Star & Shadow

  • Titane       Julia Ducournau

    Titane       Julia Ducournau (2021; Fr. Bel.) Agathe Rouselle, Vincent Lindon

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 6 Jan 2022; ticket £10.75

    what’s in a name?

    The female protagonist of Julia Ducournau’s ‘Titane’ is called Alexia, an appellation surely too close to Apple’s own ‘Alexa’ to be accidental? As I watched the opening sequences of the movie it occurred to me that perhaps ‘Titane’ was Ducournau’s reposte to Apple’s ‘Alexa’, a symbolic assault on the Apple corporation’s conquest of human kind and its de-corporalisation of life death sex and friendship. Apple’s ‘Alexa’ the one without a body, parodied by Ducournau’s ‘Alexia’ who is all body; ‘Alexa’ she of the ingratiating soothing voice our little helper, metaphorically turned inside out in the form of ‘Alexia’ who is of the flesh and kills gratuitously, fucks mechines and spawns hybrid life forms. ‘Alexia’ who turns mute the nemesis of ‘Alexa’ who is voice. But of course this is just my own projection onto Ducurnau’s movie; my take on the creative impulse that might have engendered ‘Titane’ as an idea.   But whatever it’s primal concept, ‘Titane’ feels like a idea betrayed. In the end it derails into just another lost meandering scenario, tapers into an act of directorial self indulgence.

    It is evident from the start of the movie that Ducournau has taken J D Ballard as an inspiration. ‘Titane’ opens with thee sequences, all of them comprising imagery of Ballardian obsessions : the first a montage of big close shots of an car engine; the second the car crash which results in young Alexia having a titanium plate in her skull; and the third, a spectacular motor show swollen with many of Ballard’s familiar tropes and fetishes, relating automobiles and desire. So we know that Ducournau is starting from a particular point and through Alexia is exploring certain type of territory.

    J D Ballard in a series of novels, most noticeably ‘The Atrocity Machine’ and ‘Crash’ took aim at the psychic incubation of polymorphic desire by the automobile industry. From the detritus of consumerist dreams and nightmares Ballard carved out a roster of disturbed characters pursuing transgressive gratification through the automobile: personalised violent death, strange sexually heightened wounds, obsessive re-staging or replaying of car bourn death. Ballard’s writing focuses on the aberrant fall out from the glossy advertising and sales pitches of the big car companies. His stories document how their associative imagery penetrates our states of minds and leaches into our unconscious. Ballard chronicles with relentless intent how ‘the mechanical bride’ became the hand maiden to mass sociopathy and self destruction.

    Ballard is of course not about plot but about mind as reactive consciousness. And that’s surely a situation we find ourselves into today in a world intrapenetrated with disembodied personalities? We need to strip away the blandishments and re-assurances of the tech behemoths. We need to penetrate through the digital interfaces and understand what lies under the surface of the products we have been sold: murder and mayhem perhaps? New Notes from the Underground.

    Films such as Faraldo’s ‘Themroc’ and Ferreri’s ‘Le Grande Bouffe’. Both these directors peruse their respective targets – the pressures of social convention and western addiction to consumption – with a concentrated unwavering logic. Both these films start as propositions to be developed. From the outset they adopt an extreme premise and use the medium of film to work through implications and consequences to the bitter end. Both films climax in the ecstasy of reaching an ultimate conclusion and closure arrived at entirely on their own terms. There is no compromise no way out; in Themroc and La Grande Bouffe, the human agents embrace in totality the mechanics of the psychic forces they have set in motion.

    ‘Titane’ at the outset seemed as if it might belong to that category of film which take their form and content from exploring an extreme motif.   In the first section it seemed as if Ducournau might have decided to follow the singular path determined by the closed logic of being ‘anti- Alexa’, of being a severe allergic re-action to everything ‘Alexa’ represents.

    But in the second half of ‘Titane’, Alexia progresses from being a serial killer (with a penchant for dispatching victims by plunging her long hairpin through their ears into their brains) into some sort of multiple Jack of all trades. Titane finds she is pregnant after having sex with her car (the gearstick?). Perused for her numerous murders, she goes on the run and adopts a false ID of a disappeared boy. At this point Ducurnau’s script seems to spin out of control.   Ducournau doesn’t have either the wit or the visceral ability to craft her material into a singular form, a particular statement. Alexia isn’t a character in any meaningful sense of the term; she is a vehicle for an idea, for a concept. It is apparent that Ducournau simply either loses faith in the idea or never understood her idea in the first place.

    Her movie breaks into a number of strands, each of which has a different theme. Like many contemporary directors she tries to make her film all things to all men, appeasing different demographics: for the horror aficionados there’s an epic gyno-goth pregnancy with full-on gross eruptive physicality; Alexia as girl turned boy become trainee fire-fighter, a strand for the feminist; the theme of redemptive acceptance for the excluded. In final desperation Ducournau resorts to full-on driving dance pop video sequences. These have nothing to do with the thematic content of Titane, they are simply fashionable digressions that have nothing to do with the film that has already lost the plot.

    ‘Titane’ feels like a lost opportunity. It may be my wishful thinking, but it feels like there is an idea at the core of this script, that is is grounded in the name ‘Alexia’, and what this name represents. Titane is the French for the element Titanium which is a key structural component in the manufacture of computers and of course titanium dioxide is the pigment used in the characteristic white look of Apple products.

    At the end of the movie it felt like Ducournau had set off on a journey to a distant terrifying land, got nervous and turned back to explore her local suburbs.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

  • 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

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

  • 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.

    ******WARNING********

    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

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • The Times of Harvey Milk           Rob Epstein

    The Times of Harvey Milk           Rob Epstein (USA; 1984; doc)

    Viewed star and Shadow Cinema 12 Nov 21; ticket £7

    White with Intent

    The pathology of assassination of prominent American public figures who had the capacity in themselves to effect the possibility of change in the world, didn’t end in the ‘60’s. It had a brutal sequel in 1978 with the assassination of Harvey Milk.

    Epstein’s film is a documentation of Milk’s life in politics and his murder in politics.

    The Times of Harvey Milk begins with his political career as an elected representative for the Castro district in San Francisco. It is about a man at a certain time and place. Biographical films all too easily become uncritical hagiographies, but they still stand or fall on the nature of their subject, even tricksy dishonest evasive portraiture can still lend some insight into the subject. Epstein’s story at first concentrates on Milk the people’s representative, and his report back is a glowing testimony to this man. But the film never feels like an indulgent sketch of America’s first openly gay elected politician.

    The reason for this is the centrality of the archive footage of Milk in Epstein’s documentary. We see Milk on the stomp in the studio pressing the flesh fighting his corner arguing his case. The responses of the interviewees who knew or worked with Milk are of course all positive. But we understand why when we see him at work. Case in point: Milk and Sally Gearhart are filmed in a radio studio seated opposite to and taking on the conservative political heavyweights wanting to ban homosexuals from working in schools. Milk without rancour calmly demolishes their arguments, in a style and manner that would be welcome today.  Epstein’s respondents talk about Milk as a street politician, an intelligent and humorous debater; bring on the film’s archive footage and you see all this plus his passion. It is this passion for pursuing the issues he championed that defines him and helped him succeed. It is easy to overlook the opprobrium directed at homosexuality at this time. In many states of the Union homosexual sex was prohibited, convicted homosexuals could face long gaol sentences. Milk confronted and drove right through the scattered ragbag of prejudices and false arguments that lay behind the rhetoric of the anti-gay politicians and rabble rousers. He wasn’t going to change the minds of all the bigoted people, but many people heard him and did change their minds. They voted him into office and came to support his causes including promoting gay rights. Milk was a ball of energy who understood the issues and knew how to confront opponents with inconvenient ideas.

    Milk knew it was probable he would die at the hands of an assassin. Somewhere there was a white male determined to avenge himself on Milk for being exposed to uncomfortable truths about ‘life’. Milk knew there was a risk that he’d catch a bullet somewhere sometime. He accepted that it went with the turf. Interestingly his close campaign supporters told how they also had been in receipt of an avalanche of hate mail comprising death threats etc. after the success of their campaign to defeat Proposition 6. So nothing new in the current situation experienced by politicians and public figures except the range and intensity of anonymous hate has increased.

    So the bullet that came to Milk was anticipated. The killer was a White Man called White, an opponent of Milk and a fellow local politician. Dan White murdered Milk and Milk’s ally San Francisco Mayor Moscone at City Hall in a rampage that could only have been premeditated.

    Milk’s death, killed by a revengeful white man: heartstopping but unsurprising.

    Another thought that occurs not explicitly covered by Epstein. OK, spoiler! Conspiracy theory advanced. The point in his life when Milk died was just at that moment where in a media flooded world, Milk as politician was gaining a certain amount of traction. Both on camera and in the flesh Milk had charisma. At his age if he chose, he had a political career ahead. There was the possibility that with his attributes and beliefs he could pose a major problem for Conservative Republicans: Senator or Governorship of California were possible political offices to which Milk might aspire.  The issue might be how far his personal life could damage these sorts of ambitions, but maybe Milk had the right stuff to surf over these types of storm waters.  

    Perhaps someone somewhere decided to take no chances and to have him rubbed out?   Even if there was no pre-conspiracy to take Milk out, there was a conspiracy to ensure White got White Justice.

    The consequent trial White’s action instigated was to become a familiar plot pattern of judicial theatre.   After White’s arrest protective forces immediately gathered round him to ensure that the justice system would be deprived of justice. These forces were not set in motion to specifically protect White, but rather to protect everything that White’s image represented in and to the white community. Most importantly the entitlement of the white power base to do whatever necessary to deny or neutralise opponents who in their eyes were morally discredited and to systematically lay ‘pragmatic’ claim to the immunity of its ‘agents’ from the full legal consequences of their actions. Dan White as a white token was and ‘is’ an enduring and potent symbol of white hegemony. His legal defence was a model deployment of specious and spurious argument to queston and/or minimise his culpability. His exemplary ‘escape’ from justice a green light to wealthy right wing individuals and corporations to tacitly sanction political violence as part of the populist strategy. One undersheriff for San Francisco later stated: “The more I observed what went on at the jail the more I began to stop seeing what Dan White did as the act of an individual and began to see it as a political act in a political movement.”

    The white defence machine to protect its own and their prejudices has moved into gear many times since Milk. Cold blooded slayings of Trayvon Martin, Ahmand Arbery, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Josheph Rosenbaum Anthony Huber have all led to mostly white male indictments for murder. The details of the legal defence for the accused may vary but the strategy and the intention behind the strategy is always the same: to use the trial as an endorsement of the right to kill if a twisted white dominant interpretation of the American way of life is threatened.

    Although made some 37 years ago it’s sobering that Epstein’s movie is as relevant today as when it was made – perhaps the more so. A direct line can be drawn from Dan White’s trial in 1979 to the storming of the Capital in January 2021.

    Adrin Neatrour – adrin@crinklecut.co.uk

  • No Time to Die           Cary Joji Fukunaga (USA; 2021;)

    No Time to Die           Cary Joji Fukunaga (USA; 2021;) Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 26 Oct 2021; ticket £10:75

    time to get a life

    Everything in this movie looked old and tired, including Dan our Man with license to massacre (Judging by the cadaver count). I see Danny Boyle backed out of directing this bean fest claiming a dispute about the script. Perhaps it was about script, as following the superhero trend, 007 scripts have become ever more incoherent, falling back on the action rather than plot to fill out the scenario…/

    BUT…

    ……perhaps Boyle was just being diplomatic: the Bond franchise has never been about the scripts; all that’s required is an excuse to move through the gears, to transpose the action from one scenic trope to another from one set piece to another with the actor playing Bond to deliver panache style self belief and of course that ‘MUSIC’…

    So…

    …may be Danny Boyle’s action was motivated by what he saw when putting the production together. Not just the script, everything in the mix looks tired and second rate. Daniel Craig, however benignly one’s gaze falls upon him, simply looks old. The continuity device of linking up Craig and Sioux from Spectre is a crumbly device as Craig’s ‘Bond’ bonds with his family as a means of dignifying his ageing in this typical old boy Hollywood relationship.

    The set piece action sequences that are defining of the franchise come across as crass retreads, borrowed stagings that are lacking originality and flare. And it looks like things have been staged on the cheap, in short: “Miss Money-Penny Pinched.”

    In ‘No Time to Die’ Bond survives as a Relique de Cinema. The release of each new movie is like one of those old religious feast days, when they bring out a vial of a Saint’s coagulated blood and with incantation and gesture raise it up before the assembled faithful that they may witness its liquefaction before putting it back in the cupboard. What is actually seen may be open to debate, but the faithful depart satisfied their belief renewed, waiting on the next annual display of the spectacle.

    Thinking in these terms the Broccoli family, need to think about pumping fresh blood into their franchise. There are only so many times the faithful will pay good money to see a film of coagulated goo: next time the blood needs to flow. As a franchise that has reinvented itself through some 60 years, this is something the producers have been able to achieve more than once.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

  • Daisies            (Sedmikrasky)     Vera Chytilova

    Daisies            (Sedmikrasky)     Vera Chytilova (Czech; 1966) Jitka Cerhova; Ivana Karbonova

     

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema, 24 Oct 2021; ticket: £7

    The woman point

    Vera Chytilova’s ‘Daisies’ is film as a philosophical proposition. A feminist diatribe delivered with the stylistic logic that only film, with its intercut collision of images and worlds, its disassociations, its discontinuities, its multiplication of series, could assemble as a coherent assault on patriarchy as a hierarchy of destruction violence and sexual exploitation. In contrast to the polemic in Godard films such as Tout va Bien or La Chinoise, Chytilova doesn’t do direct didacticism. She exploits collisions of settings script and gesture to create a satire that is savage and unwavering in purpose. Daisies was immediately banned in Czechoslovakia and remained forbidden until 1990. The Communist Party seeing its anarcho-feminism as an critical attack on the society over which it presided.

    Chytilova’s movie brings together her knowledge and understanding of Czech radicalism. Through image and scenario ‘Daisies’ draws on the national tradition of stop motion animation, the satire of Hasek’s Good Soldier Schweik, and also Czech/German critical writing of the 1920’s and ‘30’s as exemplified in the work of artists such as Karel Teige.

    What ‘Daisies’ does is to pull all these influences together in a dynamic that fashions them into an original creative work. In exploiting stop motion as the basis for the structure of her film, Chytilova understood the political message implicit and endemic in both in its biomechanics and its discontinuities. Using her two ‘Daisies’ as protagonists she extended Schweik’s incompetence and ‘innocent’ malevolence out into the contemporary world incorporating their iconoclastic determinism as a way of being in the world and as a means of delivering her underlying philosophical point.   After the opening title sequence which intercuts the cranking of a machine with clips from aerial bombings and strafing’s, overlaid on the track by the beat of a drum, we see the two ‘Daisies’ flopped puppet-like directly in front of the audience. Marie1 says: “Everything is going bad in this world.”    Marie 2 replies: “Then we are going bad as well.” This opening section introduces the idea of a marionette show, but these puppets are going to be let off the string.

    ‘Daisies’ style is characterised by its relentless intercutting and intra-scenic switching between different film stocks and lens filters. Chytilova’s use of visual agitation works in the context of her stop frame animation structure which is premised on outrageous impossible jump cuts and radical discontinuities, and as such folds into the expectation of the animation form. The proposition of illogical discontinuities of course runs counter to the ‘Marxist’ ideology that underlay all permitted thinking: that history was a continuous developing of an unfolding historical dialectic which had reached the end of its course with the establishment of the USSR and its sister socialist republics in Eastern Europe.  History it was supposed had come to an end. Chytilova saw that what had actually developed was a dead inert structure incapable of change and lethal to creative development. Its only hope was to be shaken up, big time. ‘Daisies’ is the expression of that realisation.

    The political message of Chytilova’s script is that her Daisies make the conscious decision that they should take control of their lives thereby undermining the patriarchal rules and conventions that prevent change and manipulate women into positions of inferiority.

    ‘Daisies’ comprises a series of vignettes which chronicle the playing out of the Daisies decision to go ‘bad,’ to take control by going out of control. Running through most of these episodes are two uncompromising visual motifs which define Chytilova’s film: the made-up faces of the two protagonists; and use of food as a signifier of rejection of social/political convention.

    Our face and our attire function as expressive means that give out signs to others about our status. Faces of course also are means of expressing emotion, but it is status that is central to Chytilova’s premise in ‘Daisies’. The look of face is subject to strict conventions in many societies; veiled/unveiled; shaven/cleanshaven; natural/painted.

    Film has always been in love with the face both as a object of expression leakage and as a sign of status. Both Hollywood and European movies strictly regulated the conventions of male and female facial representation. For respectable women the purpose of make-up is to align the face the more closely to the gender stereotype: no wrinkles (foundation), lipstick to shape, accentuate the mouth and eye make-up to deepen the eyes. The Daisies destroy these conventions and adopt outrageous make-up displays that actually become masks. Masks differ from makeup in their purpose is to represent the face not as self but as something other. Masks invoke in design an exteriority, an external force separate from the face behind it. The Daisies adopt a mask that calls up the Egyptian all seeing eye. Their faces are dominated by their painted eyes which sit in the centre of a large blackened proscenium shaped area which stretches over the cheeks and forehead. They do forth masked both as statement and rejection of convention. These girls are blind to nothing and no one can be blind to them.

    Like make-up, like attire, food lies at the core of our social conventions, of how we interact with each other, defining of both gender class and caste.   As such it is fair game for Chytilova. The elite class, the Brahmin the nomenklatura all define themselves in relation to food: what is eaten and how it is eaten. Women in particular are expected to eat demurely: control the amount they eat, to eat cleanly without getting their faces mushed up, without spillage, without mess; not to burp or fart. The Daisies are explicitly transgressive in this respect setting themselves to demolish the image of feminine prandial fastidiousness. In the eating scenes at the smart hotel the food is slopped, spilt, dropped on clothes slurped and spat out as if this behaviour was simply normal table manners. In the final banquet scene the action is explicitly over the top. Coming upon a banquet table laid out with fine fancy and expensive food they demolish the feast con gusto in a spectacle reminiscent of the finest excesses of the silent movie days. The effect is sacrilegious but of course what Chytilova is attacking is what is symbolised by the starched white table cloth, the silverware the cut glass wine goblets and the expensive food. The food and the table represent the established order which underneath its smooth exterior is rotten to the core.

    After the banquet scene, the last shot of ‘Daisies’ comprises a final aerial bombing clip, over which Chytilova prints the subtitle: “ Dedicated to those of you whose sole cause of irritation is a trashed trifle.” Point made.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

      

     

     

     

  • You the Living (Du Levande)       Roy Anderson

    You the Living (Du Levande)       Roy Anderson ( Swe; 2004;) Ensemble piece.

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 3rd Oct 2021; ticket £7.00

    The end of an era

    What is absent in Roy Anderson’s ‘You the Living’ is as significant as what is present. Walls and windows dominate the settings of the scenario, but there are no mobile phones, no computers. This is a film made at the end of the era of walls and windows at the point where the era of screens was starting to dominate the parameters of existence. From about this point in time it was the relationship between humans and the digital membranes in which ‘we the living’ were now starting to live, that was becoming critical.

    Cinema has played a significant role in portraying built environments and exploring its effects on those who have to function within their ambit.   Silent movie makers such as Chaplin and King Vidor (the Crowd) used industrial and office settings to emphasise the dehumanising de-individualising nature of contempory work areas. Later as modernist architectural structures started to dominate public space, Jaques Tati, as supreme clown, explored and played with the effects that these buildings have on the behaviour and psyche of people.

    In ‘Playtime’ Tati moves through the world of the newly built massive glass structures of transnational corporate capitalism.   The core of the ‘Playtime’ thesis is most vividly played out in the sequence that takes place in a large glass fronted office block. Contemporary building is seen as afflicting on the ‘common man’ a state of mind in which disassociation/discontinuity are the prevalent and sometimes dominating characteristic of modernist urban experience. These structures are haunted by beings who struggle to remember why they are there and who lapse into fragmentary confused states of mind as their purposes languish, overlaid by disorientation. Deterritorialised gaggles of people wander through the space their agitation and continual motion distracting them from their initial intention. Ultimately they are left with only the transitory reflected glimpses of themselves as a memory of where they have been. Tati’s humour offsets, intensifies and points up the human condition in these places.

    Spatially Roy Anderson’s film works in kindred territory. Like Tati he also exploits contempory settings, both public and private, to invoke humour as a vehicle for stripping back the human experience of modernity to its painful core. Although ‘You the Living’ uses dialogue to fill out the scenario, like ‘Playtime’ the essence of Anderson’s film rests on his visual virtuosity and a strategic employment of in-camera framing. Unlike Playtime, Anderson’s movie is dominated by his radical use of colourisation as a defining feature of its design.

    Every scene in the film is characterised with the same overwhelming colour schema: a sort of deadening matt blue grey tone washes through the picture. This colour design comprises an invariant visual field which not only informs the performances of the ensemble, but also affects the consciousness of the viewers, shaping their emotional response to the visual material as it works to offset the deadpan humour. The film comprises sketches, some inter-related, whose humour mainly derives from exposing and provoking the mordant character of the irony implicit in everyday life situations. Some of these vignettes work better than others. But even when script and scenario are weak, the persistence of the omnipresent colourisation filling out the field of vision, sustains the mood of the audience, ever more deeply confirming their emotional knowledge that they are watching a statement of a world view that is defined by a bleakness of destiny.   Anderson’s vision is that we are trapped within the walls of a twilight world that anticipates death; there are windows but there is no daylight.

    But ‘You the Living’ marks the end of the era of films made about the effects on people of the built environment: a world where there are walls and windows. Because inexorably it is the world of screens that has become the key defining feature of our lives. Screens are not windows letting in light, giving out onto a singular view; they are portals, gateways to an infinity of worlds.

    In the sort of life which we used to lead, defined by a traditional built linear environment we were contained and conditioned by those structures which ordered our day to day existence. It was a world of surfaces that contained us and which we confronted physically. A world that projected itself onto the individual, where the vectors of meaning were directed out from the world and onto the human. With digital technologies mediated through screens and keys, this order of relationship is reversed: vectors of meaning now run from the individual outwards into the world in ever increasing feedback loops of intensification. The individual is now the centre of the world and projects themselves out into multiple universes. Once the world was defined by actual surfaces. Now we have virtual surfaces, instable constantly changing disintegrating reforming particles that continually resolve their configurations according to our projections. They are the vehicles of our own vectors of meaning and signification – Facebook, YouTube and multifarious other platforms.

    Central to ‘You the Living’ is that it paints a picture of a society under immanent threat from unseen forces. The last days of this world are being captured before the cataclysm, before it is destroyed. The last shot certainly suggests an approaching catastrophe. In Anderson’s movie characterised by ‘walls and windows’ we are watching the last days of a certain type of psychological stability when it made discrete sense to ask what was: true or false; real or virtual.   In our time of the reversal of vectors of meaning in which screens now enable individual projections to define the world, traditional ideas of signification and collapse into a myriad streams of shifting signs where there is no stable ground. Questions pertaining to: true and false, real or actual cease to have definitive meaning. The significant questions relate only to who is writing the programmes?

    As is appropriate Anderson has the last laugh. In the final shot he sends in his squadron of heavily armed virtual nuke bombers to blow the shit out of ‘You the Living’ so that we may become ‘You the Dead’.   With this deliberate decision to end the movie with a digitally composited SFX effect, Anderson announces the end of the world of surfaces and advent of the new age of screens and technical images made concrete through the quantum particle world of contemporary physics.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk  

                                     

  • Valerie and her Week of Wonders   Jaromil Jires (Cz; 1970)

    Valerie and her Week of Wonders   Jaromil Jires (Cz; 1970) Jaroslava Schallerova, Helena Anyzove, Petr Kopriva, Jiri Prymak

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 26 Sept 2021; ticket: £7.00

    film wonderland

    Jaromil Jires’ ‘Valerie’ is film as delerium. Film that knows no form other than the prerogative of its own chosen logic: the dream vision. It’s film as a flowing medium alive and excitable captured in crystalline light, in the immediacy of water and the cascading locks of young girls hair. Film as an outpouring of sensuality tactility and burgeoning physicality mediated through the character of the menstruating becoming young woman, Valerie. The effect of Jires’ movie is that the audience don’t so much look at the worlds Valerie enters but rather they are absorbed into their translucent tracery, enveloped in their immanence.

    ‘Valerie’ shares some common ground with Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Both works feature young women who by force of unexpected events enter into adjacent contrary worlds whose familiar aspects belie the fact that nothing is what it seems. As in Alice, so in ‘Valerie’, it is not plot that is important; rather the idea of movement, the ability to keep on travelling through, even surviving, encounters with sets of menacing and ever stranger circumstances and situations. Although finding occasional allies both young women ultimately come through by relying on their own psychic resources which include an understanding of the power of their own bodies and a grounded intelligence that is flexible enough to adapt to the immediacy of particular demands. The imaginative vistas through which the two travellers move are quite different. Alice’s’ journey is through the convoluted logic of mathematical dimensionalities; Valerie moves through the heightened physicality of the dream with its orgasmic visions and vampire blood centred logic. Both Alice and Valerie are archetypal embodiments of female types: centred in their physicality and able to use intuition logic and reason to move through any world on their own terms.  

    Carroll’s work was written as a benign caricature rather than a satire of Victorian England’s moral sensibilities; Jires’ ‘Valerie’ based on the novel by Vieteslav Nezval, evokes a trenchant anti-clericalism reminiscent of Bunuel. Jires’ film was made in the context of the Czech New Wave, that time following the unsuccessful Prague Spring, when although nationalistic political developments were blocked by the Soviet invasion, there was little the ‘authorities’ could do to stem the tide of Czech cultural and artistic rejection of the communist ideological straightjacket. The consequence was an explosive release of energy from a Cinema that had been constrained for too long by the political tenets of social realism. This Czech Cinema from the mid ‘60’s to ‘70’s overflowed with ideas, with the possibilities of expressing countercultural and surreal structures in creative ways that were not possible within the barren bounds of dialectical materialism. In about the same period in the Soviet Union Tarkovsky and Parajanov had also pushed and broken through the orthodox strictures of Goskino (the state film production company), and made films that were products of personal not political vision.

    Whereas the mise en scene, lighting and cinematography all create a sense of spacial movement through worlds of horror fairytale and surreal imagery, the acting itself is absolutely solid. The actors, in particular the grandmother, all play out their characters as expressive architypes rather than playing into and internalising them. They work with heightened classical control over the musculature of their bodies, all movement executed with acute physical precision. This stylistic gloss has the effect of presenting the actors as performing on a different plane from the chaos through which they move, both offsetting and exaggerating the dream like quality of the imagery.

    The music is a wonderful complement to the movie. The soundtracks of many contemporary films are characterised by synthesised music, contoured and shaped to exaggerate the desired emotional affects of the script. Valerie’s score is a rich amalgam of evocative Slavic Melody and Classical music that combines, underlines and enriches the scenario, but is not used as a means to manipulate emotion.  Its effect is celebratory, ‘in tune’ with Jires’ underlying motif.

    Jires’ ‘Valerie’ with its uncompromising primacy of vision feels like harbinger of the break up of the Soviet Empire and ultimately the Soviet Union itself, which in the form it took was ultimately held togather by an unsustainable rational mythology.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

  • Annette     Leos Carax (USA, Fr; 2021)

    Annette     Leos Carax (USA, Fr; 2021) Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 13 Sept 21; ticket: £10.75

    an empty vessel

    The Leos Carax’s ‘Annette’ starts on the nose with the money.   The precredits comprise a long long list of producers distributors and assorted institutions TV companies film commissions whatever who have pitched money into the project. Almost first up as ‘producer’ is ‘Adam Driver’ the star of a film that by the final frame of its 2 hours and 21 minutes has sinned as in Frank Capra’s dictum: “There are no rules in movie making only sins, and the cardinal sin is dullness.” Annette is a dull film. Sometimes when a huge number of people have their fingers in the film pie, the final delivered product is a mish mash of etiolating compromises; sometimes when a single figure, such as Adam Driver in ‘Annette’, has an overarching imput, the delivered final cut reflects back to its audience nothing more than a swollen ego.

    The film seems to take its structural form from 18th century opera: the works of Handel Mozart Purcell. Although these works were usually built on the classical unities, whereas Carax’ film shifts locations, the insistance of its sung dialogue (even in the scene where Henry eats Ann’s fanny), the rendering of many of the musical numbers as intimate duets, all suggest a baroque provenance.

    And ‘Annette’s’ narrative looks like a transposed variation of the Trilby theme. Trilby was a very popular nineteenth century novel by George du Maurier, in which a young woman suddenly gains an incredible voice after falling under the spell of an exploitative agent. In this case it’s Ann’s child who develop’s the ‘voice’, but it is the same sort of idea

    The problem with Carax’s movie is that it doesn’t work, its structural design has deep flaws . ‘Annette’ is nothing more than the sum of mismatched parts that don’t fit togather. The opening section introduces the lovers by intercutting Henry’s stand-up gig with Ann’s operatic performance as a presage to their relationship. But what Carax establishes in this parellel cut section is that Henry and Ann come from different worlds. Henry is all body: flesh and blood, he is in and of ‘the people’ intimately conjoined to his audience; Ann is spirit: an etherial being who performs and responds to but who is forever detached from her audience. In the operas of Purcell Mozart Handel, the characters are always belong to the same world (for dramatic/comedic effect they may disguise this); all inhabit an artificial world of courtly fantasy, and within this world they may be considered architypes. It is within this encompasing social setting that they come togather as types and their relational developments unfold – love, treachery, deceit, forbearance etc. This foundational premise constitutes the basis upon which the conceits of plot are built.

    But Carax, and his script writers, just throw Ann and Henry togather, taking no account and with no understanding of their provenance. The device used to bring them togather is the motorbike. Henry’s bike, functioning as a symbolic device, is caste as the transactional vehicle of their relationship. The implication of the bike is that Henry like an old fashioned knight of old, is somehow claiming Ann.    The use of the bike as a dramatic emblamatic device sets up a narrative in which Henry is rescuer, deliverer, or even abductor.

    But none of these ideas relate to anything we are shown of their actual relationship which the script resolves as a domestic situation expressed in the scenario through song, through sex and perhaps through the birth of Annette. Song whilst a strong medium for registering simple emotional expression and humour, doesn’t work well for the expression of most other cognitive states.   Ann and Henry fuse togather in song, but are always feel mismatched and belonging to different realms of experience. A state which the sex scenes, the cunilinctus and all, do little to alleviate. The failure to properly ground ‘Annette’s’ core relationship, bases the narrative thrust of the film on an empty proposition, a hollow foundation.

    The consequence of this failure is that ‘Annette’ feels bereft of meaning. It is difficult for the audience to construe or relate to the characters or to care about the play out of the story. With its core characters lacking foundational credibility, it is not just Annette who is the puppet on a string, all the characters become puppet-like and Carax’s film becomes increasingly mechanical theatre. By the time muppet Annette is discovered to have a ‘Trilby’ voice, the plot is switches to auto-pilot and is left to cook by itself until the final ‘Trilby’ moment, of Annette’s failure to sing on cue. (Admittedly there is a coda to Annette in which the script ties itself in the knots of its own contradictions trying to represent Henry as a reformed woke caring daddy.   The film falls into the pits of its own logic as it also delivers its final predictible gimmick: transforming the puppett Annette into a flesh and blood cutesy little girl).

     

    Like an empty vessel ‘Annette’ makes a lot of noise.   Most of the music by Sparks is dirge like, based on simplistic uninteresting chord sequences and invariably overlong and unable to sustain duration. Adam Driver thinks he can sing: so do I. But I don’t suppose an audience would want to hear my voice croaking through 2 hours 20 minutes of film sound track.   But ‘Annette’ is a dull film because neither Carax nor his script writers, not Driver have been able to understand the nature of their material and how to work with or overcome the form they have chosen to express the core ideas.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

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