Monthly Archives: September 2013

  • Bergman Season At The Star And Shadow

    on the Bergman Season at the Star and Shadow: 1st Sept 2014 to 21st Sept 2014

    retrospective season at the Star and Shadow of four of Ingmar
    Bergman’s films, the Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Through a glass
    darkly and Persona was a chance to view and to appraise a director
    who is regarded as one of the foremost film makers of the twentieth
    century; an opportunity to understand what he offers today’s
    audience in the age of the iphone.

    reputation is huge. But he has also been mercilessly parodied as a
    gloomy scandinavian whose films for the most part trail dark despair
    about the human condition.

    views of human nature and the incapacity of humans to communicate have
    been criticised for their emotional and spiritual bleakness.

    seeing the films my feeling is that these negative reactions to
    Bergman are understandable. However they are unbalanced and less
    than fair to Bergman as an artist film maker and thinker. Of course
    much his work will not be what some cinema goers are looking for.
    Bergman’s films are not about entertainment value although they can
    certainly be entertaining. The films are personal. They represent
    Bergman’s own understanding of world.

    one key quality stands out in relation to Bergman’s work. He is not
    selling anything: a belief system or a justification. Although
    Bergman made films before 1951, in 1951 his financial situation
    forced him to work for a year making cinema advertisements. And this
    year seems to have been critical in developing his film making
    technique and also in shaping a personal resolve that his films would
    not sell anything. Like the man in the Leonard Cohen song, he would
    not be a dealer in solutions, and this had a defining effect on both
    the form and content of his films, and the way Bergman shot and
    composed his scenarios, in particular his use of the Close Up of
    which more later.

    to be a wheeler dealer in cinematic snake oil remedies was a
    fundamental moral imperative for Bergman. He could only work from
    the position in which he was truthful to himself. To thine own self
    be true. Bergman’s being truthful is an overwhelming and
    fundamental impression gained from viewing his work. They come
    across like a casting of the shadows of his own inner dialogues, onto
    the complex exterior form of his films.

    these dialogues questions arise that are part of the weave of daily
    life; the nature of our relations with and communication with others,
    the reality of our aloneness, issues of our identity and place in the
    fold of life. These questions emerge in the films through the
    interplay of script character and image. Bergman not only refuses to
    answer the questions, he states unequivocally, that for us, there are
    no answers: Karin in Through A Glass Darkly says she has seen God and
    that he was a large hairy spider; when the Knight in the Seventh Seal
    asks about the existence of God, the after life and all that, Death
    replies that he has no secrets to reveal. Something the knight
    already knows.

    you might say this is bleak stuff. But my impression from the
    audiences is that they were
    overwhelmingly appreciative of Bergman’s moral stance. The AP people
    understood that Bergman was an artist prepared to say that: life,
    communication is hard – that we have to understand that there are
    often no answers – that in some respects life comprises problems
    not challenges. These may be unfashionable notions but some audiences
    find a moment of black and white honesty, more positive than the rose
    tinted philosophical twaddle, wrapped in High Definition cosmic
    reassurance, peddled by directors such as Terrence Mallick.

    there is honesty about our condition, at least we’ve got our feet on
    the ground. The elements: the sea the sky the earth, are always
    present in Bergman’s cinematography almost as reminders. The knight
    as he progresses across the plague ridden Medieval Sweden, is framed
    by earth sea and sky. For Bergman these elements surround us
    externally, as do our memories and dreams internally. They are not
    answers but resources for individuals to understand.

    in a Trial at Law when an attorney finally asks a key question and the
    witness responds with an actual answer, there is a palpable shock in
    the Court room; so likewise there is shock in the cinema seat as
    Bergman without flinching asks questions; and his films, as crucibles
    sweat out the responses.

    to the earlier point I want to look at the particular use that
    Bergman makes of the close up. In film, it is the face, above all
    that characterises the close up. As social beings we are face
    readers, we read faces not just of others, but we see faces in
    flaking paint, clouds and patterns in the sand. The face is a sign
    that we interpret. A face always suggests a possibility. Bergman’s
    facial close ups define the experience of viewing his films and are a
    key element in the relationship between the films and the audience.

    characterising feature of Bergman’s close ups is that they are
    uncompromising: they are shots of long duration, they are mute and
    within them there is little or no movement. They present as a pure
    quality, an unindividuated affect, a passivity. Bergman’s close
    up’s: Death’s face, the Wallpaper in Glass Darkly, Liv Ullman in
    Wild Strawberries and Persona all have an impersonal quality, as if
    they do not belong to the actors but could be masks taken on by
    anyone. The way they are shot and edited into his films gives them a
    quality that can absorb the viewer. In their immobility their
    muteness and duration the close ups draw the audience into the shot
    giving the audience the space to contribute something of themselves
    into the fabric of the film, a sort cinematic short circuit of the
    near and far. Absorbed by the close up, which is pure possibility,
    the audience become the interpretants of the film, actively engaged
    in its unravelliing.

    the technical means of communication proliferate and multiply in our
    society, perhaps there is also an increasing awareness of how
    difficult it is to communicate. The thin wavering dieing signals
    that we get from our friends, the notices of unavailability and the
    ansaphone messages never returned, are like the signs from God at the
    waning of the Middle Ages. A warning that we need to start and think
    differently. Perhaps that’s a message Bergman still gives out to the
    iphone generation of movie goers.


  • Elysium Neill Blomkamp (Usa 2013)

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    Elysium Neill Blomkamp (USA 2013)
    Matt Damon; Jodie Foster; Wagner Moura

    Viewed Empire Cinema 3 Sept 13
    Ticket: £3.75
    The more remarkable Sci Fi films that I
    have seen have been memorable, because in some way they left me with
    a thought; which is a nice present to get from a movie. Ridley
    Scott’s allegorical Blade Runner posed a question about the nature of
    what it means to be human; Kubrick’s parable, 2001 contrasted the
    unknowable vastness of space/time in the face of man’s ineffable
    smallness; Don Siegal’s filmic metaphor, Invasion of the Body
    Snatchers – probed the manifestation of political paranoia.
    Whilst stylistically Blomkamp’s movie Elysium owes big time to these
    precursors, the impression left by Elysium was one of confusion and
    incoherence. It is a mish mash of forms, as if Blomkamp couldn’t
    decide if Elysium was one thing or another, parable or blockbuster.
    But in the end the motif of personal quest wins out. Elysium’s
    commitment to the mega production values crushes all the light out of
    the social forces that are initially set into play.
    I can’t say if Elysium is a good or bad
    movie; that depends as to whether you like your sci-fi bean feasts
    served up as a spectacle of special effects and combat; or if you
    prefer to leave muscular machinations to the men from Marvel and look
    to the Sci fi genre for some cogent expression of ideas.

    Anyway Elysium prompted within me the
    following observations.
    The film’s initial set up divides
    planet earth into two contrasting worlds: Elysium and old Planet
    Earth. Elysium is where the rulers and controllers of Planet Earth
    live. Elysium is a vast tubular ring set in geo-stationary orbit,
    modelled as an idealisation of American suburbia: with meadows,
    colonial houses, lawns and 2.4 kids. The inhabitants want for
    nothing ( materially at any rate) and every home has a very handy
    healing machine that cures all ills. Aside from these images we are
    given almost no hard data about Elysium. Are they practicing
    Mormons? Scientologists? We are not told. Though some might think
    on viewing Jodie Foster’s performance as Madame Delacourt, the evil
    thin controller, less is more.
    Opposing Elysium is dirty old planet
    Earth, a slave colony of Elysium. Its population live in vast shanty
    towns, oppressed and terrorised by Elysium controlled robots. The
    earthlings do not have handy healing machines at home; if sick they
    have take their chances in the familiar surroundings of chaotic
    overloaded general hospitals.
    Wardrope has kitted out Elysium people
    with designer suits, very good teeth and expensive haircuts: Perhaps
    the clever machines do grooming as well. Earthlings wear stuff from
    Primark or patched up rags, with bad teeth and worse haircuts, with
    the notable exception of Frey protagionist Max’s sweetheart. You
    see immediately that these are two different peoples.
    Now this setting of opposing worlds is
    a situation that South African Blomkamp will be familiar with from
    the continuation of Apartheid era racial and social divisions of his
    native country. It is a familiar also in the geophysical division
    between Israel and the Palestinians. So, the opening of Elysium
    suggests a story that will have a political premise and hence a
    certain underlying social weight pushing the narrative forward.
    This is a bit of a shock! Elysium is a
    Hollywood movie. Will Hollywood caste aside 40 years of resolve not
    to make political films and allow Blomkamp to produce a transparently
    political allegory. Bless its cotton socks! Of course not. For 40
    years Tinsel Town has made films about personal acts of overcoming,
    movies with individual self determination at their core of their
    scripts. This is not going to change in 2013. Next year – maybe.
    Although Blomkamp’s script has an
    opposition organisation on Earth, it’s never clear what this
    opposition actually wants and as the film progresses any latent
    treacherous political tendencies are subverted and transposed to the
    acquisition of desire: a desire for something everyone wants: a cure
    for cancer.
    Of course the provision of Health Care
    has a symbolic significance in Apartheid situations such as Gaza,
    where Palestinians can only access advanced health care in Israel.
    But it is symbolic. Health provision is seen only as part of the
    wider issue of repression. In Elysium it becomes the whole issue.
    With a trick of the script, the political is flipped over and becomes
    Max’s quest for health. Tragically over exposed to radiation in the
    course of his assembly line work, Max has to get cured or die. And
    the only cure in town is on Elysium with one of those nifty machines.
    The plot driver becomes personal not political, and the story
    regresses to a simplistic series of CGI battles as he takes on those
    who would deny him the right to live.
    Max’s quest is given legitimacy in the
    scripting by the fact that Frey’s little girl, Matilda, has leukaemia
    and so needs one of those Elysium machines. Noting President Obama’s
    recent claim that: “it would be immoral not to go to war when small
    children have been gassed…”, we can see that children’s stock has
    high currency value these days. Children in Hollywood have long
    played the role of moral validators. As American Political Life
    increasingly imitates Hollywood, so Hollywood repays this tribute in
    trumps as violence and war are ultimately justified by the child.
    Final thoughts: firstly the idea of
    exo-skelitans as in Iron Man, is gaining increased leverage on the
    popular imagination. Elysium’s script again services the idea of
    mankind overcoming personal body limitations by the fusion of the
    mechanical and the biological. Secondly: Blomkamp again exploits the
    computer age and its love of the technical fix. Solutions must be
    instantanious. A computer is plugged into the master server and at
    once a wholescale social about turn is effected: the inhabitants of
    Elysium and Earth become one inclusive society. And of course those
    handy omnicure machines: lie down count to ten and you’re healed,
    except interestingly the machines cures the body but not the mind,
    I said that Elysium did not leave me
    with a thought. Well not immediately. But whilst writing this piece,
    a thought happened. Perhaps the ELYSIUM as a manifestation of
    Hollywoods belief system is correct in anticipating the demise of
    politics in the face of individual desire. Perhaps the National
    Health Service was the precursor to ushering in the post political
    era. Now there’s a thought. Not perhaps one intended by Neill

    Adrin Neatrour

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    Elysium coda:

    A brief addition to my comments about
    Elysium. It occurred to me when watching Elysium that Hollywood
    suffers from a kind of belief system envy syndrome in relation to
    Jihadists and their jihad. However misguided and misled the West
    believes them to be, there is no doubt that the religious motivations
    and intentions of the Jihadists are pure. Their objectives are not
    contaminated by personal goals and gains; they fight for Allah.
    Jihadists believe in the religious legitimacy of their struggle. To
    fight for Allah lends the warriors the lustre of martyrdom and
    justifies the atrocities and destruction of war, exonerating such
    extreme practice as decapitation. To have such a clear super
    personal goal to fight for, places Hollywood in an asymmetrical
    ideological position vis a vis Jihad.

    Hollywood scriptwriters have to justify
    the actions of their protagonists in the name of something as
    nebulous and imperfect as American democracy or the freedom to chose
    between MacDonald and Burger King. This simply does not have the same
    resonance as fighting for a religious ideal. Hence the strange
    ideological void at the centre of action movies such as Elysium;
    there is simply nothing there only personal desire.

    And in Elysium it was interesting to
    see that decapitation of one’s enemies, a primal primitive impulse
    perhaps but religiously legitimate in the eyes of Jihardis, is on the
    cusp of a certain level of acceptance by Hollywood. The baddie,
    Spider attempts but fails to decapitate one of Max allies. But Max
    himself does triumphantly decapitate an android robot. Thus taking a
    couple of timid Hollywood steps towards legitimising imitation of the
    Jihadist practice of humiliation of the foe. The problem being such
    an extreme practice needs a clear ideological or religious stamp of