Monthly Archives: September 2015

  • Pasolini Abel Ferrara (2015 Europod) Willem Dafoe

    Pasolini Abel
    Ferrara (2015 Europod) Willem Dafoe

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema: 22 Sept 15; ticket: £8:75

    death is politics

    It used to be that the way a film’s opening title credits flipped through was first: the distributor – Fox – Columbia – Universal – followed by film title, then the stars….there were variations through the eons of cinema, which variations reflected the movie power game. Now it’s the money that’s up front. ‘Pasolini’ like most other films these days, has its front end loaded with the names of production companies and finance big cheeses making sure the audience sees who’s put the plums in the pudding. These credits take a substantial time to roll through, as if telling the audience: it’s the money that counts.

    It always has, of course. But before, the money people just haven’t wanted their names up ‘in lights’ as badly as now.

    They want it bad. What might Pasolinin have thought?

    I think Ferrara’s Pasolini is a very poor movie. It seems to be neither one thing nor another, stuck in a no man’s land between fake verisimilitude and cod realisation of Pasolini’s last script. For the most part the film looked like an excuse to put Willem Dafoe (the talent bringing in the Euros) through his paces, to let him walk through the shots peering intellectually out at the world through his heavy rimmed glasses, monolithically po faced. Dafoe has nothing to say other than what he has said before.

    Nothing to say squares with Ferrara’s ‘Pasolini’. Ferrara is a great admirer – fan – of Pasolini. In a way that should have been enough to warn him not to make a movie about his idol. Never touch the stuff you love; love when expressed in film unless tempered in the fire of other emotions, always communicates as a tepid force. And that is part of the problem with the film: in relation to Pasolini, Ferrara never shows us the forces at work within and around his protagonist. We just get a lot Pasolini quotations, chapter and verse, but they don’s say anything real in the context of a movie about his last day. Pasolini’s quotes come across as merely ornamental.

    Perrrara poses no questions with this film. As if he was frightened of asking questions; as if to make his film it is enough to follow Dafoe around pretending to be Pasolini. This is dire stuff, and I believe Pasolini would have cringed at this spectacle of himself.

    There don’t seem to be any ideas within the film itself, Farrera’s ideas that is. Is he too much in awe of his subject? We have a smattering of Pasolini’s ideas sprinkled though the dialogue as Dafoe enters and brushes against different worlds: low life world, high life world, family, film world. But there is no idea enfolding the movie; only on constant, the image of the man in glasses. There is nothing either in the camera set ups or in the shots that establishes any way of understanding what we are shown (we do not ‘see ‘in this film we are shown, and that is part of the problem) or any point of view other than the privileged observer who follows his quarry through his last day on earth.

    Most viewers seeing the film will know the final outcome: the sudden violent slaying of the film maker. So in a way what is the point of making this the defining point of the movie, the end marker? Do we have to see it, does the violence of the image make it real. Ferrara has gone for the obvious, when there were other perhaps more powerful and affecting ways Pasolini’s death might have been expressed.

    There might be a point to imaging of violence but not in this film. Death runs through Pasolini’s work. His psyche and the voices within him are a familiar of death and physical suffering. The forces that surround him, that have surrounded him all his life are murderous. But instead of pushing at Pasolini’s line of escape and his inability or perhaps lack of desire to find one, Ferrara opts for the ‘escapist’ option and fills out his material, a significant proportion of the movie, with a rendering of a script Pasolini was preparing to shoot, but might never have shot. It feels like an opting out of a core difficulty of what and how to film; and a choosing of a cheap easy way out to justify the script to the Euro-money boys, so fulsomely credited.

    Pasolini’s death as shot by Ferrara is disturbing in its violence. But not as disturbing as the autopsy report on his death which I read in Wikipedia. The autopsy (perhaps Ferrara has evidence that this autopsy was incorrect or inaccurate, in which case this itself is relevant material) revealed that Pasolini had been run over multiple times, his testicles crushed by something like a steel bar and that his body had been partially burned.

    The form of this death is a statement. But whose statement? Ferrara isn’t interested; Ferrara’s response is no comment. Just feel the fun and joy in the last script, the realisation of the dark clown, ‘the buffon’. And Pasolini was a buffon at heart, so what does it mean to be a ‘buffon’? Adrin Neatrour

  • Last Days – Gus Van Sant – USA 2004: Michael Pitt

    Days – Gus Van Sant – USA 2004: Michael

    Tyneside Film Theatre 20 Sept 05; Ticket – £6-00 (I looked up this old review as I had seen a number of biopics recently and thought it appropriate to rekindle this crit by way of comparison with todays offerings.)

    Do what thou wilt

    In his last two films GVS has turned to myth as structural device. In both Elephant and Last Days there is no doubt as to what will happen. It is mythically certain. The point is our relation to and understanding of what we have experienced.

    In these two films GVS is not only employing a mythic structure but also taking up the central mythic theme of death and reworking it in the context of America as a necropolis, the new world of the dead. In GVS’ vision of America it is not only people who die whether they be superstar deities or ordinary folk. Something essential is dying: the idea of America. The America whose people are free to pursue happiness through the satiation of desire. America the last Titan, as an autophage, consuming her own constitution in which happiness is an object rather than a state of being.

    Elephant and Last Days, are both observational in form. GVS’ camera takes a definitive role in relation to the action on screen, present yet detached, playing the part of quasi historical observer like a Pliny the Younger witnessing the eruption of Mt Versuvius. What we see is not explosion but implosion of a culture that has become a death centred. Both films are characterised by camera tracks that have the stylised movement of an Egyptian funerary procession. GVS uses these long tracks to follow the paths of the doomed young Americans. In their pacing and deliberation the camera movement is like a remodeling of the tomb paintings and friezes in the Valley of the Kings, where the Egyptian golden ones, bearing their treasure, process towards their deaths. Last Days and Elephant are ‘descending’ films in style and intent. They are constructed as long going downs into the earth. Going downs that are orderly and controlled without melodrama or fake emotion, going downs as a cultural observation.

    GVS has centred his last two films around specific structures located in specific milieu. We know ancient Egypt though its surviving monumental structures. America too is observed through the portals of its architecture. In as much as the structures of ancient Egypt, the Pyramids, Karnak, the tombs of the Pharaohs directly communicate their obsession with the dead so GVS mediates the idea of the death of America through its contemporary vernacular architecture.

    In ‘Elephant’ the victims have a sacrificial quality as if they were sleep walkers in some Nietschean parable where a mad man crashes into the school and cries out: “America is dead! America is dead!” No one hears. They are all walking towards oblivion. The students don’t understand that the society whose culture they are assimilating died years ago. No one notices. No questions are asked. They continue as if nothing has happened. Nothing can save them from being claimed by the forces unleashed. In some respects they are like the faithful trusting slaves and retainers whose throats were slit before being entombed with their ancient kings and queens.

    GVS’ setting for ‘Elephant’ is the school, a building that has a sepulchral quality. Set in a vast headstone suburb the school is white and bony, a structure that encloses its inhabitants and sends them on long mazy journeys. Like a catacomb it is a sealed enclosed world, a perfect medium for the unremarked entry of avenging angels. The house in Last Days where the singer songwriter Blake(a character dedicated by GVS to the memory of Kurt Cobain) resides, is in itself a sepulchral peeling decaying edifice, harbouring an outhouse in the familiar shape of a Victorian mausoleum.

    Last Days is centred on this big house in the woods. As the desert is the setting for the Pyramids so the woods are the setting for the big house. The natural world and the man made world exist as counter attractions for the human soul which becomes a virtual extension of the meaning embedded in these outer forms. The woods are part of the natural world and in entering them personal history becomes insignificant, only the body is important. In the woods there is the abrogation of individual destiny. To go into the house is to accept individual destiny, a destiny that is bound to culture and history.

    The house in up state New York, which is the setting for Last Days, resembles one of those stone piles that are found everywhere in Scotland. Comprising many rooms the houses are labyrinthine, riddled with stairwells and passages. Mostly they were built by wealthy industrial magnates to serve a lifestyle and culture now gone. As with the monuments of Egypt, you can feel in these houses a permanently frozen way of life: the presence of the dead. Appropriately these buildings are usually very cold a phenomenon often mentioned by contemporary visitors to these houses in their hay day. In Last Days although the house is cold there are no fires in any of the grates. The only fire in Last Days is the bonfire Blake lights in the woods when it gets dark.

    During the film I kept getting images of Alistair Crowley who owned one these Scottish piles called Baleskine situated by the edge of Loch Ness. Crowley is part of the drifting subterranean current of American / Californian thought forms. Crowley bought Baleskine in order to exploit its remote situation to further his ‘magik’, magik that revolved about the idea of the Great Invocations and calling up of the spirit world in particular the Egyptian spirit of Horus. His house like those Egyptian tombs with their multiple chambers became part of the world of the dead.

    Crowley an interesting but bloated egotist was consumed by desires above all to be the greatest ‘ master mage’ of his generation. But Crowley by his own account nearly had his brains and sanity blasted away as a result of an invocation ritual that went out of his control. He was totally overwhelmed by what he had summoned and his inability to halt the process. He wandered about for days in shock at what he had called up into his presence.

    There is something similar in the dazed existence of Blake. Blake has called up something which overwhelms him: the terrible forces latent in the idea of America. Its as if GVS is suggesting that the desires that fed Blake’s ego and drove him to his destiny as a rock stargod once satiated, assumed form of a terrifying and manifest presence that tore his mind apart. Unlike Crowley, Blake does not have the strength to take on these forces and physically survive. Most people don’t resist these types of demonic forces. They permit the dark powers possession of their souls whilst indulging the delusion born of their pride that there will be no price to pay. But the price to be paid for desire fulfilled is the human soul. And, ‘Do what thou wilt’, was the motto of Crowley.

    Last Days is an examination of the flip side of Faustian myth. What happens to the soul unable to make the pact which is the everyday business of successful Americans? Its premise is that a society dedicated to the pursuit of individual desire at any cost creates a culture of death and destruction to protect itself. The obverse is that those who refuse or are unable to make this pact with the forces of success are either declared insane or driven to self annihilation. This is the state of affairs in America. Adrin Neatrour 28 Sept 2005

  • Straight Outta Compton F Gary Gray (USA 2015)

    Straight Outta Compton F Gary Gray (USA 2015) O’Shea
    Jackson Jnr, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell

    Viewed: 8 Sept 2015;
    Empire Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne; Ticket £3.75letting the word go out

    Many bio-pics, in particular outta Hollywood are predictable
    vehicles, aimed at the fan base with an agenda structured format designed to
    make product promotion and American values an intrinsic part of the
    scenario. The idea of story degenerates
    into a series of fabrications designed to omit anything countervailing or inconvenient
    that disrupts the selling of this type of image.

    Early European literature both Greek and Roman often
    mythologised biographical subjects. The
    invention of the hero. The stated
    justification for this idealisation of type was grounded in the prosocial idea
    the model life, a life lived for an ideal over and beyond the self; dedicated
    to city to state to an ideal as in the case of Lucretia an ideal of womanhood. The idea was that the lives of the great
    (usually men) would act as exemplars for others to emulate. A path that would lead individuals out of the
    narrow solipsistic confines of self interest to embrace the greater values.

    Heroic mythologies firmly implanted in the civic psyches of both Athens and Rome, and post Enlightenment taken up as models for the emerging nationalisms of Europe. Straight Outta Compton has something of this same heroic sensibility at least in the first 90 minute section of the movie which documents the rise of Niggaz wit Attitudes in the personages of Ice Cube, Eazy E and Dr Dre. F Gary Gray puts something rare into a Hollywood Movie: a hard core look at the actuality of American ghetto life, a focus on group consciousness, and the way in which the young black rap and proto hip hop artists represented an artikulation of the despair of their race and generation. Gray films his protagonists as was: members of a disadvantaged repressed despised ethnic group, deracinated blacks, fighting back to tell it; demand a voice. A voice outside the bullshit. “You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge…..” quips a young black mugging the school bus…and his words resonate through the film’s depiction of the rise of NWA. The generations of blacks have had to come to terms with their position in US society. Alternatively feared and despised. Feared if successful; despised if perceived as being part of the lumpen underclass. With most Blacks seen as lumpen with police and whites struggling to make any distinction: black is black. Shoot first. The latter being the motto of many police forces which seem to see their duty as being to keep niggers in the dirt. The black response: THE anger. Deep unfocused anger, that runs through the arteries of the black community. But there is a recurring resolve of this anger into actions words and deeds. A remarkable but uneven political social cultural and musical re-action. There has always been black political community reaction – such organisation caused Grithiths Birth of a Nation to be kept from screening in many American cities such as Chicago. But Music is the expressive language that first penetrated the black message of consciousness through the communication veins of the nation. The first language of anger: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Billie Holliday played out that all was not well.

    The generation of radical political action Newton, Carmicheal the Black Panthers, black power activists blew itself out but left a trace of consciousness raising and local activism. But 15 years on from this revolutionary ethnic social explosion nothing much had changed in most US cities. The experience of being black little changed, the experience of being young black in the ghetto, a humiliating powerlessness life.

    The pressures of daily white racism, instrumental in policing, on black experience led to a new music of protest and truth saying. Niggaz wit Attitudes absorbed the anger turned to hate on the streets, internalising the frustrations of the hoods and spat it out back at America. Straight Outta Compton. The rap of Ice Cube Lazy E et al, like the wordless solos of Coltrane and Davis, and Billie’s lyrics are spontaneous inspired speaking in tongues. The unconscious expression of the spirit of those who aren’t going to take it any more. The point made by Greek and Roman that there are moments when individuals cease being individuals and transform into mediums, sensitised oracles of their times. As F Gary Gray builds up the documentary form of his movie and we see NWA perform locally and tour nationally, taking on the police and authorities with the sharp edge of uncompromising Niggaz Attitude. Like Billie H their words cutting out the shape of truth of anger and resistance. A group of men outta Compton defined by being part of black experience as much as by their talent. It’s true Gray or perhaps his producers sometimes seem uncomfortable with this attitude, try to soft pedal what we witness. When we see NWA in Detroit with the local police going to stop the show if the play Fuck tha Police, they play the song but we don’t distinctly hear the words. The words with their brazen attitude of contempt are muted. We don’t really experience the Niggaz act of resistance. But for all that, Gray’s movie does represent Ice Cube Dr Dre Eazy E and the others as a collective response to the actuality of toxic race relations, ghetto life. The final third of the film chronicles individuation. Much more Hollywood comfort zone. The break up of NWA over managerial and money. The personal stories, including Eazy E’s death from Aids, overwhelm the collective expression. It’s another story; perhaps one that Straight OUTTA Compton didn’t need. Adrin Neatrour