Star & Shadow

  • 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  

     

     

     

     

     

  • Two Lane Blacktop    Monte Hellman (USA 1971)

    Two Lane Blacktop    Monte Hellman (USA 1971) James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, Laurie Bird, Warren Oates

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 14 Nov 2019; ticket: £7

    Highway 66 revisited

    Hellman’s movie looks like the nearest Hollywood has come to making a neo realist film. A fact which Universal, the distributors underlined by more or less pulling the film and not supporting its distribution. Like The Last Movie, the Swimmer, White Dog, which were all left to rot in their cans by the distributors, Two Lane Blacktop probed the soft underbelly of the America belief system and more, compromised Hollywood’s definition of film as an exclusively narrative/action expressive form. But however much Hellman’s movie approaches a European sensibility, this is America, this is an American film and Two Lane Blacktop stays true to its psychogeography.

    Hellman’s movie has no violence, no drugs, no sex, no plot. It is pure ‘road’ taking as its theme the idea of life as pure existence. In literary terms it has provenance in Beat literature: Kerouac’s On the Road, Woolf’s Electric Kool Air Acid test and some of Ginsberg’s writings.   Hellman’s movie is gentler than any of these (and indeed its Hollywood precursor Easyrider) more like transposing the 19th century concept of the Parisian flaneur onto the highways of the USA. The idea of an uprooted deracinated flaneur, high not on the absinthe, the green fairy, but on speed pure and gasoline. Both the ‘flaneur’ and Hellman’s ‘highwayheads’ exemplify a sort of pure existence, an existence predicated on pure state of being, such as experienced in velocity, a non chemical drug untrammelled by the expectations of society. A self always on the move and implicated in the present. A self existing on its own terms. Doing, achieving, self reinvention, overcoming are notions alien to Hellman’s characters.  

    In the script the characters are people without names. No name to bind them, no umbilical cord attaching them to place or family. Without past without future, they are the driver, the mechanic, the girl and GTO.

    There are different definitions of what the idea of neo-realism means. One idea is that this concept points to the idea of seeing, an arrived-at-understanding on the part of the characters of something experienced. Neo-realist films move away from being action driven to being perception driven vehicles of expression.

    Hellman’s movie stays true to its source. Its characters, the driver the mechanic the girl and GTO live in the flow of the road, taking from the road whatever the road offers them. The players remain true to the American psyche, emanations of a culture in which isolation and remoteness from others are defining characteristics. They people are disconnected from their experiences unchanged by their encounters. Understanding is a peripheral concept not a central, what is seen changes nothing. The characters stay within themselves observing but unaffected: cool. For Hellman’s characters there are no moments of doubt; the boys just follow the road, like Kerouac they can never go fast enough; and the girl always contained frozen within the bounds set by herself.  They are pure Americana, on the move externally, immobile internally. And the last character, GTO is that most typical of American of characters a man who doesn’t exist outside of the confines of the stories he tells. Spinning out virtual imagined versions of himself to the hitchhikers he picks up as he criss-crosses the highways.   And as he starts to talk the rides fade as GTO projects himself onto the road. Two Lane Blacktop is built on a premise of opposing ideas: the openness of the highways, the closed nature of the characters who ride them. A contradiction at the heart of contemporary America.

    But Hellman’s film has a sort of suggested Medieaval subtext. Taylor and Wilson look sumptuously beautiful. Beautiful all American boys. Superstars. They reminded me of some of the male faces in Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac. The actual filmic presence of the two rock stars suggests the idea of retro knights errant, chevaliers endlessly circling the globe confronting the strange the wonderful in their quest for the holy grail. Of course the driver, the mechanic are not on any quest; but their existence as they roam the highways, moving from one joust, one competition to the next, paints in a modern day resemblance to the old contes de gestes. Even the girl might double as a damsel in distress, though of course she isn’t. She’s just another errant being like the driver and the mechanic: transposed Mediaeval souls condemned to endlessly circle the earth.

    Perhaps that is the difference between the European and the American take on neo realism. The Europeans come to know that somehow they are lost but there is nothing they can do about it; the Americans don’t get lost because it’s not a word in their language.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Sorry we missed you Ken Loach (2019 UK)

    Sorry we missed you   Ken Loach (UK 2019) Kris Hitchin, Debbie Honeywood

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, 12 11 2019; ticket £10.75

     

    What is says on the packet

     

    Ken Loach’s social realist drama delivers a polemic exactly as promised as would any Soviet era film which with peasants as its subject, would make dramatic mincemeat of kulaks or landlords. But the Loach’s film is none the worse for its intensity of purpose and singular passion with which it sets to expose the evils endured by a contracted out workforce.

     

    The film is the better for being finely scripted, taking as its focus the situation of the family. It is Abbie and Ricky and their children who are folded into an economic logic that crushes the life out of them psychically and physically. Loach and Rafferty (script writer) ratchet up the pressure of coping day to day week to week with life’s incidents. With few resources the family are pushed to breaking point.

     

    One of the great heroes of Soviet science, Pavlov, came to mind. As I watched the film, I saw one of the best critical observations of ‘smart’ phones absorbed in

    its scenario. Pavlov’s dogs were trained to respond to the stimulus of bells as part of his passive avoidance experiments.  Loach and Rafferty create the same effect with the smart phones owned by Abbie and Ricky as they respond to their phones call in the same way that Pavlov’s dogs responded to a bell: to avoid pain.  There is probably a PhD to be done looking at Pavlovian psychology and mobiles.

     

    And extending beyond the Pavlovian mobile it is this terrifying feeling of life being out of control that permeates the drama. Loach’s film is soap opera , but with passion to reveal not emotional flooding out for its own sake, but the forces behind the emotions he shows. The control of Abbie and Ricky’s life has passed into the hands of the managers. The structural position of the managers is that they are removed from the actualities of the work they supervise (in fact the less they know about it the better), they are simply structured into an enforcement protocol; their role is to be the algorithm of the rule book.

     

    Abbie and Ricky are alienated functionaries, like most of us. Outside class outside community, just getting by. So when Seb their son picking up both intuitively and directly to the situation of the family, understands the wreckage of his parent’s life, he reacts by saying “NO” to carrying on as normal and rebels.   And as this one NO ripples through the daily adjustments compromises and coping mechanisms, the family machine just disintegrates.

     

    With a set of actors primed to the tenets of social realism, Loach delivers a film with a message. And what a message.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

  • The Joker Todd Phillips (USA 2019)

    Joker               Todd Phillips (USA 2019) Joaquin Phoenix

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 23 Oct 2019; ticket £10.75

    An I for an I

    The film’s script is the predictable Hollywood sensory motor drive vehicle, creating a film that is a series of one thing after another, the connecting linkage deriving from the psychological state of the protagonist. Joker charts the movement of its eponymous subject as he moves from victim state to master state. Joker is a chronicle of an overcoming which is the familiar theme of the stereotypical American achievement story.

    The Joker invokes a series of validating psychic clichés such as resentment, repression, disappointment against a background of sets that have the look of stylised video games that is the default setting of today’s immersive movies.   The Joker is a loner, living in a fragmented urban space isolated except for his invalid mother, and his passive membership of compulsive TV viewers club, a self elected community, which like fake canned laughter, lend the trappings of reality to the TV stations.  

    Set in the vague time zone known as ‘sometime in the past’ (a zone liked by script writers for the freedom it offers them of being able to include or exclude inconvenient social or technical considerations) when we had TV but we didn’t have mobile phones. In this snug time zone, little people like the Joker could make no claim for any sort of social recognition. They were simply fodder, workers in an exploitative labour market; and at leisure marked for the unctuous exploitative paternalism of the big TV and radio channels and their advertisers (There is a visual reference to Wilder’s ‘Ace in the Hole’ in the scenario). Todd Phillips (and co writer Scott Silver) in the script exploit the familiar trope of the oleaginous dominant talk show host as an exciter of Arthur’s neo Nietzschian will to power, that finally leads to the inversion of his despised clown persona, into a badge of self found individuality. Arthur belittled by his powerlessness acquires a gun, the tool that changes situations, and thereby transforms himself into a being able to enforce his own intents and purposes (whether in ‘fantasy’ or for ‘real’ as the scenario is careful to confuse the status of its actual referencing).

     

    Joker is a delivery machine.

     

    The Joker’s psychic message endorses above all, the spirit of the times. It says what people want to hear. Todd Phillips delivers an affirmative endorsement of the individuating forces of a commercialised product fixated society with its digital technology that places the individual at the centre of their own universe of possibilities.  Arthur once self re-invented as the Joker says: “ I didn’t know if I really existed, but now I do!”

    An engaging belief of the age is that the self is a repressed entity, subjected to the range of social relations into which it is born. The object of the career of ‘the self’ is overcoming; the finding of the one and true self, the who you really are.   The community as a source of identity, class as a source of identity are all but destroyed. We are just functionaries with families, which are often festering nests of destructive emotions. But high tech as developed by late stage capitalism, after reducing us to functionaries, has provided us with the means to fill out the stuff of life. A multiplicity of products and services in the consumer cornucopia enable serious shopping for identity: the products and services of digital technology, where the particle, the individual seated at the centre of their own web voyaging out into on-line universe, is released as a free agent to explore identity on all its facets.

    Phillips and `silver’s ‘Joker’ is ultimately a rationalisation for the self fixated narcissism of the times. Whatever stands in the way of the onward march of the true ‘self’ can be pushed aside, destroyed buy any means necessary. The true self allows nothing to stand in the way of its transfiguration. The sub text of ‘the Joker’ incorporates the on-line world as the triumph of a solipsistic nihilism.

    Lurking in the images of Joker is not just the performance of Joaquin Phoenix but his body. It re-appears through the film, lithe like a snake, bone brazen, moving dancing saying things without words that suggests a deeper level of penetration into the Joker’s psychic make up. The images are narcissistic and self centred particularly in movement. But when still they suggested to me a vulnerability of flesh and blood, the skin of a being animal.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

  • Bait Mark Jenkin (2018;uk

    Bait     Mark Jenkin (UK 2018) Edward Rowe, Mary Woodvine, Sam Shepherd.

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 9th Sept 2019; Ticket: £10.75

     

    Language Lesson

    Using digital RAW formats to shoot movies often delivers a film look that has the invariant quality of a chocolate box. These sort of films tend to look the same, drawn out of the same stylistic gloss as the adverts that precede them in the programme. In a sense whatever the content of the story we gaze on a world that is captured in the visual halo of perfection: RAW 20:20 vision. Film stock seems to be a better medium for reproducing images on screen, images that are able to suggest worlds with other qualities, worlds that induce us into realms of emotional imbalances, psychic bias, imperfection and obscured sight.

    16mm film makers in particular have long been aware of the psychic charge of this medium with its very particular qualities of replication. But very often people working with this format have been happy to flatter themselves with demonstrations of its capacities but have failed to exploit its potential as a means by which content might be grounded. To exploit 16mm as an artistic vanity rather than as an affect of context.  As if grain and the mechanico-accidental features of flare scratch hair abrasion shutter waver and development inconsistences were in themselves enough to justify cranking film through the gate and in themselves were evidence of a creative competence.

    Mark Jenkins ‘Bait’ is remarkable because it incorporates the technical qualities and characteristics of 16mm film into a context in which the medium itself becomes a key element in the narrative. In Jenkin’s film the use of the 16mm stock is utilised both as a primary expressive device and as a kind of coded language.

    Every story is told in a particular language. Most film theorists, including Pasolini and Eisenstein have understood film language as being connected to the manner and style in which a film is shot and edited: they point to the expressive interpretative potential of: montage, the framing of shots, the duration of shots and positioning of the camera, point of view. Most theorists seem to have ignored the potential of the film stock in itself to ‘speak’ and to be part of the language of cinema. ‘Bait’ works because Jenkin tells its story in the language of ‘The Occupied’. Through the utilisation of 16mm film Jenkin represents the world as lived through the experience of the occupied, not through the eyes of the occupiers. The narrative posits a situation of opposition. The native people, the occupied, with their way of life and way of seeing the world; and the new colonialists, the incomers, the occupiers with their way of seeing the world, and their agenda to transform the substance of their conquest whilst paying a superficial homage to the surface of appearances in order to reference what has gone before but is now vanished.

    16mm format is Jenkin’s chosen medium to realise in filmic code the language of the occupied. Filmed in RAW digital system, the world of the small Cornish village would look perhaps picturesque colourful charming. The world the occupiers want to see. Filmed through Jenkin’s camera we see a world of scratch, flair, unevenness, imperfection, obscurity, yet visually arresting and drawing the viewer into another reality. To see in this way is to see through the façade of life the occupying forces have created, and to experience the feeling of being invaded. It is a language of resistance.

    Most important in Jenkin’s use of 16mm is that this format reveals itself for what it is. As you watch you are conscious all the time that you are watching artifice: the grain the scratching the flare etc. communicate. It is not a hidden language. With its imperfections, it constantly announces and reminds that it is in business of replication. ‘Bait’ pushes into our faces that it is a film.   We cannot see it otherwise. It is not pretending to be something that it is not. This obvously has philisophical implications in relation to what Jenkin wants to do. Most films that we view want to be seen as something that they are not; most movies want the viewers to take the images they present as something real. As in the adverts most Hollywood films are in the business of selling images. Like Godard and some other filmmakers, Jenkin calls attention through the medium of the film to the nature of what we are watching.   ‘Bait’ is not trying to pass itself as real image: symbolic perhaps, but not real. This also complements the character of Martin. Martin is who he is. He makes no attempt to conceal his identity. This of course, is in opposition to the occupiers whose concern is to conceal who they are, what what are doing and their purposes.

    The use of 16mm allows Jenkin’s film to be about texture not surface. The incomers present surface, but through the film we see texture of things and beings. Martin the displaced fisher, occupies a world of texture. His beard, like an Assyrian King’s relief on the walls of Nineveh, the fish he nets, the net itself and creel, the money he gets are all what they are. Martin and his relations are real not plastic, he protrudes into the world, does not lie on its surface.

    16mm film is grainy, and by using it the clarity of the formulaic digital film systems are replaced witha a tactile obtrusion. The fake clarity of the real estate sales pitch or the property bond prospectus is replaced by a world delivered in grain; a world of fuzzy objects where uncertainties are certain. This idea is played up by Jenkin in sequences where he intercuts between his antagonists. This opposition climaxes in the dinner sequence where Sandra, wife of the developer eats a lobster with her husband. As she eats she becomes increasingly overpowered and terrified of the actuality of this creature; it is not an image. She is overwhelmed, defeated by the lobster’s presence, its tactility in her hand: its reality. She crumples.

    In most movies there is an important decision made in the scenario between what is to be seen by the viewer and what is not to be seen.  What is to be seen is ‘lit’. What is not to be seen, is ‘unlit’. To some extent you might say: this is what film is: ‘the lighting’. But life as a template also offers other stimulae to our senses: the obscured, the glimpsed, the hardly seen, and Jenkin uses the characteristic quality of his medium, its graininess to create images that exist in a state of being true to themselves: images that have some of the characteristics of rubbings or impressions.  These grainy images are the phenomenological representations of things that Martin knows in his work and life; the immediate things that connect him to who he is, what he touches and what he does; tools nets wood door handles wood fish other people’s faces, hands. They are physical rather than clear optical pictures. What they look like is of a lesser quality than how they are known.

    The texture of the representation and the indistinct nature of objects filmed allows Jenkin to build up a series of symbolic allusions throughout Bait, but without the symbols becoming over dramatised heavy handed devices. The mystery endemic in the indistinct allows them to reference thoughts ideas allusions so that they suggest immanence rather than crudely pointing. Jenkin’s objects often seem to find themselves in a half way house between the symbol and the actual, suggesting an experience of when man and nature are more closely bound together; an originatory world where the symbolic and actual are in interchangeable relationships.  Again a world of depth not surface.

    Some might comment that the use of 16mm footage traps the lives of those depicted in the past, in a vanished world of faded old black and white film.   I don’t think this idea has any validity. As argued above Jenkin exploits his chosen film film format to create a language for showing a particular world of oppositions and to suggest different sorts of relations. ‘Bait’ replicates the world where work activity, where the body is the mediating agent between people and life. A world that is not characterised by long durational shots short sharp cuts; a world where prolonged eye contact is alien, a world approximated in the editing by: the glance and the glimpse; the flick of the eye not the turn of the head.

    In this replication Jenkin’s use of sound and slightly off kilter dialogue reinforce the implication in the film that there are things to think about here in Brexitland and also in the wider global picture.

    So who/what is ‘BAIT’?   Us the viewers? Or do we ‘take’it?

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Once upon a time in Hollywood Quentin Tarantino (USA; 2019)

    Once upon a time in Hollywood   Quentin Tarantino (USA 2019) Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 16 August 2019; ticket: £10.75

     

    Life’s a beach

     

    As I watched Once upon a time in Hollywood I was getting that feeling known as Déjà vu. I felt I’d seen it all somewhere before.

     

    This is the first film of Tarantino I’ve viewed that I felt awareness of dirivitive influences shaping his writing/direction. Of course Tarentino is known as an obsessive consumer of movies and TV, and pulls into his films references ideas images etc from the whole rattlebag of the Hollywood skeleton. Generally the bombastics of his stylised scenarios serve as disconnects to most of his referents. But ‘Once upon a time’ pointed me towards specific influential sources: Robert Altman’s movies, in particular the Long Goodbye; and, Hill’s Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid.

     

    If not dopple gangers for Redford and Newman, DiCaprio and Pitt come across as transposed feel-good simulacra. DiCaprio and Pitt in their relationship project an   idealised American male buddy relationship, striking that same note of relaxed intimacy that Hill drew from his actors: a relationship that is of course another Hollywood stereotype.

     

    Altman’s movie ‘The Long Good-bye’ is among his very best, and like ‘Once upon a time…’ centres about LA with its myriad interconnected themes of movies desire and crime. The Long Goodbye like some of his other films, most obviously Nashville, utilises a shooting style that exploits the idea of layering rather than narrative. The shifting constantly travelling scenario revolves around theme, stalks idea rather than confronting idea. The Long Goodbye incorporates through a diverse series of characters, vignettes and strips of dialogue, the situations and events that combine and build upon each other to create the impression of a world. It is in the context of this world that we can come to see the movie.

     

    Employing a similar stylistic approach, Tarentino’s movie, like Altman’s creates a world. For Altman LA is a lost world, a world corrupted, a fallen world. The Long Goodbye fills out the things that Altman perceives. Tarentino’s movie is about Hollywood, but Tarentino doesn’t work from perception. Tarentino is about extension. The gross extension of his own immersed movie experience projected out into the world. ‘Once upon a time..’ works as a movie (it is very well shot) because his projection of Hollywood is part of a collective experience extending out into the viewers’ expectations and anticipations, confirming their enjoyment as a legitmate experience.

     

    The layering of Tarentino’s movie sets up the interplay of life and movies in Hollywood: it is difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends. In Hollywood, such is the omnipresence of the movies they penetrate consciousness eliding the objective and the subjective. Such is the allure of Tinseltown, the power it wields over the imagination of America in its state of psychic confusion, Tarentino’s state of mind becomes a shared experience in which we all participate.

     

    ‘Once upon a Time…’ folds togather the lives of Rick and Cliff.   Rick the fading cowboy star and Cliff his stunt double. Rick’s career and income slump as times in Hollywood change. The taste for old fashioned cowboy heroes wanes and is replaced by a hipster generation of male leads.   Built into this layered fable of decline are a series of tangential intrusions.   Barely remarked these minor interactions, no more than small incidents are witness to another world intruding into the Hollywood machine. The world of Manson, which is exploited by Tarentino to justify his finale as a true ‘Hollywood’ apocalypse.  

     

    A film that is an extension of Tarentino’s immersion can only end in an orgy of explosive violence. And Tarentino decides to hammer out the Sharon Tate story on the anvil of his imagination; but transposes the homicidal mission of the Manson family away from Tate’s household onto Rick’s. ‘Once upon a time…’,   climaxes with a sequence all movie goers love: a Zombie style final battle in which the good guys whip the Zombies, thereby retrofitting an unhappy actual story with a happy virtual outcome.

     

    Sharon Tate’s heavily pregnant stabbed dead body and murdered foetus are replaced with another kind of ending: drinks for all by the pool.   Sharen Tate’s murder (and that of her child and the rest of the people in her house) is just another movie in a world given over to movies in which the manufacture of death is usually the end product.   In LaLa Land death is everywhere. Like the sign – part of the landscape.

     

    So Tarentino’s movie makes its claim to be present on our screen in that it is part of the collective consciousness of America. It doesn’t have to explain or to justify itself. It is what it is.   Life’s a beach. But where are the Beach Boys. Not on this soundtrack. They are real.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Midsommar Ari Aster (USA, 2019)

    Midsommar   Ari Aster (USA, 2019)     Florence Pugh, Jack Raynor

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 25 July 2019; ticket: £10.75

    Droning on

    Aster’s ‘Midsommar’ is no more than a goof-ball college comedy transposed to the psychic depths of contemporary pagan Sweden. A sort of Wicker Man without the Wicker. Aster’s po faced intoning from be-alb-ed matriarchs replaces the manic glee generated by director Hardy’s joyous ‘Wicker’ actors as they set to and enjoy a good old fashioned human sacrifice.

    After a little opening pre-title foreplay, the Midsommar script dumps our four sophomores, together with two barely explained extras from England, into a sort of vaguely menacing pastoral setting. Even if we overlook the superannuated bad acting complete with crass laboured dialogue, we are left with plot that inches its way into inconsequentiality slowly laboriously dragging itself towards an inevitable fiery finale. On the way it drops a lot of baggage, non sequiturs and dead ends, epitomised in Aster’s disinterest in the fate of half of the characters, who fall off the edge of the script rather than anything more meaningful, disappearing without trace.   Such is the lacklustre nature of the ‘Sommar’ scenario their absence is barely noticed except as a clumsy device to pare down the action in readiness for the finale.

    Skulls get clonked and suspicious dodgy liquids drunk but finally it’s down to the final scene, the stitch-up with Christian the male protagonist sewn into a bear skin to meet his end whilst Dani the heroine is crowned Queen of the May. Dani’s face in her incarnation as cult queen with all its efflorescence, provides the final shot of the movie. This is of course the default politically correct shot of a self satisfied mien locked in little smile as she watches the sacred pyramid burn, with all her chums inside.

    After a long half hour setting up a psycho drama in relation to Dani and the suicide of her sister the film finally lurches out into the sticks and Aster gets shooting. From the point the film moves into exteriors Aster resorts to increasing use of drone fly-by shots. Drones tracking, drones lifting, drones overhead and drones droning.  Midsommar seems to be a textbook exercise of how not to use drone shots. What is interesting in the film is the laziness of the shooting of many of the scenes and the implications of this labile shot creation for the disconnectedness and lack of tension generated by the scenario.   The use of drone shots in Midsommar distances and disconnects the viewer from the already flaccid action.

    A decision to use a closer camera and using closeness to push the bounds of the relations between the kids and the cult people might have forced Aster to work harder on scripting. It would not have rescued his movie but it might have stopped his film moving into total disconnect drive. As we watch the drone shots – the overheads of the feasting – the tracking into the sacred pyramid – what the footage communicates is the simple message: you are watching a movie and the director has decided to use a drone shot at this point. The drone turns the audience away from the action alerting them directly to the mechanics of the camera. The drone shot used repeatedly as in Midsommar becomes about the technical process, a cue for distraction and detachment alienating the audience from participation.

    A drone shot can rarely be disguised.  Used to affect the drone in pointing out that a shot in a movie refers to itself as a particular type of seeing,  can be valuable tool in the director’s armoury of effects. Overused, as it is by Aster in Midsommar,  drone shots simply becomes a banality, a sign of lack of imagination and ability to understand and use film language.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

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