Monthly Archives: May 2012

  • A Kind Of Loving John Schlesinger (Uk 1962)

    A Kind of Loving John Schlesinger (UK 1962) Alan Bates; June Ritchie

    Viewed: dvd 14
    May 2012

    retrocrit: The past as a crystalised image

    John Schlesinger’s (JS) Kind of Loving belongs to that category of drama (both theatrical and film) that were at the time called ‘Kitchen Sink’. This phase is less a description of settings more a sleezy put down, a piece of cheap journalese, designed to demean a series of expressive dramatic outputs that laid bare the hypocrisy of an old social order that resisted change.

    To me, A Kind of Loving (KL) is like a still photograph. A film that freezes a particular time, the year 1962, after which inexorably the increasing momentum of social change of the ‘60’s would systematically undermine every certainty that featured in the picture: biological cultural and ideological. The certainty with which JS (with sure guidance from Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse’s script) handles the themes of Stan Bairsow’s novel causes me to believe that JS was sensitised to the ‘lull in time’ during which his film is set. He knew that the forces in play in the becoming consumer societies would wreak such a storm as to blow away the rules and behavioural certainties that that held together the façade of gender and class that controlled individual behaviour.

    A film made at the cusp KL is set at the cusp of the social shift in the UK from a collectivist to an individual ethos; and at the cusp of the psychic shift in the balance of forces between male and female in the social sphere. A point where the discourses defining the social domaine were rapidly and radically changing, responding to and shaping irreversible change.

    KL is both structured and shot to make the situation that the film depicts absolutely clear. Shot in black and white, KL exploits visually the tension between the naturalistic atmospheric containing settings of the industrial North – the huge factory – the terraced housing – the semis – the railways – the grime and the smoke – and the unfolding social changes that are destabilising and demolishing these structures so that they are no longer able to contain people. The certainty with which the tension between the visual and psychic is handled, made KL a popular film at the time of its release. It has also made it an enduring film. It engages a stylistic motif and themes to which JS would return.

    KL is conservatively structured with a theatrical filmic perspective so that the audience watch the drama being played out. It’s strengths are directness and economy. Every setting is cued as a statement, the factory, the suburban semi, the canteen, the park where what is public space is annexed by individuals for personal business as ‘home’ is not private space (a situaion which was changing rapidly) Every scene has a purpose, or rather an event, which is to develop audience understanding of what is happening at different psychic levels. The scene in which Ingrid loses her virginity is both a statement of the pressure of changing social mores but also the starting point for a different sort of discourse in relation to sexual relations between men and women.

    The film exists in a sort of time-out when in the social domain nothing seems to be happening. But KL makes clear that this time out, this lull, is an artefact of fear. By 1962 the economic and social changes were already in play effecting change. The ethos of the collective life was cracking and breaking in response to the demands for an individuated life, based on consumption. The strengths and obvious benefits of the primacy of collective values, cohesion in the will to survive, were no longer tenable in a consumerist matrix emphasising desire and self determination. The social edifices of both working class solidarity and middle class respectability are maintained by the application of social tyranny and repression: the last resort, the sting in the tail of moribund cultural structures. We see this application of fear in the factory where Vic works as a draughtsman; its patriarchal punishment system threatening dismissal to those who don’t obey. KL shows the way fear is used as a weapon most vividly through the agency of Ingrid’s mother who in herself and through the medium of her controlled daughter, attempts to terrorise Vic into subscribing to the dieing value system.

    This lull is an illusion. Vic’s fellow workers, his male co-workers quit their jobs at the vast factory, which is dependent on their collective labour, to become salesmen: individuals wheeling and dealing in the interstices of desire. And Vic is pulled in this direction, realising that the factory where he works, with its rites of work and leisure, is already slipping into the past. But more: he also rejects the sham morality of appearances that governs the solidarity of class. The film opens with a wedding, filmed by JS to emphasise its social function as a community ritual of solidarity. Vic already intuitively sees through this; he knows that it is part of a social pact that is breaking up. Vic wants to move outside the collective certainties and falls for Ingrid a middle class girl who is a secretary at the works. In the KL scenario, initially we see the romance between Vic and Ingrid solely from the male point of view. Ingrid figures as a trophy as much as a person, a trophy that comes at a price: marriage. And marriage comes at the price of becoming the subject of a regime of terror and repression through the agency of Ingrid’s mother who expects the price for her daughter to be paid by the castration of Vic. A castration that is desired not just by the mother in law, but also by Vic’s working class parents who refuse to support him.

    Ultimately it is Ingrid, who moves from being desired flesh to a voice with moral force who abandons her class credo and sides with Vic in his refusal to lie down and die. The forces of change also work through Ingrid’s body and mind to make possible the transition to a new start for the couple outside the inert social matrix from where they came.

    The other discourse JS expresses in KL is the gender discourse. The movement in position of men and women as a consequence of the loosening of the gender roles as apportioned by class and ideology. The movement of women out of private space into public space, the movement of women from being primary reproductive machines to being consumers. KL makes it very clear that Ingrid’s position is intolerable. She is trapped in a double bind of contradictory expectations which bear no relation to her changing situation. KL is pre-the pill era, yet even so change in gender relations can be seen as an imperative. As the males move away from the controlling systems of class bound marriage, so the women become increasingly pure objects, defined by their flesh not their place in the social system. Ingrid desired by Vic for her unattainable beauty which in the new order becomes accessible to him. At the same time as Ingrid becomes an object for Vic, in the eyes of her class bound mother, she has to stand and uphold values that are no longer of any use to her in a rapidly changing world. KL makes it clear that Ingrid’s situation is intolerable, and whilst it notes a change in Ingrid’s state of mind and the way she sees her situation it is the clear presentation of the evident instabilities in her life that makes the film radical.

    KL may be a filmic theatric device but it is not a mechanically driven plot. Both Ingrid and Vic are moral players. The solutions to their dilemma are not given them, rather they are wrested from the situations in which they find themselves. As a discourse the sub theme revolves around the nature of relationships not based on traditional foundations of shared social class and milieu, on intimate relations not necessarily defined by marriage vows. As the reality of her changing situation is assimilated by Ingrid she starts to understand that relations based on ‘love’ rather than shared circumstances, are different but more difficult, and engender the need for mutual respect without which there can be no relationship. adrin neatrour

  • The Cabin In The Woods Drew Goddard (Usa 2011)

    The Cabin in the Woods Drew Goddard (USA 2011) Kirsten Connolly; Chris Humsworth; Anna Hutchinson Viewed: Empire Cinema Newcastle 1 May 2012, ticket £3.50 (Tuesday special price)

    On matters pertaining to the surface.

    After viewing Cabin in the Woods (CW) I was trying to figure what it had all been about.? What message was Drew Goddard sending to his intended audience? The cinema was full (except the aisle seats) but the audience was muted (sic – many were eating big buckets of popcorn). They appeared neither particularly surprised scared nor amused by what they were seeing. The movie seemed to engage at a level of bland attention. Perhaps this was where it was pitched: a detached horror interface wrapped in a familiar frame: one for the cool generation.

    Surface distraction.

    A slew of Horror Gothic and Vampyre movies have artfully combined, ‘knowing’ referential image based self parody and detached distancing dialogue with visceral depiction of action, to create hybrid highly stylised forms of scary comic entertainment. Some movies in these genres tend towards spoofing the material, others veer away from spoof. Some degree of comedic parody is almost unavoidable in any action that references a prior production or type of production.

    The mixed group of films that veer away from the spoof is difficult to categorise generically. There seems to be a strand of movies defined by the graphic visceral imagery they employ to lacerate mutilate and destroy the human body, where the safe harbours of parody are left behind by the film makers who sail out into the open seas of signification.

    Oldies but goodies, Chainsaw and Night of the Living Dead can be viewed as parodies in the sense that they are comic book horror circuses in which their mutant murderous eponymous subjects are ascribed disingenuous disconcerting human traits and peccadilloes as they carry out their butchery. As depicted these monsters carry familiar discernable shards of ourselves. But there is a meta message contained in the unrelenting savagery of these films in their unpitying serial deliverance of death to ordinary suburban Americans. The films recall the uncompromising Revelations of John the Devine of the final holocaust: the ride of the 4 horsemen, mass death as a cleansing of the planet in preparation for the Second Coming. There are psychic reminders of the Nazi death machine. And the uncompromising comic savagery unleashed also brings to mind the massacres by the US army of innocent civilians at Mai Lai Haditha and Khadahar. American troops, men such as Cally and Bales must have seemed to their innocent victims like as to the Undead come out of the House of Bones. Horror movie as Death’s calling card.

    Neither Hopper’s Texas Chainsaw nor Romero’s Zombie films pin down signification. Attached to them is a disturbing but non specific allegoric. Likewise in Horror films of the “80’s, such as the Elm St Series Poltergeist and Gremlins, the idea of the American Dream is given a compelling bloody make over, suggesting possible mutated readings to the spectacle of the consumer society. In the same way sci-fi American B movies of the ‘50’s, such as Night of the Living Dead pointed to the paranoid core of US politics.

    These movies, fests of lacerated tissue and dismembered skewered body parts are characterised by the association of their latent ideas within mainstream Western Culture. These associations, like the camera angles that define their shots, lurk hidden behind and within the logic of the movies. They are not expressly stated.

    In contrast Drew Goddard’s CiW is a tame experience who’s denouement in the form of Sigourney Weaver brings to the surface a derisory explanatory frame. The device of the Big Brother House, a mechanism with which the viewers will be very familiar is cast as a death trap a means of obtaining appropriate sacrifices for the ‘old gods’ who live in a puddle under the control rooms which are themselves beneath the cabin. Perhaps DG feels that the cool generation of horror film goers demands that everything be made visible. It is not an age of mysteries, it’s an age of pornography. Everything has to rise to the surface and present itself to the detached inspection of our gaze. The cool audience anticipated by DG has no desire to be disturbed by the need to engage with the material at either a psychic social or allegorical level. The corporation that runs the Cabin could be any one of any number of unspoken unexplained forces that potentially lead right back into the core of the viewer’s social matrix. But that’s uncomfortable so CiW defaults in its script to limp material. The explanatory frame invoked is safe and remote from anything that is proximate: it employs the old standby of ‘old primordial gods’ for whom the salary men work as paid employees, not as acolytes. CiW’s aetiological timidity has no interest in the culture’s jugular vein.

    Excepting the continuous referencing of earlier schlock Horror movies CiW is not particularly strong on humour. The NASA control room set up that regulates and monitors the fate of those in the Cabin tries to be a parody. The problem is that NASA type control rooms became a parody of themselves years ago (think Strangelove) and in the parody stakes this leaves no where to go. You can’t parody a parody. Otherwise the quintet of stereotyped preppies are left alone as closed in victims of the script that DG sets into play. The script is short on the sort dialogue and other verbal devices that allow the trapped characters to step outside the self referential frame of the movie to comment in parenthesis on the action. The humour such as it is, comprises the one joke variety where Marty the pothead survivor lights up at strategic moments and sometimes doesn’t know if he’s in the movie or in the smoke.

    When we cut through the Big Brother setting the devices and plot mechanics, the zombies and their nasty implements for killing we come to a realisation. CiW is actually a slasher preppie hybrid variation on Wizard of Oz meets Raiders of the Lost Arc. The setting makes it comfortable cool frame for it’s audience and the final revealed meaning is all laid out pat and prim, outside social relations, located in the comfort zone of a remote past with new age handles. adrin neatrour New document