Monthly Archives: January 2020

  • 1917    Sam Mendes (UK 2019)

    1917     Sam Mendes (UK 2019) George Mackay, Dean-Charles Chapman

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 14 Jan 2020; Ticket: £10.75

    dogged vision

    Mendes ‘1917’ is a ‘Quest’ movie.  ‘1917’ uses the war as plausible backdrop against which this simple motif can be played out. In the course of the movie, ‘the questors – the protagonists’ must move through multiple zones, overcome a number of different obstacles and pass a series of ‘tests’. In this sense ‘1917’s’ structure form and story line give testament to the ever closer alignment of the games and movie industry. Games beget movies, movies beget games.

    ‘1917’ as a movie adds nothing to our emotional or psychic understanding of this war in particular or any war in general. Mendes’ films in a fashion similar to a James Bond movie, is simply about completing the course.

    The significant formal feature of ‘1917’ is the extent to which it makes little use of traditional film montage language. In ‘1917’ all the editing has been subsumed into the camera movement. ‘1917’s’ through the lens editing comprises: tight shots, wide shots, two shots, close-ups etc. all achieved through the camera choreography.  Traditional film language uses all of these types of shots but adds a temporal and spacial value to these types of shots by the manner in which they are spliced together. Cuts sometimes serving different purposes and sequences of cuts, montage, creating micro psychic statements endemic to the film’s expressive purpose. Edits and montage creating illusion of temporal continuity, atemporal continuity, discontinuity and manipulating psychological connections. The direction of traditional camera movement also exploits uncertainty about what the view the camera itself represents (privileged viewer, narrator, another player, a zombie etc). Insecurity about the shifts in camera perspective are easily manipulated to create tensions in both action and horror films. Editing and montage have the capacity to regulate a film’s rhythm and tempo creating a logic of internal tensions and tension resolutions that are built into the scenarios.

    Mendes camera is more like a faithful dog. It follows and skirts around the protagonists. The perspective is to some extent loosely based on the type of framing prevalent in electronic games. But one key perspective is missing from ‘1917’: this is the shot that represents the ‘point of view’. Given the nature of the situation, two men, beset by danger on every side, on a quest to deliver a message, the omission of the camera shot that represents point of view, that induces us to see what they see, affects the delivery of tensions in Mendes’ movie. There is surprisingly little tension in the scenario: tension is replaced by spectacle. The plane that crashes, the burning village, the ordeal by water: these are spectacularly resolved and designed to overwhelm the audience with the experience of immersion. But of course the actual experience of two such men on a mission such as supposed by the script would have been mediated by excruciating tension, mediated by what they see and every step they take, a potential mis-step. Mendes in ‘1917’ is stripping out the psychologic reality of war time missions, and replacing it with an evocation of the hallucinogenic state of mind.

    The ‘1917’ camera in holding to its spacial continuity line of following and skirting, lends the film a one dimensional relationship with the passing of time. Thinking about Clouzot’s ‘Wages of Fear’ which in some ways has a similar quest theme, the weight of the passage of time is built into the editing. The movement of the camera through the zones, through the men in the cabs of the trucks, through the trials of the road, are edited to build time as a physical element with its own markers into the scenario. In ‘1917’ time seems to dissolve into the spacial displacements and arrangements of the film. Despite the illusion of continuity, the spaces of ‘1917’ merge into each other, becoming one fluid geopyschic experience. With the language of the film predicated on space, time takes on a secondary function, loses touch with the markers of its passage, despite the time-based urgency of the mission.

    One thing to remark in the film is the spoken language, the scripted words. In the script there seemed to be two linguistic codes at work.   Language usage particular to the 1917 era, a more formal restrained expression of feeling, intermixed with today’s contemporary speech with its regular articulation of an expletive such as ‘fuck’. Interesting that the more restrained verbal mode of the setting was much more effective as an expressive device to describe the on going disaster than the full on emotive cascade more genearally employed today.

    adrin neatrour










  • Pina   Wim Wenders (2011 Ger)

    Pina   Wim Wenders (2011 Ger) Doc with company

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 11 01 2020; ticket £7

    All things bright and beautiful

    Wenders’ ‘Pina’ is of course beautiful to look upon. The practiced group dynamics of Bausch’s choreography, the duets and solos set against the urban backcloth of Wuppertal all look gorgeous. But this is a ‘documenting’ film not what I understand as film as documentary. Film as hagiography, not as a probe.

    In ‘Pina’ Wenders presents the spectacle of Bausch within the spectacle of the dance. It is a film of the adoring gaze.

    Wenders’ key decision in ‘Pina’ was to strip Bausch out of context. In fact this is characteristic of most recent documentary vehicles. In ‘Pina’ Bausch is presented as coming out of nowhere. She is a Goddess of Dance who arrives fully formed on planet Wuppertal, an embodiment of genius.

    Of course this is not the case.

    Nothing is mentioned of her background as a child in the aftermath of Nazi Germany. Her early years will have presented her with images of destruction desolation despoliation and despair that were the psychic realities of the post war period in Germany. Did these images feed nothing into her being? Wenders ignores her stay in New York in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. This was the time of all times to be in NYC when it was the plumb centre of a world wide shift in artistic practice that induced new understandings of the different types of possibilities connecting artistic perception to social relations. This was the era where everything was opened up to re-appraisal. In particular the performance group Living Theatre was producing work that was grounded in a revolutionary reconceptualisation of what dramatic presentations could be about. Julian Beck, co- founder of Living Theatre said: “Our work had always striven to stress the sacredness of life.”

    Bausch herself commented that in NYC she “…found herself.”

    Besides the NYC influence there is of course the native German tradition of contemporary dance of which Bausch must have been aware: in particular Mary Wigman. Wigman until her death in 1972 was teaching in West Berlin and was influencing dancers world wide. Looking at residual footage of some of her productions in the 1930’s, most obviously her 1930 production of Totenmal, there are some obvious similarities to Bausch’s output. Wigman’s dances too were often accompanied by world music and non-Western instrumentation. Another obvious influence is Grotowski who in Poland was developing his Poor Theatre, a theatre of pure movement and gesture.

    In the small world of the avant garde, practitioners were certainly aware of extraneous developments outside their own work. There seems to be a concerted effort in ‘Pina’ to spin out the Bausch myth. To propose that she was a one off original, to discount and minimalise the powerful influences that played out in her life’s career.   Wenders perhaps enjoys hero worship (it is the easier way to make films with the famous); it is more comfortable to worship without asking questions.

    None of the above seeks to belittle Bausch. She was an extraordinary and innovative figure in dance. But she is of her times and understandable within the folds of the times. Wenders’ documentary which locates her outside time, and in a certain sense does her less than justice.

    But as well as creating a ‘fully formed ‘Pina’ Wenders also creates the image of Pina the enigma, a choreographer of Pythian like sensibility to the dancers and their dance. As her company are interviewed about her style of direction we are exposed to their wide eyed adulation. The respondent dancers of her company tell how just with her look she conveyed everything. One young dancer recounts how she ‘hid’ from Bausch but Bausch found her, looked at her and told her to “…keep on searching…’

    But when we see Bausch (mainly in archive), it is a face that looks stern demanding and uncompromising. Perhaps she did not have these characteristics (that I have read into her facial expression) but to run a company like this that makes complete demands on its dancers, she must have been tough, and being tough means causing pain and frustration, even if it is understood by the sufferer that these are necessary conditions for the work. But none of this is even suggested by Wenders or his subjects who are happy to take the default sycophantic road to nowhere.

    In his documenting of the Bausch repertoire there are certain singular conceptual pillars evident in her choreographic work. In my view these mainly relate to oppositions. Most prominent of these is the male – female opposition: the male body mostly defined either in angular clothing or musculated cut away costume; the female body garmented in flowing soft lines both enveloping and contouring the female form. This opposition seems primal but today in the plastic arts, gender differential is often blurred if not eradicated with the male and female merging as externalised expression. Artists certainly don’t have to justify or explain their work, and there is no reason why Bausch should have talked about the importance to her of gender opposition, but one might have thought some of the dancers might have given some thought to what Bausch was asking them to do. Or were they discouraged from thinking?

    The oppositional pillars of Bausch’s work: chaos/ organised, hard/soft, open/closed, nature/culture, fluid/solid combined with her understanding of repetitions provide a coda for an unending exploration of meaning through movement as relevant today as when she developed her choreographed forms. So thanks to Wenders for letting us gaze and glimpse something in her dance. But without further probing, in particular of Bausch and the dancers who did as they were asked, this is a pretty but vacuous movie.

    adrin neatrour