Monthly Archives: April 2019

  • Dragged across Concrete         S. Craig Zahler (USA 2019)

    Dragged across Concrete         S. Craig Zahler (USA 2019) Mel Gibson, Michael Jai White

    Viewed 22 April 2019 Tyneside Cinema; ticket: £10.75


    The death of tragedy


    Zahler’s Dragged across Concrete takes its cue from ‘50s noir classics such as Huston’s ‘Asphalt Jungle’ (1950) which Zahler obliquely references in his title as another form of the urban hard stuff.   Both movies feature recently released jailbirds who get involved in heists. Although both movies have some similarities in form and content, their respective styles caste them as products of distinctively different eras of cinema representing contrasting strata of psychic sensibility. Both ‘Dragged across Concrete’ and ‘Asphalt Jungle’ are stained with the respective darkness of their times; but ‘Asphalt Jungle’ works with archetypes and collective consciousness whereas Dragged Across Concrete is marked out with the contemporary cult of individuality.

    Zahler is making films in a post Tarentino vein. He models his script on the Tarentino formula, extreme violence, with a visceral edge (literally) offset by cool smart-ass dialogue wrapped up in a narrative cut that drives the characters from one thing to another. Whereas in Huston’s movie accident plays a significant role in the plot, in Zahler’s script, with the exception perhaps of the accidental shooting of Brett, the script line holds to the characters intentions.


    Today’s orthodox scripting is about empowerment. The metaphysics of empowerment insists on there being a winning ticket, in particular if the protagonist is female or ethnic minority, which Hollywood equates to being black. ‘Asphalt Jungle’ is a type of mythic tragedy. There are no winners, the architypical formula prescribes a design in which events must play out to a preordained conclusion where everyone who is marked for death, dies. There is no choice: the bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. This traditional play out of tragedy is more or less out of kilter with the times. It abuses the valuation that we place on the rights of individuals. In Zahler’s script, the main characters all have back stories that reveal the family situations of Brett Biscuit and Tony. They are defined in film terms as fully rounded people embedded in networks of relations outside the immediate business of the script. We are led to understand that they are good people. Even hostage Kelly (so as not be left out) is given a back story to overdetermine our reaction to her plight.


    Whether Zahler’s drawn out back stories work (they take up a lot of film time) is perhaps questionable. But they point to an obligatory feature of contemporary scenarios. They are the passports that enable the narrative to escape the clutches of tragedy and embrace a trophy finale in which the last player standing, like the patsy in a TV game show, takes home the big prize. In this case, Biscuit, the black ex-con with a disabled son and wife struggling to cope with his extended absences in gaol, is able to provide for his family out of his ill gotten gains, enabling them to live a hotel life style of luxury and consumer goods, as promised in the adverts. Biscuit takes the biscuit.


    The bad guys in ‘Dragged Across Concrete’ have no back stories (though as satirical offsetting there is certainly scope for scripting this type of guff). But in the opening sections of Zahler’s movie his villains occupy a place in the scripting that is almost completely detached from the dynamics of rest the scenario. The bad guys are presented as contemporary psychopaths intent only in pursuit of their own satisfaction. In these sections of the film they take on a life consummate slaughter. In their masks and tight fitting costumes they have a fetishishistic quality, endowing the gun with a charged sexual potency that ejaculates bullets not semen.   As creatures of anti-life formed out of the complexes of the NRA top drawer, they are the beings of today, the lone gunmen, following their own internalised lines of retreat, creating ballets of death as with guns singing they spray semiautomatic fire cutting down their innocent victims who have not been supplied with back stories.


    These sections of Zahler’s script may have little relevance to plot, but it is these sequences that remain in the mind. Impressed upon memory as they open up a space where death has replaced life in the twisted interplay of individual desire and the gun. Perhaps Zahler himself finding this vision disturbing prefers to leave us for his finale, in the banal grip of happy families.

    adrin neatrour





  • 3 Faces     Jafar Panahi (2018; Iran)

    3 Faces     Jafar Panahi (2018; Iran) Behnaz Jafari

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 2nd April 2019; ticket £10.75

    Just like a trip to Brexit – land

    Panahi’s ‘3 Faces’ despite being scripted and filmed with an automobile as the key setting, is not a road movie in the Hollywood sense of the term. It is not about arriving or departing, or travel across the impersonal vastness of a continent, but rather a film about a certain type of intimacy.

    There is something about the nature of the automobile that captivates Iranian film makers. Both Panahi and Kairostami use cars in a way that is not so much instrumental but rather existential. Their films are about automobiles as ‘states of being’.   Thinking about the way in which cars are filmed in their films, external shots of the featured vehicles are rare, and external wide shots rarer still. Most of the shots in Panahi and Kairostami’s ‘car’ films are internal, the filming takes place inside the vehicles.

    This contrasts with Hollywood’s ideas about use of the the automobile where external shots in particular wide shots of featured automobiles are a core part of Hollywood cinematic language. I recently saw Zahlers ‘Dragged Across Concrete’ which is a typical formulaic noir tec drama in which the cars function as protective steel carapaces barely able to contain the psychopathic forces compressed within them; vehicles replicating the repressed armoured psyches of the American male. If not acting as containing outer shells, Hollywood’s automobiles function as pure image, outer signs that extend identity into the realm of objects. Identity as understood by Hollywood is defined through externalities not internalities: what you wear, how you look, how you live. what you drive. So the automobile is exploited for its associative connection both with the characters and their place in the world. The vehicles in Hollywood films lend an consumerist aura to the scenario, highlighting the notion of the automobile as an accessory that serves to offset the action and frame the lifestyle of the protagonists. In as much as automobiles are part of the script, they are either carapaces, weapons, toys, life style accessories or suburban props.

    The role played by automobiles when Panahi and Kairostami film them is very different. They are often located at the heart of the scenario.  But the car is no longer shot as a hard exterior masculine shell. In their manner of shooting there is a feminine sensibility, a womb like nurturing quality that brings a humanistic dimension comes into play. Vehicles become mediators of both internal and external actuality. The automobiles are subsumed not just into narrative but into the main characters becoming an extension of their being in the world. The automobiles have a strong relational dimension. The enclosed space is exploited for the possibility of psychic intercourse, an intimate setting that facilitates and nurtures the development and expression of interactions between people. The automobile becomes a device that enables not so much movement but rather exploration. Travelling is not about moving across the spacial externalities of a vast country, but rather about locating interiorities. In the scripts of both Panahi and Kairostami the travel is not about moving through space and time but rather through openings mediated by consciousness.

    In ‘3 Faces’ Panahi who is himself the driver of the car. A scripting device sets both him and a female soap opera actress off through the night into the darkness of Iran, on a quest to find a woman. It is ironic (perhaps) that as women and their social position in Iran (Offside, the Circle), have been the subject of much of his work and caused him to be imprisoned and banned from making films, that the films he has made whilst under ban, stand out as the most feminine in form of any male director (and most female directors who for the most part want to be male directors) of whom I am aware. As if Panahi were using the statement of filmic form rather than content to continue his opposition to the regime. How extraordinary.

    As Panahi penetrates in his car into the depths of the country it becomes clear that this is a journey in which he is seeking out to explore the forces that have wanted to crush him. His reaching out to the conservative country people is with compassion and without enmity. He sees what they are and knows that in their situation they cannot change: they are unchanging. There is no malice in the way in which these people see the world but their judgement is strict and guided by the only authorities they recognise: their tradition and their religion. And Panahi sees without judgement, because what point is there to judge. He sees a society in which in the public social arena all forces revolve around the man. Panahi pokes fun at this in the script with the sequence revolving about a foreskin, but it is gentle fun, half in earnest.

    The unfolding of the quest revolves about women, and Panahi’s film captures the 3 faces of women as seen from high up in the Iranian countryside: the scarlet, the mythic and the actual. And as Panahi’s script notes, the actual is developing a line of escape.

    adrin neatrour

  • Us   Jordan Peele (USA: 2019)

    Us   Jordan Peele (USA: 2019) Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 24 March 2019; ticket: £10.75

    Like eating yoghurt

    The incorporation of diversity as an ethical value into the coda of Hollywood has been a long time coming and marks the beginning of the end of a long era of white monopoly of the movie industry. Diversity has some way to go into effecting significant change in Hollywood’s power structure, but its effect on scripting from the evidence of Us is predictably bleak.

    As a scenario Peele’s ‘Us’ is a lazy formulaic piece of film making. Us, borrows ideas from Lynch, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Zombie motifs, then in horror schmuck tradition overlays the material with a layer of glossy cool detached humour.       The combo is stitched together through a rambling narrative line defined by inconsistency and incoherence.

    The protagonists are a black middle class family. Once upon a Hollywood they would have been a white middle class family. In Us’ script Peele substitutes a black middle class family, as if is as if all the that has to be done, . So in his story, ironically about replicants, it is Peele himself who engages in a little script replication: replacing the white middle class family with a black middle class family; replacing in the resolving action a white male lead figure with a black female lead. Diversity in this creative mix, has no other meaning than a vacuous symbolic replacement of one set of its parts by another. Like the production of multi-flavoured yoghurts, the script manufacturers can now exploit the diversity ethic to churn out multiple copies of the same basic scripts, which in the case of Us turns out to be a mish-mash variant of the Undead plot line.

    If the Us script idea of the replicants rising up out of the subterranean darkness to claim their rightful place in the light is supposed to be a metaphorical design referencing the black experience of exclusion, then it is obtusely suggested. Although Peele’s main characters are black, and it is a black child who sets events in motion, the white characters are also attacked by their doppelgangers. As if Peele were saying that metaphorical allusion to condition was a possibility, but he was uncertain about it or even what it meant, so he decided to cover his back.

    The black couple are of course completely decontextualised. They are no more than ciphers in a plot, like their white counterparts pumping the rictus moments. Where they come from, what they do, is glossed over. We are presented with a completely assimilated couple whose outer signage in mores expectations food culture locates them as a family in the affluent bosom of middle class America.   This is Walt Disney core value land, disconnected from everything except leisure and fun. The black experience in America, the insecurity of the black situation, are airbrushed out of what in the end holds up as little more than a horror/zombie romp half played for laughs, the which decompresses Peele’s scattergun attempts to suggest any deeper significance.

    And why do ‘Zombies’ ‘replicants’ need deeper meaning? The ‘Zombie’ type motif simply projects onto an outward form, all the unnameable fears and insecurities that hollow out our lives.

    Peele brings all the usual tropes into play: the rabbits (difficult to disassociate from Lynch), the attack on the house by other-under-worldly replicants (this picks up a familiar H P Lovecraft ideation), and the absorption of identity by otherlings (Siegel). Possibly in a time of accentuated individualised narcissism there is horror in the idea that we may be comprised or threatened by schizophrenic replicants. But Peele doesn’t take this psycho road, he seems to hover on brink of a schizo abyss, the idea of a full on psychosis, then draws back and opts for the mechanics of zombie nation.

    The replicants/zombies/metaphoriks with their big scissor gimmick (cutting the umbilical, cutting the ties of life) are amusing in the way that their full on repetitive violent action becomes funny, obeying the law of diminishing returns and the basic law of film comedy ( show them what is going to happen – show it happen – show it after it has happened). Otherwise the scripted comedy is plumb out of sophomore film school as when Gabe wonders if the long line of replicants in brownish suits might be: “ …some sort of performance art shit?” All the humour is rather laboured and the more so in as much that in its cool iterations the humour leaves Us in a sort of detached limboid space. Neither one thing nor the other. The script is a missive of the lost to the lost.

    When yoghurts began their path to infinite replication of sets, plain being supplemented first by strawberry, then raspberry then cherry and so on I thought it was wonderful. Burt in the end I understood it was all the same thing and at core just a device to encourage people to eat more ans more sugar with their yoghurt.

    adrin neatrour