Ordinary fucking people, indeed. So, it’s been a strange year for the Menagerie. I oddly lost my intent and inspiration for crafting material during a period when ironically I had more time on my hands to devote to writing nonsense, as the day job possibilities took a major hit due to two outside influences. Firstly, the frustrating IR35 regulations wrecked havoc across the public sector, but I won’t bore you with such tedious opinions on that HMRC clusterfuck other than to say that if you think this country is going to deliver on the infrastructure and housing expertise that it needs to even remotely build enough stock and develop sustainable communities then think again – all the grizzled experts are retiring, and the intelligence loss is massive. Hmmph. Then things started to pick up my in industry just before the Grenfell tragedy which understandably and appropriately froze much of the regeneration activities across London, in favour of massive swathes of audits and assessments – at Islington during my last contract I’ve seen first hand just how the technical and financial culture has changed. But, as Tyrell said to a mournful Roy Batty (next year, heh) all of this is academic, and we have other matters to consider, such as the shuttering of this blog. Here’s some Malick to set the scene;
If there is a theme for this final post then it’s transformation, this blogging activity has exhausted its purpose, and while I’d have liked to have covered all of Kubrick and all of Lynch (to name just two) I just can’t muster the mojo any longer. Heck, I was deep into reviews of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and a couple of other Marty’s from the January BFI season (and also a BFI screened 70mm print of Once Upon A Time In The West which is now for me the greatest Western ever made, full fucking stop) but gentle reader the spirit is extinguished, so they must remain incomplete and immaterial. I think part of it is just getting a little older and jaded with the web and its alleged force for good, recent political events are just so infuriating and deeply depressing, on both sides of the pond. Therefore I’m trying to extricate myself from so much artificial interaction, concentrating on other activities is simply essential, especially with the day job developments and the potential for the media to track down potentially damaging phrasing and inappropriate gags I’m sure I’ve made here over the past decade. I don’t wish to sound so self important (I’m really, really not) but on my last contract FOI’s have been issued, and that is bound to be repeated for 2018 given my new activities. Still, I got to go to TiFF and cover the LFF over many years, plus being invited to Cannes a few times was an ego boost and independently sanctioned my credibility. This blog has also influenced the day job, long story short but I had an intense (to say the least) three hour job interview with New Scotland Yard earlier this year, for various reasons that didn’t work out but some of the interview panel positively remarked on my independent writing background which made me grin. Closer to home I also got to meet Bowman and Poole so that fulfils some immortal bucket list from my teenage years. Also seeing one of the worldwide premieres of Gravity and the movie below are experiences I will always treasure;
Yeah, I’ll never forgot seeing that for the first time, I knew immediately that we were in good hands, cinematically speaking. Right, so, The Last Jedi, Star Wars n’ stuff. I suppose that requires some consideration. Seen it twice (technical appraisal), didn’t particularly care for it as a film either time, slightly enjoyed it more as a self contained cultural unit once I’d decompressed the franchise 21st century mandated experience, but have come to admire it more as a passing of the torch and the franchise’s natural evolution. The entire Ren / Kylo / Luke stuff was interesting – that’s Star Wars – the rest was dreadful. It’s just not that an important thing for me anymore, if you’d told me when I was 12 that there would be stand alone Han Solo and Boba Fett movies I’d be hyperventilating like a Sarlacc during its millennial mating period, now I just don’t care. Still interested in IX of course, but for me when it comes to screen SF there is only one mission;
Maybe at this point you are detecting some of my cinematic fetishes as I close this blog out – all time favourite sequence of any film ever? See above. That’s what cinema can be all about, for me that is the moment when all this nonsense started, the experience of a 2D representation of ideas and imagination punctured everything, and all celebration continues. Is TV is approaching such marvels? (see below, which should be seen on a IMAX screen for full mind-bending reprogramming) Maybe. Before we finish yeah, OK, I know some of you were asking for Blade Runner 2049 views but no, alas, I’m not going to be providing that. I liked it on the first viewing (sans a terrible headcold), a fantastic experience with some reservations. Second time around (the technical appraisal) most of those reservations were dispelled, particularly around the emotional arc of the picture and the (must we do SPOILERS at this point?) introduction of siblings and Hollywood’s current fetish for CGI reconstruction, for mere reconstructions sake. At this point the movie is a rare beast that manages to appropriately continue a story in a world so beloved without fucking with some of the intrinsic elements, and I think Villeneuve etc. managed to take the concepts and environment culturally forward from 1982 to 2017. I also watched Arrival again a couple of days ago and that film gets better with every re-watch. Well played, I hope he gets that Dune adaption of the ground. Here’s something of a Menagerie attuned montage;
So, finally, enough is enough, the light fades and the interest dwindles. As I close this out and embark on a new phase of, well, something, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride and that my mediocre efforts have turned you on to some movies, as that’s what this was always about, really. I think my friends would agree that I’m an opinionated jerk, but that such opinions come from a genuine love and enthusiasm for great and interesting movies and my enthusiasm for sharing them with like minded souls. If I’ve got you to watch one film you’ve never heard of or wouldn’t have seen then that is mission accomplished. In that vein I’ll just leave this sequence for absorbtion. It’s a tough one, and having seen it four times now within the context of the overall arc of the show it continues to yield mysteries and treasures, as it indicates the horrors of the past are still pregnant – Happy New Year;
Jolly excited about this for obvious reasons, it hits US Netflix tomorrow and hopefully will arrive in Europe shortly after;
EDIT – Darkly amused, and acutely disturbed that Oliver Stone got Putin to watch Dr. Strangelove for the first time accordingly to his problematic and revealing series of interviews that is currently airing. In an ideal world it should be requisite viewing for every head of state of course;
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;
‘Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.’ Well, ‘deserve’ being the operative word in that synopsis of the last few decades, which alongside the utter incompetence of my countries political ‘leaders’ has brought us to the events of today and the final triumph of the neoliberal ideology, one of the saddest days of my life. No, I’m not American but the inauguration of this….thing, this corrupt, sexual assault boasting, racist, disabled mocking, draft dodging, veteran insulting, tax-dodging, treasonous, lying, incompetent – remember he couldn’t even make a fucking casino, the most lucrative mechanism in human history profitable – selfish psychopaths is still beyond comprehension. It still feels like we have slipped into some alternate reality where great swathes of fellow humans have been revealed as the venal, ignorant hate bloated leeches that wouldn’t be alien to some 1980’s B movie, and thats increasingly arising in Europe as much as North America. Now, this is a film blog of course but I had to put a marker down for this day in some appropriately mediocre fashion, lots of people have been going with Chaplin, others with Ahnoldt, especially given the 2017 setting and notion of a dystopian future where a reality TV star manipulates the psyche of the masses. It’s a dark, dark day with worse to come, but you have to laugh when the real slogan of this goose-stepping, ascendant movement completely unironically utilises the same slogan as this prophetic series;
You have to laugh when entertaining but undeniable B movie schlock turns out to be the most accurate barometer of political and social developments, don’t ya? One of those high-pitched, gibbering laughing fits which gets more shrill and higher pitched before degenerating into screams……Now you may have seen the the incandescent fury generated by the alt-right – sorry, that the fucking fascists – appropriating Carpenters 1988 now prescient masterpiece for their own pathetic propaganda, for which Carpenter immediately bitch-slapped them down. Their intellectual idiocy and rhetoric is just beyond parody, but at least they seem to be falling into civil war among themselves which is a small mercy…….
Naturally, in order to embellish this grim marker of this dark day I have to go with the Kubrick in order to accompany the parade of incompetent, spectacularly unqualified and raging sycophants already toadying to the throne, if the president elect wasn’t bad enough the individuals this regime has surrounded itself with is just, simply…it just…..well, words fail me as usual. In this period of unequivocal proven man made climate change, well, if in some political movie script you appointed the CEO of fucking Exxon as the Secretary Of State you’d be laughed out of every pitch meeting in California, yet here we are, as the world slowly burns. So finally here’s a little prophetic clip of the US President calling his
boss friend in the Kremlin, as we also see the resurgence of a destabilising, fiscally annihilating global nuclear arms race – so cheer up, if the climate doesn’t get us, or rather your children and grandchildren, then the lunatics will;
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…
Another day, another Kubrick event in ole London town. I can’t remember how I heard that some film appreciation collective had managed to get Executive Producer, production lead and brother-in-law Jan Harlan under their hallowed roof, but I’ve certaintly had less illunminating Monday nights. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Jan now, five or six times I guess in attendance at various screenings and panel discussions, but it never hurts to revisit some of the novers and shakers who worked as closely as possible with Kubrick for the last thirty years of his career.
Now, I don’t wish to be negative, or overly critical but I can’t escape the fact that the interviewer was, well, he was terrible. To be fair I’m sure he wasn’t a professional – in fact I don’t actually know under which hipster collective they even convinced Jan to come and make this appearance in this backwater of Stoke Newington – but it might have helped if you had someone you didn’t feel necessary to field questions such as (and no, I’m not kidding) ‘What do you think of Star Wars?’ Luckily Mr. Harlan is a skilled raconteur and a mere subject on any of the 13 film pantheon would ignite him to rattle off a ten or minute monologue, with a few fascinating anecdotes and insights which even the deeply initiated like yours truly still find fascinating.
So just to paraphrase the usual revelations – Eyes Wide Shut was Stanley’s favorite of his films, but as it took him 30 years to make that’s not surprising. After seeing video footage of the practice drills that R.Lee Emery was conducting for his Paris Island recruits – remember he was only employed as a consultant who actually worked in basic training earlier in his career – Stanley was blown away, ditched the script segment and the originally cast actor and elevated Ermery as the on-screen drill instructor and the rest, as they say, is history…..
One small snippet that was new concerned the insane manuscript for The Shining, and the inevitable remarks that ‘oh it must have taken them months to type up that prop over hundreds of pages, what legendary perfectionist attention to detail’ which goes deeper when you consider that some foreign language prints of the film had different language versions, and you can see Kubrick himself typing up some pages in the famous behind the scenes documentary. Well, yes 1980 was before widespread computer printing but Script & Production supervisor Margaret Adams did type out different typeset combinations of ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, photocopied them, and just shuffle mixed them up to provoke the illusion of hundreds of pages of sanity shredding delusion.
Finally Jan remarked that it was the kids and teenagers who literally saved 2001 back in 1968, all the critics and intelligentsia disliked it and it was going to be pulled from exhibition until the theater owners started to feed back to MGM that something was happening and crowds of ‘yoof’ were starting to coalesce around the movie, before it become the undisputed masterpiece that it is known as today. I’ll just add to the choris by making my oft-remarked point that this film was designed, conceived, executed and released before we went to the moon, before we had those photographs taken from the Apollo lander, between 1964 and 1968. People always forgot that…..
Like most, I was frustrated with A.I. when it first assimilated into multiplexes during those ominous, dust choked final months of 2001. For reasons I can’t quite recall I was in a terrible mood when I went to see it at my then local multiplex on Harrow high street, despite eagerly following it’s long and unusual marketing campaign which featured such innovative elements as alt-reality interfaces and a revolutionary cluster of on-line, world building IP instruments. Kubrick’s death was still woundingly recent, making Spielberg’s inheritance of the project something of a bittersweet boon, the chance to see shards of what could have been filtered through the lens of a close colleague whose artistic instincts seem to divert at an almost molecular level. Kubrick was the cold remote nihilist, performing his autopsy on our species foibles with a detached and uncaring gaze. Spielberg was the warm humanist, celebrating the fragments of wonder and solidarity that can emerge in even the darkest corners of human experience. The melding of these two streams forged an odd elixir of form and frame, with the cloying, sentimental finale particularly derided as Spielberg suffocating Kubrick’s artistic affectations. In the intervening years however what was regarded as a mysterious misfire has coalesced into one of Spielberg’s oddest additions to his canon, some even cite it as his most misunderstood and maligned masterpiece, perverting some of the common themes that dominate his work – the bittersweet structures of family, the dark margins of wonder and adventure, our spatial relations to how the future is influenced by the past. I am in concert with these reassessments, I think through his historical films of the late 1980’s and 1990’s he matured from the blockbuster manipulation to a more serious and somber storyteller, heck I’d even posit that you could see A.I. as the central in a trilogy encompassing Minority Report and War of The Worlds, but that is a thesis for another time. It is a film which operates on a number of levels, oscillating the instincts of two great American legends, with more depth and digitized disquiet swirling helplessly like that scattered corporate paperwork tumbling over that bright, September Manhattan skyline.
For a fifteen year old film it could have made last year, it has dated exceptionally well in terms of design and SFX, which perhaps speaks for the quality of the work that Denis Muren and the ILM illusionist commissioned back at the turn of the millennium. Structurally it concertina’s out in incrementally wider sectors before deflating to a bittersweet climax, moving from the opening contextual vision of a climate change depleted future world where man has advanced artificial mechanics to a remarkable, near human sophistication via the genius of pioneering Professor Allen Hobby (William Hurt). The scene forebodingly set the narrative moves on to our initial meeting with David (Haley Joel Osment), a new model of artificial child or ‘mecha’ that has been commissioned by two bereaved parents, Henry (Sam Robards) and Monica (Frances O’Conner) after their biological son was committed to a cryogenic chamber due to a fatally incurable condition. After activation and bonding to his mother an increasingly haunting deconstruction of nurturing bonds is explored by Spielberg, as David behaves with an uncanny cherubic innocence, masking his pre-programmed precision perfected interior. A miracle sours to disaster for David when his surrogate is cured and returns to the family home, rendering him obsolete as his behaviors fails to gel with the meatbag family unit. In one of Spielberg’s cruelest ever scenes David is abandoned with his only ally, a diminutive cybernetic talking Teddy-Bear with whom he embarks on a fairy tale odyssey through the nocturnal netherworld of his binary brethren, whether as discarded slaves, sexual surrogates (in the form of Gigolo Joe, Jude Law’s male mecha escort) or cannon fodder entertainment in the ferociously cruel flesh-fair. Finally, in a truly Kubrickian disregard for narrative comfort the plot accelerates thousands of years ahead into an ice age future, where an advanced descendant of the primitive automatons resurrect David as a historical curiosity, and grant him his final fairy tale wish to be reunited with Monica in an eternal and infinite mirror of the human cage apex of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Well, that’s one way to read it but we’ll come back to that……..
Reaching for the cinematic shorthand stylus Spielberg litters the frame with symbolic reflections and distortions, indicating the murky masquerade of an artificial boy with a false algorithmic empathy, while John Williams mournful score lacquers another coating of questionable reality, a futurist fairy tale made flesh. It used to be that I wasn’t enamored with the plot of A.I. but if you approach it as a mood piece, as a feeling rather than a story the film is quite the disquieting experience, with a devilish final feint which inverts Spielberg’s entire career as a sentimental, treacle coated humanist. The world building is organic and measured, from earlier iterations of so-called ‘super-toys’ in the form of Teddy leading to advanced models such as David, like some ancient ipod (the first of which was released four months after the films release) prefiguring the powerful latest generation of iphone, a single device with more computing power than the entire NASA space programme of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Like Minority Report some of the tech has already been superseded, touch screen and voice activated mechanics are presented as vaguely revolutionary in the film, yet now commonplace and accelerating with the cool precision of Moore’s law. At its nucleus the film harbors a cold artificiality which collides with a vision of humanity which is consistently unsympathetic, detailing our greed, cruelty, hubris and selfishness across almost every speaking part in the film. Despite some of the obvious Kubrick homage reverse zooms and long dollys Spielberg’s style is also in the antecedent, those long establishing movements and temporal editing ellipses that he’s so affectionate for, in a film which is curiously diluted and drained of emotion. After the exposition set up the suburban sequence is a self-contained silo, just slightly tilted off kilter as unreal and manufactured, an almost grotesque parody of an ideal WASP nuclear family sharing idyllic summer days and bountiful mealtimes, tainted with an ignored and denied falsehood. It’s difficult to discern how much of this was Steven or Stanley and his decades of shaping the script, but it does feel like the like the best of Kubrick observing the techniques of these holy symbols – family, marriage, nature versus nurture – with his usual contemptuous silence.
After the claustrophobic interiors of the home the narrative and space opens up as David embarks on his journey, his interactions and observations detailing a proto-catastrophic future world with humans writhing in their final extinction spasms, abandoned to an uncertain fate with all the remorse of unwanted Xmas puppy. Through this section some of those recent questions that SF cinema has probed in media such as Moon, A Clockwork Orange, entire swathes of Star Trek:The Next Generation, more recently Ex Machina, and of course Blade Runner percolate to the surface, what does it mean to be human, how do you judge what is human and where is that imaginary line to be drawn? Is it empathy and sympathy, two qualities that the mecha emit but the humans do not – that cradles the soul? Osment encapsulates this in a studiously manufactured performance, a boy playing a boy playing a boy, another unearthly juvenile performance to rival Spielberg’s discreet direction in those 1980’s family favorites. With his usual DP Janusz Kaminski the shadows coil and the palette descends through layers of oozing obsidian as David’s search for the mythical wish-granting Blue Fairy gains traction, through the lurid neon of Rogue City or the carnival cruelty of the Flesh Fair the film adopts an episodic structure so beloved of Kubrick and his ‘non-submersible units’, a programmed Pinocchio searching for a hollow dream which is fearsome in its futility.
So the story shifts fully to the mechas, their childlike yearnings and inquisitive lack of self safety again signalling the fairy tale tenacity of the tale, with specific visual and character references moving from Pinocchio to The Wizard of Oz. One observation I excavated for this section is a stretch but amusing, during the capture of the mechas the activities are spearheaded by a fellow in a leather jacket and fedora riding around in a hot-air balloon moulded to look like a full moon – or is it a Indiana Jones proxy astride the Amblin logo which in turn was yielded from one of his most favorite icons – the full moon flying shot from E.T.? What is the purpose of this directorial self-insertion from Spielberg? Well, played by a perennial gruff Brendan Gleeson this future pundit then goes on to rather pointedly explain that you shouldn’t trust any of the ’emotions’ of the robots, because the entire thing is an illusion, they aren’t real, they’re shallow simulacra designed to manipulate our own feelings. One may be able to level this charge at the forced emotional manipulation of the entire blockbuster model, programming its audience in how to feel through sound, spectacle and SFX rather than allowing any organic reactions to such old-fashioned techniques such as characters, situations, drama and plot. Speaking of ugly manipulation the flesh fair itself is reminiscent of a Roman collesium and a Trump rally, although the ugly, jeering crowds turn to pillory the ringleader does seem a little trite, once they appreciate that David may be an android but his appearance as an anthropomorphised child activates some dormant mothering instinct in them all.
The A.I. of the title is portrayed throughout this section of the film in its primitive infancy, as homo-sapien was to Homo habilis before we divined tools and fire, as Davids encounter with his maker Dr. Hobby prologues the narrative leap forward in one of the more audacious jump cuts, since, well you know what. In this dystopian twilight the automatons have been used by humans as slave labor, as simple to discard tools with the same attachment than you would have for your toaster or lawn mower, or rather more predictably used as sexual instruments in the form of Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) who betrays a glimmerings of self-awareness and curiosity beyond his seductive programming, an inquisitive adolescent to David’s single driven juvenile. Like the great sexual chronicler William Burrows said, the first thing human beings do with technology is to weaponize it in a sexual fashion, from the car and its attendant advertising industry to the heavy breathers on the phone, to the cinema immediately generating nudie and stag films all the way through to the chaste and discrete, vast pornographic canyons of the internet.
In that light the two mechas oscillate between David and his Grimm fairy tale guidance and a simple fu*k machine, a species trapped between adolescence and maturity in a short evolutionary glitch. Perhaps by this stage there are too many half expressed and seered situations which visually slam metaphors into the narrative, there is a myriad of ideas percolating through the subsequent 9/11 imagery and climate change chin-stroking, which blends directly into Minority Report’s political pre-cog (we must pre-empt and neutralise threats before we are attacked), and The War of the Worlds dust choked, obliterated landscapes under the thrall of an implacable terror, forcing our every-men to contemplate the worst acts to defend their families. Trapped in the shadow of the Coney Island Wonder Wheel – a location noted for its frivolous childhood escapism – David almost pathetically prays to a silent and implacable idol to realise his dreams, before the most ambitious time shift in Stephen’s entire cinematic canon.
When I first saw A.I. the sheer gusto of this narrative shift caught me like a crystalline chainsaw to the cerebral cortex, the leap to David and Joe’s brethren some thousands of years hence obliterated all expectations, even as this final sequence is allegedly then poisoned by that final, saccharine seizure inducing finale of resurrection and renewal. How many films even remotely attempt to leap forward in their time frame across such vast distances and truly speculate on our and our offsprings species capacity for evolution and transcendence, heck even today films of any genre rarely trade in those intellectual infrastructures, as the shift in SF cinema has warped from intellectual curiosity or social metaphor to simple, action framed pyrotechnics. The misunderstood finale still gets written off as typical Spielberg whimsy, but I’d charge that there is something far more disturbing squirming under the surface. The entire film has been formed around a cascading narrative of sequences moving from David’s activation to decommission, seeing our species final dwindling fall through the animatronics sensors of an artificial boy. Through this vessel we witness the last ember of human life, simulated and simulacra, a not ironic Moebius strip to the film’s artificial opening and the establishment of the family unit, the supposed cradle of nurturing and evolving civilisation. Through its fairy tale logic the film engineers our quiet withdrawal from existence into the dim halls of infinity, the lock of hair a final totem of the organic and ‘real’ framed in the grasp of a artificial creature and his childlike companion. The playing of the scene makes me uncomfortable, Kinglsey’s narration in both dialogue and intonation is ugly to me, a single day of pre-augmented reality that chimes with some of the contemporary warnings of the like of Elon Musk. As has been confirmed the finale was Kubrick’s, it was always there in the pre-production storyboards, not in fact a terrible contamination of Spielberg’s instincts scattering against the bulwark of Kubrick’s nihilism. It’s nothing less than one final bitter shroud to shawl our entire civilisation, built on a artificial engineered lie, all or struggles and suffering rendered as a infinite sick joke – how Kubrickian is that?
Nevertheless, Stanley always held the view that technology would be the next phase of sentience if you’ve done your research around his discussions with his development screenwriters Brian Aldis whose novella Supertoy’s Last All Summer Long served as a main inspiration, before exhausted and leeched of ideas Kubrick fired his husk and moved onto the Ian Watson phase of development. This is a flawed film, a deeply flawed piece one could argue, but it at least reaches for something further than most films attempt and like the truly memorable pictures holds resonance and echoes today. It’s sentimental carapace shields a quite horrific core, a fantasy, an unreality which like all the immortal fairy tale story nags and nuzzles at deeply suppressed truths and terrors. It’s appearance on the recently published 100 greatest films of the century didn’t particularly surprise me, as even like Kubrick’s most maligned films they have matured and grown into the culture in which they were expressed, a feature, not a bug it seems of the associated projects when he wasn’t frenziedly harnessing the electrons in the CPU. What is human? Where does sentience begin and moral agency end? What is to become of these initial promethean tamperings with sentience beyond our carbon based stardust? Whatever the questions no-one has the answers, as this rather bizarre hybrid of two of the most influential post-war American filmmakers attests, in one of Spielberg’s strangest and richest films;
We’ve been here before, way back when I was barely in my terrible two’s, so you’ll have to excuse the poor page design and amateurish writing from way back in the distant mists of 2008. This is the fourth time I’ve seen Barry Lyndon on the big screen, the first time I’d seen the film at all was when I was one of two dedicated punters at my universities Film Society back in 1993. It might seem strange that it took me so long to get around to Lyndon given my adoration of Kubrick but you have to remember that I don’t think it had ever had a sell-though VHS release in the UK, and it certainly had never been screened on terrestrial television to my knowledge. I spent many of the preceding years working in the Video Rental business and like Eraserhead at the time it was gold dust to source, and I’m still not entirely why Warner Brothers, and presumably Kubrick, suppressed it so much. It’s initial critical indifference marked it as one of Kubrick’s curio’s and the picture quickly faded from view, but like my involvement and appreciation of the film this position has evolved over the intervening two decades and now Lyndon is fully embraced by the critical fraternity, in that oft repeated maxim of Kubrick’s films being decades ahead of their time. This BFI screening of their newly curated digital restoration was introduced by Lady Lyndon herself, Marisa Berenson, who is in town performing in Romeo & Juliet at the Garrick. My previous review was crafted was back when the world was still reverberating with the shockwaves of the financial collapse, eight years later and we still live in uncertain times, when the European project itself faces a tough and possibly terminal crossroads, and conflict and discord surround a generation of self-absorbed privileged birth politicians who will do and say almost anything to achieve power – C’est plus la change mon ami…..
Where do I start? Lavish, ravishing, a magnificent masterpiece which continues to yield new treasures. It’s a film on transactions and our species pathetic attempts to achieve such transient notions as prestige and influence at the venal cost of all else, through the mediation of wealth and social status inherit in our social systems, from the courtly protocols of decorum and behaviour down to the rituals of warfare and honour duels. Visually it is the strongest contender for the most beautifully photographed film ever made, and as usual the three hours danced away as I was once more sucked into the rituals and formalism of 18th century life. Two random thoughts – if the original ending of The Shining had been retained, of Wendy being visited by the Hotel Manager then this would have been the picture in a row that Kubrick ended with one of his main characters in hospital, recovering from their ordeal. Significance? Oh I don’t know, of course it also links through to the elderly Dave beckoning to the Starchild at the end of 2001, just thought I’d mention it. I’d also never quite squared the circle of the film starting with an immature, lovelorn Barry challenging his elders and superiors to a duel which begins his odyssey, while its his nemesis, the younger, blue-blood superior Lord Bullingdon who destroys him at the end of the picture, via a duel.
Normally I wouldn’t choose to see a fine masterpiece like this in a digital format but the sheen and contours on that trailer irked my interest, I’ll quite happily see anything new in that format but somehow going to see something shot on film just feels slightly sacrilegious, particularly when it comes to the absolute apotheosis of the craft – never forgot that was lensed on one of only two lenses with the required f-stop that NASA used in its satellite photography. This transfer however was superb, retaining that ethereal contours of the candlelights, and from my perfect seat on the second row you could see where the focus had been deliberately whisker blurred for the early romance scenes, suggesting Barry’s cupid . I guess this means we’ll also have a new BFI Blu-Ray in a couple of months, to add to the three versions of this film I already own.
Solid reassessment in S&S here. Marisa Berenson’s all too short Q&A covered the usual ground, how Stanley was a private and demanding dude on set but was also a warm and generous man, he never gave direct, erm, direction as that was what he paid his actors for – to arrive on time, to hit their marks, to know their lines and contribute accordingly. She advised of the whole production shifting back to the UK from Ireland overnight due to some distressing phone calls, as in 1975 certain elements of Irish nationalism wouldn’t have taken kindly to some British actors in full 18th century occupation costume dress cantering through the countryside. I’d also forgotten how funny the film could be in that dark and acidic way, you really need to see the film with an audience to appreciate . Finally, a gripe – why did you have to lose the original 1970’s Warner Brothers Logo (No. 10 here) and replace it with the sixth version of logo 11 on that same list? I hate it when they fuck around with restorations like that. Speaking of beautiful artefacts this might be the collectors purchase of the year, including the full 172 minute cut in 4K restoration directly supervised by Lubbeski and Malick, the other domestic and international cuts of the film but even those modern alchemists have some way to go to equal this;
I was thinking of saving this for my rematch coverage at the end of the month, but why deny ourselves such sumptuous pleasures?;
Hi hi hi there, we’ll keep this brief as we’ve plenty on as we transition to a new assignment next Monday – the layers of bureaucracy and security checks have been quite demanding – but I did manage to have a rather productive weekend just gone with that screening of The Neon Demon and a visit to the Daydreaming of Kubrick exhibition at Somerset House. I don’t wish to sound to overly negative but this wasn’t particularly brilliant, I am probably being overly critical and had impossibly high expectations given the favoured subject matter, but to my mind there was no connecting membrane through the exhibition, overall it never really emulated Stanley’s sour, dissective world view and many of the individual pieces were quite facile and unimaginative. Dressing up some giant teddy bears as Lolita or a leering Droog is not provocative, it smacks of all the hollow engineering of the entire YBA spawned movement as far as I’m concerned, and draping a crushed car with a large concrete cock in reference to the phallic murder weapon in A Clockwork Orange is about a staggering artistic statement as a Steven Segal inspired watercolour. There were some nice photos scattered around the place however, including an update of the perfectly preserved barn in Glastonbury where the climatic duel scene from Barry Lyndon was lensed, and this piece by Doug Foster entitled Beyond The Infinite was all very much emulating the prismatic DMT sequence in Enter The Void;
Far more effective however were two other pieces which got far closer to Kubrick’s legacy of innovation and experimentation, and these were worth the entry price alone. This piece by Toby Dye was inspired, as you walk into a room nested with four floor to ceiling projections on each wall, each transmitting a slow tracking shot through some abandoned office or perhaps hospital corridor. Just standing in a space where you are surrounded at every side by a visual moving slowly away into space is quite disorienting, while each wall features a Kubrick inspired character stalking down the corridor – a gas-masked droog, a skipping crimson garbed child, a furious lumberjack shirted Calcetti from The Wire, and a stately 18th Century courtesan and her simpering majordomo. The stroke of genius is to have these characters at certain points interact and break through into the reality of the other characters, as the Jack Torrance character grapples with the Alex De Large character, and on and on and on into infinity. Yes, it’s all very meta to use a tiresome contemporary term of reference, but it worked and actually provokes a sense of discovery and disorientation which was quite affecting.
The other interesting piece was from Chris Levine, and it’s probably best if I quote directly from the exhibition programme – ‘A self portrait of Kubrick is projected into the viewers peripheral vision using LED light technology. This ‘visual echo’ appears and disappears in a moment like a phantom’. Yeah, this was strange, like subliminally flash-burst blipverts registering in the mind, I think I’m still getting flashbacks a few days later. Finally it was quite amusingly eerie to be creeping about on a floorspace cloaked in that Overlook Hotel design which runs through the exhibition route like a bellowing frostbitten maniac with an axe, so after this going to see The Neon Demon at the Curzon was some sweet comic relief, cannibalistic taboo sexual deviancy and everything. It seems that some of my favourite directors including John Carpenter, Kubrick and to a lesser extent Spielberg are all getting some lavish attention this year, Michael Mann even had a season at the PC last month (but with no sign of Thief so I didn’t get round to anything), so while London and the world literally burns, I’m having the time of my time;