Thirty years ago this month, UK boozy cult classic Withnail & I was released to an unsuspecting audience. Here is a excellent revisit to some of the movies classic scenes and moments, which you can revisit through the magic of cinema here;
Would like to see a trailer for one of 2017’s early tipped cult movie mist sees? Well, OK, then allow me to indulge you in probably this years only Polish carnivorous Mermaid time-travel musical pictures;
Just in time for the LFF after allegedly causing certain viewers to faint during screenings at TiFF, Cannes and Venice, guess who’s just managed to nab a ticket to ‘this years most brutally controversial horror film?’ Go on, guess…..
So there’s no trailer yet but just a couple of extracts, in any case this should expand my cult film credentials at this years festival, and partially makes up for losing out on tickets for the Herzog event and screening during the allocation lottery. Still, I console myself with the warm notion that it never fails to amuse me to be part of an audience groaning, whimpering and wincing in unison during some particularly outre cinematic experience…..
A fantastic new acquisition of the year, the best podcast discovery I’ve made for quite some time. You might recognise Gilbert Goddfried as the ‘memorable’ comedian / character actor from movies dating back to Beverley Hill Cop II, but his podcast casts the cultural net wider to conduct interviews with some fascinating characters and examine a broad swathe of Americana, from stand-up comedy to B-Movies, from ancient TV bloopers to pulp comic book controversies. If I said it was the kind of podcast whose theme tune centred on a slide guitar which wouldn’t be out of place during a lurid biker flick title sequence then I think you might get the flavour of proceedings;
Case in point, I’ve barely scratched the surface but have listened to a 90 minute interview with Bruce Dern, and he’s already spilled solid anecdote gold on working with Hitchcock on Family Plot, some early B-movie antics with Roger Corman, general bitching and chewing rhe fat over the studios and movie world colleagues over his fifty year career, all of which is completely devoid of any anxious publicist sanction over slander or defamation orders.. A final piece of pub trivia – which family is the only to have the mother, father and child all be blessed with a Hollywood Star on the Walk of Fame? The Fondas? No. What about the Hustons? A decent guess but no cigar buckaroo. No, it’s the rather more underrated Derns, with Bruce, ex-wife Diane Ladd and daughter Laura being the proud recipient of such pointless trivia. In other news I also finally caught up with a strongly regarded documentary on Brando from last year, and pretty good it was too;
Quite an interesting take to construct the entire piece out of Brando’s own interview clips, vocal reminiscences and radio snippets with a total dearth of talking heads or experts pontificating on his genius – the Apocalypse Now insights are essential. It also doesn’t gloss over his family tragedy which has unsurprising echoes with his own familial abuse. Meanwhile, on rather more upbeat news, its the end of the world soon…..
A new year begins, new resolutions are quietly internalised, so let’s christen a new beginning with an end – the final film of Jean Pierre-Melville. I had planned to get another article in my current season under my belt before Christmas but that was simply not to be, despite my intentional leap from Melville’s earlier material to the penultimate film to see what perspectives might materialise. Opening with a title card quote solemnly stating that ‘the Buddha drew a circle with a piece of red chalk and said: “When men, even unknowingly, are to meet one day, whatever may befall each, whatever the diverging paths, on the said day, they will inevitably come together in the red circle’ deception and suspect motives are the order of the day, as much like the Coen’s vertite claims for Fargo the quote was entirely fabricated by Melville. Le Cercle Rouge opens with a handcuffed duo rushing to grab the last train out of Paris on a quiet, chilly Sunday evening. One of the men is dangerous career criminal Vogel (Gian Maria Volontè), the other his authoriatrian chaperone Commissaire Mattei (André Bourvil) whose unfortunate mistakes enable Vogel to slip his shackles and flee to the suburban urban wilderness, initiating a major high-profile manhunt. Initially unconnected we are also introduced to the jailbird Corey (a moustachioed Alain Delon), the stoic, unemotionally deadly Melville archetype, patiently biding his time until his parole is corruptly provided and he can take his vengeance on those how betrayed him to the cochon’s. Rather than shooting on location Melville had established his own production studio by this point so apart from some of the early rural exteriors Le Cercle Rouge is internalised, it’s centrepiece a long and expertly choreographed heist scene which is an ideal companion to either Rififi or The Killing’s celebrated scores. At this late stage of Melville’s career almost every dramatic function seems to have whittled away to extinction – performance, soundtrack, dramatic framing and pacing – his vision instead plyed as a cold and formalist examination of the criminal class and their predators, the authorities who stalk them in a never ending cycle of futility.
Like Hitchcock and his symbolic stirrings in 1972’s Frenzy Melville also embraces a more permissive approach toward violence and nudity, especially when compared to the more chaste, classification board restrictions that shackled both their work in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It’s a man’s world in this milieu which has almost no female speaking parts, merely one naked gangsters moll figure whom it is suggested has switched allegiances from one antihero to the next, a vivacious limpet who has moved on from Corey to his mob boss once he was banged up in the big house. Alongside Le Samurai this film is considered the apex of Melville’s mournful masculinity, of men defining themselves through their underworld activities and archaic moral codes, exchanging their trophy women as casually as they trade their getaway cars or fedoras. The cool aesthetics are as edifying and implacable as always, there isn’t a dialogue exchange for the first seven minutes of the film, just a tense story told through images and glances that leave the viewer to insinuate the backstory of these mannequins as they are carefully animated through their mysterious missions. Once Corey is released by some crooked gendarmes he methodically revisits some old decrepit haunts, a sparse pool hall here, a faintly squalid drinking den there, liaising with some old companions and accomplices who wither under his intense stare. Silently he weathers their empty platitudes and apologies for how they had to turn away from him when he was pinched to keep themselves safe, before events turn ugly and he takes purloins some resources from his old crime-boss and flees the city. Before long the two narratives are intertwined in heartbeat alignment, Vogel evading the authorities barking attempts to apprehended him, until his path crosses with Corey who acquires a similarly desperate itinerant stowaway…..
On a first watch I assumed this was one of Melville’s less regarded works, one of his second tier efforts when perhaps his mojo wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but the jury still seems to be out as some reviews have likened it to the glorious achievements of Le Samurai or Army of Shadows – my mistake. Whereas the former seemed as taut as tightly controlled as a sniper’s crosshairs Le Cercle Rogue felt a little indulgent and exhausted to me, but if you enjoy walking the mean streets of the gallic underworld then there is much to enjoy from Corey’s implacable team-up with Vogel, and the whole ‘putting the crew together for one big score’ narrative that the film shifts into gets a fantastic pay-off with the expertly executed, centrepiece heist. It’s another procedural built around long, wordless sequences which embroider a tapestry of implacable drives and unswerving intensity, with only the musical score percussion heavy algorithms to signal the dramatic heartbeats that the crooks and cops are wading within. Another obvious influence is Mann’s Heat as the film oscillates emphasis across both sides of the law, showing how their shared moral strictures and devotion to their professionalism are essentially the inverse sides of the same coin. As the lead detective on the case of the missing prisoner Commissaire Mattei’s sparse bachelor home life visually expresses his exacting dedication to the job, as his superiors dolefully inform him that ‘all men are guilty’ of something, a sour ideology which harkens back to Melville’s wartime occupation experiences. The film trades in the ‘show, don’t tell’ mandate of the best cinema, the criminals never discuss their tactics and there is no audience pandering reconnaissance to impart information on the location and structure of the obstacle, instead we are presented with a cold reportage of a quasi-military operation which is fascinating in its illicitly illustrated efficiency.
For all austere ambitions Melville took his time with this picture, as at a laborious two-hours fifteen minutes Le Cercle Rouge doesn’t feel brisk, some of the repeated loops of characters planning their next criminal escapade has dated fairly badly, and the picture meanders quite ponderously until the crew comes together to take down the jewelry boutique, which is when the methodology and machinations of the trade start to gain traction and get cinematically interesting. The robbery encompasses the last forty-five minutes of the film, with a forensic working through of the various booby traps and obstacles, as each of the crew members fulfil their specific specialisations involving suction cups, glass cutters, silencers and gags – or a regular Friday night at chez Minty if we’re in a party mood. The fictionalisation of the musical score drops away as the narrative shifts to a dedicated realism in time, space and sound, climaxing on a dramatic ‘magic shot’ to hit the alarm button and deftly spring the safe. Once completed there is just enough time for genre mandated comeuppance in the dramatic coda, with a final showdown between Corey and his nemesis in the grounds on a frigid chateau, all concluded with Melville’s trademark, unmoralising nihilism. If you’re a fan of Melville then this is essential as his last great work, as even his fondest acolytes grudgingly admit that his final piece Un Flic which followed two years later is one of his weakest pictures. In any case this is a perfect alibi to escort us at gunpoint into a weekend dominated by a Q.Tarantino esq, as we indulge in one of the rarest cinephile treats imaginable – an Ultra Panavision 70mm anamorphic widescreen 2.76 presentation of his new film although this road-show has not escaped a ‘storm in a teacup’ controversy. I have to say that as a somewhat lukewarm Tarantino fan (really enjoyed Inglorious Bastards, was less fond of the nevertheless provocative Django) I am looking forward to this immensely, in part just for the whole ‘event’ aura it has engendered, unless the Odeon staff get ambushed by some murderous crossfire with the Picturehouse crew just round the corner on Piccadilly circus. To complement this activity I shall also be revisiting one of Quentin’s earlier crime films on Sunday which is screening at the BFI in original 35mm of course – any other approach would be simply…….criminal;
Anyone one left us this weekend, the impressively grizzled Robert Loggia. He’s probably best remembered for Scarface, but I always think of this;
As the international geopolitical situation becomes more akin to the ominous BBC news transmissions of the first half of Threads clearly the gods are toying with me, as this radioactive little book was launched through my letterbox this week. It’s a fun reference book where the authors have not only selected the obvious – the Mad Max, Damnation Alley, One Man And His Dog and Escape From New York’s of the post apocalypse/Armageddon genre, but they’ve also irradiated the dozens of direct to DVD entries and B Movies which frequently look hilariously bad and incompetently arranged. The books name is lifted from this which I admit I haven’t seen;
Looks like a classic, but yes that is Catherine Mary Stewart ofNight Of The Comet fame, looks like she had that genre down cold in the 1980’s, until her career expired with Weekend At Bernies. A-hem. I do apologise. Now, there is something of a wasteland of documentaries on this beloved sub-genre, and once they’ve emerged blinking from their scorch blasted bunker someone should get on that with, like, ballistic efficiency or something. As a generational cold war survivor whom remembers the urgent chatter regarding Threads in the playground the next day has the spectre of the bomb etched on my psyche, with this and Fallout 4 destined to occupy the festive season may we live in interesting times eh?
Cinematically speaking, I don’t think I can imagine a more perfect response to the recent horrific events in Paris that Love, one of the most controversial and explicit films of recent memory. In many ways it represents the absolute antithesis to the wretched, medieval ideology that powered those cowardly attacks, being primarily concerned with the free and liberated lives of young people that was so specifically targeted to induce impacts among a media-savy audience, a generation whom in the film embark on a hedonistic spree of fucking and sexual experimentation, excessive drug use and just about shatter every conservative covenant you can imagine. Of course with notorious Gasper Noé, at the frenzied wheel and the fact that it’s a French production set in Paris also lends it some contemporary charm, even if the phrase self-indulgent seems woefully inadequate to express just how narcissistic and deeply pretentious this project can be. Coincidently I finally tracked down a copy of Noé’s notorious first film Seul Contre Tous which quite honestly I haven’t had the courage to endure, in fact since the 13th just the urban firearm carnage and explosive pyrotechnics of the terrible Fast & The Furious 7 left a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth, so I guess I am getting old. Despite the rather lacklustre reportage from Cannes on this film I was slightly swayed by a few podcast commentators whose opinions I respect, they advised that as always one thing you are guaranteed with a Noé’ film is a cinematic experience of some sort, even if the performances, characterisations and the frenzied chest beating provocateur posturing can be somewhat exasperating. So, having felt the withdrawal pangs of the cinema – it’s been over a fortnight since Spectre – I flirted with the only 3D big screen projection of this oscillating film which veers from the brilliant and visionary in one sequence to the bone-thudding banal in the next.
Love arises with a contextual tableau which gives us the tone and flavour of the rest of the movie, to the lyrical tones of Bach’s Goldberg variations we open upon Murphy (newcomer Karl Glusman) and his girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock) naked as the day they were born and vigorously interfering with each other’s genitals for one long, exceptional explicit & sustained sex scene. This prologue is reminiscent of the opening of Betty Blue which similarly introduced us to our key characters and the dimensions of their intensely physical relationship, with the distant hum of psychosis and infidelities that threaten any relationship ambiently perched on the horizon. Love’s structure is less conventional however, as we immediately see Murphy with another woman Omi (Klara Kristen), the mother of his young child whom we learn through a first person voiceover that he has begun to loathe for trapping him in an unwelcome relationship. This attitude of self-centred megalomania is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this utterly repellent young idiot, and this is where the film immediately stands or falls as his company is utterly nauseating from first frame to last. As Noe’s blatant screen surrogate Murphy opines that movies should be made ‘with blood, with passion, with cum’ because of course he’s a budding filmmaker, his Paris apartment littered with the posters of controversial classics such as Freaks, Taxi Driver, Salo and The Birth Of A Nation, a choice of inspiration that tells us everything about this pretentious pretender – shallow, vain, and nowhere near as sophisticated as he thinks he is with such a bourgeoisie selection of sensitivities. I thought that cinema would have to go pretty far to conjure up a bigger rage-inducing jerk than the child star Benjie in last year’s Maps To The Stars but Noé has eclipsed it, as Murphy’s juvenile posturing, series of double standard infidelities and ridiculous racism, sexism and misogyny made we want to reach into the 3D frame and give him repeated violent slaps to his stupid, scrunched face. Dismissing his partner and their child Murphy embarks on an opium trip which forms the jagged flashback structure of the rest of the film, as somehow this intoxication is mooted as some method to divine the location of his ex-girlfriend whom has turned to some dark drug-fuelled places since their poisonous break-up, and has not been seen or heard of by her family of friends for weeks after darkly muttering of suicide. The film evolves from a love triangle three-hander to centre on the initially passionate relationship between Electra and Murphy as it swoons through the journey of his narcotic reverie, including when they invited Claudia into their bedroom, and her subsequent unintended pregnancy which detonated the existing amour which was sent spinning into the darkness.
The word frustrating immediately springs to mind as I reflect on another burst of Noe’s preening and posturing, as like his previous efforts this film veers from breath-taking bravado, from pure mainlined, exhilarating cinematic spectacle to numb inducing groans and disbelief, as one scene narcotically lurches into another. The dialogue is frequently terrible and with the best will in the world none of the three principals can act, as the Venn diagram of those individuals whom are willing to engage in unstimulated, full-on fucking and those whom are willing to commit to such activities who can actually perform is evidently a rapidly diminishing gene-pool. There is something to be said for exploding the cinematic cliché of sex and sexual relationships which is still largely relegated those soft filter, jazz scored montages of heaving perfect bodies, with all sense of genuinely physical intensity and bodily functions cleansed from the sticky and sweaty realities of intercourse, of blow-jobs, hand-jobs, cunnilingus and on and on and on. The overall effect however of the frequent fucking – and when I say frequent I mean pretty much every other scene has some sort of carnal congress – the sex actually gets quite tedious, verging on the borders of this sort of humdrum shriek for attention. Framed within the hallucinatory lens of the brilliant Benoît Debie however the sensation aspects of the film reaches plateaus rarely achieved in conventional cinema, as it looks like nothing else on-screen this year, with the unusual framing and phantasmagoric colour patterns frequently penetrate the territory of the erotically sublime. There is also a recitation of that unusual ‘blink’ editing pattern that Noe used in Enter The Void which subliminally replicates the action of a black drape falling across the screen for a millisecond before arising again, providing an unusual pattern to break into the viewers subconscious and infiltrate scenes in a curiously intimate fashion. He also frequently frames Electra and Murphy from behind, their faces and reactions to each other’s conversation coquettely hidden as his Steadicam prowls with them through the nightlife of Paris and the early morning tranquillity of the arrondissements. In that sense, as an ecstatic experience Love can occasionally peak and rush, it is quite an experience on a dense, Dolby-atmos equipped screen, if he just had the temerity to make his characters even remotely accessible then the pint-sized imp might really be dangerous.
And so, inevitably, we come to one of the most arresting and hilarious sequences of recent memory – the club scene, or rather more specifically the swingers sex club scene. Now, I’ve seen some things in my time, being a bit of a connoisseur of outré cinema you get a taste for the truly transgressive and challenging, and like some of the earlier sequences in Noé’s work he can through some sorcerous combination of pulsating sound, image and content achieve the staggeringly audacious and delirious. This sequence (which I had been pre-warned about) had me doubled up in laughter for its sheer exploitative chutzpah, not to mention the small matter of it being choreographed to the soundtrack of Menagerie favourite Assault On Precinct 13. This section made the entire cinema visit worthwhile, not because of the sexual content (obviously) but for the sheer filmmaking ambition and affect – if you’ve seen Enter The Void then you know what to expect from some neon-drenched, throbbing inferno of lust and wanton screwing. It’s immediately one of the most remarkable top dozen cinema sequences of the year, as some sort of bastard offspring of the ritual scene in Eyes Wide Shut, the Copacabana scene of Goodfellas, and the climactic coda of Titty Clitty Gang Bang IV. I suppose I should say a little about the 3D which seems like an unrequited afterthought, I think I heard somewhere it was part of a funding grant to make the film that it had to be employing new digital technology, so its deployment and depth of field rarely feels intimate with the narrative and the distance or closeness between the lovers. Frankly it doesn’t add a direct amount of tactility to the movie, it doesn’t appear to have enhanced the transmission of information, in fact it only really operates as an opportunity to stage one inevitable eruption – and when you combine the phrasing Gasper Noé / sex film / 3D I’m guessing you’re wise enough to conclude where that little caper could be going in the most gratuitous fashion. Love is for hardcore lovers only in both senses of the word, something of a detour after the soaring transcendence of Enter The Void, as Noe admirably tries and fails to forge his own, unafraid neologism for 21st century cinema;
Jesus cocking Christ in a sidecar, FINALLY, after two bloody years of waiting, we finally get to see the trailer for the eagerly awaited new film from American wunderkid Jeff Nichols;
A low-key trailer which invokes 1980’s Stephen King filtered through Nichols particular flavour of rural American melancholia? That will do for me. Nichols finished the picture some time ago and is actually in the mist of shooting his next film, so there are dark rumors of studio tampering and diluted visions – I guess we shall see next March…..
A quick but effective technical post as it has been a slow week movie watching wise, although I did watch Tak3n which has been an instructive instrument in appreciating all that is horribly wrong with modern franchise movies – what a wretched and insulting waste of money, time, ideas and shells. I guess I should be celebrating the chance to go and see Gasper Noe’s latest orgy which is (vaguely NSFW) perverting some London screens, I’m just not sure I can summon the amorous strength. We shall see, but until then, some techniques;