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;
And so another festival comes to a close, my Sundance virginity finally vanquished. Overall the festival was impeccably executed, all the public screenings projected in state of the art environments with attentive and committed audiences, all featuring debate and discussion with talent and filmmakers to discuss the movies after the screenings. The quality of material was also very high, sure a few movies were fairly average but there wasn’t one bad film that I caught on the programme, and believe me after doing this reviewing nonsense for a few years that is almost unique in my experience. As a platform for highlighting new and emerging talent it can’t be beaten, and three of the movies here may well be sitting on my annual top ten come December.
I’m not proud of it but I ducked out of the screening of In Fear, I do my best in supporting UK productions but I received a voicemail after the previous screening which forced me to set my weary bones homeward to exploit a potential opportunity with the day job, and homework needed to be done. In any case it was ideal to leave the festival on a high after a fantastic screening of The Kings Of Summer;
All I knew of this was that it was a comedy, and it had kids in it, I didn’t even watch the trailer despite posting it here. Let me be clear and I can’t stress this enough, this is an absolutely brilliant movie which is completely hilarious, it demands to be seen when it gets a release later in the year. Nick Offerman as a quietly furious father attempts to steal the movie but that accolade rests with the almighty Biaggio, an instant cult classic character, just recalling some of his schtick has been grinning like a demented loony. For shorthand sakes you could consider it a 21st century Stand By Me, funny and gently moving, it avoids all the pitfalls that could potentially hobble it – a mawkish voiceover, life lessons learned through a sepia toned melancholy – instead it’s one of those films that you’re genuinely sad to see go when it reaches its perfect conclusion. I’ll get cracking on full reviews of it and Mud, and the second viewing of Upstream Color was bafflingly brilliant, it raised more questions than it answers the second time around…..
Just in case you missed it, here’s my review of No which I caught at last years LFF and which opens today in the UK, I went in completely sight unseen I didn’t know anything about it other than it was set in South America and had that Gabriel-Garcia chap in it. I was very pleasantly surprised at a very contemporary political drama, and a compelling historical archive as well;
The cornerstone achievement that this years BFI Hitchcock season pivots upon is the restoration of nine early silent films, from The Ring to Champagne, from The Pleasure Garden to The Manxman these precursor movies are not only an instructive look at the development of one of the greatest directors to have blessed the art form, but also essential shards of the UK’s early film history and her infant studios technical prowess. It amuses me that writers and commentators refer to these films as Hitchcock’s early period , as Easy Virtue is no less than the portly ones 23rd picture (if you include the duo two reelers in that constitution as a full movie), although alas all but five of those films have been forever lost due to the criminal attitude to film preservation at the beginning of the business, with only fragments, singular reels and stills remaining of the mourned eighteen movies that have been cast into the midst of time. When I started this season I did want to manage as broad a panoply of material as possible, straddling the silents to the UK talkies, then on to the American period and his last few curios, alas I haven;t been quite as equitable as I’d liked as we enter the final stretch but I did manage one of the silents, the 1927 screen adaption of a Noel Coward play, the suggestively titled Easy Virtue.
Screening with a live musical accompaniment from Stephen Horne Easy Virtue is one of Hitchcock’s first films with a female lead – Isabel Jeans stars as Larita Filton, a young woman of dubious prudence due to her very scandalous divorce case, her drunk husband causing a scandal when he fought with her male companion who had been providing a shoulder to cry on. But it’s a man’s world and no matter whom is responsible for the marriage’s disintegration her reputation amongst genteel society is soiled, as soon as the highly publicised case is finished she flees the country with the press snapping at her heels, and attempts to establish a new life in France where she hopes to be immune from the damaging scandal. Life however has other plans and Larita meets and falls for John Whittaker (Robin Irvine), a charismatic young dandy and they embark on a whirlwind romance, swiftly marry and Larita joins his rich, well to do upper middle class family back in the UK. John’s family and his mother in particular is very suspicious of Larita, certain that they recognize her from somewhere irritably indefinable. Will Larita eventually be welcomed in the bosom of her new extended family with open arms, or will the family discover her secret and shameful past?
The restoration process is fascinating to me, with painstaking patience and dedication the BFI sanctioned technical team faced their most difficult challenge with Easy Virtue as no 35mm print exists and the master is long gone, so the only source materials they had to build the picture was from 16mm projection prints, all of which were of a significantly degraded quality with occasional fragmented and abridged sequences. Running a slight 69 minutes from a projected original elapse of 94 minutes, and after pulling in existing prints from around the world – Australia, the Netherlands, America – this was the longest and most comprehensive current version of the film possible, unless further material turns up in some foreign film collective or through a private collectors generosity. Print damage of a general wear and tear nature was repaired, the larger challenge was addressing the underlying picture quality and resolution on the 16mm print which had faded over the intervening eighty years. Considering the health warning we were given during the introduction by silent film curator Byrony Dixon I was expecting a difficult watch but this was perfectly and clearly enjoyable, there are shifts in quality as the film marches on from scene to scene to be sure but it’s not too distracting, you can clearly see the images and follow the tale of this woman struggling against the confines of polite society. The team also commissioned and created new intertitle inserts, using the original fonts and text from the existing stills library of the film.
In Easy Virtue you can detect the nuclei of things to come, the DNA of subsequent themes and obsessions, like an archeologist excavating the ruins of some ancient template the film elides ancient treasures which herald the further development of a crucial and hungry talent. The film opens with yet another revolutionary POV shot where the trial judge lifts a monocle to his eye, an effect replicated by a three-foot diameter glass sheet being made and replicating the eyepiece being erected over the camera plane of focus – inventive and surreal as always. In fact the film it littered with POV shots – quite a unusual employment of now standard issue film grammar – but its the narrative that lurks in the mind, concerning a fallen woman and her reputational shame, a foreign romance and disapproving family, the film is like a mute older cousin of Rebecca or The Paradine Case, Notorious or Suspicion. There are also a few flashes of humor of an unmistakable vintage – the necking horses, the telephone operators facial reactions to the call she is clandestinely eavesdropping upon – with a judiciary and jury of peers hostile to our heroine, the perennial outsider of Hitchcock’s films adrift in a cruel and indifferent world. It’s not often I see a silent movie at the big screen, truth be told I can probably count the number of times this has happened on the fingers of one hand, but they are fascinating to watch as a primitive precursor of all that was to come, the bedrock of modern cinema and its modes of storytelling, I must really try harder. Here is some further background on the painstaking restoration process;
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?…
Hmm, so now it’s 5 minute trailers then eh?
After the clusterfuck of the Matrix sequels and Speed Racer it’s curious to see the Wachowski’s back after a long exodus, and I have to say that this looks fairly impressive, albeit a bit syrupy and conflicted, they’ve got quite a task ahead of them in melding numerous threads together into a coherent, collected whole. There’s far too many shades of The Fountain for my liking, and director Tom Tykwer has been patchy at best since his urgent breakthrough Run Lola Run, Perfume was lightly fragrant, The International….erm….less so. I’ve read the book but remember little of it, so I’m not a die-hard fan who will have problems with any necessary page to screen compressions or changes, but after discussing this in the pub this evening I understand it has its fanatic fans so good luck to it, some of that future world imagery did tickle my fancy. What’s that? Keith ‘Childs‘ David’s in it? Oh, OK then, sold….
Another one bites the dust. No doubt the obituaries will be full of acclaim for his roles in the likes of Johnny Guitar, Bad Day At Black Rock, The Wild Bunch and of course his Oscar win for Marty – and quite rightly so – but for me he’ll always be Cabbie;
Here he is two months ago, talking about the movie. He looks pretty good to me, for a 95 year old;
Looks like he had a pretty good sense of humor as well….
Just thought I’d quickly pop in here and recommend that if you’re free you should catch Wendy & Lucy which is screening on Film 4 here in the UK this evening, you may recall that it featured as one of my favourite films of the year a while back, I’m looking forward to giving it another viewing;
More exultingly, if that’s the right word, is the screening of Kelly Reichardt’s earlier film River Of Grass which follows in the early hours of the morning, after catching over a hundred movies over the past couple of months of which I conservatively estimate that 80% of which is revisits of stuff I’ve already seen it’s nice to have something fresh to look forward to for a bloody change……
Like a receding dream disintegrating in the rays of a warm sunrise it all seems so long ago that I embarked on my most exhaustive and ambitious strand of film coverage that I’ve congregated in almost six years of blogging, to merge with the month-long BFI retrospective of David Lynch’s four decade career with a mirror season here at the Menagerie. Unfortunately my unanticipated injury has somewhat disrupted the momentum I had built toward the last film INLAND EMPIRE which I didn’t manage to see again at the cinema, so this final post should draw a veil over this detailed and lengthy enterprise with a collection of thoughts on his last movie and a few other snippets I have collected over the past couple of months, it’s helped me sail through 50,000 hits to this site and I’ve been rewarded with a handful of new subscribers, if you find footage like this as mesmerizingly amusing as I do then you’re in the right place;
Just to briefly alight on Lynch’s final movie from 2006 INLAND EMPIRE is very much a companion piece to Mulholland Drive given its fractious approach to characterization, with its squirming around the Hollywood dream factory and a playful tampering with elusive and slippery psychological conceits, like the stuttering, erratic needle grinding across that onyx vinyl it is a seductive, circular whirlpool of a film that once more drags us down the rabbit hole;
As I said in my original review it remains a staggering film, both with its extended 3 hours plus run-time, its unnerving visual, aural and textural alignments, its surface impenetrability affording repeat viewings and amorphous interpretations, the experimental formula potentially signalling a remake or re-imagining of its Siamese sister film which is as much about cinema and how stories are constructed, about how tales are told through the Tinseltown paradigm as it is the story of one (?) woman’s descent and fall. That said I am sympathetic to the opinion (see here) that the fluidity and freedom that digital shooting afforded Lynch has resulted in a unfocused, deleterious mess that doesn’t match the nightmare precision of Mulholland Drive or Blue Velvet, frankly it is a little self-indulgent (you could snip out 30 minutes and not lose much in the way of narrative complexity or overall effect) but like the best of Lynch’s most earnest dream films it will continue to warp and mature with time, like all the richest artefacts. Lynch was particularly aggravated that Laura Dern didn’t get an Academy nomination for her complex performance and took to the streets in an unusual bovine themed protest - some amusing footage here – and despite his embrace of new technologies there are some shifts in the cultural contract that he is famously less enamoured with – well said sir, well said.
In terms of other material here is the other core short movie The Cowboy & The Frenchmen which is loved amongst some aficionados, here is a lengthy and text heavy treatise on The Straight Story which is nevertheless worth a read, in terms of comprehensive coverage here is a link to the loathed On The Air (it is awful and is for masochistic completists’ only, although it does gel with Mulholland by having two starry-eyed actresses named Betty and Rita looking to make it big in the business of show) and below is a video introduction to perhaps his most detailed endeavour since 2006, the Interview Project which you can consider here and here;
I’ve enormously enjoyed putting these reviews together and hunting down the associated mellifluous material, working through a favourite directors career sequentially is quite an illuminating process which harvests new appreciations and dimensions to a filmmaker whom I quite arrogantly thought there was little more for me to learn about. Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet I think are his unvarnished masterpieces although every single film of his career is worthy of deep analysis and semi-frequent revisits, my appreciation of Fire Walk With Me has certainly expanded and that’s probably the best film post I’ve mustered so far this year. So let’s close this mammoth menagerie mission with a damn fine tribute to the mysterious and maleficently magnificent movies of one of the greatest film directors of the past forty years, and let’s pray that he finally gets the funds together to birth just one more smoke drenched, blazing phantasm to crown his disorienting career;
Another great double bill at the BFI, although the former was a little disappointing the second was quite an experience, with a great atmosphere in the sold out auditorium. Eerie, scratchy prints and I also spied a certain Danny Leigh looking quite amused. A short reminder;
I’m three reviews behind now – next week should be hectic….and this is, well it’s something;
I was waiting for a trailer before potentially bringing this to your attention, as one doesn’t seem to be forthcoming let’s go with a clip from the movie;
As you can imagine, the prospect of a documentary on The Shining was warmly welcomed around these parts, I was however a little disappointed to see it would focus on some of the wilder translations and readings that have coalesced around the masterpiece over the past thirty-two years. The Native Americans metaphor is perfectly valid and correct, and has been mused upon and considered in light of the original references in the source novel and the fairly obvious littering of indigenous American symbols, icons and portraits throughout the films mise-en-scene, heck the fact that the Overlook repelled a few attacks during its construction is mentioned by Ullman in an early scene. It’s most of the other psuedo-conspiracy theories which are clearly absurdly mentalist, such as the numerology stuff (e.g. today is the 30th January 2012 , 30+1+2012 = 2043, 2 times 3 times 7=42 and OMG 42 minus 2043 is 2001, we’ve matched A Space Odyssey!! Get with the programme sheeple!!) and the truly insane Moon landing hoax stuff which really doesn’t warrant a single second of serious speculation. Then again, maybe that’s the documentaries main point, to look at the crazies and loonies that gravitate to the deeply embedded symbols and designs in Stan’s work, all of which were intended but seem to be translated or absorbed in quite different ways – the eye of the beholder and all that eh? As mentioned before Stan loathed ever explaining ‘what he meant’ in a film and that’s because he never meant his work to be that obvious, he just used every conceivable aspect of a film’s production and technique to craft a piece of art, then the onus was on the viewer to make of it what they would, or indeed could – send in the clowns;
It’s always the same with these theories, they take fragments of the truth – in this case a NASA sourced lens which he did utilise for Barry Lyndon and some pioneering special effects, and then leap into the abyss of total paranoid insanity. Here’s some more meanderings, here’s one of the more amusing deconstructions which I imagine emerged from a lonely apartment which is choked with notebooks akin to John Doe’s charming domicile in Se7en, and I thought I was obsessed with the great mans work – I was particularly amused at the counting of 21 pieces of mail in the hotel lobby and this being numerically significant, ‘all work and no play’ indeed….obligitory meme here;
My original 2009 review here, slightly amended but some of the links will probably be borked. So that’s another Kubrick fix out of the way, I’ll move on to some slightly more heartwarming fare tomorrow – Eraserhead.
Here’s a fascinating documentary I unearthed during a recent expedition through the digital steppes of youtube, shot for German TV in 1988 this is an hour-long look at Scorsese’s offices and working methods as he was crafting his segment of 1990’s New York Stories, just as he was coming off the shoot of The Last Temptation of Christ and presumably as he was prepping Goodfellas. It takes a while to get going, the old motor mouth himself doesn’t really achieve top gear until part 3 but nevertheless this is a mesmerizing peak into the auteur’s working habits and urban environment some twenty-five years ago;
For the truly cinema obsessed below is the most amusing section, where we see how a pre-digital versatile disk and pre computerised cinephile satisfies his celluloid cravings, by employing an assistant to catalogue and update his bestiary of 8,000 films with weekly instructions on what to tape off the TV in the possible chance of capturing a higher quality print or transfer of any number of pictures – what a job and one assumes that such a volume of material puts your Blu-Ray / DVD collection to shame. I’m guessing you could add a zero to the current dimensions of that tally given a further quarter century of acquisitions;
An earlier section where Scorsese is mulling over the announcement of the (then) new plans for the TCM movie network reminds of an impatient child awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus, as the news that the organisation have struck some new and vivid prints of some overlooked classics for transmission is a eye-watering prospect. For the Scorsese aficionados at the end there is also some terrific footage of Marty having dinner with his folks, with all the expected hilarity and story-telling that ensues – classic stuff;
I also liked the impromptu feel of the likes of Screenwriter Jay Cocks, voyeuristic pervert Brian De Palma and English renegade Michael Powell just popping round for a coffee, you don’t get this ‘behind the scenes’ sort of access these days. In other news, here is an insiders take on one of Stanley K’s less obvious and perhaps less salubrious legacies….
So what’s all this fuss about the new drama Margaret then? I first heard about this film in Sight & Sound which warned that a great new film was potentially being buried, it sounds like its suffered one of the more torturous production histories of recent years with lawsuits, threats, and the predictable battles over final cut wrangling on for an astonishing five years – the film lensed in the Autumn of 2005 – before no less personages as Scorsese and Schoonmaker stepped in to deliver a final cut which placated all the parties. Funny how even a film starring Matt Damon can suffer such industrial malarky isn’t it?
I’m very interested to see this now of course, but the fact that it is showing at exactly one cinema in London – the Odeon Panton Street – doesn’t make this feasible, a problem compounded by the fact that said location is one of the tiny remaining Soho cinemas which have miniscule screens for the same £13 or £14 ticket price – screw that. If it gets picked up at Greenwich or one the Curzon’s them I’m in, if not then I can wait for the ray of Blu sometime around my retirement age. I have to say this furore has finally goaded me into hiring his first film You Can Count On Me which I understand is terrific, the film almost singlehandedly launched the career of Mark Ruffalo who steps into the purple frayed jeans of Bruce Banner next year. So from The Avengers we skip neatly to Joss Whedon’s intermediate project that’s been getting a lot of chatter;
Hmm, not so sure but I’ll probably give it a whirl, it looks like it have a little more weight to it than just another tongue in-cheek postmodern chiller. April’s usually a quiet time at the flicks as well so I’m sure I’ll have the time, unless of course it clashes with this which is looking increasingly exciting…I’ve just started the arduous process of press accreditation so fingers crossed….
I know, I know, it’s been quiet around here recently. Well, I and colleagues are in the midst of a critical period at work which has involved some precarious negotiations (and the attendant long hours), more importantly this came out at the weekend and I am thoroughly addicted;
I haven’t got my teeth into an utterly riveting, sandbox game since Red Dead Redemption but Skyrim is another injection of digital heroin that can easily absorb a couple of ten-hour sessions over a weekend, especially given the increasingly ominous weather which posits an outside sojourn as tenuous at best. This comes at an interesting time in terms of my reviewing commitments, I do have a couple of things in the pipeline, I’ve just revised a previous review, I did manage to drag myself away from the console to see Snowtown last weekend ( I hesitate to use the word ‘good’ but its an assured piece of work) and I also have the BFI Halloween trilogy to finish. I kind of wish it was a quieter time of year if I’m honest, I didn’t manage to see this, this is out this coming weekend and is supposed to be terrific then Hugo is out the week after then a certain prequel hits the week after that – gimme a break, huh? Still, Christmas beckons and I’m definitely going away again, I just need to confirm if I’m jetting East or West out of the country come mid- December. In the interim you may recall I expressed surprise at some audio of Stanley discussing The Shining being broadcast on Movie Geeks United, well they actually got in touch and gave me a welcome referral;
Thanks guys, plenty of YT links to follow from that – it looks like a new Italian documentary is out there in the wild and must be acquired. Anyway, I’ll be back before the end of the week with another review. Promise. As long as I’m not tempted to just watch the world go by;
Ordinary lives, normal people, societal problems and quiet drama are not always the preserve of modern cinema, but it has been the raison d’être of the internationally feted Dardenne brothers for the past twenty years. Having won two Palme D’Or during their celebrated career and after being nominated for numerous other awards they have brought their new film The Kid With A Bike to the London Film Festival, which I caught at a special Sight & Sound sponsored screening at the National Film Theatre this week. In what could lazily be described as the Belgian equivalent of Ken Loach the Dardenne’s share a similar propensity in examining social issues through a realist lens, however they are less overtly political, dwelling more on character and situation than any sort of economic or cultural scenario in which to present their humanist, realist tales. Even their film titles are unvarnished, objectified truth – from The Son (2002) to The Child (2005) their moving stories are emotionally pure, and a fine continuation of the European tradition of poetic yet unobtrusive story-telling, a path they continue in another near perfect film.
Cyril (Thomas Doret) has been abandoned in a children’s home and he is evidently not coming to terms with the reprehensible behaviour of his father (the mother is never mentioned) as he rebels against the instructions and requests of his carers. Evading the authorities he returns home to find his father gone and his beloved bike sold, and as he is being recaptured he flees to a doctor’s office and clings to a young woman named Samantha (Cécile de France) who warms to the child and eventually offers to foster him at weekends. If this was a Sandra Bullock film then you might expect a heart-warming tale of growing respect and affection, and a few chin tweaking life lessons thrown in for good measure, but thankfully that is not on the cards as Samantha struggles to instruct and raise this angry young boy, who so idolizes his absent father that he seeks masculine affection and instruction from any avenue, dangerously turning to a manipulative local hood whom recruits him into his dime-store crimes.
Amongst the jaded press brigade this modest, candid and heart-felt piece seems to be an early frontrunner for film of the festival, considering the murmured praise as I exited the screening. Thomas Doret is just incredible, with a searing intensity which is quite remarkable for his age – although sometimes you yearn to give him a good clip round the ear as the full detail of his emotional turmoil is revealed even the hardest heart will melt to his plight. Using only handheld cameras and eschewing artificial light The Kid With A Bike continues the Dardenne’s aesthetic ethos, but for the first time in their career the film has a trio of intermittent bursts of music, a crescendo that seems to signal a psychological rapture for Cyril as his numerous travails are grappled and wrestled. One simple shot, of the boy determined biking from one place to another has all the ruthless drive of a cyborg stalking its prey in a Hollywood production, and his tenacious insistence on retaining his bike is almost comic in his remorseless, singular moxie. What is so refreshing is the films simple and direct approach, a moving glimpse into a few people’s lives that does not weigh under the need for any psychological foreshadowing, as any need for explanatory dialogue or staging is utterly absent - Samantha never reveals any details that suggest that Cyril is a surrogate for a lost child say, in fact when asked why she has adopted him she can barely articulate an answer. With its shades of La Quatre Cents Coup and perhaps L’Enfant Sauvage the Dardenne’s close on a perfectly toned note, life continues and perhaps no lessons are learnt. The Kid With A Bike seems certain to be one of the festivals most critically adored tours de force.
An evenings breather before launching into the fray for the weekend, two films tomorrow, two films and two events on Sunday, and then this at the fine time of 9.00am on Monday – bring it on.
After the disappointing Melancholia (review due soon) its good to have my faith in cinema restored with a strong double bill at the BFI today, one film of the duo is the most assured debut I’ve seen for years which was partnered with a reasonably efficient ghost chiller, with the most effective deployment of a doll’s house in quite some time;
I’ve been absolutely hypnotised by the continuing brilliance of Mark Cousin’s The Story of Film which just gets better and better. Some of his assertions have ignited a few heated discussions across the blogosphere which I think is half the fun, it’s a brilliant revision of the medium and essential for any cineaste, with some brilliant analysis and cross movement referencing. This could be the best movie ‘event’ of the year (although having started to put together my annual films of the year post this has actually been a very strong year in some respects, my top five is constantly getting assaulted and the LFF hasn’t even got properly going yet) and for my money its the best film documentary series since Scorsese’s dual efforts some years back. Can’t wait for it to finish airing and get collected in a lovely 15 hour box-set;
Some might be turned off by the supposed emphasis on ‘art’ cinema but believe me, if the book is anything to go by then wait until he gets to the Seventies and Eighties where he delves into the mainstream American film – you’ll be surprised. I’m also mystified by the hatred of his narration – it’s just a voice, listen to what he’s fucking saying for Christ’s sake – although I for one will be disappointed if Chopping Mall doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Speaking of horror classics, details of a curious screening emerged a few weeks ago which naturally got my attention, it appears that either a) someone seriously fucked up at the Dryden or b) they received an interesting phone call from a Warner Bros. attorney who promised a ‘correction’ or perhaps a bit more if they proceeded with the screening, as they have hesitantly issued a clarification that they are projecting the US cut which has been in circulation for years. It’s interesting timing considering the news that King is writing a sequel – hmm. So, any excuse to post a Kubrick link;
Finally, this sounds like fun especially the ‘animatronic head that through screenwriting techniques, helps Jonathan develop a completely inoffensive product that will have the broadest possible appeal and zero artistic integrity….’
The phrase ‘Norwegian cinema’ and ‘knock-about comedy’ doesn’t immediately strike one as synonymous with each other, and its an ideal that’s not about to be challenged by Joachim Trier’s second feature Oslo 31 August, unless you find the suicidal impulses of a depressed thirtysomething to be particularly mirthsome. Screening as part of the festivals Cinema Europa strand and following on the heels of his widely admired debut Reprise, director Joachim Trier has produced another internalized character driven drama with an aura of New Wave spontaneity, with an assured central performance from Anders Borchgrevink as Anders, a wounded and insightful young man who stands on the precipice of destruction.
A day in the life of a junkie, permitted a 24 hour pass from rehab in order to attend a job interview may not sound immediately appealing but this is not the expected trawl through the wrong side of town, through decrepit crack houses and warming one hands by a blazing barrel fire under a bridge on a patch of urban wasteland , Oslo is actually more of a gentle drama as Anders visits some friends, tries to connect with an ex-girlfriend who is abroad, goes clubbing and finally finds himself back in his family home. It’s a shrewdly written piece with a terrific eye for contemporary mores, the job interview alone is a terrific scene as comedy cultural observation (‘All these style magazines have an article on the post-modern appreciation of every HBO series these days’) moves to tragedy when his career gaps are queried and he has to come clean. Similarly a visit to an old party fiend whom is settled down with babies and a mortgage is also astutely delivered, as Ander’s confesses that he thinks ‘normal people are boring’ to which his friend confides that even an appearance of domestic bliss can mask some spiritual malaise, although the conventional route of societal expectations is mostly agreeable. It’s realistic, its universal, and deftly played through a discreet and direct shooting style.Yet there are some more cinematic moments, my favourite being a lightly transcendent predawn bike ride with fire extinguishers bellowing mist into a hovering sky, as the film moves toward its inevitable culmination Oslo achieves a simple grace with a mournful final montage, suggesting that an indifferent, silent world cares little for our individual agonies as life inexorably moves on. If you’re in the mood for something forlorn in the best sense of the word then Oslo is recommended.
My second off-site review is
here (pulled due to a press embargo) which I’m sorry to say was not the finest piece of British cinema ever, however next Monday’s press schedule is much more appetising with the likes of a Sundance smash, China’s most successful film ever, and McNulty stalking the smoky streets of 1920′s London. I’ve also divined an interesting Halloween post courtesy of an amusing triple bill I’ve spotted at the NFT, we’re talking old school horror my friend (cackles manically, distant lighting flash)….speaking of horrific material I’ve also got preview tickets booked for an early screening of The Thing remake, quite why this is taking until late November to come out here after a Halloween opening in the States seems strange, but before all that we have Melancholia which opens this weekend…
Well, I’ll believe it when the cameras roll thus I’m taking this story with the veritable mountain of salt but who’d have thought? This puts a whole new angle on Prometheus that’s for sure. Just as long as he stays well away from those terrible tie in novels, can you imagine if he gets Ford in for a cameo (unlikely but a man can dream) and once and for all certifies his skin-job status….
Well this has been doing the rounds and it’s fairly interesting;
As some have noted, there is a big difference between being rehearsed to perfection (here’s the full Full Metal Jacket sequence) and genuine improvisation on set with the cameras rolling, and never the twain shall meet in the annals of Hollywood lore – some of the claims in this montage are false but it’s a fun collection. Whilst we’re on the subject the myth behind this scene for example has just got exploded by Vic Armstrong, (one of the panels at the Empire weekend that I regret missing, that dude’s a legend) or perhaps not and I’m reading claims that this was scripted by Pesci. That kinda takes away the fun (grumbles…)
That title is a pretty good tagline for a mediocre eighties indie band I reckon. Anyway I’m finally off to the mysterious Orient for a two-week fact-finding mission, I shall report back when or indeed if I return. I’ve been ill this week with the flu and malaria – no really, one of the preventative injections I suffered on Monday induced a mild form of the disease which has made for some amusing meetings this week – so I’m warning you now that in a similar fashion this blog entry is kind of all over the place, like some sort of frenzied fever dream, its ultimate aim a vain effort to keep you entertained while I’m gone. Whilst I’m in absentia I’m gonna to try and limit my access to the blog and the internet in general – as pretentious and geeky Gibson fans might say I’m going ‘off grid’ as much as possible – in an effort to mentally detox and recharge the degraded synaptic batteries. Knowing my capacity for self-control this will fail miserably, so there might be the odd news item or observation, we’ll just have to see how it goes. So to keep you going for the next two weeks here is a clutch of mostly random nonsense that I have been collecting, beginning with a Kubrick version of the X-Files:
What a fucking nutter – it only took those super intelligent CIA drones thirty-one years to track Stan down to East Anglia and assassinate him for the faked moon landings eh? Man, that illūminātī cabal is clearly hyper efficient and must be stopped. These people fascinate me, they really do, quite how they fill the voids in the accepted historic narrative and connect disparate real world ‘conspiracies’ together into some nefarious ancient plot are masterpieces of cognitive dissociation, the laughter turns cold however during some of those rants I’ve listened to when the theorists start to go into details of their abused childhoods, although it might explain their vain hope of some overarching purpose to the infinite galaxy – after all, all this suffering has to be worth it, right? Wrong. Anyhow, here is some more insanity;
I’m not even sure what this particular analyst is talking about but I wasted fifteen minutes of my life trying to find out and now so have you – my apologies. For some real analysis on The Shining take a look here and here, the latter putting my modest efforts at Kubrickophile obsession to shame – it’s probably the most insanely detailed and richly textured analysis on anything I’ve seen on the web, I advise taking a leisurely pace to absorb all six pages. 80% of it is ridiculous OTT conjecture but there are some nice flourishes and observations buried in there (an early note that the opening credits scroll upward like the spooling page of a typewriter is excellent and he’s right, as with every other element of his films Stan paid attention to his title and credit designs and nothing else in the canon has such an affectation), if you can endure the obsessive intensity there are some intriguing passages. Here’s the updated Movie Geeks United podcast who have finally broadcast a couple more editions of the Kubrick retrospective that they announced last year and in terms of new Kubrick swag 2011 is looking like a pretty good year, although there isn’t a huge amount of new stuff on those Blu-Rays they at least have some commentaries I’ve not heard, plus of course revisiting half the oeuvre in high-definition will be glorious.
Here is a film which I’ve been dying to see for years, my colleagues over at Sound On Sight reviewed it recently and summarised that it is one of the best and least known films of the 1980′s. It’s not available on DVD I think so I may have to turn to more illicit means to secure this one, unless of course you can find me a copy whilst I’m away. Unrelated but here is some proof that Ahnoldt has made one of the gayest films ever, and here are some old school horror classics, previously unreleased, which have been uploaded for free – get ‘em while they’re hot, or should that be cold.
Finally some Japanese mayhem, courtesy of the new Shogun Assassin Blu-Ray. Now I know you’re all fully aware that Shogun Assassin was in fact a butchered amalgamation of the first two of the six series Lone Wolf & Cub AKA Kozure Okami films from the late Seventies right? Of course you were, how stupid of me for asking. These films are terrific examples of shivering Nippon exploitation, with some ‘realistic’ SFX for the era that confounded and enraged the censorship boards, they are terrific fun and deliciously violent in that charmingly oriental manner. Speaking of crimson arcs of pulsing haemoglobin Scream 4 has been getting some surprisingly good reviews, I was going to hesitantly stalk it down in the UK but alas I couldn’t find the time, I’ll see it when I’m back if it’s still playing unless I can find a cinema in Phuket. So that’s that, make sure you watch the films, hunt down the rarities, read the articles and listen to the podcasts, I’ll be back in a fortnight so don’t get killed;
Move over Pixar, there’s a new sheriff in town. I’ve been acutely aware that I’ve been a little negative on the blog this year, all the films I’ve liked have been mostly depressing affairs, and most of the fun films I’ve slated have been the mainstream lightweight stuff – what can I say, I’ve got to be honest. After yesterdays disappointment I thought I’d throw caution to the wind and revisit a genre I rarely trouble - the kids film – a category of movie that I would normally confine to the outputs of two studios, the lofty excellence of both Pixar and Miyazaki. My interest in the new film Rango however has pushed me to investigate beyond this narrow purview, mostly due to the glowing reviews that the film has generated from the likes of the Criterion Cast crew and the Film Junk gang, I usually agree with their views and conclusions on the relative merits of films old and new, and quite frankly I just wanted to escape in something agile and inconsequential – mission accomplished.
Narrated in part by a of quartet of crooning Mexican owls Rango is the story of a thespian lizard, voiced by Johnny Depp, whom finds himself abandoned in the desert after a narrowly avoided car collusion throws his cage free from its moorings to shatter upon the blazing Mohave desert. Wandering into the anthropomorphically populated town of Dirt Rango soon finds himself the centre of attention after he nervously claims to be a wandering gun-slinger, a claim that earns the title of sheriff once he accidentally dispatches a predatory hawk who has been terrorising the community. The town is facing a deadly water shortage according to the mistrustful Mayor (Ned Beatty) and Rango soon develops a relationship with a local orphaned homesteader named Beans (Isla Fisher), when the towns pitiful resources are stolen by a roving band of prospectors its’ up to our mendacious hero to lead the charge to recoup their resources, a mission that soon reveals a devious plot that threatens the whole locality…
Rango is genuinely innovative for an animated film, it tries some new things, it has a plausible internal universe and the animation itself is simply phenomenal. Most importantly for me was the trademark pop culture references and gags, to my mind they are normally lazily thrown in for a very cheap prod to laughter, in Rango the writers and director have taken care to actually make these asides funny and clever, not pandering to the adults whilst the ankle-biters enjoy the funny creatures and psychedelic colours – one early moment looks at another Johnny Depp film that opens with a crazy desert medley. The voice cast are good, for me the best being Harry Dean Stanton (mostly I’ve just relieved to hear he’s still alive, he’s 85 in a couple of months) and Ned Beatty who resumes the chief villan duties after Toy Story 3, that’s quite a retirement package he’s carved out for himself. The likes of Alfred Molina as a Don Quixote elder figure and Timothy Olyphant also acquaint themselves admirably, the latter with a spot on impression of a grizzled legend of the Western genre.
Similar to Wall-E the Rango crew has consulted with Roger Deakins as a lighting designer, the film looks unique in its rejection of the high contrast, computer guided source lighting that these films normally predicate. It’s got a warped and distorted angle to both the character design and the films sense of humor, its certainly not trying to be cute and cuddly – one of the chief villans, a slithering rattlesnake is actually pretty scary – and it actually has some strange Daliesque dream sequences and a transition from the second to third act that is actually quite remarkable with its light nods at a mutated form of existentialism. The plot is Chinatown (‘who controls the water controls the town Mr. Gittes’) with the town mayor being clearly modeled on the horrifying Noah Cross, an influence married with just about Leone film you care to mention, naturally this prompts the film to homage the spaghetti western which they do in a reverent and entertaining manner, at one point directly reproducing some of he opening frames of Once Upon A Time In The West. The three action scenes are handsomely mounted and although it’s a little overlong at almost two hours, Rango is a fresh and original addition to the contemporary animated genre, thankfully bereft of the horrendous ‘message’ undercurrents that these films usually harbour.
It’s been a few days since I posted anything but please be patient, there is some material en route that will address the new blog design and a specific directorial focus to celerate the changes which I’ve been wrestling with all night. When you visit the montage below I hope you’ll understand where I’m coming from, I want to get this treatsie pitch perfect. Watch this space….
What’s your biggest fear? Maybe it’s those loathsome arachnids? Or perhaps those lunatic daubed clowns? The common concern of an aircraft engine failure? A Uwe Boll video game adaptation movie-marathon? Or is it being buried alive, to suffer an agonizing, choking fate, isolated and inevitable, in the dark? In director Rodrigo Cortés new film Buried, this nightmare scenario is explored to asphyxiating effect, the film serving as an efficient replacement for Frightfest’s twisted crowd on Sunday night following the inevitable withdrawal of A Serbian Film due to the UK’s most visible censorship wrangle since Cronenberg’s Crash fell similarly afoul of Westminster Council’s puritanical standards back in 1996. The claustrophobic Buried effectively plugged the hole in the festival schedule, leaving its viewers panting and gasping for air as the closing credits scrolled after an hour and a half of terrifying terrain.
After a few seconds of tense, uncertain moaning from a pitch-dark screen, a sputtering light ignites to illuminate a terrifying prospect: civilian contractor Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) has been buried alive in a constricting wooden box, the dimensions of which restrict him from moving his body more than a few inches, his slow comprehension leading to a petrified realization. Entombed with Paul is a trio of utensils – his Zippo, a pen and mobile phone with a decaying battery – these three tools being his only potential hope of rescue. It emerges that following an insurgent assault on his engineering supply convoy Paul was knocked unconscious and his colleagues were shot, an increasingly merciful fate given his precarious situation. Soon the terrorists contact Paul through the phone and demand that he co-ordinate a $5 million ransom demand with the US government, an impossible task given his relative insignificance and the administration’s aversion to negotiating with their foes. As time runs out and his oxygen supply depletes, Paul embarks on a desperate mission to save his life.
From the Saul Bass inspired, cascading titles it’s evident that the master of suspense would be proud; one can quite clearly imagine an intrigued Hitchcock mining Buried’s foundations for all their anxious credentials. It is quite an achievement to craft a full 90 minutes of tense, nervous atmosphere from such a restrictive location, but Cortés manages to keep his camerawork fluid and engrossing, the tension ratchets up as the plot develops and an incremental understanding and sympathy for our blue-collar victim emerges – he was simply the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. The film makes some allusions to the alternate horrors of a corporately minded, out-sourced battle-field, and the dulcet tones of a voice cameo from Stephen Tobolowky should satisfy the cult movie crowd. It is the ingenuity of screenwriter Chris Sparling that keeps proceedings tunneling along, although one sequence seems a little contrived and serves as little more than padding to expand the film’s run-time. Buried evokes the Stephen King short stories of his Skeleton Crew era and their EC comic progenitors, in that it is a tight, compact tale of terror that deftly explores its congested criteria – given its proximity to some headline making real-world horrors one assumes that this is a film that won’t be picking up a distribution deal in Chile…