Monthly Archives: November 2019

  • Two Lane Blacktop    Monte Hellman (USA 1971)

    Two Lane Blacktop    Monte Hellman (USA 1971) James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, Laurie Bird, Warren Oates

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 14 Nov 2019; ticket: £7

    Highway 66 revisited

    Hellman’s movie looks like the nearest Hollywood has come to making a neo realist film. A fact which Universal, the distributors underlined by more or less pulling the film and not supporting its distribution. Like The Last Movie, the Swimmer, White Dog, which were all left to rot in their cans by the distributors, Two Lane Blacktop probed the soft underbelly of the America belief system and more, compromised Hollywood’s definition of film as an exclusively narrative/action expressive form. But however much Hellman’s movie approaches a European sensibility, this is America, this is an American film and Two Lane Blacktop stays true to its psychogeography.

    Hellman’s movie has no violence, no drugs, no sex, no plot. It is pure ‘road’ taking as its theme the idea of life as pure existence. In literary terms it has provenance in Beat literature: Kerouac’s On the Road, Woolf’s Electric Kool Air Acid test and some of Ginsberg’s writings.   Hellman’s movie is gentler than any of these (and indeed its Hollywood precursor Easyrider) more like transposing the 19th century concept of the Parisian flaneur onto the highways of the USA. The idea of an uprooted deracinated flaneur, high not on the absinthe, the green fairy, but on speed pure and gasoline. Both the ‘flaneur’ and Hellman’s ‘highwayheads’ exemplify a sort of pure existence, an existence predicated on pure state of being, such as experienced in velocity, a non chemical drug untrammelled by the expectations of society. A self always on the move and implicated in the present. A self existing on its own terms. Doing, achieving, self reinvention, overcoming are notions alien to Hellman’s characters.  

    In the script the characters are people without names. No name to bind them, no umbilical cord attaching them to place or family. Without past without future, they are the driver, the mechanic, the girl and GTO.

    There are different definitions of what the idea of neo-realism means. One idea is that this concept points to the idea of seeing, an arrived-at-understanding on the part of the characters of something experienced. Neo-realist films move away from being action driven to being perception driven vehicles of expression.

    Hellman’s movie stays true to its source. Its characters, the driver the mechanic the girl and GTO live in the flow of the road, taking from the road whatever the road offers them. The players remain true to the American psyche, emanations of a culture in which isolation and remoteness from others are defining characteristics. They people are disconnected from their experiences unchanged by their encounters. Understanding is a peripheral concept not a central, what is seen changes nothing. The characters stay within themselves observing but unaffected: cool. For Hellman’s characters there are no moments of doubt; the boys just follow the road, like Kerouac they can never go fast enough; and the girl always contained frozen within the bounds set by herself.  They are pure Americana, on the move externally, immobile internally. And the last character, GTO is that most typical of American of characters a man who doesn’t exist outside of the confines of the stories he tells. Spinning out virtual imagined versions of himself to the hitchhikers he picks up as he criss-crosses the highways.   And as he starts to talk the rides fade as GTO projects himself onto the road. Two Lane Blacktop is built on a premise of opposing ideas: the openness of the highways, the closed nature of the characters who ride them. A contradiction at the heart of contemporary America.

    But Hellman’s film has a sort of suggested Medieaval subtext. Taylor and Wilson look sumptuously beautiful. Beautiful all American boys. Superstars. They reminded me of some of the male faces in Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac. The actual filmic presence of the two rock stars suggests the idea of retro knights errant, chevaliers endlessly circling the globe confronting the strange the wonderful in their quest for the holy grail. Of course the driver, the mechanic are not on any quest; but their existence as they roam the highways, moving from one joust, one competition to the next, paints in a modern day resemblance to the old contes de gestes. Even the girl might double as a damsel in distress, though of course she isn’t. She’s just another errant being like the driver and the mechanic: transposed Mediaeval souls condemned to endlessly circle the earth.

    Perhaps that is the difference between the European and the American take on neo realism. The Europeans come to know that somehow they are lost but there is nothing they can do about it; the Americans don’t get lost because it’s not a word in their language.

    adrin neatrour











  • Sorry we missed you Ken Loach (2019 UK)

    Sorry we missed you   Ken Loach (UK 2019) Kris Hitchin, Debbie Honeywood

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, 12 11 2019; ticket £10.75


    What is says on the packet


    Ken Loach’s social realist drama delivers a polemic exactly as promised as would any Soviet era film which with peasants as its subject, would make dramatic mincemeat of kulaks or landlords. But the Loach’s film is none the worse for its intensity of purpose and singular passion with which it sets to expose the evils endured by a contracted out workforce.


    The film is the better for being finely scripted, taking as its focus the situation of the family. It is Abbie and Ricky and their children who are folded into an economic logic that crushes the life out of them psychically and physically. Loach and Rafferty (script writer) ratchet up the pressure of coping day to day week to week with life’s incidents. With few resources the family are pushed to breaking point.


    One of the great heroes of Soviet science, Pavlov, came to mind. As I watched the film, I saw one of the best critical observations of ‘smart’ phones absorbed in

    its scenario. Pavlov’s dogs were trained to respond to the stimulus of bells as part of his passive avoidance experiments.  Loach and Rafferty create the same effect with the smart phones owned by Abbie and Ricky as they respond to their phones call in the same way that Pavlov’s dogs responded to a bell: to avoid pain.  There is probably a PhD to be done looking at Pavlovian psychology and mobiles.


    And extending beyond the Pavlovian mobile it is this terrifying feeling of life being out of control that permeates the drama. Loach’s film is soap opera , but with passion to reveal not emotional flooding out for its own sake, but the forces behind the emotions he shows. The control of Abbie and Ricky’s life has passed into the hands of the managers. The structural position of the managers is that they are removed from the actualities of the work they supervise (in fact the less they know about it the better), they are simply structured into an enforcement protocol; their role is to be the algorithm of the rule book.


    Abbie and Ricky are alienated functionaries, like most of us. Outside class outside community, just getting by. So when Seb their son picking up both intuitively and directly to the situation of the family, understands the wreckage of his parent’s life, he reacts by saying “NO” to carrying on as normal and rebels.   And as this one NO ripples through the daily adjustments compromises and coping mechanisms, the family machine just disintegrates.


    With a set of actors primed to the tenets of social realism, Loach delivers a film with a message. And what a message.

    Adrin Neatrour


  • The Joker Todd Phillips (USA 2019)

    Joker               Todd Phillips (USA 2019) Joaquin Phoenix

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 23 Oct 2019; ticket £10.75

    An I for an I

    The film’s script is the predictable Hollywood sensory motor drive vehicle, creating a film that is a series of one thing after another, the connecting linkage deriving from the psychological state of the protagonist. Joker charts the movement of its eponymous subject as he moves from victim state to master state. Joker is a chronicle of an overcoming which is the familiar theme of the stereotypical American achievement story.

    The Joker invokes a series of validating psychic clichés such as resentment, repression, disappointment against a background of sets that have the look of stylised video games that is the default setting of today’s immersive movies.   The Joker is a loner, living in a fragmented urban space isolated except for his invalid mother, and his passive membership of compulsive TV viewers club, a self elected community, which like fake canned laughter, lend the trappings of reality to the TV stations.  

    Set in the vague time zone known as ‘sometime in the past’ (a zone liked by script writers for the freedom it offers them of being able to include or exclude inconvenient social or technical considerations) when we had TV but we didn’t have mobile phones. In this snug time zone, little people like the Joker could make no claim for any sort of social recognition. They were simply fodder, workers in an exploitative labour market; and at leisure marked for the unctuous exploitative paternalism of the big TV and radio channels and their advertisers (There is a visual reference to Wilder’s ‘Ace in the Hole’ in the scenario). Todd Phillips (and co writer Scott Silver) in the script exploit the familiar trope of the oleaginous dominant talk show host as an exciter of Arthur’s neo Nietzschian will to power, that finally leads to the inversion of his despised clown persona, into a badge of self found individuality. Arthur belittled by his powerlessness acquires a gun, the tool that changes situations, and thereby transforms himself into a being able to enforce his own intents and purposes (whether in ‘fantasy’ or for ‘real’ as the scenario is careful to confuse the status of its actual referencing).


    Joker is a delivery machine.


    The Joker’s psychic message endorses above all, the spirit of the times. It says what people want to hear. Todd Phillips delivers an affirmative endorsement of the individuating forces of a commercialised product fixated society with its digital technology that places the individual at the centre of their own universe of possibilities.  Arthur once self re-invented as the Joker says: “ I didn’t know if I really existed, but now I do!”

    An engaging belief of the age is that the self is a repressed entity, subjected to the range of social relations into which it is born. The object of the career of ‘the self’ is overcoming; the finding of the one and true self, the who you really are.   The community as a source of identity, class as a source of identity are all but destroyed. We are just functionaries with families, which are often festering nests of destructive emotions. But high tech as developed by late stage capitalism, after reducing us to functionaries, has provided us with the means to fill out the stuff of life. A multiplicity of products and services in the consumer cornucopia enable serious shopping for identity: the products and services of digital technology, where the particle, the individual seated at the centre of their own web voyaging out into on-line universe, is released as a free agent to explore identity on all its facets.

    Phillips and `silver’s ‘Joker’ is ultimately a rationalisation for the self fixated narcissism of the times. Whatever stands in the way of the onward march of the true ‘self’ can be pushed aside, destroyed buy any means necessary. The true self allows nothing to stand in the way of its transfiguration. The sub text of ‘the Joker’ incorporates the on-line world as the triumph of a solipsistic nihilism.

    Lurking in the images of Joker is not just the performance of Joaquin Phoenix but his body. It re-appears through the film, lithe like a snake, bone brazen, moving dancing saying things without words that suggests a deeper level of penetration into the Joker’s psychic make up. The images are narcissistic and self centred particularly in movement. But when still they suggested to me a vulnerability of flesh and blood, the skin of a being animal.

    adrin neatrour