Monthly Archives: May 2018

  • Orlando Sally Potter (UK 1992)

    Orlando Sally Potter (UK 1992) Tilda Swinton

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema
    Newcastle; ticket: open free screening

    erectile dysfunction

    Sally Potter’s movie is an admix of sumptuous visuals allied to content that becomes increasingly weak and uncertain of itself. Not unlike some late career David Lean film such as Zhivago or Ryan’s Daughter: spectacular exterior shell, flabby interior. But whilst Lean was a hand on heart patriot increasingly distanced from the political lean of the times, Potter is a feminist with an agenda to sow the seeds of her perspective. Orlando in this respect seems a movie caught between divergent necessities: to be faithful to the original satire of Virginia Woolf’s novel; to be true to her own muse. In film, as many other directors have shown, whatever the production values, compromised intentions lead to dull film experience.

    Virginia Woolf’s writing comprising a delicate tracery of words, folds into the epochs through which Orlando passes, gender nuanced observations and feelings. What in writing is playful and vibrant is most successfully carried off by Potter in her visuals. The opening Elizabethan androgynous epoch where youthful Orlando is chosen to serve Quentin Crisp’s wonderfully realised velvet Queen Elizabeth l. The festivities enjoyed on the frozen vista of 17th century London, and the the wondrous costuming of Swinton in her 18th century hooped dress, that simultaneously suggest encumberment and domination, subservience and power, as Orlando sweeps though drawing room, salon and the garden maze. The manipulation of this one costume expresses with a precise elegance the feminine psyche located within the masculine world.

    The scenes which are dialogue led and defined, which structure Potter’s script, lack the energy of her visual realisation. It is a script without tension. The meandering form of Orlando through the novel, in film translates as inconsequential drift through time. Orlando’s unchanging youth lacks any substantiation as a device, as does the mysterious gender migration Orlando undergoes during his/her arabic posting. Of course Woolf is playing with the ideas of transposition and androgyny. Woolf’s skilful play with words carries off the conceit of Orlando’s unchanging physical form. But when the words are made flesh, Swinton’s performance doesn’t reach out beyond gesture, and makes little of the male form taken by Orlando. Her male Orlando is never more than a mannequin posing as a man blessed with erectile dysfunction. Which may be Woolf’s point but in film terms it means that as there is no residual tension in Orlando’s male to female transformation. So if the film’s script is to be energised by dramatic tensions, they have to come from the realm of ideas, both political and ideological. But the script does not deliver in this respect. And without these tensions there is flatness in the film’s scenario that causes the film to drift into deadness.

    Instead of boldly co-opting a more pointed feminist discourse, the dialogue is often flat, even when attempting self parody. Actor’s breaking frame by speaking directly to audience through the screen can be an powerful scripting device. Sally Potter makes use of this idea to put another arrow into Orlando’s quiver. Swinton’s direct remarks and observations don’t hit any target, fail to offset add undermine or have significance other than the hit of initial surprise of the interpolations. As if Potter had not really come to terms with what she wanted these frame breaks to achieve.

    The cumulative feeling of the script and dialogue is that we are enclosed in a slow drift through the ages of inconsequentiality. Time comes and goes, a poem is written, some of the subjectivities of being a woman, are expressed. But nothing really interrupts the balance of self possession and self control, the politics of appearances that are the defining contours of ‘Orlando’.

    Sometimes beautiful and expressive but Potter’s film seems defined by a lacking of moments of boldness of direct incision into the idea and form of her material. Instead her film reads like a series of decisions to play safe. Adrin Neatrour

  • Beast Michael Pearce (UK 2018)

    Beast Michael Pearce
    (UK 2018) Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 1st May 2018; ticket £9.75

    just like a muppet

    In the first scene proper of Michael Pearce’s Beast, Moll, set up in a a pre-title establishment shot us sweet choir girl, drops a glass and picking up a fragment from the floor, crushes the shard into her hand, clenching her fist as the blood oozes out of the wound. At this point we know we are into a land of familiar tropes and clichés.

    And so indeed it comes to pass that Pearce takes us through many of the tricks of the domestic horror book of tropes, a veritable tick list of affects and effects piped through the scenario with predictable regularity. A scenario fed by a script that is so thin, it has to be bulked out with paranoid dream/fantasy sequences imagined by Moll – masked nasty men on the prowl; so thin it is padded out with a little Scandi noir police stuff. When we come to final sequence, the aftermath of the road crash, we have the crawling bit. Homage to Lars von Trier, where the two protagonists crawl along the road, Moll after Pascal whom she finally overtakes and to whom she delivers the coup de grace. A particularly silly scene, carried through with little conviction.

    Moll is set up not only by the glass stunt but also by her voice over ( the only one she is permitted) during the opening scene of her birthday party barbeque. Here she tells about the way killer whales behave when their communication is disrupted in the confines of captivity: they go mad; self destructively mad. In this we learn something about Moll’s state of mind. She feels imprisoned, a captive in the house where she lives with her family. The problem with the film is that the script, after this one insight into how Moll sees/feels things, proceeds to relinquish her as an internalised state of mind. Beast (a titular nod to the Scandi noir recourse of the movie) abandons her to the mechanics of Pearce’s script and scenario.

    The whole movie might have turned out better if Moll, directed by her own inner voice, and Pascale her psychopathic chum had thrown caution to the wind and like Lizzy Borden, massacred Moll’s unpleasant family. At least the Pearce’s film would have made some macabre dysfunctional sense and consistency of line. The problem with Beast is that it is all over the place, moving from genre to type, chopping and changing style, seemingly at the whim of Pearce.

    Pearce gives us a little bit of this and a little bit of that: a little bit of class tension, with Moll’s unpleasant high-falutin family with their incomers snobbish regard for ‘locals’. Tension. There is the usual serial killer out to enjoy himself. The murder enquiry is whisked in with a little scandi-noir; the arm STICKING OUT by the potato field; Moll’s police interview by a haircut with serious attitude. Pearce stitches the farrago together with a swath of landscape stuff that will please the Jersey Tourist Board.

    Pearce is unable to make his meanderings cohere around character or insight. Like the Muppet that she is Moll simply conforms to the mechanics of a script that leads her by the nose from one situation to another. First trapped in her family, then liberated by Pascal, pursued by the dark forces, finally allowed redemption.

    Redemption is of course these days the conventional career destination for any female movie character. It is the ideological barometer of the times. The expectation. And Beast is very much a film that reflects all the social and political shibboleths of the age. Times will change; they always do. But for the moment it’s a fixture of scripting, that the woman, like the proletarian type before her in soviet films, will monopolise survival rites, often as the hero. It makes life easier for the angle-saxon male filmmaker, and reassures the audience. adrin neatrour

  • Custody (Jusqu’a la Garde) Xavier Legrande (Fr 2016)

    Custody (Jusqu’a la Garde)
    Xavier Legrande (Fr 2016) Miriam
    Besson, Denis Menochet

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 19 April 2018; ticket: £9.75

    another advert

    After sitting through the assault course of images designed to sell BMW’s and other junk, the audience might have thought that when the adverts and trailer were finished the selling shift was over and at last they could engage with a film. But all Xavier Legrande’s movie has to offer is another sales pitch. The product is different, perhaps ideological, but the idea is the same: to align the presented imagery with product. In the case of BMW it is an object that is the product of the selected imagery; in the case of Custody it is an objectified thought, produced through selected images.

    I was reminded as I watched the desperate playing out of object images in Custody of a film I had viewed earlier in the year: The Touch by Ingmar Bergman.

    The Touch with Bibi Anderson and Eliot Gould (Karin and David) is not a convincing film, one of Bergman’s least satisfactory. The dialogue is leaden, there is a core of uncertainty attaching to the direction as if Bergman lost confidence in his material, and the characterisation is sometimes crass (Did David’s mental state need to be explained by having relatives murdered in Nazi Death Camps? What did Bergman think he was doing introjecting this type of determinant into his movie script?). But whatever its weaknesses, the Touch remains true to Bergman’s respect for the intelligence of the audience. Bergman is not selling anything. Bergman does not make ads, he asks the audience to think for themselves. In contrast Legrande has little regard for the intelligence of his audience. In fact he doesn’t want the audience to think. He, Legrande, does all their thinking for them; the audience just have to tag along on the all too predictable scripted ride from A-B. Legrande’s BMW movie will drive them home .

    Both The Touch and Custody, admittedly in different respects, have abusive behaviour at their core, but the directors’ ways of looking at abuse are quite different. The Touch asks questions about abuse. It asks questions that touch (sic) on questions of identity and being. Bergman’s outwardly happily married woman, Karin, who suddenly latches onto to a relationship with a demanding violent stranger. The Touch pitches questions about the images that people present to the world; how appearance image can belie being and how what is seen may be overwhelmed by what is not seen. The questions posed in The Touch, however clumsily they may be represented are actual. They comport with how we experience life and people; events even when we have experienced them may baffle us; even those we think we know well may ultimately elude us.

    Bergman, in The Touch for all its weaknesses, is on the side of life.

    Legrande’s Custody is on the side of death and dearth.

    The death and dearth, of dialogue? Perhaps Bergman was communicating in an era when it was possible to conceive of people able: to consider propositions that weren’t endorsed and reinforced by ideologically closed networks; to engage in discourses that did not have the imprimatur of someone’s idea of political correctness. Xavier Legrande does live in this era of boxed in communication and his movie perhaps simply reflects the signs of the times.

    Nevertheless the story of Miriam and Antoine and their families, is wretched predictable fare. The old white hat / black hat story. Though in comparison even those old fashioned Westerns with men in hats were more variegated than Legrande’s scripted inventions. Sometimes the black hats did something nice and human, and they often had a sense of humour even if their humour leaned towards the sadistic.

    Custody’s black hat male, Antoine, is a straight down the line ‘wrong’un’, constructed out of the assembly kit of feminist approved bad male components. No redeeming features. From first to last he is bad egg. And Miriam, she of the continually tortured mien, Antoine’s ex- is a good egg. So the script is a mono track development. From the moment we see Antoine in tag with his brief at the custody tribunal, Legrande presents him as an image of a man who cannot be trusted. The way his faciality of expression is edited into the sequence and the way he dresses, Antoine might as well have a placard hung about his neck: I am a manipulative bastard. Au contraire, Miriam with her carefully lens sculpted haggard look, might as well have a placard hung about her neck reading: victim.

    So the movie has only one place to go: the big shitty male become more shitty and the victim and her kids become more victim. Of course as the whole thing winds itself up in an apoplexy of abuse, the project runs out of road. It has to abandon its quasi legalistic carapace take because it doesn’t provide enough bang for the buck. So Custody segues into Grande Guignole operatic genre with Antoine adopting the role of the great mad man avenger hunting his imagined victims with his rifle.

    By the time Custody shifts genre, it has simply become parody. The audience reduced cannon fodder to be manipulated by a script that is a puppet show where the director keeps hold of all the strings. Similar to but different from the BMW advert that preceded it. adrin neatrour