Monthly Archives: December 2018

  • The Last Movie Dennis Hopper (USA 1971)

    The Last Movie     Dennis Hopper (USA 1971) Sam Fuller, Stella Garcia, Dennis Hopper

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 17 Dec 2018: ticket: £9.75

    acid vision

    The last scene of Hopper’s film is a superb condensing of the core strand of the thinking that energises ‘The Last Movie’. Seated in a darkness penetrated only by a paraffin lamp, Kansas (played by Hopper) and his gold prospector partner talk about the business at hand, finding gold. They talk and Kansas keeps asking his partner how he would recognise gold, how he can even imagine he can find gold if he can’t recognise it? The partner’s response justifies itself purely in terms of the formal logic of cinema precedent: the Treasure of Sierra Madre. In this film Walter Huston (note the transposing/confusing of the real actor Huston, for the character Howard) found gold. Huston just went into the hills, looked in a river and found it. Easy! Nothing to it, no problem.   You just do it like they do in the film and it will be OK. Despite Kansas’ insisting that it may not be so easy to recognise gold, it isn’t just shiny stuff glinting out at you saying ‘I’m gold’, the partner can’t be shifted. He doesn’t really listen and just repeats with conviction that the Treasure of Sierra Madre shows how prospecting works: the gold’s there; you just go out and find it. Simple. End of movie. Roll credits.

    Hopper’s movie penetrates deep into the actuality of what the movies are, how they are actually understood by their audiences.   Like the LSD scene in Easy Rider The Last Mover feels as if it were conceived written filmed and edited with the clear visceral seeing that acid sometimes lends to the trip. What Hopper sees and what is expressed in The Last Movie is that movies are folded into the way in which live in the world. Movies are now part of the way in which experience life. To put it in a fancy they they are as much part of our minds, as our language. Movies function as a conditioning factor shaping the way in which we are able to think.

    At one point, Sam Fuller thanks the caste and crew at the end of the film within a film shoot, booming out: “God bless you all, and I’ll see you back in Hollywood!”

    To the fabricators of dreams the end of the movie is another job done, another piece of carefully crafted fakery in which lines are remembered, takes crossed off the slate and no one gets hurt, physically or emotionally. But there is a movie within the movie, the movie that is released into the world. The movie in which a world is called up as a series of images that are in themselves complete representations of action and affect. The very reality of the situations depicted easily overrides any inclination of mind to differentiate between actual and fake. There is one image after another streaming into mind absorbed into consciousness.   Overwhelming us, the movie stream becomes the default reference and model for, ‘a life’.

    The form of The Last Movie, the Western shot by Sam Fuller as the movie within the movie, the people’s movie, the edit with its flashbacks and foreword flashes, its insertion of random inconsequential intertitles, the cuts to idyllic landscapes all reinforce the Hopper’s thematic vision of the movies as a state of mind that creates its own magico-religious imperatives.

    And The Last Movie is structured around two spectacles: the spectacle of the Western shoot which has to do with the fabrication of reality and the magico-religious shoot which has to do with realisaton, film making as a ritual to bring about a changed state.

    Both spectacles share organisational features. They both have high priests whose proclamations must be obeyed, and both are hierarchic in the their power structure. Otherwise they are in an inverse relationship to each other.

    When Sam Fuller’s Western has wrapped and the caste and crew go back to Hollywood, the local people, fascinated by the process of film making and its relationship to changing the real, want to make their own films. At this point Hopper’s scenario expands out into a grandiose parody. The populace construct fake filmmaking equipment out of bamboo: bamboo cameras, dollies, booms, mics, brutes, spots, key lights. With this equipment with its voodoo power, they proceed not to fake the action and situations, but to ‘film’ real actions with real consequences. The Hollywood movie used real equipment to simulate reality, the people simulate the equipment to create their own reality. Hopper’s perfect analogous bamboo inversion of life to craft.

    Interspersed between the spectacles are Kansas’s relationship with Maria and the gold prospector. Both relationships are satires on the American illusions of gaining wealth and notions suburban bliss, swimming pools jacuzzis etc. But located within the tread of the movie is a strata of deep misogyny, that I think emanates from Hopper’s nature. This misogyny may pose as satire but this doesn’t feel convincing. There are two times in The Last Movie when Kansas quite viciously and with little provocation strikes Maria. These arre moments of shock. In a film which plays on the idea of the movie within the movie, on the intermix of fabrication and actual, Hopper suddenly produces a moment that feels real.

    These two scenes of Hopper’s male violence feel like Hopper making a statement about himself. He is saying; for better or worse I am real; this is me. I am what I am and I am not a good guy or a nice guy. I am an ugly man, don’t fuck with me. I hit women.

    “The Last Movie’, why did Hopper chose this title? I don’t know if he ever commented on this. Perhaps it points to his moment of insight about the nature of the movie business:  this was The Last Movie he could make in a state of innocence.

     

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

  • The Image Book ( Le Livre d’image) Jean-Luc Godard (Swi 2018)

    The Image Book ( Le Livre d’image)   Jean-Luc Godard (Swi 2018) J-L Godard (narrator)

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 2nd Dec 2018; ticket: £9.75

    consciousness is an old movie

    There is the cliché that when you die your life passes before your like the unravelling images from a film. So is Godard dying? He talks about the film as his testament (and there is a clip in the film from Cocteau’s Testament of Orphee in which Cocteau himself is pierced through the body by a huge spear thrown by a God). Or is Livre’d’image a testament of a civilisation that is now dying, moribund asphyxiated swamped by its own images?

    What does J-P want to make us conscious of…?

    Does Godard ask questions to which there are no answers?

    Questions are sometimes more pertinent than answers.

    As the fate of Narcissus tells, what started off as a mirror image in pool of water was never an innocent moment. Once the image is released from the bounds of the psyche, immobility follows. Death follows immobility.

    The last clip in The Image Book: we see a French open air dance hall where formally dressed men in top hats sport with some Can Can dancers. It is a long clip almost as long as a couple of the train clips. As the camera tracks and circles with one of the couples the man collapses onto the dance floor, falling prone as if dead. The last image in the ‘Book’.

    Godard’s last dance…

    The sound track has all the hallmarks of a Godard movie. The mix comprises: voice over, music and sound effects. Much of the voicing is done by J-L himself adopting different pitches and timbres, but the most characteristic of his voicings revisits the voice from Alphaville, a voice that comes from the depths of the time, lending to Godard’s text a faux prophetic absurdist quality. The tracks retake Godard’s play with music: ironic counterpoint, his overlaying of images a sudden overwhelming sample from a full orchestral arrangement, which dies back as quickly as it unexpectedly appears. A score that underlines, undermines, undercuts overwhelms underplays, the images.   Likewise Godard’s use of sound effects: the rap of the gun, the piercing whistle of the train, the sound of the ocean.   Viewed mutely the train is a powerful image, departing or arriving like Chiron’s boat. But married to the sound image of the whistle, the effect of the train image deepens, draws in the viewer, leaves us vulnerable and opened up or startles us awake. Likewise the sea as image captivates. Our eyes focus on its surface whether in stillness or in violent motion. Add sound to the image of the sea, and we are connected to creation and thanatos. The gun is the sign of power, when we hear it bark, we know everything is changed.

    The use of sound image by Godard teases us: picture + sound = film image. But this revisiting of sound a la Godard in Le Livre d’image, suggests that Godard’s intention is to make us the audience conscious that the film image is first of all, manipulation. And consciousness is the only protection against those things that would be done to us in the name of Cinema.   A celebration and a warning about Cinema.   In the name of being conscious we can love those things that would distort and twist what we see.

    Godard quotes Brecht: Only fragments have the mark of authenticity. What’s it mean?

    Today a whole section of the film industry is dedicated to ‘mining’ archive film in the name of presenting us with authenticity. In Jackson’s ‘They shall not grow old…’ First World War archive is not only colourised and restored but rendered in 3D to ‘give’ us the ‘real’ experience of being there in the trenches. But what is this ‘give’? Is anything more ‘given’ than the rendering up to us of archive as spectacle?

    In this type of restoration archive becomes a double spectacle: a spectacle both in itself and of itself, of both means and ends.   Seeing spectacle as spectacle restored to us as spanking new, the viewer is overwhelmed by the technological wonder that this material represents. New film for old. The transformation of this old stock by heroic feats of digital engineering and manipulation. This technological achievement in itself almost outdoes the content it presents: the trenches, the dead, the wounded, the tanks, the artillery, the scenes behind the lines.  After the digital rebirthing of all this material, what we see is the shiny surface of an alien time and place, a war and its appurtanences now long gone. A seductive spectacle of detail that persuades us we have looked on the face of war: the bad teeth of soldiers, the grin on the face of the man about to go over the top. A spectacle that draws us into a specious familiarity with content, as witnesses to what we did not witness; as objective observers to that which is not objective.

    The fragment in its very incompleteness pulls us closer to ourselves, focuses our consciousness.  There is no pretence that the fragment is anything other than fragment. The fragment is all that is left of a whole that is not there. The fragment calls upon not just the eyes but the mind to penetrate and complete what have before us. Through fragment we are directed into an engagement with ourselves to complete imaginatively that which is absent, to bring what is latent into presence. We are conscious that we ourselves are the instruments of this process of recreation. Ourselves as an agent, not another. The fragment and the glimpse authenticate ourselves.   When we see what appears to be the whole, it is a surface pitted with the acts of bad faith in which we abdicate responsibility for our own instrumentality.

     

    Le Livre d’image is filled out with images that refuse to resolve. Images that are degraded distressed incomplete. Images that trigger responses in us but without clear object. Responses that are triggered as if by some precognitive emotional memory. But responses that are our own. Responses that are not directed to any end or purpose, responses not designed to manipulate us or to make us want to believe or disbelieve some story, to buy some consumerist junk, or to judge or to choose. A film of pure affect. Timeless.

    I can’t read Godard’s intention in making his last film. On his part it may be a sort of playful act of creation, a sorting through, an arranging of image clips for his pure joy in the material. A desire to bring together in one filmic steam all he knows and loves in Cinema. Be that as it may, Godard’s film and tv output has always been directed towards the idea of making the viewer aware of what is set before them. Put together like a filmic variation of one Gysin and Burroughs’ cut ups, the clips create a state of receptive affect which communicates a streamed sense of pure being, where our consciousness is allowed freedom to look to search to be affected but never to be controlled nor allow questions to be answered.

    PS a question to which there may be an answer.

    The (I)mage Book? Why have the UK distributors chosen to give the word image a capital letter? In Godard’s title ‘Le Livre d’image’, ‘image’ is caste in lower case.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Shoplifters (万引き家族 – literally: Shoplifting Family) Manbiki Kazoku

    Shoplifters (万引き家族 literally: Shoplifting Family)  Manbiki Kazoku   (Japan 2018)   Lily Frankie, Sakura Andu

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 27 Nov 2018; ticket £9.75

    Dickens with chop sticks

    When in one of the final sections of the movie Osamu is asked by the cops if he isn’t ashamed that he taught his adoptive son Shota to shoplift, he shrugs looks down and answers with a shrug of resignation: this was all he knew.

    Interesting that the original title of the movie is not ‘Shoplifters” but rather:   ‘Shoplifting Family’. Because the core of the movie is not so much transgression (though after its own fashion there is certainly transgression in the film) but rather inclusion, a tale of a multi generational family that functions positively on its own terms even for the children who are not ‘kin’ but whom they have compulsively assimilated.

    In ‘Shoplifters’ Kazoku reaches back into both the historic and also the mythic movie past, groping for an era that was not defined by: information technology, gadgets and communication media. A time that was characterised by traditional values pertaining to human relations and their organisation in space. A once upon a time when eating sharing food and touch was the focus of life, not the smart phone. When people looked not at a luminous screen but at each other.

    The Kazoku’s film has a medieval feel.  The family and the characters portrayed echo in filmic terms directors such as Mizuguchi and Kurosawa, referencing the peasant lives that fill out the backgrounds of their scenarios.   Kazoku’s characters have the qualities of cunning and resilience portrayed by these directors as Japanese virtues. Of course ‘Shoplifters’ has a contemporary setting, but the family portrayed are not representative of the mainstream. The family lives on the margins of Japanese society. From oldest to youngest their lives are enmeshed in money making rackets from theft to extortion. Their disparate and distinctive trespasses could be justified by low income and their need to live, to eat. But for the family their behaviour is simply enfolded into their way of life and their values.   They are a homogenous unit, there is no life/work split, there is just life.

    Their infractions (or unconventional work) are absorbed into their collective life which rests on a stable (but not inflexible) matriarchal hierarchy from grandma down to the youngest, Lin (so renamed by the family). Living in a shack situated in an in-between zone, a sort of any space whatever, the family live in compressed chaos. Kazoku fills his frames with matter piled over matter, as the family eat sleep groom dress bathe in dense physical promiscuity.   They live lives that are folded both into the space they occupy and into each other, engendering an intercaring/concern that is perhaps love. There’s an idealised message here. And this is Kazoko’s purpose: a lament for the kind of life, a traditional Japanese kind of living.

    The collective life he epitomises in ‘Shoplifter’ is all but vanished. It has been replaced by individuated self bound existence, a life style accelerated by digital technologies which speak to the individual not to the collective. It is a life where something in the soul of Japan has died where Japan has lost something.

    Western eating utensils replace chopsticks. Doors and stud walls replace screens; beds replace mats; the physicality of eating, moist foods requiring sucking and stuffing, tipping the bowl to drink down the essential mixture of juices and stocks, replaced by dry American foods directed into the mouth by the hand. The erotically suggestive nature of traditional cream coloured Japanese Udon noodles is captured in Kazoku’s love scene where Nobuyu, susceptible to the sensuality of the noodles, coaxes Osamu into making love to her. A love making characterised by both pre-coital and post-coital humour that is at one with a traditional line of Japanese erotic art.

    The fall of the family is occasioned by two events unrelated except for their moral consequences. Firstly, the death of grandma when it is unclear who can replace her and her wisdom. And Osamu’s act of bad faith.   Osamu has told Shota that it is Ok to steal from supermarkets because the food doesn’t belong to anyone. But after grandma has died, Osamu breaks into a car, smashing its window with a hammer, stealing the handbag left of the passenger seat. Shota is shocked. The handbag had belonged to somebody.   And something in Shota snaps, he decides to break out of the family.

    Kazoko films ‘Shoplifters’ framing his camera to capture the contrast he sees between his reliquary family and Japanese society. He uses a particular settings such as the landscape and the milieu in which the family lives. Not the bold geometric lines of the new cities and high rise apartment blocks, neon lit and dense with traffic. The family’s dwelling (hovel) is located in residual low value land, in-between space, neglected and overlooked by developers and governments, scrub land and unremarked space. A sort of existential space for the left over and the left out. The density of the interior of the shoplifters home contrasts both with the modernist ordered environment to which Lin is returned and with the utilitarian space of the enforcement agencies which in the end take over direction of their life and relationhips.

    At the end, the final sequence, Kazoko’s camera reveals his any-space–whatever as a transformed zone. A zone purged by the magic of a virgin fall of snow. A promise of hope, this snow covering comes as a revelation, like one of Hokusai’s views of Mount Fuji.   It is a sudden revelation that things can change, and the relations between ‘father’ and ‘son’ are given another type of possibility.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

  • A Star is Born Bradley Cooper (USA 2018)

    A Star is Born   Bradley Cooper (USA 2018) Lady Gaga; Bradley Cooper

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 30 Oct 2018; ticket: £6.25

    ggooggoogachoo

    Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is not so much a film as a comfort vehicle designed to transport Lady Gaga from A to B and back again with the minimum of fuss whilst extracting the maximum fare for the ride from the Gaga’d fan base. As a vehicle, A Star is Born is not so much directed rather deliberately manoeuvred from A to B as it floats, love side up, down the channel of its slow 136 minutes.

    The movie itself doesn’t have to do much either as film or as script. The script panders to the usual tropes of success via dedicated talent and self destruction by alcohol. The shooting flicks from close shot to close shot, Gaga faciality dominating the screen with all it attendant frantic gesturings. The film has a leaden pace and except for a moment or two of brotherly confrontation is devoid of any filmic tension. A Star us Born just does what it promises: delivers up Gaga, big and close with some new songs.

    What is interesting about A Star is Born, is that in a similar fashion to Battle of the Sexes in which Billie-Jean King emerges triumphant over Bobby Riggs, the emergence of the woman as the winning ticket, constitutes a sort of narrative non-event. In film terms, though differing in causal origination ( The Battle of Sexes being actual, A Star is Born deriving from Hollywood mythology) both films are mechanically directed outcomes that comply with contemporary ideology that the female protagonists succeed.

    Unopposed uncomplicated plotting is dull, whether it tries to celebrate the success of women, proletarians or white American men.   In the case of Battle of the Sexes and A Star is Born, both movies are saved from terminal life threatening dullness by the sinister left field side of their respective scripts, the man story: little Bobby and Jackson.   Bill-Jean may have come won on the tennis court but Bobby Riggs took the movie, as the wheeler-dealer bad boy whom even the film’s formulaic script was able to suggest secreted unseen layers of devious calculation and manipulation.

    In A Star is Born, Ally and Jackson aren’t formally opposed as were Billy and Bobby. Rather they are in affect, contrasted: she on the rise; he on the descent. But the ‘she’ in the ascent, can’t escape the curse of predictability in the role of the complete product. The model career girl with the model attitude Gaga rolls off the assembly line, doing little more than wait for the script-belt to advance her to super star status. The performance, other than moments of acted out concern about Jackson, (some cued pouting) requires little other than parading her different outfits and haircuts. Enough of course for the fan base.

    Obversely Jackson on his way down, via the bottle and substances, is the more absorbing character. Even his voice is more interesting that Gaga’s, whose popsie brittle delivery confirms the general rule (there are of course plenty of exceptions anger for instance) that sincerity is in inverse relation to volume. Bradley Cooper as performer, even though singing is not the root of his claim to fame (arguably neither is singing at the root of Gaga’s, she is noted for being a celebrity meat pie, but she does claim to sing), produces a musical singing performance in A Star is Born, that outplays Gaga. Jackson’s soft pedalled lyrical voice delivers an emotive charge that is absent from his Star. His acting performance, which no more than replays the gestures and expressive devices familiar from Cohn Brother movies, still occasionally notches up moments of authenticity, so when the camera unlocks itself from Gaga onto him, the waning interest in the movie flags up a little. Cooper can’t carry the movie in his performance, any more than he can direct it. He does stop it from dropping dead on its feet.

    Both Battle of the Sexes and A Star is Born have an allegorical weight that fits the times.  A kind of sub-prime Aesopian moral fable or a Jungian message? Perhaps Jung fits better.   If we see Billy/Bobby and Ally /Jackson not as discrete entities but as composite characters comprising male and female psychic strands, then there emerges the internalised drama of intertwined oppositions that is characteristic of the times. The female half of Billie/Bobby and Ally/Jackson striving for a pure type of female completion of object attainment as if life itself could be satisfied by striving for an abstract type of form.   But the female is compromised and thwarted by the male anima which reaching for perfection crashes falls lost in the mire of contradiction and destruction but retaining a certain nobility which life itself bestows. The states of righteousness and trickster, female and male, defining internalised forces at play in the times. Forces so deeply internalised that they are at constant risk of playing out into chaos.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • Climax Gaspar Noé (Fr; 2018)

    Climax   Gaspar Noé (Fr; 2018) Soffia Boutella, Romain, Houheila Yacoub

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 2 Nov 2018; Complementary screening.

    Did you climax?

    Did I Climax? Was this dance? I felt was watching a two hour long masturbation death ritual. Like masturbation Gaspar Noé’s ‘Climax’, using contemporary dance as a medium, intersperses arousal tedium and exhaustion on its long road to detumescence.

    Viewing Climax called to mind Pasolini’s last movie ‘Salo’, completed just before he was murdered. ‘Salo’ was Pasolini’s take on de Sade’s long censored work ‘120 Days of Sodom’. ‘Salo’ was a contribution to a cinema of cruelty that places the human body at the centre of a logic of ideological driven pain psychosis and death. A cinema of corpses blood shit and body fluid. A cinema that confronts the audience with images of somatic viscerality that are not signs pointing to something other than themselves, but rather images that point to nothing but themselves. In ‘Salo’ the viewers, like the actors, are contained in the space of the film. We do not gaze; we witness.

    The core structure of both Noé’s ‘Climax’ and ‘120 Days’ is that they are both located in an enclosed world, a pure world (that is to say unadulterated by external distractions) governed by forces which play out according to certain mathematical formulae and operations. Operations that target the body as a site for the demonstration of pain. Once the body is reduced to a site for the imposition of power, soul rarely survives. It is destroyed, as the Nazis and Bolsheviks well knew, and

    which corporate capitalism also understands very well.

    Pasolini’s movie is his transposed fable of the operation of the mechanics of power in fascist social organisation. Although he exemplified fascism in ‘Salo’, there was an intended analogy with the potential for Western capitalism to reduce the body to a mere site of consumption. Where Pasolini (perhaps cut down by those powers he was opposing) left off , Noé picks up.

    ‘Climax’ in taking up Pasolini’s ideational thread, also invokes the Theatre of Cruelty’s expressive language. Like Pasolini Noé understands the physical body as a experimental site for the diagnosis of psycho-social sickness. In ‘Salo’ Pasolini depicts fascism an externalised political/social mechanism, that inflicts a series of gradated cruelties upon passive but innocent victims.

    The victims in ‘Salo’ were both innocent and naïve. In ‘Climax’ the victims are helpless to do anything other than to collude in the design of their own death. The power of repression in no longer external; it has become internalised.   As individuals we have opened both our subtle and carnal bodies to be sites of occupation and isolation.   Severed from social bonds we are thrown into existential crisis that is answered by object relations. An era of unopposed orgiastic consumption folded into accelerated information technologies has produced the ultimate object fetish: the self.

    Our worship and erotic arousal are now dedicated at the altar of the self. Narcissism has developed into a default psychic state of being in Western cultures. But one critical element of human nature, our sexual relations, presents as a potential obstacle to the complete self absorbion that narcissim ultimately demands.

    Narcissism’s addendum to the sermon on the Mount: Love thyself not as others love thee but only as thyself can love thee…

    Whilst there is external existence to contend with or rely on for sex and physcial completeness, narcissism’s total world view and complete self containment cannot be achieved.  As part of the changed psychic economy of being, masturbation is the solution offered by the politics of self. Sex for the self by the self.   Masturbation allows absolute self sufficency and complete control over sexuality’s somatic imperative. The diddling finger and pumping hand, the vivid tactile happening of masturbation gives the body over to omnipotence fantasies and fortifies the enduring hallucinatory qualities of the moment. Masturbation enables discharge of internal tensions, fosters a realisation of the self as a self contained system. Masturbation furthers a total introverted development freed from any exterior relations.

    Masturbation in itself is neither good nor bad. A number of Indian creation myths tell of masturbation’s potency, attesting that the spilling of seed that can be a source of creativity. But when masturbation becomes the self bounded locus of sexuality for the narcissistic self, forces come into play that mark out masturbation as part of a process of death.   And it is through the process of the descent into the abyss that Noé draws in his thread, employing modern dance as his metaphorical vehicle.

    ‘Climax’ uses masturbation and what it represents, as an allegory for the dance of death. A dance in which we witness the complete cycle of narcissism’s birth flowering attraction and final destruction. As the motions of masturbation are more violent than sex, Noé structures his film about the acrobatics of modern dance. Centred on the self centred way in which the dancers flaunt their bodies, allows Noé to give ‘Climax’ the form of a long durational masturbatory ritual. The body mounted steady-cams stay with the dancers through long durational shots, tracking touching pursuing them seeking out their sexual organs and erogenous zones. Flushed out in blood red filters, Noé’s filming presses into the dancers’ bodies, close to flesh, mirroring in form the relentless agitation and uninterrupted tenacity necessary for the climax of orgasm. A camera movement that in itself predicates the contradictory admixture of intensity boredom and nausea that makes up masturbation.

    Through the body, Noé’s ‘Climax’ takes us through the dance of our masturbatory psycho-culture, a culture that is at the nexus of the natural history of narcissism. The film opens with the bright and optimistic affirmations of the dancers, spoken straight to camera, voicing their dreams hopes and ambitions. This is followed by their opening dances.   An initial explosion of self contained energy, each dancer quite alone, presenting themselves celebrating themselves, opening up their genitals for proud exhibition, reeling spinning in gymnastic caress of self’s body.  But now as the first sequence of dance finishes, ‘Climax’ starts its descent into the dark zones of narcissism. As they dance now in pairs and intermingle the dancers start to sicken. Nausia. (cf Sartre’s novel La Nauséé) As they fall sick the dancers fail to understand (as does Sartre’s protagonist) that the sickness comes from within themselves, instead they blame a poison that has been introduced into their bodies by spiked wine. Caught up in hysterical enveloping wave of panic, the dancers believe they’ve been poisoned by LSD. The mass hysteria spreads and infects the self’s containment; the dance dissipates coagulates detumesces. The dancers fail to see that the delirium the fantasial panic comes not from without in the form of LSD but from within. HALLUCINATION is part of the fantasy of masturbation, in the celebratory masturbation of the dance they have sickened, fallen into nausea. Disoriented and unhinged the self fails and there is nothing to hold them.

     

    As they sicken some reach out to others. It is too late for these dancers to close in on relations with an other. One by one in the blood red haze they fall to ground, comatose or dead, narcissism burnt out by their final long failed attempt at orgasm.

     

    Even with its mesmeric quality, Noé’s movie is a hard watch. Like Pasolini, like Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe, it is hard because he has something to say about how we live. Like Bacon Grosz Céline, Noé sees something. He is a moral film maker because he does not temper the hardness of his vision with reassurance or comforting modification. And he is not a judge, he does not judge the dancers anymore than Pasolini judged the young victims in ‘Salo. The dancers are exemplars of a sort. It may be that Noé has caste them as heroic figures: they do not flinch from their destiny. In the dance they have embraced without reservation the logic of our culture. Intuitively they accept in totality their own death as the logical consequence of an internalised masturbatory narcissism. The dancers have danced to the end of time.

    We the witnesses to the spectacle, excuse ourselves, leave our seats and return to the culture that is invading and corrupting us. We avert our eyes from our own deaths. We do not dance.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

  • BlacKKKlansman Spike Lee (USA; 2018)

    BlacKKKlansman       Spike Lee (USA; 2018) John David Washington

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 4th Sept 2018; Ticket: £9.75

    Comic book radical chic

    Spike Lee can point to the unflinching ethical core of BlacKkKlansman (BKK) to justify the specific way in which he has marshalled his various resources to tell his story and to play out his message.

    BKK is characterised by an unwavering moral code, but cinematically it is sometimes a bit of a mess with its promiscuous admix of imagery from different source material.

    And if ends justify means, then that’s Ok. But the problem is that once you take this stance, there is a certain moral jeopardy in disregarding the legitimacy of the means employed to achieve a desired outcome.

    Lee’s movie assembles BKK from a wide range of different sources: old Hollywood movie clips (in particular from Gritthith’s Birth of a Nation, though the film opens with a clip form Gone with the Wind), his own reconstructions, contemporary news footage and a scripted drama based on Ron’s Stallworth’s memoire ‘Black Klansman’. Ron Stallworth’s story is the spine of the film. In Lee’s hands Stallworth’s story is given the comic book make-over. ‘Black Klansman’ becomes a cinematic romp with pantomime heroes and villains. The villains in particular are depicted as stock in trade psychopathic retards, endowed with the malice of Trump (a comic book President if ever is) and the physical attributes of zombies.   All of which works fine at its own parodic level and permits Lee’s script to develop its thematic proposition: that there is a socially active rabid racism underlying US society and social relations that you can trace consistently through the 20th to the 21st century.  This racist strata does not go away. A phenomenon that under adverse conditions becomes a substrata, withdraws and tones down signs of its visibility; but in the ‘right’ (sic) conditions it erupts into the streets, parading its full regalia.

    BKK as drama is realised through a racist themed pantomime, that deals with actual issues but stylistically anchors them in form of a hyper real parody. The film is shot and edited to resemble the drawn elements of a comic book in which situations and characters are demarcated in bold outline.

    By and large the comic book style of the drama plays out true. But there are key areas in the movie which are built on the interweave of Lee’s drama and his documentary material. And it is the collision between the hyper drama and actuality that raises questions. At the dramatic heart of BKK there is a parallel edit sequence: we see the Klan ritually affirming their racist values cross cut with Harry Belafonte relating explicitly to a group of politically conscious Black Students, the terrible obscene racist killing of a young black man. The two track edit struggles because of the disparate nature of the two intercut sections. The cross cutting is not so much between two simultaneous events but between two worlds of different originatory material: comic book and primary source.   These worlds collide, not lending a greater intensity to the film in their juxtaposition, but rather the each trespassing on each other, detracting from each other. Each scene in its own right as a continuous event would have been strong. Which is not to say that they lack power, but that there is a net loss from Lee’s script/editing decision to intercut the material.

    Likewise the use of the Charlottesville clips. BKK moves out of the Ron Stallworth drama into actuality. Lee’s last shot of Ron and Patrice uses a strange corridor of time SFX, a clunky device to emphasise continuity and directly connect Lee’s protagonists to today’s explosive re-emergence of political street racism, lent savage legitimacy by the Trump presidency.   In its final sequence the movie makes a shift from the comic book to the actual. OK, Haneka does something similar in Cache (Hidden) but his drama is not pitched in a Comic Book key but rather in a subdued neo-realist key. The shift from Comic coda to actual coda of documented footage risks stylistic contamination that works to devalue the actual. Lee’s response to this might well be that today’s viewer, in particular the black audience is so sophisticated at reading images no matter what, that this observation is null. Still I think that doc clips and footage offer opportunities and risks, and there are risks.

    Lee’s film is a realisation of current state of American politics. It’s clear moral purpose is to link black experience to the continuities of the psychic dark realm of American fear. Lee nevertheless needs to remember that there is also a moral responsibility in using primary sources. Cavalier use carries its own dangers.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Lek and the Dogs Andrew Kotting (UK 2017) Xavier Tchili

    Lek and the Dogs Andrew Kotting (UK 2017) Xavier Tchili, written by Hattie Naylor and adapted by her from her stage play: Ivan and the Dogs.

    Viewed: Star and Shadow Losing the Plot, 9th June 2018; ticket £5

    Down in the mines

    I was wondering why Andrew Kotting changed the title of Hattie Naylor’s stage play?

    Nothing in the movie indicated any reason or motive: perhaps as a name Lek with its curt one syllable trips better off the tongue than Ivan. Movie stuff.

    And that is what we get from Kotting’s film: movie stuff. A film filled out with images, defined by image, rather than defining or questioning image.  A film where a large percentage of the footage is derived from archive sources.

    Early in the movie after the title sequence there is a big wide shot of an arid expanse of land. In the distance we see a form approach, and as it comes nearer we can see that the form is a naked man on all fours. It is Kottin himself, who advances close to the camera, rises stretches and displays his physicality. He is man. At this early point in the movie we know the title of the film and we have seen Kotting as an artist in the flesh, in this one shot making a filmic statement that seems to claim a physical affinity with his subject.

    The problem is that this claim is not sufficiently validated in the movie. Like a legacy hunter with an invalid claim to the title of a property, Kotting never gets to take somatic possession of Hattie Naylor’s play. Kotting in body abrogates responsibility for meaning and context of Lek’s situation. Kotting’s film banishes Lek to psycho-somatic exile, Kotting shifts the centre of the film from the physical to the abstract: from the body to archive footage. Kotting tries to solve the problem of how to represent Lek’s experience by mining generic archive material.

    Generic archive in the form of bundles of images is imported into the film to supply it with an associative emotional commentary to parallel Lek’s experience. The spine of Kotting’s film comprises Lek’s acted out reading from the transcipts of the original cassette tapes he recorded. These pieces are intercut with the commentaries of expert witnesses, child and animal psychologists, who give their understandings of the what Lek would/might (?) have experienced during his two years living with Moscow’s wild urban dogs.

    Kotting’s use of old film is a device to pull the wool over our eyes and fool the audience into thinking Kotting understands something: that he has solved the problem of finding meaning.   The proposition in the use of multiple archive clips is, that a series of contiguous images can in themselves be invoked to represent something more than they are: not indexes but associative signs.   Perhaps Kotting imagines it is poetic communication.

    In short intense bursts some archive footage might have worked as a poetic flourish. But the problem with this form of expression is that it is exploitative. It exploits the same crude associative mechanisms used by the advertising/propaganda industry. Using film as a sign to invoke mental states (bombed out city reduced to rubble to suggest despair) exploits and manipulates the audience’s desire to understand as a mechanical connection.   The viewer through strong signage is told what to feel, to connect an image with state of mind. This is exactly the same linkage as in adverts (or propaganda), with the only defence in Kotting’s case being that he is not trying to sell you anything other than his film and his philosophy.

    When used as a particular pointing to a particular subject, as in Kapadia’s ‘Amy’, the archive material usually justifies itself.  But over the last decade or so archive footage has become a highly valuable resource greedily acquired and exploited by interests of large media companies: Getty Images, Sony, BBC, Mary Evans.   But generic use of archive increasingly suggests a sort of mining activity (akin in some ways to bit coin mining) digging deep into our celluloid and magnetic reserves to try and discover some rare jewel

    Kotting’s Lek and the Dogs is to be admired for its ambition: to make a film that drifts out of the usually formulaic narrative structure. Ultimately his film does not deliver on its ambition. Its structure whilst making the film bearable by subdividing it into intertitled chapters, does not work as the propositions in the chapters remain opaque. And the delivery towards the end of the movie of Kotting’s justifying philosophy for choosing to make his film, is underwhelming and unconvincing.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

  • La Religieuse (The Nun) Jacques Rivette (1966)

    La Religieuse (The Nun)         Jacques Rivette (1966) Anna Karina

    viewed: Tyneside Cinema 9 August 2018; Ticket: £9.75

    The Age of Enlightenment

    Rivette’s movie La Religieuse is a product of an age of cinematic enlightenment, the era of European cinema of 1960’s and 70’s that represented a different way of thinking about cinema. A time when both filmic form and content were cut free from the narrative strictures of both Hollywood and its pale European imitators to be an expressive outlet for the play of ideas, practical jokes and political polemic. Rivette’s movie, echoing the form of Diderot’s original text plays on the idea both of the joke and the possibility of film as a palette for ideas.

    Diderot’s novel started life as a series of faked letters purporting to be from Suzanne, an unwilling nun, to an enlightened grandee begging for him to help her to escape the nunnery. The letters were subsequently contrived into a novel, part English gothic, part philosophical/didactic, somewhat in the manner of Voltaire and Rousseau’s work.

    Suzanne, Diderot’s heroine, like Candide, is put through the mill, experiencing life in its full rigour. Like Candide she keeps her head above water and stays true to her philosophical principals. In Rivette’s script Suzanne is a modern existential hero. Her guiding light similar to that of Sartre’s lost characters whose personal cannon revolves about freedom. However confused they may be, the existential protagonist gropes for a personal freedom that they intuit gives authenticity and meaning to life. They know life cannot be lived in bad faith, as a series of acts of betrayal of the self.

    And Rivette understands how to express these ideas without compromising their integrity. He understands that the forces he puts into play in La Religieuse comprise a series of events that take place in absurd worlds.   Worlds that make no sense. In themselves Suzanne’s family, the nunnery, the church and its representatives are absurd institutions creating situations which although degrading are not worthy of serious consideration by the individual. In La Religieuse, Rivette and Anna Karina adopt discipline when confronting the spectacle of the absurd. They do not invest in emotive stratagems to oppose the ridiculous. They do not indulge emotional displays, melodramatic intensities, explicit devices such as torture, sex or nudity. These would simply grant quasi legitimacy to absurdity. Instead these institutions are opposed by ideas. Idea which are fleshed out with a script and acting style designed to prevent Rivette’s movie from colonisation by the purely personal.

    La Religieuse is a film of ideas. And in the script itself and its filming, it is the ideas in themselves that are the statements, Suzanne says: ‘I am not a nun’; ‘God has not changed me.’ Ideas point strongly enough to states of mind and actions that don’t need explicit acting out. Rivette directs his movie so that there is a consistent miscalibration between scripted suggestion and what we see. La Religieuse in this respect becomes a running joke. The insistence of the ideas underlying and driving the action allows the viewer full appreciation of the situations and processes, the punishments, the severities, the mortifications, the orgies and indulgences without literalistic enactment.

    The familial/nunnery rites are all portrayed, but employing an acting style that is restrained and deintensified. A style that uses formulaic gestures to indicate to the viewer what is happening – pain humiliation intimidation etc. – but not to exploitively manipulate these states by using the usual imagery of close up faces set in rictuses of pain anger grief. La Religieuse is like the Sixties: cool. Rivette authenticates La Religieuse by attention to the sets and costumes. He locks Suzanne into a historical period where although in the earlier scenes Ana Karina is bewimpled, she later comes more and more to resemble an archetypal sixties wild child, wondrously and humouressly incompatible with the settings in which she is imprisoned.

    Rivette also gives clarity to La Religieuse in the way he uses his camera. For the most part the film uses wide shots to develop its theme. This is critical to the film’s intention as it enables us to see relations clearly, the interconnectedness of the characters in respect of their family social and religious status. For this is a political film about the nature of power relations and how they are brought to bear on Suzanne.

    The weight of patriarchy, both in the confessional and in the family, the weight of those claiming to act in the name of god. The absent father when Suzanne confronts her mother, the absent god when mother superior gives her orders, the flurry of nuns carrying out the diktats of religion, the absence of sin in the confessional. Carried by tracking movements of the camera Rivette captures the urgency and primacy of space not the face.

    Stripped of the encumbrance of melodrama with its accompanying faciality, Rivette can give clarity to the primacy of Suzanne perception that she and she alone will dictate what she is and what she can become. Her freedom has nothing to do with where she is, the nunneries are simply types of forces that oppress her.   It is everything to do with what she is. She cannot be manipulated, bought, sold, bribed or given a fake phantom release from the clutches of power.

    Rivette’s conclusion brilliantly sums up the film. Suzanne, escaping out of the frying pan world of religion, has leapt into the fire. She finds herself trapped in the world of patriarchy, of men who want to conform her to their desires to their belief system about the destiny of women. Understanding what is happening, and Suzanne is now an expert in those who would shape her to their will, she calmly evades the the clutches of a would be suitor, goes over to the open window, sits herself on the sill. Calmly without fuss or advertisement leans back against the non resistant void behind her and falls to her death. No melodrama, no last words, simply a statement in action, the perfect existential riposte to the intolerable: praxis.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

  • Apostasy Daniel Kokotajlo (UK 2017)

    Apostasy   Daniel Kokotajlo (UK 2017)   Sioban Finneran

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 30 July 2018; ticket: £9.75

    like shooting fish in a barrel

    It’s not clear whether Daniel Kokotajlo’s film Apostasy refers to his own actions in making this movie, to something in the script or both. If apostasy refers to his own actions in leaving the Jehovah Witnesses and making this film he would have been better to have produced a documentary rather than this limp dramatic statement. A scenario that betrays its BBC provenance, shot to look like a low budget soap opera and a script that is content to do nothing more than stitch up subjects as bigoted narrow minded obsessives.

    As if! As if Jehovah’s witnesses were different from any other closed group based upon exclusivity of their own belief systems: not possessing metaphysical beliefs but possessed by metaphysical beliefs. Cue as exemplars: Scientology , Seventh-Day Adventists, Branch Davidian, Mormons, Plymouth Brethren, these latter being the subject of 2013 BBC Documentary which portrayed them as a secret reclusive sinister cult.

    For some reason the BBC decided it did not want another documentary about cults. By way of a change a drama would be better. Daniel Kokotajlo as film maker would be legitimised by his status as an ex ‘Witness’ thereby having license to make his film, which would be shot in a sort of documentary style. The BBC to have the best of both worlds.

    The problem is that Kokotajlo’s approach to his material is embarrassingly crude. the only idea in his the script is to set up the Witnesses as men of straw and then to proceed with gusto to knock ‘em down. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

    The problem with Kokotajlo’s writing is that he is probably too close to his material to see it. We don’t know his motive or state of mind in relation to the making of Apostasy. Perhaps Kokotajlo intended his film as a final act of disassociation; perhaps he wants to caste judgement upon the ‘Witnesses’ as they have judged him; perhaps he just wants to exploit elements of their beliefs that will make a good soap drama. As is often the case those closest to their material often singularly fail to understand critical elements of their subject. Sam Fuller as a script writer director, was a perceptive commentator on America. But as an ex GI who survived three beach landings during world war 2, his war movies are his least successful films. Likewise the films shot in the 40’s and 50’s Hollywood that endure both as outstanding movies and germane critiques of the USA were mostly made by émigré directors.

    In relation to Kokotajlo’s depiction of the Witnesses: their inflexibility of belief their hierarchic structure and their rejection of the world. These are not in the least surprising.   These are the characteristic defining features of all religious and ideological cults. It would be more surprising if the Jehova’s Witnesses were not like this. That is the point: their practice of life cuts them off from the mainstream culture and social relations; their practice of life means that often the choices and life styles of mainstream society are closed off to them. This is the point: that they live in and are sustained by opposition to the world. In return they are rewarded by a dogmatic epistemological monopoly of ‘truth’ and the eschatological certainly of being the ‘elect’. In the time of the ‘New System’ the Jehovas Witnesses will inherit the earth. Commitment is until death: death but a temporary state.

    Kokotajlo’s script is built around the situation of two young sisters Luisa and Chloe. Each in their own way epitomise the dilemmas as seen by outsiders to the Jehovah cult. Luisa is excluded not because she has become pregnant, but rather because she choses loyalty to her boyfriend rather than to the Witnesses.   But although Luisa’s trials continue throughout the length of Apostasy the real issues never enter into the script: the nature of her relationship with her boyfriend, how she understands her situation. What we see is that her attempts to reconcile herself with her faith are interrogated by a patriarchal elite. But in movement as directed by the script, not by any internal dynamic. Luisa is more of a puppet, whose strings are pulled any which way by the needs of a script that has to deliver a steady supply of moments.

    Intertwined with Luisa’s story is that of her sister Chloe.  This latter strand is the emotive ploy used by Kokotajlo to construct drama about her death, death which is caused by her refusal to have a blood transfusion. But this ultimate demonstration of faith and commitment by Chloe is stragely handled by the scripts mechanics. It is glossed over, never allowed to emerge into full light, a death bured in the shadows of the writer/director’s uncertainty.

    There is an empty centre to this strand of the drama which is filled out by an implicit dishonest invitation of the audience to act as judges.

    The above paragraph points to omissions evasions and lacuna in the script. On its own terms Kokotajlo’s script evades key areas of concern. A number of things troubled me. Firstly although prohibition of blood transfusion is a core belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is never any explanation of the reason for this. Strange that something at the heart of the film, at the very centre of Chloe’s (and perhaps her mum’s) decision to refuse transfusion, is simply omitted. For some reason Kokotajlo is happy to leave this core feature of faith unexplained? Why? Chloe’s death is likewise short changed.

    One moment Chloe has collapsed at a party. Cut! Next shot, mum is walking away from the hospital having been (we presume) with her daughter when she died. The omittance of Chloe’s death, either as a scene or even as second hand account by mum to someone else, seems an act of filmic apostasy.  This is a core moment. The supreme moment of justification:   Chloe is in hospital where a blood transfusion can save her; but Mum and perhaps Chloe validate their beliefs and refuse medical intervention.   Kokotajlo passes over the core event with silence and a cheap cut. An act of dereliction in a film that is supposedly about a religious sect who have core beliefs about the precise nature of death. So not only is their no accounting of the manner of Chloe’s death, but the nature of her funeral and the disposal of her body is also ignored.  Simply omitted by Kokotajlo. Core to all religious belief is the manner of disposal of the body. Given that the Jehovah Witnesses place so much importance on the blood, how was Chloe’s blood actually or metaphysically disposed of?   As the script develops Apostasy seems ever more to be the work of a charlatan: a charlatan film maker.

    Finally in the script much is made of Luisa’s delicate understanding of her mother’s position in relation to helping her. Luisa understands that her mother is under interdiction not to directly hand her anything. A no touch rule. This pantomime is carefully played out until the final sequence where mum asks Luisa for a glass of water; inexplicably Luisa drops everything, including her baby to rush off and fetch water. This crassly scripted piece of nonsense then allows Mum to scoop up baby and try and make off with her: a crude device to end the film on a moment of sub prime melodrama.

    Perhaps Kokotajlo thinks he has made a film about the Jehovah Witnesses. He has not. He has made a TV style close-up dominated film, that is a no more than a soap opera with a cardboard Jehovah Witness backdrop.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

  • First Reformed Paul Schrader (USA 2017)

    First Reformed            Paul Schrader (USA 2017) Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfield

    viewed: Tyneside Cinema 17 July 2018; ticket: £9.75

    old man’s film

    Paul Schrader’s First Reformed prompted me to think about the relation between the primary framing of a film, the way in which a film frames its content; and the difference between subversion of frame and betrayal of frame.

    Subversion is radical reframing of a film’s material that is designed to produce a complete shift in the audience’s perception of what they have seen ( or perhaps what they’re seeing). A radical undermining of a movie’s premises. Subversive reframing is most often experienced as a mechanical script device wherein at the end of the movie (or perhaps at some strategic point in a movie) the audience suddenly understands the narrative has been a dream; or that a narrative that has been mediated through one understanding of its primary frame, is suddenly inverted and seen through a new unexpected perspective. We understand what we have seen differently with new illumination.

    Bunuel and Godard were masters of radically subverting frame and filmic form, with political or social intent. They both produced films that presented a particular proposition wrapped in a particular genre or stylistic statement that they subverted to open up the material to reveal a quite different perspective: Simon of the Desert and Contempt, in different ways, both have this quality of shifting frame: challenging the audience to radically reappraise what they have experienced.

    Alongside exploiting the capacity of film to subvert itself there is the capacity of film to betray itself: to disrespect the audience in an act of directorial bad faith. In filmic betrayal we see a director shifting the energy of their film to transform the way it is understood, but motivated by cynical or exploitative intention. We see betrayal in its mundane form in some Hollywood movies such as the gangster films of the 1930’s after the introduction of the Code, where contrary to the moral logic of the film, the forces of law and order and false morality come out on top. Script writing under the influence of ‘bad faith’ conforms narrative outcomes to the dominant forms of political and ideological correctitude. Other forms of bad faith pander to commercial considerations or the self image of the director as reason for betraying the dynamic framing their films.

    Schrader’s First Reformed is an act of betrayal.

    The first shot is a very slow track into the eponymous church.   In this shot two core aspects of the movie are opened up.

    Firstly through this shot the movie introduces itself as a carefully crafted stylistic construct.   This formal visual introduction is confirmed in the body of the movie in which the choreography of Schrader’s scenes are constructed in camera in a style reminiscent of Japanese director Jasujiro Ozu. Like Ozu Schrader constructs his master scenes using singular shots from an immobile camera.   The static camera frames a space, often an unremarkable domestic setting, in which the characters are located, in which they interact and through which they pass in and out of vision.

    Ozu’s method of filming, in particular Tokyo story, creates a primary frame that references something about the nature of time and something about the way in which the things that happen in life are never fully seen. First Reformed composed in like manner, references nothing about time, but does point to an endemic formality that shapes interpersonal relations in the culure, as well as the idea that there are areas of life that are closed off. His austere framing with his camera, makes a statement about the way in which Schrader sees the nature of reality in which he locates Ernst the priest.

    Secondly, the opening shot introduces the church, the First Reformed Church, a skeletal white structure, which is more a mausoleum than a church; a repository of God that is more tourist attraction than place of worship.   This church is a building mired in the past. Yet for all that it is a backwater, it is in this place, not in the corporate world of full on Christian evangelism, that Ernst has been sent. A dying priest in a dying church.

    Schrader’s movie, as in its shootiong style so also in content, has a recognisable starting point.

    First Reformed’s protagonist, Ernst takes his cue from Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest. The which it is hard to believe that Bresson’s movie did not initially inspire and inform Schrader’s decision to make First Reformed. In the opening section of the film Ernst, like Bresson’s padre, reveals he has decided to keep a daily journal to enable him to minutely trace his inner spiritual life. Ernst like his Bresson forbear, elects to handwrite his thoughts and also finds that his thoughts gather about his physical rather than spiritual state. Both priests are deathly ill. Both priests have been given their livings in appropriate backwaters where they will be out of the way.

    Bresson’s subject, made radiant by H L Burel’s cinematography is increasingly abstracted from the world. His destiny is to move towards grace. But Schrader’s subject, whilst he might want to leave the world, finds his destiny to be in the world as he is drawn the deeper into interaction with the exteriorities and complexities of life.

    The scripted forces Schrader sets in motion make for a powerful interplay of conflict opposition and contradiction: the sacred and the profane, the physical and the spiritual. Ernst is increasingly aware of and disturbed by man’s desecration of the earth. He is aware that he is dying and progressively racked by self doubt and feeling of inadequacy, is pushed into action in the world.   He comes to see the need for his action in increasingly violent terms. Aernst moves into a crisis as inner logic draws him on into to some defining act of violation of all that he outwardly represents.

    The nature and the means of his intended act of redemptive violence momentarily hold centre stage. As the commemorative and rededication service of the First Reformed Church attain their climax, the tension locates itself in the body of Ernst: will his action be directed against destroying himself or himself and others? And will his act be private or public.   As the tension mounts Schrader chooses to unravel his plot in a denouement of bad faith anti climax and betrayal.

    Schrader having set in motion inexorable forces of logic that demand resolution on the terms that he has nurtured, suddenly adopts a narrative solution borrowed from old Saturday morning cinema serials such as the Perils of Pauline: with a bound Ernst is free. Schrader’s script ditches everything it has developed to plunge protagonist and audience into a Disneyesque fantasy.   Ernst finds redemption in a mystical union with Mary the wife of the young man whom he had counselled before his suicide. Ernst experiences a vision of oneness with life.   The audience are subjected by Schrader to a magico realist sequence in which Ernst and Mary’s merged and intermeshed bodies commune across the skies like Mary Poppins. Instead of ending with a death foretold, First Reformed ends with Ernst and Mary locked in an unending kiss whilst the steadycam revolves about them.

    This ending does nothing except betray the framing premise of First Reformed.   It may be Schrader thinks he is making some sort of statement about the redemptive nature of love. But if his idea of love is chocolate box schmaltz, then Schrader’s scripting looks like the desperation of an old man frightened by the forces he has himself has unleashed. A director who is desperate to pander to the American palate for mushy food and soft landings, who has nothing to offer but betrayal and Sleeping Beauty happy ending.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

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