Monthly Archives: December 2022

  • Night of the Hunter   Charles Laughton

    Night of the Hunter   Charles Laughton (USA; 1955;) Robert Mitchum; Shelley Winters; Lillian Gish

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 26 Nov 2022; ticket £7

    scaled up

    This is the second time I have seen ‘Night of the Hunter. My first viewing was at home on dvd. My impressions of the film were that it was rather dull, with a simplistic laboured story line. My impressions were negative: maybe it was something I’d eaten earlier in the day or maybe it reflected how I had seen the film. Because when I saw it again on a big screen I found that Laughton’s film was imbued with a magical quality that held me fast from first to last frame. It is a truly disciplined ensemble piece of film making. The acting – Mitchum and Gish in particular, the luminous black and white cinematography, the set designs and the vision of Laughton – all come togather to make a film that is greater than the sum of its parts.    

    Under Laughton’s direction ‘Night of the Hunter’ is a fairy-tale transposed into filmic form. It’s a Hansel and Gretal type story, with a wicked Uncle instead of a witch, ending with the triumph of a good fairy who possesses the psychic resources to defeat evil. The setting is West Virginia and much of the action takes place alongside of or on the Ohio River. The cinematography of Stanley Cortez renders the river as a mythic waterway. When on the boat fleeing Harry Powell, the children don’t row paddle or punt, they drift down stream trusting to the flow of the current as if in the thrall of some Arthurian legend that will deliver them into the embrace of safety and love.

    The acting style that Laughten developed with his cast to project the story onto the screen is at one with the film’s fairy-tale patina. Mitchum in particular, central to the story as the force of evil, delivers his role to perfection. He carries off the rogue preacher gig with a line delivery mode that is slightly heightened whilst at the same time engenders an feeling of distance, not inhabiting the role but rather self consciously expressing its formulaic utterances, understanding that as this is fairy-tale land, the formulaic is apposite but delivery is critical. Mitchum’s face and body language all emphasise his ‘evil preacher’ persona’ moving from detachment to engagement with a series of effortless gestural devices. Lillian Gish and the rest of the cast all make the same accomodations to the acting ethos of ‘Night of the Hunter’ enabling them to play out their fairy-tale roles. But it is Mitchum’s part as the resident ‘baddie’ that is the critical performance hinge upon which the movie hangs.

    My enjoyment of Laughton’s movie, seeing it for the second time on a big screen, indicates the importance of scale it viewing a movie. Most of the films made prior to 1990 ‘s were made to be seen on the big screen. That was where the return to investment was made and directors and producers spent considerable time looking at the material in the viewing theatre before finalising the cut on the large screen. Films were made to be seen under conditions where the image filled out the audience’s field of vision. This consideration of scale effected the types of shots used – the balance between close-ups and other types of shots – and also shot duration, in particular but not only in relation to wide shots.

    On a big screen wide shots can be held for considerable length of time. The eye has so much to look at and to process as it scans the frame, probes into recesses of the image evaluating what is happening. On small screens, the wide shot cannot sustain itself; there is not sufficient information in the image to hold the eye’s interest: on small screens every shot has the same value that equates to the information that can be extracted from it. The eye having taken in the limited information, exhausted interest demands to move on to another image. When films are edited for the small screen the constant demand is for the image to keep moving. Move move move move streadycam steadycam steadycam, zoom zoom zoom. We demand constant agitation, shoot on the run or the eye dries up in boredom. This is the way adverts, TV serials and films are now shot. An attention span that where material is watched on a phone exhausts a shot in 3 seconds. Cut cut cut cut cut…Actually although wide shots are particularly difficult to appreciate and hold attention on small screens, big close ups have a similar problems. Seeing big close-ups on a cinema screen that are held for long duration such as used by Bergman in ‘Persona‘, is a wonder of affect. Writ large the eye is invited into the huge image searching for signs, invited by the huge faciality to read into the shot. Reduced in size these large very big close-ups are just another 3 second image, a staging post to the next shot and the next and the next, as all we have left in film is one shot after another and the triumph of the banality of narrative.

    Cinema in slow-mo celebrating its own death.

    ‘Night of the Hunter’ is a marvel of old Cinema. A film that only really works when writ big upon the screen. The film itself was a commercial failure, a flop. Hollywood had no idea how to market a film that existed well outside the bounds of any commercial genre, a movie that didn’t fit any conventional form. Laughton discouraged never attempted to direct again, and Cinema lost an unusual talent, a man with a distinct perception of how to make his films.

    adrin neatrour


  • No Bears         Jafar Panahi

    No Bears         Jafar Panahi (Iran; 2022) Naser Hashemi, Reza Heydari, Jafar Panahi

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 22 Nov 2022; ticket £10.25

    No bears….when no means yes…?

    The structure of Panahi’s ‘No Bears’ is key to understanding not only his perception of the state in which Iran finds itself today but also defines the director’s own parlous situation.

    Pahani has structured ‘No Bears’ so that he the director is the pivot about which two different fictive scenarios play out their own laminations of realty. Within the folds of these laminations, Panahi finds himself increasingly implicated in and then overtaken by the development of events. It is a movie about positions: the actors in relation to the play out of the two contrasting scenarios which are themselves in a constant state of flux; and the consequences of this for his own position as ‘director’. Panahi’s creative use of the position of the director as both an overt active and passive covert manipulator is subjected to an intensification of relational pressures, as his attempts to control both sides of his camera break down, exposing him to the psychic emotional and fateful consequences of social interpolation.

    Panahi’s use of this particular filmic structure is testimony to film’s ability to render a complex idea as a simple cinematic expression. For whilst it’s hard verbally to explain the finesse of ‘No Bears’ structure, when viewed by an audience as an inherent part of the film’s design, the structure is self explanatory and easy to follow. And the structure in itself is a key element in the audience’s ‘enjoyment’ (sic) of the film as they witness and understand something both of the collapse of the relations underlying Panahi’s filming and Panahi’s retreat in the face of forces that he cannot resist. Darkness falls across the land.

    Panahi’s position as the remote director of his film, overseeing a shoot in a small Turkish border town from an Iranian border village, enables him to contrast the opposing elements making up Iranian society: the mostly urban middle classes and the poorer rural population. The filming of ‘No Bears’ alternates between these two social groups observing that they have little in common in the way they experience the world and that very different types of constraints hold them in place.

    The urban couple Panahi is filming have fled Iran illegally and are trying to get to Europe, for which journey they need to ‘acquire’ passports. Panahi’s scenario in this section comprises multiple interfused laminations so that it is not clear whether the interactions between all the parties (including Panahi) are fiction, filmed reality or comprise some intermediate point between the two. It doesn’t matter because what Panahi shows is ‘pain’. The pain felt by these people of having to live under the crushing weight of a fundamentalist state. A system that governs and judges them by its own invariant rigid religious ideology and that imposes upon them an alienated lifestyle. The only solution is escape. Most escape into the intimate protective carapace of family or friends. Some decide on literal escape, either legally or illegally: they want to get out. But it’s a decision that brings its own particular angst, intense feelings of loss and betrayal, which for many is insufferable. Whether they stay or go, there is no escape from their situation. It doesn’t matter whether Zara’s suicide is scripted replicated or actual, her psychic reality is that her choosing death puts an end to the intolerable. That’s the reality.

    In the small rural village, as Panahi is informed, life proceeds by way of tradition and superstition. There may be intensities but there is little angst. In the passage of time change is apparently slow but such changes as come about are perhaps less perceptible for being elided into the notion of tradition. Panahi insinuates himself into the border village and its social relations. At first there is no problem. He directs his film ‘remotely’ using his computer and observes the interactive life of the community: and they observe him. They see and understand that he is not just an outsider but a ‘towny’ – a man with a camera quite other to themselves but an otherness that they accept. Panahi is taken for his own worth as he presents himself to and interacts with the inhabitants.

    But Panahi discovers as he lives in the village, as with his middle class subjects, that he cannot exist outside of the network of extant relations. He is folded into events and situations. The director becomes the ‘directed’ as different parties ‘direct’ upon him their own intentions and purposes, and some want to implicate Panahi as a saboteur of their traditions. The growing suspicion of and antagonism towards him is influenced by the presence of an Islamic Revolutionary Guard in the village. This is not traditional. The presence of a state police in the community is something that is non traditional, bringing a new sort of fear to this community. Whereas previously (one way or the other) they would have sorted out Panahi’s presence using their own resources, now the governing Mullah’s and elders have to obey the strictures of the State. They confront Panahi with the Revolutionary Guard’s decision that he must leave, get out immediately. On the surface the village may look and claim to be a repository of tradition: but the notion of tradition has at this point been subverted. Tradition has been truncated to mean the simple mechanical compliance with prior practice. But other traditions the ones governing the manner in which people should relate to one another, the mediation of relations between people – respect and tolerance – have been forcibly eliminated, dropped. Bad tradition.

    The deep ideological penetration of the State into the village’s affairs and governance has radically undermined the basis of its life. The State has cynically exploited ‘the idea of tradition’ in order to undermine and discredit ‘tolerance’ and replace it with an enforcement system of strict observance to law and custom. A familiar political stratagem that is now evident almost world wide. And it is this enforcement system that is probably responsible for the killing of the two ill starred lovers as they try to flee the village.

    Panahi’s position in ‘No Bears’ is analogous to the actual situation in his life. In ‘No Bears’ Panahi’s position as director is progressively undermined as events not only move outside his control but actively work to crush him. This is film as participation in a shared life of pain: not film as an exercise in narcissistic power. This is cinema as an expression of mutual oppression. But throughout the film with all its difficulties and injustices Panahi’s humanity, imbued with patience toleration love and understanding, shines through as the way he makes films as the way to live.

    Premonition of a time to come. It’s difficult to separate out Panahi’s ‘No Bears’

    from the situation that has defined his life in Iran for the last 13 years. His arrest in 2010 charged with propaganda against the Islamic State, his 6 year prison sentence and concomitant 20 year ban on making films. Throughout this period he has been steadfast in his decision to stay in Iran and on his own terms to confront the Iranian State with the persistence of his refusal to leave and his continued determination to make films that express other Iranian values of tolerance and understanding. He has chosen to live dangerously with the bears.

    ‘No Bears’ reads like his premonition that he has used up all of his ‘lives’. The ‘bears’ are about to come for him, strike him down and destroy him. Indeed shortly after ‘No Bears’ was completed Panahi was again arrested and gaoled. We don’t know that he will ever come out alive.

    ‘No Bears’ is a consummate piece of film making, endorsing Panahi’s own observation in ‘Taxi Tehran’ that all films begin with a perception. Panahi sees that he is stranded in a culture where death closes in on all sides, in all states of mind the fictive and the actual. The repression set in motion by the Iranian state has reached the point where torture and death have become the chosen means of ensuring the survival of the state. The only way in which the bears can survive is by feeding on the bodies of its citizens. The revolution is eating its children.

    adrin neatrour



    JEANNE DIELMAN, 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE,1080 BRUXELLE Chantel Ackerman         (1975; Fr)  Delphine Seyrig 

    Dec 2022 voted best film by Sight and Sound poll

    Hommage to observation

    This film drills.  ‘Drills’ in both senses of the word. I watch the housewife-sergeant Jeanne Dielman ‘drill’ herself as the consummate performer of the same perfected acts and motions in an series of endless repetitions.  Drills in the other sense of the word because most of her actions takes place in real time and are captured by one prime fixed 50mm lens that takes up only two angles – at 90 or 180 degrees – in respect of its subject. The physical effect of this in itself ‘drills’ what is happening into consciousness as you watch.  The audience in this respect are more than just the usual privileged observer; Ackerman’s creative decision to restrict filming to two angles (representing the natural point of view of an observer who is present) give the viewer the feel of being ‘with’ the action.

    The title of the film itself suggests a military ethos: the soldier when asked who he is gives his name rank and number.  That’s all the information you need to know about him.  Jeanne Dielman is given her name and address as her identity.  That’s all that you need to know. She is simply defined by these externalized parameters of her civic personage.   

    It is Winter and the mornings are dark. In kitchen hall bedroom living room bathroom the housewife carries out her chores (the drill of the the dead soul).  Chantel Ackerman’s film, title role played by Delphine Seyrig, manifests as a rhythmic tattoo of light and sound, in which the housewife machine paces out patrols and controls with obsessive military precision the space she occupies in her world.

    Because the film as a consciousness drill that is similar to the parade ground, the sound track is as important as images.  The sound effects operate as an independent syncopated accompaniment to the image.  My impressions of the film are as much acoustic as visual.   When I recall this film I hear: the pacing feet between the rooms – bathroom bedroom sitting room kitchen hall – each space distinguished by a different beat as each of Jeanne’s migratory passages through her apartment has its own sound key determined by the need to open and close doors, switch on switch off the light.  Jeanne’s progress is a percussive orchestration of  foot beats, light switch clicks, sprung catches, door closures and other intermittent domestic adjustments.  Each room has its own characteristic sound: bathroom bedroom kitchen etc. are respectively associated with splashings, smoothings, rubbings and scrapings.  Each room has its own slightly demented offbeat visual style with movement through the rooms given edge by the brutal sudden interplay of light and dark as Jeanne obsessively and meticulously switches the lights on and off as she travels through the bowels of her apartment.

    The soundtrack has obviously been carefully designed to heighten the ideas of the mechanical,  the machine and the dissonnant .  In contrast the dialogue, such as there is, is indistinct and fuzzy.  In fact there are no human sounds (until that is Jeanne’s break down when we hear her gasp as she services a client with her body).  In Jeanne’s meal time scenes with her son, the sound of the spoons on the plates rings out, and the other table sounds, picking up and replacing things, are distinct.  But the sound of eating, which locates eating as human, such as sucking of soup, is absent.  

    Jeanne Dielman is not located in the land of the living.  It is located in the underworld. 

    Everything in the film has a feeling of being dead.  The film is a report from the land of the dead.  Each space in the house has a mythological resonance culled from Hades. In this body there is not one sign of life.  Delphine Seyrig plays ‘the housewife machine to perfection. As housewife she smooths folds cooks cleans washes fucks.  A machine in which  the thought processes that created each of these ritual tasks and their solutions has long ceased. All that is left is for a zombie psyche to carry out these chores as an outer simulation of something that once had meaning. 

    Although often represented as a feminist film my thinking is that Ackerman’s representations in Jeanne Delmann have wide significance not limited to a particular group.  Ackerman wants to show what happens when people become deadened by ideology and repetitions ingrained in the life process itself.   In these conditions people become dead, they die to life and to love. Just like the soldier on the parade ground they are stripped of the ability to think and feel.  They become deadened – and ultimately ready to kill or be killed.  Ackerman was aware that something of this nature happened in Nazi Germany with its cult of the Mutter –  Kinder Kuche Kirche and the Soldier – Ein Fuhrer.

    In  the course of its two and half hours the film shows what happens when dead machines break down. They become dysfunctional and stop working.  We are now in the era of the computer and the smart phone, where mechanicality has now insinuated itself into the very processes of thinking and feeling.  Today ( and for a long time before) in our cars and with our destructive consumption, our world has become dysfunctional and attuned only to self destruction as like the Dielman Zombie, we sleepwalk towards environmental disaster.    

    Adrin Neatrour