Monthly Archives: September 2009

  • Fish Tank Andrea Arnold (UK 2009)

    Fish Tank Andrea Arnold (UK 2009) Katie Jarvis; Michael Fassbender

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 19 Sept 09 ticket price £7.00

    Text from Kyleland….

    I am less convinced by Andrea Arnold’s (AA) Fish Tank than some. And the reason for this is that I think the drive underlying her narrative, the fairytale, is attenuated and almost destroyed, by overdriven and overdetermined concerns that are external and extraneous to her story. The movie lacks a full commitment to the endemic forces that are locked into the core of AA’s ideas.

    Some might think of AA as a British Chabrol. But Chabrol has contextual certainty. AA looks like she has contextual certainty but this is to see her location choices as real rather than mythic. By this I mean that whereas Chabrol’s absolute knowledge of the place and culture generated by his locations, lend to his films an enveloping social carapace. For Chabrol locations are not just background for events: they are determining. In contrast, in relation to its settings and locations, AA’s Fish Tank (FT) is more like a postcard.

    The backcloth setting of the high rise low rent estate is initially characterised by a specious funky realism. Evrifinks in yerface: the council flat, the private and public areas, the relationships, the interactions, the dialogue. As the story line develops, the realism is revealed as a simple set of props and gestures: the backcloth to a recast fairytale. And the fairytale is the source of AA’s filmic daemon. If Red Row owed its vision to Bluebeard’s Castle, then FT owes a similar debt to the Red Shoes. The which fairytale takes a cautionary approach to the joyous allure young girls feel towards dancing (alone); a thinly veiled allusion to the pull of sexual awakening being accompanied by the push of the dangers inherent in this state. The ‘estate ‘ for all its actual semblance, is no more real than the palaces and undersea worlds of Hans Christian Anderson. The estate is indeed fairytale land transposed. The danger for FT is AA’s casting of the film into a sort of cod realism relocates her story in Jeremy Kyleland. Which not only works against the energising force of the movie; but is not a very interesting place; we can go there every weekday between 9:00 and 11:00am (or to Tris if we want).

    I think that the weakness in FT lies in an over elaboration of the story, exemplified by its tacked on revenge motif. It’s a post modern feminist coda that allows the female in the plot to take on the proactive role, but in so doing it stretches the fairy tale core of the film to a point where it finally loses its coherent urgency. It’s as if AA wants to interweave a series of consciously affirmative polemic statements into the fabric of her tale. I think that the consequence of this is to disassemble her film into a series of statements that flag up positions and concerns that abandon the vision.

    In itself, the revenge coda that is the penultimate sequence in the film is wonderfully conceived and shot. But my feeling is that the form, in which it is finally resolved, adds little to the film. It functions like an appended text message: that Mia is a ballsy modern woman who takes life and its decisions in her own hands. But we’ve already seen this side of Mia in the horse episode. The revenge coda draws back from taking the path of an absolute filmic and mythic logic; that Mia’s abduction of Conor’s little girl should lead to the death of the child. Which outcome would have taken Mia from dance to death, and kept FT within the form of the fairy tale. The Red Shoes is a story which connects life death sex. But AA abandons the mythic for a kind of cod realism, the Brothers Grimm for Jeremy Kyle.

    I think that in FT AA has made a film which is conceived and shot with passion and invention. The problem is that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Stories that become trite through tying up all the lose ends; and end up hung about with messages, don’t seem a necessary means for AA to express herself filmically.

    If she has the vision, she has to trust in the inherent power of her material.

    adrin neatrour

  • Inglorious Basterds Quentin Tarentino (USA 2009)

    Inglorious Basterds Quentin Tarentino (USA 2009) Brad Pitt; Melanie Laurent,Christopher Waltz

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 8 Sept 09; ticket price £7.00

    No one ever expects….the Spanish Inquisition

    Halfway through Tarentino’s first chapter of Inglorious Basterds (IB) the SS officer interrogating the French dairy farmer casually suggests that they converse in English. There is some specious rationale given for the request which is in fact made in order to save the viewers the chore of reading subtitles which are never very popular with American audiences. The farmer, as this is a film, and he is an actor and is hoping to get paid some TV royalties graciously agrees and the interrogation proceeds in perfect English from both parties.

    In a way this opening switch to English says everything about film according to Tarentino (QT) who takes the position that the world no longer subsumes cinema; rather cinema subsumes the world. Cinema no longer responds to the world or its needs the world responds to cinema and its needs. That’s similar to Shakespeare and other dramatists; but the artistic license Shakespeare assumed in relation to history had the object of asking questions about tragedy, character and human nature, in the play out of events. QT in this most postmodern of flourishes, reduces history to a statement about style and attitude. An endemic proposition in IG ( whether intended or not)seems to be to stretch Post modernism to its limits so that it cracks up in the contradictions of its own absurdity. By which I mean, viewer and the film reach a point where it’s possible to say anything about anything and something about nothing. This being the case, content is voided of meaning leaving only the shells of style and attitude to fill the screen.

    One question, not a particularly interesting one, but a question nevertheless is whether IB is a conscious expression by Tarentino of the image culture’s ultimate reduction of ideas to the expressive mode of the comic book, or whether so immersed in Hollywood is QT that his work is simply a kind of automatic writing: a conditioned response to the stimulant of being at the vortex of US culture, Hollywood.

    The plot line with its comic book conventions and inventions seems to owe some debt to British veins of absurdist humour as developed by Monte Python where staple humorous devices and techniques for provoking laughter involved the reframing of ideas, characters, individuals and institutions wildly out of context; and stretching ideas to the limits of the absurd: the Spanish Inquisition, Karl Marx as a game show panellist, the Ministry of Silly Walks. The form of the humour seems best suited to short sketches as the point of the comic idea is to deconstruct or to delink or reduce to absurdity the object it targets. Once through the humorous device, the objective is achieved, end of story. In this sense Pythan was essentially nihilistic, a realisation that perhaps led Terry Gilliam to try and develop feature films that worked their way out of the comic snake pit.

    A defining feature of Pythan was that the ideas were all contained in the style of presentation: characters were simply ciphers for the comic ideas; they had no other function. QT certainly seems to have absorbed the praxis of the Pythans, their imitators and the various shows that have picked up the baton such as Black Adder. So IB takes the form of chapters which are really no more than a series of short loosely connected sketches each of whose form is controlled by a single sketch idea (The interrogation, the parlour game, the revenge game) and which are loosely linked by thematic stock stereotypical characters. With the license of the feature film to extend stylistic expression into extreme violence, as a governing attitude, QT as with the ‘Kill Bills’ is able to develop the idea of violence as a purely American obsession, an endemic cultural resource which can be magnified deconstructed delinked and parodied.

    My realisation at the end of the IG was that there was nowhere for it to go, as it had been nowhere, that it had simply gone through a series of familiar gestures exploiting a stylised violence and vacuous characterisation to energise the project. What QT parodies is already parodied in real life by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib or Bagram acting out their own versions of Tarentino style movies; and by High School kids imagining they are the instruments of fate (or god) as they gun down their classmates or spray shopping malls with bullets. In a culture that parodies itself there is no place for parody to go except the dead end of gross caricature, which is where IG ends. And that is where QT has got to: no place. He’s probably very pleased with himself for arriving here.

    Because when you get to no place you can burn it down and start all over again with a new movie. The which is exactly how QT resolves IB. (Except for the little epilogue that allows Brad and Chris to do a turn together: Brad carving the swastika into Chris’ forehead with his big knife)

    adrin neatrour

  • Coco before Chanel Anne Fontaine (France 2009)

    Coco before Chanel Anne Fontaine (France 2009) Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 19 Aug 09; ticket price £7.00

    frocks and stuff

    If German cinema has sold out its soul and sense of history to Hollywood; then in films such as Coco before Chanel (CBC) we can see that French cinema has capitulated completely to the BBC costume drama format where history and life are reduced to a corporate competition to see who has the biggest hoose, the most crinoline and the funniest hats: the Beeb or FR2? These corporate products are characterised by the silent doleful meaningful looks of the principal characters as they gaze upon worlds of which they can never be a part. Which gazings are repeated ad nausiam in shots and scenes until you want to give one or both saps a poke in the eye.

    I should never have gone to see this movie but a commitment to keep a random element in my film going led me to a terrible place.

    CBC is a cozzi biopic filmed in the best tradition of the genre: nothing real intrudes so as to disturb a succession of set pieces (big hoose parties), meaningful encounters characterised by gnomic banal dialogue or silence and tastefully lit pans of skin, stand-ins for the sex scenes. The narrative is in the manner of that vacant style of page turning which characterises the perusal of expensive coffee table publications. Beginning middle and end have little meaning. It doesn’t matter whether you start at the front or somewhere in the middle. It all looks the same and Anne Fontaine opens out CBC before us in with a unidimensional monotony without pace tension or energy. CBC isn’t a life; it’s a parade of fashionable gestures. A vehicle for Audrey.

    Most of the shots are clichés comprising compositions framed for symmetry and tracks that lead nowhere. However there was one shot that I liked in the movie being the only shot that made me connect with something a little below the belt. After a nights hard set-piece partying at Etienne’s bighoose, CBC cuts to early morning and shot of Coco sort of splayed on the ground under a tree; and to me she had the look of a clown. For a moment my imagination fired; I understood something about Coco. She was a clown and a clown hides behind a mask and feigns happiness to disguise sadness or emptiness. With clown you don’t know what’s going on but they are always know they’ll end up in the shit. But the shot turned out to be an anomaly, a blip in the parade of images. Nothing developed out of the shot. Perhaps it was just my imagination. An hallucination on my part born of a desire to find something in the film that made any sense.

    Because of course Coco was a haunted character. Haunted by her past which she tried very hard, most of her life, to conceal. Driven perhaps to square off the humiliations and knock backs (both real and imagined) that she experienced from the hands that paid for her creations. The clown knew how to perform and to hide behind the mask. Perhaps the clown also wanted something darker, revenge; was there something of this desire to get her own back that lay behind her arrest as a spy after World War ll and her subsequent release and flight to Switzerland? The film is unable to pose let alone answer any real questions. Time just slips by. World War l, epochs, the page simply turns over to the next picture. the next frock.

    Part of the motivation of seeing CBC was that my daughter, 20 years old and interested in fashion said she’d like to see it. When I asked her if she’d enjoyed it she replied it was one of the most boring films she’s ever seen.

    adrin neatrour