Monthly Archives: December 2010

  • Catfish Henry Joost Ariel Schulman (USA 2010)

    Catfish Henry Joost Ariel Schulman (USA 2010) Janiv Schulman

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle; 19 Dec 2010; Ticket: £7.50

    city slickers or reel seekers…

    Catfish (C ) presents itself as being an exercise in actual film making. A documentary embedded in the process of uncovering a situation and shot as events and reactions to events that were filmed, unfold. It looked and felt more like a retro construct (you take an underwater camera on a doc shoot?) in which directors Joost and Schulman (JS) were able to bring coherence and a certain moral conviction to their material as part of a filmic act of containment.

    Moral debate lies at the core of C as a project. The directors, JS and subject Niv, who is S’s brother, are anxious to present their film not as an exploitation flick of a sad woman in a sad situation, but rather as a commentary on the problematic nature of evaluating claims made to identity in contemporary web based personal communications. They also want to anticipate objections to the movie on the basis of exploitation of its naïve subject, Angela by claiming that Angela as the naïve subject was the better, in a psychological and moral sense, for having her web based fabrication exposed and that she would benefit from the recognition she gained for her paintings through their exposure in C.

    In documentary film making there is the moral issue of process which of course often relates to the moral issues of content. At the core of any documentary film is the issue as to what is going on here? Dramas based on fiction don’t usually have the issue of process as problematic: what is happening is the realisation of a scripted doing by actors. The process of filming documentaries raises fundamental issues as to whether what the viewer experiences are scripted or unscripted doings; and the extent to which the film makers allow these layers and laminations of film to be visible. A documentary of course may be scripted in the sense that there is a coherent schedule of events the director plans to record: interviews and action. The nature of the interviews and actions as responses may be highly predictable as is often evident from docs. But predictability of content is different from content being scripted by the film maker. The use of scripted interview responses acted out as if spontaneous and faked footage presented as actual, breeches the tacit pact of trust between film maker and viewer, that each shares the same understanding as to what is happening. In docs where the filmed material is in some way faked or scripted but not transparent as such, the viewer misframes the material, and is contained in this misconstruing by the film maker(s). The viewer is placed in a situation where they may think one thing is happening, when in fact something entirely different is going on.

    In documentary films there are often blurred lines in recorded interviews and action that make the question as to whether the index material breeches endemic trust, difficult to assess. This appraisal is made more problematic by biases and fabrications that can be perpetrated at the editing stage, in which mistakes, failures, anomalous statements, judgements and opinions contrary to the approved line, can all be cut from the film to present a homogenous ideologically succinct product that misrepresents the world that it claims to depict. Again where this type of presentation is systematically effected, the audience is contained: what is actually taking place is containment.

    C claims to be a film process recorded sequentially by the filmmakers, in which they uncover a series of fabricated claims sourced from the pages of Facebook. The story starts with Niv receiving an attached painting that is claimed to be the work of a young child called Abby. The film follows up clues and leads, about the child and her family through detective work on the Web and Facebook until the story unravels as a series of false claims in relation to identity made by a middle aged woman called Angela. Angela is married to a man who has two severely disabled older sons from a previous relationship and she spends much of her time caring for them and yearning to escape.

    The uncovering process which is the core of the film’s structure and its basis for making a moral claim upon its audience as a true record, looks on close analysis to be a retro-construct. A construct about which we are given no information as C is presented as being actual when, some parts are not. Documentaries used to label scenes that were filmed retrospectively to provide the viewer with an image of events that had taken place as: reconstruction of actual event. This allowed the audience to interpret what it saw correctly to trust the material in that they were not being contained by fabrications of the makers.

    JS in making C seem to have followed the adage never to allow truth to ruin a great story. Or perhaps they opt for belief in a post modernist philosophical mantra that all reality is a construct and their only duty is to plurality of the construct. But I think that this understanding of truth as being many sided and of multiple perspective conveniently omits the situation of the viewer who is contained by the one perspective of the film.

    JS in making C decided to present as a continuous process a whole series of what appear to be different inputs: rehearsed events, scripted events, re-enacted events and perhaps spontaneous actual events, with no way of discriminating between these different kinds of material. The film in effect collapses material of different ontological status and presents them as a seamless stream of actuality filming.

    The area in which the film is vulnerable to questioning is the degree to which it documents a bunch of young media savvy city slickers manipulating simple unsophisticated people in sad situations for the sake of making their mark with a movie. The suspicion is that by adroitly mixing their material from different sources they were the better able to control readings made by the audience as to what was happening. Source material of different but undisclosed status together with control of the editing process, gave the film makers maximum leverage in the film to present themselves sympathetically and to minimise chances of their film being read as a piece of cynical opportunism. The film could be read sympathetically as a fable of the media age – which is the way most reviewers covered C – rather than as a cautionary take on city slick film making.

    adrin neatrour

  • Monsters Gareth Edwards (2010; UK)

    Monsters Gareth Edwards (2010; UK) Scoot McNairy; Whitney Able

    Viewed: 5 Dec 2010 Tyneside Cinema; ticket price £7.50

    Octopussies assoap opera

    Monsters( M) is billed as a horror movie, tagged as made on a low budget, tagged as an allegorical commentary on American paranoia, tagged as the creative output of the director Gareth Edwards (GE) who as well as directing, wrote, did camera and CGI work.

    The overall result is a badly written, badly acted, badly directed and shot movie, lacking in tension and intensity, a movie that has found favour with the usual British reviewers who lap up any UK film with a low budget price tag.

    I found myself thinking about other low budget horror movies: Blair Witch Project and Dan Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Blair Witch although ultimately one dimensional had a grunge stylised look that gave it a verve that almost carried the day. It also took care to keep the camera as an edgy ambiguous recorder with shifting perspective, and, not to allow the viewer to see the scary things: glimpses perhaps but no more. ‘Invasion’ is a triumph of it’s ‘noir style’ camera work and central plot idea, in which we see ‘the aliens’ all the time but they are indistinguishable from humans, which makes you think. Also ‘Invasion’s’ multi layered dimensionality relating to human I.D. and its effortless allegoric referencing of US society, produces a powerful schizo-political statement, that still has resonance.

    M’s film style is reminiscent of low budget soap operas. Filmically GE’s camera does no more than frame its objects adequately. It makes no use of camera frame to suggest different perspectives or as an entity introducing an edgy point of view. This is box brownie stuff not cinematography. M’s look is HD soap: a hard edged look lacking luminescence, presenting a flat ‘you see what you get’ image.

    The sets and settings are dominated by a small palette of ideas that through overuse ultimately lack conviction. Big signage is the principle means used to give us information about the locations, Everywhere large public notices have been slapped into place relating to the INFECTED ZONE. There is nothing wrong in itself with this dressing, except that repeated use throughout the film, calls attention to them as an increasingly desperate device.

    The signage is the main source of coherent information during the film which sets up its backstory with a couple prefatory intertitle cards. Besides the signage M has two other conduits of visual information: the ruined blasted buildings and the omnipresence of military hardware that frets throughout the film: planes, tanks ‘copters either zipping through the settings, or zapped dead hulks part of the conflict torn warscape. The problem is that these affects function as signs without signification. Neither the weapons nor the military paraphernalia mean anything. They present as affect without purpose; likewise the warscapes of shattered and ruined structures. They don’t signify at any level. They have neither an absurdist reading nor purposive meaning. They are banal locations, empty sets, characterised by formulaic apocalyptic imagery and the desire to convey, in a kind of visual shorthand, an atmosphere of apocalyptic conflict.

    The ‘monsters’ element of M, is increasingly relegated to being an incoherent background story against which the main event, the love story between Sam (fiancee’d heiress and she of the mysterious injured hand) and Calder (photo journalist) plays out. All that can be said about this romantic narrative core is that it is laboured and uninspired in its development. The acting is pure ‘played out preppy style’ soap, lacking filmic sensibility. The terrible acting is handicapped by leaden dialogue that leads the two characters by the nose. In particular the scene where the two protagonists barter for a ferry ticket is memorably bad, as are Calder’s little lecture to Sam about dolphins, a telegraphed message that Calder is really an OK type of guy.

    Unless a film is pure SFX, putting monsters on screen is difficult to realise effectively. M is a case in point, where the appearance of the Monsters falls far short of anything we might imagine. When seen in the film, they look just like many other movie creations: big octopussies full of tentacles. GE lets them loose in the film with full Jurassic Park sound effects, just as image (except in the final section they have no other role in M other than as image). As image simple, they generate neither intensity nor tension. They are nothing more than a necessary gesture used by GE to complete his film. In the final sequence, set at an abandoned gas station (every cliché in the book in this movie) we watch with the protagonists as two of the Monsters have a Brando moment and light up each other with fairy lights. In the context of the movie, the performance seems nothing more than GE’s genuflection to political correctness, suggesting that Monsters have feelings too! Or perhaps setting up a sequel told from the monsters point of view.

    There have been a number of movies, sort of installations, built on the idea of movement through an apocalypse scenario: blasted landscapes blasted dangerous people. In this ‘apocalypse’ genre either pure incoherence of affect has to totally characterise the scenario, or the film has to take on some signifier built into quest orthe relations in which the final days setting also has to have meaning. Incoherence in itself does not equate with apocalypse as GE seems to think.

    adrin neatrour

  • I know where I’m going Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger (UK1945)

    I know where I’m going Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger (UK1945) Wendy Hiller, Roger Liversey

    Viewed: Side Cinema ( Newcastle) 30 Dec 10; ticket price £5.00

    What’s a nice middle class girl like you doing being absorbed into myth…?

    Pressburger and Powell’s (PnP) film can be read at many levels, but, ‘I know where I‘m going’ (IKWIG) creates a filmic rite de passage for its protagonist Joan whereby she moves from a world ruled by individualistic desires into a mythic realm governed by necessity. PnP’s scenario guides Joan’s movement between these worlds, negotiating her progress with gentle wit. They also demonstrate their understanding of the self sufficient role of the female psyche which is never patronised degraded or sold short to assuage male pride, but allowed to develop through its own mistakes and recognition of its own power to transform itself

    The thought occurs that in writing their script, PnP will have been conscious of a certain analogous parallel path between Joan’s career and that of Britain at war with Germany. To survive and win the war Britain had had to disinvest itself of its self serving individualistic class obsessed apparel and take on the mantel of myth. Investiture in mythic identity permitted the political forging of a unified national spirit necessary for victory. This mythic cloth was woven by many hands and interest groups. PnP as film makers and propagandists were actively involved in the process, fashioning films out of the historical rattle bag British institutions literature and music, the equally valued diverse nationalistic identities of the Union, and of course the idea and core value of ‘decency’ ( a loose conceptual shorthand for tolerance and democracy). But this level of allusion is marginal to understanding and enjoying the material PnP brought together to fashion material for their film.

    IKWIG delivers something of a running cosmic joke, the mythic bride who tries but fails to get to the church for her wedding. A wedding that never takes place. Powell certainly seems obsessed with the Bluebeard story. Both Red Shoes and Peeping Tom play on the idea of the betrothed lured to the castle of male fear, not for her wedding but as blood sacrifice.

    Joan’s personal enterprise is to move up the social scale, from middle class, to upper middle class, through marriage. She is successful as her wealthy boss, old enough to be her father, proposes to her and asks her to travel to Killoran a remote Scottish island where he has taken up residence. But the Gods conspire against this arrangement. The elements, forces of nature, prevent the little ferry that carries people over to Killoran from sailing. First fog then storm delay her passage. As she waits she is confronted with the social world of Scottish islanders, a provocation to her individualist subjectivity. A world where collective identity and solidarity govern being and desire. A world which opposes her will to reach the island at any cost.

    As she waits for the weather, she is also confronted by McNeil the true owner of Killoran. Not just a product of the collective ethos but a figure conforming to a mythic imperative. Joan struggles to resist being overcome by the collective will and the mythic web into which she has fallen. She struggles in the fear that what she understands as Joan the individual self, will die if she yields to these forces. In panic she seeks to avoid ‘death’ and mythic ‘rebirth’. In desperation she makes one last doomed effort to assert her will and sail to Killoran. and. in the extraordinary sequence in a small boat, she is hurled back by the cosmic fury of the elements that she has raised against her by attempting to escape her fate.

    Her fate is not be a sacrificial victim on Bluebeard’s altar, but to raise a curse laid on the house of McNeil, for an ancestor’s terrible act of bloody revenge. The significance of events is finally understood by Joan after her epic attempts to resist and she allows herself to be absorbed into the necessity of myth. Dieing as a middle class aspirational English woman; reborn as a woman who understands her role in the weaving of fate.

    I don’t know exactly how PnP worked together and divided the tasks and responsibilities of film making. I feel, that the expressionistic high key look of some of their films might have been Pressburger’s input, typified in IKWIG by the overnight train montage. Inspired surely by Jenning’s Night Mail, it is funny inventive and a slick reworking of the visual and audio ideas. The core scripting I imagine to be Powell’s. His understanding of island communities evident from the Edge of the World; his fascination of women and myth, driven by the deep seated anxiety triggered by the female. Anxiety that in films such as Canterbury Tale Red Shoes and Peeping Tom, drives Powell the evolve script ideas based round disembodying and disempowering women through real or symbolic death. Castration anxiety or what? With IKWIG Powell seems to have mastered the need to feed his inner demons a sacrificial victim and contrived (with Pressburger) a scripted resolution that is mythic and affirming of the female.

    adrin neatrour

  • Interview with Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio, director of Alamar

    Kino Bambino met up with Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio at the Rotterdam International Film Festival (January 2010). He was super nice and friendly and very generous with his time. We totally loved him and are now big fans!

    Here are the results:

    KB: I’d like to start with the fact that you’re from Mexico, just because I don’t know much about Mexican or Latin American cinema. I want to know whether you think that you as a film maker are part of something that’s happening in Mexico at the moment. Do you consider yourself part of a movement or a current, and if so then what does that mean to you?

    PGR: I wouldn’t consider myself part of any movement, any Mexican movement. Sometimes they say ‘New Mexican Cinema’ but they’ve been saying that for 50 years. So I think the films I like to make are personal films. I don’t follow any trends. I just film what I like to film and do, and what I see around me. Aesthetically my films are not very Mexican, I base my compositions more on Oriental cinema. I really like Korean and Vietnamese films.

    KB: Even though you don’t see yourself as part of a mexican movement do you think that your films are informed by any changes that are taking place in cinema at the moment as a whole? For example, could your films have been made 10-20 years ago?

    PGR: No, I think that the arrival of good, affordable technology, like HDV cameras, has made it possible for the quality to be better and better through time. But we also see a film like Trash Humpers (Harmony Korine’s latest film) that’s like an 80s VHS quality that still has a certain look to it. But I like that the affordable cameras are getting closer and closer to what you can do with film. That way anybody can shoot a film that looks nice. Content and stylewise this film could have been made for many years. We see Robert Flaherty with his films. There’s Godard, for example, who filmed Breathless with very little resources. He was the first one to employ the hand-held camera in very small places, using the fishtank light pointed at the ceiling to illuminate everything. Independent film-making of this kind has existed for a long time.

    KB: And if you had larger resources would you choose to make more expensive films? For this film you had only yourself and a soundguy, and for the underwater scenes you used two different cameramen.

    PRG: I don’t know, I hope not. I hope I can still have the same way of working on my next film because it has allowed me to be really intimate with my characters and to pay attention to the surroundings. Otherwise, had I had a bigger crew I would have been distracted by other elements which would prevent me from being in the moment and being part of the story. In a way the camera is part of the story, and even though you don’t notice the camera it is very close and attached to what’s happening around.

    KB: That’s why it’s nice when Natan draws the camera as one of the things he’s seen it’s a lovely moment that highlights your relationship and that it’s so tight for all of you.

    PGR: Exactly. Also the way that Blanquita isn’t conscious of the camera even though I’m standing very close to her. She’s just conscious of the fact that a body is close to her. But if that body represented a menace she would have flown away. But it wasn’t a menace because she was close to our characters.

    KB: How did you meet Jorge and Natan and what was it about them that made you want to use them?

    PGR: I think I discover different elements at different moments. First I discovered the location, then I met Jorge. It was going to be about a man going back to his roots, he’s dying and has to go back and spend his last few days there. Then I met Natan and found out that his mother’s from Rome, and the story began to change to what you see in the end. Once I had a structure everything was added to that backbone. Blanquita, and everything else you see, is added to that backbone to make it a richer experience.

    KB: How did you go about develpoing your relationship with them? And were they involved in any decision making regarding what the story was going to be about?

    PGR: No, not at all. It was my decision, but also respecting a lot the situation and their personas, what they are in real life. But I would tell them what I wanted to do that day or the following they and they would resolve it themselves. I wouldn’t impose any position or behaviour on them. I’d say ‘let’s construct a window’ and once we’re doing that I’d be trying to find the best way to portray the moment.

    KB: You say you looked for the location before you found Jorge. What did that location mean to you? Why was it so important to the film?

    PGR: My first impression was a very strong attraction to the landscape of Banco Chinchorro and the fact that they still live a very pure lifestyle and an environment that’s almost intact. The wildlife there is unspoilt and for me it was a pure fascination with this very simple, ancient place and ancient activities such as fishing.

    KB: You’ve also said before you almost wish the camera wasn’t there because it almost distorts what’s happening in a way, so there seems to be a big element in your work of trying to keep things natural or real, or keeping things authentic. What do you think of the word authenticity and is it important to you in creativity?

    PGR: But at the same time having a fiction that’s deconstructing something, and a camera that’s recording that instead of a pen. I really admire writers because writing is a much purer form of expression than cinema to me. In cinema you can invent worlds and make the spectator experience and see things that they wouldn’t have imagined and discover things that are really here in our time and space that maybe a novel wouldn’t be able to do, but I still think that writing is more pure.

    But yes, authenticity is totally important. It means having a personal point of view, to be honest with what you’re saying and having something to tell that people can relate to and understand even though they haven’t lived the exact same situation. There’s a point of connection because you’re talking with the truth. That’s why I hate publicity and commercials, because the main purpose is to sell something and to me that’s not authentic, they’re deceptive. It can be original and striking but it’s not authentic. Authentic is the truth.

    KB: In that case how do you feel about distributors trying to promote your film even if it’s in a way that’s true to what you’re trying to make? Every film needs to be advertised to a degree in order to get distribution – are you ok with that? Is it just manipulative advertising that you object to?

    PGR: I don’t know what to think about that. The way they might publicise the film is not in my hands and it’s not what I did. I’m talking about what I do as a creator, as a director or even a carpenter or painter, but it’s not a product. A film is not a product and shouldn’t be seen as one. I think if you’re advertising a film or a painting or a book it’s not a product, as long as in the trailer or poster you can feel what it’s about, but it will never be the work – it’s a tool.

    KB: Just going back to that location. After watching El Calambre the other day the director (Matias Meyer) did a Q&A in which he quoted Agnes Vards as saying that if the location of the film means something personal to the director then this will be conveyed in the movie. In that respect, do you think that this film could have been made at another location? Could this father-son relationship have worked the same way had the film been made elsewhere?

    PGR: No, not at all. Actually, specifically in this film the only way that the father can focus on the last moment with his son is by taking him away somewhere that isn’t urbanised and has no people around. It places them in an almost sacred place, surrounded by water, in order for the love to flourish. If I’d done this at a tourist spot it would have spoilt the story, so the location definitely has a dreamlike, unique quality that allowes the characters to be themselves and the relationship to have a certain aspect.

    KB: How does your lifestyle compare with this? Do you live in big city?

    PGR: Yes. That why we had to be catapulted in there. There’s a scene where the father and son are holding hands just before getting into the boat to take them to Banco Chinchorro and they’re standing on trash, waiting to leave the the Mexican mainland. That’s what I think about where I live. We’re standing on trash because of what we’ve made of this place. We’ve destroyed paradise; we all want a piece of paradise, but by trying to achieve it we destroy it. But I can’t live in Chinchorro. I wouldn’t be able to live there because I have a different destiny. I need to keep searching for other places.

    KB: Your film seems to have elements of disintegration and things coming to an end. For example, maybe this wasn’t intended but as I was watching the film I started thinking a lot about my own personal experiences and what it was like to be a kid, how sometimes you think about how one day you’re not going to be a kid anymore and life isn’t going to be so easy, even though you push that to the back of your mind. There’s always this feeling in the film’s background that the child is going to have to go back to his mother. Even the marriage between the parents, who loved each other very much, could never really have lasted.

    PGR: Yes, there’s a feeling of impermanence from the very beginning of the film. Everything’s changing and transforming. Like the soap bubble in the end. It’s very light and transparent, like the aura of a child or ourselves as children. But when you try to hold on to that state it just breaks and you’re an adult, and you don’t have this same sense of discovery anymore.

    KB: How did you get into film making in the first place? What do you make films? Do you hope to achieve something by making them?

    PGR: I do it because it’s the only way I can communicate and portray what I see around me and what I have to say. If I could do it through music I’d be a musician. I really like music. With music you can be anywhere and be listening to Bob Dylan, whereas with film you can only think about what you saw. The connection between musician and audience is also much more special. But for me film making is the best way I have to communicate.

    KB: You said you think writing is the most pure way of communicating. Did you ever try to be a writer? Are you interested in that at all?

    PGR: No. I would like to, a musician as well, but… Bob Dylan is a great musician and poet, but I think a lot of us would like to be able to express in such a way. But we each have our own medium of expression, and for me it’s filmmaking. Sometimes the process is a bit uncomfortable because of the camera. I feel sometimes that its presence is strange because of the way it affects reality and the relation to the surroundings.

    KB: Have you ever been infront of the camera? Because I also have this thing where I think I do what do because I feel much more comfortable being behind the camera than infront of it, which is a very different sort of relationship, even though what I originally wanted to do was be involved in things that meant talking infront of the camera. Would you ever put yourself infront of a camera?

    PGR: I don’t know. I’m a bit shy as well, so for the moment I don’t think so.

    KB: I was going to ask whether this story had any significance to you personally, but you’ve already said it doesn’t…

    PGR: It’s a more universal story. At the end it talks about sensations and emotions during childhood. In that way I can relate to it, but not only me. Other people can too. So in that way there’s a connection, but it’s not exactly autobiographical.