made a metric fuckload of money that the film’s popularity wasn’t just derived from Lightstorms immersive breakthroughs? One hopes so and the lacklustre performance of Clash Of The Titans and The Last Airbender (snigger) seem testament to this. The 3D format worked brilliantly in Toy Story 3, after a few minutes it becomes almost indistinguishable as the Pixar guys and gals know how to use it properly, how it should submerge into the storytelling framework along with the numerous other tools at their disposal, it much the same way that a brilliant score should be almost invisible and not call attention to itself, potentially jarring the audience out of the narrative. I’m jolly excited to see how distinguished film-makers such as Scorsese and Herzog will use the format, that I’m sure will be true litmus test of how this new technology will develop and potentially prosper, not only financially but also creatively. And of course there is always Tron:
Well, that was an exhausting but throughly enjoyable weekend. To begin Inception was amazing, the various Douglas Trumbull events were fascinating and Toy Story 3D of course was a characteristically entertaining addition to the Pixar roster, it was certainly the best of the three and I should get a review up over the next few days. The screenings around Douglas Trumbull’s visit are a little less urgent and as you might imagine I have some grandiose plans for my 2001: A Space Odyssey review, a film I’ve been waiting to cover for almost four years. There is some news that came out of the subsequent Q&A of last nights screening that can’t wait however, not wishing to sound too dramatic but we are talking about something of an exclusive that should have my fellow Kubrickophiles trembling with excitement….or horror.
Bear with me. Trumbull advised that for almost two years he and the film writer David Heyland have been putting together the ultimate documentary on the making of 2001, they had 45 people lined up to be interviewed, they’d acquired a wealth of background material from the estate and even had unpublished photographs to use as green screen backdrops that they could interact with for certain explanatory sequences, for some reverent SFX homages. Warner Brothers, who acquired the MGM catalogue when they bought them some years ago loved the sound of the project, hardly suprising since they have had a unique relationship to develop, finance and distribute every one of Kubrick’s films since A Clockwork Orange in 1971. Schedules were drawn up, budgets agreed, then the lawyers got involved…..and the project was cancelled. Stone dead.
The following revelation was only expressed by Trumbull in response to another direct question and he stresses that this rumour is unconfirmed, but he is certain of its validity and it is the only feasible explanation as to why the documentary that Warners were so enthusiastic about was terminated so abruptly. A questioner asked whatever happened to the additional 17 minutes of footage that was present during the premiere of the film back in 1968? Well, (gasp) it’s been found, in a salt mine in Kansas – no really – after a recent impromptu audit of Warner assets was conducted, this material having remained hidden as the details on the spreadsheet were obscured on the right hand side of the screen when the exchange was made, no-one thinking to scroll across as see what else was archived. I’ll just let that sink in for a minute – 17 minutes of footage thought long-lost, from one of the greatest films of all time.
Of course we assume that Warners have some big plans for this, a restoration which will no doubt be marketed as a directors cut, there is apparently even some talk of going, yes, you guessed it – (dramatic drum roll pause) – of going for a full 3D conversion of the film. When Trumbull heard about the footage he immediately asked to see it, with his documentary-maker hat on it would of course be invaluable to use for his project, not to mention the fact that he was instrumental in its production. Ever since that request was made the dialogue has been guillotined and the documentary has died with no explanation, no reasoning, no comment.
I’m flabbergasted, I’d rather they didn’t bother if they are as it was removed for a reason and it is quite frankly pissing on the corpse of a dead artist, they can of course release the footage as extras – that would be fascinating – but a full restoration is pointless. Most of the footage by all accounts is mostly incidental material anyway of course – more ape footage, longer blue Danube ballet footage and more of the EVA activities just before the intermission, I won’t even honour the 3D claims with a response, I like 3D and everything when used properly – again wait for my Toy Story 3D review – but this scheme, if true, is fucking sacrilegious. Watch this space….
‘Your mind is the scene of the crime’ – that’s a damn good tagline. It’s a been a lousy summer as far as Hollywood film-making goes, we cinema fans have been treated to a succession of tired clones of previous films, bland episodes of exhausted franchises or yet more adaptations and spin-off’s from TV shows – where’s the originality? I like to think that Toy Story 3 aside (I’m not seeing it until Sunday but the reviews indicate another Pixar triumph) this creative vacuum is in part reflected in the seasons diminished box office returns, one hopes that a genuinely fresh and compelling piece of work like Inception can ignite the publics imagination and help get similarly cerebral projects green-lit in the future. In terms of the current climate Inception is a bravura piece of work, a vertiginous sudoku that encapsulates Nolan’s inquisitive musings on those themes of perception, identity and memory that litter his work, all cloaked in the guise of a Matrix style tent-pole action picture that he seems to have mastered. In terms of context I have successfully managed an almost total embargo on this one, trailers aside I haven’t seen a single frame of footage, I haven’t read a single review (prior to my first draft of this post) and I’ve successfully avoided all spoilers. Friends have sent me brief, one sentence extracts from the coverage that’s out there so I’m aware of the Kubrick comparisons, I can’t say I fully agree but we’ll come to that later - I’m not being precious, I just think it’s a mis-aligned comparison. I have also conducted a short Nolan season, revisiting Memento and both Batman movies as preparation (alas I couldn’t find my copy of The Prestige and I saw Insomnia on TV toward the end of last year), just to refresh the synapses and provide some sense of context for this post. So, has Nolan conjured a new masterpiece, a $300 million Memento or the worlds most unexpected remake of 1984′s SF cult curio Dreamscape?
I’m a little hesitant to provide a synopsis given that much of the films strength revolves around its unusual premise and the crepuscular sense of mystery that has been carefully draped over the project, rest assured I will keep this section as succinct as possible and completely spoiler free so don’t worry. Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) is a master embezzler, the master of the dangerous art of extraction, the theft of valuable secrets from the subconscious of corporate targets during their dream state, when their mind is at its most vulnerable and malleable. Whilst Cobb is the pioneer in this precarious realm of corporate espionage it is not without its casualties, as an international fugitive in the real world he is offered a final chance at redemption, there is one last mark that could realign his karma if he can accomplish the impossible – Inception. In an inversion of the perfect heist Cobb and his team must perform the previously impossible, the installation of an idea not the removal of one, a task that demands the plundering of unknown depths of the human psyche. In the usual caper movie fashion Cobb assembles a team of specialists to achieve his destiny and clear his name, unbeknownst to them a spectre from his previous incursions could lethally compromise their ambitions….
I didn’t sense much of a chemistry emanating from the on-screen crew but individually the cast excelled themselves, I’m warming to DiCaprio I have to admit after this and Shutter Island (with which Inception invites many intellectual comparisons) and the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe all contributed admirably. Michael Caine occupies something of a mentor figure in his brief appearances and I sense an almost Tarantinoesque casting choice in the likes of Tom Berenger of all people, maybe Nolan was a big fan of Sniper 2, who knows? When you consider that he pulled in Rutger Hauer for Batman Begins in a role that just about anyone could have played – the untrustworthy corporate executive – one assumes that he is playing something of a fan-boy trick and good for him. Nolan assembles the usual suspects in terms of his below the line technicians, I’m talking about the schizophrenic editor Lee Smith, cinematographer Wally Pfister (whom is fast coming one of my favourite contemporary cameramen along with Roger Deakins, Emmanuelle Lubinski, Robert Elswet, Chris Doyle and Robert Richardson since you ask), the only omission being his usual production designer Nathan Crowley whom presumably was omitted due to a schedule clash, nevertheless those elements of the mise-en-scene has the same lustrous, smoothly ornate ambiance that have graced Nolan’s previous productions. The three biggest contributors for me are Hans Zimmer who has crafted another magnificent score (track to 8:30 for the aural delights that compound the recherché visuals), the empyrean Marion Cotillard convinces as Dom’s intangible siren but the real revelation is Tom Hardy (the new Mad Max apparently) who is going to go far, if you haven’t seen Bronson yet then check it out immediately, it’s not a brilliant film but his performance is astonishing. Now, to put some meat on the bones of this review I’m going to have to enter severe spoiler territory, I can’t see any way round it I’m afraid.
SPOILERS SECTION - Since absorbing some reviews over the past 24 hours I know that Bradshaw has mentioned his admiration of the scene in the alternate Paris that essentially equates cinema with a dreaming state, an exploration of the edit, of the cut that throws a narrative forward which we all experience when we slumber. I’d experienced the same cognition in what I think is the films best scene from a premiere viewing, it explodes that usual cliché that we’ve endured for decades and continues in the likes of Avatar (as a recent example) with those inserts of booming sound and hallucinatory visuals that reassure us that we have performed a transition from one state to another - that level of extraction (heh) from the films contours, intentional or not are what I really loved about this film, I’m positive that further gems will be unearthed on subsequent viewings. Compressing not two but three sorry four, maybe five narrative planes onto each other during the breathtaking major heist is just extraordinary and whilst I watch a lot of movies from all sorts of genres and eras I’ve never seen anything like it, especially when Nolan has the audacity to make them refract upon each other, to influence each other and build a bewildering sense of wonder that for me was utterly unique. I absolutely loved the mythology that is weaved into the films universe, the use of totems as safety devices for the agents in the dream state, the different timelines throughout the compressed plateaus of activity and the utilisation of the awaking upon impact hypothesis - they are all manipulations of the cinematic paradigm, of cinema as dream that also function as silhouettes to the films tension shredding credentials, of constructing an imaginative realm with its own rules and principes. The emotional arc of Dom seeking redemption for the death of his wife didn’t quite gel for me, however I concur that this narrative strand does build a sense of momentum and threat in this realm of the subconscious where death isn’t necessarily final, although it does result in other, less terminal consequences.
Although Ellen Page’s character can be considered as something of a Mrs. Basil Exposition device I can’t see how else Nolan could have delivered his ambitions for this film without a utilisation of such traditional techniques, of pulling the audience into the narrative complexity without some hand-holding, it might be a little too ‘talky’ for some but these alleged failures are overshadowed by the movies ambition and grasp. For such a big fan of Michael Mann it appears that Nolan still needs to pay some attention to constructing exciting and logical action choreography – on a surface level he is crafting an action film after all - then again perhaps you could argue that in the universe of Inception these aren’t necessary required and that confusion builds upon the perplexing aura that has been established. As the film moved toward its anxious conclusion, with the full visual revelation of that terrifying dream abyss Synedoche immediately to mind (maybe he should write Nolan’s next picture, that could be interesting), that architecture of the parallel world was almost, well, it was almost Jungian*. This was where the Freudian assassin, the simulacra of Dom’s deceased (?) wife really found her strength, hinting at the psychological phantoms that lurk in all our nightmares but as a friend has pointed out these developments did conjure further questions – exactly how did Dom escape that blissful incarceration? I loved the decision not to conclude on some dreadful twist that would have disintegrated everything that had been invested in the previous 150 minutes, that final drift to the spinning totem was an excellent choice, a movement that proves that Nolan has finally managed to provide an appropriate closure to his movies, even if it characteristically throws out all sorts of questions and suspicions as the credits roll. All those immaculately dressed protagonists exploring and perverting the psyches of human experience was magnificent, when I left a screening of Lost Highway back in 1997 I remember feeling quite bewildered and anxious during the journey home, Inception matched that experience and I can’t think of any higher praise – SPOILERS END.
I remarked a while back that these claims of Nolan being the new Kubrick was a little premature as he hadn’t crafted a 2001 yet, in a little filn nerd exercise lets compare the trajectory of their careers shall we? Both auteurs started with self-produced, self-financed, B&W ultra low budget calling cards that demonstrated their commitment to the craft aligned with a palpable sense of skill and technique - consider Following married with Killers Kiss and to a lesser extent Fear & Desire. They both delivered profile raising, clever genre movies that manipulated and challenged the notions of narrative conventions – Memento meets The Killing. Having ingratiated themselves amongst the aristocracy they both collaborate with one of the biggest stars of the era to cement their reputations – Douglas in Paths Of Glory and Pacino in Insomnia - which proves they can handle ‘talent’ and craft superb performances (Insomnia was Pacino’s last great screen role to date in my book) which then catapults them firmly into the A list, taking on the biggest blockbusters of the age with Spartacus back in 1960 or the Batman franchise in the noughties. This roughly parses Inception being Nolan’s 2001 or Strangelove, the ‘big ideas’ film that encapsulates the auteurs career to date, the technical innovations striking a new direction in form and configuration that will influence the art form for years to come – but that’s were the similarities end. Kubrick had much more of a broader vision, a macro level examination of his big themes – science, intelligence, sex, combat, the laughable constructs and frameworks that we develop to manage our ‘civilisation’ – whilst I’d argue that Nolan zeroes in the micro level, charting his subjects psyches, their character and personality, the repercussions of their obsessions that frequently distort and destroy them. Risking a clumsy metaphor one is Rembrandt and one is Picasso, both using the same canvas to explore their interests with different tools and techniques that the art form delineates in that moment in time. It is stating the obvious but Stan wasn’t exactly renown for populating his films with exciting shoot-outs and melee choreography (well, apart from that droog scene in Orange and the closing act of Jacket, erm…), I guess what I’m trying to say is such narrowly defined comparisons collapse under their own contradictions.
Many critics also quote the groan inducing claim that both directors are cold and humorless, because of course every film must have a quota of gags and a comedic sidekick, evidently those essentials appear as special deleted features on the DVD’s of Schindlers List or Sophies Choice. According to a podcast I listen to the hosts had read a review that criticised Nolan’s films for being ’too complicated’ – I won’t bother to reproduce the mental (in both senses of the word) tirade that this prompted in my fevered brain. But enough of the comparisons and enough of Kubrick (never thought I’d write that sentence), it’s a little unfair to Nolan who is his own particular talent, I remember reading an interview with him in the Guardian back when Memento came out and his exasperation at the simile almost leapt from the page, he was modest enough to be flattered with the comparison and Stan is undoubtably a core influence I’m sure but lets let him get on with his own stuff shall we? Besides, I’d argue that Nick Roeg is much more of a apt comparison with all those narrative fractures, those dispersal of linear traditions but that’s a whole other blog post….
Some further good news, look who’s back behind the camera for his new project and here’s the trailer for Fincher’s new movie – the future is looking rosy, cinematically speaking. I can elevate this with some news from last nights Douglas Trumbull Q&A at the NFT following his screening of Silent Running, he revealed that he worked on the second portion of Malick’s mysterious Tree Of Life project, that both films – the IMAX Film and the ‘normal’ film – are both cut, finished and in the can, although I’m still confused (along with everyone else I’m sure) as to exactly how these two strands supposedly work together. Still, its nice to have another mouth-watering experience on the horizon just as one is being digested eh? Here’s some coverage on Nolan’s influences, here are some of the more intelligent reviews that I’ve just caught up with and this list of his favourite films is superb, particularly his choice of The Hitcher and The Black Hole which has always occupied a special place in my mind since seeing it with one of my oldest friends back in 1979. At least that’s how I remember it…
Well there is no way I’m going to finalize my Inception review tonight as I’ve been pummeling away since I got home at 1:00am and am perhaps a third of the way through, this weekend is looking brutal in terms of stuff I’m seeing tomorrow today and Sunday so I have to get some sleep, not to mention managing my real world day job that I also have to monitor over the weekend – yeah, what a fucking martyr eh? Anyway, I want to get something published so here are some initial thoughts, in the form of film clips – make of them what you will:
I’d have loved to post the full heist scene but I think its been taken down. Moving on, the ‘art’ film:
The obvious – I’d rather have linked to this scene but it is forbidden, but you get the point I’m sure;
An old, surprisingly overlooked favourite;
Another crime film;
First impressions – Tom Hardy’s profile will explode, this film demands another viewing or three, the Kubrick comparisons are a little misguided for reasons I’ll get into later. Still, here’s the trailer again, an exceptional piece of work;
I think I’ll try to break things up on here with a few trailers from years past if you’ll indulge me, that should make things more palatable between some lengthy film reviews that are on the horizon. First up, courtesy of the always reliable B-Movie Cast comes this dose of psychotropic brilliance;
Any film with such an awesome title deserves a link, I haven’t seen it yet but it looks like a work of genius, don’t you think?
Catastrophic public spending cuts. NHS stealth privatisation. Financial greed at the expense of the common man – this is all starting to sound distinctly familiar, the next thing you know the latest Stallone and Willis numbskull action movie will be on general release, perhaps some cartoonish espionage romance caper will be blighting screens or maybe even a new Predator movie will hit the local Odeon. Around Christmas time I picked up a couple of cheap Blu-Ray shaped portions of reminiscence, the period ‘classics’ Robocop and Predator, both films I hadn’t seen in quite some time. As I expected Robocop stands up very well, its bludgeoning corporate satire and emollient violence are still relevant a couple of decades hence, I was also pleased to see just how much fun the original Predator movie was, it is very much a product of its time what with all that Reganite self-sufficient annihilation of leftist scum in a south American rainforest, a task expertly performed by a squad of Übermenschen special forces, most of all though it was just entertaining Hollywood pap with some superb creature designs, action beats, tension building sequences and of course a litany of lethal Ahnoldt one liners. This urged me to revisit Predator 2, a film I distinctly remember enjoying for its genre manipulations, shifting the pyrotechnics to the urban jungle of near future LA, again for what it wanted to do it was entertaining in a pulpy way, with a cast including Bill Paxton, Danny Glover, Robert Davi, Adam Baldwin and of course the now legendary Gary Busey how could you go wrong? All these efforts were some sort of loose preparation for the release of Predators last week, the Robert Rodreguiz produced new instalment of the franchise which many hoped would be a return to the franchises past successes after the abominable AvP atrocities, like others the knowledge that the new film had been culled from a script he had written back in the mid-nineties raised the potential of an exciting, well designed SF action piece – I’ll let Kevin Spacey in the similarly terrible Superman Returns reboot give you an idea of quite how that expectation panned out.
For the new incarnation of the franchise events have moved off-world and proceedings get off to a kinetic start with US special forces ranger Royce (Adrien Brody) regaining consciousness only to find himself hurtling toward the ground of an unknown country. Fortunately for our friend at the last moment a chute deploys and deposits our hero into an uncertain and mysterious jungle environment, teeming with a menacing menagerie of flora and fauna. It soon emerges that Royce is not alone and soon a motley crüe of renegades and degenerates coalesce together in a kind of safety in numbers deal, all of them claiming not to know how or why they gave been transported to this location. The squad is a barely sketched parade of stereotypes - a feisty female Hispanic sniper (Alice Braga), a Mexican drug trafficker (Trejo), a white trash criminal fugitive (Walton Googins), a Sierra Leone mercenary (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a stoic yakuza ronin (Louis Ozawa Changchien), one chain-gun wielding Serbian insurgent (Oleg Taktarov) and a meek, extrinsic doctor played by the always eminently trustworthy Topher Grace. These warlike hunters soon realise that now they are the hunted as they face a trio of superhuman extraterrestrials – or at least they think they are extraterrestrials until it becomes apparent where they are – in a deadly game of cat and mouse, a challenge of traps, schemes and feints across a bewilderingly dull two hours.
Not a bad premise eh? It’s straight out of the pages of 2000AD and I mean that in a complementary way, after those terrible, terrible AvP atrocities you’d think there wasn’t much further for this franchise to fall, whilst it’s certainly not as bad as those pictures here is a piece of work which is just so mortifyingly dull, so relentlessly average that one wonders just how and why it got made in the first place. A potentially fun cast is throughly wasted, Trejo exits stage left pretty early on and a surprise appearance by Laurence Fishbourne in potentially the films only moment of flagging interest, giving a Kurtz influenced performance as a man whose sanity has snapped due to the isolation and horror he has suffered is mishandled and truncated to the point of incoherence. I heard that the producers deliberately cast Adrien Brody as opposed to any indestructible star due to the plausibility of him being under threat, an effort to give the film a sense of real urgency and danger which is probably the films most damaging contrivance, this project desperately needed a sense of humor, a sense of fun and it suffers from the lack of quips coupled with a throughly unconvincing and unsympathetic Brody in the leading man role.
SPOILERS ALERT – Two potentially exciting strands are injected into the plot, the first being that the Predators have also transported in other species to hunt along with the humans, that could have been fun but is never explored or mined for its combative potential and something I always thought would be fun was the premise of a human getting his hands on the cloaking devices that the species use and seeing what could be done with that, again this strand goes nowhere in favour of another parade of cookie cutter combat scenes that are dull as ditchwater - SPOILERS END. Worst of all for an action movie the fight and combat choreography is confusing and conventional, even the purported ’cool-bit’ showdown between a Predator and the sword wielding yakuza is badly paced and throughly indifferent. It may be a hangover from Avatar but you’d also think that the film-makers would at least try to make an exotic alien jungle perhaps in some senses exotic and alien, rather than quite obviously shot in the first South American country the crews Learjet bivouacked upon. The only feeble sparks of excitement were generated from the soundtrack re-visits to Alan Silverstri’s original score and one line from Walton Googins – ‘If I ever got off this planet I’m gonna do so much fucking cocaine’ – which is then immediately hobbled by some horrendously crass allusions to his criminal pedigree. At best I could recommend this as a DVD release on a beer fuelled Friday night, forgot about a cinema visit as quite honestly after 90 minutes you’re just waiting for it to end.
The Alien reboot seems to be going in an unusual direction – yeah, yeah I know that link is 99.99% likely to be a wind-up – and of course there is some other recent film news that I could connect to being predatory but for a change I’ll resist the opportunity to be crass. So what’s next? Potentially the most demanding weekend of my blogging career is imminent gentle reader, in something of a dry run for Frightfest I shall be indulging in no less than four movies and two events over three days, including screenings of probably the biggest two films of the year and a couple of screenings and talks around this season. Wish me luck….
After Trejo being utterly wasted in the terrible Predators – review coming soon – here is some rehabilitation;
Thank the lord that Inception is coming up, this summer has been dreadful….
There are films about voyeurism and then there is the film about voyeurism, Hitchcock’s Rear Window, released in 1954, remains unsurpassed as one of the all time great allegories on cinema itself and why and how we shaved monkeys like to tell and hear each others stories. The NFT were running a Grace Kelly season to link in with some fashion nonsense at the V&A, she’s not an actresses I have any particular feelings for either way other than admiring her obvious regal beauty, I must confess that she is quite the comedienne in this movie, a facet I never really appreciated before. But lets begin with the usual synopsis….
In a virtuoso dialogue free sweeping camera movement that tracks across our heroes apartment we are given everything we need to know in the opening seconds – the renowned globe trotting photographer L.B Jefferies (James Stewart) has been a little clumsy and got his leg broken in the midst of securing a portfolio of action photos during the Indy 500. Wheelchair bound and paralysed with boredom Jeff has taken to watching his neighbours in the apartment block opposite and crafting elaborate back stories to their lives, all against the simmering discomfort of a summer heat wave. The pastime takes on a more sinister edge as he becomes increasingly convinced that one of his neighbours Mr. Thorwald (Raymond Burr) fights with his wife and her subsequent disappearance may be of a permanent nature. Jeff’s girlfriend Lisa Fremont – the scintillating Grace Kelly – joins our handicapped heroes attempt to unearth the truth in a bid to impress him with her resourcefulness and dispel Jeff’s assertions that she is a merely a pampered society dame. Concrete support is provided from Jeff’s droll physiotherapist Stella (the criminally underrated Thelma Ritter) and convenient detective friend Thomas Doyle (Wendell Corey) who are both incremental drawn into the web of suspicion and doubt.
This is perhaps Hitchcock’s greatest experimental film and is probably in my top three of his work. Every single shot is taken from or within the perspective of Jeff’s apartment, the voyeuristic investigation gazing out onto a magnificent set that was built in its fully functioning entirety on the Paramount back-lot. Rendered in lavish Technicolor by the stalwart Hitchcock cameraman Robert Burks this sweltering world comes to life, a microcosm that Hitchcock manipulates in tandem with his nervous audience. In terms of analysis and what people have read into it, well, where to begin? Like its ideal companion movie Peeping Tom (a film I’ve always been curiously unimpressed by and I love Michael Powell) reams have been written on the movie, Truffaut likened the relationship between Stewart and his neighbours to that between spectator and the screen, other critics have noted how the lives of his neighbours are symbolic representations of Jeff and Lisa’s relationship and its potential developments, then there is a whole host of psychological and feminist readings of the film as the primarily charged example of the ‘male gaze’ theory and associated hypothesis. That’s all fair enough, I enjoy the film on a much more simple level, to me it’s just so entertaining, funny and engaging, regardless of the wealth of readings and interpretations that have prospered over the last sixty or so years. Here is a wonderful moment, one of the most erotic in Hitchcock’s work where he strobed the image by taking out a few frames per second to craft a bewitching effect;
Hitch demanded 27 takes of that scene to get it right – hmmm, make of that what you will. Just to go into stuck record mode it is a revelation to see this on the movie screen, with an appreciative audience who gasp and laugh along in all the right places, reactions that prove its relevance despite its aged pedigree. The films frothy dialogue from the pen of seasoned scribe John Michael Hayes remains wonderful, I didn’t realise just how funny Rear Window was until you see it with an audience in a packed auditorium, a quite unexpected congregation for an early evening screening on the hottest day of the year. What is perfectly realised is the subtextual relationship between Jeff and Lisa, how their relationship needs to evolve to survive and prosper, these concerns masterfully weaved into the foreground murder plot with a skill that is rarely apparent these days. The print was quite scrappy, especially during the reel changes which drew some chuckles from the audience, I love that texture to seeing old movies as it gives a real sense of an artefact unspooling before your eyes in the era of stereoscopic, neuron melting 4D.
If I had to pick one all time favourite film star it would probably be Jimmy Stewart, I don’t think anyone can claim to have had quite a such a memorable career – the four Hitchcock films, the Anthony Mann Westerns, the John Ford pictures, Harvey, It’s A Wonderful Life, the other Capra movie, the Billy Wilder flick, The Philadelphia Story, jeez, shall I go on? He was quite a raconteur on the chat show circuit back in the day and having read a couple of biographies he is one of that very rare breed, a republican right winger whom I still respect. Whilst others dodged the World War II draft – perhaps most famously John Wayne – Stewart quietly enlisted and flew many bombing sorties over Europe from which many of his comrades did not return. He never exploited this for his career and for many years refused to be cast in soldier roles after 1945, until he was convinced to make Strategic Air Command in the interests of the anti-communist struggle ten years later. The fact that It’s a Wonderful Life, a modestly budgeted ‘minor’ picture upon its release was the first film he made after returning from the war gives that films ethos a deeper resonance, but that’s a whole other blog post. Vertigo is unquestionably one of the greatest films ever made but I’ve also got a cultish soft spot for another film that was released in the same year of 1958 that also co-stared Kim Novak, an odd little picture called Bell, Book & Candle - give it a look if you get a chance.
You may recall that despite missing a screening of The Birds some weeks ago I did manage to get to the subsequent interview with Tippi Hedren, it wasn’t the most fascinating of events I’m sorry to say but the opportunity to see one of the few remaining Hitchcock’s ladies reminisce was essential. Now that the time has elapsed the truth will out and the story of how Hitchcock controlled and effectively destroyed her career has come to light, it is not a pretty story. The torturous process of filming some of the bird attack scenes was reasserted in humourous detail and despite her extremely uncomfortable relationship with the man she revealed that she still admired him greatly as a film-maker and artist, even if as a human being he was less than honourable – and that’s putting it mildly. There was some coverage of her extensive charity work with animals which felt vaguely out of place and the only other vaguely interesting anecdote was recalled from the tense set of A Countess of Hong Kong, Chaplin’s last movie as director where his precise stage directions and insistence on the actors hitting their marks on set did not gel with Brando’s free-wheeling method stylistics. Finally here is some documentary fun and am I the only person looking forward to Birdemic?
I’m sure I’ve mentioned the Val Lewton classic Cat People on here before, presumably during my The Wolfman commentary, but that eerie chiller is always worth a re-visit. Unfortunately all the clips I can find of the original are barred from transfer so here is a montage of Schraders 1982 remake, a real cult item which was given new attention after Tarantino pilfered the soundtrack for that terrific Inglorious Basterds scene;
The link to The Bad & The Beautiful is reference led, the scene in that movie which amusingly detailed the production of a low-budget horror film was based on how Val Lewton produced this 1942 B-Movie classic. Not that I need an excuse to turn the medley to horror pictures but there is a method to my madness, I’ve just managed to land an assignment covering this years Frightfest festival which unfolds over five days in London’s West End, culminating on the August bank holiday Monday – here are some trailers to the schedule on offer including the closing film which should give an idea of what I have in store – professional help is being sought. Tobe Hooper is this years special guest, sporting a new print of Chainsaw with an inevitable Q&A to follow. I spoke to one of the marketing directors this morning who said he could probably get me an interview with the directors of the well received zombie flick The Dead, this revelation was simultaneously jolly exciting and throughly terrifying – how apt. Finally, the red band trailer of Predators that opens this Thursday – looks like schlocky fun eh?
‘All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun’, ‘Every edit is a lie’ & ‘Cinema is truth, 24 times a second’ - Jean-Luc Godard, the doyen of François cinema and one of the leading proponents of the gargantuanly influential Nouvelle Vague of the 1960’s has a memorable a turn of phrase don’t you think? A mere fifty years ago his debut À bout de soufflé exploded across the stage of world cinema, a film that almost single handedly ushered a new epoch of cinema. One happy consequence of the recent drought of new releases deemed worthy of my presence is that I’ve been to focus my attention on some of the older movies that are getting some convenient re-releases like this and the likes of Rashomon, time and work permitting I will also add a new Hitchcock review to the blog over the weekend, watch this space…
The plot is thin – in an iconic performance Jean Paul-Belmondo is a small time crook named Michel, an arrogant hustler who guns down a traffic policeman after finding the weapon in the glove compartment of the car he has just stolen. He flees to the enveloping arms of Paris to evade the law and after visiting one of his many girlfriends (we presume) Michel seduces the waif-like Patricia (Jean Seberg), an American student who is studying Journalism at the Sorbonne. Michel wants to flee to Italy with his new amour in tow, as two detectives close-in on their quarry Michel is fervently using his underworld contacts to fund his escape…
At the risk of sounding like a philistine this was quite a gruelling experience. I first saw A Bout De Soufflé when I was a teenager and pretty much hated it then, as my appreciation and understanding of cinema has matured and evolved over the intervening period I optimistically believed that my rejection of the movie was mostly down to some youthful ignorance, alas that was not to be the case. Don’t get me wrong, I ‘get’ Godard, I understand why and how he is one of the most influential visual artists of the post war era – the intertextuality, the vibrant jump-cuts and guerrilla vibe of shooting on the real streets of Paris (often without permits and with real passers-by being captured in shot), the Marxism and infusion of overt political diatribes into his projects, the sheer playfulness and exuberant joie du vivre of quite simply fucking with the cinematic format, by manipulating and warping the then well established cinematic conceits. This is all legendary but these triumphs do not absolve the films most irritating tropes that I can’t forgive. For some people twenty five minutes out of a ninety minute movie being devoted to the two central characters lounging around in bed, smoking incessantly and speaking in isolated, unconnected non sequiturs is fun, for me it’s a hard act to stomach - ‘Let’s go to Mexico’, ‘My father used to promise me that’, ’Do you like the works of Faulkner?’ ‘Is he someone you have slept with?’, ‘Today is an era in which love has died’, ‘I agree, take off your top’ – I mean c’mon, dialogue like that is just comically pretentious and whilst I’m sure it’s my failing I just can’t get past it. There is one line which is straight out of a comedy sketch show satire of this type of movie, later on in the film when Patricia is interviewing a philosopher at the airport he is fielding a parade of ridiculous questions and she asks him what his ambition is - ‘To become Immortal…..’ he grandly proclaims ’….and then die’. I actually ‘laughed out loud’ as the kids are saying these days. It also doesn’t help that Belmondo is just a total twat, an exceptionally irritating weasel of a character with his primate gait and festering gauloise permanently perched on his bottom lip, he’s an idiot that needs a good slap and I’m thoroughly mystified at his being some paragon of gallic chic due to this role.
All that said I would stress that this is absolutely essential viewing for any budding cinephile, it is an enormously important and influential film and just to recycle an old metaphor it is another ‘Velvet Underground’ film, a text not immediately successful by critical (at least at the time), industrial or fiscal standards but certainly a film that inspired a generation of artists and film-makers to take up arms, pens and cameras. I do like some of his other films that I’ve caught over the years, Le Mepris, (yes that’s Fritz Lang as the director btw) Weekend and Alphaville all have a certain quixotic charm, in fact with the exception of Un Femme Est Un Femme, Le Petit Soldat and this years Canne-bait Film socialisme I’ve seen all his easily acquired films. There are plenty of amusing anecdotes from his career, my favourite from 1968 when he got into an on-stage fist fight during a screening at the London National Film Theatre with the producer of One Plus One whom had re-cut his film, before being ejected he screamed that everyone in the audience were ‘fascists’ - that’s one of those BFI Q&A’s I attend that would have been quite perky. An aide here on the tragic life of Jean Seberg who really should have had a fantastic career, another young starlet chewed up by the system. Finally I have been hesitantly ploughing through Godard’s celebrated Histoire(s) du cinéma documentary series, I’m still not entirely sure what he’s trying to say, or celebrate, or damn, but its position as a precursor to the digitally shot, mash-up techniques that squat in the caverns of the internet prove that once again, Godard was way ahead of the curve.
Welcome to the concentual hallucination. Humph, after a long day I’m reminded of a certain anniversary, it’s not something I had in the diary but I feel it should be mentioned on the Menagerie;
I’m a huge, huge fan of Gibson, in fact he’s the only author that I still make an effort to buy in first print, hardback delivery mode, despite the increasing disdain of such primitive delivery systems - I might regret that sentence in the morning. Anyway, I’m looking forward to his new novel Zero History, I keep meaning to revisit the two trilogies and perhaps this new novel will round off a third. I’m tired, it’s late and I can’t possibly do his work and influence justice at the moment, it also amuses me that if ‘they‘ ever get it together to produce an appropriately reverent treatment of Neuromancer it would already feel like a period piece. Happy birthday and for more links and updates that I haven’t absorbed look here….and this whole post makes me feel ancient……