Monthly Archives: February 2019

  • Green Book Peter Farelly (USA:2018)

    Green Book     Peter Farelly (USA:2018)  Vigo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali

    Viewed 13 Feb 2019 Tyneside Cinema; ticket: £10.75


    a kiss is just a kiss


    Viewing Norman Jewison’s ‘In the heat of the Night’ James Baldwin wrote that the point of the film was to make white people feel good about themselves.  The role of Rod Steiger’s police chief was a device through which whites could preen themselves on their acceptance of blacks. Baldwin notes the final scene in the film ends with Steiger seeing off Sidney Poitier (Virgil Tibbs) at the station, calling out out to him  in folksy emotionally charged voice: ‘You take care of yourself, y’hear!’ For Baldwin this fond farewell is a typical Hollywood closure device; like a kiss, but not necessarily a kiss, that betokens reconciliation: that all will be well.


    Viewing Peter Farelly’s Green Book, it seems to me that all is not well. Hollywood movies still occupy the same psychic space a propos white attitude towards blacks. In the relations between whites and blacks, as played out by Hollywood, the object of the movies is to enhance and protect white self image.  But by 2018, Steiger’s 1967 sign off verbal reconciliation, has, in this touchy-feely era become a ‘hug’. In Green Book Dolores, Nick’s wife, embraces Don Shirley in the contemporary preferred feelgood gesture, as she welcomes him into the bosom of her somewhat uncertain white working class tribal Christmas gathering.  The point of course that this hug, this act of physicality, is a phantom gesture of reconciliation to blacks, an empty promise of that which is not possible.

    But Farelly’s nod at reconciliation does draw attention to the degree to which his film mimics some of the psychic workings of ‘In the Heat of the Night’. The job of Nick, Don Shirley’s driver/ minder, like Tibb’s  Sherriff before him, is to take the white audience through the process of his conversion. Nick changes from being a working class Italian with pronounced racist outlook, into a man who is able to accept a black person as an equal.  This education process carries the audience along with it as Nick’s prejudices, like the Sheriff’s before him, are exposed to ridicule and necessary correction. Both Nick and the Sheriff are crude exemplars of their type, but redeemed in the script by their innate decency and their capacity to change the way they think.  As if racism were simply a matter of thinking; rather than the engrained white response to the living history of the USA, and the place of the degradation of blacks in that history.

    It is interesting that Dream Works (which is a  Disney production company) has acquired Green Book and used it as a vehicle to locate a strain of endemic racism in a white working class population.  Whilst this may have been part of the allure of the Green Book story to Disney, it is also true that racism is as much a part of the make up of corporate America as it is of the white working class.  The critical differences are that in Middle America racism tends to be covert, something hidden, a hate that dare not speak its name. White racial attitudes are the more overt, but white and black working classes share some of the same structural conditions in relation to power and compete in opposition for some of the same resources.  But the middle class control the gateways to advancement and wealth. Middle class racism is not only unspoken and more hidden but the more pernicious for being a critical part of the apparatus of power. But movies about Middle Class relations with blacks are thin on the ground.

    There are striking resemblances in representation of blacks in Heat of the Night and Green  Book in particular as regards their lead protagonists. Both Poitier and Ali play their parts  as exercises in the consummate expression of being a ‘class act’, of being impeccable’. The respective scripts kit them out with a Medieval chivalrous code from which they never truly deviate.  Both these exemplars bring to their words and deeds, the rectification of moral supremacy. They are both noble beings. As shining examples lacking in human frailty, their behaviour is drawn not from the code of man, but the code of angels.  The trouble is that this very exceptionalism makes it possible to avoid seeing as blacks, as men of a particular ethnic group. Rather they present as otherworldly men, drawn from outside space and time. Don and Virgil might even be viewed as sort of ‘honoury whites’, welcomed into the tribe with the thought:  ‘…If only all blacks were like you, we wouldn’t be having these problems. ‘ And of course staying true to the the knightly code, neither Virgin nor Don mess with White women, so that particular avenue of courtly love doesn’t have to be roamed. It’s easy to play off perfection. Ordinary folk are as rule messier and often fallible in the conduct of life.


    But that said there is one confusing scene in Green Book that sticks out even though it is underplayed for value.  In this scene (which is used to demonstrate Nick’s skills at cop management) is called to a YMCA bath house where two local cops are in process of arresting  Don Shirley for being caught in the buff in a shower with a white boy. There is a homoerotic suggestion, the implication of a tryst. But after NIck has handed over the hush money, Farelly’s scripts leaps foreword with never a glance back, leaving the faint imprint of a muffled supressed event passed over in silence. Virgil Tibbs was never caught in a bath house, so perhaps Don’s YMCA adventure has some sort of compensatory recognition that Blacks can be gay.  However the way it is handled bespeaks more of ‘shame’ than ‘pride’.

    In a way Green Book is a lazy movie.  The cinematography is unexceptional and the script comes across as something that might have been produced by a final year student at Cooper Union.  It is predictable, replaying the same jokes time and again, and has all those little tricks they teach in script writing classes about dropping in salient little details early in the timeline in order that they can resurface pertinently later.  The trick is so flagged up that it feels like an exercise. But in this at least it is at one with the whole production which feels like an exercise in the Disneyification of race relations.

    Adrin Neatrour


  • Driver Walter Hill (USA; 1978)


    Driver Walter Hill (USA; 1978) Ryan O’Neil, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 8th Feb 2019; ticket; £6.00

    the wonder of emptiness

    The last few years has seen the release of a large number of films designed as emotional hooks to bait the viewer. It’s the zeitgeist. Films whose objective is primarily manipulation of emotions and empathic response. Characters are kitted out with heart wrenching back stories, secret sorrows, and ennobled by their relations with their family, in the main their children for whom they are prepared to fight and to make any necessary sacrifices.

    Hill’s ‘Driver’ is a product of another era: a seventies Hollywood before it had been infected by virus of scripts inbuilt schmaltz, when film or at least Hollywood film kept on track by means of a straight narrative line, developing character through the medium of the enfolding of situation, the transforming of situation and energised shifts in situation. Bob Rafelson in a couple of films through situation investigated the psycho-political–dynamics endemic in intrapersonal relations, as did Barbara Loden and even Dennis Hopper.   In this era, many directors and script writers of genre movies often had recourse to the game model to give structure to their films.   Given the ‘game’ there was little need of extraneous sub-plots, back stories or locating the protagonists in a world of personal familial relations. The dynamics of the game once out of the blocks stayed in play until some form of end resolution was achieved, usually the creation of a new situation.

    The game model implies a world bounded in space and time which is sustained and closed off by its own rules; a world where in a loose sense there are players agents and pawns and where the outcome involves one of the players coming out or at least seeming to come out on top. Winning of course might not be without cost. As in chess within the parameters of the game there is the possibility of an endless richness and variation in play. A possibility, that is not always realised because as in chess, there is a tendency for games to resemble each other. People have a fondness for the same moves.

    Of course even game grounded structure still permitted the introduction of other desires on the part of protagonists. Desires, mostly but not necessarily romantic, that filled out the characters, but never removed them from the game. Desires that created the scripted tensions that intensified the demands made on the individuals playing the game, but could never be resolved outside the logic of the game.

    Hill’s ‘Driver’ stands out because he has stripped out of the scenario anything that is extraneous to the game. Everything that doesn’t relate to theme or action is pared away so that the film becomes clear in its simplicity.  It is game ‘pure’ played by two parties: Ryan O’Neil and Bruce Dern. The form is so abstracted that none of the players or pawns are given personal name identities. They are presented as pure types: the driver (AKA he cowboy) the detective, the player.   There are no personal relationships only agonistic ones: the contest between the driver and the detective, which is presented as zero sum game.   Stripping out other ‘desires’ gives the film a sparse mythical resonance. The game between the men has the dimension of the primal agonistic competition between the old ruler and this heir apparent who must slay the incumbent before taking his place. And relieved of any scripted romantic obligation, Isabelle Adjani’s dark presence as ‘the player’ suggests a Sybil type feminine force, a shadowy agent of fate prescient of the outcome of the game.

    No sex, no family, no romance. Driver is like a emptied of everything bar the forces set in play by the game. All the better for it as it allows Hill to concentrate his direction not on character development but on the action and dynamics of the play.  Hill’s direction and script, in particular with Adjani on the pay roll, owes something to French Nouvelle Vague, being crisp and to the point. There is nothing superfluous, the dialogue develops the action, the camera is points directly to what is pertinent.

    Such emptiness allows the viewer to take possession of the film and its relations. There is no heavily scored soundtrack designed to make the viewer submit to the script’s emotional tyranny.   At the end, after the contemporary spectacle of titles that last twenty seconds you have seen a film that is not selling you anything you didn’t want to buy, because you have been responsible for the content, Hill has simply given you a form.

    adrin neatrour

  • Destroyer Karyn Kusama (USA 2018)

    Destroyer        Karyn Kusama (USA 2018) Nicole Kidman

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 29 Jan 2019; ticket £10.75

    not ‘noir’ but ‘see through’


    When fitting up big female Stars to front its movies it seems that the best Hollywood can come up with are retreads of tired old scripts. Destroyer’s plot design is lifted from one of the oldest motifs in the ‘tec litany: drummed out suspended cop pursues personal revenge. A replay of the Big Heat idea (and many another ‘noir’ film), but whereas Lang’s movie with its tightly scripted tensions, sharp cinematography and edgy playing (in particular Gloria Graham) still views as something fresh, Destroyer feels old and played and with few of the attributes to justify its proclaimed ‘noir’ provenance.

    Hollywood mainly offers to its women stars the chance to play men. Because that is what Nicole Kidman is asked to do. Perhaps it’s what she wants to do. But the consequence is that Kasuma’s movie just goes through the usual motions, the usual gestures calling up familiar scenes familiar characters familiar coping mechanisms playing on the deluded premise that because there’s a a female lead, ‘Destroyer’ is somehow different. It’s not.

    As if to affirm the hackneyed nature of this male grounded scenario, a scene in a toilet stall is de rigeur. (There is also the obligatory ‘handjob’ scene, not so much a sort of endorsement of Kindman’s traits as a woman, rather a female rite de passage in Hollywood movies these days). Having avoided lavatories for most of its history, Hollywood is bent of making amends big time; whether or not the toilet has any relevance or meaning to anything happening in the script. (Likewise the handjob scenes).

    Of course giving the females the chance to play men, saves anyone the trouble of actually thinking about writing scripting or working out a scenario in which a woman would be a movie cop without having to be play the role as if a man. At this point of realisation there would be the possibility of developing different kinds of role models. But this is highly unoriginal movie, without ambition. The Kusama’s script uses the old device of the investigator working her way through the lower echelons of the gangster hierarchy to extract the information that will lead to ‘the Big Cheese’. A Chandler plot stand-by, but in his case ennobled by his sense of pace, throw away philosophy and command of language.

    The same cannot be said of ‘Destroyer’. As directed by Kusama it is a monopaced stroll; her scenario and its consequent editing lack tensions; the cinematography is mundane barely work-a-day without a single moment of distinction.

    Destroyer’s script and characterisations simply replay the old cop tropes in an unoriginal fashion. Even the script’s flashback structure lacks conviction. This has something to do with the two faces of Kidman that the script separates by some 16 years. Although people today wear age comparitively lightly, in particular Westerners, for some reason the decision was taken to go over the top with the prosthetic skin job on Kidman’s face. When Kusama cuts to her in the film’s present tense, it’s as if we have shifted into another film with a scenario set in some hospital based drama involving patients from the severe burns unit. The skin seems to be sloughing off Kidman’s face. This radical change in appearance in fact creates a barrier to relating the two faces of Kidman as having the same identity.

    There seem to have been two attempts to rescue the movie. One scripted, with a bolt on subprime subplot about Kidman’s relationship with her daughter. An attempt to rescue Kidman’s gender by interposing into the script some scenes of her as mother. In the same way that ‘Destroyer’ (An unconvincing movie title pointing to an agent {Kidman?} in a way that is meaningless) is not a film noir, just a film that portends to mimic noir without understanding what it is, so the mother – daughter subplot is also attempt to import a little bit of Spielberg into the procedings. An attempt that is crassly scripted and ultimately does no more than stretch out the movie.

    The second attempt to rescue the film comes from the sound edit. The film is accompanied by an overwhelmingly oppressive electronic track. The purpose of the soundtrack seems to be to bludgeon the viewer into insensibility, to drown out any semblance of a critical faculty in the viewers, leaving them witless.

    Film Noir may have many diffferent understandings. I associate it with tensions that run along different dimensions, tensions: between dark and light; between male and female; between desire and ideals; between the truth and the lie. Destroyer has none of these attributes. It is a transparent product with a mechanical plot, a plodding vehicle for Kidman to assume a male tic.

    adrin neatrour










  • Minority Report and Burne-Jones at Tate Britain

    Spielberg and Burne Jones – a consideration after viewing Minority Report – Steven Spielberg (2002; USA) Tom Cruise

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 27 Jan 2019; ticket £6

    Image as an art form

    Seeing Tate Britain’s large exhibition of work by Edward Burne-Jones, followed a few days later by viewing Steven Spielberg’s ‘Minority Report’, triggered a consideration of the similarity of these two respective successful image moulders, whose working lives were separated from each other by about one hundred years.

    They are both selling something.

    Looking at paintings such as King Cophetua, the Golden Maid, Love leading the Pilgrim, it seems to me that Burne-Jones’ (B-J) must have produced these works to sustain and promote the self belief and interests of the powerful strata of high Victorian society that sponsored him. The form taken by B-J’s work is mostly his idealised gloss on classical Greek representation of themes drawn from mythology. The flowing vestments, the sensuous tresses, the dramatic gestures are integral to the appeal of B-J: that those who bought and gazed upon these paintings were direct descendants of the culture of classical Greece.

    The classical elements of form and content enabled B-J to direct his work at the explicit conceit of the British political class, that their legitimacy derived from their claim to be the inheritors of the inventors of Western civilisation.   They were the new civilising force.

    This self image of the civilising mission (also extending into versions of muscular Christianity) provided the British ruling social class with justification for the presumptuous power with which they exercised their superiority over women, the other classes, in particular the lower orders, and their colonial subjects. Although for the most part omitting to mention the institution of slavery in the Greek cities, the Victorians believed in a close imperial equivalence between Athens and Brittania. Both were sea bourne empires founded on stable civic ‘democratic’ governance, state religion and rule of law; both drew on a cultural provenance of philosophy letters and art. Both cultures held themselves in high regard, and foreigners in low esteem. The Greeks did invent the word: ‘barbarian’.

    B-J’s work locates the Victorian male at the heart of his classical project, validating the confident claim made on the world by a small ruling elite.   It seems to me that B-J had little understanding of the relational undertones of Greek mythology. The myths, as he painted them, were simply a world of artistically beguiling backdrops into which the Victorian male psyche might heroically project itself. The works endorsed values of superiority and ownership of action and superiority, in particular of the male over the female.

    Overall B-J’s women are not only passive but often depicted as in a state of innocence, like children. And this representation of male-female relations as relations between adult to child, by extension provided a rationale for the Victorian male’s authority over the other social classes and the denizens of the burgeoning colonial empire.

    B-J is selling: idealised identity.

    Viewing Spielberg’s Minority Report, it is clear that sci-fi novella by Philip Dick has been re-purposed if not sabotaged by the Spielberg.   Dick’s original story revolved around notions of autonomy and free will. But in Spielberg’s adaptation of Minority Report, Dick’s core concerns are filleted out of the body of the film. Spielberg stitches into his script an alternative thread of relevance, which increasingly dominates both the behaviour of Tom Cruise and re-shapes the story. Minority Report is rendered as a saga of the family and its redemptive powers.

    As in B-J’s myth telling paintings, the role of Spielberg’s story is to provide a background to his prime purpose of validating the family as a source of identity. The ‘precogs’, the strange aqueous medium in which they float, the gadgets and futuristic paraphernalia exist in the Spielberg world only to offset the role of the family.

    Time was when the heroes of movies were loners, detached from society. As outsiders they were often acidic observers of the culture from which they were re-moved. From the lone male perspective the family was a trap.   The wife and two kids life was something that the mugs signed up for. For the outsider, seeing life as it was, the truth as a metaphysical concept, and winning were what counted.

    But as American cultural confidence declined, things changed. The certainty of truth eroded. The emptiness of winning in a society where the trophies were delusional became apparent.  America as a matrix of rural and inner city ethnic communities that had sustained people was transformed in a series of heterogeneous suburbs. As community faltered the family, both as consumption unit and psychic centre became the dominant ideological nexus. Now outsiders are more likely to be depicted as serial killers than Philip Marlow clones.

    As seen by Hollywood and reinforced by the advertising industry, the family is now the redemptive force. Spielberg’s scripts reflect this. His scenarios are built about the proposition of the family as an heroic unit. The family, both actual and virtual, real or lodged in memory, is something to fight for, something for which we have to overcome. And this overcoming maybe either internal, within ourselves, our fears inadequacies, or external, outside forces aimed at destroying our family. The scripts revolve about either fighting forces that would sunder the family unit, to to bring the sundered unit back together. The redemption is in the psycho-emotional pay off of completion.

    From both the political and consumerist field of perception, the idea of the complete family opens up the possibility of stratagems of interventions manipulations that exploit the concept of what is, outside of the movies, an unattainable ideal.

    Spielberg is selling the heroic.

    adrin neatrour