Monthly Archives: February 2017

  • I Am Not Your Negro Raoul Peck; written by James Baldwin (2016 USA)

    I Am Not Your Negro
    Raoul Peck; written by James Baldwin (2016 USA) Samuel Jackson

    viewed Film Forum NYC, 21st Feb 2017; ticket .00

    one voice

    As I left the cinema with my companion Ana Marton, she turned to me and said: It’s a labour of love! And I immediately understood that she was right because if there is one thing that stands out in Raoul Peck’s ‘I Am Not Your Negro , it is that there is love at the heart of his film.

    ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ feels like the film of a director who has read and reread James Baldwin many times, each time absorbing him the more deeply into his blood. Reaching the point, from all considerations, where a film, not made about but with Baldwin, was possible. A film in which not everything could be said, but in which much that was essential in the writer could be uttered.

    Viewing ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ it feels like Raoul Peck (RP) has consciously minimised his own presence, almost disappeared from the film. Because this is Baldwin’s film. And RP knows he has made Baldwin’s film and no one should take the credit for Baldwin’s film but Baldwin. His is the voice.

    Of course ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ is a finely crafted film and in that respect it is Peck’s seamless fusion of Baldwin’s strong voice and the film material that almost renders his own presence invisible. RP writes himself out of the script allowing him to refine his task so as to actualise the life and writing of the poet and writer who has inspired and shaped the lives of those many born without the protective carapace of white skin.

    Raoul Peck’s intention in the film is to give total primacy to the writing. Nothing is more important. Baldwin’s writing commands the screen, allowing his voice to ring clearly across the years since his death in 1987. Releasing Baldwin’s words so that they might resonate today with acuity intelligence and insight into the heart of present day America.

    An America that in Baldwin’s terms is still a sick troubled society. Baldwin’s predictions bear witness today to the primacy of Donald Trump; perhaps a sicker more troubled culture now than in the 1960’s and 1970’s epitomised in the continuing fate of its black population to be looked upon as a despised degenerate slave people. A fate made more urgent and cogent by the fact that the political discourse about ‘blacks’ is spoken in a euphemistic code of political correctness that overlays the deeply buried prejudice and discrimination.

    Peck’s script is largely based on Baldwin’s 1975 work, ‘No name in the street’. This is sometimes described as a group of essays. It is not. It is rather an autobiographical work that is structured in the manner of a stream of consciousness. It intermixes the personal memory, reflection and analysis of white culture and society, and interpolates into the text the significance and deaths of the the three great black American resistance figures of the 20th century, with all of whom, Baldwin had worked and fought. Medgar Evans, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King.

    Baldwin’s utterance, voiced by the deep sonorous bass of Samuel Jackson, is the dominant affect in the movie, Baldwin’s writing is the truth content, energising and organising the visual material, the affect that points to the significance of the visual imagery. What we see is images that are an extension of the voice’s perception: images drawn from originary material of Baldwin himself such as his 1965 Cambridge debate; archive material of King Evans and Malcolm X; and movie clips from popular Hollywood film that range from the 1920’s to the 1970’s. In addition RP makes some use of present day coverage of race riots in Milwaukie and Ferguson to extend the scope of Baldwin’s vision into the present day, and to give the lie to the endless stream of white faces appearing on televisions to tell the black people that they are: “Sorry!”. Sorry for what?

    And: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ did not win a 2017 Oscar. No surprise. The boys and girls in the Hollywood back rooms were never going to give the gong to James Baldwin. I mean you have to take the film’s title seriously. Baldwin’s idea was to tell truth, his truth: not to entertain. Thanks RP. adrin neatrour

  • Manchester by the Sea Kenneth Lonergan (USA 2016)

    Manchester by the Sea
    Kenneth Lonergan (USA 2016) Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle

    Tyneside Cinema 23 Jan 2017; ticket £9.25

    half man half music video

    Sometimes when viewing Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea (MBS)I was put in mind of the very fine set of films made by Bob Rafelson in the 1970’s, King of Marven Gardens and Five Easy Pieces. Also in watching Lonergan’s movie it was a relief to view a Hollywood movie whose voicing and dialogue wasn’t characterised by turgid gaseous delusional philosophy.

    MBS is grounded in relations between people as were Rafelson’s two films. As far as that goes, the film is dynamic in its observation and depiction of the difficulties of close relations; communication between generations and between men and women are brought into relief in Lonergan’s script.

    Although the script centres on the generational boy- father/man nexus it is the dysfunctional response of women partners that shapes the situations that are picked up in the script and it is the female influence (often in absentia) that shapes the development of the scenario. MBS’s scenario rather than being a narrative, drives through strips of life, cutting between a time past and an ongoing present as the established situation evolves and develops through character rather than plot mechanisms. These are not totally absent, but do not in themselves define Lonergan’s film.

    The problem with MBS is that it feels ungrounded, both in the local environment and in environmental nexus in which the script is located. There are very few connecting ties between the close intimate circle which is the prime concern of MUS, and the wider social. The film’s material is focused almost entirely in the personal milieu. As if personal relations in a small town such as Manchester could be completely disconnected from the wider community with its social political and economic considerations.

    One scene in particular in MBS, Joe’s funeral service, exemplifies this disconnection and also strikes an inauthentic note that jars the credibility of the film. It seems inauthentic that a popular well liked man, as Joe is depicted, and a fisherman to boot, should attract such a low attendance at his funeral service. In small fishing towns, funerals are large as they are both a mark of respect and a social event. Lonergan’s failure to depict the communal marking of Joe’s death, seems symptomatic of his failure to depict how small towns and tight groups of people such as fishermen function.

    Rafelson’s King of Marvin Gardens was not only an acidic observation of the destructive relationship between the two brothers; also by setting the film in Atlantic City, Rafelson located the film in a failing America, an America coming apart at the seam of its dream. Lonergan’s MBS in contrast might as well be set on a Facebook page. The intensity of human intercourse is there, but without context with no real setting. Manchester, its people, its connection to the sea are photo-shopped backgrounds, pictures whose purpose is to decorate not to authenticate or substantiate. In Joe’s character and the legacy of his existence left to his son Patrick, there is no feeling for the work that Joe does. But people who live by toil in the sea are marked by it to the core of their being. You are a fisherman, it is not something you do. From the script it was not possible to understand if Joe was an actual fisherman, had been a fisherman and then became just a boat captain taking people out for line and rod fishing trips.Something core to Joe’s identity is uncoupled by the script. Likewise Manchester, a New England sea town with a long history, becomes an abstract entity, a vacuous continuation of the suburban sprawl that characterises American towns.

    It’s possible that this is the truth that Lonergan wanted to express: Americans live in the world of disconnect, where people have lost all their ties with externalities and that all that is left is an intensification of personal relations, Facebook, twitter You Tube. Possible, but in terms of the way MUS is shot this is not convincing argument for Lonergan’s production.

    It is interesting that whereas Joe, whom the viewer might expect to be connected with externalities, the sea, other fishermen, business etc is bereft of these types of liaisons. But Lee his brother, is given a lot of script time to establish his janitorial credentials. This is of course to set up Lee both as a certain type of failed flawed individual and his relation with Patrick as his guardian. It is Affleck’s assimilation into this dual role that pivots the film, and where MBS is most compelling. By contrast, the characterisation of Joe is a comparitive failure.

    I don’t know if Lonergan has previous as a music video producer or if he is touting for work in this area. Whichever, but at key moments the transforming of MBS into a music video to solve expressive problems is an intrusive trick. It demeans and undervalues the rest of the film. In particular the use the the Albinoni Adagio to wallpaper the scene in which Lee watches his house burn down. The Albinoni has been used in something like 70 movies (including Last Year in Marienbad) and its employment here seems like the imposition of the most clichéd of solutions to ‘finding’ this scene, rendering the images inflated overlong pompous and emotionally superficial. Lonergan undermines MUS because he has set it up as a film in which the viewers can observe the action and are allowed the space to come to their own understanding of what is happening. By switching over into music video territory Lonergan betrays his audience and their intelligence by imposing a crude manipulative device over the visual material. Lonergan makes the demand for the audience to understand what they were seeing on his terms: not their own. And of course the house burning scene did not need this type of interpretative jacket. The film has an internal integrity: in its acting, in its script, in the way it is filmed (favouring wide shots) and in its finely tuned editing. All of which allow its audience ‘to see’. The forces set in play by Lonergan in MBS are powerful to carry viewers with it, without the musical exercise. To adopt a music video form as an expressive tool to overwhelm his audience, betokens a lack of confidence by Lonergan both in himself and his movie. adrin neatrour