Monthly Archives: May 2022

  • Stories from outside the cerebral zone.

    Quick bitesize views of the films of cinema auteurs and classic masterpieces that played at the ‘Star and Shadow’ from someone who….  ‘Will fill this part in later when they can think of something witty?  Ideas would be appreciated.

    26/5/22 – ‘Stalker’  1979 – Andrei Tarkovsky

    One of my closest friends has been trying to get me to watch this for years.  I did not fancy it at all.  I even watched a documentary about the film and still never watched it.  Unfortunately it was playing on Thursday at the S&S and I could not avoid it any longer.  I have not got the imagination to come up with an excuse to not watch it.  THANKS SEAN.

    Firstly the film is over 2 and a half hours long.  So long.  I thought the film was beautifully shot.  There is no escaping that.  Tarkovsky is obviously a very exacting director.  Every shot gorgeous and meticulous in detail.  Tarkovsky makes sure you are aware of this with extremely long takes that push in really slowly and occasionally pulls out really slowly.  The other thing to catch my attention was the over the top Foley/sound affects which were obviously added after the fact.  They were all so over the top. This is what a foot in a puddle sounds like, this is what a train sounds like, this is what a wheel turning sounds like.  Early where there was the sound of a car coming to a screeching halt whilst on screen the car was braking from a 5mph speed.  It got a chuckle out of me.  Occasionally there was music which I quite liked, it was haunting.  There wasn’t much of it and it felt like it was unsure if it was supposed to be in this movie.

    The movie itself….  Jesus Christ.  It promised so much and delivered nothing.  Every time a character was told not to do something because it was dangerous they did it anyway and nothing happened.  At one point a character, ‘The Scientist’ decided he was going to blow up the ‘zone’ with a home-made explosive device, he fiddled with it for 10 minutes, then just dismantled it and threw the parts away.  Oh my god do something.  Talk, talk, talk.  For over 2 and a half hours I felt like I was visiting 3 blokes who were tripping balls and they were having a grand old time, whilst I was frustrated and bored as they talked and talked about their trippy insights in to reality. 

    I’ve watched it Ade.  I even wrote this piece about it for no one to read, I never want to hear about this films again.

    Until next time this has been a story from outside the cerebral zone.


  • Vortex   Gaspar Noé     (2021; Fr)

    Vortex   Gaspar Noé     (2021; Fr)   Dario Argento; Francoise Lebrun; Alex Lutz

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 17 May 2022; ticket £10.75


    For my next trick…

    ‘Vortex’ re-enforces my feeling that Gaspar Noé is the master of pedantic literalism. Vortex is nothing more than a continuation of his stylistic cinematic rampage through different subject areas. The fluent shot accretion characterising his movies is put to the service of spectacle, and like most contemporary spectacle it’s empty amounting only to the creation of form without meaning.

    It is noteworthy how so many contemporary directors have recently turned to old age as a source of material for their scripts. Old age and its physical and mental concomitants are not in themselves necessarily interesting. What’s interesting are the relations or ‘non relations’ that are part of old age: its inclusions and the exclusions.

    Filmmaker Michael Haneka has made two films with old age central to their scenarios: ‘L’Amour’ and ‘Happy Ending’. In ‘L’Amour’ Haneka’s script locks onto the relationship of an elderly married couple, the wife in a terminal condition after a stroke. ‘L’Amour’ is a vehicle completely reliant of the expressive affect of its two protagonists (Anne and George) which ultimately defines the movie as an art house soap opera, worthy in intent, barren in execution. ‘L’Amour’ plays out the clichés and tropes of ‘old age’: the walking, shuffling round an apartment that is full of the bric-a-brac photos and art works that define the couple’s life – the sense of an end approaching – the faciality of old age, the wrinkles and self doubt and – finally the ‘end’ in itself. (all of which are featured by Noé in ‘Vortex’) L’Amour is a dull movie that does no more than play out the mechanics of its script.

    In contrast ‘Happy Ending’ folds the painful final days of the disabled pater familias into the personal and business relations of his family. This situation has a dynamic that exposes the audience to both the hard unpredictable elements of ageing and the issues of falling out of synch with the times. ‘Happy Ending’ demands the viewer to give some thought to the critical issues and the dilemmas that can absorb destroy define a life as it moves into that time of the end of the body.

    Ageing used to be considered unpromising film subject matter. But with ‘Alzheimers’ and other long term chronic conditions afflicting the old, the debate about the right to die, and increasing popular sociological and anthological interest in mortality, dying itself has been re-evaluated as having dramatic potential. It is a potential that largely remains unrealised in ‘Vortex’ which is no more than a transposed Victorian melodrama with a French high bourgeois setting that exploits old age and its concomitant vulnerability for dramatic impact. Squeezing the situation for its emotional value rather than understanding, ‘Vortex’ like ‘L’Amour’ is heavily dependent on its actors graphic simulation. The realist acting of its lead players milks the audience for sympathy. Noé’s objective is to emotionally manipulate the viewers, marginalising them as of spectators, directing their gaze upon the road to death.

    I think there is something of bad faith in this. My feeling of ‘bad faith’ stems from the fact that Noé’s script is a one dimensional construct, a trap for his characters. The trap comprises old age in itself and to some extent he’s a conman exploiting the end conditions of life to deliver a fake experience to the audience that is capped off in the finality of death. Why does the script have to end in death? Because that accords with the mechanistic design of the drama. Death’s the easy ending, the conman’s ending because it is the cheap way out that gives nothing to the integrity of life and its unending demands on the spirit. ‘Vortex’ is a fake simulated stylised docu-drama which tries to justify itself in the name of realist literalist representation and poetic philosophical utterance.

    Noé delivers ‘Vortex’ coddled up in a little psychology philosophy and metaphysics. Noé wants to say something about life: its illusionary quality, the vapidity of time, ‘The Man’, the husband is writing a book about Cinema and Dream, called ‘Psyche’. At the start of the film Francois Hardy sings ‘Mon Amie la Rose’ telling us life is beautiful but short. There are a number of blog like sequences, emanating from the TV or radio, spoken by psychologists referencing memory and old age. And throughout the film there’s reference to Poe’s poem ‘A Dream within a Dream’. But Noé’s trysts at poetico-litterary relevance connect only as contrivances introduced into the script to overlay the jejune monodirectional movement of ‘Vortex’. These literary /didactic references possibly indicate the existence of a phantom film lurking behind ‘Vortex’ pointing to an original idea that was more inventive more expansive in ambition. But this idea was abandoned to the simplicity of spectacle, surviving only as subtext. Perhaps it is glimpsed in the final sequence in the depository for the ashes of the deceased. where ‘the Woman’s’ life is relived in a series of photographs for her mourners. It’s too little too late.

    ‘Vortex’ is mostly presented in split screen format. Many of the origination shots are divided in half and presented side by side. The use of this projection device does something to accentuate the ideas of the isolation of the the couple from each other, and perhaps the world, suggests schizo relationships. But deployed more or less for the duration of the film, the splitting becomes simply a gimmick. It is exploited as a means of distracting the audience from Noé’s stunted dramatics and to disattend the banality of spectacle. Likewise ‘Vortex’ is frequently intercut with interstitial black frames breaking up the action momentarily. Perhaps these insertions that are meant structurally to denote….. something or other? Who knows? Perhaps even Noé doesn’t know?  Perhaps it’s just another distraction device?

    Ultimately Noé has nothing to say; he simply knows how to exploit a situation.

    adrin neatrour

  • Review for ‘Everything, everywhere all of the time.’

    Review for ‘Everything, everywhere all of the time.’

    A film of opposites in harmony.

    Last night a group of members of the S&S and their friends went to see ‘Everything, everywhere all of the time.’, the latest A24 film and the latest film that uses the idea of parallel universes to tell its story.  It has been lauded on the festival circuit and film reviewers from all over the spectrum have sung its praises.  I’m pleased to say it lived up to the hype. 

    I had watched quite a few reviews on the film before going to see it and it still was not what I expected.  The film does a great job of making sense overall, although you have to be patient to wait to receive more information as the story progresses, at the same time the film itself is difficult to explain.  With that in mind I am not really going to try to explain the film in this review.  The film is about family, relationships, living, the future and the past told through many lenses including 2 rocks and a world where everyone has hot dogs for fingers.  End of explanation.  Go.  Enjoy.

    Sitting watching the film I was impressed with a story that tackled the very large expressed in the very small and the very small expressed through the very large.  Relationships and life struggles expressed as saving the multiverse and preventing cosmic catastrophe’s and at the same time preventing this through changing the interaction you have with those closest to you and those you love.  Just writing this it seems like an impossible idea.  The success of much of this has to go to the actors themselves which were just top notch. 

    Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn is the core that keeps it all together, both holding the very small emotional centre with her husband, her father, her daughter and her business.  At the same time reacting to the unbelievable and absurd with those she knows changing in to other people all around her at the press of some over the top hands free ear pieces.  She does this with believable responses which you could imagine you doing yourself and eventually she accepts what is happening and you explore these absurd realities with her.

    Ke Huy Quan was the exposition machine.  His character had access to all the knowledge we needed to understand what was going and he dealt it out sparingly as and when we needed it.  James Hong as Gong Gong who has had a long, illustrious career in Hollywood plays a small but memorable role as the family patriarch, also got one of the biggest laughs out of me.  He really made me think of Lo Pan in this.  Jamie Lee Curtis was great as the civil servant slash villain (Villain used loosely.  Not that time of film.) like character.  The best role I’ve seen her in in a long time and she looked like she really enjoyed hamming up her performance as much as I enjoyed watching it.

    For me the stand out performance was from Stephanie Hsu as Joy Wang.  The word fabulous comes to mind.  In so many of the scenes she looked fabulous.  Her performance was full of pathos.   I could relate to her character in so many ways.  I’ve smoked a lot of marijuana in my life and you are often drawn in to some naval gazing on the nature/ futility of reality and Joy’s responses to her insight in to reality rang true from me.  I’m not saying she was right, which the film clarifies also but I’ve gone down those paths myself which are quite narrow.  I loved every moment of her on screen.


    The look of the film was great.  There was a clarity to the cinematography, with very little fancy camera work to take you out of what was happening on screen.  The set design was detailed and great.  The costumes were amazing.  This deserves awards for costume.  I’ve never said anything about costumes in a film in my life but I just loved the look of people in this film.  Again Joys looks were so good.

    The film is not perfect and I won’t say that, but the weak elements of the film are forgivable and I don’t want to talk about them here.  Overall it was logical and emotional and authentically funny in its absurdity. 

    I do want to watch this film again sometime because it is complicated and there is much I missed and need to think about again. Finally the film has many references and homages to other films but the film I kept thinking about whilst watching it, especially in its humour was ‘Kung Fu Hustle’.  There’s another film to add to your list Laura.


  • Cleo 5 to 7     Agnes Varda (1962; France)

    Cleo 5 to 7     Agnes Varda (1962; France) Corinne Marchard

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 8th May 2022;ticket: £7

    If the hat fits

    I came out of Varda’s movie ‘Cleo 5-7’ with feeling of joy. It’s a film that works by following protagonist Cleo as she moves from a state of fear about her cancer, to discovering how to embrace the life in her body.

    As with many of Varda’s scripts her film implies a moral statement pointing to the ways in which women have to take on responsibility for themselves if they are to control of their own lives in the maelstrom of the social and sexual revolutions characterising the latter part of the 20th century.

    At the core of Varda’s thinking is the perception that some women (certainly not all women) are conditioned to be passive. This feeling of ‘in-built fear’ is the emotional starting point for ‘Cleo 5-7’. The type of fear Varda points to in Cleo is not actual primal physical fear. It is fear as: ‘state of mind’. Fear as a default condition. It is   ‘fear of’ a learned inhibitory device that stops pro-action and initiative  If women were to change their position in relation to men they would have to find ways to undo/recaste their conditioning. If women are to break the mould of passivity first they have to break the mould of fear.

    What is significant in ‘Cleo 5 to 7’ is that Varda’s script suggests that being able move out of ‘fear’ is not necessarily a conscious cognitive process, rather it can be the ability to listen to the unconscious, to trust one’s instincts.

    Varda’s feminist moral tales are strongest when the subjects of her scripts are not feminists or proto-feminists but women in situations (such as waiting for the result of a cancer test) that pose new questions about who they are. Even though she is a professional singer/entertainer, Cleo is a woman who from the outset of the movie exhibits the ordinary range of behaviours and responses of someone of her class and sex.   In ‘Cleo 5-7’ there isn’t one moment of epiphany, a key realisation which causes her to question how she is living. Naturalistically there are a series of small moments which push Cleo into finding something within herself by trusting to her own actions.

    In the opening sequence of ‘Cleo 5-7’, Cleo is sitting across the table from a psychic who is reading the Tarot Cards for her. She is there out of fear, a fear of cancer that she has projected into her future and is taking over control of her psyche. The Tarot reading is filmed as an exercise in pure terror. In the main it is covered by an overhead shot with short sharp cutaways: the anxious face of Cleo; the hardened face of the reader. The ‘overhead’ places the audience in a privileged position to see for themselves what is happening, rather than viewing the table filmed as from Cleo’s point of view. This is not a point of view movie: it’s about seeing. The turning over of the oracular cards is a psychic assault hammering out the design of fate itself. Like a conjuror, the hands of the reader move swiftly deftly with practiced familiarity as she shuffles spreads turns deals Cleo the cards which snap and crackle like shots to the heart finally revealing the image of ‘the hanged man’. The death card. Cancer; no future no life only an intensification of fear and confusion in Cleo.

    But after the reading something shifts inside Cleo. On her way back home with her companion a sudden whim leads her to stop at a hat shop and buy herself a black hat. It’s a purchase only explicable as an impulse rising up out of her unconscious mind. It’s a comedic scene that leads to the totemic purchase of a ridiculous hat that sits on top of her head like a black flag. Her openness to the promptings of her unconscious is a sign that at some level Cleo is hearing something.

    As the scenario unfolds Cleo and her cancer appear ever more enmeshed in the manipulations of those concerned not with her, but with her image: her factotum, her boyfriend, her song writers. But somehow, perhaps it is the black hat and the incessant press upon her to conform to the needs of others, she takes a radical course of action: to say, “No!” To all of them, to get away, find a line of flight out and away, anywhere, to be alone. She puts on a black dress, ditches her blond wig, takes the black hat and quits the house.

    Cleo starts to walk; to arbitrarily allow random moments to lead her.  Walking, going about, meeting others are the enabling mediators of her release.   She allows herself to experience an immanent life, an immediacy of life, to live without anticipation, engrained expectation or history, to be alive on her own terms to be at one with her life and her death. The strength of Varda’s script and direction is that there are no statements no analyses no explanations. Varda structures ‘Cleo 5-7’ so that we can see the change in Cleo unfolding and understand something of what is happening.

    The defining structure of ‘Cleo 5-7’ is that it is a film about the audience ‘seeing’. . In this seeing the audience are not so much spectators but active witnesses to the events in Cleo’s life. As she changes and moves to engage with life and finding joy, we as witnesses we are still with her as we leave the cinema

    adrin neatrour


  • Barton Fink                 Joel and Ethan Coen

    Barton Fink                 Joel and Ethan Coen (1991; USA) John Turturro, John Goodman; Judy Davis


    viewed: Star and Shadow Cinema 1st May 2022; ticket £7

    wrong shoes

    There is a sequence midway through Coens’ ‘Barton Fink’ (BF) in which Barton realises the hotel shoe shine service have given him back the wrong shoes. This feels like a moment that sums up the whole movie. ‘Barton Fink’ is ill shod. As the film progresses, John Turturro’s character, Barton, reminded me of the earlier Woody Allen films, to the extent that ‘Barton Fink’ feels increasingly like a Woody Allen manqué production. But the Coen brothers lack Allen’s scripting talent, his ability to turn situations on their head by way of satirical parody, the stunning mocking self awareness built into the dialogue and of course Allen’s ability to deliver his material. However hard Turturro (and the Coens) try, you can’t escape the feeling that ‘Barton Fink’ is trying to step out in Woody Allens pumps and they don’t fit.

    In relation to the psychic undertow of ‘Barton Fink’, it slots into the currents of the times. The contemporary mode.

    I feel that both the Coens and Lynch pull the same kind of audience and exploit some similar thematic material in their movies. Their films fall into a genre I call ‘American Weird’, whose characteristic visual features are sets and props designed to have an otherworldly gothic horror look; whose scripts actualise the notion that nothing is what it appears to be, and whose characters are designed and cast so as to have a quasi biblical/mythic larger than life presence.

    Drawing on the visual tropes of Hollywood and German Expressionist inspired horror movies both Lynch and the Coens like to exploit sets that sustain an implicit menace: sinister stairwells and epic hotel / apartment block corridors whose vanishing perspectives recede into the darkness of infinity.   The interiors of domestic space are bedecked with strangely patterned wallpaper and props – lamps prints paintings and other interior decorations and furnishings – that are designed to suggest a feeling of ambiguous otherness. An otherness of space that is highlighted by camera operation which employs very big close shots, often at the end of track and zoom ins, and disorienting angles such as overhead, to create feelings of disturbance/dislocation.

    The question is to what psychic need does the ‘Weird Genre’ cater that is so in step with the audiences of the times?

    In Coens’ and Lynch scripts in general nothing is quite as it seems. Key characters have: pasts desires intentions that are hidden from view, and sometimes layered so that a number of possible revelations are spring loaded into the scenarios, positioned at the appropriate time to be triggered as series of gradated revelations. This folding in of multiple layerings of individual motivation is something that has now been taken up and developed in extremis by mutliple TV series.

    In a world where traditional origination beliefs no longer give meaning to existence for many people, people feel that they simply caught up in or are spectators of, ‘the machinations’ of unseen forces.

    But as with metaphysical beliefs many continue to need the belief that they can see behind the veil of the apparent, to be able to claim to understand ‘what’s going on’, ‘what’s happening babe”. Metaphysical beliefs provide an all encompassing purpose to existence, providing adherents with the keys to their relationship to the world: an empowering key.   Conspiracy theories dramatised in multitudinous TV series are based on scripted uncoverings, scripted moments when the veil of the apparent is removed. Likewise filmmakers such as the Coens and Lynch offer a viewing of the world in which individuals are enabled to see through the surface of what is experienced into the ‘real’ which usually comprioses the corruption of institutions and /or the twisted corrupted nature of individuals who run them. The process of ‘seeing into’ to an extent empowers, providing a ‘clear’ vision of how a particular relation is ordered. But whereas metaphysical beliefs affirm a collective unitary story, conspiracy theories take strength from denial of what is seen, take strength from an individuated state of mind comprising a decision to say “No” to the apparent: a thought process based on existential negation.  

    Origination metaphysics is an telelogically adaptable to all circumstances of life and death, achievement and disaster – the complex transforms into the simple. Conspiracy motifs are in a sense the opposite, the simple is transformed into the complex.

    There are branches of conspiracy that posit an underlying cause for all that happens in the world: Aliens – Super Rich – Large Corporations – it is adduced that these each have a meta plan to which history and events conform.  But Lynch and the Coens produce discrete productions with scripts that ‘stand alone’. Knarled Biblical figures, disconcerting landscapes and urban vistas, warped interiors all the expressive signage of the strange and weird are delivered in the unitary output of a script and its realisation.

    The problem is that they are locked into cycles of repetition of the same ideas replication of the same signifiers and signage. There is an appetite for this material but at some point the scripts move into cycles of replication. At some point the message is delivered that America is a weird strange place where social relations, comprising all manner of forces, twist the mortal coil savagely to create dangerous and dysfunctional conditons for life. But in effect once this is said, once this is plotted out in a scenario, there is nothing more to say, only rituals to be dutifully performed.

    adrin neatrour