Be afraid, there’s a maniac in town. Yes, that’s right, the second phase of the BFI’s Gothic season materialised last night in the form of one of the masters of murder, Italian maestro Dario Argento was in London town to discuss his work before a beautifully rendered screening of his macabre masterpiece Suspiria. Argento’s reputation precedes him, he can be a rather difficult and prickly fellow which may be in part due to the rather wretched quality of his output over the past twenty years – even his greatest fans reluctantly admit that his films have been terrible since the early 1990′s – but his iconic status is assured for a number of genre classics which revolutionised the murder movie back in the 1970′s, mostly due to his ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy (of which Suspiria forms the original entry alongside Inferno and 2007′s Mother Of Tears) and the gruesome giallos Tenebre, Profoundo Rosso, Phemomenon (a personal favourite – it is fucking nuts) and the glittering titled film which began his career The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. I’m a little on the fence when it comes to his work, whilst like Brian De Palma I can admire the craft of certain sequences, the loose commentary on cinema as cinema rather than an oblique storytelling ruse, a use of camerawork to map out the space of terror and a glorious use of mise-en-scene to reflect his characters fractured psyche’s terror I do find that there isn’t much lurking beneath the surface of his blood drenched degeneracy, and generally I prefer a little more meat on the bone to gnaw upon when it comes to the wider context of themes, obsessions, statements and illumination – in effect some scenes are great, but the overall films can be poor. However, as a technical artisan he is probably amongst the top dozen to have ever specialised in the horror field, and Suspiria in particular was a film I have been anxious to revisit given its rumored remake (by David Gordon Green whom has apparently stepped away so the project is circling Hollywood again) and the movies exalted position in the pantheon of pain, it’s a firm cult favourite whose wide-screen vistas scream to be seen on the big screen.
Interviewed by Frightfest warlock Alan Jones Argento seemed in good spirits through his slightly hesitant and heavily accented English, as we wandered through his birth into a family of movie executives and photographers, up to his first assignments as a film critic before he came to work as a screenwriter for Sergio Lenone on the Western classic Once Upon A Time In The West. Understanding that he would have to make something stylish to differentiate himself from the pack of cheap, quickly constructed horror movies (a cheap genre that usually had a solid ROI in those days) he turned to the lurid and yellow jacketed murder mysteries now known as giallo for inspiration, before directed his debut which went on to be a minor worldwide hit – he’s very rarely stepped out of the genre since. Some of his observations were quite telling – ‘dialogue is boring, cinema is looking and seeing’ hew said he learnt as mantra from Leone, but there was something of a disdain for American cinema which is a little hypocritical given his adoration of Hitchcock (he may be an Englishman but his masterpieces were made under the Studio System), as he remarked that he was disappointed with his second film Four Flies On Grey Velvet as it ‘looked like a US film’. Still, there was some banter on his involvement of the production of Dawn Of The Dawn and the subsequent alternate versions of the film (domestic and European versions), and his predilection for the band Goblin to score many of his triumphs (they have gained some cult kudos recently and playing a popular world tour), so all in all this was a pleasant re-cap of his career to date – although they really shouldn’t have closed things with a clip from Dracula 3D as it looks laugh out loud terrible.
These concerns were expunged by the shrieking screening that followed, I won’t waste valuable words on a detailed synopsis as plots aren’t exactly Argento’s strong point, it’s really his evocation of a delirious, phantasmagoric atmosphere which silhouette his films out from the majority of the gory pack, alongside a Hitchcockian imbibed ability in building cruel tension shredding set-pieces with are then punctuated with graphic and horrific violence – he’s a master of the kill scene. As Suspiria opens Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), an American ballet student arrives in Munich during an ominously gloomy storm-swept night in order to enroll at a mysterious and prestigious dance academy in Freiburg. After finding the building locked down and braving the threshing weather she decides to decants to town, but not before a harried figure exits the building and desperately whispers a phrase into Suzy’s ears – it’s quite a delicious mood setting opening which none other than John Carpenter has specifically praised;
The distressed evacuee is Pat Hingle, a recently expelled pupil who rushes for protection from a local friend before rather clumsily getting herself disemboweled in the bathroom by a knife wielding maniac, her twitching corpse crashing through a glass fresco which in turn impales her benefactor beneath a severe rain of piercing glass and metal. Suzy and her new friend Sarah (Stefania Casini) soon believe that these and other murders are part of some sinister plot lurking behind the Academy’s halls, for purpose, or purposes unknown. The film is first distinguished by the use of anamorphic lenses (similar to Carpenter’s adoption of the same for Halloween) which broadens the density and breadth of the images, whilst the giggling lunatic behind the camera soaks the frames in delirious flashes of colour, jarring off-centred framing, distorting focus effects and a gnawing sense of breathless anxiety, pummeling through with Goblin’s cacophonous electronic score. The effects are expedited by the imbibition treatment of the Technicolor film stock, a process which gives a lurid, lustrous sense of colour in the image which glistens on-screen, and I have to say that the print that the BFI have sourced was immaculate, pin sharp and vividly detailed, yet you could still tell it wasn’t a digital projection due to the cigarette burns and occasional distress mark.
Overall the film provokes a woozy, half conscious, nightmarish amelioration, it’s very much a roller coaster movie with a swirling blend of image, sound and severity which coagulates in the mind, co-written with Argento’s frequent muse Daria Nicolodi (the star of many of his Argento’s films, his ex-wife and the mother of Asia) the film has a brooding fairy tale veneer, of an innocent penetrating a seductive and dangerous metaphysical world where a murderous id runs amok. As much as I do find these films are little more than expertly orchestrated sequences stitched together with the most ridiculous and ill-conceived plots (not that its clear what the plot was as the final credits roll on this one), I do love Joan Bennett’s appearance in the film as the pulverizing principal of the Academy, keen Menagerie readers should recall that she is the crimson clawed femme fatale of one of my favourite films Scarlet Street, and her star presence helps obliterate the rather feeble performances from the majority of the doomed cast which of course is not particularly aided by the dubbed dialogue which is hilariously stilted and bad, I don’t know if the words themselves are this trite and ridiculous in the original Italian but frankly its some of this incongruities which fans like and admire about these malevolent little movies, they like the arch-kitsch dimensions of the speech in conjunction with the violent slayings which are operatic in tone and intent, a shrieking siren of a movie which hacks away in an eerie, mist drenched psychosexual pain. So that’s that, for my money Argento’s last watchable effort was an imprint of the Masters Of Horror TV series called Jennifer which is quite the memorable little tale, but here is the conclusion to the film (so, erm, SPOILERS) which is quite the deranged little ditty;
Fuck, I don’t normally post much music stuff here as frankly those interests have waned over the years in favour of the movies, but now and again a figure will fall which makes me incredibly sad. Lou Reed was a vague favourite of mine back in the day, obviously for the groundbreaking, statis exploding Velvet Underground, and I also followed his solo career with a mild interest in both his solo and collaborative projects over the past few decades. It’s probably obvious to note that he was always one of those mild musical heroes I figured I’d see live eventually, just goes to show you should make an effort while you can. So here’s a few personal favourites, nothing too idiosyncratic I’m sure but just a small, modest tribute;
Yes I know, blatantly obvious for a Velvet’s choice, but that track is just as stunning as ever to me – sometimes going back to those old albums – Bowie, Floyd, Zeppelin etc. can illuminate where we are now I think. Name me one band of note who were not impressed with this sensibility and reactive approach that are worth remembering from your teenage years and I’ll kiss the boot. Next I have this album – like on actual vinyl and everything – and this opening may seem staggered now but listening again it still sounds great to me when it finally kicks in;
Here’s some slightly more esoteric material which is perhaps more leftfield and worthy of the era, with the links to Warhol, the wider art scene including of course, cinema;
Now, a movie connection – a soundtrack contribution to a Wim Wenders piece – always liked this track;
I spent some time of my formative years with a crew who considered the still hilarious Metal Machine Music as some kind of musical grail of ownership, I kinda miss those days when such texts – films, music tracks, albums, books, comics, graphic novels etc. would actually be genuinely rare and had an aura of obsession which the web, for all its progress, has obliterated by proliferation. Ah well, I guess that’s progress eh? Maybe I’m showing my age but I got this album upon the week of release;
Not sure we needed that period specific Sax solo eh? But hey, things movie on. So finally we come to kinda one of my favourite albums, like in the top twenty or something was the tribute to Warhol that he crafted with Cale – Songs For Drella:
I assume a suicide watch has been drafted over Camden and Q readers around the globe. I think I’m gonna fire up a VU medley and get started on some of the finest wines known to humanity, so goodbye and swift travels you magnificent bastard;
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;
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….
After throwing 1,500 words at todays cinema visit – yeah it was this – I think I need a break as I’ve barely scratched the surface, this is gonna be one of those reviews. So instead let’s have a quiet Saturday evening with Mr. Reznor;
Whether you like the music or not I think we can all agree that this is a incredibly powerful stage arrangement, fingers crossed they get back over to the UK soon….
Clearly someone is fucking with me from above as the old-fashioned good news / bad news dichotomy strikes the menagerie with a vengeance. So I got my Toronto press accreditation confirmed today - not bad for a first time try – and I’ve just had my day-job assignment terminated at the end of next week. It makes you wonder just what sense of humor the alleged pranksters upstairs may have;
To be fair this has been on the cards for a while, it was supposed to expire at the end of last month but my leader managed to get a modest extension, alas significant – and I mean significant - budget cuts are again about to rape local government, mark my words there is going to be blood on the streets. Anyway, I like to take solace in fictional worlds as per the proverbial ostrich sticking its head in the sand, so I guess I’d best start looking for some funds for the flight and accommodation then eh?
It’s rare that I post music material, but I’ll make an exception for David Lynch – his first piece in a few years – directing a NIN track, their first collaboration since Lost Highway back in 1997;
This shudderingly reminds of when I saw Inland Empire a couple of hours prior to seeing NIN live back in 2007 – now that was an ‘interesting’ day…and no I can’t be bothered to tidy up those primitive posts, we’ve come a long way I hope….
My first and probably only music gig of the year this week, the almighty Depeche Mode at my local Greenwich squatting venue. The Basildon bred boys are on the road to promote their latest album Delta Machine, the closest they’ve come to my mind in equalling their two most prosperous albums Violator and Songs Of Faith & Devotion a mere twenty years and change ago, to be charitable their output has been somewhat erratic ever since musical bulwark Alan Wilder fled the scene after the obliterating Devotional tour which left one of them in a loony bin, and the other two of them in rehab – you can take the boys out of Essex etc. So as I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned I’ve seen them on tour every time since 1990 (apart from the greatest hits tour which doesn’t count – I was on holiday OK?) and this was one of their strongest performances in line with one of their strongest albums of the past two decades, so here’s a few selected highlights of the night;
One of my favourite post 1990 tracks there, and the first time they’ve played in live in quite a while. Similarly for the first time in a very long time I actually quite enjoyed the new album tracks, the openjng chords of ’new stuff’ usually signal a run for the bar to replenish dwindling alcohol stocks, but they worked this time around and actually filled the space, with this little bruiser being quite effective in getting the crowd going after the mid-set ‘slow’ track Martin Gore section – although he did serenade us with a terrific stripped down version of Higher Love.
I’m guessing most people don’t pick up on these things and pay attention to parochial things such as the music and performance (I’m joking) but as always the visual design of the tour is fantastic, something that the band is renowned for pioneering with their groundbreaking early world tours, with a through line in triangular graphic design which runs through the lighting patterns, screen projections, set design and marketing compositions of sleeve design, posters, t-shirts and other merchandise – although what really got the crowd roaring was of course the music, specifically some of the older stuff;
I do like the O2 as a venue, all too often with stadium gigs the tension of the music can get lost in the cavernous space (Earls Court anyone?), Dave Gahan’s tumultous vocals were clear and powerful, and they were smart enough close the main set with arguably their two best known singles Personal Jesus and Enjoy The Silence, possibly the best version of the latter I’ve ever seen them perform;
OK, I’m starting some (forgive me) ‘Blasphemnous rumors’ here as they actually finished the main set with this which is a new one and it was alright, I’d have preferred something a little more upbeat but here we are. Overall the set list was solid, although I’d have preferred some substitutions you can’t have everything, and even the presence of one of their very early bubble gum pop didn’t quite elicit the groans it normally does – although I do wish they’d look into reviving more of their 1984 – 1986 material for future shows. Good interview here, gig review here, but let’s finish predictably with one of the all time greatest audience participation tracks – yup you guessed it they finished on the obvious;
Yeah I know, blatantly obvious, but this is one of my all time favourite tracks so that’s my excuse;
In William Gibson’s 2003 novel Pattern Recognition a mysteriously binary filmmaker slowly and anonymously drip feeds footage of his homebrew masterpiece to an eagerly seduced audience of intellectually curious, avant-garde aligned internet film fanatics. Christened as a ‘garage Kubrick’ by the fictional on-line community this was prescience as normal from Gibson, as a year later filmmaker Shane Carruth released his paradoxical puzzler Primer, a film he had written, directed, edited, acted, produced and scored for an infinitesimally small sum, mostly capturing his doppelgänger debut on the off-cuts and donations from industrial and corporate sources. An instant cult classic the films time travel programming and unconventional disregard for plot progressions has fostered a deluge of debate on its contortions and purpose, with every year seeing the electronic publication of a new workflow to interrogate its syncretic structure, each of which increasingly resembling an IED assault on a PowerPoint presentation. Almost a decade later and Carruth has finally completed his sophomore sequencing, releasing the eagerly awaited Upstream Color to a simultaneously bewildered and beatific audience, through a production process that exemplifies the 21st century. There has been much cultural speculation that the advance of the internet and so-called digital emancipation would hand the keys of production to the public and wrestle it away from the corporate clutches of international finance, with the committed and cerebral able to digitally shoot their own projects with increasingly inexpensive cameras, cut them on bespoke editing platforms, score them in synthetic lap-top studios , and crucially distribute them electronically through social media platforms, maybe even funding their uncompromised visions through Kick-Starter and other emerging funding streams, with crews recruited from Craiglist. Although some filmmakers have adopted some of the techniques in that production chain of command no-one has fully embraced (or been pushed) more fully into that process than Carruth given the frustrations he suffered with the development of his abandoned project A Topiary, and these frustrations seems to have infected his work as Upstream Color operates on a panoply of meta and thematic levels, as either a mercurial masterpiece or pretension personified.
The film has a plot of sorts which doesn’t web together in an immediately lucid fashion, it’s just that Carruth isn’t particularly interested in telling a story as he is in materializing the Xerox of the story, subjecting the viewer to the same disorienting mind state as the two central characters, or more accurately ciphers. What we can discern is this – Kris (a brittle Amy Seimetz) is a office worker in a vaguely creative design or animation field, aimlessly shifting through a nameless American urban suburb. In a scenario which resembles a date-rape Kris is assaulted by a mysterious figure who inserts a bioengineered caecilian into her esophagus, an intrusion which renders her in a brainwashed and highly suggestible mindstate, and the ‘thief’ and her return to her identikit home. After signing away her life savings and assets to the nematode grifter she is drawn to the ‘sampler’ (Andrew Sensenig), a second intangible figure who is performing some strange auditorial field recordings of stone on metal, of brick on wood, out in the wilderness on the outskirts of civilisation. After an unexplained transfusion is conducted between Kris and one of the pigs that the Sampler is harvesting on his eerie farm we flash forward a year as a hesitant romance blossoms between Kris and Jeff (Carruth), he having endured a similar experience, as they both suffer a glitch in their lives and attempt to uncover the mystery of their contemporary lives.
There was a great Roger Ebert quote circulating after his sad passing , that ‘it’s not what a film’s about but how it is about it’, a statement that once unpacked can be thoroughly attributed to Upstream Colors disorienting design and infectious purpose. In this mechanistic narrative a ghost has possessed the machine, with human beings absorbed into the data set as another manipulated cog in the Sisyphean revolutions of daily society. Channelling early Cronenberg with shadows of Eraserhead’s nervous anxieties it’s a experimental work which is sure to divide audiences, given its transparent disregard for plot or narrative cohesion, as Kris and Jeff are locked in a symbiotic psychosis, malfunctioning protagonists deprogrammed as glitch. Through a densely rich visual environment there is a fascination with the beauty of replicating organisms and how organic spheres elide to our manufactured and sterile work places and cities, our species urgent to exert control over visible chaos. The gynaecology is simple to divine, from the man-machine of Chaplin’s Modern Times to The Tree of Life’s 21st century hymn to the complexities and mysteries of life on this planet, Upstream Color is the echo warning that we’ve veered from the path of the sacred, into the proliferation of nullified personalities and of animated machimina.
The medium is the message, a bewildering collusion of image and sound, elliptically edited like the repetitive push pauses of a Attention Deficit Disordered cerebellum, dialogue is phrased and repeated, and Kris and Jeff’s memories even merge and coalesce in a digital stew. The film isn’t completely indeciphersible nor is it completely alienating, movements and tempos in the narrative are signposted with discrete fades to black which signal the conclusion of a sequence, it has the aura of our distanced and surfaced times, the paradox of an interconnected and global aligned world resulting in higher temperatures of disconnect and mental malfunctions, with recitation and fragments collapsing the database of our memories and emotions. Every sequence seems to be spinning its head from side to side in a scan for potential predators, transmitting the bare minimum of information through a pacity of dialogue (the film has no speech in its final fifteen minutes), as the next algorithm stacks up in the films cache table, a malfunctioning malware which is CPU infected at the core. The presence of Henry David Thoreau anarchistic credo is one tumbler in the toolset to decipher some of the films wider drives, his work serving as a manifesto of return to a less industrialised purity, this suggests that the Thief may be a liberator not a plunderer, another of the films interpretative free-floating signifiers. Carruth’s repeated shallow focus framing concertinas the z-axis depth of field which surreptitiously visualizes the films coding , mirroring our absorption in the screens in our homes, on our commutes and in our corporate dronehouses, a calculated effect that squares the algorithms of the films editing patterns, it’s photochemical surface, the heuristic performances and obsolesce of the conventions of plot or narrative clearance.
As the films composer Carruth revealed to his dumbstruck Q&A audience how his original soundtrack developed as the material was visualised, with pieces ejected and repurposed for scenes and sequences as the film moved through its phased evolution, it moves to the rhythm of its soundtrack as opposed to the narrative logistics of tradition cinema, the deprogrammed protagonists paralysed like two whales beached on the oceans of the information superhighway, emitting a mournful electronica fog-horn mating call. Some mysteries remain obtuse and ill-defined - what is the significance of the children in the opening cycle? For what purpose are the Samplers field recordings? – but these and other ambiguities accelerate Upstream Colors processing prowess, as like Primer it is destined for a tsunami of translations and deconstructions of its anodic glyphs, destined for detailed diagnostics of its incredible, molten achievements – a phenomenal film concerned with phenomena;
What a relief. Yes, the good news that after last years unforseen setback we’ve corrected the course of the good ship Menagerie, and we will be covering this years Sundance Film Festival at the O2 in sunny Greenwich. I’ve been waiting with bated breath to hear about this, whilst I was quietly confident you really never know, but the schedule has just come through so now we have to decide which films to cover. Looking at the programme over the four days and weighing up screening times my current plans revolve around The Look Of Love, Touchy Feely, Sleepwalk With Me, Blackfish, Mud, and In A World, and a certain other picture that we’ll come to shortly. It looks similar to the LFF in that there’s a twin track of Press Screenings which start on the Monday, or you can apply for tickets for the public screenings – tricky. I’m actually working up until Wednesday next week which somewhat throws a spanner in the works in terms of the press screenings, which I assume will be early in the morning or at lunchtime – we shall see. Then again every single one of the 22 films I saw at the LFF in 2012 were at press showings which really isn’t ideal, it’s much more fun seeing movies with a paying audience, there’s certainly more chance of a tangible atmosphere which very rarely materializes when a bunch of jaded old hacks get together for a group grumble. Then again with the great unwashed you’re taking your chances with some Doritos munching, phone fiddling cretin whom might sit next to you and destroy the ambiance through their selfish behaviour, it’s a tough life sometimes. Anyway, there’s still not a great deal around in terms of video trailers for the festival, although I have sourced this which may get the celluloid blood pumping;
Not wishing to leave anything to chance I have separately purchased tickets to a certain Upstream Colour, as there is simply no fucking way on god’s green earth I am missing this film, especially since all of the numerous podcasts I listen to have essentially claimed it as the greatest American film of the past five years which in its own quiet way ‘revolutionizes cinema’. Now, granted, these chaps like myself can veer into the dense waters of hyperbole from time to time but it really does sound extraordinary, and one hopes that the hype can meet the movie. The good news is the Sunday screening is at the O2 Super Screen which to put it bluntly is fucking massive, so I’ll try for press tickets first and we’ll have this screening as our fallback – deal?
I’ll probably wanna see it twice anyway, does this give me an excuse to post the trailer again? I mean, it’s not like I watched it half a dozen times over the weekend or anything. I wonder if Shane Carruth is actually gonna be around for promotional purposes, if so then I might bravely broach my first interview opportunity ever…
The L’enfant terrible of cinema are a wretched and shocking bunch. From Buñuel and his moustache twirling partner in crime Dali challenging bourgeois conventions with Un Chien Andalou in 1929, from Tod Browning’s dabbling with the disfigured in Freaks, these early demagogues had temperaments malevolent enough to send any righteous and respectable film critics retreating to their fainting couch like some fragile, offended 17th century courtesan. In the post war years a new scandalous breed of artisans began chipping away at the borders of taste and decency, particularly men whose treatment and voyeurism of women in their work have been somewhat controversial, from the juvenile Baby Doll in 1956 to Hitchcock’s more vicious period between Rear Window to Frenzy, or Kubrick’s carefully discrete adaption of Nabokov’s Lolita in 1961 young women’s bodies became increasingly compromised and sexualized, in tune with the revolutionary free love mantra of the groovy 1960′s, or at least that’s how the Church and Right-Wing puritans decried these sacrilegious screeds. In the increasingly permissive 1970′s sexual violence reared its ugly head alongside wider representations of screen ferocity, the twin fulcrum of offence resting in the viewfinder of grizzled Sam Peckinpah. Quite rightly his hinting that Susan George’s ‘no’ might actually mean ‘yes’ in Straw Dogs still spawns outrage, it’s an ambivalent moment which seeded a fertile ground for cinema exploitation, finding permanent purchase in the annals of the depraved The Last House On The Left and I Spit On Your Grave where hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned, both of which were recently violated with neutered and redundant 21st century remakes. As the new millennium was birthed Gasper Noe produced the most horrific rape and murder on-screen with his cyclical ЯЯƎVƎЯSIBLƎ which he accompanied with the naked gaze of his nausea inducing Enter The Void, deeper in frosty Europe Lars Von Trier agitates from within and outside his cinematic landscapes with Brechtian assaults on American hegemony, female emancipation and sexual disorders throughout his chilled and polemical work. Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me dragged the neo-noir into the 21st century to show the face of evil unvarnished, battered and bruised, and the duo behind the throughly reprehensible and tourism annihilating A Serbian Film ploughed new depths of offensive, if only by having the temerity to combine their visions of gruesome Gehennic abuse, necrophilia and gang-rape with some rather elaborate production values. The latest provocateur par excellence is Harmony Korine and his trademark American palette, his usual emphasis on the poor uneducated so-called white trash of working class mid-West America supplanted to the nihilistic hedonism of sun drenched Florida and a quartet of teenage strumpets, in one of the most seditious and subversive, striking and shocking films of the year. – Spring Breakers.
It’s not difficult to get the initial sparks of incensed disgust flaming when you deliberately take clean-cut, wholesome Vanessa Hudgens (no, not being American I’d never heard of her either) and family friendly actresses such as proto-Stepford Disney android Selena Gomez and bloody them up a little, pour ’em into sparse bikinis, hand ’em a cocktail and a silver plated Uzi, I dunno about you but I’d say they scrub up pretty well. Named as Candy and Faith - heh – they are joined by Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine), Faith being the slightly more straight-laced sophomore who finds herself isolated on campus with her more adventurous friends during the Easter holidays due to their combined financial destitution. Hatching a controversial plan Cotty, Candy and Brit knock over a local diner and raise the necessary funds from the terrified patrons, with Faith in tow the gang zoom off to the sun bleached climes of Florida for a orgiastic cocktail of coke,cognac and cock to satisfy their hedonistic desires – it’s time for Spring Break. After one particularly insane party gets completely out of hand the girls find themselves arrested and detained at the Governor’s pleasure, petrified of the consequences should their families know of their infractions they glumly await their fate as bail is beyond their means, unless they bite the bullet and call their parents or guardians. But a saviour appears in the most unlikely of forms, enter ’Alien’ (James Franco, absolutely hysterical), a white trash, cornrow haired, dental plated local dealer who takes the girls under his wing and snares them in more dangerous pastures…….
Well, you know me gentle reader, I like to be shocked and offended, to have my throughly passé bourgeois attitudes stabbed, glassed, shived and gangbanged by the offensive antics of any privileged, wealthy, white, middle-class professional provocateur. Actually that isn’t strictly fair, I do subscribe to the opinion that there is genuine purpose and thought to much of the challenging material I identified in my introduction , both artistically and socially, I just also happen to think that the likes of Korine and Von Trier are also quite canny salesmen who look at the modern media cyclone and completely understand how you can effortlessly ensure your product stands out from its peers, I don’t for example believe for one second that Von-Trier ‘accidentally’ made those Hitler remarks at Cannes a few years ago, any more than I was duped by Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Oh god, we’re really gonna go there and do that?’ ‘controversial’ stream of gags during his recent Oscar monologue. These shrewd operators understand that publicity is accelerated with some incandescently dense moral disgust and so-called outrage porn, whether the product in question is worthy of this elevation is another matter which we have to take on a case by case basis, I subscribe to the ideal that like any adult you should give them and the film / book / TV show / album / painting etc. the benefit of the doubt and weigh up the visions and treatment of their subject matter, lest we lurk in the arena where the legions of the ignorant dwell. Alas there are those that appear to believe that presenting or fictionally reenacting horrific and reprehensible behaviour such as rape, or gunplay, or close quarter physical violence as being the the same as endorsing or celebrating the same, although in the case of Spring Breakers it’s more the gender politics that are attracting the scorn and shouting, when the dust has settled it would be interesting to compare the favourable ratio of reviews from male and female commentators. Anecdotally speaking as the Picturehouse host mentioned when they screened the film for staff the audience was split straight down the middle – the blokes hated it and the women loved it. Anyway, I think I’m getting just a little sidetracked here, it’s probably best to actually get onto the film itself…..
My reaction to Spring Breakers can essentially be summarised thus – ten minutes in I was thinking ‘well this is very promising, I hope it keeps this up ’, at 30 minutes in I was thinking when I could potentially programme a second viewing – and not because of the gratuitous female form on display (honest) but because this is fantastically amusing and vibrantly colourful fun, a movie which gut punches you from its opening frames, like quaffing a litre of vodka laced Sunny Delight Spring Breakers is a candy coated hallucination, a nectarous assault on the ears and eyes. I haven’t laughed this much at a picture for quite some time, if you have the sense of humor which finds eighteen year old bikini clad girls stuffing firearms into people’s faces and screaming ‘GET ON THE GROUND YOU FUCKING MOTHERFUCKERS’ then this will hit your g-spot, just the rubicund, humming photography from Benoit Enter The Void Debies is worth a ticket, he makes the entire film look like it’s a miniature Girls Gone Wild convention shot inside a lava lamp. Korine paces the film on a stuttering loop, yes I’m afraid we’re three for three with yet another picture which is fucking around with cause and effect, with scenes being presented out of sequence with jumps and leaps all over the consecutive dance floor, sometimes scooting ten minutes forward then leaping ten minutes back, it builds the momentum of a techno mix as future and past cadences flow through the film, building crescendos and punching pauses like a narcotic ecstasy rush. This manic energy bleeds from the screen, in no small part due to Skrillex’s scathing, jagged and dirty electronica score, a pungent collaboration with Christian Martinez, a frequent Soderbergh composer. Is it akin to a 90 minute music video? Yes. Does this get tedious and tiresome? I guess that depends on your mood, all I can say that on a big screen with an obviously appreciate audience this effortlessly swept me away.
Yes, the camera lewdly hovers over the women’s gyrating bodies like a half-drunk uncle at a cheerleaders wedding, but the point here is to emphasis the lingering gaze of modern patriarchal cinema, the gender politics are quite clearly on the side of the four heroines considering the films events, a plot which specifically avoids moralising or preaching, it’s a day-glo satire of many facets of youth culture, or more precisely how youth culture is appropriated, absorbed, warped and repackaged by middle-aged TV executives, record producers and Hollywood moguls – have you watched MTV recently? With the fetishisation of firearms, of clothing and other commodities and brands it’s in the same ballpark aesthetically as Natural Born Killers, utilising the stupefying techniques of advertising, the hollow surfaces of the majority of modern capitalist infested media to facilitate the message, in a throbbing environment which isn’t even remotely realistic nor is it intended to be. The hysterical Britney Spears scene (not the one hinted in the trailer but altogether something else) is an instant classic, and James Franco obliterates the sour taste of that tedious Oz film with a jaw-dropping turn as the white trash gangster ‘Alien‘, remember Gary Oldman’s turn in True Romance? Well no word of a lie but this is probably better, its one of the most memorable performances of the year which doesn’t quite descend into parody, and sits well with the rest of the films heightened reality. In some ways the film also reminded me in terms of aura and of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet in a terms of its colourful kaleidoscope and exuberant virility ,although Spring Breakers has the added bonus of containing the best ‘snorting rails of coke off of some broads tits’ scene since 1987′s Robocop, unless I’ve overlooked some classics…..
It’s been a while since I’ve graced the Curzon, I think the last visit was Holy Motors which of course didn’t quite jump-start my engine, but this sold-out screening was rapturously received and Korine was a little more lucid than some recent Q&A activitties - this Reddit was doing the rounds recently. Anyone who cites his major influences as Werner Herzog, John Cassavettes and Malick is always going to get the benefit of the doubt in my book, and his unique ability to find beauty in the image of a vomit stained Dunkin Donuts package idly drifting through a Ohio ghetto has certainly carved his own unique ideology and visual panorama. The film was storyboarded from start to finish to achieve that rhythm yet shot guerilla fashion due to the hordes of paparazzi trailing the young starlets, I think that says something about female objectification in and of itself now doesn’t it? He made a great point about working with these clean-cut automaton Disney trained actresses, amusingly pointing out that without fail they turned up on set in costume and knew their lines, marks and call sheet every single day, so say what you will about the Mouse machine but it is churning out consummate professionals, as opposed to the chaos that swarms around the likes of Lindsey Lohan. Avoiding spoilers he kinda contradicted himself by claiming that he approached the four girls as one character which certainly makes sense as the film opens, but this assertion kinda disintegrates as the film vomits along, but we’d best just leave that here.
I also feel vaguely vindicated by his comment that one of the films that he watched as a reference for Spring Breakers was Mann’s crucially and criminally underrated Miami Vice, just for the itchy, coarse, steel wool scrubbed photography alone, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone praise the film for just about anything and the connection is quite a vivid one. Overall this was an enlightening session which proves that he does plan and execute his films beyond the alleged mere shock and controversy lines, there is a purpose and a weight to his creative process and he feels he has something to say, whether or not his assertions chime with the spectators politics is of course another matter. He has kicked his career into the next gear with this one, it’s prompted me to go back and revisit his earlier work which should be quite the daunting journey, I never got round to Trash Humpers which sold-out at the LFF a couple of years ago (just goes to show what degenerate swill attend that festival huh?) and I think I’ve seen one of the films which Korine had Herzog star in (Julien Donkey-Boy perhaps?), having absorbed some reappraisals of Gummo as a quiet masterpiece then I’ll steel myself for a revisit of that distressing reportage, but until then make sure you support this movie with a cinema visit, and just remember ‘Spring Break y’all……. forever;
Well, well, well – another franchise hesitantly rises from the ashes of development hell. Some interesting news for fans of Snake ‘Call me Snake’ Plisken today, with the emergence of a new shepherd for the long gestating reboot of the Escape From New York series of films – Joel Silver. For the uninitiated Silver just happens to be the snarling force behind the likes of The Matrix, Lethal Weapon, Predator and the original Die Hard movies - quite the rogues gallery eh? - and frankly if anyone is gonna finally get an action/SF hybrid to screen with a reasonable deployment of star and scriptwriting prowess then he’s clearly the man for the job. This has been a long time coming but I’m certain with Silver on board this will gain some traction, although when we consider the pedigree of the other remakes / reimagining / revomits of Carpenters 70’s and 80’s material I think it’s fair to say that ones expectations are not exactly high – The Fog, Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Thing – all mediocre at best, horrendous travesties regardless of source material at worst. As I mentioned before, like Snake ‘I’m too tired’ to care about precious originals being trampled and mangled through the focus groups and modern marketing imperatives of contemporary movies, to be frank Halloween aside it’s not as if the originals particularly set the box office alight, but their influence and inspiration on genre cinema is incalculable. The likes of Jonathan Mostow, Gerald Butler and now anyone related to the bloody awful Taken movies fills me with dread, we’ll just have to see who Silver enlists for this volatile tampering with a beloved cult classic. Where’s the inevitable They Live remake, that’s what I wanna know….
Where’s Snake gonna land his inevitable CGI glider now then ? Central Park? Now quite as exciting as taking the vessel onto the top floor of the WTC is it? Will it still be set in 1997? Doubtful. Will they outline a trilogy when the long rumoured Escape From Earth as the final instalment? Will Kurt do a cameo? Who the hell’s gonna beat the original soundtrack? All these questions, and more, will not be answered soon. So since some of you have asked may I humbly suggest Viggo Mortensen as our growling anti-hero as who could pull off the eyepatch? Then agin he’s a bit too ‘serious’ of an actor these days. Well then I guess Tom Hardy as Plisken, his name’s been in the frame before but I guess we’ll have to see how that Mad Max remake does first – apparently the shoot has been fairly horrendous. I dunno, Josh Brolin? Just not Christian Bale – he’s greedy. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Brain is pretty much a given, Jaime Lee Curtis (aaaaah, meta y’see) as Maggie, Tommy Lee Jones or Harvey Keitel as the President, Ron Perlman as Cabby, Ahnoldt as Bob Hawke, Jay-Z as the Duke (although they’ll probably get Fishbourne given his Matrix connections) and most importantly Rami Malek as the creepy Romero, one of the all time great cult movie figures given his earlier, memorable addition of a vanilla twist with a bullet in a previous Carpenter escapade. Hey, any excuse required and I’ll happy re-post this excised opening sequence to the 1981 Western SF cult classic;
I’m not normally one for music videos but sometimes I’ll make an exception, this seriously NSFW piece is pretty much a slow day for poor old Jason Statham;
One imagines that band has a pretty lethal mosh-pit when they play live…
Ever since Tim Burton successfully suffocated the Alice In Wonderland tale with a 21st century digital lacquer a new Hollywood production mould was cast for the young century – popular children’s classics being revisited in alignment with the essential three R’s of celluloid kindergarten – reconstruction, reimagining and remake. Wonderland’s was soon amongst the most profitable films ever made and nothing excites studio executives more than the potential to extract pocket-money from the purses and wallets of gullible young cinefans and their henpecked parents, thus a new brood of films have been delinquently hanging around the multiplex, kicking their heels and generally getting into trouble. It’s probably just a phase they’re going through but this new product line is either aimed at the post Twilight, Young Adult reading teen demographic – see Snow White & The Hunstman, Red Riding Hood and Mirror Mirror - or as the Red Letter Media gang recently paraphrased those films that are no longer aimed at wussy little girls but Grimm tales marketed squarely at overweight men with beards who love extreme violence and gunplay – think Hansel & Gretel or the imminent Jack The Giant Slayer. These projects pander to the same audience who enjoyed Jane Austen’s avatars decapitating zombies or Abraham Lincoln elegantly exfoliating vampires, and with retreads of Cinderella, Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty en-route more allegorical antics are sure to dominate screens for months to come. In whichever post-modern guise fantasy clearly still sells and some filmmakers have skipped down an even more sacrilegious route, plundering the unimpeachable classics from the vaults for imaginative ammunition, with all 24 of Frank L Baum’s illusory realm novels set in the wonderful land of Oz being the latest victim of pilfering producers. If you ever wondered what a prequel to The Wizard Of Oz might look like then wonder no more, as franchise force Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great & Powerful finally blows onto screens…..
The Dust Bowl mid West, 1905, and in a constrained 1:33 academy ratio sized, black & white hued and monoaurally scored screen we are introduced to Oscar Diggs (James Franco) a stage magician with a grimy and grainy travelling circus who seems to be suffering severe delusions of grandeur. With his nameless loyal assistant Frank at his side (Zach Braff) Oscar hoodwinks curious farmers and their doe-eyed daughters with equal indifference, baffling them all with his sleight of hand, silver tongue and prestidigitatous parlour tricks, but his bluster shields a deep sense of frustration at his lowly lot, his financial fragility and reputational ravine. When one of the cuckold husbands of Oscar’s amorous achievements comes seeking vengeance he makes a frantic escape on a hot air balloon, a poorly timed evacuation as an incoming twister sweeps him and his bag of tricks into a voluminous vortex before depositing him in a magical parallel dimension – clearly we’re not in Kansas anymore – as this is a dominion populated with colourful beasts, talking animals, screeching sorcerers and animated automatons. Oscar’s wish it seems has finally come true if only he can continue his charade, as he is deemed the chosen one of an ancient prophecy, a magician from a distant land who will defeat the Wicked Witch and usurp the Emerald throne for his own lucrative gain. It’s not long before our con-man champion becomes the attendant attention of a trio of Hollywood hags – Rachael Weitz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams – as the Witches of these phantasmagorical plateaus , each with their own concealed or chiral motives. As Oscar traverses the wonderful world, inadvertently recruiting his fallacious conspirators the stage is set for an epic battle of wills which prologues the future arrival of a certain auburn haired, silver throated teenager…..
After that promising prologue the film expands on a literal and figurative level as Oscar alights in Oz, the screen receding back to a voluminous 2:35 ratio as the photography bursts into colourful and vivacious life, the 3D concertinaing depth betwixting the brain as the bellowing SurroundSound© seduces the ears, it’s quite the purely cinematic moment which should herald a spellbinding movie. Alas this fairy tale is not happy ever after as whilst the visual dimensions of the film scintillate on-screen like the gleaming spires of the Emerald city the film soon begins to deflate like Franco’s altitude shedding balloon, the visual plasticity matched with a tedious and predictable stomp through a modern quest narrative which is neither satisfying nor amusing. There are simply only so many times you can be presented with the same panoramic, multi-trillion byte rendered eye gloating candy caned vistas aligned with Danny Elfman’s hallelujah chanting choirs before one gets tired, and more crucially you start to wonder what other fractures in the crust of the movie these repeated spells of hypnosis Raimi and his crew may be attempting to obscure. The film is truant when it comes to any sense of peril or journey, of sympathy or empathy with Oscar or any of his digitally rendered retinue, and the overarching flagging and meandering plot doesn’t so much follow the yellow brick road as clearly stumble around a San Fernando Valley green screen studio facility – like Oscar’s profession the falsity of the film permeates almost every scene.
Normally a fairly engaging and charismatic sort of chap all of Franco’s charm was unfortunately blown away in that tumultuous twister, he wonders through scenes with a glassy-eyed demeanour so one almost yearns for the good old days of ‘hilarious’ contemporary references embedded in these modern day updates to our shared cultural anxieties, you pray for anything to alleviate the accruing boredom which hounds the films lumbering procession of holographic hallucinations – bring back Shrek, all is (well, almost) forgiven. The three witches play as confused, incongruous and saintly to a tee, with a rather insulting post feminist subtext which claims that a woman scorned is a woman perverted, and all that Oz needs is a good man as its figurehead to prosper, even if that patriarch just happens to be a lecherous, avaricious fraud but y’know, whatever. Fans of Raimi’s cartoon cruelty will be disappointed as with one or two manic glimpses aside any irreverent humour or gushing violence is sublimated to the demands of this four quadrant, $200 million behemoth, like a homeopathic dilution of his talents into the ocean of Disney we don’t get insane dutch angles but slightly cantilevered framing, we don’t get screeching POV visual assaults but exciting inversions of 3D attuned implements. I know its churlish to suggest that anyone above 0.1% of moviegoers will attend this film knowing whom directed it nor did I (or should you) expect anything but a broad family attuned super-production which appeals to the widest possible audience, but I just thought I’d make the position clear as we are a ‘cult’ movie blog and Raimi’s position in the directors chair prompts such commentary. If you really must know then frequent screaming collaborator Bruce Campbell does got a cameo and yes, he get thwacked in the head. Repeatedly.
I did like the China Girl, discovered admidst the surreal destruction of (wait for it) Chinatown that was quite an impressive piece of CGI rendering, her porcelain appearance was actually quite eerie but this fragment of promise shatters as the tedious tale really plunged down the rabbit hole never to return, there is also some rather inelegant allusions between characters in the real and imaginary worlds, just as the Lion, Tin-Man and Scarecrow could be seen in both Dorothy’s Kansas and her Technicolor embossed dreams of 1939. I dunno, throwing all the hyperbole and my pretentious vocabulary aside this was just boring, initial mutters of ’ooo’ and ahhh’ at the visuals soon wore thin as all the principals sleptwalked through their poorly constructed roles, as it all builds toward the inevitable conflict strewn resolution as in the wake of LOTR etc. you obviously can’t conclude a movie without a fuck-off scrap. Never one to miss a track the BFI have scrubbed up a print of the ‘sequel’ to coincide with the release and so Dorothy and her scruffy little rat have been dancing down the yellow brick lanes of the Southbank, I must admit in the interests of ticking the box on another classic I was tempted to catch The Wizard Of Oz on the big screen, although frankly I very much doubt I’ll make it over there considering some other priorities I have lined up. I’m no fan of the books nor a massive admirer of the movie as an emotional artefact but it is a great film to watch purely from a craft and historical perspective, although my generations nightmares were fuelled much more by Return To Oz alongside the Dark Crystal’s Skeksis or the chittering talons of poor old Danny Glick. Speaking of terror, the early screams emanating from early SXSW screenings of the Evil Dead remake have elected as brutally ferocious, so that sounds like a more entertaining trip to a nightmarish alternative world…..
Given todays apocalyptic warnings this seems like an apt time to post this;
New Philip Glass Opera, New Philip Glass Opera, New Philip Glass Opera, New Philip Glass Opera, New Philip Glass Opera, New Philip Glass Opera, New Philip Glass Opera, New Philip Glass Opera;
Well, after Einstein, and Gandhi, I guess Disney makes…..sense? Apparently its streamline live here soon, and looks like it requires a log in but you can’t have everything…..
I was never a massive fan back in the day but understood the incendiary importance, I have seen them live during that strange reunion which was quite the sonic experience, so I’ll join the electronic choir and admit this is an amusing meander down memory lane;
Nevertheless this whole enterprise strikes me as nostalgia porn which my generation is as afflicted with as much as the last two or three cultural displacements, please enjoy this distraction as our glorious leader launches a new generation of combat in North Africa. Fuck it, I might have been reading too many political sites this week, this track is immortal though;
I’m a reasonably big Bowie fan, I love the Berlin trilogy, will always remember the first time I heard and saw the vivid video for one of my all time favourite tracks Ashes To Ashes, and was even lucky enough to see him on a stadium tour twenty years ago, but like most I assumed a decade of silence and rumours of health scares equalled retirement. Then of course this morning we woke up to this;
Great stuff, I’m not crazy about that track but I like it, bodes well for a new album. Looks like Dave also has his own Vimeo channel which has some tasty rarities, so a happy 66th birthday to Mr. Davy Jones….
Well, whilst I can’t speak for you illuminated souls I’ve had better years. A brief spell in hospital wasn’t the most auspicious of starts, and my growing suspicions that my meatspace world career has been finally wrecked by the 2008 bail out, the slow economic tsunami finally emanating out to gouge local government resources seem to have been finally and depressingly realised. For the uninitiated that was where the powers that be and the politicians in thrall to the wealthy and powerful took my and your tax payers money that we have invested into the system, into society for the universal benefit of all was plundered to bail out the malignant thieves, liars and crooks who now continue to pay themselves millions and millions and millions of pounds of bonuses whilst the rest of society stagnates – quite honestly the pharaoh kings of old can only be looking down on this new class of self entitled, greed driven liars and shake their heads in quiet respect, at least they didn’t collude with terrorists and murdering drug cartels which are raping an entire series of South American countries. I’m really not sure what on earth I’m going to do in 2013 and frankly it’s pretty fucking scary, so let’s dispense with the politics and ignore the mass shootings, devastating weather events, incompetent and destructive right-wing economic and social politics and….well I could go on, it’s been a wretched year in many spheres but let’s take succor in the eternal movies….
Halfway through the year and this was looking like a particularly poor cycle, a few highlights to be sure but on a consistency level a fairly erratic beast, but the Autumn and Winter months has reassuringly seen an explosion of talent across the board with a number of works that have thankfully raised the median to higher levels. Of course I’ve delivered my two most proficient film seasons, the David Lynch series back in February which I’m immensely proud of and my subsequent oodles of spare time gave me the opportunity to delve much deeper into the BFI Hitchcock retrospective that previously anticipated, with no fewer than 15 reviews and 7 associated features which is now the ballistic baseline to beat. My best screening experience of 2012 was unquestionably that ravishing digital print of Vertigo – more on that technological division later on – following Camille Paglia’s fascinatingly enthusiastic lecture, if I have one regret it has been in not visiting many new cinema locations in London, an oversight that I intend to rectify in 2013. We also have my 1,000th post zeroing in with the unerring accuracy of OCD afflicted kamikaze pilot, although I think I’ve finally cracked the subject matter of that significant milestone, all I need to do now is select the examples and write the damn thing. I managed to cover some bona fide classics – Jaws, Lawrence Of Arabia, Casablanca, The Evil Dead - and although I missed quite a few festivals the LFF was a sanity saviour, and on the smaller screen I managed mini-retrospectives of Theo Angelolopous (I can see the adoration but he mostly left me cold), a shotgun scattering of David Mamet films (before he went right-wing loony brigade he made some great films) and Louis Malle which was a treasure trove of gallic gems, as I was particularly uneducated on his early continental films. I bookended these activities with a second look at some of Dennis Hopper’s lesser known material from both sides of the camera, ignoring the likes of Easy Rider, Speed and Blue Velvet in favour of the likes of The Hot Spot, Hoosiers and Catchfire (AKA Backtrack), a curious blend of twitched performances in unremarkable films, and sultry toned neo-noirs which made a pleasing change to my usual auteur led traditions. I’d quite like to repeat this with another actor or actress next year, maybe Gloria Grahame or Robert Ryan for a historical change of pace. I’m also thinking about changing the graphic design format of the blog, using larger photos for a start and maybe a change a WordPress theme in terms of the colours, fonts and design, thus I’d welcome any feedback – but for now let’s get on with the business of show…..
The Films Of The Year
A mixed bag as usual, veering from the art house to the blockbuster, the genre busting to the horrific, as usual the auteurs are out in force as is my preferable idiom – it’s just what jacks my celluloid concerns. So let’s start proceedings with this list which I’ve expanded out to a full ten for the first time ever, I warn you now that this is predominantly a very grotesque year of occasionally challenging material, if the movies reflect the current temperature and agenda – and of course they do – the malfunctions run deep and one hopes the influx of SF material warping in for 2013 may redress the gloomy balance. As always these are presented in no specific order of merit, simply kicking off with one of the years biggest films, SPOILERS BEWARE and a very sad tale of computer malfunction;
The Dark Knight Rises – From the autumn browns of Batman Begins to the electric blue of The Dark Knight I did predict a seasonal drift to the icy ivory of The Dark Knight Rises, and if I hear one more pedantic idiot whine about the lack of explanation of how Bruce got back to Gotham then I’ll fucking scream. This triumphant peroration of the psychological nitroglycerine of Bruce Wayne’s furtive odyssey pummeled that all so elusive demographic mix into submission, both the passing cinema-goer and the fanboys being given the respect and treated with the intelligence that Hollywood frequently abhors. How the Nolan brothers with David S. Goyer have circled the story into a self-contained chronicle of how one tortured man mastered his demons is state of the art Hollywood filmmaking, smart enough to know where you need the gadgets and pyrotechnics alongside the character development and core narrative, commissioning elite-class technical crews and core creative collaborations (I think Hans Zimmer’s scores are 25% of the brilliance of these films), with a firm grasp of new technologies such as IMAX formats and visual effects, all nested within a visual and thematic iconography that permeates from film to film.
It’s scenes such as this where Nolan and his team didn’t so much as nail but crucify their take on the iconic Batman, his dark heroism and neurotically driven crusade, toying with the very notions of what it is to be a hero in the modern world, all lacquered with a throughly electrifying action thriller which has the audacity to blend in some pungent political commentary. That scene above is the moment when it comes to this trilogy that I passed from Batman fan into eternal champion mode disciple, for first time ever, ever, I genuinely was moved and cared about a character in such a cardboard comic book multiverse, and that is the ultimate and unique achievement of this blockbuster series. In terms of material I have spent the past six months accruing links and articles, but due to some malfunction they’ve all vanished in some anarchic electronic massacre, from memory however I humbly submit this and this, here is a side post on costume design and this has been doing the rounds (Not as funny as it thinks it is, but Bruce’s Batwing driving music made me laugh) and finally here is a terrific interview with Nolan which may answer some key questions on his ideas and purpose throughout the trio of films, a brilliantly epic nocturnal compendium here.
Killer Joe – I was recently reading Pauline Kael’s 1971 review of The French Connection, in which she remarks that the film is as fundamentally existential as Popeye Doyle is reprehensible, a racist goal-driven character who is compelled to get that sweet smack off the streets not due to any personally derived civic or social duty, but because he is a twisted obsessive and that is the only motivation for his unorthodox methods. It’s a useful insight that we can apply to Killer Joe, Friedkin’s most compelling work for thirty years, a film which keeps surfacing out of the subconscious to remind me of its wicked, draining and giggling power. Amidst the summer when one is besieged by movies designed for kids and adolescents it was a pleasure to be brutally assaulted by this powerful little bastard, this slimy, ugly, deep-fried tale of sexual malevolence, treacherous greed and seething Grand Guignol glee, making you laugh in uncomfortable uncertainty as Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar worthy lawman goes about his hysterical business – more like this please Mr. Friedkin who has recently become my Facebook friend, I’m anxiously waiting for updates on his legal case to finally get Sorcerer released in an appropriate restored format as I’m ashamed I’ve never seen it. Finger licking good etc….
West Of Memphis - As much as I love a good documentary it’s rare for them to crack my yearly top ten, however two candidates emerged this year, although I was deeply moved by the celestial scrying of Nostalgia For The Light the more earthly concerns of the horrendous West Memphis 3 miscarriage of justice yields closer to current concerns of institutional, bureaucratic corruption. The arrangement is exquisite – firstly just telling the facts from an independent perspective – who was killed, when, who was arrested and charged on the basis of what evidence – before delving beneath the surface to obliterate the prosecutions claims, and in the best tradition of the likes of The Thin Blue Line decouple the empirical facts of the case and its protagonists ulterior motives, before finally identifying a credible culprit. I’m told my review went as they say viral and got plastered onto their official Facebook feed which is encouraging, and a sober thought is that such incidents happen all the time, this just happens to be one occurrence when the authorities were exposed.
The Master – Harking back to transformative, robust performances of James Dean and Marlon Brando The Master has an umbilical connection to an earlier period of American cinema when the performance was the nucleus of a film rather than any high concept idea, and this is clearly a film of dense characterisation and mutual symbiosis. Having seen this twice it remains mysterious and is slightly more elusive on repeat, the widespread speculation on the ‘a-roving’ scene baffles me though as it is pretty clearly signalled that it’s all in Freddie’s chaotic head. Here’s a strange and sad connection – Jeremy Blake, the visual artist responsible for the colourful kaleidoscope mood interludes in Punch Drunk Love committed suicide with his girlfriend, both were scientologists who reputedly fled the church and were then remorselessly hounded to their death. P.T. Anderson once again displays what Sight & Sound cite as his ‘gun-slinging’ artistic bravery – think of the unexpected doughnut shop bloodbath in Boogie Nights, the pulverizing climax of Blood or the biblical rain of frogs in Magnolia, moments of bizarre and unexpected interlude that puncture the established realism, the auditing exchange and that long take as Freddy approaches the Master’s yacht for the first time are amongst the greatest single sequences of the year.
Amour – As cinema screenings go this was a smothering experience, a combination of sheer terror, grief and perversely exhilaration, as I realised I had just absorbed a melancholic masterpiece that was meticulously planned and executed. Amour is a deeply moving masterpiece – and I use that word with the respect deserves – like a film such as Irrerversible it’s a film that I hugely admire but never want to see again, you know those stories about Normandy veterans who were refered to a therapist after watching the opening of Saving Private Ryan? I imagine the same reaction for anyone who has had to nurse a loved one to their inevitable void. In a recent interview Haneke who is edging into his Seventies stated that his only professional regret is not making a SF series – the mind boggles.
Excision - It’s a rare occurrence these days given my iron cinematic constitution but sometimes a film can be genuinely and absolutely shocking, even for an old-school gore hound such as yours truly. This high-school horror film from debutante Richard Bates is a staggering debut, if you’ll forgive me I’ll go to the writers cliché dictionary and describe it as Heathers on meta-amphetamines or perhaps a better metaphor would be Todd Solondz fisting a Chuck Palahuink screenplay under the bleachers during the big homecoming game (if you find that excessive image troublesome then you need to avoid this film), you don’t cast teenage porn starlet Traci Lords as a conservative, self-righteous mom or John Waters as a sneering priest unless you’re clearly aiming to broach truly transgressive territory. There is an astonishing central performance from Anna Lynne McCord as the deranged Pauline, as a metaphor for the pain and awkwardness of your adolescent years Excision works as a terrific teen movie, before wrenching you down to a vision of suburban, clinical hell in a brilliantly orchestrated, incredibly horrifying and fitting finale to an occasionally uneven but uniquely idiosyncratic piece of work – this is a new talent I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Killing Them Softly - We continue with the comedy, (Jesus, looking back over this list it has been an extraordinarily bleak year) with Andrew Dominik’s pilloried crime tale, I am immensely discouraged at just how savaged this film has been in the US by critics who really should know better – it just shows goes to show the nerves that the film has politically and culturally grazed. Now, as agreed the film is very much a blunt force instrument and not very subtle, but criticisms such as James Gandolfini’s assassin ’never doing anything’ – presumably uttered because he doesn’t go on some ‘cool’ killing spree – well, this level of intellectual rigour should be dismissed with the contempt it deserves. Yes it’s an exceptionally bleak and sour evisceration of the American dream and the current world we live in, fractured through the lens of a criminal genre piece, but that’s what effective crime and criminal movies have always been about on one level, on economic and social realities which shine a light on the margins of society where we won’t like what we see. It’s rare enough to see such a serious genre piece on-screen with such an uncompromising position in almost forty years, so as a major fan of urban material on both the printed page and silver scream this has definitely grown on me and will be more rewarding with future viewings, if this was Domink’s immediate sequel to Chopper I’ll bet my meagre pay cheque it wouldn’t have been quite so stigmatized. An ideal festive companion piece to Killer Joe on the ‘developed’ worlds body politic during this incrementally declining decade, although you may wish to have the Samaritans on speed-dial….
The Cabin In The Woods – Whilst many critics have been going crazy for Holy Motors serpent eating its tail post-modern deconstruction of cinema I have to opt for this frequently hilarious evisceration of the horror genre, this perhaps being the closest beast on my list to a comedy movie, a laugh-riot which just happens to feature the brutal massacre of young students and the annihilation of mankind – like I said it’s been a tough year. It is certainly diminished on a small screen re-watch and does shrink to the diminutive dimensions of a special extended episode of Buffy or Angel, but as an unprepossessing cinema visit this was just so much darn fun, dreadfully entertaining and amusing with a central bloody mystery which kept my neurons firing in uncertain anticipation. Heck, I could also get into how like all good horror it does confront some uncomfortable issues of the day, in this case the sacrifice of a younger generation in order to maintain the status quo and the exalted position of the elite baby-boomer generation but let’s not get into that here….
Headhunters – Clearly I’m a fraud as this is probably the real ‘comedy’ on my list, and who’d have expected a Norwegian thriller to infiltrate the top ten? I love a good caper movie and Headhunters takes a risk in portraying its hero as an arrogant bastard who identifies potential marks by posing as a senior CEO recruitment consultant, acquiring intelligence to steal and fence their expensive art portfolios, usually the protagonists in this pedigree of pictures are loveable rogues such as Clooney in the Ocean’s movies or Robert Redford in The Hot Rock. This was just a brilliant script with more twists than a spaghetti supper at M.Night Shyamlan’s lair, and a gruesome line of pitch-black gallows humor which had me roaring in disgusted mirth. It’s also got a neat line in corporate espionage and malfeasance which gives the nightmare a contemporary edge, Hitchcock would have loved this MacGuffins and all, and you can’t praise a thriller higher than that.
The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey - Yeah, it just made it. This might be a surprise inclusion given my initial tepid to warm review, but on a second and indeed third 2D, 24fps view many of my disagreements faded into insignificance, and on reflection this is another superb addition to the beloved franchise. When you think about it, what other film series has been lavished with six three-hour movies (not to mention the Extended Editions, an extra 25 minutes has been confirmed for TH:AUJ already) with a consistent team of director, screenwriters and core creative personnel who display such an obvious love, reverence and understanding of the source material? I have my issues that I won’t rehash here, but the fanboy wailing over certain changes and amendments to make these films more cinematic are absurd, and I charge them to think of exactly which world they would prefer – the Jackson take on just one three-hour movie which was always the anticipated treatment? In this case the 3D and 48fps works beautifully and not since Avatar has an event movie delivered the goods in such a ravishing fashion, narrative, tone and pacing issues aside this is genuine cinema as event, film as spectacle, and how this installment sets up the next two episodes is a truly glorious achievement – I’m starting the petition for The Silmarillion in 2021 now.
Special mentions to God Bless America, Moonrise Kingdom, Berberian Sound Studio, Haywire, Margaret, End Of Watch, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Dreams For Sale and Looper, as I said I was despairing at how poor this year was maturing but then there was an abrupt volte face after Summer season when a whole crop of stronger material was harvested. I have to say the small screen still out distances cinema by a small margin when you factor in their ability to develop character and themes over numerous hours of transmission, Mad Men, Justified, The Walking Dead, Treme, the overrated but undeniably entertaining Breaking Bad and my personal favourite Boardwalk Empire have all had superior seasons, although I think I might finally drop the likes of Dexter and True Blood as they are both anemic parodies of their earlier, entertaining incarnations. For comparison purposes on the film front, this is useful.
I warn you now, anyone looking for some festive cheer best look elsewhere, it’s been a fucking tough year and these films continue in that dark vein of experience (sobs uncontrollably)……
Vinyan (Fabrice Du Welz, 2008) – In this psychological horror a distressed couple – Rufus Sewell and Emmanuelle Béart)- travel to the remote jungles of the Thai-Burmese border to look for their young son who was swept away in the 2004 Asian tsunami, a choking starting point for the real horror to come. The final images of those pint-sized, mud cloaked wraiths swarming around a steamy, misty jungle ruins obviously brings to mind Apocalypse Now, but this is more of a companion piece to Antichrist or Possession with the devastating loss of a child driving an increasingly emotional and violent wedge between the two frantic parents. This also treads similar mud-caked ground to next years The Impossible by the looks of things, but this is a much more submerged piece of work that gnaws at the very souls of the protagonists, a genuinely unsettling work that cautiously descends into a sweltering heart of darkness.
Son Of Frankenstein (Rowland V. Lee, 1939) – As I’ve mentioned I’ve been on a trawl of the Universal horror movies, whilst the majority of them are clearly swiftly lensed, badly written movies designed as a quick cash cow that would be knocked out if the studio were in financial danger, Son Of Frankenstein is a genuine sequel after 1935′s Bride Of Frankenstein (considered as superior to the original in some circles), as this third entry to the cycle was clearly considered and designed with those evocative expressionist contours (the stairs of the Baron’s castle remind of a horizontally arranged tombstones), evidenced by its expansive run-time – most of the knock-offs average about 70 minutes, Son being a fully fleshed 100 minutes. With Basil Rathbone as the Frankenstein’s genial son, Boris Karloff’s last appearance as the ‘monster’ and Bela Lugosi as the snivellingly malicious Ygor this is terrific fun, with a fairly exciting and explosive finale. If you dig mist shrouded moors, pitchfork and torch wielding baying mobs, and monosyllabic, misunderstood monsters then you can’t go wrong, even if one can’t fail to be reminded of Young Frankenstein which culled many of its characters from the picture.
Spartan (Mamet, 2003) – ‘Where’s the girl? Where’s the girl?’ David Mamet’s rare foray into action cinema may sound clichéd on paper – the presidents daughter is kidnapped and Val Kilmer is despatched as an elite special forces officer to bring her back – but like a great Michael Mann flick it’s the attention to detail that makes this work. The infiltration techniques, the survival skills, the combat clinician, the clandestine tricks of the trade, all these elements have been impeccably researched and are superbly portrayed through a state of the art warrior operating at the peak of his profession. As you’d expect from Mamet some of the narrative twists and turns will have you questioning what has gone before, and some faintly ludicrous reveals are subsequently fleshed out to make all the pieces drop into place like a well oiled plot machine, sure you have to abandon any pretence to realism early on but as action movies go this is nourishing slug of water in the dehydrated desert of recent American combat conflicts. Considering Mamet’s lurch to right-wing politics after 9/11 it is surprising that this dossier remains intensely critical of the American war machine whilst celebrating its fearless soldiers, a taut and tense combat flick that knocks both Taken movies dicks in the dirt.
The Turin Horse (Tarr, 2011) – At two and a half hours of gloomy insights into the empty, bruising and difficult lives of two peasants which centres around their deeply repetitive daily tasks of pure survival, of getting dressed, boiling potatoes, chopping wood, drawing water from the well and conducting chores this will not be for everyone (that’s the understatement of the year) but this caught me in exactly the right reflective mood, and I loved the repetitive yet lyrical score reminiscent of Philip Glass from the brilliant ears of Mihály Vig, this example from the earlier collaboration on the Wreckmeister Harmonies has entranced me for the past few months. The Turin Horse is more Tarkovsky than Bresson in terms of pacing and its wider religious questioning, yes it’s a very academic, parched and dare I say it depressing film but if you embrace its monochromatic idiom of the absurd and abyssal pointlessness of life then you might just achieve some strange, infinite nirvana. Apparently Tarr has exhaustively hurled down his viewfinder and abandoned his fruitless quest for artistic succor in the face of overwhelming disgust of the modern world, sometimes I know how he feels…..
The Keep (Mann, 1982) – Where to begin with this rarely exhumed Nazi inflected Grimm’s fairy tale that received a rare UK screening on Film4 last month? Sandwiched between the twin urbanity of Thief and Manhunter this is the one true oddity in Michael Mann’s clenched career, a film he has completely disowned due to its butchering in the editing suite by the film’s philistine producers, consequently it’s a difficult behemoth to track down with only inferior region 1 DVD’s available to the truly committed fans of Mann. It’s very much a film of two halves, the dialogue and performances are simply atrocious, particularly Ian McKellen’s Jewish academic and Robert Prosky’s Romanian Priest out chomping each other to decimate the Lovecraftian scenery, but it eclipses these barbarities with the evocative obsidian production designs of UK legend John Box, some eerie mist drenched haunting cinematography, and a palpitating score from Tangerine Dream which has become a cult collectors item in its own right. The editing is horrendous with characters arriving with no prior explanation (Scott Glen’s Jesus inspired saviour being particularly egregious) and it’s apparent how much of this languishes on the cutting room floor, but that barbarity is what alludes to its potential as the shell of a terrific film is incorporeally evident, it has a very odd, itchy vibe, and even the old school optical printing and reverse cranking SFX hold a strangely magnetic fascination for us cult movie aficionados. It’s an angular companion piece to Prince Of Darkness (or even Prometheus for that matter) with a grinding fairy tale aura, with notions of the seduction of overwhelming power lurking over the titular citadel like disembodied charcoal clouds, a pale cult item that is obsequiously flawed yet nebulously fascinating.
Films To See In 2013
Some repeats from last year and some material that has already been blessed with an international release, we Europeans might get certain texts early – Killing Them Softly for example only just opened in the States yet clipped the UK months ago – yet we must be patient with other material. Django goes without saying, its been getting extraordinarily good reviews, even from those who aren’t usually enamoured with Tarantino’s celluloid circle-jerks. I am filled with a quiet gnawing horror at the prospect of one of my favourite ever books finally galloping its way to the screen, on the one hand it does have some talent involved – Hans Zimmer on symphonic strides, Caleb Deschanel on lighting duties – but it’s being directed by the cretin who wrote the rightly loathed Batman & Robin and is responsible for a host of retch-inducing Ron fricking Howard pictures – uurrgghh. I guess we’ll see a trailer soon and the budget being slashed to $46 million also doesn’t bode well, then again Jennifer Connelly is in it and she’s always worth watching – and once that restraining order is lifted etc. etc. Anywho, the main theme is fairly obvious for 2013 – there must be something lurking in the distant grinding nebula as a glut Science Fiction projects are finally warping in for battle;
Gravity - Well, maybe this will actually dock next year, still no scans of the trailer so we’ll have to look back to Children of Men to remind ourselves of Cuaron’s astounding camerawork. Pushed back from an initial November 2012 release schedule the project seems to be beset with production problems, with supporting players to George Clooney’s lead orbiting through Scarlett Johansson to Sandra Bullock in the female astronauts chair, and detecting the merest fragment of production photos, SFX designs or that rarest of treasures an actual trailer has been as elusive as detecting H2O on the dusty plateaus of Mars. Still we SF fans are a patient breed, and we await this potential new evolutionary step in genre machinery and robotics with a baited, audible breath. It’s been granted an MPAA certificate so it must be in the can, perhaps they’re just polishing some of the visuals and then nervously deciding when to launch it into the stratosphere….
The Grandmaster – The wildly talented Wong Kar Wai returns to the screen after the disappointing My Blueberry Nights with this martial arts biopic of the legendary sensei Ip Man who famously taught Bruce Lee his memorable skills. This film has been beset with production problems and delays, as I understand it re-shoots are currently being conducted for the international market, but it opens in China next week and should secure world-wide distribution in the new year. A look at that trailer promises some ravishing images, with his frequent muse Tony Leung in the title role and the elfin Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) one guesses that a passionate love affair will also be on the cards. This has also reminded to finally track down Chungking Express, I can’t believe I still haven’t seen that supposed classic of world cinema yet…..
Stoker - Well, something else with an actual trailer, so that’s nice. How will a director with Park Chan-wook’s affectations and obsessions translate into an English language dark mystery drama, with a reasonably heavyweight cast including Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode? That’s an intriguing cast combination in this film which is supposedly inspired by Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt which gives me some signals as to what it might be about, I’m pulling something of an embargo on this now to keep expectations fresh. Stoker also has a Clint Mansell score and this is always a good thing.
Upstream Color - Shane Carruth, he of 2004′s Primer fame finally returns to the big screen (Where has he been? Stuck in a box somewhere?) with this Sundance premiering paradox, very little is known on this other than this curious tagline – ‘A man and woman find themselves drawn together as they struggle to reassemble the fragments of their wrecked lives’. Carruth seems to have been paying the rent with script consultant duties on the likes of Looper, whether he’s back in time travel territory remains to be seen. There’s no-one particularly famous in the cast, thus I assume it’s another lo-fi budget effort, I hope he can match the confusing yet alluring heights of his debut – Sundance hits in January so not long to wait for initial reactions. For those confused (obligatory Primer link) about the prospects of his long gestating A Topiary I hear that film would be very expensive given the SFX requirements inherent in the script, so this is probably a ‘bridge’ film where he has to prove himself as a filmmaker with talent and a certain degree of critical popularity – he has after all been off the scene for eight years – before the purse holders at the major studios are persuaded to break out the cheque books…..
Cloud Atlas – Yesterday’s papers for our US and Canadian cousins, the more I’ve heard about this box-office failure (which can mostly be attributed to its misjudged, staggered release pattern) the more I’m curiously intrigued. Opinions have verged from a horrendous muddled mess with embarrassing Charlie Chan make-up to the more Aint It Cool style breathlessly gushing sites citing the film as a ‘life changing experience’ – although that does not bode well truly ambitious cinema of the $100 million plus range is all too rare, and I look forward to making my own mind up come February. At the very least Cloud Atlas is going to be a different experience with articles citing the current experimentation with traditional film structures mapping the film with the likes of The Master, Holy Motors and Life Of Pi, the very fact that the Wachowski’s got this made at all through private funding – one possible reason for the lack of screens and poor advertising hobbling the films opportunities – is a minor miracle in itself. I just hope that with their supposed disregard of narrative continuity that they haven’t thrown the baby out with the proverbial bathwater.
What does next year hold in store retrospective wise? Well the BFI are hosting a Polanski retrospective in January which I’m musing over, and I have this rather strange urge to revisit the Hong Kong John Woo gangster films of the Eighties and Nineties, I have no idea where this impulse has sprung from but I like the idea of also seeking out ancillary material by other filmmakers of the era, a period of genre cinema I’m not entirely au fait with. I’m also going to see what I can do about covering more festivals, I’ve had opportunities which I failed to follow-up on due to sheer laziness (the Nordic Film Festival, the South Korean Film Festival), and certainly Sundance O2 which returns to the UK in February. The two biographies Hitchcock and Lincoln are of course on the playlist as is the new Malick picture To The Wonder and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, on the genre front I’m also looking forward to The Canyons, Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium, a Cruise to Oblivion should be surpassed by Del Toro’s thundering Pacific Rim, the Star Trek sequel should be fun, romantics will get woozy as Linklater concludes his international romanticism with Before Midnight and the epic Cornetto trilogy closes with World’s End, hopefully a re-teaming of Frost and Pegg with Edgar Wright will actually, y’know, make them funny again after the horrendous failure of Paul.
So finally let’s wave a melancholic goodbye to analogue film which is certainly what 2012 will be remembered for, with Kodak ceasing major production of film stock and theatres now all but abandoning 35mm projection, I’m no Luddite as I do embrace the technical marvels of 3D and CGI when used effectively and appropriately, but I can’t help but feel that something tangible has slipped away, a physical capture of reality through a tactile storage and delivery device. Holding a frame of 35mm or 70mm film stock up to the light to judge its contents is obviously more romantic and idyllic a symbol of the magic of the movies, of letting light pour and permeate through an image to illuminate a fantastic illusion is infinitely more affecting than plugging a hard drive into a throbbing bank of hardware but that’s just me, a digital beeping of zeroes and ones simply can’t cut it as the world shifts to a more impersonal and diffused fashion of communication, ‘social’ media be damned. The format won’t completely die out of course, certain films will continue to be shot photo-chemically on a probable sliding, declining scale – I’m not entirely sure what the status is with shooting practices away from Hollywood in the likes of Bollywood, in the strong indigenous industries of Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, or even the recently emerging powerhouses such as Nigeria – but commerce is always the watchword and if costs are reduced in the never quenched search for product then the writing is clearly on the wall. I think there will always be some movement of analogue lovers who demand traditional projection from original, physical masters and dupes, maybe like formats such as vinyl it will become increasingly marginalised but that loyal and rabid fan base should stick around for another generation at least – so farewell film, Rest In shattered, indiscriminate Pieces;
Right, that’s it, I’m off to the glowing pastures of North London for Christmas, to celebrate the part of the year when we all come together and complain about our parents Internet Access as one wag on twitter recently put it. I’ll be back before New Year’s with my humongous 2012 round-off, but let me leave things on a musical note from P.T. Anderson who has had an extraordinary year with The Master dominating the films of the year lists around the globe. In the meantime be sure to check out my esteemed colleagues wrap up lists and features over at Sound On Sight, for now happy holidays you fucking nerds;
They say you should never meet your heroes, an assertion to which I casually retort ‘yeah tell that to Mark Chapman’, a confused and somewhat controversial response which tends to result in either violent or disgusted reactions. I’m sharing this fascinating retort with you as I have some special news to report, in a break from narrative tradition I took in a concert film this week within the art-house facility of the Everyman Cinema in Islington, a new venue for me that has consistently eluded my attention, but when a best friend demanded that I accompany him to view a screening of the concert film of Recoil: A Strange Night In Budapest I was powerless to refuse. For the uninitiated Recoil is the solo imprint of Alan Wilder, the one time musical maestro behind popular electronica beat combo Depeche Mode, one of my all time favourite bands whom in my humble opinion have never truly recovered from his split with the band following the arduous World Devotional tour way back in the midst of time – or 1995 to be more precise. Here’s a taster of the new film;
You may recall I saw Recoil a couple of years ago and this is the crowd sourced and funded capture of the Budapest leg of his modest 2010 tour, Wilder has released a handful of albums since his spilt from the Mode twenty years ago, whilst his work might be an acquired taste we ancient Modettes still follow his aural stylings with a cultish glee, although personally I prefer his earlier, funnier work;
The concert film is perfectly serviceable – wide shot of crowd, cut to musicians playing, mix things up with some inserts of the background gig visuals, splice with further crowd details before back to the wide shot – but of course the music is the most important thing and the sound quality was excellent if this slightly esoteric strain of electronic chords and sampling floats your emulator boat - set lists for those interested here, you can pick up your own copy here – highly recommended. The event was an agreeable and good-natured if slightly unattended affair, this was obviously the haunt of die-hard fans but in the final analysis that generated a more intimate sense of fun, as Wilder himself welcomed us into the venue and conducted a rather chaotic but illuminating post screening Q&A – just to handle the obvious question despite this one track charity reunion he and DM ain’t resuming activities, even if he did honour them with a recent remix. For diary purposes this night will go down in history amongst me and my close friends however as before exiting the cinema for further Christmas liquid excesses I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Alan – we’re obviously on first name terms now – gabbling my enthusiasm for his music and work before vigorously shaking his hand and snapping a photo for the German journalist who was chatting to him before I rather inelegantly interrupted their conversation. True to expected form he was as genial and approachable as we fans could possibly expect, he seemed very amenable to my rudeness and genuinely enthusiastic despite my potentially embarrassing gushing – an all round good egg in my book;
This event was something of a double whammy as I had never had the pleasure of visiting the Screen On The Green before, as a capsule review it’s a perfectly agreeable London art-house cinema with good leg room and perfect sight lines, they provide waiter service of drinks to your seats (no doubt aping the international popularity of the Alamo Drafthouse experience) and a reasonably sized screen with excellent acoustics. If I had one complaint then it would be the perfectly obvious point about the exorbitant drink prices, I fully realise they have their overheads to master and could tap the more affluent middle-class who would be more likely to frequent their facility and support their alternative credentials, but £6 for a bottle of beer is outrageous, but then again in the months I’ve been hibernating it seems that two nights out in reasonably quick succession has revealed that the average cost of a pint in London is now over £4, and there was me thinking this was the era of austerity. But enough grumbling, this was a truly legendary night that I and my mate will be drinking to for many years to come, now all I have to do is get John Carpenter a pint and I can die a happy man. In other news next week is looking hectic with three cinema visits on the horizon (I think something’s coming out on Thursday?) but let’s leave this weekend with a track from the old school, Enjoy the Recoil :
Been wondering what music video maestro Chris Cunningham’s been up to? Here’s your answer although beware, it will make you speculate upon a darker future where he’s still at the helm of the Neuromancer adapation;
I would very much like to see him live, I wonder if he’s still performing….
So, just for old times sake, here’s that charming Aphex Twin video, sweet dreams….
Off to the BFI tonight for a members preview of the LFF where I shall be bemoaning the lack of The Master or the new Malick – Jesus, I knew he had three movies on the go but now there’s four? – before more Hitchcock of the avian variety. No rest for the wicked eh?…
I’m quite surprised at how much I enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom, the seventh movie from the auteur of the arbitrary Wes Anderson. I say surprised as when that initial trailer hit back in March I was prompted to revisit some of Anderson’s earlier works, namely Rushmore and Bottle Rocket, just to see how both movies which I had initially enjoyed stand up ten years down the line. This was not a happy exercise, as both films that I had remembered as amusing, inventive and idiosyncratically refreshing have vinegarised to being rather archly pretentious meandering slogs, with a cloying artificiality in characterisations which left me colder than a Vostok ice lolly. Having distinctly disliked both his past two efforts – The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Darjeeling Limited - I was not expecting much from Anderson’s return to live-action whimsical whining, and initial reports that his latest film saw his style and mannerisms pushed to almost breaking point tickled the Minty alertometer, but when you’re between assignments you’ve got to fill your days somehow, and given his adoring fan-base Anderson is something of a noted director whose work should be garnered with big screen viewing opportunities, and of course with my Cineworld card I’m not exactly paying for the picture, given that this is my fifth movie of the month I’m certainly getting my money’s worth. I’m glad I gave him a chance, as Moonrise Kingdom is a fairly entertaining, throughly amiable meander through 94 minutes of Anderson’s richly realised worlds, with a few laughs thrown in for good measure.
New England, 1965, and we’re on ensconced on the coastal island of New Penzance. Cupid’s aim is true as love at first slight blooms between the disquieted Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), the 13-year-old daughter of legal bickerers Laura (a disheveled Frances McDormand) and Walt (a low-key Bill Murray) and the alienated sister to her three younger brothers. Suzy has fallen for the odd charms of orphan eagle scout Sam (Jared Gilman in a weak debut), a slightly nebbish delinquent whose foster family decide not to renew their legal custody of his affairs once he disappears from his custodians protection. A meticulously planned elopement is conducted by the wayward Romeo and Juliet, their romantic roaming throwing the island into turmoil, as Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton, officious yet affectionate) enlists the aid of local sheriff Sharp (a muted Bruce Willis) to retrieve his wandering charge and restore the morale of his flagging troop of adolescent explorers. With a scintillating supporting cast including the always terrific Tilda Swinton as simply ’Social Services’, Bob Balaban as the tales metronomical narrator, Anderson regular Jason Schwartzman and a quite surprising Harvey Keitel as another Scout Leader you will appreciate that hefty resources are being deployed to return the inamorata’s to safety, as a major storm is brewing, the worst to hit the region in the century, which inclement intrusions gives the hunt for the duo an added sense of mortal urgency….
Moonrise Kingdom is a film that couldn’t be more like a Wes Anderson film if Bill Murray detonated a whimsical bomb in a pastel factory. It is mannered, it is populated with the unusual and arch figurines of his previous oeuvre, all paraded in another of his hermetically sealed worlds, but for me this worked as the sheer bravado operating in terms of pushing his own style into a critical mass hooked me into the tempo and mood of the picture, and most importantly of all it is genuinely funny, and that is a crucial distinction to his other more recent efforts. Newcomer Jared Gilman is a weak strut at the films core, as a half-pint Michael Stuhlbarg he seems uncertain and hesitant in the role, but fortunately the central romance of the piece is saved by Kara Hayward, also in her screen debut she invokes the aloof charms of the nouvelle vague’s chirpy feminine ubiety, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of her in the years to come. Anderson constructs the movie around his telltale tableau compositions and his whip pan and dolly transitions from differing elements in a scene, whilst he won’t be winning any innovation awards for stretching or morphing his own visual style the technique keeps the momentum progressing to charm the viewer before the mischievous antics wear thin, and to deliver a clutch of visually astute gags.
The film is like a fairy tale inflected with the apparel of Jacques Tati combined with a sense of playful, early Godard, shorn of any of his difficult politics that might complicate the benign comedy. Like many of Anderson’s films the piece is designed almost to death, with the mise-en-scene cluttered with detail and carefully attuned colours, from the costumes to the wallpapers, the make-up to the rugs, you can’t deny that Anderson and his production designer Adam Stockhausen have a keen eye for composition and the detailed layering of an image to keep fans coming back for future refreshment. I’m also sympathetic to the accusations of Anderson’s films being hollow exercises in style over content, and he certainly doesn’t neutralise those claims in this perhaps his lightest, most transparent film to date, but does every film have to illuminate a unique facet of the human condition? Maybe it’s the mood I’m in but I strongly suspect not. With its jaunty, gentle Alexandre Desplat score it’s a quaint chimera that is likely to delight his followers but not win any new devotees, a pale drama with a misting of gentle facetiousness, if Prometheus sells out this jubilee weekend’s multiplexes then you could do worse than spend an hour and a half in this eccentric company;