Monthly Archives: August 2020

  • Touki Bouki (The Journey of the Hyena)   Djibril Diop Membety (Senegal 1973)

    Touki Bouki (The Journey of the Hyena)   Djibril Diop Membety (Senegal 1973) Magaye Niang, Mareme Niang, Aminita Fall

    viewed at home 21 August 2020 from an obscure streaming platform.

    Black claque for white clique

    Membety’s opening comprises of a herd of white humped cattle with long extended horns advancing slowly but surely across the savannah. They move towards the camera led by a herdsboy sitting astride a dun coloured beast with an accompanying bucolic sounding flute on the soundtrack.

    The timeless beauty of this sequence captures the imagination. The steers are noble beautiful animals that caress the senses; the herdsboy an archetypal image of the pastoral given resonance by the flute.

    As an African rhapsody, the images fill out the screen. Then Membety acts. He dashes the image from our eyes as the idealised opening shots cut to the abattoir. In this sequence shot on the blood lit killing floor, we see these beautiful creatures have been led to the slaughter. As they are crudely killed they writhe and shriek out in their death spasm. Cut butchered and flayed they become meat. But whose meat?

    It is to the answering of this implied question that Membety employs both the form and the structure of his movie. To document his theme of a betrayed land and people Membety could have had recourse to a straight forward story line. But Membety avoids a simple narrative structure and deploys the resources of film to create a tightly compressed psycho-history of the disaster of neo-colonialism. Membety’s theme is the exploitation and humiliation of Africa, the apparent rather than real transfer of power, with the substitution of a black claque for the white political economic clique which of course runs the show.

    The male protagonist Mori combines the ‘new’ and the traditional, being herdsman and student. He displays this fusion by mounting onto the handlebars of his motorbike the emblematic skull and horns of one of the beasts he leads to their death. The reality is that machine and bone are only butt joined and will simply come apart, divided into two, like the city where he lives. Membety sets his film against the background of Dakar and Mori’s movement through this capital city.

    There are two cities in Dakar. They don’t meet. One is occupied by the Europeans and their Senegalese high caste claque. It is characterised by fine modernistic buildings, stores, big houses and the highways leading to the escape routes of the port and the airport. The other town where the blacks live, in what the French call ‘Bidonville’. Accessed by rickety wooden bridges built over the highway, the natives live in a vast unending shanty town mostly without electricity or water. A people trapped in poverty betrayed and robbed with no way out, but with their dignity intact.

    Neo-colonial cultural fusion is a conceit, designed to be apparent but not real. The prestige civic architecture is a fabricated cultural mirage designed to lead the populace into the desert of nowhere.

    Mori takes up with the androgynous Anta. They understand their education is also sham, the fig leaf covering the emptiness and bleakness of their prospects. Education gives them dreams whilst spitting them back into the cardboard slums. As there is no future for them in Dakar other than as blacks, they plan to escape to Europe to cross the ocean that hems them in on Senegal’s shoreline.

    And just as education in Africa is a charade so Mori and Anta see that also in some respects, is European power. It’s simply an outer guise, the ability to wear the clothing that marks you out as privileged; the adoption of an attitude of superiority that enables you to take anything to which you feel entitled. Taking up the manners apparel and attitude of whites they steal the clothes they need and with aplomb and without challenge they board the white ship that will lead them to France and away from black Africa.

    Membety moving outside the confines of narrative produces a richly layered ironic witty and lacerating scenario. His film is still fresh and leaves its mark. Touki Bouki with its theme of escape from the intolerable is as relevant today as when it was first produced.

    adrin neatrour










  • Landscape Suicide   James Benning (USA; 1986)

    Landscape Suicide   James Benning (USA; 1986) Rhonda Bell; Elion Sucher

    viewed: YouTube 6 August 2020

    find film here: 

    Alt. Americana

    The opening sequence of Benning’s ‘Landscape Suicide’ (LS) comprises a medium full body shot of a left handed tennis player practicing the tennis serve. The same shot is repeated multiple times but broken by brief interludes as the image fades to black, like the blink of an eye, before repeating. The object of Benning’s gaze is small town America: the sort of place that in the era of the ‘80’s was supposed to represent all that was best in the USA.

    Perhaps Benning, who grew up in this kind of environment, feels that the game of tennis, with its service ritual requiring hours of practice to perfect, epitomises the milieu where nothing much happens, life repeats, obsessively.

    I suppose that the ‘Nothing much happens around here’ descriptive trope set Benning to thinking on what actually did happen ‘around here’. And it wasn’t just tennis. Because these small rural townships were often the locations for homicide, the types of murder one might characterise as American gothic. The killings that happened in these places tended to differ from those of the big inner cities with their racial and economic strains and tensions, where gangs and desire left their mark in corpses and blood. No, these small town murders stemmed out of a particularly American psychic phenomenon; the playing out within the individual psyche of particular restless underlying disturbances, bringing to the surface in homicidal action those forbidden forces endemic in American life. Possession by the unnameable the unsayable. Assimilation by the Gothic. A weirding of life that is finely described by Sherwood Anderson in his 1930’s collection of short stories, “Winesberg’. Anderson’s stories describe a small town community in which people are trapped within themselves, goaded by a sense of restlessness and incompleteness. An American dilemma in which individuals were trapped, waiting for something to happen, waiting for the psychic trap to spring.

    Of course today the Americanisation of life has spread a certain kind of disturbance of the individual psyche throughout the world.  But the USA with its waves of mass killings, facilitated by the gun laws, still stands out as the archetypal marker of the lone killer carrying death within them, the agitation of death.

    Benning takes up Anderson’s theme and castes it onto post war America, an America in which Americans are now no longer just ‘ornery citizens, they are consumers, living in a society where they are entitled to buy into their dreams, to acquire whatever money can buy. A society where restlessness and identity are catered for by a carefully calibrated mass media. A society in which individuals, accustomed to getting what they want, are ever more prone to acting on their desires. The culture of dreams, frustrated unrealisable dreams that mutate into fantasy.

    Benning’s ‘LS’ uses the Court and/or interview transcripts of forensic questioning of two murderers, to act out the testimony given by the perpetrators of their states of mind and their consequent actions. The murderers featured are a young girl who had killed another young female classmate; and a older man who murdered and butchered at least two women (somewhat in the manner of the movie the Silence of the Lambs) externalising his internalised twisted sexual promptings. The murders were quite different in nature but both murderers were characterised by an apparent distancing from their actions. What comes across from their own words was that they seem to have been disconnected from their selves. That both the culture and their own dislocated beings necessitated them directing feeling and actions outwards as a means of relieving an internalised pressure.

    The restlessness and the insecurity of being described by Anderson have by the time Benning makes his movie become an epidemic in small town America. Something about this kind of milieu engenders isolation where individuals are easily detached from the community and retreat into themselves, desires and destructive imaginings pushing up beneath a surface of normality. And it is the surface also that attracts Benning’s intention.

    Framed about the accounts of murder, and always interposed with the blink of the eye, the rhythmic fade to black, we see in their multifarious forms the backgrounds against which his two main subjects lived their lives.   As recorded by Capra, Spielberg and other Hollywood interlocutors with small town America we see the normal: the hardware stores, the churches, the main streets, the diners, the wooden houses, the gas stations, the parking lots. Benning always shows these images in their context: next to the road. The road and the sound of the road is omnipresent in the film, an endless streaming of automobiles going from one place to another. And this is what Bennings captures: linking all these images of small town life is the agitation of the highway, this restless unending movement from one place to another that mirrors the inner life of his subjects. There is no stillness. What you see looks like stillness but it’s not, it is an unsettling vibrating constant.

    Benning’s title suggests a nation that is in the process of killing itself. In retrospect the film’s imagery, the film’s story is now from the perspective of the 2020’s something seen in the rear view mirror of time. The roads are of course the same, but the traffic, the passage of car and truck has intensified: Banning’s landscape has been left behind. We are now living in a world of particles, a virtual world where the constant agitation of endlessly forming and reforming of bits and pixels creates a new reality. America has moved into a world defined less by Gothic more by Sci-Fi, Star Wars fantasies where global suicide becomes possible where the individuals can fantasize and practice mass killings. A world where in King Vidor’s ‘the Fountainhead’ , scripted by Ayn Rand,   the protagonist, an Architect decides on moral grounds that it is better to destroy the World, than to have to exist within it in an ideological form he could not tolerate. Welcome to the USA.

    adrin neatrour




  • The Unforgiven Clint Eastwood (1992; USA)

    The Unforgiven           Clint Eastwood (1992; USA) Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman

    viewed ITV film channel 26 July 2020

    mirror mirror on the wall….

    Clintwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ presents as a sort of reverse mirror image of the 1971 movie, ‘The Beguiled’ directed by Don Siegel and starring Eastwood and Geraldine Page.  Both films revolve about certain aspects of masculine identity and female response to male provocation.  It is the nature of these two films that they are both re-active, setting up women’s responses to men’s actions.

    The films share a similar visual look.  Both are classed as ‘gothic’ which references their dark atmosphere and use made of the settings and lighting.  The movies use key lighting as an analogous representation of oil lanterns, casting into shadow and half shadow large swathes of their framing, suggesting ideas about hidden or repressed drives and feelings, those dark mythic psychic promptings.  Both films of course have Eastwood at their centre: an intruder into strange and dangerous land.

    But the scripts of the two films diverge at the point of narrative, and the nature of their content. ‘The Beguiled’ , set during the American Civil War picks up its narrative at the entry of the seriously wounded McBurney (Eastwood) into a Confederate girls boarding school.  Even though he is pursued by the rebel army, the women agree not to betray but to tend him.  As he recovers he embarks on a campaign of serial seduction of the women.  His philandering is exposed and leads to an antagonistic response by the female psyche; he is assaulted by one of the angered women and suffers serious injury to his leg.

    This wounding eventually leads to the women deciding to amputate one of his legs; to cut it off;  to save him to save his life.  The severing of McBurney’s limb of course strongly suggests ritual castration, a sacrificial dismemberment and disempowering of the male force which had broken into a sacred world.  It is at this point that the film recasts the action into a mythological realm: the women no longer of a school, but of a Temple, priestesses of Isis.  They are Sybil and guardians of hallowed ground and things which men are forbidden to see or know, and for which seeing or knowing, the penalty is death.  And in due course McBurney is killed; not violently, but gently without shedding blood, through poisoning by mushrooms that are fed to him.  The Gothic lighting, all flicker and dark rimmed, creates the closed down space of the forbidden zone into which Clintwood has entered.  The setting is the portal into a shadow world through which he must eventually understand that it was his fate enter and necessarily die.  

    ‘The Beguiled’ is Siegel’s slow mythic playing out of archetypal forces in response to an act of trespass into the forbidden.  The subject of ‘The Beguiled’ hinges about not only male trespass into the forbidden, but also the potential consequences of men trying to use their sexual power to control women. 

    ‘The Unforgiven’ although it uses much of the same play of light and shadow to conjure on film a quasi Gothic setting, by contrast does little more than set up a plot centred round the banality of revenge.   The content also disempowers the female. A tale of revenge in which although it is the town’s women prostitutes who are wronged, it is the men, in particular of course Eastwood as William Munney, (pun on Money?) who in the best Western tradition of chivalry takes up arms on behalf of the women.  Although the women offer the reward, they are essentially passive.  Unlike the women in ‘The Beguiled’ the are not agents, agency is a male prerogative, they are bit players, distanced and with no part in determining the outcome of events which is: man’s business.

    In this respect ‘The Unforgiven’ holds up a reverse mirror image of ‘The Beguiled’ in which the latter places the women as central to the design of the action, as opposed to ‘The Unforgiven’ in which women are all but excluded.

    Eastwood, as Director (and star actor) of ‘The Unforgiven’ wants, like Siegel, to say something about men and their sexuality.  But he doesn’t have much of interest to say

    His scenario, having excluded woman from play out,  tries to link into the plot dynamic a certain take on the problematic nature of masculinity.  The narrative takes as its exciter the brutal disfigurement of a prostitute for laughing at the smallness of a cowboy customer’s penis.  Given that a whore’s business is to manage male ego and by extension their cocks, given that whores see a lot of cock, big small, mis-shapen, damaged, those that don’t work etc, and given that in small isolated Western towns some men could be very dangerous, whores (like whores the world over)  would take the money and get on with the job without expressing anything other than appropriate flattery.   But this is the movies, so allow this scripted ‘absurdity’ as a legitimate filmic given.

    Eastwood wants his film to say something about maleness, so cocks it is and cock it is that triggers the plot.  The main plot driver is of course just a high key retread of Dirty Harry. Clint after a few ups and downs, all man all male intention, gets his man.  But there is a significant theme, a continual digressive return, built into the scripting of the plot which takes the form of a dialogue about the nature of a man’s relation with his cock.  Built into the dialogue throughout the film there is talk of men’s:  need for sexual release, hand jobs, masturbation and offers of sex for free from a grateful prostitute.  The base assumption being that to be a man, a man has to be sexually functioning, an assumption triumphantly disproved by Eastwood, who remains chaste and keeps his hands to himself. 

    Eastwood as director seems to be saying that men are demonised by their sexual needs and fragility. But overall the presentation of this thesis comes across as only sentimental, supported in the script by the idea that the only one good woman can save a demonised man. It’s an apple pie sort of conclusion straight out of the top drawer of the Good Housekeeping Guide to how to reform men.

    The impoverished nature of the script material, including rather flaccid dialogue, is overwritten by the Gothic atmospherics, in similar vein to ‘The Beguiled’ and the malicious crazed evil energy Gene Hackman brings to the film.  These two affects mask what is otherwise a leaden piece of filmmaking, that owes everything to the predictable mechanics of Dirty Harry and nothing to myth. 

    adrin neatrour