Monthly Archives: October 2020

  • The Death of Louis XlV     Albert Serra (Fr 2016)

    The Death of Louis XlV     Albert Serra (Fr 2016) Jean–Pierre Leaud

    viewed via obscure streaming ap 20 Oct 2020; free


    two for one

    Serra’s movie comes across as a reflection upon death, both in the actual and in the cinematic/political sense.   Unlike the monarch he depicts J-P Leaud is of course not dying but the cinema he personified in his earlier career, the French New Wave of Godard,Varda, Truffaut Rivette et al, is all but played out. Like Louis XlV ‘La Nouvelle Vague’ was product of its age. And as Godard himself has said: “Cinema est mort.”

    What characterises New Wave is that it epitomised the idea of Cinema as a way of thinking. The New Wave and the Cinemas of other cultures moving along similar lines in Germany Italy, Iran India and Africa, made films as a means of exploring exploiting extending moving images text music voice sound, to penetrate and open up situations to certain modes of analysis to certain kinds of ideational juxtapositions. The scripts (such as they were) and/or the mis en scenes were not in general built about the narrative form, but rather grounded in ideas propositions and politico/philosophical statements. The purpose of narrative for these film makers was to allow certain kinds of manipulation of the material, for it to function as a testing track for thoughts and ideas. Narrative per se was rarely the keystone of this cinema. And the acting was also distinctive, the characters in the films, tended to represent certain types rather than individualistic personas. The successful actors in these films were those who could simply transpose their own beings into the demands of the film scenario. There was not a requirement for ‘method’ acting or building up a character, back story etc; what was required was professional non-actors. And in playing Louis XlV, Leaud does not play a role or a character: he is not a king he is simply a type, a man who is dying.

    Like The Divine Right of Kings, the legitimising philosophy developed by Louis XlV, the idea of a cinema, that is in part a way of thinking or being in the world has receded as a idea. Production of actual films has been overwhelmed by the default to the Hollywood norm of narrative and the cinema of the Superspectacle. An ideology of form taking precedence over an ideology of content. ‘Apres moi le deluge’ is a saying attributed to Louis XlV, and could also sum up Godard’s final judgement on the future of cinema. Louis in the person Leaud sees the lights go out, not with a bang but with a whimper, killed by the manipulations of his doctors anxious to pin the blame for his death on a convenient scapegoat, an outsider, a migrant.

    Sarra’s movie does not take on a narrative form; rather it is an observation of a process whose outcome is never in doubt: the death of the monarch.   The filming is emblazoned in a rich chiaroscuro of dark colour, predominantly reds. Doctors come and go with their probings and examinations of the body of the king, intent not so much to cure, rather to go through the necessary motions that will protect their reputations. As Louis dies, issues of urgent state importance are brought to his attention and those ministering to his soul come and go. But none of these interpellations, can compete with Serra’s central positioning of a man taking leave of life and moving with a certain calmness into the realm of death.

    Serra’s movie works on its own terms as a study of dieing. A monarch dies like any other human, in the fold of dramas that in the last analysis are rendered irrelevant by death. But Leaud’s presence in his playing of Louis XlV adds an analogous track to the scenario. It’s a phantom track, a shadow that his recumbent body casts over the film, the demise of Cinema. Just as after Louis’ death the advance of social cultural and technical forces eventually closed over the monarchy and destroyed it.

    The French Revolution of 1789 can be understood as an acceleration of the world away from the static heliocentric vision of the Sun King and the Divine Right of Kings, as the worlds of science and philosophy overtook the domain of Louis XlV and left the certainties of his age behind in their wake. And some similar process affected the New Wave as the early1990s witnessed huge wave of technical and accompanying social accelerations. These accelerations closed over Cinema, whose dominance had already been challenged by TV, but which now was submerged under oncoming waves of vibrant new technologies controlling information and communication: video games, IT forms extending into social media, image streaming.

    This acceleration of particle information across different modes of discourse and its transmission created worlds of relevance and immanence that increasingly take the form of closed loops. Worlds where thinking is heretically sealed and characterised by reactivity not pro-activity, and in which situational dialogue the creative spark of life, dies the death.

    Dialogue was always at the centre of the New Wave filmic expression. And of course dialogue as a creative intensifier is the opposite of everything that Louis XlV as an absolute monarch, believed in. In a strange and ironic fashion you might say that today’s worlds of media driven closed loop reality are also absolutist, the consumer is King.   In the 21st century we have returned to a situation in which Louis XlV, as an individual, would have felt very comfortable. To be able to speak without fear of contradiction.   As a culture we have come the full circle, and probably done so many times.

    adrin neatour






  • The Trial of the Chicago 7       Aaron Sorkin (USA; 2020)

    The Trial of the Chicago 7       Aaron Sorkin (USA; 2020) Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne

    viewed Jamjar Cinema, 10 Oct 2020; ticket £7

    The panto never ends…

    Aaron Sorkin’s opening montage of archive footage establishes the era. The Trial of the Chicago 7 is set against 1968, the year of the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the year of President Johnson’s decision to once again massively increase US armed forces in Vietnam. ‘68 was the year of revolution right across Europe but it also witnessed the massive demonstrations that took place in Chicago to protest against the selection of Hubert Humphrey as Democratic Presidential candidate, a candidacy that had not committed itself to oppose the Vietnam war. And it was in relation to these Chicago events that charges of conspiracy and incitement were brought against seven key anti-establishment figures.

    Sorokin’s scenario from the start points directly to the fact that the decision to charge the Chicago Seven with conspiracy and incitement to riot was political. The opening sequence of the movie after the archive section, locks onto the political decision to punish and intimidate Hoffman Hayden Rubin Dellinger et al, and incriminate them for the Chicago riots, riots which the FBI had already established were caused by the Mayor Daley’s police. The decision to take use and manipulate the legal system for the purpose of punishing and crushing opposition to the war, was taken at the top of the political hierarchy by President Nixon. A decision taken in the knowledge that the full resources of the state, its employees and all those to whom it gave patronage could be harnessed against these individuals.

    It must have looked to Nixon like a sledge hammer cracking a nut. But the nut turned out to be of the steel variety and the sledge hammer made of rubber.

    Sorokin’s movie with its script based on the trial transcripts and given visual urgency with his searching probing steadicam, celebrates the ability of the defendants to turn the trial on its head and put to the sword of absurdity, the corrupt proceedings that took place in that Chicago Court room, exposing the lies and fabrications of both Daley’s and the Government’s witnesses, and the biased procedural decisions taken by Judge Julius Hoffman which were aimed at closing down defence lawyer William Kunstler’s ability to defend his clients.

    Sorokin’s film is a feel-good romp through the proceedings, enabling us to cheer on the brave and the good, and hiss at the twisted individuals and parties trying to send our heroes to gaol. At this level it has a pantomime quality, which is OK, and is of course certainly analogous to the purposes of Rubin and Hoffman. But I was less happy with the way in which Sorokin wraps up his movie. We are now more than 50 years on from these events and look on them in the light of our times. It seems incredulous as we watch but we see that some among the accused, Hoffman et al, were found guilty and sentenced to 5 years prison. Sorokin to round off the film using text rather than drama, tells the audience that on appeal, the guilty verdicts were all dismissed and the defendants vindicated and free.   But it’s as if Sorokin wanted his story, the pantomime to have a happy ending. Smiley. We can all go home and feel good that truth is vindicated. But this is a false feeling. Sending the audience out on a high is a manipulation. Because in the light of our times we know that this is not all the story or even the end of the story.

    The drama section of film ends on one of the defendants reading out the names of some 2000 US servicemen who had died in action during the course of the trial. But what was to happen after the trial was the intensification of the war from the air, with terrible toll of death on the Vietnamese people and the use of agent orange, sprayed on the Vietnamese countryside, which is still today causing birth defects where it was dropped. The names of Vietnamese ARE not read out. The continuing destruciton of Vietnam by the US war machine is not recognised by Sorokin’s texts.

    Also what remains unsaid by Sorokin, either in text or otherwise, is that those who were guilty simply got away with their actions. Life went on as normal. The judge, the whole of the political line of accountability got off scot free. From Nixon down through his whole administration and the Chicago political apparatus from Mayor Daley down, the people who had criminally manipulated and corrupted the criminal justice system to serve the end of punishing those who opposed them just continued as if nothing had happened. The American state, conducting the war continued to get away with it. This is not a feel good ending. The beasts got away with it.

    And of course the beasts would continue to get away with it. What the Chicago trial revealed is that in Western democracies are undermined by their inability to hold to account the actions of the executive. Nixon it is true was brought down by criminal investigation, but Bush and Blair both conducted illegal wars, causing millions of deaths in those far away places for which they were not accountable. And Trump encourages home based terror of white militias and attempts to manipulate the judiciary. Since the trial of the Chicago 7, to date, we have lived in a political systems in the West, driven by profit and self serving policy that have unleashed terror and destruction upon the world without restraint.

    This is the message of the the Trial. This is the lesson. Not that one would expect Sorokin to have spelt out all of this. But in his final texts to the audience at the end of the film, he might have pointed to the fact that the perpetrators of the pantomime trial we had witnessed were never held to account and they continued unopposed to conduct their terrible futile war.

    Adrin Neatrour