Monthly Archives: July 2022

  • Alien – A cinematic masterpiece

    Alien – A cinematic masterpiece

    ‘The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths….   had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.’

    In 1974 Tobe Hooper would produce an exploitative nightmare, both on set and on screen that would change horror and cinema forever.  A film that was both frugal and visceral in its violence.  The audience was presented with the madness of its set design of the macabre and sound design that drove home the insanity that is to be the next 80 minutes of their lives.  ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (Every word of the title a story in itself.) is part of the permanent collection of New York City’s museum of modern art.

    ‘In space no one can hear you scream’.

    In 1979, 2 years after ‘Star Wars’, another film that changed cinema forever and how the viewing public went to cinema, Ridley Scott gave us Alien.  Ridley Scott says from the beginning that ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ was a big influence on ‘Alien’ (As was ‘Star Wars’.).  ‘Alien’ is very visceral in its moments of violence which are few and far between and often only seen in part leaving the viewer to imagine there was more than they actually saw.  The set design is ground-breaking like ‘Texas..’ and part of the set design was skeleton like in form,  also like ‘Texas…’. 

    I often hear ‘Alien’ described as ‘A haunted house story set in space’, which it is.  However to view ‘Alien’ as purely that, is to view ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as a romance set in Verona. 

    ‘Alien’ is a film about you and me…  Working stiffs.  Well you…  YOU, reading this may be a working stiff.  I’m a bum who views this review as one of my eight pieces of work a month to claim a healthy lifestyle.  They are miners and truckers transporting ‘20,000,000 tons of mineral ore’ through space.  Their job is to monitor and maintain the equipment to make profit for the company they work for.  The 6 human crew members are a company team with middle management and physical workers.  Discussing company procedure, arguing over pay and maintaining their class in the company structure.  They are not trained or prepared in any way to deal with the violence they are about to experience.   To the company they are just another resource, a human resource as part of attaining company profit.  This is why the company uses a contractor in the form of Ash, an android who may have malfunctioned to see if the Nostromo can pursue other avenues of profit.  Workers, the human resources often experience changes in what is expected of us and the crew of the Nostromo may have to add being food in their job description.  There is one thing I will never understand though, why does the Nostromo have a self-destruct…?   Space pirates?

    ‘Alien’ is a work of art.  When I say work of art I mean it transcends its genre.  It is not just a movie, not just science fiction and not just horror.  It could comfortably fit in whole, or in part in an art gallery.  The set design from the interior of the Nostromo, Mother, A CPU made of flashing lights, the cryo sleep chamber, that opens like the petals of a flower, a large cavernous room with water falling rain and the clink of chains hanging from an unseen ceiling.  To a gigantic alien vessel that looks like the carapace of a living creature, with a dead giant looking out through a giant machine and large underground space covered with egg shapes below a surface of lasers and smoke.  There are visual builds here that I would say to this day are untouched in their beauty and lavishness.  This fantastic workmanship is caressed with the camera work and lighting it so deserved. 

    I would like to end this by comparing 2 elements of ‘Alien’ with its much loved sequel ‘Aliens’.  A film which is truly entertaining and has a climax that has rarely been matched but it does no transcend its genre.  Firstly the opening sequence of ‘Alien’, leading to the awakening of the crew from cryo sleep.  This takes over six and a half minutes and the viewer delights in every second.  This includes the title sequence where the title of the film appears in parts with space moving in the background.  The appearance of the Nostromo very, ‘Star Wars’ opening shot with the Star Destroyer.  Then we go to inside The Nostromo, with its gorgeous set design, where often the lighting is built in to the set itself.  There a little perpetual motion toy, paper blowing from a slight draft announcing things are coming to life.  A computer whirs to life and half the time we see what’s on the screen reflected in the visor of a space helmet.  We then move into the cryo sleep chamber where everything has soft edges and the crew are in pods in a circle which as I mentioned, open like the petals of a flower.  The crew awaken slowly and time is shown to pass through intermittent transitions of shots fading over each other.  Six and a half minutes during most of which the camera is in motion.

    In Aliens the introduction of the Sulako and the waking of the crew from cryo sleep takes just over 2 minutes.  It has small shout outs to the original scene and its fine but it does not transcend its genre.  

    The other element I would like to point to is how doors look.  In Alien they are these multi sided, more than 4 affairs that move in different directions.  When they are moving through the ducts of the ship there are these door like things that are circular leaf shutters like the kind you find on a camera lens or a high end cameras.  The scraping sound when they open and close is orgasmic.

    In Aliens the doors are not memorable. 

    And that’s it really.  My top 10 films is fluid based on how I feel in that moment but Alien is the one consistent film that remains in that list whatever.


  • Alien               Ridley Scott

    Alien               Ridley Scott (USA; 1979;) Sigourney Weaver

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 14 July 2022; ticket £7

    It’s all in the bun

    Derived from Philip K Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, Ridley Scott produced a scenario for Blade Runner’ that scratched a little through his cinematically designed surface to suggest troubling ethical philosophical issues with otherness, in particular the idea of the replicated copies of ourselves.

    But although contriving a sense of probing the idea of what it might be to be considered human, ‘Blade Runner’ is remembered and etched into the public consciousness for the externalities of its design. ‘Blade Runner’ is characterised by its lighting effects – squeezed piss yellows and lurid hues, and a design carapace that moves the characters between dystopian exteriors and high post modern gothic interiors, whilst stopping at various stripped down functional settings in between time.

    With the production of ‘Alien’, which precedes ‘Blade Runner’ in his filmography, Scott successfully piloted his ad-man approach to filmmaking. Unlike ‘Blade Runner’ ‘Alien’ comprises a scenario in which most of the value of the film is in the sets and the creation and depiction of the ‘monster’. The fact that it is set in ‘outer space’ on the good ship Nostromo feels extraneous to the action which is simply a monster-from-another -world horror story in the tradition of H P Lovecraft. The horror trope dynamics of Scott’s script would work just as well in the sort of settings favoured by Lovecraft: large old house with extensive subterranean vaults and caves.

    The plot consists of horror staples/stereotypes: an impregnating monster that like the pupa of some insects, implants itself in a convenient host out of whom the emerging/birthing creature has to eat its way. The creature also seems liable to change shape at one point exploding out of the belly of one of the crew looking like a psychotic vicious penis with teeth. But equally central to ‘Alien’ are the sets which on this spaceship flip between ‘2001’ type squeaky clean tech backgrounds and a proto Victorian industrial gothic look. There are moments when it looked like the good old ship ‘Nostromo’ was steam driven.   This wrought density of its patina allows for the familiar horror movie hide and seek games to take place against a menacing tangled background from which at any moment the wee beastie may erupt.

    And that is about it. The characters are all mechanical contrivances selected to represent types including a ‘robot’ who fools everyone as to his android provenance. As most of the rest of the characters are robotically inclined it’s unsurprising none of the crew notices. The robot crew member seems to exist for the audience’s satisfaction of seeing it well duffed and truly mangled as part of the rather prolonged finale. The dialogue as befits the nature of the crew is either ‘arch’ or ‘action banal’ and the same may be said of the camera work, with its shot reverse shot and bolted in tracks and zooms exploiting the possibilities of ambiguity in lines of sight.

    ‘Alien’ has many of the attributes of junkfood. And like the ‘Big Mac’: it works. The industrially assembled hamburger has conquered the world with its mixture of sugar and salt glooped over a salad and pickle dressed paté packed into a sesame bun. It has fatal attraction. ‘Big Mac’ is of course a manipulation of our sugar and salt receptors which have developed over the course of natural selection to reward foods high in these contents, which for most of our history have often been scarce and hard to access. Food tech changed all this. Sugars and salt are now cheap and easy to make manufacture and sell: which is what MacDonalds do. The Big Mac crude mix of sugary and salt tastes and its yielding texture temporarily overwhelms the mouth’s sensory neural system, guiding the consumer into reward cycle loop as they return to seek the familiarised pleasure of ‘Big Mac’ gastro fix and taste supersaturation.

    ‘Alien’ is assembled using a similar recipe to the ‘Big Mac’, aiming to strategically overwhelm the emotional systems of the viewer. Scott, with his background in advertising, understands the basics of manipulation and association. His manipulative skill was ably demonstrated in his ‘Hovis’ advert, in which exploiting nostalgia, and Dvorak ‘New World Sympathy (re-arranged for brass), his ad sold tacky mass produced brown bread, by associating it the ‘real McCoy’ product made in a village bakery. ‘Alien’ instead of using taste sensors exploits our fear sensors. Scott activates and rewards them with contrived stimulae, manipulating them with a series of cinematic tricks: explosive sound and visual FX, series of intercuts between big close ups and indeterminate backgrounds, intercrew tension and monsters. The shock lies in the rapid activation of the audience’s fear sensors the which give out the usual signals of: wait and see/flee, but physically being seated simultaneously anchors and countervails the emotional fear charge.

    Like the Big Mac, Alien is well assembled, with Scott’s adman flair for delivering and selling product. It’s success perhaps owes something to the fusion in Scott’s script of mythological beasts and our culture’s nascent insecurity about the gynaecological aspirations of micro-biologists to synthesize life. But for all the popularity of Alien, it’s surprising to see it deemed: “culturally historically aesthetically significant….” by the Library of Congress and ranked by Empire as 33rd greatest film of all time. Selling product is obviously more important than making films to these people, though of course Scott did set in motion the profitable ‘Alien’ franchise of some 7 films.  So there is something to be said for it industry wise, though as cinema ‘Alien’ barely holds a candle to Don Siegel’s ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’. And incidentally Siegel’s film was produced in 1956, the same year Ray Croc purchased the US franchise rights for McDonald’s and all its products from the McDonald brothers, and changed the world for ever.

    adrin neatrour  




  • Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn   Radu Jude

    Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn   Radu Jude (2021; Rom) Katia Pascariu

    viewed: Star and Shadow, Losing the Plot Weekend, 18 June 2022; ticket £7


    A fine state of affairs

    Jude’s Bad Luck Banging (BLB) is a continuation of the series of remarkable films that have characterised Romanian New Cinema since the fall of Ceausescu. Significant directors contributing to this output include Porumboiu, Puiu, Mungui – as well as Jude.

    I don’t consider myself especially knowledgeable about this wave of film makers, but what I have seen is that the films of these directors are characterised by their fluent appropriation of the possibilities of film language coupled to an intellectual rigour directing them towards social and political critique.

    The question arises as to why Romania alone of the former Soviet satellite states should have produced such a creatively active film community. I think that film above all other media is in the business of the exploitation of images as signs. With the fall of Communism, Romanians experienced, as did other East European Societies, a sudden substitution of one set of imagery for another. Unlike the other Soviet satellite nations, Romania had played out this kind of switch before (documented by Jude in BLB) when in 1944 the country stopped supporting the losing coalition of the Nazi Axis changing sides to join the successful Allied Powers. Such an experience perhaps resulted in Romanians being adroit at reading the signs, seeing which way the winds blow. Perhaps it also accustomed them to radical signage and imagery changes causing a certain residual cynicism about the way in which they were being subjected to different regimes of manipulation.

    The experience of a sudden substitution of the hammer and sickle by Coca Cola et al, the sudden destabilising collapse of Romanian notional ‘collective’ ownership and its replacement by actual ‘Corporate’ ownership, did not fool the people who could see that all that was happening was a group of people swopping round the images on the billboards. The captain of the ship of state had been assassinated. But the ship’s officers, kept their positions, re-rigged the vessel under the flag of private enterprise, gave a motivational pep talk to the crew, and held fast to the previous course of self serving aggrandisement. Ordinary Romanians found they had ended up with a shoddy deal: exchanging the admittedly grim certainties of a failed dictatorship for the tat of capitalism that was strong on promises of a better tomorrow but too corrupt to deliver. Many Romanians, amongst them film makers, read the signs of corruption,  which as people who were used to being misdirected by omissions lies and deceit, they were well equipped to read.

    Jude’s BLB is scripted from a particular psychic space, a space of joyously seeing through the bullshit lies and hypocrisy in which their society is embedded. It is worth noting that the various ‘waves’ characterising epochs of national film making have all developed out of critical social insights and the determination of film makers to probe deeply into the psychic spaces thereby revealed. Italian Neo-Realism coming out of the need to depict the actual and the real after the devastation of war (actual both in the settings and also in emotional rendering); British new wave deriving from the perception of the malaise at the heart of British class society; French New Wave exploiting the philosophical possibilities Cinema itself as a mode of communication; German Cinema exploring psycho-political map of post war Europe. And now Romanian film makers moving through the hollowed out social space occupied by people suddenly dumped into the Capitalist dream.

    Jude’s BLB divides into 5 parts, if you regard the trial and the verdict as separately conceived sections. It opens with the provocation: the full on ballsy home porno movie, uninhibited good fun sex in the flesh. Then follows Emi’s walk across Bucharest to reach the school where she teaches to explain to the parents and teachers how the private sex flick made by her and her husband ended up on a pulically accessible porn site. Jude orchestrates Emi’s walk through Bucharest as indictment. Emi, respectably dressed, walks through the streets of her city which as a setting bears witness to a sodomised culture. Her walk takes in a matrix of psychological toxicity: every where she turns she finds anger, people primed on emotional hair triggers waiting to explode at the slightest pretext. The city leeches cheap and clammy shop signs, advertising hoardings for sexless commercial sex that ubiquitously sell product. And, so it is asked: it is in the midst of all this she is being held to account?

    Katia Pascariu’s walk through Bucharest reminded me of Jeanne Moreau’s midnight walk through Paris in Malle’s ‘Lift to the Scaffold’. Different walks but both characterised by intent and both expressing an oblique powerful emotional statement encapsulating something about the experience of life in the city.

    Jude’s third section is a montage, comprising clips of film and information, directed as indictments of hypocrisy double standards and double binds that permeate our understanding of history, but also giving a wry commentary on the Corona pandemic and the stresses (also experienced by Emi on her walk) caused by the health regulations. Some clips work better than others, but they are in toto an effective call to the audience to engage with the play out of the issues taken up by Jude, in the final sections of the film: the ‘trial’ of Emi by the parent/ teacher association, followed by the verdict.

    Jude’s trial called to mind other notable ‘film’ trial sequences: ‘M’’s trial in Lang’s M, and Joan’s trial in Dreyer’s ‘Passion of Joan of Arc’. In both these films, like Emi. the accused plead their own cause face to face with their accusers. In both these films the accused like Emi, were on trial in effect for qualities which were intrinsic to them, on trial for their moral character. The difference in BLB is that Emi’s trial is alternatively poignant and very funny, Jude’s script seamlessly moving through the gear changes relating to sex and hypocrisy.

    Jude ends BLB on a verdict that finally leaves it up to the Gods of Cinema to intervene. In slapstick mode Emi turns into a Marvel super hero and with a giant phallus bludgeons everyone on set to death.

    Jude shares with Goddard an elemental characteristic of film making: the pure joy in it. Neither uses the language of manipulation; they marshal the resources of cinema to create world that folds the audiecne into the possibilities of Cinema.

    Adrin Neatrour