Monthly Archives: December 2019

  • Blue Story   Andrew Onwubolu (UK 2019)

    Blue Story   Andrew Onwubolu (UK 2019) Stephen Odubola, Michael Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence

    viewed 10th Dec 2019 Cineworld Newcastle upon Tyne; ticket £6.00

    Another country

    Like the title of one of James Baldwins’s books, this is a film from another country. We see a country populated by deterritorialised black urban males. 

    The events that take place are located in the prosaic London suburb of Peckham, a typical outer urban zone characterised by a mix of traditional early 20th century design and architecture, and post ‘60’s high density anonymous concrete blocks. The latter providing homes for the gang boys, a matching of place and persona for the groups of young men dressed in regulation dark who lay claim to territorial privileges on their turf.

    This ‘another country’ is characterised by alienated de-individuated gang members.   Onwubolu’s Blue Story has setting but is otherwise light on context. We get some insight into the family of a couple of the main protagonists who have both been brought up by a single mother who does her best to provide for her family, but at the implied cost of her being absent and ultimately excluded from the increasing absorption of her boys into the gang psyche.   The life of the gang as depicted by Onwubolu simply swings about ‘belonging’; about belonging to a street family.  The boys who are ‘bro’s’ to each other are the included at the very least in a semantic gesture. And it’s ‘inclusion’ that meets the need, that’s desired as the handle of identity for the men and boys who are locked out of the system and lack the means to unbolt the gates of the wider social relations of the economic and cultural matrix that is the UK.   The bro’s are there because there is no place else. Not to be able to…

    So the gang is depicted in Blue Story not as a organisation engaged in criminal enterprise such as drug dealing, but as a protective shell,  a gathering-in, ( like a clan gathering) of the deterritorialised, a place where threatening external influences are held off. School and family no longer give shape and content to life; the gang purposes life, enveloping members in an language code that excludes outsiders but in itself defines the parameters of existence shaping life as an immediacy, a set of in-effect reactions to events and situations. The language of the gangs is a sort of patois. It comprises not only a specialised in –the –know vocabulary to register the immanent street concerns but also its pronunciation of English exploits a usage that makes it difficult for outsiders to understand, an empowering the gang against the outside. There were a number of times in the movie where I could not follow either the drift or the gist of the words as spoke. Speech becomes a mark of the self a source of protective strength and pride in who you are.

    Blue Story registers in its script significant differentiation based on sex in response to the UK urban experience. The gangs (as represented by Onwubolu) are exclusively male, and their the concerns and the patois effectively masculine. This is a no woman world, in the film the women’s identity centres about the more socially acceptable goals; as represented in Blue Story the women stand in sharp contradistinction to the male attitude and experience. The women speak an English that is understandable, pronounced close to London usage and with expectations little different from their white working class counterparts. Black male identity it is, that is in play for solution in Blue Story.

    Most of the script development is predictable enough. An embedded love story which plays out badly for the parties and the depiction of gang life as in effect re-action to events: the defence of turf, the cycle of revenge and accidental infliction of damage on the innocent.  Although Blue Story was trailed as a movie depicting violent knife crime, shootings were more characteristic of the film. The violence that was done, was done by people rushing about with guns, and in this sense it was characteristic of a lot of UK gangsta films. The harm done at a distance rather than the insouciant closeness of the knife stabbed in the flesh of a body.

    For all its reliance on formulaic situations, and gang situations are perhaps by definition formulaic, Onwubolu’s script and film take the mainstream audience into a world that is right next door but as alien as a life form on a distant planet. The film obviously focuses on a limited number of the gang members, the gang leaders and one noble refusnik the one who refuses to conform to street life.  My attention was caught by the silent guys standing at the back of the gangs the guys in the shadows. Those who said nothing, those who looked on with impassive faces, impossible to read and then followed the leader. Who are they? Silent ones, those without a voice those who use the knife as their only means of articulation. To stick the knife in deep the only way of saying something of saying here I am look at me, the break out of a life of muteness.

    adrin neatrour






  • The Irishman   Martin Scorsese (USA 2019)

    The Irishman   Martin Scorsese (USA 2019) Robert De Nero, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 26 Nov 2019; ticket: £10.75

    a mass for the dead

    Scorsese’s The Irishman is a film made by the dead for the employment of the dead for the entertainment of the dead.

    Scorsese and crew serve up nothing but tired clichés, played out visual tropes, second hand posturing and a scenario and script that feel dated by about 30 years. The camera work the editing and structuring of the film feel likewise. The whole sad enterprise is the work of old men, aged papier mache puppets going through motions of filmmaking reducing it to a series of mechanical events in set pieces and settings we’ve all seen many time before before.

    My feeling is that despite The Irishman being slated as a gangster movie it is really an exercise in nostalgia. This is a nostalgia fest. It is Scorsese’s commemorative memorial for a lost time now gone by that will never return. His choice of sound track music, the bright period hits of the era, together with his affectionate filming of those nice old 5’0’s and 60’s cars, betokens his yearning for a simpler America. An America where the men are men, even if they are old men gangsters, who feel comfortable both in claiming and exercising their privileges.  Of course the women know their place. We have seen it all before a long time ago: The Godfather, Mean Streets Goodfellas, all at one significant level deeply conservative affirmations of tribal male loyalty. Although the women in the form of his daughters get a shoo-in late in the movie, castigating Frank in a nod of scripted atonement from the director, this last minute switch in no way counter balances the preceding two and half hours of celebration of the all American Alpha Male.

    Suffering from locked-in time syndrome, ‘the Irishman’ suggests Scorsese has one script in him which he is doomed to endlessly repeat. The scenario is the usual assemblage of cameo scenes in which in rote the Irishman executes rivals, blows them away blows them up beats them up or sets fire to them, all in a day’s work before going home, keeping a po and eating dinner with his family.   Skimming along the surface of the imagery, this sad travesty is so desperate to try and make some claim for a deeper relevance outside of its own referential circuitry, that the various insignificant characters to whom we are introduced are given documentary -style tags. In an exercise of specious authenticity, captions explain how each met his various sad, if not deserved end. As if any one, in the second decade of the 21st century cared; as if any one was interested in Al Pacino’s character Jimmy Hoffa. As if in this context the conspiracy theory relating to the assassination of President Kennedy mooted in the script had any relevance. As if….

    The film flits wearily through its different ‘flash back’ time zones, but however ‘young’ the elderly cast are supposed to be they still all look like old men. Even though the script fits them out with attractive wives as it attempts to divert attention from the men’s obvious signs of senior citizenship. The acting by De Nero never rises above a series of facial gestures, but to use the plural is problematic, in the main he has one face fits all, the kind of hooded eye tightened jowl musculature as he says his lines: ‘You know what I’m saying?’ One of those questioning lines like: ‘ S’ wha ya gonna do?’ that gangsters are very fond of. Apparently.

    Much of the film is a padded out three hours. Like the long steady cam opening shot of the film; the wedding scene strangely and incoherently filmed using slomo; the banquet scene celebrating Frank’s contribution to the Truckers Union. At three hours the film turns into an extended parody of itself. And perhaps that is its one contribution to American film that Scorsese et al should all at the end of their film careers, be making their own filmic coffins for their own filmic funerals.

    adrin neatrour

  • Flesh –Trash – Heat   Warhol/Morrissey trilogy (USA 1968; 1970; 1972;)

    Flesh –Trash – Heat   Warhol/Morrissey trilogy (USA 1968; 1970; 1972;) Joe Dallessandro, Geraldine Smith, Holly Woodlawn, Andrea Feldman, Sylvia Miles

    Viewed: Nov 2019; Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle: ticket per screening: £7.

    Letting it all hang out

    I saw these films when they were released (and in that era in Newcastle were screened at the local porn palace) and re-viewing them again at the Star and Shadow they confirmed my original feeling that Warhol/Morrissey films represent a different type of film making. The people and ‘what they do’ is filmed not only in a manner way outside the ambit of conventional movies; but also these films seemed to have a different and distinct type of intention. They didn’t seem to be made for the purpose of making money or even of necessarily being widely seen. They seemed to be made with a subversive moral goal, with a singular ‘moral’ purpose of ‘detaching’ the behaviour filmed from out of any form of anchored emotional narrative or political/social context, into the form of a pure categorisation of effect.   The action and characters in the movies are simply represented as ‘types’ engaging in certain sorts of activities. They are filmed without either judgement or comment, using the camera as an obtrusive rather than a discrete presence.

    The integral claim made by the Morrissey / Warhol movies on authenticity derives from the clever studied clumsiness / amateurishness of the camera/sound work, which perfectly matches the unwitting and naïve nature of the performances.

    Warhol’s first ‘films’ or ‘strips’ used an immobile camera, detached and interested only in recording categories of experience. The camera pointed like an unblinking eye at its objects : screen tests with celebrities and ordinaries, man asleep, the Empire State Building, kisses, a blow job and ‘passing time with people’.   The subsequent ‘feature’ films in many ways took up the proposition of the detached judgemental ‘unblinking eye’ of the early movies, and incorporated many of the categorial tropes established by the early strips into the body of the feature length styled movies. In particular these Warhol/Morrissey features prominently reference: Sleep  ‘Blow Job’ ‘Kiss’ and ‘Chelsea Girls’.

    Seen from the perspective of regular movie censorship Flesh Trash and Heat are flagrantly transgressive, sailing effortlessly across multiple boundary lines of conventional morality as if they weren’t there. And in these films they are absent as judgement present only as categories. The acting was not about playing roles or adapting disguises but was simply about being yourself or perhaps projecting a facet of the self into the realm of film.

    At the time they were made the Morrissey/Warhol output opened up Cinema to a world outside the narrative concerns of regular cinema, used the movies as a way of saying things that were not in film industry scripts. They opened up cinema to the vista of outsider worlds. Worlds outside the range of people’s normal experiences; and yet of course still worlds that were contained within the human ambit and with their own particularly human traits. These films expose us to things that are both raw and in another sense simply ordinary extensions of the every day.  The raw sexuality of Dallesandro’s male hustler at work in sex, as opposed to the universal need for sexual contact. The raw demand of Dallesandro’s heroine habit and the everyday fact of everyone’s the need to get money. Money and horse – both drugs. The rawness of Hollywood’s crude trade in sex and favours, demands that simply become a normalised part of everyday life in Lala land; perhaps a normalised part of everyday life, everyday relationships.

    The three films (and also Women in Revolt) are hard edged parodies. They all offer a critique of the straight world’s perception of the outsider and the behaviour of the outsider. The outsider is marked off as being different from normal people, but the impulse to place most behavioural transgressors outside social bounds is a function of the actual close ressemblance of their lives and the needs to our own. ‘Flesh’ parodies the need (money)/ desire (flesh) equation in relation to paid sex. Getting paid and paying for sex, satirized in Morrissey’s script and camera, are simply extensions of ‘ordinary’ ‘straight’ sexual relations. Likewise ‘Trash’ and ‘Heat’ parody respectively drug addiction and the voracious nature in which money need desire and sex are traded off in all social relations.

    In one respect the Warhol/Morrissey films anticipate a critical social development that was to take place in the 21st century.   That is the changing nature of the definition of private versus the public sphere of information in relation to gender and sexuality. Issues of sexuality, gender, LGBT rights, sexual identity and sexual tastes (SM – rough sex – group sex) have moved out of the private domain into the public sphere. Gender migration , sexuality, STD’s are now the subject of show business type outings. People in all spheres of life now come out in public with both confessional and proclamational avowals of their identities and conditions. The outspokenness about sex, sexual tastes and sex needs that is an endemic feature of the Warhol/Morrissey output has now become part of everyday discourse. Joe and his co-stars literally and figuratively let it all hang out. Warhol /Morrissey seem to have understood something about the forces at work in late capitalist consumer society that would lead to break down of the rigidities of the strictures of sexual identity stemming from family and social relations. They understood something of the coming of the new forces of overwhelming individualist desire.

    The core visual keying of Trash Heat and Flesh is the the body.  The transfiguration of the body (at one point in Trash, Dallasandro takes on an almost Christ like apparition) is at the centre of these Warhol/Morrissey films. It is mostly Joe Dallasandro’s body. But this is not body as a receptor of impressions sensations or emanations. It is body as the centre of gravity, the narcissistic body that is the object of the gaze. The body of the future, a projection.

    adrin neatrour