Star & Shadow

  • Portrait of a Woman on Fire   Celine Sciamma (Fr; 2020)

    Portrait of a Woman on Fire   Celine Sciamma (Fr; 2020) Noemie Merlant; Adele Haenel

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 3rd March 2020; ticket £10.75

    slow burner

    Celine Scammer’s feminist panegyric, Portrait of a Woman on Fire, comes with heavyweight literary precursors.  Its title and ambiance surely reference the Henry James novel, Portrait of a Lady, and Sciamma’s characters, Heloise and Marianne symbolise eponymous resonant female progenitors.

    Heloise was a Medieval epistemologist, scholar, wife of Abelard, whose belles lettres are regarded as the first of the French female literary voices.   Nun mother and wife, she is strongly associated with Isles off Brittany where celebrated in song and dance, memory of her presence has elided into that of a shaman. Marianne is of course the personification of post revolutionary France, emblem of a certain faded modernity, ready to be reinvigorated as a feminist icon.

    Henry James’ novel Portrait of a Lady, follows its protagonist Isabel Archer’s determination to persue her own destiny. She is not betoken to the influences and manipulations of convention status or class. Isabel is of course not successful in avoiding the social machinations set to trap her, but she retains her complete independence of spirit. Life is lived on her terms. Likewise Sciamma’s Heloise is an intellectual imbued with a pride in her own independence; she is also the object of a relentless manipulation, to which she succumbs. But even in her succumbing she retains the spirit of her selfhood, a spirit captured by Sciamma in a shot, repeated three times, in which Marianne sees Heloise resplendent in her white ‘wedding’ gown, triumphant as ‘bride’. A shot which is emblematic not of her earthly fate but of her spiritual fate, a personal overcoming of the social fabric.

    The whole movie is shot in a manner that flaunts its impeccable literary credentials. It is a camera of detached painterly observation. Some shots in particular of the servant girl, called to mind Vermeer (Portrait of a Girl with a Pearl Earing sic.), and Marianne’s ‘vision of Heloise’ has a  pre-Raphaelite quality. The camera tracks pans tilts through colour and form, comes to rest in composition.   In her framing Sciamma suggests a world of surfaces a world only seen through the images presented, a world of Gainsborough portraits.

    But if Sciamma’s intention is to work against surface she creates, to crack it open and reveal what lies beneath, forbidden passion, pain, then she underestimates the strength and resilience of the way in which she has chosen to actually film her scenario. All the scripted elements seem contained by the physical surface tensions of the movie. The passion between Marianne and Heloise, the background feminist elements of menstruation and the abortion by the maid, all feel de-intensified artifices somehow alien to the studied observational design of the film. With its deliberately modulated cinematography, the emotions unleashed by the situations all blend together, merge into the cameras detached beautifully colourised imagery. Everything defaults to the tasteful keying of the painterly lens. Outside of Marianne’s vision of a transfigured Heloise, there are no moments of rupture or when the film stops. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an homogenous experience, ultimately the uniformity of construction becomes monotony, the film subsumed in blandness. This is a quality not characteristic of the James novel.

    The Henry James novels are on the surface in narrative terms, chaste. But the underlying intensity of James’ prose creates situations densely packed with erotic charge, all the stronger for never being discharged. A literary almost unbearable coitus interruptus characterises scenes in James’ novellas such Inside the Cage and A Turn of the Screw.    Sciamma is a product of a literalist age in which we have to see people pissing menstruating in case we didn’t know about or understand these things.

    Restraint is a a rarely exercised artistic choice in contemporary films, in particular when writers directors feel the need to make statements of their credentials, so of course Sciamma choses to have her love affair consummated for the camera. But if you consider a classic film with a similar plot mechanism, Michael Curtiz’ Casablanca, it works with effect because Bogart and Bergman don’t make out physically. The tensions of erotic interplay in Casablanca, as in James novels, are the forces that define and deliver.

    By delivering Marianne and Heloise into the physical realm, Sciamma makes a politically correct statement, but works against the grain of her own material. Her film that is not so much Portrait of a Lady on Fire, as Portrait of a Lady who gets Everything. In tune with the times.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Midnight Family Luke Lorentzen (Doc; USA: 2019

    Midnight Family     Luke Lorentzen (Doc; USA: 2019)

    viewed: Tyneside Cinema Newcastle; 24 Feb 2020; ticket:£10.75

    one man band

    Life with the Ochoa family’s privately run Mexico City ambulance service caught on camera.

    The problem with the Ochoa ambulance service is that when they come to scoop you up off the street and whisk you off to the hospital of their choice, can you trust them? A difficult question in what is certainly a difficult situation for any unfortunate victim of an accident or act of violence.  

    But the same question arises in my mind in relation to Luke Lorentzen. Can I trust him as a film maker? Is he just another ambulance chaser wanting to make a quick buck turning over a film based on sharp practice? Lorentzen, modestly claims multiple credits for direction, writing, editing and camera. But the question arises who/or what is keeping Lorentzen on track?  In claiming total control without the moderation of any key production personnel this is one man taking all the key decisions in relation to narrative form and structure of his film without the discipline of professional dialogue or editorial discourse.

    If Lorentzen made ‘Midnight Family’ without the moderating influence of professional discourse, did he adopt some imperative or at least a moral compass to guide his decision making? If so were these ethical outriggers at least apparent, allowing the viewer some help in evaluating and understanding his film?

    In this sense the film pivots about Lorentzen as much as the Ochea family. But of course whereas we are allowed see something of the Ocheas, we have no basis for evaluating the grounds on which Lorentzen either shot or selected his footage in the edit.  We see something of the family Ochea but we see nothing of the director writer editor cameraman. Lorentzen who is making all the decisions is hidden from us. He is absent; but his presence and manipulations are everywhere. Without some insight into intention, Lorentzen’s movie is morally vacuous.

    Lorentzen’s response might be along the lines that he has no need of collaborators to balance and affect his decision making, that the film he has shot tells the story of a failed and failing emergency intervention service.

    The question arises: is it enough for Lorentzen to shoot a lot of raw looking digital footage, structure and shape the material then edit it and then make any sort of claim for the film.  What sort of claim? Well no claims are specifically made. Perhaps Lorentzen believes it is enough just to cobble together his material as a spectacle and put it out on the fashionable international doc circuit as a sort of Kantian Thing in Itself, exploiting a certain market appetite for salacious shocking situations.   In Midnight Family things are revealed such as the inadequacy of Mexico City’s emergency ambulance service (which seems unlikely to come as a surprise to the people of that City); the equivocal nature of the Ochea family in relation to their enterprise, sandwiched between saving lives and saving themselves from poverty.

     

    Midnight family purports to show the surface of the Mexico City Private Ambulance business. But it is difficult to take on trust the surface when we are barred from seeing the underlying forces that give shape to what we see. And of course these underlying forces comprise mainly the socio-economic situation in Mexico but also the decisions made by Lorentzen.   Was all his footage actual or was some specifically shot to be edited into the final cut? In the film’s penultimate sequence, was the woman in the front seat of the ambulance the mother of the victim who was dying in the back of the vehicle? What sort of relationship did the Ocheas have with the director/ writer?  What was the nature of the agreement made with the Ocheas by the director? Without indications of what is going on my feeling is that this is a film corrupted by absence of information.

    Lorentzen’s film follows the hallowed path of many a doc feature: there is material only to sustain a 60 minute movie; so it has to be stretched to get close to the 90 min feature mark. The stretching involves repetition and regurgitation of the same material in slightly different contexts. Midnight Family is seriously over long as well as short on justification.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

  • Parasite       Bong Joon-ho (2019; S.Korea)

    Parasite       Bong Joon-ho (2019; S.Korea) Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, and Jang Hye-jin

     

    Subterranean home sick blues

    Bong’s Parasite (Parasites – plural in the original Korean title) reminded me of Lanthimos’ Killing of a Sacred Deer in as much as both movies bring buried psychic forces into play in contemporary settings. Both films are scripted as black comedies working irony as a leaven for the humour; both films summon chthonic agency to wreak disaster on the arrogance those who enjoy privilege but are blind to the primal forces that surround them in the social matrix; both films use space in a very particular way.   The spaces in both films exploit the idea that within themselves they contain the tensions of different opposing worlds: on the surface we see a conventional room; superimposed over what we see is its hidden fate, to be the place of a necessary playing out of myth.

    Both films create spaces in which the veneer of order will be destroyed and caste back into primordial chaos.   Space is treated as an intrinsic part of design where all those who are marked out for death, die.    

    In Lanthimos’ movie the key settings were: the hospital, presented as a cool arena for the practice of industrialised medicine; and, the expensive comfortable suburban house, home to the doctor and his family. This house, a statement of status, comfortably and expensively arrayed. But it is a house that is turned inwards on itself. From the windows there are no views out into the exterior world, in this culture there are only interiorities; in this culture no one is interested in what is outside; what is outside is mediated via the TV and the phone.  Lanthimos’ scenario plays out in an interior.

    In Parasite, Bong’s settings also comprise two main two interiors. But both these interiors are strongly linked to an exteriorality in the views afforded by the dwellings. The main area of the open plan house of the rich family looks out onto a garden; the semi basement home of the poor family, has a sunken window from which they can look up onto a rundown urban street environment. The one is an extension of the dream; the other an extension of the real.

    The rich family’s house and its garden are part of the same plan. The house is open plan designed to replicate the American living experience. It is an American house in Korea, and the garden is also designed as an American suburban experience: backed by a mountain the garden is dominated by its neatly maintained lawn. There are a few shrubs: the experience is one of ‘grass’, nature manicured and controlled. The executive house and its garden represent alienated territory that has been taken over and claimed by an occupying power.

    ‘Parasite’ is sold on the billboards as a movie about inequality and class. But this is not the core idea of the film. The core idea of Gong’s movie is the claim on life, made by dispossessed forces, those vanquished primal forces representing the elements of the Korean earth and the unconscious mind. The family who take possession of the house are as earth spirits, earth daemons, agents summoned from an underworld of submerged psyches, activated to re-possess that which has been sequestrated.

    There is a class/inequality dimension in Bong’s scenario. But this overlays his energising perception that his protagonists are executing a kind of shamanistic repossession. An idea that in another form grounded his film ‘Mother’. Gong’s perception sees into the consequences of industrialisation for Koreans. They are a people torn up from their roots, their psyche’s grafted onto the industrial engine of capitalist business interests.

    Early in the film, the son of the de-territorialised family comes into possession of a large stone torn out of the ground whose possession is said to bring prosperity.  The idea of something buried, inanimate, arising out of the earth, that has an animating property, exerts its influence over the film’s parallel subterranean presences. For under the house there is a trapped subterranean spirit-being. Atrapped living man who exists to haunt and finally destroy the life of the occupants. And in one sense ‘Parasite’ is a account of how one subterranean spirit is replaced by another as a sort of domestic earth bound incubus.

    The occupying family are agents of chaos. They are let loose to avenge negligence and destroy the corruption of wealth. For one moment in time to overturn the occupying power and reclaim what is theirs turning the placid grass of the lawn into a sacrificial killing ground. What is theirs is theirs. The final act reminiscent of the opening of Fraser’s Golden Bough, sees that one underground presence is replaced by another, one priest of Nemi replaced by another.

    The film’s construction, comprising long held takes comprising many medium and long shots mainly from a mounted camera allows the viewer to see into the frame and absorb the elements of the picture.  The viewer has to read into the frame. In this respect Gong’s film is characterised by restraint understatement and humour. This is not in yer face bucolic high jinx with the ancient ones, as represented by over-the-top films such as Midsommar and some British box office offerings. His settings and his playing out of the characters are all held in low key, allowing the dramatic crescendo to build up and climax in the final blood bath.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

  • Jojo Rabbit   Taike Waititi (USA; 2019)

    Jojo Rabbit   Taike Waititi (USA; 2019) Roman Davis, Scarlette Johanson, Thomasin McKenzie

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 29 Jan 2020; ticket: £10.75

    Mock Hitler Soup

    Taike Waititi’s Jojo rabbit re-imagines Nazi German as an idyll set in a Californian suburb. Even the corpses we see hanging from the gibbet in the town’s market square ( one of which is Jojo’s mother) look decorously pendant as if they were waiting for a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Like Spielberg before him Waititi confirms the ability of the suburban imagination to absorb anything the world might throw at it.

    Spielberg’s films are all consuming monsters that can swallow up any genre or situation and regurgitate them in a form that fits into the straight tree lined streets, the manicured lawns, screen doors and mild eccentricities of American suburbia, a la Fernando Valley.

    With ET one of the biggest grossing movies of the 20th century, Spielberg expanded the ambition of the suburban ethos so that it swallowed up the sci fi genre. Cute, boxed and branded like a breakfast cereal, ET neutralised the critical and disturbing aspects of its sci-fi heritage.   The idea of developing the genre to serve as either a warning to or a critical perception of the American way of life was inverted in ET. The sci-fi genre in Spielberg’s hands becomes a validation of middle American values, of individualism in particular. He does for ‘80’s America what Frank Capra had done with his 30’s and 40’s movies: legitimising American values despite the evidence that in many ways they were no more than a chimera.

    And, Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit does for the Nazi’s what ET did for Sci-fi. His film like some strange acid dissolves the Nazis in the comfort bath of the suburban ethos. It uses one of Spielberg’s favourite notions, the imaginary friend, to present a substantiation of Hitler in a mock humorous key. Like ET, Hitler has his otherness neutered and assumed into the middle America psyche.   If burlesque mimicry is the cheapest form of humour, then this stage Hitler parody, amounts to a marked down comic stock.  

    And the audiences: ‘like’. Cheap degraded laughs like cheap degraded food is easy to swallow. Iannucci’s ‘Death of Stalin’ pulled off a similar stunt. Both Hitler and Nazism with its obsessive mandatory rituals, are remote from the experience of most consumers of media; hence both are safe easy targets to exploit as a send up. Most of today’s viewers have only a vague awareness of the events in Europe in the middle of the last century; for the most part, unless you are Jewish or Roma, familiarity is almost at the level of a folk story, a de-intensified memory of history. People have little knowledge and no experience of the actual situation in Germany of the 30’s and 40’s. So both Hitler and Nazism can be targets of an eidetic parody in which their murderous brutality as content can be extracted and separated out from their visual image, leaving behind an empty form that can be played out as a comic device comprising gags, mild eccentricity manic behaviour and of course, innocence.  

    The aggressive fervour with which Waititi’s scenario plays with anachronistic effects, such as the sound track’s use of a range of pop music (the Beetles) heavy metal and jazz, lends a contemporary allure to some of the sequences, all that is missing is a home delivery company called Ubermensch.   And when the Hitler Jugend engage in a bit of book burning, it looks like it might be a fun thing to do. At this point you might pause to wonder if the film is suggesting its theme might be an analogy for Trump’s America. But there is not enough parellism of effect to extrapolate this purpose fromWaititi’s direction.   The anachronism’s, the ‘cool’ language the contemporary jokes are all part of a calculated affect: to soak the material for maximum laughs and extract a sentimental politically correct morality tale out of the situation. It would have been a film made with a different intent if Jojo had had Donald Trump as his imaginary friend.

    At the core of Waititi’s script there is something rotten and dishonest. The death of Rosie Jojo’s mother has an abstracted exploitative quality which is unsurprising given that the parodic goof-ball form of ‘Jojo Rabbit’ generates relationships based on the scripted directions to actors, not on the creation and exhibition of affect. There is a moment when in front of Gestapo police, Klenzendorf (the buffoon character) discovers that Elsa ( the Jewish hideaway) is not Jojo’s sister. Instead of denouncing her he conceals this knowledge from the Gestapo goons.  The script renders Klenzendorf ‘s behaviour as that of a friendly eccentric Californian suburbanite; but members of the Wehrmacht weren’t like eccentric suburban neighbours. This scripted response of Klenzendorf is simply part of the normalisation the film promotes: sadists are really in their hearts just nice guys.

    Iannucci’s Death of Stalin and Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit are both exercises in transposing.  Iannucci’s movie transposes the machinations of Stalin’s court to the setting of luvable London gangsters. Waititi, transposes Hitler’s Germany to the American Suburbs.

    This shifting of time and space works as a device for exploiting humour and cheap laughs, extending the Mel Brook’s Springtime for Hitler routine into a whole feature. The question is how long before Mao Zedong becomes the next subject for a Whacky Commie Movie? 

    And anyone for al-Baghdadi the wicked caliph?

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

      

  • The Red Shoes   Powell and Pressburger (UK; 1948)

    The Red Shoes   Powell and Pressburger (UK; 1948) Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema   16 Jan 2020; ticket: £7

    What is this thing called ‘Dance’…?

    Powell and Pressburger made a series of films, ‘Black Narcissus’, ‘I know where I am going’ and ‘The Red Shoes’, in which the key characters are all women. The governing concept of all these films was the absorption of the principal female characters into a mythic type structure. Powell and Pressburger’s protagonists are set into situations where their individual purposes and desires are overwhelmed, they have understand how to live with the unleashed judgement of cosmic forces over which they have no control.

    What is radical in their female protagonists is that they are protagonists: the characters are not stereotypical women’s parts made up of types: wife, betrayed woman, mother, revengeful lover etc.   They are women abroad in the world on their own terms.

    And the worlds into which they’re released, are outside the genre conventions of Hollywood. They are arcane worlds created by Powell and Pressburger, worlds without rules in which the women have to seek out their own destinies, where as the protagonists they must understand and come to terms with the forces set against them and determine their own fates.

    The nuns in ‘Black Narcissus’ with their sense of order and duty, are overwhelmed by the latent sensuality of their new home embedded in and expressed by the films powerful colourisation of the world they have come to help.   Understanding they are unequal to this psychic challenge they retreat. Joan, the protagonist in ‘I know where I am going’, prevented by the sea from crossing the narrow strip of water to the island where her wealthy husband-to-be waits to marry her, experiences the limits to her individuated will. The sea, the rocky promontories and the wisdom of the islanders finally permeate her psychic response; she understands that she must take on a new way of seeing her situation which incorporates the historical and mythical elements that shape the people and their environment. In ‘The Red Shoes’, Moira Shearer, as Vicky, with her flaming red hair, embraces dance as possession; she embraces the mythic death that has already been mapped out for her as she dances her role in the eponymous ballet piece for which she becomes famous. Her death, is her choosing of dance as an intensity beyond the claims made upon her by men. It is a fable of the power and danger of possession; but it is also an affirmation of a life, of a possibility of a realm beyond life which can be realised in dance. The dance dream sequence of the Red Shoes ballet is not just a spectacle it is an affirmation of a shamanistic belief in the capacity of dance to carry the dancer beyond herself.  

    Although dance fantasy sequences, in particular those directed by Busby Berkeley, were staple Hollywood fare in the 1930’s, these were normally presented as erotically charged assemblages using a mass of dancers, mostly women, to create a mechanical expressive machine, responding to and giving visual pulse to the score. Astaire and Rogers personalised dance, making their own unique claim on cinematic movement but the presentation of their dance remained located in ‘the world’ set up in the script, however surreal that world might me, such as the wings of an aircraft. Notable also is that these big number dance sequences of 1930’s vintage were all placed at the end of the movie, so that the films are ultimately defined dance in terms of spectacle.

    What is interesting about The Red Shoes’ dance sequence is that it comes more or less in the middle of the film.  There is a reason for this. The sequence is an intrinsic part of the film’s plot and is so placed as a critical juncture in Vicky’s life. It represents Vicky’s psychic absorption into the dance. Her dance is spectacular but it also represents her experience as a dancer possessed, an experience that lives on in her and is a vision that carries her through the rest of the film. In this sense this outstandingly choreographed dance sequence has a psychic reality: it is not a fantasia. The sections after this sequence show Vicky’s integration of her dance into her being.

    Powell and Pressburger in the Red Shoes (with the sublime help of of Jack Cardiff’s cinematography) turn Vicky’s dance into her complete freedom to move through worlds. Dance is passage from one world to another; ‘dance’ as a kind of worm hole, connecting distant worlds. The dancer becomes shaman, in one movement able to span universes in hallucinogenic flight. Moira Shearer in ‘The Red Shoes’ sequence, traverses multiple experiential situations that close in around her like a dream before the impulse and impetus of the dance enable her to cut through each successive dream barrier onwards finally reaching her own final death sequence. “Dance is no longer simply movement of world, but passage from one world to another, entry into another world, breaking in and exploring”. (Deleuze – Cinema 2 p.63). Dance becomes for Vicky a magico-religious rite, an opening of the doors of perception; such a rite of course incorporates death into its realisations.

    Minnelli and Kelly must have looked carefully at ‘The Red Shoes’ structure before creating the scenario of ‘ An American in Paris’ . But these directors adopted Hollywood’s imperative of ‘spectacle’ before meaning, and so placed the ravishing Gershwin scored choreography at the end of the movie. The dance is beautiful but not transcendental, rather it is a full stop, leading us no further towards an internality of vision. It not the charged psychic resonator that carries Vicky foreword into life into death.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

  • 1917    Sam Mendes (UK 2019)

    1917     Sam Mendes (UK 2019) George Mackay, Dean-Charles Chapman

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 14 Jan 2020; Ticket: £10.75

    dogged vision

    Mendes ‘1917’ is a ‘Quest’ movie.  ‘1917’ uses the war as plausible backdrop against which this simple motif can be played out. In the course of the movie, ‘the questors – the protagonists’ must move through multiple zones, overcome a number of different obstacles and pass a series of ‘tests’. In this sense ‘1917’s’ structure form and story line give testament to the ever closer alignment of the games and movie industry. Games beget movies, movies beget games.

    ‘1917’ as a movie adds nothing to our emotional or psychic understanding of this war in particular or any war in general. Mendes’ films in a fashion similar to a James Bond movie, is simply about completing the course.

    The significant formal feature of ‘1917’ is the extent to which it makes little use of traditional film montage language. In ‘1917’ all the editing has been subsumed into the camera movement. ‘1917’s’ through the lens editing comprises: tight shots, wide shots, two shots, close-ups etc. all achieved through the camera choreography.  Traditional film language uses all of these types of shots but adds a temporal and spacial value to these types of shots by the manner in which they are spliced together. Cuts sometimes serving different purposes and sequences of cuts, montage, creating micro psychic statements endemic to the film’s expressive purpose. Edits and montage creating illusion of temporal continuity, atemporal continuity, discontinuity and manipulating psychological connections. The direction of traditional camera movement also exploits uncertainty about what the view the camera itself represents (privileged viewer, narrator, another player, a zombie etc). Insecurity about the shifts in camera perspective are easily manipulated to create tensions in both action and horror films. Editing and montage have the capacity to regulate a film’s rhythm and tempo creating a logic of internal tensions and tension resolutions that are built into the scenarios.

    Mendes camera is more like a faithful dog. It follows and skirts around the protagonists. The perspective is to some extent loosely based on the type of framing prevalent in electronic games. But one key perspective is missing from ‘1917’: this is the shot that represents the ‘point of view’. Given the nature of the situation, two men, beset by danger on every side, on a quest to deliver a message, the omission of the camera shot that represents point of view, that induces us to see what they see, affects the delivery of tensions in Mendes’ movie. There is surprisingly little tension in the scenario: tension is replaced by spectacle. The plane that crashes, the burning village, the ordeal by water: these are spectacularly resolved and designed to overwhelm the audience with the experience of immersion. But of course the actual experience of two such men on a mission such as supposed by the script would have been mediated by excruciating tension, mediated by what they see and every step they take, a potential mis-step. Mendes in ‘1917’ is stripping out the psychologic reality of war time missions, and replacing it with an evocation of the hallucinogenic state of mind.

    The ‘1917’ camera in holding to its spacial continuity line of following and skirting, lends the film a one dimensional relationship with the passing of time. Thinking about Clouzot’s ‘Wages of Fear’ which in some ways has a similar quest theme, the weight of the passage of time is built into the editing. The movement of the camera through the zones, through the men in the cabs of the trucks, through the trials of the road, are edited to build time as a physical element with its own markers into the scenario. In ‘1917’ time seems to dissolve into the spacial displacements and arrangements of the film. Despite the illusion of continuity, the spaces of ‘1917’ merge into each other, becoming one fluid geopyschic experience. With the language of the film predicated on space, time takes on a secondary function, loses touch with the markers of its passage, despite the time-based urgency of the mission.

    One thing to remark in the film is the spoken language, the scripted words. In the script there seemed to be two linguistic codes at work.   Language usage particular to the 1917 era, a more formal restrained expression of feeling, intermixed with today’s contemporary speech with its regular articulation of an expletive such as ‘fuck’. Interesting that the more restrained verbal mode of the setting was much more effective as an expressive device to describe the on going disaster than the full on emotive cascade more genearally employed today.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Pina   Wim Wenders (2011 Ger)

    Pina   Wim Wenders (2011 Ger) Doc with company

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 11 01 2020; ticket £7

    All things bright and beautiful

    Wenders’ ‘Pina’ is of course beautiful to look upon. The practiced group dynamics of Bausch’s choreography, the duets and solos set against the urban backcloth of Wuppertal all look gorgeous. But this is a ‘documenting’ film not what I understand as film as documentary. Film as hagiography, not as a probe.

    In ‘Pina’ Wenders presents the spectacle of Bausch within the spectacle of the dance. It is a film of the adoring gaze.

    Wenders’ key decision in ‘Pina’ was to strip Bausch out of context. In fact this is characteristic of most recent documentary vehicles. In ‘Pina’ Bausch is presented as coming out of nowhere. She is a Goddess of Dance who arrives fully formed on planet Wuppertal, an embodiment of genius.

    Of course this is not the case.

    Nothing is mentioned of her background as a child in the aftermath of Nazi Germany. Her early years will have presented her with images of destruction desolation despoliation and despair that were the psychic realities of the post war period in Germany. Did these images feed nothing into her being? Wenders ignores her stay in New York in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. This was the time of all times to be in NYC when it was the plumb centre of a world wide shift in artistic practice that induced new understandings of the different types of possibilities connecting artistic perception to social relations. This was the era where everything was opened up to re-appraisal. In particular the performance group Living Theatre was producing work that was grounded in a revolutionary reconceptualisation of what dramatic presentations could be about. Julian Beck, co- founder of Living Theatre said: “Our work had always striven to stress the sacredness of life.”

    Bausch herself commented that in NYC she “…found herself.”

    Besides the NYC influence there is of course the native German tradition of contemporary dance of which Bausch must have been aware: in particular Mary Wigman. Wigman until her death in 1972 was teaching in West Berlin and was influencing dancers world wide. Looking at residual footage of some of her productions in the 1930’s, most obviously her 1930 production of Totenmal, there are some obvious similarities to Bausch’s output. Wigman’s dances too were often accompanied by world music and non-Western instrumentation. Another obvious influence is Grotowski who in Poland was developing his Poor Theatre, a theatre of pure movement and gesture.

    In the small world of the avant garde, practitioners were certainly aware of extraneous developments outside their own work. There seems to be a concerted effort in ‘Pina’ to spin out the Bausch myth. To propose that she was a one off original, to discount and minimalise the powerful influences that played out in her life’s career.   Wenders perhaps enjoys hero worship (it is the easier way to make films with the famous); it is more comfortable to worship without asking questions.

    None of the above seeks to belittle Bausch. She was an extraordinary and innovative figure in dance. But she is of her times and understandable within the folds of the times. Wenders’ documentary which locates her outside time, and in a certain sense does her less than justice.

    But as well as creating a ‘fully formed ‘Pina’ Wenders also creates the image of Pina the enigma, a choreographer of Pythian like sensibility to the dancers and their dance. As her company are interviewed about her style of direction we are exposed to their wide eyed adulation. The respondent dancers of her company tell how just with her look she conveyed everything. One young dancer recounts how she ‘hid’ from Bausch but Bausch found her, looked at her and told her to “…keep on searching…’

    But when we see Bausch (mainly in archive), it is a face that looks stern demanding and uncompromising. Perhaps she did not have these characteristics (that I have read into her facial expression) but to run a company like this that makes complete demands on its dancers, she must have been tough, and being tough means causing pain and frustration, even if it is understood by the sufferer that these are necessary conditions for the work. But none of this is even suggested by Wenders or his subjects who are happy to take the default sycophantic road to nowhere.

    In his documenting of the Bausch repertoire there are certain singular conceptual pillars evident in her choreographic work. In my view these mainly relate to oppositions. Most prominent of these is the male – female opposition: the male body mostly defined either in angular clothing or musculated cut away costume; the female body garmented in flowing soft lines both enveloping and contouring the female form. This opposition seems primal but today in the plastic arts, gender differential is often blurred if not eradicated with the male and female merging as externalised expression. Artists certainly don’t have to justify or explain their work, and there is no reason why Bausch should have talked about the importance to her of gender opposition, but one might have thought some of the dancers might have given some thought to what Bausch was asking them to do. Or were they discouraged from thinking?

    The oppositional pillars of Bausch’s work: chaos/ organised, hard/soft, open/closed, nature/culture, fluid/solid combined with her understanding of repetitions provide a coda for an unending exploration of meaning through movement as relevant today as when she developed her choreographed forms. So thanks to Wenders for letting us gaze and glimpse something in her dance. But without further probing, in particular of Bausch and the dancers who did as they were asked, this is a pretty but vacuous movie.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

  • Blue Story   Andrew Onwubolu (UK 2019)

    Blue Story   Andrew Onwubolu (UK 2019) Stephen Odubola, Michael Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence

    viewed 10th Dec 2019 Cineworld Newcastle upon Tyne; ticket £6.00

    Another country

    Like the title of one of James Baldwins’s books, this is a film from another country. We see a country populated by deterritorialised black urban males. 

    The events that take place are located in the prosaic London suburb of Peckham, a typical outer urban zone characterised by a mix of traditional early 20th century design and architecture, and post ‘60’s high density anonymous concrete blocks. The latter providing homes for the gang boys, a matching of place and persona for the groups of young men dressed in regulation dark who lay claim to territorial privileges on their turf.

    This ‘another country’ is characterised by alienated de-individuated gang members.   Onwubolu’s Blue Story has setting but is otherwise light on context. We get some insight into the family of a couple of the main protagonists who have both been brought up by a single mother who does her best to provide for her family, but at the implied cost of her being absent and ultimately excluded from the increasing absorption of her boys into the gang psyche.   The life of the gang as depicted by Onwubolu simply swings about ‘belonging’; about belonging to a street family.  The boys who are ‘bro’s’ to each other are the included at the very least in a semantic gesture. And it’s ‘inclusion’ that meets the need, that’s desired as the handle of identity for the men and boys who are locked out of the system and lack the means to unbolt the gates of the wider social relations of the economic and cultural matrix that is the UK.   The bro’s are there because there is no place else. Not to be able to…

    So the gang is depicted in Blue Story not as a organisation engaged in criminal enterprise such as drug dealing, but as a protective shell,  a gathering-in, ( like a clan gathering) of the deterritorialised, a place where threatening external influences are held off. School and family no longer give shape and content to life; the gang purposes life, enveloping members in an language code that excludes outsiders but in itself defines the parameters of existence shaping life as an immediacy, a set of in-effect reactions to events and situations. The language of the gangs is a sort of patois. It comprises not only a specialised in –the –know vocabulary to register the immanent street concerns but also its pronunciation of English exploits a usage that makes it difficult for outsiders to understand, an empowering the gang against the outside. There were a number of times in the movie where I could not follow either the drift or the gist of the words as spoke. Speech becomes a mark of the self a source of protective strength and pride in who you are.

    Blue Story registers in its script significant differentiation based on sex in response to the UK urban experience. The gangs (as represented by Onwubolu) are exclusively male, and their the concerns and the patois effectively masculine. This is a no woman world, in the film the women’s identity centres about the more socially acceptable goals; as represented in Blue Story the women stand in sharp contradistinction to the male attitude and experience. The women speak an English that is understandable, pronounced close to London usage and with expectations little different from their white working class counterparts. Black male identity it is, that is in play for solution in Blue Story.

    Most of the script development is predictable enough. An embedded love story which plays out badly for the parties and the depiction of gang life as in effect re-action to events: the defence of turf, the cycle of revenge and accidental infliction of damage on the innocent.  Although Blue Story was trailed as a movie depicting violent knife crime, shootings were more characteristic of the film. The violence that was done, was done by people rushing about with guns, and in this sense it was characteristic of a lot of UK gangsta films. The harm done at a distance rather than the insouciant closeness of the knife stabbed in the flesh of a body.

    For all its reliance on formulaic situations, and gang situations are perhaps by definition formulaic, Onwubolu’s script and film take the mainstream audience into a world that is right next door but as alien as a life form on a distant planet. The film obviously focuses on a limited number of the gang members, the gang leaders and one noble refusnik the one who refuses to conform to street life.  My attention was caught by the silent guys standing at the back of the gangs the guys in the shadows. Those who said nothing, those who looked on with impassive faces, impossible to read and then followed the leader. Who are they? Silent ones, those without a voice those who use the knife as their only means of articulation. To stick the knife in deep the only way of saying something of saying here I am look at me, the break out of a life of muteness.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

  • The Irishman   Martin Scorsese (USA 2019)

    The Irishman   Martin Scorsese (USA 2019) Robert De Nero, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 26 Nov 2019; ticket: £10.75

    a mass for the dead

    Scorsese’s The Irishman is a film made by the dead for the employment of the dead for the entertainment of the dead.

    Scorsese and crew serve up nothing but tired clichés, played out visual tropes, second hand posturing and a scenario and script that feel dated by about 30 years. The camera work the editing and structuring of the film feel likewise. The whole sad enterprise is the work of old men, aged papier mache puppets going through motions of filmmaking reducing it to a series of mechanical events in set pieces and settings we’ve all seen many time before before.

    My feeling is that despite The Irishman being slated as a gangster movie it is really an exercise in nostalgia. This is a nostalgia fest. It is Scorsese’s commemorative memorial for a lost time now gone by that will never return. His choice of sound track music, the bright period hits of the era, together with his affectionate filming of those nice old 5’0’s and 60’s cars, betokens his yearning for a simpler America. An America where the men are men, even if they are old men gangsters, who feel comfortable both in claiming and exercising their privileges.  Of course the women know their place. We have seen it all before a long time ago: The Godfather, Mean Streets Goodfellas, all at one significant level deeply conservative affirmations of tribal male loyalty. Although the women in the form of his daughters get a shoo-in late in the movie, castigating Frank in a nod of scripted atonement from the director, this last minute switch in no way counter balances the preceding two and half hours of celebration of the all American Alpha Male.

    Suffering from locked-in time syndrome, ‘the Irishman’ suggests Scorsese has one script in him which he is doomed to endlessly repeat. The scenario is the usual assemblage of cameo scenes in which in rote the Irishman executes rivals, blows them away blows them up beats them up or sets fire to them, all in a day’s work before going home, keeping a po and eating dinner with his family.   Skimming along the surface of the imagery, this sad travesty is so desperate to try and make some claim for a deeper relevance outside of its own referential circuitry, that the various insignificant characters to whom we are introduced are given documentary -style tags. In an exercise of specious authenticity, captions explain how each met his various sad, if not deserved end. As if any one, in the second decade of the 21st century cared; as if any one was interested in Al Pacino’s character Jimmy Hoffa. As if in this context the conspiracy theory relating to the assassination of President Kennedy mooted in the script had any relevance. As if….

    The film flits wearily through its different ‘flash back’ time zones, but however ‘young’ the elderly cast are supposed to be they still all look like old men. Even though the script fits them out with attractive wives as it attempts to divert attention from the men’s obvious signs of senior citizenship. The acting by De Nero never rises above a series of facial gestures, but to use the plural is problematic, in the main he has one face fits all, the kind of hooded eye tightened jowl musculature as he says his lines: ‘You know what I’m saying?’ One of those questioning lines like: ‘ S’ wha ya gonna do?’ that gangsters are very fond of. Apparently.

    Much of the film is a padded out three hours. Like the long steady cam opening shot of the film; the wedding scene strangely and incoherently filmed using slomo; the banquet scene celebrating Frank’s contribution to the Truckers Union. At three hours the film turns into an extended parody of itself. And perhaps that is its one contribution to American film that Scorsese et al should all at the end of their film careers, be making their own filmic coffins for their own filmic funerals.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • Flesh –Trash – Heat   Warhol/Morrissey trilogy (USA 1968; 1970; 1972;)

    Flesh –Trash – Heat   Warhol/Morrissey trilogy (USA 1968; 1970; 1972;) Joe Dallessandro, Geraldine Smith, Holly Woodlawn, Andrea Feldman, Sylvia Miles

    Viewed: Nov 2019; Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle: ticket per screening: £7.

    Letting it all hang out

    I saw these films when they were released (and in that era in Newcastle were screened at the local porn palace) and re-viewing them again at the Star and Shadow they confirmed my original feeling that Warhol/Morrissey films represent a different type of film making. The people and ‘what they do’ is filmed not only in a manner way outside the ambit of conventional movies; but also these films seemed to have a different and distinct type of intention. They didn’t seem to be made for the purpose of making money or even of necessarily being widely seen. They seemed to be made with a subversive moral goal, with a singular ‘moral’ purpose of ‘detaching’ the behaviour filmed from out of any form of anchored emotional narrative or political/social context, into the form of a pure categorisation of effect.   The action and characters in the movies are simply represented as ‘types’ engaging in certain sorts of activities. They are filmed without either judgement or comment, using the camera as an obtrusive rather than a discrete presence.

    The integral claim made by the Morrissey / Warhol movies on authenticity derives from the clever studied clumsiness / amateurishness of the camera/sound work, which perfectly matches the unwitting and naïve nature of the performances.

    Warhol’s first ‘films’ or ‘strips’ used an immobile camera, detached and interested only in recording categories of experience. The camera pointed like an unblinking eye at its objects : screen tests with celebrities and ordinaries, man asleep, the Empire State Building, kisses, a blow job and ‘passing time with people’.   The subsequent ‘feature’ films in many ways took up the proposition of the detached judgemental ‘unblinking eye’ of the early movies, and incorporated many of the categorial tropes established by the early strips into the body of the feature length styled movies. In particular these Warhol/Morrissey features prominently reference: Sleep  ‘Blow Job’ ‘Kiss’ and ‘Chelsea Girls’.

    Seen from the perspective of regular movie censorship Flesh Trash and Heat are flagrantly transgressive, sailing effortlessly across multiple boundary lines of conventional morality as if they weren’t there. And in these films they are absent as judgement present only as categories. The acting was not about playing roles or adapting disguises but was simply about being yourself or perhaps projecting a facet of the self into the realm of film.

    At the time they were made the Morrissey/Warhol output opened up Cinema to a world outside the narrative concerns of regular cinema, used the movies as a way of saying things that were not in film industry scripts. They opened up cinema to the vista of outsider worlds. Worlds outside the range of people’s normal experiences; and yet of course still worlds that were contained within the human ambit and with their own particularly human traits. These films expose us to things that are both raw and in another sense simply ordinary extensions of the every day.  The raw sexuality of Dallesandro’s male hustler at work in sex, as opposed to the universal need for sexual contact. The raw demand of Dallesandro’s heroine habit and the everyday fact of everyone’s the need to get money. Money and horse – both drugs. The rawness of Hollywood’s crude trade in sex and favours, demands that simply become a normalised part of everyday life in Lala land; perhaps a normalised part of everyday life, everyday relationships.

    The three films (and also Women in Revolt) are hard edged parodies. They all offer a critique of the straight world’s perception of the outsider and the behaviour of the outsider. The outsider is marked off as being different from normal people, but the impulse to place most behavioural transgressors outside social bounds is a function of the actual close ressemblance of their lives and the needs to our own. ‘Flesh’ parodies the need (money)/ desire (flesh) equation in relation to paid sex. Getting paid and paying for sex, satirized in Morrissey’s script and camera, are simply extensions of ‘ordinary’ ‘straight’ sexual relations. Likewise ‘Trash’ and ‘Heat’ parody respectively drug addiction and the voracious nature in which money need desire and sex are traded off in all social relations.

    In one respect the Warhol/Morrissey films anticipate a critical social development that was to take place in the 21st century.   That is the changing nature of the definition of private versus the public sphere of information in relation to gender and sexuality. Issues of sexuality, gender, LGBT rights, sexual identity and sexual tastes (SM – rough sex – group sex) have moved out of the private domain into the public sphere. Gender migration , sexuality, STD’s are now the subject of show business type outings. People in all spheres of life now come out in public with both confessional and proclamational avowals of their identities and conditions. The outspokenness about sex, sexual tastes and sex needs that is an endemic feature of the Warhol/Morrissey output has now become part of everyday discourse. Joe and his co-stars literally and figuratively let it all hang out. Warhol /Morrissey seem to have understood something about the forces at work in late capitalist consumer society that would lead to break down of the rigidities of the strictures of sexual identity stemming from family and social relations. They understood something of the coming of the new forces of overwhelming individualist desire.

    The core visual keying of Trash Heat and Flesh is the the body.  The transfiguration of the body (at one point in Trash, Dallasandro takes on an almost Christ like apparition) is at the centre of these Warhol/Morrissey films. It is mostly Joe Dallasandro’s body. But this is not body as a receptor of impressions sensations or emanations. It is body as the centre of gravity, the narcissistic body that is the object of the gaze. The body of the future, a projection.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk  

     

     

     

     

     

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