Beyond happy that they have produced a documentary of this fantastic book which I read a couple of years ago. It’s an apt reminder of what cinema can do in difficult times, and the influence the experience had upon the five when they returned to the industry is fascinating as a historical and artistic document – their work and the world they operated in was never the same;
Some enterprisng soul has uploaded this from the recent Blu-Ray box set which has now dramatically dropped in price, 80 minutes and change of Stanley related reminiscence;
I’m a mere twenty minutes into this documentary about Iggy & The Stooges and have already learnt three valuable things – a) Iggy likes to be interviewed in the laundry room of his home, b) He was raised in a trailer that was identical to that of the Doris Day picture The Long, Long Trailer and c) Iggy for president – he’s a fucking survivor. Jim Jarmusch has assembled this fantastic documentary, it is quite amusing to me to finally realise that the Stooges split four years before the Sex Pistols arrived, and I haven’t even got into the Berlin / Bowie era yet – so talk about being ahead of the curve;
EDIT – Having been raised by my brother on a diet of 1960’s musical imagination – The Doors, Who, Zepplin and of course the overrated behemoths of the Beatles & Stones I always knew there was a missing piece between the decades, beyond the understood mix of MC5, The Ramones and the Velvets, and I’m sure half a dozen other bands that Q magazine subscibers could lecturer me on. Great documentary, the equal of those great music history efforts that BBC 4 have been producing over the past few years…
As is my idiom, I do like to post some ancillary material when indulging in a director season, so I thought it best to keep the flow running with some acclaimed non-fiction material which is often overlooked in favour of Marty’s crime epics or spiritual sojourns. The BFI, as usual are doing a comprehensive job by showing many of his documentaries on the big screen alongside the movies, but I’m not inclined to spend precious resources in catching these on the big screen when I can barely keep up with the January new releases and tackle big, iconic movies such as a certain boxing picture which I have tentatively begun assaulting. So, courtesy of the inter-webs here are a couple of his highly regarded pieces, modest little examinations of his family in the first instance and a colourful acquaintance in the second, to keep things ticking over while I catch Manchester By The Sea this week and hope to bring you the story of brutalised boxer by the weekend;
I should say that this exercise has ballooned out of all proportion as I have committed to and made great inroads into re-watching every single Scorsese movie on my HD home A/V system, which has included upgrading some films to high definition from their mediocre DVD masters, thus so far I have powered through Gangs Of New York, Cape Fear, The Age Of Innocence, Boxcar Bertha, Hugo, The Aviator, Bringing Out The Dead and The Departed – not bad for a weeks work, with more still nesting on my watch-list. Anyway, here is his interview with the rather squalid Steven Prince, star of one of the key scenes in Taxi Driver you’ll recall, and his O/D story which Tarantino lifted for that sequence in Pulp Fiction;
You might be as bemused as I was to discover that we have a recent sequel, well if you consider 2009 as ‘recent’, that you can see here…..
That’s quite the inelegant title, isn’t it? To start by solving that first mystery Lo & Behold Reveries Of The Connected World opens with Werner Herzog’s distinct Teutonic purr, as he takes us to a sacred site – California, October 29th, 1969. At 22:30hrs the first message was sent over the ARPANET from computer science Professor Leonard Kleinrock’s laboratory at the University of California in Los Angeles to the second network node at Stanford Research Institute, Menlo Park, San Francisco. This seismic event was the first interaction of two computers speaking to each other across a interlinked communication network, with the first two transmitted and received digits in that initial correspondence being the symbols L and O, before the system crashed. Thus, the herald of this was the almost biblical sounding LO, harkening to a flash of inspirational transcendence, or perhaps the eruption and permeation of the very bowels of Hell. It’s these two instincts that steer Herzog’s latest documentary, exploring the benefits and bellicosity of our modern umbilically surveiled world, and the various omens, both positive and negative, that augur the future. The commission follows Herzog’s incredible global success with a series of public information films regarding the dangers of driving and texting from a few years ago, a powerful piece that have been widely implemented as mandatory viewing part as part of getting your driving licence in North America, thus rendering the largest audience that Herzog has garnered in his half century career. After this success Herzog was approached by the web development company WebScout with a modest cheque and a brief to make something about the modern technological world, and in a mirror to that intergalactically broad he has delivered a inconsistent and stuttering work, with occasional flashes of deep insight among it’s ADS afflicted ambulations.
On paper, this should be one of the greatest documentaries of all time for the Menagerie, concerning itself as it does with a panoply of techno-cultural issues and threads which I am and will always be deeply fascinated – internet culture, digital evolution, robotic industrialization, artificial intelligence, and the Venn diagrams as to how these new horizons of the human experience overlap with more traditional forms of discourse and control – politics, economics, sociology, medicine, communication, commerce, the entertainment and media spheres. Unfortunately the lasting impression of Lo & Behold is a diverse but diffused selection of stuttering gifs which never manage to unearth more than the most ethereal sketches on a specific subject, and that I think is the films main obstacle to harboring any lasting value. Despite interviewing such evolutionary luminaries as Bob Kahn, Elon Musk, Sebastian Thrun,and Ted Nelson Herzog is not interested in welding any connective tissue, of crafting any overarching narrative, a prospect which is further partitioned by the decision to compartmentalize the pieces into a dozen or so chapters which have little capacity to interact with reach other – this kind of defeats the central premise of the piece, evident in the title. Individually, as you’d expect, some of the sections are stronger than others, usually depending on the oratory and strategic vision of the interview subject, and we do at least have another addition to the Herzogian quote pantheon when he offers his services as a passenger on Elon Musk’s inaugural and almost certain suicidal mission to Mars. Also, I just found this which is quite amusing.
By sheer virtue of the subject matter some diamonds are excavated from the deep mines of mediocrity, if you think you’ve plumped the depths of human depravity with the voluminous racism, misogyny and cowardly bile that the likes of Twitter and loosely moderated comment boards has enabled then be prepared to get even more disgusted, as in one section a family tells of how their daughter was killed in a car accident, and one of the EMT technicians somehow thought it appropriate and amusing to snap a few pictures of her near decapitated corpse. For some reason this idiot subsequently sent the images on to some colleagues for a laugh, which eventually – yes you guessed it – some thoroughly decent specimen of humanity decided to send on to her grieving family with all the vomit inducing commentary you can imagine from any terrifying scrawl through a youtube comments section. ‘I think the Internet has released the devil into this world’ the mother solemnly intones, and even an avowed atheist such as yours truly found myself nodding in mild agreement. At another point the film does touch upon our embedded interactivity and reliance on self mediated machinery which effectively leaves critical systems such as utility infrastructure and power, food production and at a catastrophic risk of failure, that old adage of civilization being only three square meals away from anarchy easily tested by the inevitable EMP emitting solar flare which our planet is currently due. The ubiquitous image of the 2010’s, of everyone in public with their face buried in a screen also finds a exemplary visual commentary, with some images of Buddhist monks clad in their apricot finery silently tapping and in what may or may not be some zen like tranquility. Following the screening, and in tune with the films technological treatise we were privileged with a nationwide broadcast Q&A with Herzog, hosted by Richard Adoyade. This was a skilled affair, the latter serving some well considered and illuminating questions, which Werner fielded with his customary ease. I ducked out halfway through but you can revisit a similar session – for some reason this particular event doesn’t seem to be on-line – here.
This would really have worked much better as a series of commissions, perhaps with each element of the patchwork of our still glistening millennium given appropriate consideration, to build a full tapestry of what these changes and prospects mean for current and future civilizations in our increasingly connected, yet seemingly more chaotic world. If memory serves there is no mention of virtual reality which just this year is finally breaching the domestic entertainment market, nor any space provided for the wider growth of augmented reality systems and pastimes, nothing on Surveillance technologies nor of recent advances in bio-medical interactions, and not a single tendril linking out to the carbon choked elephant in the room – catastrophic climate change. Perhaps it’s a little unfair to judge the piece by something it is not, but the overall impression is of a dainty stones skip across a vast and voluminous ocean of cultural and evolutionary implications which penetrate every layer of human existence, worth 100 minutes of your time, just don’t expect any nourishing intellectual insight. Just a quick aside, I was chatting with some fellow civil servants recently, some smart, ambitious, worldly wise young whippersnappers, and for some reason I raised the subject of Gamergate as an illustrative example for something or other – I can’t recall the details. My referral raised nothing but blank looks from these keen social media, gaming and entertainment consumers, which just goes to show sometimes how far these digital typhoons can seem blown out of all proportion, at least in respect of their influence and reach into our doughy meat-space. Amway, so that’s that for LFF 2016, a very modest spectrum this year but that’s what happens when you are having to be professionally assimilated into the Whitehall bubble and its associated cultural rhythms, and maintain something resembling a social calendar with friends celebrations – look, I’ve been busy, OK?. Whilst I can’t say I didn’t wish I saw more I did manage to assault two of the best films of the year, and a handful of reasonable, three-star placeholders – Raw was also pretty good but nowhere near as gruesome as anticipated, and whilst I enjoyed it I was soured by a clumsy ending which didn’t do the rest of the piece justice. Fortunately for us Herzog is a profligate drone, and we only have to wait a week or so until his next, thunderous thrilling epic, even if its only getting a release on the small screen. Before then however I have a special treat, through the South Bank hosted Menagerie time machine we shall be travelling back to the dystonian criminal wasteland of New York circa 1997, to finally extricate one of my all time favorite genre movies from its big-screen banishment – extravagant excitement is an understatement;
Hell, even ole Werner is getting his act together with the whole streaming distrubution model, with his new documentary hitting Netflix at the end of the month;
I hope to get a review of his other latest documentary Lo & Behold etc. up by the end of the week. It was, alas, pretty average and lacked direction, but as always I can’t say it was unwatchable.This on the other hand looks far more Herzogian doesn’t it? And perhaps a spiritual successor to his haunting 1977 piece La Soufrière….
One of the myriad joys of a well curated film festival is not simply the non-fiction, documentary strands of programming, but also the chance to see some new, detailed and affectionate documentary on a potent aspect of cinema itself, usually focusing upon a specific section of its long and illustrious history. Such material can set the tone for the overall feast of the form, where some hungry participants gorge on two, maybe three or more screenings a day, staggering out of the various West End screening venues into the Autumn sunlight, bloated with a visual cacophony of different worlds, characters, incidents and adventures. If you think that’s a vaguely pretentious fashion to continue our coverage of this years London Film Festival then I would remind the honorable gentlemen and ladies that we are talking about French cinema, arguably the most important nation to have ever contributed to the Seventh Art, beginning with its embryonic inception with the Lumiere’s and Melies in the late 19th century. Arguably no other nation has moved through so many artistic movements and forms, from the Poetic Realism of the 1930’s personified in the cinematic titan Jean Renoir, through to the colorful, self-aware explosion of the radical New Wave of the 1950’s and 1960’s, generating the early pangs of formalist post-modernism which still casts its long tricolor shaded shadow over European and American independent cinema to this day. This is the path, with a variety of detours, that our host Bernard Tavernier follows in Voyage à Travers Le Cinéma Français, a lavish love letter & viscous valentine to the cinema of his birthland, through this affectionate and exhaustive three hour documentary.
The LFF always seem to pick the cream of the crop when it comes to select on film, last year’s Hitchcock/Truffaut was another vaguely academic but accessible piece on one of the key print media treatises on cinema. This piece occupies the same intellectual space, concentrating from a historical perspective on a structured appreciation of French cinema, interspersed with long, detailed extracts from the texts themselves which are illuminated with Tavernier’s academic analysis – editing strategies, camera compositions, content versus style – and how these all fit into the contemporaneous political and cultural temperatures of their period. An immediate touchstone is Scorsese’s 1990’s Personal Journey series where he explored both American and Italian cinema, functioning as teacher, lecturer and interpreter, a feat which Tavernier equals with his similarly affectionate and passionate overview across French figures and incidents both obscure and established. As well as grazing such seminal moments as the 1969 Sorbonne riots or the Second World War occupation for all you anti-auterists out there Tavenrier doesn’t just restrict his attention to the monocle sporting riding crop tyrants, he also lavishes time and attention on certain performers on either side of the camera, including the musical composers of the early sound days, and figures such as Jean Gabin, and his tragic rise to the crest of the form with La Grande Ilusion and subsequent, post-war slip into B-Movie obscurity.
As well as simply relaxing back into a long, luxurious celebration of the art form which is always a beguiling concept the main joy of the journey is discovering new names like Claude Sautet for example, whilst the name Jacques Becker has crossed my path I can’t say I could mention a single film of his, yet Tavernier makes a passionate case for his elevation to the great pantheon, primarily how he quietly blazed a tail for his comrades to come. At the other end of the scale the titans receive their supplicant offerings, perhaps most generously in the case of archetypical humanist Jean Renoir. He is arguably France’s most cherished film-maker who receives a detailed examination but no mere simple hagiography, with our narrator not shying away from his alleged acquiescence to the Vichy regime during the occupation. In other sections Tavernier favours those colleagues whose path he crossed earlier in his career, from publicity advisor to Godard around the release of Le Mepris, or early flirtations with production assistance with one of his great mentors Jean-Pierre Melville during the latter phases of his life. The personal enters the picture when Tavernier recants a youth beset by illness and periods of physical inactivity, leavened by visits to the cinema where his imagination could soar into the silver screen. Knowledgeable scholars may recall that similar reflections have been offered by Francis Coppola who suffered from a serious bout of polio as a child, or Scorsese and his breath-raking asthma, and as someone who was also something of a sickly child, suffering from similar ailments you can’t help but wonder on the psychological coincidence…..
Although the run-time is a generous three and a pinch hours with such a broad church to cover they couldn’t possibly have time to appreciate everything. Personally I could have weathered much material on both Bresson and Truffaut whom are name checked but hardly examined, as I’d argue their influence as being as instructive and influential as it ever was, from Boyhood to the entire career of Wes Anderson, and the whole sparse efficiency of recent world cinema’s decade long deference to austere, slow-cinema. Still, it was also fantastic to learn of the career of Eddie Constantine, perhaps his most famous role as the trench-coated in Godard’s SF hybrid Alphaville, as he has appeared in an entire, long run of French noir-influenced policier which look fantastic, and serve as an ideal companion piece to jean Pierre-Melville’s oeuvre which receives its rightful and respectful liberation in the final hour of the project. A postscript reveals this is the first of two pieces which should have the aggravated cinephiles whose French fancies haven’t received adoration, it closes roughly around the late 1960’s before the advent of Deneuve or Depardieu, Huppert, Adjani or the rising young starlets of the cinema du look, although given Tavernier’s penchant for more classical, immediate pre-and-post war instincts I very much doubt they will get anything more than some immediately short thrift – he’s clearly more connected to Carne than Carax, more Bresson than Besson. For the next segment we can expect more emphasis on Jacques Tati, Cocteau, Louis Malle and Henri-George Clouzot among I’m sure other figures I’m currently ignorant of, something for any cinephile to salivate for in Cannes, Venice or London ahead in 2018;
Here’s a trailer for what seems to be a rather different approach to movie making documentaries, naturally I was attracted to the material but I just couldn’t align the screenings with my schedule. Now I’m kicking myself as this looks fascinating, but I guess it will get a VoD release in a few months or so what with the enhanced interest in Lynch in the run-up to next year’s return to Twin Peaks;
Any outtakes of a behind the scenes Dennis Hooper as the truly terrifying Frank Booth could be appropriately distressing, In fact there is another documentary on ‘Jimmy Stewart from Mars’ screening this year, as you can see here;
I can’t say I’m overly fond of any material that adds grist to the mill of the numerous conspiracy theories that orbit Kubrick, but this could be passably amusing in a curious way;
For those close to the Menagerie the fact that this film’s director is a certain Matt Johnson might also be coincidently amusing. Jan Harlan did mention this mockumentary at the event I attended on Monday, and how the family were upset at its existence, but Warner Brothers were powerless to prevent its circulation, arguing that any intervention on their part would only attract further attention. Unsurprisingly he was also less than complementary about some of the propositions expressed in the ridiculous Room 237, I find this nonsense kinda fascinating from an analytical viewpoint, but sympathise with the estate and the associated degregation of the man’s work and legacy…
And there was me thinking I’d be taking it easy this year, as a mere demobbed civilian liberated from the trenches of the press corp. Well, despite resisting the frequent requests to sign-off for this years festival as a journalistic freeloader my greed has got the better of me, as I’ve still gone a little crazy and outlined a mere dozen or so films and events to celebrate this years London Film Festival. I embarked on something of a pincer maneuver, sending in a BFI members ticket ballot to get a jump start on the box office while also risking the on-line, experience, where the books are opened 24 hrs before the doors are thrown open to the general public. Notoriously the system usually breaks down or stalls due to the strength of demand, but I have to say I experienced no problems at all, and managed to smash and grab the five tickets I’d left off my ballot so as to not replicate the paper application. I can’t say this was in any way a financially astute decision, as I’ve shelled out something in the region of four times what a press pass would have cost me, but this way I get to attend the films with living, breathing audience members, and naturally I have engineered this around the day job and my perfect location in the beating heart of Westminster – I’m roughly ten minutes walk to the West End and Southbank screening venues. So here is what’s on offer gentle reader, I’m spectacularly excited about one special event that I’ll save for the end, and will open up the schedule with what is quietly being heralded as the greatest film of the year, and in some cases fervently whispered as a masterpiece;
Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, USA, 2016) I know, I know, that trailer is pretty terrible but I believe my esteemed fellow cinephiles when they state that it in no way represents the final film, which like Lonergan’s last film Margaret has been slightly butchered by the usual interfering studio executives. I’ve gone full red carpet gala on this one, so I guess I’d best get my tuxedo mothballed eh?
A Journey Through French Cinema (Bernard Tavernier, 2016) – You cant beat a good movie documentary at a film festival, and although there are no less than two David Lynch documentaries screening this year I’ve opted for a rather more languorous three hour stroll through our Gallic cousins contribution to the seventh art, with of the esteemed Bernard Tavernier as our illuminating guide. Featuring more Jeans – Cocteau! Renoir! Vigo! Gabin! Jacques-Bieneix!! – than a third world Levi’s sewing factory….
The Handmaiden (Park Chan-Wook, 2016) – I’ve not been privy to how this has been received on the festival circuit so far, and although I wasn’t a fan of his English language effort Stoker this is after all an auteur with an impressive career, and that trailer looked deranged enough to give him a chance. I’m just wondering with that with its 144 minute run-time he hasn’t fallen into similar traps than his other films, where he really seems to drag out his stories by at least twenty minutes too long….
Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016) – I’ve already mentioned this a couple of times so there isn’t much more to say, other than a little genuine bite and controversial baiting will be a welcome addition to this years dreary crop of cinematic product. Neon Demon aside this year has been far to god-damn safe, and I’m ripe for my liberal sensibilities to be mocked and offended. More on Mr. Verhoeven a little later….
Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016) – A blind buy purely on the strength of he director alone, she’s one of my favorite directors currently at work so the fact that she has a new film was a joyful surprise.
Lo And Behold… (Werner Herzog, 2016) – Speaking of favorites, Werner’s new documentary hasn’t exactly been setting the community alight, its a strong and interesting piece of work I’m told but not equal to some of his soaring masterpieces, but I’ll take average Herzog over anyone else just about any day of the week. The subject matter of our modern, interconnected technology globalized world fascinates me anyway, so I’m sure I’ll get something out of this, I just hope he doesn’t follow the usual route of cultural figures of his advancing years generation and sneer and dismiss current cultural and technological dimensions as being beneath his almighty heyday….
Dog Eat Dog – (Paul Schrader, 2016) – Nick Cage, Willem Dafoe, Paul Schrader and an Eddie Bunker source novel? What could possibly go wrong? I’m really looking forward to this, allegedly Schrader’s best effort in over a decade, a stone cold caper movie with some very dark black humor to alleviate the ride.
Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016) – A small risk this one, but with a strong cast and and the bittersweet perfume of neo-noir permeating the scant promotional material I thought I’d buy this dame a drink. No trailer as yet, so above is some Venice visuals….
Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello, 2016) More night-time activities with French provocateur Bonello, the infamous director of The Pornographer – I think the title might give you an idea of the subject matter – and House Of Tolerance which is set inside a seedy Parisian bordello. I’m not entirely sure what this film is about other than some sort of disenfranchised gallic Fight Club, but I’m curious to find out. Now, speaking of provocateurs….
However, we save the best for last. Yes of course I have applied for tickets to see the almighty Herzog in Q&A mode, but having already worshiped at his presence a couple of years ago the chance to see the venerable Paul Verhoeven in the flesh will probably be the Menagerie event of the year, unless the BFI convince Carpenter to make an appearance. The tyrant behind Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers is a genre molesting living legend, not to mention the notorious likes of Showgirls and Basic Instinct, one of the key Hollywood provocateurs of the last few decades whose lacerating satire has been sorely missed. This might be a good excuse to go on something of a retrospective of his early Dutch films, and maybe the infamous 1980 Flesh & Blood…..