I’ve been reading an extended article in this months Sight & Sound on silent cinema, and I happened upon this which apparently is noted for its ‘vibrant ethnic diversity of Limehouse’ – which is my current manor. Maybe one last chance to see the local dens of iniquity before they all get submerged by a roaring Thames as the UK’s worst storm in 25 years ominously approaches?;
Details seem respectively sketchy but it’s sad when any talent passes, especially a female director whom are obviously annoyingly underrepresented in the industry. Anyone who can annoy the Catholic Church – or any money obsessed hypocritical church for that matter – is OK in my book. Here’s one of her underrated and little known films which is worth a few watches;
Curiously enough one of the questions at this evenings Roger Corman BFI event concerned his patronage of female directors, more on that soon…
So how are things going gentle reader? I have been mostly considering economic and intellectual decay, the discovery of the most remote galaxy known within human existence, and the unsurprising revelation that the powers that be are religiously scrying our ‘Allies’ alongside neutral and antipathatic nation states – but it’s OK though, Cap will save us;
Redford as a cloaked villian I reckon, that could be a fun inversion. My mild prejudices of this character were assaulted by a reasonably entertaining origin film which balanced fun and flags – that’s what a solid journeyman director like Joe Johnson managed to rally – so I think I’ll give this a chance. As for Thor II which opens here in the UK tomorrow, well I guess I should see it to keep abreast of all the cross Marvel movie circlejack references and post coitus stings, but that red shift revelation of the infintite pointlessness of existence makes me wonder…..
You may recall that some time back I remarked that I would be attending a wedding – well, I was getting a little ahead of myself as before we meet that iconic electro haired mannequin we must turn my Universal Monsters series to more intangible matters, and identify the manically screeching Claude Rains as the blink and you’ll miss him The Invisible Man. Now just as a reminder we are following the core texts of this Blu-Ray investment rather than the officially recognised canon as frankly I’ll be in my grave long before I manage to craft reviews of all seventy-odd films in the series, but who knows how many of those other creatures which go bump in the night might be covered through alternate programmes and initiatives in the mist drenched decades to come? In any case I was anxious to get this series up to 1933 so it could dovetail nicely into a big screen event which is part of the BFI’s imminent Gothic season, including a special guest whom hopefully won’t be rising from beyond the grave. But before that let’s get our claws on the next slippery sucubi of this severely serrated series;
In terms of a synopsis I don’t think we need to devote too much time, in an archetypical chilly and winterswept village a gauze garbed stranger arrives at the local Inn and demands a room with complete privacy and to broker no interruptions. Barking order to the frightened locals he doesn’t exactly inherit their sympathy, and the local law enforcement become suspicious that this interloper may be up to no good.The bandage slathered lunatic is Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), a chemical genius who has unearthed the miracle compound monocane which when injected into animal turned them insane, as revealed by his compatriot Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers) and Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) through a rather clumsy cutaway scene. The elixir does produce a rather impressive side-effect however as it renders the subjects partially invisible, and Cranley has further reasons to swiftly unveil the whereabouts of his companion and colleague as his daughter Flora (Gloria Stuart) happens to be madly in love with Griffin, so the race is on to save the newly anointed megalomaniac from himself and scupper his grandiose plans to clandestinely take over the world…..
The Invisible Man hasn’t quite been etched into popular culture like Frankenstein or Dracula of course perhaps in part due to his inherently intangible nature, but I have very fond memories of seeing this for the first time when these movies were aired in the early evening on BBC2 here in the UK. It’s almost impossible to comprehend but back in those primitive media days there was only four TV channels in the entire country (maybe three if it was pre-1982) and schedules starved of material would populate airtime with movies from across the early Hollywood era as well as Harold Lloyd and Laurel & Hardy shorts, it’s a resource of film history the likes of which is simply incomprehensible these days when we can repeat old game shows, soaps and lifestyle enhancement nonsense – it makes me wanna take over the world. In any case The Invisible Man does have its champions and I kinda like it from a historical perspective, tyrants boasting of their inherent mental and genetic superiority obviously had quite a resonance in 1933, and as a mystery story its one of the better arranged films of the era, setting up an initial question and then skirting around the narrative in a perpendicular fashion - there is one skilfully arranged montage of the terrorized locals which deftly moves throughout the space as our incorporeal anti-hero prowls through the village, lumbering from smashed windows to petrified children, from glum boozehounds to steadfast law officials, in quite freeing and canny fashion in the era of locked down cameras and restrictive sound recording equipment.
The special effects for the period must have been akin to the Avatar of their era, boasting a similar ‘Holy fucking Jesus Christ in a sidecar, how did they do that?’ reaction among impressionable viewers who were hitting their adolescence such as Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen when this invaded screens, not to mention disarming a whole new generation of wide-eyed viewers when these films went into rotation on network TV in the 1950’s, formulating a fascination with the irrational and fantastique in the minds of your Spielberg’s, Zemeicks, Lucas, Landis and Dante’s. It’s obviously primitive in the light of todays CGI hallucinations but those optical printing techniques are envelope pushing for their time, with some imaginative deployment of wire work and other camera tricky, they have really stood the test of time until the 1990′s when of course these effects would be manufactured in a computer rather than manipulating a group of celluloid strips back in the beaker bubbling lab;
There is something captured in popular psychology linking back to Homer of a man invisible being divorced from the rules of society, of becoming in his mind a virtual omnipotent god with access to the secrets places and facts of the world, with access to forbidden . In the film – quite prescient now given recently developments – Rains roars on his ability to pull down the existing power structures, of revealing the clandestine deals and operations conducted by the elites, even of re-distributing wealth and of levelling the social pecking order – clearly this prototype Assange / Snowden is absolutely insane? It’s something Verhoeven also flirted with in his underrated Hollow Man of 2000, turning his good scientist bad when unshackled from the chains of societal constraints, although that film did have to resort to textbook pyrotechnics in its final act rather than plunder the provocative premise. They sure didn’t trust scientists in those days eh? Those pretenders and plundering of gods plateau, manipulating the levers of physics and reality and reaping a biblical whirlwind in response, it’s a contrast to the studious presentation of science in the nuclear nightmare of the 1950’s where they solemn intone back story with exposition laced dialogue, cradling a smouldering pipe and bringing a rational, neutral idiom to the nightmares they have unleashed.
In terms of Hollywood lore you may recognise Dr. Cranley as Clarence the Angel from It’s a Wonderful Life, and Claude Rains only secured the part due to numerous other actors turning it down because of course, yup you guessed it – they would barely be seen on-screen. Nevertheless it boosted Rain’s profile through his persuasive vocal tones, and one imagines his immortality is assured in the annals of screen supremacy given his significant role in a certain North African wartime romance. Also look out for Gloria Stewart which some of you may recognise from some modest disaster movie of 1997, but who cares about that sunken stinker? This film ultimately dissolves into a farce with a Keystone Cops rejoinder, rather than pure sanity shredding terror which might be one of the reasons it doesn’t lurk as effectively as reanimated boltnecked cadavers or aristocratic blood swilling vermin, but it was another hit for Universal as these films were pretty much the lifeline to solvency during the depression, as audiences flocked to the opulent escapism epics of MGM they also loved gazing into the darker recesses of society and psyche. Naturally Universal stripmined the premise for as many sequels as possible, including The Invisible Man Returns, inevitably The Invisible Woman, grappling with the Nazi scourge in The Invisible Agent before claiming vengeance in, erm, The Invisible Man’s Revenge. Now hark, I do hear the sound of ominous distant wedding bells, so let me blow the cobwebs off my tuxedo and pin a decaying boutonnière to my mouldering frame as you are cordially invited to a special BFI hosted union of The Bride and Frankenstein….
A slow news day, so some have been promoting this as an amusing little aside to Autumn misery. I digress, I thought it was pretty meh, but then again I have witnessed the genius that is the John Millius / Ahnoldt Conan commentary;
Pure, unadulterated steroid enhanced comedy gold there, my favourite being ‘she’s a valkeryie….’
I planned on seeing Captain Philips this afternoon and when I got to the cinema I had a bit of a shock – it had sold out. I can’t remember the last time that happened, so good luck to Mr. Hanks and Mr. Greengrass, I’ll try again during the week. Here’s the last update from the LFF, so we can draw a veil over that extravaganza whilst we move into the BFI Gothic season which starts for me on Friday;
If you’re so inclined my review is here, and whilst going for a sniff around youtube I recently discovered this which is a terrific documentary on cinematographers and the art of lighting;
I can’t imagine a more explosive finish to the LFF for me, this is my last film for this annual cycle of the festival and it was phenomenal – here’s a reminder;
NO SPOILERS but I must say this, even though you’re waiting for it through clenched teeth there is one scene in this film toward the end which is one of the most powerful pieces of cinema I’ve seen in quite a while, in general the last half hour or so is just……..phew. I can also see why it has one objection of a political nature which has offended some viewers, and mark my words those concerns will be amplified when the film goes on general release, but given that the film is lifted from a true story, and presumably that element is truthful, then those concerns are a little redundant if mildly understandable. As it hits all those Academy favourite elements there will be Oscars galore – male lead and support, direction and best film, although Gravity must be a lock for all the technical awards. Now where’s the number of my bookies?…..
In other news of a LFF variety certain ‘bovine’ comments in this review have caused some consternation, and in general the film has got a lot of flack from the Sight & Sound paddock of critics, even the normally genial Mr. Cousins has got quite upset over the alleged ’leering sex scenes’. I haven’t seen it so can’t comment, but it’s always nice to get a bit of a spat going isn’t it?
Hmm, not a bad list I suppose (no Starcrash? for shame sir), but I’d argue that E.T. and Alien are less SF than they are horror and melodrama respectively which just happen to take place within SF trappings – the 2001 write-up is fairly good though. Why am I muscling in on a blatant linkbait article crafted by the Gruandiad? Well, it kinda links into my latest review, of a man responsible for one of the most prescient SF’s of recent decades final effort to complete his beloved trilogy;
Review here, I’m sure I’ll get pilloried from some sections for my opinion but so be it, like George Washington I cannot tell a lie, and believe me as much as I’m ambivalent about 12 Monkeys I was seriously praying for a strong film to complete this so called Dystopia trifecta but alas it has stumbled at the final hurdle…..
Besides, nothing can phase me today as I’ve just negotiated a contract extension out to April, potentially May 2014 which is a huge relief, but it does mean I’m taking the lead on a specific programme which means I have to present to the GLA board and those god-damn suits down at City Hall just before Christmas – so no pressure. Annnnnyways, a new Wes Anderson anyone?;
OK, as my reviews slow down it’s time for some padding, but you might find some of the context to the better films interesting;
….and there is Nebraska with Payne;
…and finally the usual;
One more review to join the group, I thought that one would be quite difficult to coax out but once I got into it the words flowed quite easily – it’s not an easy film to crack from a single viewing and there is more going on than the trailer suggests. Given that I’ve already posted that teaser a few times here I thought a little overview of the Coen chaps career might be in order, especially since this film holds many connections to their earlier work;
I liked the cat, you’ll understand when it appropriately hits screens at Christmas - it is a particularly chilly film. I have to say I’m a litle distressed at missing some other events at the festival, I’m missing out on all the Q&A’s this year and I’d really have liked to catch Isabelle Huppert today but such is life, the day job must trump the hobby sometimes (sighs). Still, I’m sacrificing Friday morning for the press screening of 12 Years A Slave, it better live up to the extraordinary hype. Here’s the usual round-up;
A scattering of my reviews are slowly being processed, I don’t think I’ve particularly covered this before but it was quite an entertaining movie – everything that The Zero Theorem wasn’t;
So one film has finally got a full trailer which didn’t transport from Toronto to London, given Claire Denis’s world cinema stature I’m fairly certain it will get UK distribution over the next six to nine months, and believe me some of the people I discussed it with in Canada couldn’t praise it high enough as a rather distressing work which earns the inclusion of grevious subject matter;
I’m paraphrasing but one Wisconsin film programmer claimed it made ‘Nicholas Winding Refn look like Richard Curtis’ - sold. Finally, the usual;
I don’t know what genius decided to schedule the new Coen film’s with an early Sunday morning slot but here we are, ploughing through a very wet and blustery city for a packed screening of a fine little ditty;
I’m a huge Coen’s fan but I admit to being a little ambivalent on this one from my glimpse of the original trailer – the machinations of the early 1960′s New York folk scene really didn’t jump out at me – but this was intriguing an amusing little movie, one part O Brother Where Art Thou with a sprinkling of Barton Fink, all drizzled with the sense of a man’s life slowly closing in on him as seen in A Serious Man. It was better than expected, very funny in places with the usual vivid Coenesque characters, and a very odd structural framing choice which should encourage duplicate viewings.
I took it easy today with just the single film in order to free up some time and compose some reviews, tomorrow it’s back to the day job but I do have one screening planned during the week….
This unintended strategy in combining press and public screenings seems to be paying dividends, as today I managed to catch two more fantastic films with an unexpected guest to brighten proceedings, and there was certainly much more of an atmosphere to this afternoons programme than sitting with miserly hacks groaning and moaning throughout transmission. Unfortunately I have had to dismiss Blue Is The Warmest Colour from the list as catching this would have negated seeing both these movies, given that its guaranteed distribution here at some point over the next six months I’ll catch it later. First up, All Is Lost;
Boy did this shiver me timbers, a turbulant companion piece to Gravity now that I think about it, a near dialogue free testament to human resilience and endurance which soaks you in a gripping atmosphere from start to finish – Hitch would have loved it. Then something of a change of pace, my first ‘world’ cinema screening if you will of Koreeda’s fantastic Like Father, Like Son;
I’ll save details for my full review but this was a very funny and melodiously moving account of two boys switched at birth, and the reaction of their loving parents once the error is unearthed six years later. It was a pleasant surprise to welcome director Hirokazu Koreeda to the podium after the screening for a sadly short Q&A with Tony Rayns, but at least I’ve managed to slip in some talent spotting this year;
In other news, a big thank you to our Melbourne correspondent for sending me an unexpected treat in the guise of a copy of this, looking forward to finally beating that one off if em, you catch my drift. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have more nautical nastiness to watch and a metric fuckload of reviews to scribe….
My first sortie was largely succesful, Nebraska was a faintly moving sliver of Americana, The Double much more amusing and assured than anticipated, however for me The Zero Thereom was a delve to far into the negative zone – here’s what else has been happening;
It warms my cheeks, cockles my heart and other ridiculous cockney allusions aside to see just how Gravity is being embraced around the planet, some minor concerns aside it is one of the defining films of the year so I’m so happy that it’s so commercially and critically successful. I pray that similar ambitious experiments will be forthcoming…
Once more into the breach gentle reader, yes it’s that time again;
I missed the press conference for the opening night film and the press screening, and as it stands I won’t be attending much of that strand of associated material, but we do have a schedule which starts tomorrow so I’ll be dropping a handful of reviews over at SoS over the next couple of weeks. I’ll collate the daily round-up and associated material here as usual, in terms of Captain Philips I’m hearing some tensely exciting things as you’d expect from Mr. Greengrass;
Given that the film opens here proper quite soon I can’t say I’m fussed to see this immediately, as one has much bigger fish to fry over the weekend – the new Gilliam, Alexander Payne, Adoyade, Coen and a couple of others….
The second part of the recent ICA hosted tribute to cinematographer Harris Savides was a screening of Birth, a 2004 mystery film which was directed and introduced by UK helmer Jonathan Glazer. Having directed a number of striking music videos, most notably for Radiohead for a couple of tracks from their seminal OK Computer album Glazer graduated to the movies in 2000, giving Ben Kingsley a memorably menacing role in his British gangster yarn Sexy Beast, a UK crime sub-genre film which is normally known for radiating shivers of fear up the spine for critics for all together more qualitative reasons. Decanting across the Atlantic a few years later Glazer delivered Birth, a frosty high society allegory which has gone on to build up quite a cult reputation over the past decade, so it was a pleasure to catch the film again with a modestly brief introduction from Glazer in honour of his cinematographer Harris Savides, and given that this was the directors own silver nitrate 35mm print from it’s Venice premiere (complete with unobtrusive Italian subtitles) this was possibly the most aesthetically appealing possible format to see the film – it was certainly a change from the cramped Screen 4 of the Hammersmith Cineworld visit of 2004…..
A russet Winter, New York’s Central Park, and slowly this very psychologically and geographically interior film is unfurled in the coolly aureate apartments and antechambers of the East Coast privileged elite. Nicole Kidman is career best as Anna, her usual frosty demeanour cast in a particularly porcelain and feline mode, bereaved from her beloved husband Sean a decade earlier she has recently become engaged to her new persistent suitor Joseph who is played with an imperious imposition by Danny Huston. An unwelcome gate crasher breaches the buildings polite security and neutrally instructs Anna not to marry Joseph as he is her deceased husband, the only questionable quality of his claim being that he is actually a ten-year old boy who happens to share an identical Christian name. Slowly however Anna’s hostility to the precocious tyke (played with a mysterious distance by Cameron Bright) begins to thaw as he incrementally reveals confidences and secrets that only her departed husband could possibly have known, as Joseph slowly simmers in broiling rage at their union being jeopardized by such an absurd claim of identity.
This is actually quite a difficult film to excavate, it takes quite the critical effort to chip away at the hyperborean exterior to expose its molten emotional core, in that sense Kidman was the only actress on the planet who could possibly have played Anna to such perfection given that flawless combination of a frosty screen persona and aristocratic complexion shielding a sensitive vulnerability. Birth is one part an adult fairy tale given its luminous photography, the wispy score and the just slightly exaggerated performances and plot designs, posing a ridiculous assertion at its centre which forms the films central narrative hook – it’s ridiculous of course but just what if it is Sean? Savides famous quote that he ‘lights rooms rather than characters, I let the actors then inhabit them’ is never more apparent than in this film, the perfectly expensive glowing heirlooms and tasteful interior design vernacular of Manhattan’s gentry litter ochre and autumnal hued rooms, which the characters politely glide through like regal statues until the adolescent interloper shatters their privileged personas. The entire film has a bracing, cup and blow warmth into your hands while stomping your feet flow, you can almost sense the frigid cracks snaking from the edges of that chilled oblong screen, with wonderfully disciplined scenes such as this hinting at the turbulent emotional depths churning beneath the veneer of cordial propriety;
Don’t worry, no spoilers but I was actually a little surprised at just how unambiguous the conclusion to this film was, I remember it being far more open to interpretation and argument but evidently my memory is defective, as there is a very clear solution to the mystery of identity if not necessarily the motives for behaviour, and this has somewhat torpedoed my initial intentions to talk a little about ambiguity in Glazer’s work with reference to his most blatant influence Stanley Kubrick but here we are. Yes, guilty as charged m’lord I know Ido tend to dovetail into discussions of Stanley’s work quite often here but in the case of Birth and the more recent Under The Skin the influences are simply unavoidable, particularly in the latter in which the opening disorienting opening aria is the closest approximation to the phantasmagorical collusion of abstract art, of rotating orbits and celestial images that closes 2001: A Space Odyssey which has been mounted in recent cinema history. Well apart from Tree of Life of course. Or maybe Melancholia. OK, I’ll shut up now as I’m arguing myself into a dizzying circle…..
In Birth Glazer uses the slowly creeping zoom-in to centre on a character’s turbulent internal thought, it centres our attention and thought processes much more subtly and reflexively than a simple cut to a close-up to signal dramatic emotional importance, giving the film an opportunity to slowly respire through a succession of measured and paced scenes which generate a holistic aura of distance, of studious poise and ascetic removal. Of course there is the celebrated opening dolly shot which tracks the adult Sean through a winter’s jog through central park, it’s a wonderfully penetrative introduction to this chilly New York yarn, signaling the pace and tone of the film and its arctic colour palettes which Savides sprinkles across the film like a crystal confetti. As previously alluded the photographic style is more muted and impressed into the film when compared to the starker compositions and contrasts of The Game, this film hesitantly glows with a flame of flickering candle, fluttering like Anna’s internal uncertainties over Joseph and the apparition of her beloved returning from the grave.
The film became quite controversial for the scene where a naked Nicole Kidman is joined in a bath by the naked ten-year old Sean, and in another scene she lightly grazes his lips with her own in a more affectionate than sexually orientated kiss, and only when the inevitable outrage erupt did the producers exasperatedly reveal that Kidman was not only wearing a full body stocking for the ‘nude’ scene, and in fact she and Bright were never on set together through a careful deployment of surrogates, so there was no basis in any accusations of it endorsing any inappropriate behaviour. In that sense it has some tenuous links to Lolita and its mirrored outrage back in 1961, where producer James B. Harris and Kubrick engaged in a cordially fierce battle with the moral majority over the depection of the unconventional love story (and that’s putting it mildly), winning concessions through some rather clandestine visual maneuvers. In Birth these scenes could have been quite icky and slimy to use a professional critic’s term, but the intent is obviously not to provoke a prurient reaction but to take the premise to its logical and dramatic conclusion, in again I stress an emotional, affectionate rather than physical, lustful sense.
Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Well with Glazer evidently so, you can’t pilfer entire shooting techniques and styles – those slow forward and reverse zooms, the long languid dolly shots – and combine those with a specifically designated form of muted performance and ingrained lighting patterns – again like latter period Kubrick all the lighting is sourced from the set, from the actual lighting embedded in the scene (as you can see on the left) – you can’t implement these established routes without inviting some critical examination, as to my mind there is a thin line between homage and outright theft, I mean just look at the majority of Tarantino’s Xerox’s (and this list is quite spectacularly US focused for a so-called champion of Asian cinema) which are fun to be sure but rather implode these absurd claims of being some sort of artistic genius of the form. What is absent at the moment which I don’t think has or maybe will surface is a consistent worldview and connective membrane between Glazer’s projects which I don’t think has solidified yet, but to be fair I haven’t seen Sexy Beast since one initial viewing a decade ago and he’s only produced three movies in thirteen years so we should give him the benefit of the doubt. In any case this is a beautiful film with ravishing photography, some superb performances, an almost unique narrative premise, a further gestation of a new pretender to the throne, pregnant with potential;
Just to break things up a little this looks like, woooaahhh, totally awesome, and has been getting some fun notices from a few festivals;
It could be a welcome break from the winter tedium when it lands in the UK on Boxing Day. Some of my LFF material has also been emerging prior to today’s official launch, this upcoming weekend is looking pretty darn deliciously brutal with quite an agenda – and that makes me happy. In other news, I’ve made my +4 intuition check which makes me certain that some of you novices may be interested in this;
Naturally this combination skill attack of the LFF with two Hanks movies opening and closing the festival in alignment with a RPG themed movie makes one conjure this…..
“Movies usually make a pact with the audience that says: we’re going to play it straight. What we show you is going to add up. But we don’t do that. In that respect, it’s about movies and how movies dole out information” said David Fincher about his crucial follow-up to the necromantic nihilism of Se7en, the puzzling profundity of 1997′s The Game. It is certainly a film which toys with the audience as much as its central figure Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) as he is drawn into the conspiratorial playground of Consumer Recreation Services, a mysterious birthday gift from his former substance abusing brother Conrad (Sean Penn) who promises that the titular experience will be like nothing else he has ever experienced, a bespoke baptism for the idle wealthy whom have seen and brought everything yet remain aloof and isolated by their lofty trappings of power. Van Orton is particularly haunted by his fathers illogical suicide at the age of 48 – a benchmark which he also alights upon as the film opens – charismatic yet cold he has an ex-wife whom evidently still cares about him but whose affection is faintly tolerated, with no other family or friends he haunts the families San Francisco ornate mansion like a sartorially enhanced spectre. After being rejected for the scheme after a curious combination of psychological profiles and medical audits Van Orton is plunged into a conspiracy that could be an elaborate hoax to wrest corporate power from his perfectly manicured nails, or maybe a simple grift is afoot to loot his bloated swiss bank accounts, or perhaps something more epiphytal is on the incorporated agenda…..
Broadly speaking I guess film can be considered as a specific form of an alternate reality game, a shared consensual illusion where audience members delve into an artificially constructed illusion which has cost millions of dollars to reproduce, a mirror of our submerged psyches and dreams writ large over culture and occasionally touching an electrically charged divining rod to our specific histories and experiences – why else would we have our favourite stars and genres, why do certain movies become more important to us than others? In The Game a man whom has everything we are told to desire is cattle-prodded through a purification which transforms his psyche, a benediction that teaches him the importance of the human interactions within his life, falling into relief and release during the final revelation rather than rising which to me reads like a trademark Fincheresque inversion of a deeply ingrained semiotic allegory. In Panic Room, another film culled from the elite’s fears of the underclass and the underbelly of society puncturing their gilded bubbles a gruelling experience transforms the heroines relations, as the game progresses Van Orton finds himself associating with the working class of San Francisco in confused disarray among their modest and carefully manufactured interiors, his very mortality threatened by an intransigent taxi driver who ignores his instructions and plunges him into the enveloping waters of the bayside docks.
Fincher clearly has a fascination with the gilded sects of society beyond these movies, in The Social Network he turned to the next generation of the so crowned ‘Masters of the Universe’ in utero, in embryonic phases of gestation before returning again to its chilly misogynist embedding in European society still nurturing a fascist fulcrum in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, or more recently the political puppeteers in his Machiavellian translation of House Of Cards. You must wonder exactly how much those bruising encounters with the Hollywood purse holders which litter his career affected his world-view and the constant struggle between art and commerce which all genuine talents must balance. Clearly something is drawing him to return to the same character types and themes, not to mention of course his attraction to aspiring consumerist Gehenna of Fight Club where perhaps those perplexing questions of the current contradictions of self within society are given their most explosive vent, in another psychological release with a rare humorous bend – well, if you find a dude sticking a round in his cranium as the only acceptable resolution to his problems as funny that is…..
I’ve always been fascinated with this second generation of directors who rose through the ranks of music video production to narrative pieces, this must have been where he crossed paths with Savides whom is also responsible for some stunning work in the field, inheriting the mantle from an earlier UK contingent whom similarly arose to prominence through advertising commissions such as the Scott brothers, Adrian Lyne, Alan Parker and Hugh Hudson. These were practitioners of the so-called ‘nouveau look’ movement crafted some deliriously supplicant visual texts but only a few were wise and intellectual enough to factor in sub themes and designs into their work, partially neglecting performance for style, their scripts and structure sacrificed on the altar of optical panache and serrating sound. The interesting filmmakers from this paddock embrace CGI at the point of story, not to embellish and amaze but to deepen and delineate the way they formulate the communication of the story in their head, and understand the corporate dimensions of the business and the peculiarities of the star system where a simple miscasting error can destabilise an entire project. In The Game for example Fincher rejected approaches from actresses such as Jodie Foster for the Deborah Karen Unger role as occupying that supporting role would seem odd for an actress of her calibre, and could deviate attention from the constant uncertainty of her piece of jigsaw – we instinctively know that she is involved in the plot somehow and the presence of a star persona would cement those suspicions. They also understand the importance of music as they have been bloodied in repeatedly cutting five & six-minute stories to soundtrack alone, appreciating and digesting the prevalent MTV designs of the era but not necessarily cutting to those rhythms and writhing in the mere surface experiences of visuals and images colliding across the screen.
This brings me back organically to the cinematographer of The Game whom was the subject of this tribute, the great Harris Savides whose work is considering among the best of the form of the past twenty years. This was his first big studio film (he did light the opening ofSe7en though which might be one of the most influential showreels ever) and as some of the speakers at the event pointed out his style shifted from a rather obtuse signaling of imagery to a more subtle pandorum of communication, the mark of genuine artist developing and exploring his craft from project to project. The film clearly shifts from onyx and sheer fluid blacks to autumnal browns as it oscillates through psychological seasons, as Van Horton moves from chilly remoteness to the perils of emotional engagement, all framed within shadow stretched faces and overexposed rear planes, an iconography of renewal and growth which alights on a brighter, cleansing more promising (SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING) palette.
Now as usual lets movie from the archly pretentious cinephile stuff to the fanboy observations, I’ve said it before but the sight of Days Of Heaven narrator Linda Manz is a trainspotting (the activity, not the film) style coup in cameo appearance, and was that Spike Jonze as a paramedic in the final scene? I just love this movie and have regarded it as perpetually sadly neglected among Finchers dark nebula of human interactions, the logical Parallax View homages also refract back to the pulsing paranoia trilogy of Pakula, and like those 1970′s pieces the characters complexion and journey is of ultimate importance, it’s everything, it’s why every scene is propelled from Van Horton’s perspective thus making us unwitting confidants for his journey, wrestling with the same suspicions and paranoid inflections as we also never get a peek behind the curtain to see who is puppetering the patient. Douglas isn’t usually noted for his performances but he is a great actor when the occasion demands, it’s no mistake that this was ten years after the ’Greed Is Good’ catchphrase of 1987′sWall Street and Fincher must have had these factors in mind, so perhaps the film is a recalibration of the Clinton era Democrat display of fiscal affection for Wall Street embodied in the repelling of the Glass Steagall Act, a prescient foreshadowing of the financial collapse to come. Crucially Van Horton’s opponents are faceless cyphers, unmet and unseen, there is no antagonist to fear and we all know that Deborah Karen Unger’s character is involved in the plot somehow, but these suspicions are twisted and refracted as the structures and buttresses of his life are dissembled with the cold calculation of a takeover assault – his eerie mansion home, the five-star hotel suites, the teak moulded smoking rooms, his corporate HQ.
I have been musing over the best approach to the frequently criticised finale but I think I’ll keep this spoiler free but you can peruse that link provided above, other than to say this is a movie that in some senses is about movies so that potentially implausible decision needs to be digested within a certain pre-erected framework, when you’re telling stories through moving images a physical action can be everything in terms of communicating an idea, a shift, a breakthrough to an audience, and in terms of Nicholas’s final arc it is a perfectly logical resolution which of course is informed by his hereditary So now I can rest on my laurels for 24 hours as that’s another goal reached – every Fincher movie now seen at the flicks, of course these days I will see a new film of his during the weekend of release just like the other main behemoths in the Menagerie paddock – Nolan, Scorsese (well apart from the documentaries), Mann, Lynch, Spielberg, Anderson, Malick, just to name but a few. Alas there isn’t a great deal of material out there in terms of background material which may give this rubik’s cube film a puzzle solving context, so instead here is a fine little montage of his work and some thoughts on cinematography which of course is unusually apt for this post. Until I return with the second film of the event this looks (heh) pretty great as primer on the art of film light and shadow, but let’s close with a final peek down that rabbit hole;
After growing increasingly perplexed by my review of The Game I thought I’d take a break and check out an all too rare event these days, a BBC commissioned documentary related to Hollywood. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a red blooded hetrosexual disliker of musicals as much as the next man, but there are a few of them from the golden era which are essential viewing, and as an insight into early Hollywood holography this was insightful amusement. The fact that in a certain bona fide classic about Hollywood duplicity the Debbie Reynolds part was also shadowed as she surrogates a silent star makes me smile;
Aaah, they don’t make them like that anymore. I wonder if in twenty years filmmakers will be producing romantic inclined films about those crazy days of shooting pictures on film, rather than ocular mounted, hard drive driven vipers?
Ladies & Gentlemen, one of the worst and most amusing trailers I’ve seen for quite some time;
‘From the Producers of Underworld‘ bellows the marketing, which says it all really. Speaking of monstrosities, hands up if you’ve seen the super secret Godzilla teaser which is hulking around certain sites? I’ll post it when it goes official, I can’t quite decide if its ridiculously portentous or pretty darn cool…
Now here’s something to get our teeth into prior to the LFF exploding next week – on Sunday the ICA in London are hosting a tribute to one of the finest cinematographers of the contemporary era, the remarkable Harris Savides who passed away last October at the sadly premature age of 55. One need only cast the eyes over his CV to identify a procession of fantastic films and music videos, and the Badlands Collective have quite brilliantly sourced 35mm prints of two of his greatest achievements that I’ll outline shortly. Why am I published a context post? Well, given the material I’m minded to give both films the full Menagerie treatment, after musing over the programme I’m convinced that a single post covering both films and situating his work in context would be rather an unwieldy beast, and given that full film reviews have been rather sparse here recently I need to get back into the game (if you’ll forgive the pun) if I’m going to do the LFF justice. Here’s what’s first on the agenda;
Hmph, they don’t make teaser trailers like that anymore do they? I’m an enormous admirer of this film which like Panic Room usually gets overlooked in the Fincher constellation, this should be an interesting experiment as billionaire bankers weren’t exactly sympathetic characters back in 1997, let alone 2013. Still, that’s kinda the point, and despite the film being rather fresh in my mind after a small screen revisit last year this promises to be quite an investment.
Given Jonathan Glazer’s return to the spotlight after the growing anticipation for the otherworldly Under The Skin the further tipping point of my attendance at this double bill was threefold – the prospect of catching an elusive Fincher on the big screen of course, and then not only the presence of Glazer to introduce this screening of his movie but it also being his personal copy of the silver nitrate 35mm print of his film which I’m told hasn’t been publicly projected since its Venice debut a decade ago – celluloid catnip if ever I heard it. I did see Birth at the cinema upon its release back in 2004 and loved it, even then the obvious Kubrick comparisons were proceeding with the cool dexterity of an immaculately framed and executed dolly shot, so this gives me some licence to delve into earlier material as believe me the opening aira of Skin is perhaps the closest a collegial acolyte has come to grasping Stanley’s mantle in the past fifteen years. In the meantime here is some more of Davide’s work on the sadly increasingly haunting and precient Elephant;
Everyone’s losing their mind over this, chocfull of references, and directed by Del Toro himself ‘pparently;
But where was Kang & Kodos? They were always my favourite….
Some further good news this week which should have minstrels of the macabre writhing in ecstatic adoration, as I just received notification that I’ve secured tickets to not one, not two but all three special events which jumped out at me from the BFI’s imminent Gothic season – back of the blood-stained net. Although I’m minded to keep these activities veiled with a shroud of mystery I’m too excited to keep schtum, but before we get into that the final press release schedule for the LFF has also been circulated today which provides some further fantastic news. Well, unfortunately due to my other commitments I’m afraid both the Brelliat and Jarmusch are simply not feasible, but the weekend schedule does mean I will be able to programme in the new Coen picture and a certain slice of lesbian art house controversy, pending confirmation of press tickets to public screenings of some other material which may be more difficult to secure – we should see. In any case I should be able to commit to more material than anticipated as I’ve been simply unable to book time off for any of the press screenings which started a couple of weeks ago, but this does mean we’re looking at a couple of weekends of back to back gorging which should make for a modest, but still successful spread. Then we move eeriely into a BFI celebration of chills, beginning with a screening of perhaps the most influential zombie movie ever made;
Pretty tasty I think you’ll agree, an early nightmare of all those mindless, groaning, perpetual consumers…..So yes the godfather of ghouls is over for a Q&A which is a brilliant coup, it may seem like a frivolous waste of funds to see Night at the cinema given that it long since lapsed into the public domain and can be seen for free just about anywhere (hence why it frequently crops as homage in other horror movies – there are no trademark fees to pay) but I think its only fitting to celebrate his appearance with a devouring of one of the most imitated and influential midnight movies ever made. And then we have this;
Italian horror comes in all severed shapes and behemoth sizes, The Beyond is a leftfield favourite of mine which should be quite challenging to cover from a research perspective, so I can really get into the guts of Fulci’s increasingly adored oeuvre. Speaking of the Italians;
I’m not the worlds biggest Argento fan but my only regret in not attending Frightfest this year was an appearance of the grim grandaddy of giallo, by all accounts though he was an irritable and stroppy sort and the Q&A didn’t exactly go down well. Maybe he’ll be a little more forthcoming when discussing his greatest film, a phantasmagoric nightmare which I’m positive will be quite an experience on the big screen. Then we look to Poe, and a fantastic companion piece to my faintly popular The Masque Of The Red Death post from a few years back;
To my mind there are three figures of the horror genre still drawing breath whom I would sell my soul to see. The first of course of John Carpenter who alas has not been netted by the BFI candy much to my disappointment, maybe one day I’ll finally catch up with one of my most influential inspirations but not this year. Then there is Christopher Lee whom I’m similarly glum in not seeing on the murderous roster, the BFI must have approached him given the restorations they’ve financed on some of the early Hammer classics which bloodied his career, maybe his health is such that he’s not up to public appearances anymore – a shame. They have however netted another titan and I literally shouted YES when I saw this on the schedule – Roger Fucking Corman is coming to London town;
This might be the film event of the year from a genre perspective, just to be crass for a moment this may also be his final visit to the UK given his venerable constitution, and completing this trio of guests should make for quite a roster. Of course there are many other films on the schedule which I’m simply dying to see – some other Hammers, a few more constricting items, some Universal golden age cadaveours which would dovetail perfectly into my long mouldering season – but I’ll have to play these by ear as I may just have some other horrendous news on the day job front – we shall see. It’s kind of a shame I’m working at all as I could seriously butcher this season and surpass my 22 Hitchcock articles personal best, but alas one isn’t independently wealthy and I have to keep a roof over my coffin somehow….but then again, this is just what’s on offer for October and November and the season stretches out through January 2014 so who knows where we might find ourselves;
Well I knew this was imminent, but it was a suprise to see this light up a miserable Wednesday evening;
It’s nice to see some blockbusters moving into alignment for the end of the year, this looks like great fun and I should have some further terrific news to post very soon – the BFI have certaintly met my membership requirements this year….