Monthly Archives: August 2022

  • Eric Ravilious – Drawn to War   Margy Kinmonth (UK; 2022; Doc)

    Eric Ravilious – Drawn to War   Margy Kinmonth (UK; 2022; Doc) with Alan Bennett, Grayson Perry, Ai Weiwei

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 7 Aug 2022; ticket: £4.95

    graphic imagery

    Kinmouth’s doc biopic chronicling the life of Eric Ravilious is the usual predictably structured and formulaic type of offering that we have come to expect from such exercises. Kinmonth’s film features a series of talking heads mostly pandering to the film’s line that Ravilious was a great and significant artist. To reinforce the message the film’s music track, like the music in adverts, is designed to engender and exploit an emotional connection to the Ravilious paintings as they are presented throughout the film.

    But Kinmonth does pack in a couple of notable sequences, to the extent that these sections to some extent comprise a counter blast to the main thrust of the movie’s panegyric.

    Kinwonth’s purpose is explicitly stated at the end of the film: to make the claim for Ravilious to be considered amongst the ranks of major British artists, to be regarded as one of ‘our’ great native water-colourists. The captions at the end of movie over images of his work are unequivocal in their demand for his work to be appraised in the light of this rhetoric. But the strength of her film is that enough material is presented for the viewer to be able to arrive at their own estimation of Ravilious.

    What the film actually documents is that Ravilious was not so much a fine artist as a fine graphic artist. The film fails to establish that there was a compelling vision insight or idea driving his painting. What seems to have informed his work was his characteristic talent for abstracting from life, forms of patterned innocence. Perhaps in response to this obvious key feature in Ravilious’ work Grayson Perry points out that Ravilious’ landscapes sometimes feature barbed wire in the foreground, claiming for them the status of a realist element. My feeling looking at these ‘barbed wire’ paintings is that Ravillious’ barbed wire worked for him more as a framing device, a little like fairy lights round a tree in a suburban garden. It doesn’t look like real barbed wire – it’s tidied up to serve Ravilious’ purpose.

    This quality of innocent abstraction that characterises his pre-war landscapes, without a pause for thought, is simply carried over into his military work when employed by the war office as an official war artist. Working in a completely different psychic reality, Ravilious doesn’t to change gear, doesn’t alter the way he sees the world. His war planes his ships his military subject matter are subject to the same interpretation, rendered with the quality of innocence. There is that quality in the way they are painted by Ravilious that makes them suitable as wallpaper patterns for the bedroom of a young middle class boy in the 1950’s. This is picked up by Ai Weiwei who when shown a Ravilious water colour of a Royal Navy destroyer, looks and comments somewhat diffidently about the innocence embedded in the image.

    The thought arises that it was for this very reason that Ravilious was chosen for his post as war artist. Looking at the works of Nash, Sargeant and Nevinson war artists of the First World War, the sense of the terror of war punches through many of their works, but more than this they depict war as another state of mind another fatal and disturbing world. Ravilious’ works do the opposite. They ingratiate the images of war into an everyday normality. As if he were saying: there is nothing alien in war, its just a continuation of everyday life, these machines of death are simply new images in a familiar landscape. Ravilious reassures and comforts the viewer. His painting fosters a sort of cult of innocence, giving the War Office the images they could use to encourage a wilful ignorance in the population.

    The other area that Kinmonth’s film probes is Eric Ravilious’ wife, Tirza. What is clear from the little Kinmonth shows is that Tirza was also a fine graphic artist, and that Ravilious certainly seems to have learnt and taken something from her skills and vision. That Tirza lead a difficult life of pain and fortitude is also evident. To some extent she seems pivotal to Ravilious’ life, but Kinmonth picks this up looks at it and skirts round rather than examines Terza’s contribution.

    Ravilious’ paintings and life are certainly worth the probing nature of a forensic documentary. But Kinmonth whilst advancing up to the bounds of the socially forensic draws back and plays safe, sticks to the script and makes claims for his work that are simply not sustained by her own film.

    adrin neatrour

  • Hit the Road   Panah Panahi              (Iran; 2021;)

    Hit the Road   Panah Panahi              (Iran; 2021;) Pantea Panahiha; Hasan Majuni; Reyan Sarlak; Amin Simiar


    to escape perchance to dream?

    Panah Panahi’s ‘Hit the Road’ stayed with me, even staining my dreams which the night after seeing the film all revolved about anxious travel to strange places. Like some other films, ‘Hit the Road’ after seeing it, needs a process of sifting through consciousness to arrive at some resolution about what it is.

    Iranian filmmakers, perhaps reflecting something about the close proximity in which many Iranians live, have a particular relationship with the automobile as a setting for films. Certainly Kairostami and Jafar Panahi both make regular use of car interiors as locations, usually set against the outside chaos of street and road which butts up against the driver’s sensory motor system. The car is a pod where the individual is alone, isolated from the environment enveloping him and his vehicle; a space for unspoken unarticulated self engrossment where the individual is answerable to no one. A sort of in between place.

    With ‘Hit the Road’ Panah Panahi, like some of his father’s movies, also uses the interiority of the car as a central feature of his scenario. After an opening shot that comprises a white screen (blank canvas), the film cuts to a long pan of the interior of a stationary car. The camera in turn picks up three of the occupants, then pulls focus to the exterior of the car to find the final member of the party, the driver, who has got out to have a cigarette. As we first ‘see’ these people, they come across as ‘presences’. And even as the film develops they retain this quality of being particular psychic entities in a situation rather than being ‘characters’. The reason for this is that Panahi’s scenario is economic in both direct action and the transmission of information. We pick up the characters in the car on his terms. There is development neither in clarifying action nor in back story that might enable the audience to understand them as agents or in clear motivational terms. Ture we see what is happening – an escape – but the parameters are ill defined. Rather it is a sort of emotional or resonancecharge that suffuses the scenario.

    The opening long durational shot pans first to the older man, the pater familias. The first thing we see of him is his leg which is broken and encased in a huge heavy plaster. But it’s the man who is broken He says he fell. The weight of the man’s situation pulls him down, there is no spirit left within him: he is defeated, he is dead. He comes across as representing a generation of men whose very being has been crushed by the oppression of the regime’s autocracy that is both characterised and justified by the rigid implementation of Islam in Iran. After lingering on the child (to whom I will return) the camera pans onto the woman. She’s mother; she is the one who copes. The spirit of survival that keeps her alive animates her. Unable to offer any direct resistance to the forces that have forced her to undertake this journey to smuggle her son out of the country, she is buoyed by process of coping and working out how to get by, day by day. Life is working with whatever materials are hand to survive, including her own acts of resistance, a manic karaoke as she mimes out risqué and possibly forbidden songs on the car radio.

    The husband and wife experience life in different psychic domains, but in the private space of the automobile their relationship to one another is very much as equals, and each inhabits something of the troubled state of mind of the other. But nothing can be said.

    The third adult is the older son who is escaping, getting out of Iran with the assistance of his parents, using people smugglers to cross over one of Iran’s borders. Emptiness defines his presence. As if in preparation for his leaving he has emptied himself of all emotional ties, of all memory, of all attachments, emptied of everything that might cause pain emptied of everything that might draw him back. Empty so that he can make a new start. But this emptiness of being is disturbing, he emanates a presence that is a hollowness which makes him strange insubstantial and alienated. A presence trapped in a line of escape, but perhaps a man doomed to never actually escaping.

    In Hollywood movies, an escape form the clutches of a dictatorial regime would be a major accomplisment, cause for celebration and fist pumping. But this is an Iranian movie, and escape is an admittance of deteat and an acceptance of loss.   Of all the artists or creative people who have left Iran in order to get away from the oppression of the regime, film makers seem to have had most problems in orienting and encapsulating their concerns into the production of their films. Perhaps because films are so seemlessly welded into a social matrix, making films in exile poses difficulties.

    It is making a films in a voided context. It’s true that Kairostami did continue to direct films that carried the weight of his concerns, but other filmmakers such as Asgar Fahadi, removed from the implicit richness of Iranian culture, have struggled. Asgar Fahadi’s one movie made outside Iran simply lacked the intensity and intention of the films he made on returning to Iran.

    The final passenger of the four is the young son of the couple. Possibly 8-9 years old – maybe younger – he exists in opposition to every other presence in the car. Whereas to a greater or lesser extent the other three family members live out shadow existences, the young boy is larger than life: in yer face. He is loud and demands attention. And his presence is difficult to handle for the others in the car, because the dead find the living unbearable; the living pain the dead, reminding them what it is to possess the energy of life. And the energy emitted from the boy’s spirit and from his voice which is free to speak, has such a pitch of intensity that it bleeds out of the frame boundary of Panache’s film into the cinema dinning the audience with the the child’s claim on reality and life.

    In as far as there is an allegorical slant to Panahi’s film, the child transmits a sort of hope. That the energy of this becoming generation may create pressure for change in the ossified socio-religious matrix. If the present generation young and old are shadow people, the boy is figured as a future ‘wild card’. Who knows?  Mediated through his Iranian identity, his being is part engendered by being linked into of an Americanised world culture. Nothing is certain – but there is hope, and Pahahi signs off with the boy mimicking his mother’s resistance as he sings an old Iranian pop song.

    Hope seems to be in low supply for Panah’s father Jafar. After continuing to make extraordinary low budget films whilst under house arrest in Tehran, Jafar was suddenly re-arrested a couple of weeks back, and has just been sentanced to a six year prison sentence. At this point there is no escape for Jafar; he can’t hit the road, even if he wanted to.

    adrin neatrour

  • The Beguiled               Don Siegel

    The Beguiled               Don Siegel (1971; USA) Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 24 July 2022; ticket: £7

    Double sacrifice

    ‘The Beguiled’s American Civil War setting is extraneous to Siegel’s plot which is concentrated about the psycho-sexual play out of its Gothic theme: the sacrificial death of the male protagonist – Eastwood.

    As when the bull enters the ring doomed to die on the sword of the matador, so is Eastwood’s fate sealed when he enters through the ornamental gates of the seminary for young ladies. When he leaves he will be wrapped in his shroud. The Beguiled is a play out of the ‘Frazer styled’ mythology of the King for a Day: the man chosen to reign for a limited time, whose fate is to suffer sacrificial death, as offering to the Gods who preside over fertility.

    ‘The Beguiled’ hangs on similar theme to the British movie ‘The Wickerman’. The Wickerman, like a baited lobster pot, is an exteriorised design in which both script and players indulge winks nudges and a contagious hilarity as they play out the mechanical externalities of the death trap situation. ‘The Beguiled’ is an exercise in contained opposition: quarry and prey. In mood and setting it owes much to Edgar Allan Poe as its expressive precursor in describing the unleashing of pent up internalised forces. With its setting amidst the barren empty wombs of a lady’s boarding school (given these are Southern ladies, destined to have their culture destroyed by the victory of the North, they are in a sense a decayed and decadent people), amidst the confused psychic intensities of incest, sexual repression and physical desire, the Man arrives.

    The Man is injured and needs to be healed. But as part of his healing he quickly develops intent: to exploit his sexual allure to gain personal power and control the women. His will be done. Eastwood fails to understand that he is moving into a domain where ‘will’, female ‘will’, is the active agent governing of the school’s relationships. All the community from head mistress to acolyte are familiar with ‘…the mysteries of the will’, evidenced from the earliest point of the scenario inside the school where it is revealed that the Headmistress’ brother, to whom she was ‘very close’ has just ‘disappeared.’ Nothing is understood by the Man, who sets about his campaign of conquest by divide and rule.

    When the Man’s intentions are uncovered (and but nothing can be kept secret in this school) unknowing he takes on the will of the headmistress. Her will be done. From that moment the sacrificial knife is picked up and clasped in her hand, the Man’s fate is sealed. Siegel’s scenario from this point follows the moral logic of the events that have been set in motion. There is no pull back, Eastwood is now ‘intended victim’. According to Wikipedia there was disagreement about the outcome of ‘The Beguiled’s script with the first draft version having the Man and the Teacher walking off together into the sunset happily ever after. Both Eastwood and Siegel together decided to dump the ‘happy ending’ and kept to the original story line (from the novel by Thomas Cullinan). Apparently they thought keeping to the original story would be: ‘a stronger anti-war statement.’ !

    As said my feeling is that ‘The Beguiled’ has little to do with war, and everything to do with ‘the will’ and the heightened need in some situations of the ‘will’ to human sacrifice. If Siegel and Eastwood really believed their movie was about war then it is interesting to note how movies made at cross purposes can still register underlying significance in spite of themselves. This is probably a tribute to the strength of the original text. Siegel is also quoted as saying that the movie was based around: “…the basic desire of women to castrate men.” A statement that says more about Don Siegel than about ‘women’.   But it is a tribute to Siegel and Eastwood that they stayed true to the logic of death, even if they didn’t quite get it.

    Universal, the studio backers of ‘The Beguiled’ were appalled by Siegel’s decision to kill off Eastwood. Eastwood was one of Universal’s ‘A’ listers, Alpha male box office. Eastwood was a ‘Winner’ an ‘all American Winner’. That was his image and as far as Universal were concerned they were not prepared to risk damage to his image which they regarded as their property and was the source of the income from his films. Consequently they were happy to sacrifice ‘The Beguiled’ and write if off as a loss. They refused to promote it or to encourage distributors or exhibitors to screen the film. The film died at the box office and cleared the way for Eastwood’s next movie: ‘Dirty Harry’ in which he plays the consummate rogue cop.

    ‘The Beguiled’ is a some ways rather clumsily made. Perhaps the two main drivers of the movie, Eastwood and Siegel were a little uncertain about the material; in some ways a little nervy about what they were doing in condemning Eastwood, that paragon of masculinity, to sacrificial death. But of course therein lies the charm and the attraction of the movie. However occasionally gauche Eastwood’s acting may be, however awkward the script may on occasion be, the film works at the level of witnessing. The occasion of Eastwood’s sacrificial pilgrimage is sufficient to bewitch the viewer.

    adrin neatrour