Monthly Archives: December 2021

  • Blue Velvet       David Lynch

    Blue Velvet       David Lynch (USA; 1986) Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini; Dennis Hopper; Laura Dern

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 8 Dec 2021: ticket: £7

    boxing clever

    In a way David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet is another of those one song films – Dr Zhivago – Lawrence – Casablanca – movies that pirouette around one song, the emotive attraction of a chord sequence.   Of course Blue Velvet unlike the other titles mentioned plays against the grain of the music, goes contraflow to the song’s endemic sentimentality, playing against type to offset its lyrics against the violent sadistic abusive relationship that comprises the core of the script.

    Ironic inversion of mood stylistically defines the sort of ‘realism’ increasingly depicted in 80’s movie scripts.

    Appearances are deceptive. In her novels written in the 1950’s through to the 70’s, Patricia Highsmith effectively explored the dissonance between the appearance and the actual. Her most infamous protagonist Mr Ripley exploits his nonchalant ingenuous image, the straight all American young man, as an effective cloak of invisibility for a series of cold blooded psychopathic casual murders. Highsmith with satiric edge probes the darkness that lies beneath the tight nap that characterises American society.   Lynch models ‘Blue Velvet’s on a similar premise, but playing with images rather than text. He uses film to set up a pictorial proposition of an idealised 1950’s Americana townscape: Lumberton, Lynch’s small town in Blue Velvet. It’s modelled after the types of communities that are the subject of Frank Capra’s Hollywood propaganda films for the American Way of Life:  Mr Smith goes to Washington; It’s a Wonderful Life. Movies celebrating the probity and essential decency of small town USA with its ‘small people’. The which claim for like ‘decency’ was interestingly appropriated by Richard Nixon in his electoral campaign for the Presidency. But at the end when the veneer of office finally rotted through. Nixon was seen for what he was, not a ‘little person’ but a corrupted power crazed politician who would use any means necessary, violent or illegal, to hold on to office. Perhaps Nixon, he of the manic eyes and sour body odour was an appropriate inspiration for Lynch’s way of seeing his native land.


    Highsmith’s novels are highly pointed satires, almost falling into a literary category that might be termed ‘revenge porn’. Her targets are gender stereotypes and social pretensions of what might be called the middle class: respectable heterosexual comfortable people. Pretensions that of course veil an endemic American darkness.   Her writing takes place in ordinary settings in ordinary sorts of circumstances amongst ordinary people allowing her to underscore social conventions of Americana with an acid dark observational humour, a black humour that never ends.

    As film maker Lynch assembles a series of defining small town visual tropes: the neat serried houses lining leafy streets that are straight as dies; the manicured grass front lawns, the local store, the school, the diner. He sets these off against an increasingly disturbed scenario that like the song, wallows into parody.  In ‘Blue Velvet’s opening sequence we see Jeffrey’s dad watering his lawn then suddenly dramatically crumpling collapsing onto the turf. The green green grass of normalcy, is visited by the shocking the abnormal: cue Jeffrey’s return home from college. Later as Jeffrey visits dad in hospital it appears that dad’s had a stroke or perhaps a heart attack. Monitored and with multiple tubes inserted into his body he is a victim of the lawn, a sad consequence of the impulse to maintain appearances.

    After this ‘opening up’ event the script kicks on with Jeffrey’s discovery of the severed ear lying in the grass, setting up the ‘mystery’ and allowing a pall of weirdness to descend haze-like upon the action and settings. The audience start to understand something about this little town. But whereas writer Highsmith is careful to underplay her outrageous plots with a certain level of restraint and stylised irony, at this point in his scenario, Lynch is only able to engage in an orgy of complete self indulgence.

    Lynch’s self indulgence is highlighted by Dennis Hopper’s role, his playing out of the resident town psycho. At this point in his career as an actor Hopper has little more to offer than self parody. With his tensed facial musculature and fixed staring eyes, he explodes into each scene with a self important strut and balled fists, he’s a joke. After Hopper’s first grand guignol entrance entrance Lynch’s scenario descends into slapstick pantomime.

    Perhaps in the 1980’s people were shocked at ‘Blue Velvet’s’ level of violence which is given a notional permission by being depicted as part of the SM relationship between Dorothy and Dennis H: “ Hit me!” says she. Perhaps the audience were persuaded that the punches and slaps were part of the new realism in violence and sex visited upon Cinema by the likes of film makers such as Lynch and Hopper.

    But of course this type of realism plummets deep levels of double standards, hypocrisy and dishonesty. The violence is a cheap theatrical trick. When violence is portrayed on screen as a stylised piece of the action there is no reason to pursue it any further than the one event: someone is shot, someone hits the deck. No further communication on the event is required, the script is closed off at this point and the protagonist moves on to the next thing in the scenario.   The stylisation of the violent act serves the mechanics of plot; it is not in itself part of the subject matter of the script. When a stylised piece of violence is depicted as a means of the closing out of a scene the purpose of the violence has been served.

    But when violence is exploited in a script in other ways, for instance when it is embedded as part of a key relationship within a film, then other considerations surely apply? When relational on-screen violence is represented on camera as something ‘real’, when the intention on the part of the director, David Lynch, is that the violence he has depicted is taken as part of a relationship, then another dynamic applies. We have moved out of the realm of stylisation in which actions have only a mechanical function, into the realm of meaning.

    But when there is meaning to an act of violence and when meaningful scenes of violence are depicted as ‘real’ then the audience should experience not just the cinematic infliction of this violence – slaps, punches, kicks etc. – but also the effects of these blows: the black eyes, bloodied noses, split lips, purple bruising, broken faces. Without seeing the reciprocal effects of being hit, violence on screen is simply an exploitative device to manipulate the sensibility of audience. In the case of Blue Velvet, the one sided depiction of Hopper’s aggression is a cheap trick to give some substance both to Denis Hopper and the movie itself, to give substance to what would otherwise be an empty vacuous character lost in an empty vacuous script.

    Acts of violence embedded in the relational core of a film are subjected to a distortion of both good faith and logic where they are indulged, for the sake of titillating the viewer, but have no consequences . Lynch doesn’t so much promote a weird dark world but an inconsequential world. Like his song Lynch’s movie is a one shot indulgence of a fake proposition.

    adrin neatrour



  • Don’t Look Up 2021

    This is less a review of the film and more of an analysis of its social commentary.  I’m not great at reviews.  So suffice to say it’s a really good, fun film.  If you liked Adam Mckay’s ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Vice’ you know pretty much what you are getting and you will like this.  It’s unabashedly political so depending on your views you will be screaming at certain parts for different reasons.  The look for the film is great.  Nothing really flashy, or mind blowing visually but is great for the story it’s telling.  The soundtrack is top notch and is toe tapping good in places.  Even the fabricated pop song that is sung by Ariana Grande, who plays a vapid celebrity, at a concert promoting a call to action is spot on.  Most of the performances are great.  Meryl Streep looks like she is really enjoying her role as a populist, self-indulgent president.  If you have Netflix I recommend it.


    This movie is totally based in a fictional reality and it in no way resembles the actual reality we live in

    This is a reality in which most power is not earned or democratically given like it is in our reality, but power is your birth right, as when Cate Blanchette, an influential presenter on daytime TV gives her backstory.  Which in no way resembles  that of the American “news” presenters Tucker Carlson, or Chris Cuomo. 

    A reality in which power comes not from what education you excelled at but where you went to school.  Unlike nearly everyone in power in the House of Commons, who are fully qualified for the roles they excel at.    A world in which the silly, shallow romance of 2 celebrities gain more interest than world changing, cataclysmic events.  A world where power that is given through nepotism, as in the president and her chief of staff, who is also her son and he has something to tell the world about the sexiness of the president, mum.   

    Power that is bought by a billionaire who has the clout and position to make decisions that can affect billions of people for profit, thinly disguised as improving people’s lives and ending poverty.  This is a fictional film in which society confuses wealth with expertise.  Unlike our expert billionaires who have a deep understanding of education, environmental issues and how to recue children trapped in an underwater cave. 

    In this fictional reality, that is nothing like ours, a vocal, influential minority confuse facts and science as conspiracies and propaganda, with their factitious ulterior motives that has no evidence.  We are so lucky to have media personalities and pundits and influencers who understand that “Climate Change” has 2 sides that are both valid.  That change always happens and we all just need to sell our houses before they are underwater.  We sensibly understand that it’s some other chumps problem. 

    In the silly reality of this film, the head of NASA is totally unqualified for the position she is in, but because of her position is easily able to convince large swathes of the population that the actual evidence and science is wrong and is willing to fall on her sword when it becomes politically convenient for those with more power than her.  In this work of fiction science and expertise is distrusted unless it conforms to a certain narrative and is presented in a way that conforms to the masses and if you say anything different you are turned in to a monster through memes on social media….  IMAGINE…. 

    Yes.. So unbelievable

    Who am I kidding…  The only thing truly fictional about this movie is the technology.  In fact there is some funny and even sad parts but none of it is even close to as sad and funny as the reality we live in right now.  The reality this is parodying is so much more preposterous, even more nuts than what is in this movie.  In fact the horror of this film is how it has become impossible to ridicule this Tweet fed, emoji ridden, celebrity obsessed, conspiracy infested, populist path we are on… 

    I recommend you watch ‘Don’t look up’ which is available on Netflix, if for no other reason than to realise how moronic those we empower are and ridiculous our reality is.

  • The Power of the Dog       Jane Campion

    The Power of the Dog                        Jane Campion (2021; NZ;) Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-Mcphee, Jesse Plemens

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 2nd Dec 2021; ticket: £10.75

    Is there life on Mars?

    There are no dogs on Mars, yet! In a sense Jane Campion’s moody piece could just as well been set on Planet Mars 2125 as Montana 1925 which is where the caption in the opening sequence announces the setting.   There is a palpable sense of detachment running through the film, as if we were watching the characters act out in front of cardboard sets or perhaps more pertinently, digitally generated backgrounds – just like zoom meetings.

    Campion’s characters seem lost in space. Reading Chekov’s short stories, many of his condensed texts are mood pieces but they resonate with a palpable sense of time and place, grounded in the reality Chekov observed around him. ‘The Power of the Dog’s sense of place drifts towards vacuity, without cogent psycho-geography. This might be intentional on the director’s part. Perhaps Campion’s purpose was to show that obsessive behaviours drawing on deep psycho-sexual roots are transcendent of socio-cultural grounding. And, Campion’s filming took place in Zealand doubling up as the American West, also a palpable take on the proposition that if its atmosphere that’s important, anywhere can be anywhere, anytime can be anytime.

    Yet using ‘film’ which is endemically rich in socio-interactive referents as an expressive medium for this type of proposition, is difficult. In ‘The Power of the Dog’ there is almost no internal voicing, voice overs from the script allowing a particular scriptive pointing up of salience and meaning. As far as I recall there is one voice over from Phil which is laid over the film’s opening shot in which he states that when his father died, he swore to himself he would do everything he could to take care of his mother. From this psychic opening we understand he is a man who takes responsibility seriously. Other than this one line of internal insight (the only one I can recall) we have to read Phil from the exteriority of his actions and the intentionality of Campion’s close-ups; as we also have to do for Peter, the young man increasingly overwhelmed by Phil’s presence.

    Campion’s social interactions take place in: the big gothic house presiding over the ranch; the ranch itself, the restaurant and the town. The movement between these places is abstracted: spliced into the time line. There is no sense of a mapped emotional geography of the kind that is central to Campion’s ‘The Piano’. As in traditional Westerns Campion simply cuts from one setting to another, from the big Gothic House to then restaurant, from the ranch to the town. But ‘The Power of the Dog’ is not an action script in which advances in the plot line demand cuts that energise the development of plot. This is a study in psychic mood and atmosphere and the traditional ‘Western’ style of cutting from place to place works against Campion’s charged atmospheric development, the disorientation in space-time disrupting the build-up of the mood. Like Chekov’s plays with their unity of setting, Campion’s film might have been served the better by being anchored in one place, the big Gothic house and the adjacent ranch.

    As it is the sets are delinked from the psychic homoerotic core of the film. The big Gothic house in particular is a husk a structure without resonance lacking in prime signification. As the family home it might be expected to have deeply anchored memories attached to its contents and fittings. But it doesn’t. This huge unlikely wooden pile standing in the middle of a plane never suggests anything more than a film set in which the characters shuffle to and fro, even as Rose takes up the role of mater familias. The hills in the distance as a meaning-scape into which Phil reads the runes of the film, never look anything more than a digitally composited image from a video game, and the restaurant and the town little more than absurd conceits inserted to serve the continuity demands of Campion’s script.

    Without an exoskeleton of place, Campion’s movie has to stand or fall on the acting out of the roles and the associated gestural tropes defining character. Cumberbatch’s rendering of Phil holds the line of the repressed sexually squeezed energy of the character. But there comes a point where effect becomes affect, over determined affect. A point where the playing out seems to verge on the false, generated by an acting imperative rather than by naturalistic tendencies.  A monolithic expressive integument stretches over Cunberbatch’s Phil. As the film progresses the part feels like a straight jacket, and as a straight jacket it might contain Phil but it is not enough to hold the together the substance of Campion’s movie.

    adrin neatrour