Monthly Archives: June 2016

  • Rocco and his brothers Luchino Visconti (It 1960)

    Rocco and his brothers
    Luchino Visconti (It 1960) Alain Delon, Renato Salvatore, Annie
    Girardot, Katina Paxinou

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 16 June 2016 Ticket: £8:75


    From the graphic impact of the opening titles, large white blocked out font on black which finally fades through to the great shed of Milan’s station, this is Visconti’s opera: playing out a charged melodrama against an epic backcloth that encompasses and contains the both the plot and state of mind of the protagonists.

    Rocco has the veneer of a neo-realist movie but seeing past its surface the theme of the film is not so much social but psycho-sexual. The psycho-sexual theme is located and established within the context of an cultural matrix which gives cogency to the idea. The issues of social relations (though not that of migration) recede as the movie develops its real focus: the development of new forms of personal identity grounded in the experiential conditions of urban alienation.

    Visconti’s narrative device of exploring the relationships between brothers calls to mind Dostoyevsky’s Karamazov. The way in which both Visconti’s film and Dostoyevsky’s novel render of the intensity of male relations, highlighting the the polarisation of the spiritual and the visceral, as between Alyosha and Dmitry, and Rocco and Simone. In Rocco and his brothers Visconti realises a scenario of emotional and sadistic savagery as individually Rocco and Simone strive to define who they are and come to terms with their destinies as migrants in a new theatre of life.

    Rocco’s family have traded: the security of slavery to the land in the South for the insecurity of industrial life in the North; moved from a kind of primal state of innocence to a state of sin. Once they were figures in a landscape; now they are figures in a man made world that overshadows them. Once they had few desires, now they are overwhelmed by desires.

    Visconti’s settings in Milan: the station shed, the tenement blocks, the factories, the Cathedral, the bars and boxing arena are architectonic stages for the playing out of the psychic saga of the Parondi family’s deterritorialisation. Visconti exploits the sets beyond the suggestive power of their presence. His camera tracks cranes swoops pans through the densities of the urban structures penetrating their resistance as the family, both as group and as individuals, are absorbed into their new environment. An arcing crane shot tracks the family’s arrival at their first tenement flat, glides over the exterior wall and then follows them into the interior of their new dwelling. The complexity and unexpected movement suggests something of the journey of the family itself; the admix of wonder and apprehension at the new trials they face as they are swallowed down into a new concrete world order.

    Two of the brothers Ciro and Vincenzo are absorbed into the mechanicality of industrial Milan. They internalise the life of the worker trying to realise the capitalist dream, trading self and soul for wages, freedom for a new kind of servitude, adopting the gestures and motions of work. But Visconti’s focus is on Rocco and Simone who dance to another urban rhythm: the fast track. To short circuit the proletarian fate, you take what you want using violence. The violence that is a property of the body. In the USA the protagonists would be gangsters; in ‘Rocco’ the protagonists take up boxing.

    Both Rocco and Simone emerge in Visconti’s movie as new kinds of homoerotic beings. Men defining their sexuality in an environment where the rules and roles have changed. The brothers develop as two sides of the coin of male sexuality. Simone’s drive and lust released by success as a boxer overwhelm him; his demand is to possess women, fuck them, impose his will on life. He is the beast who smashes everything that gets in the way of his desire, and as he falls into a spiral of failure and pathetic decrepitude only the delusion of being a big man keeps him alive. Simone’s response, the exageration of the male qualities becomes a parody of heterosexual behaviour, a leaden barren path to death of body and soul.

    Rocco takes a different path. Visconti marks his film with a number of powerful close up’s of his main characters. The most potent of these affect images spliced into the film are those of Alain Delon who plays Rocco. The close-up’s of Rocco’s are visually stunning. They are moments of stillness that immediately absorb the viewer into a face that resonates with a pure beauty, a suggestion of a more diffuse male sexuality, an androgynously forming identity, a psyche alert to the possibilities of sensualities outside the bounds traditional relationships. It is in his use of these defining close-ups as much as in the action that Visconti shapes Rocco’s development. Rocco is the other, the saint like figure who though immersed in a twisted world wants to try and help, even if he is confused, doesn’t know how to and his actions contradictory and are in vain. Rocco fuses both male and female identity in both his actions and body.

    It is this clash between Simone’s assertion of an identity built on purely male attributes, and Rocco’s movement towards an androgyny, that in opposition legitimises the extreme episodes of sadistic sexual violence that are resolving mechanisms in the film, allowing us to see clearly what is happening. Simone’s vicious rape of Nadia and beating of Rocco are staged as grand opera: we see small figures against large backcloths. It defines and clarifies the emotional psychic space between the two brothers, and throws into terrifying relief the extent to which the pure female, in the person of Nadia, has become simply a pawn in a game she cannot control. A game which is played out to the bitter end in the penultimate section of the film where a demented Simone, unable to live with himself, tracks Nadia down and in his final aria, kills her with a knife. She becomes a sacrificial offering to Simone’s failed masculinity.

    Visconti’s movie pulls together significant themes relating to male relationships and male psychic adjustment. Visconti holds them together using masterfully sure and expressive film techniques. Viewing Rocco, I felt that Scorsese and Coppola had carefully studied Visconti’s film, for there are similar themes and techniques replicated by them. Their settings of course are also Italian, and Scorsese in particular in Goodfellas captures this same fetid crucible of intense fraternal male relationships that characterise his New York gangsters. The same sweated bodies in undershirts play out relations in both movies. And in Raging Bull, the stunning cinematography that characterises the fight sequences can be seen in embryonic form in Rocco. In relation to the Godfather, Coppola’s magnificent ‘family’ epic is famous for its sequence that intercuts the Christening in the church with the murders of the New York dons. This sequence is very similar in idea Visconti’s intercutting of Simone killing Nadia with his knife with the joyous event of the Parondi family celebrating Rocco’s victory. Rocco and his brothers has been a pivotal significant film at many levels.

    Adrin Neatrour

  • The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) Luchino Visconti (It 1963)

    Leopard (Il Gattopardo) Luchino Visconti (It 1963)
    Burt Lancaster; Claudia Cardinale

    Tyneside Cinema 8 June 16; ticket £8-75

    The Leopard about whom it is said that he cannot change his spots………………..

    Visconti’s The Leopard is permeated by filmic ideas relating to movement and false movement.

    The real movement in the film is there before our eyes continuously present for us. In the furling and unfurling of cloth drapes and curtains. In the billowing of dresses as they swath the female form and suggest and anticipate the ebb and flow of psychic tides: the incessant agitation in the spirit of times trapped in the rigidity of death. Visconti’s (V) intelligent eye is fascinated by the suggestive possibilities of the fluid. In the opening sequence the wind breezes through the opened French windows; the lace curtains billow gracefully; as do the winds of ideas that gust and fill out the action.

    The false movement is the incessant movement of people as they flow through the frames of the film. The people are false in their moves: across rooms, in religious piety, in presentations. All this movement leads nowhere. The populated zones in the film self consume swallow themselves in determination to set things in a motion that is circular as the serpent that swallows its own tail.

    There are moments that are still in the film. The longueur of the unchanging immobile land. The landscapes still and devoid of people shot by V as choreographed tracks and reveals, paintings characterised by ochre faded under the intensity of the sun. This burnt pastel quality of the land contrasts with the interiors which are set pieces densely peopled and colourised, the men bound in and woman billowing out and flowing as if anticipating a real change, a feminisation of the social order. V uses this contract this movement to suggest that all this out flowing all this female excitement and movement is the new force that cannot be contained.

    At its narrative surface the film relates how the times change. How the old order of Sicilia gives way to the new order of the Resorgimento: Garibaldi and Philip Emmanuel guiding the people, the youth of the country to a new united Italia. But as V unravels the film we see, through the intelligence of the Prince that nothing in the essence of the political order changes. There is the illusion of change, the conceit of social movement. But nothing in fact happens and the Prince sickens as he watches the nothing happening. In all the talk of revolution he understands that there is only an adroitly played out political game of musical chairs.

    The thought occurs that perhaps that one of the reasons the Prince is enervated and sick, is because he has nothing to resist. He reaches a point in his life when he wants to fight; he wants to oppose something, to define himself by noble opposition, to stand up for what he believes in. But there is nothing to believe in: nothing to oppose because nothing real has changed in the world. People may believe in the notion that something has changed, but there has been no real political transformation.

    But nevertheless the film is about change. Not political change: the wind of change. A wind that blows as the dresses of the women bustle, this world depicted in the film is full of change. The Prince comes to understand this. What is changing is not the things that everyone thinks. Another spirit is moving, and it has been picked up and imprinted in female spirit and captured by V in the grain of his film. It lies in the growing consciousness of the Prince in the contrasting forms of the feminine in the character of Angelica that move through his consciousness.

    In contrast the Princess rejects joy love and sex. She is bound to a male world of procreation and honour where the feminine spirit and ethos are rigidly and anally bound to the duties of child production. But Angelica is different. She is free. From the moment that we and the Prince first caste eyes on her as she enters the Palace almost bursting out of the bodice of her dress, we know that she’s the carrier of change. She is the fulcrum of the films meaning representing something in the female spirit that is quite independent of the world of men. Completely free of the rigid coded stratifications that bind this society. Whatever happens to her, something of her spirit will always survive in the same way that the Sicilian psyche always survives.

    The film’s climax is the union of Angelica and the Prince in dance. The dance is her idea, her proposal to the Prince. In the dance as they move serenely across the floor, the Prince ,who yearns for change for release from the dead world of duty that he inhabits, is briefly shown, as if in a trance or dream, the possibility of another world.

    This dance with Angelica in her white floating dress is like a fairy vision bestowed upon selected men who are permitted to see clearly and deeply into the real nature of the world. Like the stories in which a fairy takes a man for a day and a night revealing to him the world of magic dance and music, only for him to return and find that everything has aged. So it is with the Prince. After the dance, which is an intensified surrogate marriage and heightened revelation of a course in life not available to him, there is nothing left for him to do but die. After the dance he is broken because he has fallen out of time. He belongs to a present that is receding accelerating into the past. Angelica is the future denied him. Angelica’s life is for the succeeding generations. It is time for him to move out of the picture. But he understands why. Not intellectually, but as an animal understands, viscerally. The Prince accepts death as it blows across the fields and down the mountains, only seeking somewhere to lie down forever. Adrin Neatrour

  • The Russian Woodpecker Chad Gracia (2015 USA)

    The Russian Woodpecker
    Chad Gracia (2015 USA) Andrei Alexandovich

    Viewed: 12 June 2016; Part of Losing the Plot Film Festival
    Burnlaw Northumberland;

    ticket £3.00

    The cooked and the raw

    The charismatic figure of Ukrainian artist Andrei Alexandrovich fronts up Gracia’s film. Alexandovich is both protagonist and shaman/clown. As protagonist, a driven investigator of a terrifying conspiracy theory. As shaman, a sensitised litmus paper responding to the psychic wounds inflicted on the Ukraine by the USSR. Alexandovich’s shaman is a pained visionary, a raw embodiment of the emotional reactions that characterise his country’s past and present relationship to Russia. An inventor of ritual to neuter the lies and poison of the past and make libations to the future. As clown, he makes us laugh.

    Gracia’s film interweaves Alexandrovich’s rituals with: his attempt to find the real cause of the catastrophic Chernobyl reactor melt down; and the ‘street revolution’ of 2014 in Kiev that resulted in the deposal of the Ukrainian pro Russian elected leader, Yanukovych. The intercutting of the political, the real and the magico religious characterises the Russian Cuckoo, dynamically shifting the film’s focus, moving from the street, to the intellectual to the performance. But all these sequences these discrete elements are unified in the film as they draw on a similar quality: rawness. Gracia’s film is energised by the ecstatic rawness of street violence, the raw inebriation of a forensic quest, and the raw elemental intensity of ritual.

    It is this rawness that comprises the truth content of the Russian Cuckoo informing the quality of relations between past and present, the Ukraine and Russia. The Rawness of history.

    The film’s title refers to the electronic frequency, so called because it had a similar tempo to that of a woodpecker drilling a tree, that had been emitted by a huge structure, acronymically called the DUGA which was situated adjacent to the Chernobyl site. The DUGA was supposed to be the advanced USSR early warning system to alert against a surprise US missile strike. Apparently despite its huge cost, DUGA did not work.

    From the first shots we see of Alexandrovich he presents as one possessed. And there is always something of the clown in him. His appearance, the way he looks, the way he plays with people and ideas. His personal history is closely tied to Chernobyl. As a young child in Kiev, after the Chernobyl explosion, he had been evacuated to escape the disastrous nuclear fallout over the city; despite this he had still suffered radiation poisoning. Chernobyl has invaded his being, penetrating and defining his body sensitising his soul.

    Alexandrovich uses his power as an artist/shaman to reject history. He takes on the mantel of the shaman to re-form on his own terms his relation, physical and spiritual, to the toxic polluting nuclear plant, and through ritual makes his own bonds with earth water fire air, invoking the elements directly as his kindred spirit.

    Rejecting History is to refuse to accept the orthodox Soviet line that Chernobyl was an accident. A vision of Alexandrovich’s father leads Andrei to the discovery of the DUGA. The revelation of the DUGA (and through the film’s cinematography we see and comprehend the size of this structure which is in itself a revelation) becomes the starting point for Andrei’s rejection of the conclusions of the cooked books of the Soviet investigation that the disaster was an accident. Alexandrovich guided by instinctive intuition follows the tortuous forensic trail through the undergrowth of Soviet bureaucracy. He finally locates in this undergrowth the name of a deceased but very high ranking member of the Soviet politbureau, who he believes would have had both reason to sabotage the Chernobyl reactor and the power to bully the technicians there into conducting the dangerous experiments that resulted in the catastrophe. Hence the Chernobyl disaster was not an accident, it was a wanton act of sabotage by the USSR. History.

    I don’t think that it is critical to Gracia’s film whether Alexandrovich’s conspiracy theory conclusion convinces the viewer or not. What is important is the intensity of the psychic imperative to remould history that lies at the heart of Alexandrovich’s quest. His quest is tied to the sense of dread and terror posed by Putin’s re-invention of the Soviet Union, and implications of oppression and subjection for its neighbouring and client states. Most painfully denying these client states the opportunity to write/make their own histories and to come to terms with the horrors of their past.

    The past is quickly subsumed into myth.

    Gracia’s Russian Woodpecker shows, through Alexandrovich, the interplay of the key elements invoked at moments of attempting to shape the forces of history: the political the historic the personal. Most important perhaps is the personal. The recasting of personal identity to create a sense of destiny, a concentration of the qualities of conviction needed to provoke and survive revolution. The immanent feeling that as an individual you are connected to apersonal, cosmic forces. Alexandrovich becomes shaman, and in casting himself as a being connected to the elements, his nature takes on their elemental quality. In one sense Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky were themselves Shamans, ritually invoking and identifying themselves with the forces of history to justify and strengthen their own sense immovable sense of purpose. They are at one with historical destiny.

    As the events of the 2013-14 revolution unfold so Alexandrovich is folded up into the events. Deeply implicated by his Chernobyl research he disappears from view, intimidated after a visit from the secret police. The final sequence of Russian Woodpecker takes place on a stage in Maiden square at some point in the climax of the violence. Alexandrovich returns, not as Shaman but as Clown. Alone on the stage, in strange light to he declaims his findings about the Chernobyl conspiracy to an emptiness. His raw strangeness of his disclamation falls into a huge pit of emptiness and indifference as smoke and chaos of revolution fill out the void. A clown playing out a performance for the camera or for history. Or perhaps both. Adrin Neatrour