Monthly Archives: February 2013

  • Django Unchained Quentin Tarantino (USA 2012)

    Django Unchained Quentin Tarantino (USA 2012) Jamie Foxx; Leonardo DiCapprio; Christopher Waltz Viewed: Empire Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne Ticket £3.60 Digestive problems Viewed on the budget ticket night (Tuesdays) the cinema was full of people eating buckets of popcorn and trays of Nachos. Set in 1858 in Texas and the Southern States of the USA, the only surprise in Tarantino’s (QT) latest confection of stylised violence, Django Unchained (DU) is that no one uses a mobile phone. They would certainly come in handy from time to time in the old West and raise a laugh that would cut above the corn. These days it’s almost cruel to deny the cowboy a touch screen, when every other anachronism is OK. DU is a movie that exemplifies the notion that film has little left to express beyond revisiting its own past and history and engaging in replication and recreation of itself out of its previous forms. Otherwise there is not much to say about DU or QT. Excepting that its bloated length and etiolated stretched out structure is not sufficiently justified by QT’s ambition of revisiting almost every style of Western from John Ford and Hoppalong Cassady through to Lars Von Trier, Arthur Penn and John Sturges. It’s a belly full o beans as Mel Brooks might have put it, who is paid extensive tribute in the faux KKK scene which is another anachronistic farrago (laboriously and mechanically executed). DU’s narrative is simply a device to enable QT to work through a sizeable number of action and sound images that reference the Western genre in all its poly-variant glory, whilst simultaneously exposing them to the distancing mechanism of dialogue and attitudinal gloss embedded in contemporary discourse. In relation to the referencing two areas of the film stood out: the film score in itself, and the landscapes and backgrounds. DU’s score is a key to the way in which the film psychically unfolds and affects. The score quotes and reprises every type of Western theme music of which I aware, from the 50’s to date. This music, much of it familiar even if not actually recognised, lends a disjunctive deconstructive element to the film, working to detach and disassociate the viewer from the relentlessly aggressive modernist stream of the acting and dialogue. The score, in itself, creates a meta track outside of the spacial contemporaneity of DU, a space that comprises the dimension of history. The score brings history and the traditions of the Western genre into the audience’s consciousness. The music allows DU to flow out from its performance bound present back into a referenced past The score adds the dimension of time to the experience. Time is located on one of the film’s tracks as a counterweight to the images and dialogue in DU that are uncompromisingly dedicated as a celebration of the present. The music in the score, at given points in the development of the narrative, swells and announces its momentary sovereignty in affective mood establishment. We hear in the music, the knightly decoriously attired apple pie cowboys of 50’s TV series, Cisco Kid Roy Rogers the Lone Ranger. These card board characters with their noble steeds such as Silver, and their side kicks such as Tonto, are briefly suggested, resurrected and brought back to momentary life as phantom presences. In the music, the epic Westerns of Ford and Wayne swell up in our minds. Films such as: the Searchers Red River True Grit, with their strange lone cowboy ballads, enter envelope and then quit remembrance, shadows flickering on the cave wall of the mind. As DU ploughs through later Rock n Roll thematic cowboy anthems suggested by the movies of Sturges, Peckinpah and even Von Trier (I count Mandalay as a Western) so too moments from these films are reinvested in the score. Softening the edges of an uncompromising contemporary bad ass script, the score, in mediating other filmic eras of fantasy and style, folds into the action, the dimension of an immersed recollection in other images, that makes it possible to watch the film through. Many of the action images in DU of course pay homage to and quote all these types of films (some of the images of horses were pure revisiting of the horses in the 50’s US cowboy series) But it is the music in the score that carries the history and which connects us to a cultural collective memory. In a similar vein the backdrops and landscapes against which QT shot DU, serve a similar function to the film’s score. Their purpose again seems to be to act as an historical reprise, to trigger nostalgia for earlier simpler forms of the genre. QT moves DU through the whole lexicon of Western locations. The obviously fake studio recreations of ‘rock outcrops’ and ‘camp sites’ through to the delirious encompassing landscapes of Ford and other outdoor directors: the grand magnificent vistas that promise to open up the whole world for us. The movement between these exterior locations and the ‘back lot’ studio look of the small Western towns in DU, gives the film a dynamic range of image quotes from a wide range of earlier Westerns, which in themselves, as the film develops into an obvious pastiche, lends DU a sort of mantel of cod authenticity. Although the narrative revolves round the raw issue of slavery and its horror, the acting out of the sequences, the mannered detached stylisation of the actors ( who perform in the manner of actors in adverts), never permits QT to develop the film as anything more than a stylised exercise in violent sequences. Any more than James Bond could make any informed statement about the politics of democracy, no more can DU be considered an angry diatribe against the evils of slavery. These films are about style and detachment from the real and the actual. As such, DU is a film that speaks to an audience that consumes violence in the same way that they consume pop corn and nachos: mechanically with little discrimination and in huge amounts. There there is a whole dimension of street violence that is concerned with how it looks, personal style rather than what it means. DU as stated earlier may be a bloated overlong production, but as a movie, pregnant with its own past, it is QT’s best filmic statement for some time. Adrin Neatrour

  • Foxfire Laurent Cantet (2012 USA)

    Foxfire Laurent Cantet (2012 USA) Raven Adamson, Tamara Hope Viewed: Cinema at Villette Paris Ticket: Euro10.50 On the right to choose. This is the second time Joyce Carol Oates’ novel Foxfire (FF) has been filmed, first time was in 1999. I haven’t seen the first film adaptation or read the novel which is set during the ‘50’s in small town upstate New York, the sort of community familiar to Joyce Oates from her own upbringing. It is a location that will not be familiar to Laurent Cantet (LC) from his upbringing, but to a limited extent, the setting and situations dealt with are perhaps familiar territory from his previous movie Entre deux Murs, which also adapted a biographical novel and dealt with the experience of a teacher in a tough deprived Parisian suburb. But Foxfire for me charts LCs own personal filmic journey, in which this film maker previously concerned with narratives connected to realist situations starts to relocate his subjects in the world of fantasy. In the case of FF the world of the child is remoulded outside of the classroom of Entre deux Murs and projected onto the wish fulfilment structure of the peer group: the girl gang. It is my impression that in traditional story telling, from fairy tale through 19th to mid twentieth century narratives, the child is portrayed predominantly as victim. Both in fairy and in Victorian story, the child was a pawn of the moral. The child suffered within the strictures of its structured relations; but the good child eventually with help from magical creatures or the working of destiny, was restored back to the world in its rightful place. Children were in the worlds of Dickens or of the Fairy Tale the object of moral and social forces that were beyond their control; of relations with power that were not of their choosing. Even Richmal Compton’s creation ‘William’ for all his proactive exertions, always in the end had to bow to the authority of the adult world. In literature and above all in film form for some time now the child has been recast as the active protagonist. The child is no longer victim but a player. Like the action hero the child is author of its own fate. In a sense the child is accorded full rights to a fantasy existence which is in accord with the consumer ideological ideal of always being able to choose. It is an ideological imperative of this right that the dream of the child should conform to the adult world view: the contemporary Weltanschauung. The mapped out possibility of the child being enabled to exert influence over the world as a fantastic realm, is an extension of Hollywood’s extension of the American Dream, which signifies in its story lines the right of individuals to self determination. Contemporary films for children (which are also made with adults as a target audience) constitute a logical extension of this right to self determination into the domaine of the child. The child being traditionally an agent unable to shape its own destiny, more a pawn than a castle, becomes a mover and a shaker, a fully fledged consumer able to live the dream able to buy and buy into the dream. As children are only active in limited spheres of activity, mostly home and school, the film industry has had to recast these locations as fantastic worlds in order to be able to play out narratives of determination populated by children. Adult scenarios in films may be of course fantasial narratives but realistic settings provide a structural framework holding the self evidential nature of the fantasy in check. Films featuring child protagonists and set in the world of the child, are located either in straightforward magical parellel worlds as seen in the Harry Potter series; or as in the case of FF, the setting and story are retrojected back in to hazy past, such as the ’50’s that is familiar but different. This setting with its locations props and costumes are authentic up to a point but can exploit the potential of anachronistic attitudes in the children. This allows contemporary attitudes to sport themselves, particularly in dialogue, giving cheap and easy exchange victories to the child protagonists. Interestingly Harry Potter and FF share some things in common in this process of empowerment of the child. Both are set in a sort of cosy past of certitude and both employ the idea of groups of children held together by secret oaths and the bonds of ritual. In FF, justified by the anachronistic power of retrospective morality, it is the gang of girls led by ‘Legs’ who occupy the moral high ground and whose actions are both successful and righteous. They live the dream of a fantasial empowerment, and assimilating the consumer diktat: desire. Whilst having a place in the developing current ideological discourses around child empowerment, FF offers nothing to film. The camera work is superficial and adds nothing to the film except the need to get from shot reaction shot. From one thing to another. The film image is flat and layered looking as it is in many HD productions. The acting performances from the adults is two dimensional cardboard. The script ponderous, concerned with conveying attitude rather than state of mind, and the performances of the girls whilst occasionally arresting, are mostly mechanical as they plough their course through the film from event to event. Adrin Neatrour