Monthly Archives: May 2017

  • Green Room Jeremy Saulnier (USA 2015)

    Green Room Jeremy
    Saulnier (USA 2015) Anton Yelchin

    Imogen Poots, Patrick Steward, Brownie and Grimm

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 28 May 2016; ticket: £8.75

    empty room

    Like the frozen yoghurt and the noodle business, the industrial film thrives on playing out endless variations of the same plot. Green Room is no more than a video game movie in which a posh English actress with the gun and box cutter is allowed (scripted) to win.

    Saulnier’s Green Room works out with the format of teenage entrapment by forces of evil – bogie men. The bogie men in the cupboard decked out as proto white supremicists, but basically just plain old bogie men in the cupboard. Saulnier’s movie lacks any idiosyncratic or cultish distinction: Chainsaw massacre it is not. Green Room lacks the imaginative stylisation and deep black comedic rituals of the cult slaughter movie.

    It also lacks even the social cultural themes of the movie such Carpenter’s Escape from New York or Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace. The latter film which although violently formulaic and lurching into parody, nevertheless in its title and in its expressive characterisation calls up the dark forces worming through the flesh of United States of America, psychically legitimising the corruption od violence in the name of an enraged ‘id’. Cooper’s film crudely but effectively pre-empts the politics of Donald Trump, both as parody and as expression of the infantilised rage that defines contemporary politics. In ‘Out of the Furnace’ Woody Harrelson’s performance as Harlan is the film’s psychopathic core. In the film’s opening sequence, set in a drive-in movie theatre, Harrelson maps out the film’s territory, as he defines and demonstrates his visceral understanding of human relations. In comparison, Patrick Steward’s playing of Green Room’s villain, Darcy, is something of a pussy cat. Darcy is motivated more by the banality of money than any deeper gloomier psychic intolerance. Harrelson and Steward both do the ‘hard eye’ thing, but Harrelson does it to the greater effect.

    Set against the idea of a situation in which a touring punk band gets slammed up in a venue for seeing something they didn’t ought to have seen, Saulnier as director/writer simply spins together some punk dialogue, some bad-ass backwoodsmen, guns machetes, couple of adorable bull terriers called Brownie and Grimm, and like a pot-pourri cocktale shakes them all about. The result is a movie without an idea or even the notion of an idea, a feeble attempt to pitch the forces of good and evil against each other. It is a structure without a concept that ends up as a mechanised combinational tryst that is not a movie but a video game. .

    Adrin Neatrour

  • High and Low (Heaven and Hell) Akira Kurosawa (Japan 1963)

    High and Low (Heaven and Hell) Akira Kurosawa (Japan 1963) Toshiro Mifune Viewed Tyneside Cinema 20th May 2017; ticket £9.75

    An ethical question with a metaphysical structure and a judgement coda

    Kurosawa’s High and Low is a transposed Samurai genre movie. In a similar manner to Kurosawa’s Samurai movies a core ethical question is posed to its protagonists. As in the Seven Samurai, Kurosawa informs High and Low with a metaphysical structure that encodes the response to the question.

    The use of structure as metaphysical device was more common when scripting and building scenario were the heart of filmmaking. Clouzot’s ‘Wages of Fear’ comes to mind as a movie shaped by a governing metaphysic. In today’s film making, script and scenario are subservient to image and stylistic considerations, and the dominant influences shaping the form of productions are the advert and the installation. Today the idea of a filmic structure shaped by metaphysics or ethics is alien as it means ‘idea’ has to be directive; a discipline of soul alien to the accustomed indulgence of either filmmaker or audience.

    High and Low is a continuation of Kurosawa’s filmic dialogue with Japan and the the problem that her identity and culture faced in the 50’s and 60’s caught in the strain of the opposing pull of American defined modernism, and the push of its own traditional identity.

    Kurosawa’s understanding of his country was mediated by the belief that the disaster of twentieth century Japanese expansion, with all its terrible consequences for Asia and Japan, was caused by its rigid military and political hierarchy. Kurosawa’s vision of Japan was located in the wisdom of its people as collectivities, and the claims collective could make upon the individual. I suppose the American idea, the Thatcherite notion is that the individual owes nothing to the social body outside of the immediate claims made by the family. The American Way’s values the rights of individuals above those of communities. Not so Kurosawa’s Japan.

    The critical juncture in High and Low comes when Gondo realises that it is not his son who has been kidnapped, but his chauffeur’s boy. At this point the kidnapper does not drop his ransom but demands Gondo pay the money anyway. Gondo wrestles with his soul as to what he should do. The decision is his. Does Gondo play for himself alone and refuse to pay; or does he choose to affirm that he is a part of a greater whole? Gondo’s decision affirms the collective, the Samurai spirit of Japan as he elects to pay out the full ransom for the son of his chauffeur.

    As Gondo choses the path of self denial the structure of the film blossoms like a flower. The first hour of the film has been set in the lounge of Gondo’s house on the hill. His American style residence that acts as a vulgar beacon for conspicuous consumption. The lounge interior is large open plan space, monotextural, painted in muted tones furnished with American armchairs and sofas. Plush. A space alien to Japan.

    As soon as Gondo decides to play for the collective the movie leaves the dead Western interior and opens out into Japan. High and Low which has been imprisoned and contained within walls that to the soul are like a prison, explodes into the Japanese psyche. A metaphysical shift.

    As the movie opens out, Japan and her people are revealed. A series of cameos shows the working people of Tokyo; and the police are seen as an organic body, like social insects working, together to find the criminal. Unlike American cop movies there are no stars, no stand out cops, only work to be done by the multiple body of agents.

    The kidnapper when he is eventually caught seems less motivated by the gain than by resentment at the symbolic nature of Gondo’s house: its flaunting of a life style. There is an element here in which as Kurosawa’s movie reaches its climax, it becomes a judgement machine not a chart of an ethical field. It is valid for Kurosawa to believe in and to point to Japanese culture as having the potential to redeem past mistakes and to provide a new basis for democratic stability. It is less valid for him to blame all negative aspects of contemporary Japanese culture on American corruption.

    The unravelling of High and Low’s plot involves the introduction of heroine as a corrupting influence on Japanese people. Kurosawa’s makes it clear that hard drugs and their use by young people are an imported American evil. His depiction of drug dens and drug use rivals the ridiculous public health screeners made by Hollywood in the 1950’s. Kurosawa undermines his stature as a film maker by resorting to the same hackneyed inaccurate depictions. By 1963 Kurosawa surely had to understand that Japan could not return to her isolationist past. Japan was part of the modern world, an all it implied: automobile production, consumer products, technology such as that used by the police. For all that Kurosawa believed in the resilience of her culture, Japan could not avoid ALL the forces of individuation alienation and anomie that are the handmaidens of high Capitalist economies.

    Drug taking was a problem endemic to developing conditions in Japanese society. Kurosawa might finish his movie by scripting Gondo to leave the large American style shoe company he worked for as an executive, and set up his own small company making quality Japanese shoes. But Kurosawa as a film maker seems to have turned his back on the actual forces shaping Japanese life: the evolution of large home based multi-national corporations. And all the consequences that such development entailed. adrin neatrour

  • Citizen Jane – the Battle for the City Matt Tyrnauer (USA 2017)

    Citizen Jane – the Battle for the City Matt Tyrnauer (USA 2017)

    Viewed: ICA Cinema London
    15 May 2017.

    and what about today!

    It is interesting to compare Matt Tyrenauer’s ‘Citizen Jane’ with Raoul Peck’s ‘I am not your negro’. Peck’s movie had the singular virtue of being written by its subject James Baldwin. James Baldwin’s words still have a pointed relevance to race relations in the USA today. Peck uses the urgency of Baldwin’s text to fashion a film documenting the situation of Black people, using images drawn both from the past and the present day, to show that little has changed. Peck’s film takes up Baldwin’s analysis and shows its contemporary relevance for an America psyche still marked by an imbued sense of white racial superiority. This is today; welcome to the USA, says Peck. Says Baldwin.

    Like Peck’s film, Tyrnauer’s ‘Citizen Jane’ (CJ) has at its centre of gravity a voice that rings out as clear perceptive true and uncompromising. The voice of Jane Jacobs. The difference between the films lies in their truth content. ‘I am not your negro’ has as its truth content Peck’s proposition that Baldwin is relevant now because the fight against white supremacy continues. Baldwin is, in this respect, but one powerful fighter in a long line of warriors taking up the struggle for Black respect. The truth content is the continuity of the fight.

    By way of contrast, Tyrnauer’s truth content centres not so much about a proposition, but rather about the person of Jane Jacobs, locating her and her battle exclusively in the 1960’s and 1970’s. ‘Citizen Jane’ is locked in a time bubble.

    CJ is pitched as a battle between Jane and Robert Moses who was planning supremo of New York City for some 40 years. Moses was an insensitive arrogant power broker who out manoeuvred and crushed opposition to his gargantuan urban planning schemes. Moses’ planned improvements were often, but not always, justified in terms of facilitating greater ease of road transport. They ended up smashing the very fabric of the city. They threatened to destroy the city as a place for life itself, its natural capacity to mediate complex and rewarding human interaction. Often Moses’ policies also had the effect, never stated but which may have been intended, of decanting the poor out of high value locations, in particular Manhattan, making it a better safer place for the rich. For poor, read ‘Black’ or ‘Hispanic’.

    ‘Citizen Jane’ works as a movie because Jane Jacobs and her writing stand in the centre of the film. Jacobs was extraordinary because she saw what Moses and the planners were doing to New York. At a time when most people were blind to what was happening, she saw what was going on and used her extraordinary clear mind to write and explain what Moses and the NYC planners were up to, and just how much damage they were doing to city life. Jacobs saw that Moses was not a god but a deeply flawed man corrupted by hubris who had lost touch with reality. Moses had become a destructive force. Jacobs was able to take him on because of her ability to articulate a clear alternative vision of the city, that was simple powerful and persuasive. She was also a formidable streetwise political organiser.

    Jane Jacobs won her battles with Robert Moses. But Citizen Jane’s truth content is no more than re-telling of the David and Goliath fairy tale. The little woman takes on the ogre and knocks him down. A good story. The kind of story the Disney Corporation likes to tell.

    ‘Citizen Jane’ presents as a film with a knock out thesis. Wham bang, Goliath felled, we can all go home and lie safe in our beds.

    Tyrnauer extends his material horizontally across space as geography, showing contemporary images and film of other cities. These clips are usually interspersed with academics and some contemporaries of Jacobs talking about what has been learnt from her insights and analysis. The problem is that this film material is diffuse vague and unfocused. It is difficult to make sense of the footage of the various cities we see, because cities are particular places and we are not given any information to understand them.

    We are given a considerable amount on information about New York. But Tyrnauer even as an epilogue does not let the film develop through time, to give us some idea of how we might connect Jane Jacobs thinking in the 60’s to what is happening now on her old battleground.

    Peck looks at what Baldwin’s words say today about Blacks in the USA. Tyrnauer‘s film suggests that somehow the struggle for New Yorks physical and social fabric was won by Jane Jacobs in the 1960’s. He does not see that in relation to the forces that Jane Jacobs took on, battles come and go, battles are won and lost. But the war goes on.

    Moses was an exceptional figure, even so he was ultimately just the representative of the vested economic interests that have always shaped the use of land of the USA. The same forces that created the suburbs, gated communities, inner city ghettos, industrial parks now vision the city as a high tech service economy, characterised by high rents and leisure driven life styles. Mobility and de-politicisation characterise the new vision which has slowly come into full focus over half a century of development. Robert Moses has come and gone, but he is replaced today by a plurality of hypercharged real estate developers, who are perusing very similar goals to Moses. They are not driven by civic ideological righteousness, but rather driven by greed for the huge returns and profits they make on blue chip residential projects. The consequences are the same: a city for the rich, the poor banished to the margins bereft of community and politically contained. the creation of a prototype Eloi culture based on leisure. The death of the life of the city.

    Jane Jacobs’ struggles were only a episode of the war between people who live in cities – like new York – and those who would destroy them. This is the Tyrnauer’s limitation. The forces in play in issues of land use are historical forces for which individuals sometimes hold the banners and wield the sword. But they are players, they don’t control script development. Today as more and more of New York ( and other cities) is ripped down and apart to provide high rise apartments for the rich, where are the Jane Jacobs? . Where are the people prepared to take on the developers and their political sponsors who now stay well in the shadows aiding and abetting the dirty work of destruction.

    I think Jane Jacobs would have been disappointed in Tyrnauer’s film. It is locked into a Disneyesque re-iteration of the past. She won her battles but she would have known that this war continues. Tyrnauer fails to understand this. adrin neatrour

  • Lady Macbeth William Oldroyd (2016 UK)

    Lady Macbeth William Oldroyd (2016 UK) Florence Pugh, Cosmos Jarvis

    viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle 2nd May 2017;
    ticket: £4.00

    vacuum packed

    As in Chazelle’s La La Land the defining shot in William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is a female faciality. Oldroyd and Chazelle’s through both the camera and the edit indulge long slavering shots of both Emma Stone and Florence Pugh. Both these young actresses are sat nicely preened, motionless on the set, posing for the audience with looks of self satisfied smugness as the lens laps up their faces in an act of optic devouring.

    Both films are about desire, and today’s directors, in particular but not exclusively male ones, seem spellbound by the images of the faces of their female protagonists as they play to realise the object of their desire. In the Public relations hand-outs this is called female empowerment. Katherine and Mia are caste as representatives of a rewritten ‘desire’ retro-history, and both heroines achieve the 21st century feminist dream of having it all. These movies might be understood as the consequence of the pact production companies and their directors make out with the juggernaut of pseudo-feminism orthodoxy that rolls over the global arts and political landscape. We are experiencing the implementation of a fake feminist canon of political correctness in which the female presentation, as image, vies with Bolshevik strictures concerning the historic correct destiny of workers and peasants, for the mantle of being the most deadening sterile social paradigm.

    Lady Macbeth is adapted from Nikolai Leskov’s Russian novel, Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District. Leskov’s novel seems to have been completely corrupted in its filmic representation. Whereas the novel’s actual back ground of serf culture with its underlying violence, serve Leskov’s plot well and embed the action in a specific culture, Oldroyd’s film is a decontextualized vehicle. Lady Macbeth is set in a narrational black hole. The ‘period look’ setting reminded me of the final sequence of Kubrick’s 2001 in which Bowman finds himself deposited in a neo classical apartment. Lady Macbeth seems likewise beamed up. But Katherine unlike Bowman has not been scripted to die, but rather like Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, been sent to right the wrongs of history and restore a feminist gloss to literature and history. (Leskov’s novel ends with Katherine and her serf lover guilty of murder and sentenced to exile in Siberia). Oldroyd’s land Macbeth has as its final shot Katherine smirking into the camera.

    There is an immobility in the sets which together with the acting style and the lines of dialogue, give to Lady Macbeth a theatrical aspect. Both Becket and Pinter as playwrights used decontextualized settings, mannered delivery of dialogue and non naturalistic dialogue to specific dramatic effect. These writers exploited lack of context and freedom from external constraints, to probe explore and evoke metaphysical and psychosocial tension in the characters. Oldroyd’s script doesn’t do metaphysics; it does mechanics, the mechanicality of Katherine’s career of ‘desire achieved’. There is nothing for the audience to see or to understand, other than the script progressing from one event to the other, from one success to another. From Katherine’s romps with Sebastian to her final murder of the young heir. There is no ‘out damn spot’ moment, no moments of irony or self awareness. Only that one reiterated image: Katherine sat facing outwards looking towards camera like the cat that got the cream.

    And a cat periodically appears throughout the film, as do landscape shots, both serving the filmic conceit of referencing nature as a transposed states of mind. Visual clichés that at this point have long out served any purpose other than pretension.

    As there were no serfs in England, Leskov’s underclass characters in Lady Macbeth are given over to be played by blacks. I think the idea will have been to migrate contemporary racial sensitivities back into a decontextualized 19th century thereby deepening the meanings underscoring social relations in the film. But race relations are always mediated by context, and the interposing of race simply deepens Lady Macbeth’s ontological confusion. In an English setting, race and class issues imaged in lady Macbeth, only blur and confound. A more appropriate background for the film might have been in the Southern States.

    By the time the end credits rolled Lady Macbeth had left me without a thought. The truth content of the movie was a void. The assembly of the movie pointed only to external relations of film making as an act of ideological purity. I did wonder if they had filmed a lesbian scene between Katherine and Anna, but wisely left it on the cutting room floor. This idle thought merely underscores the banality of a film that flaunts its credentials as an empowering medium, a piece of junk thought that underlines only that Lady Macbeth is a dishonest disempowering medium. adrin neatrour