Star & Shadow

  • Tenet Christopher Nolan (USA; 2020)

    Tenet               Christopher Nolan (USA; 2020)  John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki; Robert Patterson

    viewed:  17 Sept 2020  Cineworld Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne; Ticket: £12.75

    The Twilight zone of Junk food and Junk ideas

    Christopher Nolan is making something of a speciality writing scenarios based on junk ideas.  Inception dealt rather lamely with the ideas spectrum that it was possible to steal and enter people’s dreams, to use cog’ tech to gain friends and influence people.  Tenet does a mash up script job with ‘the big one’: the Time thing. 

    You need a dramatist to do justice to these ideas but this is movieland, so it’s digits and particles and Nolan is a proven SFX guy employing thousands of squaddie compositors to fill out the action scenario with all that big bang effects stuff.   It is what it is, it’s what the customers want, and it goes well with the popcorn.   Viewing Inception after the release hype had abated I found the development of its ‘ideas core’, about which the action was scripted, like a Christmas tree decoratively arrayed with lights and baubles.  There was little substance to the neurological, the script simply followed its own logic, with the add on science mainly contributing to the ‘one liners’ dimension that made up most of the dialogue.  

    Tenet (Latin for it holds, it holds, it persists) takes on much the same relationship to its base idea as Inception.  As in Inception the grounding proposition of ‘Tenet’ is a big scientific idea, with time- flow and time inversion replacing dream tech, and both productions thereby licensed to use digital effects sequences to bulk up.  In Tenet with a knowing nod to cinematic provenance, Nolan simply calls his protagonist, played by John David Washington, the Protagonist. We are in post-modernist land  where any mix and match cocktail of originary and legacy material goes; and the generic nomenclature helps to cue sequels.   A movie  headed up by somebody called the Protagonist, can be played by anyone: male female tranie,  black white Hispanic Asian etc.  With scripting based on time and the movie within a movie working a  multidimensional trope we are in Fanchiseland. 

    In form and structure ‘Tenet’ is James Bond territory, re-dimensioned but recognisable in form.  At the centre the cool male presence, capable of emerging from some serious fisticuffs with three goons with little more than the casual gesture of adjusting his immaculately knotted tie.  The structure is familiar: the Bond girl, now capable of more or less attending her own business and the villain, a sadist with a Russian accent.  The structure is more or less classic Quest: the high octave opening sequence; the what’s going on puzzler; the training; trips round the world, exotic unusual locations;  the Protagonist’s capture and escape.  Then the car chase and the set piece destruction (or partial destruction of ) a actual Boeing Jumbo.  There is of course the Last Battle and finally the end of the Quest: the Protagonist gets his hands on the Holy Grail, the cosmic ‘the Algorithm’.  Curiously this looks like a section of an ornate Victorian drain pipe (I expected something more abstract, but they went for chunky). 

    As in Inception, the ground rules in Tenet  allow for much po-faced delivery of gnomic one liners between the characters,  ‘We live in a twilight world…’ followed by ‘the knowing look with the eyes’ . The look is very important in this type of film, asserting a superior insight on the part of the interlocutor as to what is going on.  Which in ‘Tenet’ is some claim. 

    To wit as we watch one thing happen after another, with Nolan playing the part of a megalomaniac ring master, the interesting point about the film is its incoherence.  As temporal indicators, inversion, reversion and subversion arbitrarily contort the script, leading the players on a sort of filmic St Vitus’ dance.

    ‘Tenet’ has the feel of being an analogous take on our contemporary situation.  That the flaky logic of Tenet escapes us is of no concern,  most of us don’t even try to understand the systems that mediate how we live. We accept that the way our tech works is opaque, there are no direct connections only the finger to key commands.  We don’t expect to understand anything we just want it to work.  As for time, time, it’s accelerated out of our control.  We are a society addicted to the amphetamine rush of our digital systems where we are overwhelmed by information, the particles of digital tech that have multiplied beyond our emotional and intellectual capabilities. 

    We are now victims of time, powerless in the face of the temporal vortices we have unleashed but don’t understand.    As we view ‘Tenet’  we see the glimmer of ourselves reflected back to us from the screen.   In a dumb sort of way we see everything and know nothing and in our know nothing we can take comfort and distracted for a moment check the mirror and see what’s happening on our phone.

    Nolan warns we are in the Twilight zone. But its not the inverted ordinance of the battle scene that will kill us (inverted ordinance does seem a strange ineffectual sort of weapon), rather ignorance.  And in giving us comfort in our ignorance, ‘Tenet’ , in its own small and modest way, is a product of the times.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • The Fountainhead   King Vidor; script: Ayn Rand (USA: 1949)

    The Fountainhead   King Vidor; script: Ayn Rand (USA: 1949) Gary Cooper; Patricia Neil

    viewed dvd Sept 2020

    King Vidor’s 1949 movie ‘The Fountainhead’ was scripted by Ayn Rand from her novel of the same name.   Ayn Rand was perhaps the most influential of a group of American writers who in the early 1940’s set about developing the basic tenets and building blocks of a right wing ideology that could compete intellectually with the ideas of socialism.  Much of her thinking is now incorporated into the generic beliefs of today’s alt-right ideologists. Marxism in particular was viewed by Rand and her allies as monopolising the intellectual discourse in universities. Her intention was to provide combative philosophical economic and moral succour to right wing conservative thinkers and lend their world views a carapace of academic respectability. Rand was also deeply involved in bringing Hollywood movies and Hollywood film makers to the attention of the House Committee for Un-American activities. She was of the most active of those engaged in suppressing and arresting any expression of socialist ideas in movies made in Hollywood and the making of the Fountainhead from her own novel of the same name, was intended as a new ideological way foreword for popular movies.

    The mainspring of Rand’s thinking was the superiority of the individual will over the collective will.   Her thinking is this respect quickly started to resemble the vision of the world as described in ancient Celtic and Nordic texts, a world divided into the forces of light and dark. A world in which these opposed cosmic entities were locked in deadly conflict. Rand like others before her swaps dialogue and debate for metaphysics. The Fountainhead sees the visionary individual architect Howard Roark reject the ethos of the crowd, refusing to be drawn down into the mire of its collective mediocrity. He’s a man living by his own lights, a man knowing he is right and will be vindicated, unafraid to stand alone.

    Excepting Ruark’s overweening arrogance, the position he takes is fair enough on its own terms. Roark is a literary exemplar of those who as individuals are prepared to stand up for what they believe in. But Roark’s function in the Fountainhead is to justify individualist capitalist right wing ideology.

    It’s 1949 the USA and USSR are contesting hegemony over the planet, their ongoing conflict focused on the city of Berlin which has been blockaded by the Soviet Union. For Rand the right wing thinker the conflict is a mythic contest between the light and the dark: between the forces of good in the form of the USA and its socio-economic system, and the forces of evil manifested by the communist USSR. She sees it as a zero sum game: one or the other must win. But what would be the consequences should evil prevail? For Rand this is unthinkable. Her position is that it cannot be allowed to take place, and were it ever on the point of happening then the forces of light would be justified in destroying the entire world to prevent the victory of darkness and evil. A eschatological outcome made possible by the invention of atomic weapons. The Fountainhead provides the ultimate underlying specious logic for the destruction and annihilation of life:

    Better dead than Red.

    The key dramatic moment in the film is when Roark learns that the plans he drew up for the development of a huge city housing project have been altered as the site was built and developed. The final structures bear no resemblance to his vision. Roark enraged and betrayed sets the building on fire, watches in ecstasy as the flames raze it to the ground. He lurks triumphant amidst smouldering ruins that were to have been people’s homes but which for him symbolise the forces of collective mediocrity he has fought throughout his life.        

    Roark’s setting fire to the public housing project, is Rand’s message both to American politicians and to her supporters on the Right not to shirk from the prospect of annihilation; not to pull back from using atomic weapons against the USSR. If necessary the forces of economic righteousness and individual freedom must be prepared to destroy the world to prevent the triumph of darkness.  

         Better dead than Red.  The slogan that characterises American foreign policy from 1945 to date leaving its imprint across the whole of Central America, Chile, Argentina, Korea, Vietnam, Laos and now in variant form through most of the Middle East.

    Rand’s underlying theme suggests that whole scale destruction of civilisation might be necessary as a sort of sacrificial cleansing, a way of once and for all banishing darkness. The use of atomic weaponry is not only justified but a necessary act of expiation. And Rand’s belief is that from the ashes of destruction the strong individual will arise and recreate the world in their own pure image. The resurrection of capitalism.

    In court, charged with arson Roark defends his action as the legitimate response of the individual to protect the purity of their vision. He is cleared of all charges. He is justified and assumes the status of ‘The Heroic Seer’. In the last sequence the camera shadowing his new wife, cranes up to the height of the new building he has just visioned and built (inevitably some Albert Speer neoclassical confection). She finds him like a God wind wrapped and triumphantly gesturing out over the city proclaiming his genius and asserting his right to intellectual conquest.

    Interesting that Rand’s position re destruction and civilisation has some analogies to the way in which Hitler and the Nazis construed the cosmos. They understood themselves as mythic beings with a global destiny as racial crusaders to save the world from degeneracy and evil in the form of Jews and Communists.   Nazism was ultimately a do or die endeavour. As Germany slid into total defeat, Hitler rather than surrender to the forces of the allies chose obliteration of Germany and her people, embracing an end of the world scenario as represented in the Wagnerian Ragnarok of German mythology.  To destroy the world was better than to suffer defeat; Hitler and his general would certainly have used Atomic weapons had they possessed them.  

    So in relation to the USSR there’s interesting continuity between the Hitler view and Rand’s. Whereas Hitler saw the Western allies (America Britain France) as degenerate entities with little understanding of what they were doing, the USSR was seen as evil: communist and jew ridden. The fake but mythically construed role of Aryan Deutschland was to destroy the USSR and all it represented. It was the Light against the Dark. When Hitler understood he was facing obliteration, the last months of his chancellorship were spent in part trying to convert the Western Allies to this vision. He was unsuccessful – up to a point. But when the European war ended, Rand and her supporters picked up this metaphysic and charted their own cosmological map: American was now on the side of the angels, standing in opposition to to Stalin’s Satanic masses. Rand and her cohort proceded to recast Hitler’s racial myth as an ideological divide.

    Rand’s legacy is preserved in the proliferation of a large number of right wing think tanks which actively promote the advancement of private interests over public good. To some great extent their influence has shaped the recent development of the economies of not only the USA and the UK, but many other countries world wide. Ironic to note that with the break up of the USSR the ideological war has receded, but Ayn Rand’s mythical ideological opposition of dark and light as expressed in the Fountainhead has transposed back to its original Fascist form: race. Populist politicians in the USA in the UK and in Europe have reverted to a racist mythologies, represenitng their white populations as the entitled forces of light opposed to the masses of deprived dark skinned people, represented as forces of darkness, demanding their share of the world’s resources.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

      

     

  • Touki Bouki (The Journey of the Hyena)   Djibril Diop Membety (Senegal 1973)

    Touki Bouki (The Journey of the Hyena)   Djibril Diop Membety (Senegal 1973) Magaye Niang, Mareme Niang, Aminita Fall

    viewed at home 21 August 2020 from an obscure streaming platform.

    Black claque for white clique

    Membety’s opening comprises of a herd of white humped cattle with long extended horns advancing slowly but surely across the savannah. They move towards the camera led by a herdsboy sitting astride a dun coloured beast with an accompanying bucolic sounding flute on the soundtrack.

    The timeless beauty of this sequence captures the imagination. The steers are noble beautiful animals that caress the senses; the herdsboy an archetypal image of the pastoral given resonance by the flute.

    As an African rhapsody, the images fill out the screen. Then Membety acts. He dashes the image from our eyes as the idealised opening shots cut to the abattoir. In this sequence shot on the blood lit killing floor, we see these beautiful creatures have been led to the slaughter. As they are crudely killed they writhe and shriek out in their death spasm. Cut butchered and flayed they become meat. But whose meat?

    It is to the answering of this implied question that Membety employs both the form and the structure of his movie. To document his theme of a betrayed land and people Membety could have had recourse to a straight forward story line. But Membety avoids a simple narrative structure and deploys the resources of film to create a tightly compressed psycho-history of the disaster of neo-colonialism. Membety’s theme is the exploitation and humiliation of Africa, the apparent rather than real transfer of power, with the substitution of a black claque for the white political economic clique which of course runs the show.

    The male protagonist Mori combines the ‘new’ and the traditional, being herdsman and student. He displays this fusion by mounting onto the handlebars of his motorbike the emblematic skull and horns of one of the beasts he leads to their death. The reality is that machine and bone are only butt joined and will simply come apart, divided into two, like the city where he lives. Membety sets his film against the background of Dakar and Mori’s movement through this capital city.

    There are two cities in Dakar. They don’t meet. One is occupied by the Europeans and their Senegalese high caste claque. It is characterised by fine modernistic buildings, stores, big houses and the highways leading to the escape routes of the port and the airport. The other town where the blacks live, in what the French call ‘Bidonville’. Accessed by rickety wooden bridges built over the highway, the natives live in a vast unending shanty town mostly without electricity or water. A people trapped in poverty betrayed and robbed with no way out, but with their dignity intact.

    Neo-colonial cultural fusion is a conceit, designed to be apparent but not real. The prestige civic architecture is a fabricated cultural mirage designed to lead the populace into the desert of nowhere.

    Mori takes up with the androgynous Anta. They understand their education is also sham, the fig leaf covering the emptiness and bleakness of their prospects. Education gives them dreams whilst spitting them back into the cardboard slums. As there is no future for them in Dakar other than as blacks, they plan to escape to Europe to cross the ocean that hems them in on Senegal’s shoreline.

    And just as education in Africa is a charade so Mori and Anta see that also in some respects, is European power. It’s simply an outer guise, the ability to wear the clothing that marks you out as privileged; the adoption of an attitude of superiority that enables you to take anything to which you feel entitled. Taking up the manners apparel and attitude of whites they steal the clothes they need and with aplomb and without challenge they board the white ship that will lead them to France and away from black Africa.

    Membety moving outside the confines of narrative produces a richly layered ironic witty and lacerating scenario. His film is still fresh and leaves its mark. Touki Bouki with its theme of escape from the intolerable is as relevant today as when it was first produced.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Landscape Suicide   James Benning (USA; 1986)

    Landscape Suicide   James Benning (USA; 1986) Rhonda Bell; Elion Sucher

    viewed: YouTube 6 August 2020

    find film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya9t5CUxnH4&mc_cid=b73ede1932&mc_eid=181c5a13e9 

    Alt. Americana

    The opening sequence of Benning’s ‘Landscape Suicide’ (LS) comprises a medium full body shot of a left handed tennis player practicing the tennis serve. The same shot is repeated multiple times but broken by brief interludes as the image fades to black, like the blink of an eye, before repeating. The object of Benning’s gaze is small town America: the sort of place that in the era of the ‘80’s was supposed to represent all that was best in the USA.

    Perhaps Benning, who grew up in this kind of environment, feels that the game of tennis, with its service ritual requiring hours of practice to perfect, epitomises the milieu where nothing much happens, life repeats, obsessively.

    I suppose that the ‘Nothing much happens around here’ descriptive trope set Benning to thinking on what actually did happen ‘around here’. And it wasn’t just tennis. Because these small rural townships were often the locations for homicide, the types of murder one might characterise as American gothic. The killings that happened in these places tended to differ from those of the big inner cities with their racial and economic strains and tensions, where gangs and desire left their mark in corpses and blood. No, these small town murders stemmed out of a particularly American psychic phenomenon; the playing out within the individual psyche of particular restless underlying disturbances, bringing to the surface in homicidal action those forbidden forces endemic in American life. Possession by the unnameable the unsayable. Assimilation by the Gothic. A weirding of life that is finely described by Sherwood Anderson in his 1930’s collection of short stories, “Winesberg’. Anderson’s stories describe a small town community in which people are trapped within themselves, goaded by a sense of restlessness and incompleteness. An American dilemma in which individuals were trapped, waiting for something to happen, waiting for the psychic trap to spring.

    Of course today the Americanisation of life has spread a certain kind of disturbance of the individual psyche throughout the world.  But the USA with its waves of mass killings, facilitated by the gun laws, still stands out as the archetypal marker of the lone killer carrying death within them, the agitation of death.

    Benning takes up Anderson’s theme and castes it onto post war America, an America in which Americans are now no longer just ‘ornery citizens, they are consumers, living in a society where they are entitled to buy into their dreams, to acquire whatever money can buy. A society where restlessness and identity are catered for by a carefully calibrated mass media. A society in which individuals, accustomed to getting what they want, are ever more prone to acting on their desires. The culture of dreams, frustrated unrealisable dreams that mutate into fantasy.

    Benning’s ‘LS’ uses the Court and/or interview transcripts of forensic questioning of two murderers, to act out the testimony given by the perpetrators of their states of mind and their consequent actions. The murderers featured are a young girl who had killed another young female classmate; and a older man who murdered and butchered at least two women (somewhat in the manner of the movie the Silence of the Lambs) externalising his internalised twisted sexual promptings. The murders were quite different in nature but both murderers were characterised by an apparent distancing from their actions. What comes across from their own words was that they seem to have been disconnected from their selves. That both the culture and their own dislocated beings necessitated them directing feeling and actions outwards as a means of relieving an internalised pressure.

    The restlessness and the insecurity of being described by Anderson have by the time Benning makes his movie become an epidemic in small town America. Something about this kind of milieu engenders isolation where individuals are easily detached from the community and retreat into themselves, desires and destructive imaginings pushing up beneath a surface of normality. And it is the surface also that attracts Benning’s intention.

    Framed about the accounts of murder, and always interposed with the blink of the eye, the rhythmic fade to black, we see in their multifarious forms the backgrounds against which his two main subjects lived their lives.   As recorded by Capra, Spielberg and other Hollywood interlocutors with small town America we see the normal: the hardware stores, the churches, the main streets, the diners, the wooden houses, the gas stations, the parking lots. Benning always shows these images in their context: next to the road. The road and the sound of the road is omnipresent in the film, an endless streaming of automobiles going from one place to another. And this is what Bennings captures: linking all these images of small town life is the agitation of the highway, this restless unending movement from one place to another that mirrors the inner life of his subjects. There is no stillness. What you see looks like stillness but it’s not, it is an unsettling vibrating constant.

    Benning’s title suggests a nation that is in the process of killing itself. In retrospect the film’s imagery, the film’s story is now from the perspective of the 2020’s something seen in the rear view mirror of time. The roads are of course the same, but the traffic, the passage of car and truck has intensified: Banning’s landscape has been left behind. We are now living in a world of particles, a virtual world where the constant agitation of endlessly forming and reforming of bits and pixels creates a new reality. America has moved into a world defined less by Gothic more by Sci-Fi, Star Wars fantasies where global suicide becomes possible where the individuals can fantasize and practice mass killings. A world where in King Vidor’s ‘the Fountainhead’ , scripted by Ayn Rand,   the protagonist, an Architect decides on moral grounds that it is better to destroy the World, than to have to exist within it in an ideological form he could not tolerate. Welcome to the USA.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

  • The Unforgiven Clint Eastwood (1992; USA)

    The Unforgiven           Clint Eastwood (1992; USA) Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman

    viewed ITV film channel 26 July 2020

    mirror mirror on the wall….

    Clintwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ presents as a sort of reverse mirror image of the 1971 movie, ‘The Beguiled’ directed by Don Siegel and starring Eastwood and Geraldine Page.  Both films revolve about certain aspects of masculine identity and female response to male provocation.  It is the nature of these two films that they are both re-active, setting up women’s responses to men’s actions.

    The films share a similar visual look.  Both are classed as ‘gothic’ which references their dark atmosphere and use made of the settings and lighting.  The movies use key lighting as an analogous representation of oil lanterns, casting into shadow and half shadow large swathes of their framing, suggesting ideas about hidden or repressed drives and feelings, those dark mythic psychic promptings.  Both films of course have Eastwood at their centre: an intruder into strange and dangerous land.

    But the scripts of the two films diverge at the point of narrative, and the nature of their content. ‘The Beguiled’ , set during the American Civil War picks up its narrative at the entry of the seriously wounded McBurney (Eastwood) into a Confederate girls boarding school.  Even though he is pursued by the rebel army, the women agree not to betray but to tend him.  As he recovers he embarks on a campaign of serial seduction of the women.  His philandering is exposed and leads to an antagonistic response by the female psyche; he is assaulted by one of the angered women and suffers serious injury to his leg.

    This wounding eventually leads to the women deciding to amputate one of his legs; to cut it off;  to save him to save his life.  The severing of McBurney’s limb of course strongly suggests ritual castration, a sacrificial dismemberment and disempowering of the male force which had broken into a sacred world.  It is at this point that the film recasts the action into a mythological realm: the women no longer of a school, but of a Temple, priestesses of Isis.  They are Sybil and guardians of hallowed ground and things which men are forbidden to see or know, and for which seeing or knowing, the penalty is death.  And in due course McBurney is killed; not violently, but gently without shedding blood, through poisoning by mushrooms that are fed to him.  The Gothic lighting, all flicker and dark rimmed, creates the closed down space of the forbidden zone into which Clintwood has entered.  The setting is the portal into a shadow world through which he must eventually understand that it was his fate enter and necessarily die.  

    ‘The Beguiled’ is Siegel’s slow mythic playing out of archetypal forces in response to an act of trespass into the forbidden.  The subject of ‘The Beguiled’ hinges about not only male trespass into the forbidden, but also the potential consequences of men trying to use their sexual power to control women. 

    ‘The Unforgiven’ although it uses much of the same play of light and shadow to conjure on film a quasi Gothic setting, by contrast does little more than set up a plot centred round the banality of revenge.   The content also disempowers the female. A tale of revenge in which although it is the town’s women prostitutes who are wronged, it is the men, in particular of course Eastwood as William Munney, (pun on Money?) who in the best Western tradition of chivalry takes up arms on behalf of the women.  Although the women offer the reward, they are essentially passive.  Unlike the women in ‘The Beguiled’ the are not agents, agency is a male prerogative, they are bit players, distanced and with no part in determining the outcome of events which is: man’s business.

    In this respect ‘The Unforgiven’ holds up a reverse mirror image of ‘The Beguiled’ in which the latter places the women as central to the design of the action, as opposed to ‘The Unforgiven’ in which women are all but excluded.

    Eastwood, as Director (and star actor) of ‘The Unforgiven’ wants, like Siegel, to say something about men and their sexuality.  But he doesn’t have much of interest to say

    His scenario, having excluded woman from play out,  tries to link into the plot dynamic a certain take on the problematic nature of masculinity.  The narrative takes as its exciter the brutal disfigurement of a prostitute for laughing at the smallness of a cowboy customer’s penis.  Given that a whore’s business is to manage male ego and by extension their cocks, given that whores see a lot of cock, big small, mis-shapen, damaged, those that don’t work etc, and given that in small isolated Western towns some men could be very dangerous, whores (like whores the world over)  would take the money and get on with the job without expressing anything other than appropriate flattery.   But this is the movies, so allow this scripted ‘absurdity’ as a legitimate filmic given.

    Eastwood wants his film to say something about maleness, so cocks it is and cock it is that triggers the plot.  The main plot driver is of course just a high key retread of Dirty Harry. Clint after a few ups and downs, all man all male intention, gets his man.  But there is a significant theme, a continual digressive return, built into the scripting of the plot which takes the form of a dialogue about the nature of a man’s relation with his cock.  Built into the dialogue throughout the film there is talk of men’s:  need for sexual release, hand jobs, masturbation and offers of sex for free from a grateful prostitute.  The base assumption being that to be a man, a man has to be sexually functioning, an assumption triumphantly disproved by Eastwood, who remains chaste and keeps his hands to himself. 

    Eastwood as director seems to be saying that men are demonised by their sexual needs and fragility. But overall the presentation of this thesis comes across as only sentimental, supported in the script by the idea that the only one good woman can save a demonised man. It’s an apple pie sort of conclusion straight out of the top drawer of the Good Housekeeping Guide to how to reform men.

    The impoverished nature of the script material, including rather flaccid dialogue, is overwritten by the Gothic atmospherics, in similar vein to ‘The Beguiled’ and the malicious crazed evil energy Gene Hackman brings to the film.  These two affects mask what is otherwise a leaden piece of filmmaking, that owes everything to the predictable mechanics of Dirty Harry and nothing to myth. 

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • Indecision (Duvidha)  Mani Kaul (1973; India)

    Indecision (Duvidha)  Mani Kaul (1973; India) Raisa Padamsee, Ravi Menon 

    viewed 10 July 2020; Mubi Streaming during the great plague – it is also on youtube

    Films are made from within the ambient influences in which the culture of any production is immersed. The influences of advertising, electronic games, the velocity of communications and high tempo resolutions all play significant roles in conforming the structure and content of contemporary Western films.   In ‘Indecision’ Mani Kaul has absorbed into the flow of his imagery, into his characterisation, sound, colourisation and story something of the traditions of the shadow puppet theatre of Rajasthan. It is a film grounded in the popular culture of its time.

    The core to ‘Indecision’ is Kaul’s conceptual rigour and the discipline with which he has put together in film his rendering of an old folk tale. The film comprises a singular expression of this style of Indian story telling.   It retains the integrity of the tradition and creates something new enduring and magical. The imagery drawing on the interplay of startling bright sunlight and shadow is an expressive painted canvas against which the ideas implicit in the film play out.  

    One of the key ideas played out in ‘Indecision’ is the notion of story. Today the idea of story is conceived as something personal that has particular role in the construction of individual identity. But there is an older literary tradition both oral and written, in which stories are a collective resource that challenge and open out developments of the psyche. Western film scripts have mostly latched onto modern usage, many scripts simply designed as accounts that justify the subjects action providing a rationale for outcomes. Fairy tales and stories such as told in ‘Indecision’ are in James Baldwin’s terms, real stories. There function is not so such to resolve particular situations or to provide answers to an individual dilemma. The point of these stories is to open the psyche up to questions that do not necessarily have answers, and both questions and the answers to these questions always lie somewhere within the insights of the self not the mechanics of the narrative.

    It seemed to me that Kaul’s film owes something in form and structure to shadow puppet theatre. As in shadow puppetry the pacing of Kaul’s shots is slow and the movement smooth; every shot in the film is a carefully contrived statement as in shadow theatre; in shadow theatre as in folk tale, the characters are types rather than individuals; and lastly, as in Rajasthan shadow puppetry, there is a vibrant interplay between sound and picture. This latter relationship is key to the energising of the film. Kaul’s sound track breaks the deliberate visual pacing with upbeat intense rhythmic folk music or alternatively a cacophony of sounds from the natural world: mostly bird call but also insects. The dynamic between these irruptive sounds and the paced back shots is key conceptual idea underlying ‘Indecision’, and in Kaul’s hands this device is used to wonderful sparing effect and never overplayed.

    The main setting of ‘Indecision’ is a huge white villa, a sort of house of bones and its presence looms through the film as a presence in itself. Its exterior walls and facets brilliantly reflect the sunlight, dazzling and disorienting, challenging the viewer’s perception.   This setting alternating with Kaul’s shot selection comprising densely coloured big close-up’s with unexpected overhead shots seems to be part of the design adopted by Kaul to keep the audience off balance, to break up their cognitive patterns and working through disruption of image to challenge perception and understanding.

    ‘Indecision’s’ narrative may in some respects be a simple folk tale but within Kaul’s telling there are multiple layers of meaning and alternative psychic perspectives demanding a flexibility of mind that is alien to the rigid psychic structures of many contemporary films that carry the banality of one message.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

  • The Wheel of Time     Werner Herzog (2003; USA; Doc)

    The Wheel of Time     Werner Herzog (2003; USA; Doc)

    viewed Mubi streaming 4th July 2020

    where are the people?

    Werner Herzog is a film making machine. It’s mostly docs these days but his output is somewhat variable and many of his movies are little more than formulaic exertions that sacrifice their subject to the eye of the camera, creating films that are little more than spectacle. What Herzog often produces is coffee table material that sits comfortably both in the schedules of American TV and within the liberal white ethos.

    Herzog’s interest in the anomalous and crazed has led to movies like Little Dieter and Wings of Hope, revolving around idiosyncratic individuals and their stories, energised by both implicit and explicit meanings embedded in the material.  

    But The Wheel of Time renders a huge Buddhist festival in India as spectacle, a series of images that exploit the exotic setting of Bodghaya to film the course of Kalachakra initiation. After seeing the film I felt I was no wiser as to what the Kalachakra initiation was than before. In the footage shot in India, I saw a lot of images and heard various replies to Herzog’s questions. I saw the Wheel of Time Sand Mandala being built, I saw the emotional intensity of the crowds who filed past it, I saw it broken up reduced back to the particles of sand from which it had been built and then tipped into flowing waters. I saw a series of symbolic actions. But they came across as no more than a number of gestures at which to point the camera. And likewise the other images captured through Herzog’s gaze: the pilgrims and acolytes practicing full devotional prostrations; the endless shots seeking out old men’s faces; the shots of food being prepared and eaten communally, acolytes rushing this way and that. What this Bodghaya material does convey is that this is a religion that is located within the people, Buddhism’s energy joy oneness and immanence comes out of the people. Which is why I found it disturbing that Herzog, in India continually turned the camera onto individuals, seeking out ‘faces’. As if ‘faces’ in themselves are anything other than the last recourse of a bankrupt imagination.  A vacant affect image.

    It felt like Herzog going through a tick list of necessary requirements for the film to sell. To meet the National Geographic Channel requirements, you gotta have interesting ‘faces’ and landscape. And Herzog supplies landscape by breaking out of the Kalachakra material and cutting away to another event altogether: a Buddhist pilgrimage to the sacred mountain, Kailash. More spectacle in spectacular scenery. In his familiar voice over style Herzog informs us about centres and links the Mountain Kailash as a centre, to the centre of time symbolised in the Kalachakra Mandala. Given the Dalai Lama’s reply to Herzog’s question about centres, this is typical trite doc info, justifying the exploitation of exotica, the presentational syndrome that dominates Herzog’s movie.

    When asking questions Herzog is reduced the crass formulas of American TV presenters. If this was intentional, perhaps as parody of form, then Herzog forgets that you can’t parody something that is already a parody. He asks the Dalai Lama if the centre of the Kalachakra Mandala is symbolic of the centre of consciousness; he asks him, what is, his ideal dream of an ideal world; he asks some devotional monk who has just finished lighting candles: if he is praying for us; if he has reached ‘Enlightenment’ – as if it were some kind of shopping destination. Herzog’s questions reflect the vacancy of the outsider looking in.

    In one sense, the film works best because of the unforeseen postponement, due to the Dalai Lama’s ill health, of the Kalachakra Initiation the year Herzog filmed in Bodghaya. The postponed initiation ceremony was reconvened in Graz the following year. Graz in Austria, on the other side of the world, the flip side of reality. And it is the two discordant settings, the one India the other Europe that strike the real notes of interest in the film. The contrast between the gathering in Bodghaya and that in Graz is remarkable, as is the change in the filming style and type of shots used to document the event.

    The event in India is a massed expression of faith, a chaos of desire and excitement that coalesces into sudden moments of serenity. The monks acolytes and believers taking part are characterised by energy, lack of material possessions, total belief and a familiarity with the collective life of communal bowls to prepare and eat food. In Bodghaya the event is individual devotion in the midst of collective tumult.

    In Graz, the Kalachakra initiation event looked like a conference of middle ranking business executives. Whereas in Bodghaya all was noise lack of order and spontaneous impetuosity; in Graz all was quiet well ordered and polite. Buddhism in Graz was regular Europeanised.  In Graz everything was done by the book and the feeling generated was that in this manifestation of Buddhism something had been filtered out, there was a lacking in connection to the overflowing nature of life. In Bodghaya, tumult generated by the vast crowds characterised the initiation proceedings. In Bodghaya the people were present. In Graz they were absent.

    As the ceremony moved to Graz, Herzog’s filming changed. The choice of shots became more respectful conforming to European sensibilities.  In Graz there were no shots of the assembled Buddhists eating, there were few close-up, in the face shots of people that so characterised the filming in India, there were no shots of people in awkward or unusual positions nor did he ask the people there the sort of crass questions he had asked of people in India.   The filming was distant, non intrusive. Europeans don’t like being filmed in this type of situation. They may be caught out! Perhaps this was an intentional structured comment on the part of Herzog; or perhaps he implicitly knew he could not get away with the liberties he took in filming in India.

    Herzog’s ‘Wheel of Time’ was able to show these differing faces and experiences of Buddhism. The differences between the business managers and the Asian devotees. For the Europeans the people are absent from their practice, for the monks their practice takes place amongst the people. But Herzog didn’t seem to be very interested in pointing to these differences, nor at asking how these differences affected the way in which he shot his material and the ethical considerations put into play by comparative data collection in different cultures.  

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

  • La Dolce Vita   Frederico Fellini (1960 Italy)

    La Dolce Vita   Frederico Fellini (1960 Italy) Marcello Mastroianni; Anita Ekburg

    Viewed: Mubi streaming 29 June 2020

     Filmed as a series of psychic fragments Fellini’s (FF) film is an oracular vision of the shape of things to come: the transformation of all areas of life into hallucinogenic spectacle with no distinction between the participant and onlooker. Spectacle fed into the amplification circuitry of the media who both feed off and feed into the images they produce. Fellini’s Dolce Vita is an initiation rite into a Western World driven and controlled by ‘image’ whose present dynamic takes the form of Berlusconni as a demonic hybrid apotheosis of the world of politics and media. As I watched Dolce Vita unfold I was awed by FF’s visionary clarity in relation to the convergence in shape and form of the control apparatus.

    The opening sequence of the movie is a statement of intent. We see, flying low over Rome, a helicopter with a huge statue of Christ slung by ropes beneath its undercarriage. The apparition causes everyone to look up at this giant airborne caricature. La Dolce Vita (DV) introduces Christ as the clown of the skies, a cosmic Christ for our entertainment and amusement Ladies and Gentlemen…… The flying Christ merges publicity stunt with religion, marrying the two worlds in a spectacle that presages the movies underlying theme.

    A thought: where did FF get this statue? It looks like it was made for the movie, for the brave new world of 1960. More interesting where/ how did he get the idea?   Perhaps it was something he actually saw or heard about; anyway, ‘as idea’ it perfectly and succinctly predicates what follows.

    In DV,  FF uses the structurally broken filmic fragments of action as a mirror to catch Marcello’s reflection as he is transformed and bent into shape by the images and social forces that come to define his life. An early fragment of the film sees him, an inveterate womaniser, spend a night trying to seduce and bed the American film star Sylvia (Anita Ekburg who’s a shoo-in for Marilyn Monroe). In the mirror fragment we see clearly that narcissistic narcosis induced by publicity and media attention have totally absorbed this Diva.   Marcello discovers (he takes a little time to get it) that Sylvia is not really of the flesh. She has a body, central to her image but an appendage to her life. She may seem present in the flesh but actually she lives inside an endlessly projected movie of herself.. She isn’t really present; sex with her can only be a two dimensional movie. Sylvia is machine for absorbing fantasy and projecting desire onto the white walls of life. For people like Sylvia life doesn’t flow; rather it takes the form of a sort of eternal recurrence: the same people sets and situations repeated time and time again. This recurrence is only broken by the momentary irruption within Sylvia of fleeting impulses that are for an instant totally insistent, but immediately fade. Time in her life doesn’t flow rather it is compressed into a crystallised everlasting and overwhelming present, bolted like the image of the flying Christ, to an unchanging image of herself.

    Marcello has the chance to avoid being trapped in the recurring movie of his projection as an image in two dimensional photogenic space.   He has a chance to chose to live through time as he is pulled by his girl friend to accept her love to share her carnality. But each glimpse in the DV mirror fragments shows him drawn further into the spectacle by the fascination of himself as an operating image. Through the shattered fragments of time Marcello develops the idea of himself as an increasingly self referential and narcissistic object.   An increasingly emptied out self, refined through the rectifying forces of the media, into a being of pure surface. A centre of attraction and repulsion in the endless parade that he joins to replace the tedium of life.

    The music as in all FF’s films complements in form the content of DV. It’s surging rich gorgeous encompassing. Parade music that is intended like the Pied Piper’s flute, to draw in everyone who hears it, to disarm resistance and allows the children to completely abandon themselves to the show.   The music is an amalgam of mood feeling and thought swamping and bypassing the human mental faculties as FF fills out DV with sequences of extraordinary fluid shots that capture small and large crowd situations and scenes.

    DV opens up worlds as spectacles that absorb, disarm and finally infiltrate the individual.   The world of religion filmed as a hysterical fusion of media frenzy and religious hysteria. Catholicism experienced as a testing ground for experiments that would later be internalised and finally replicated by the profane secular order. Marcello cannot see the hilarious farcical religious and media circus caused by two young children claiming to have seen the Virgin.   He is absorbed by it, and excited by the prospect of living and working outside time. He breaks (or rather the mirror fragments suggest that he does, for there is no convention of continuity in DV) with his girlfriend and joins the parade of partying which is the gateway to a sort of immortality. The movers and shakers the money and the power exist in a never ending spectacular that engulfs life and pulls everything along with it in a frenzied dance lived out in image and gesture, a saturated narcissism that ends in death. But of course death does not stop the show.

    The final sequence on the beach shows the party goers descend onto the beach to gaze at the lifeless form of a huge dead fish. A young innocent girl, introduced earlier in the film as working in the beach café also looks on. Both exist outside the spectacle,

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

  • The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors   Sergei Parajanov (USSR 1965)

    The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors   Sergei Parajanov (USSR 1965) Ivan Mykolaichuk, Larisa Kadochnikova, Tatyana Bestayeva

    streamed by the Star and Shadow Cinema from YouTube 27 May 2020 during the great plague.

    no me

    Like the snow that covers the land in the opening sequences of ‘The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors’ (‘Shadows’), so Parajanov’s film overlays the consciousness of the viewer with the images of a symbolic journey.   The viewer travels not only through the territories of a remote culture but through a mythic soul-scape, on a journey from life to death. And the narrative, like the snow covers and alters the contours of what can be seen; to understand we have to look through the surface and see what lies hidden from our immediate vision.

    Parajanov’s title, The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors points to his intention in making his film: to reveal the shadows. Through music through image, Parajanov calls up the buried psyche of the Hutsul people, giving filmic form to the living ghosts of the past that were negated by a Soviet film industry that was hostage to history and the lifeless illusionary beings of an arid future.

    Inspired by Tarkovsky’s ‘Ivan’s Childhood’, ‘Shadows’ is a personal political response to the dead hand of Socialist Realism which was supposed to guide Russian film makers of this era. Soviet film making was directed in principal by a materialist manifesto. The scripts scenarios context development and interpretation were judged and determined by Marxist dialectic in which ideologically correct time was travelling in one direction: towards the victory of the proletariat, the realisation of Marx’s prophecies. But filmed in a society in which a shamanistic culture remained intact under the outer garb of orthodox religion, ‘Shadows’ follows the another path another time line, the soul journey: Ivan’s movement towards consummation of love. A journey that is archetypal and as an archetype is located outside time. Parajanov’s invocation of archetypes runs counter to the dogmatic shibboleths underlying soviet scientific orthodoxy. ‘Shadows’ embraces the hallucinogenic and the ecstatic. It breathes rare pure mountain air that rises above the stale gasses trapped in the abyss of political dogma.  

    Located in a Hutsul settlement in the mountains, the story told is that of the possession of Ivan’s soul by love. The love between Ivan and Marichka is born in extraordinary circumstances. They come together in blood, after the killing of Ivan’s father by Marichka’s father. Consequent to the killing the antagonistic tensions between the two families might endure for generations, but what happens is that love, as an exterior force occupies the souls of the two young people, overpowering them and fusing their destinies. They become as one, twinned souls in life and death, overtaken by the archetype of ‘the Lovers’ that transcends death, transcends time.

    When Marichka dies in an accident, the separation for Ivan is a violation. After her death they exist in separate forms: he body; she spirit.   The shock of separation is the shock of losing part of himself, because fused in an archetypal form of love he and Marichka are not two but one. Parajanov does not depict Ivan’s loss as melodramatic pantomime in which he expresses the loss as an inconsolable emoting, a flooding out. Marichka’s death does not cause this type of emotional pain, rather another type of response, an imperative to tear away from life and start on the journey to rejoin her.  In the way Parajanov shows Ivan, he has no ‘me’, in the sense of responding as an individual, he is a type. With Marichka’s death Ivan is subsumed into a mythical realm in which there is only the necessity to become one with her again.

    The effect of Marichka’s death is initially to weaken and loosen Ivan’s grip on life, as he experiences a pressure he perhaps does not understand but to which he bows. Acceding to her persuasion Ivan marries Palahna, a union that takes place in the human domain, and which crystallises for Ivan that after Marichka’s death, he no longer belongs to the world of men. Married and crushed by his new earthly bonds Ivan commences an accelerated race towards world of the the dead and re –unification Marichka.   His marriage to Palahna is barren and she desperate for a child that Ivan cannot give her, seeks out the local shaman, which relationship leads to Ivan being axed to death by the shaman in a similar fashion to his father. A death that in blood mimics that of his own father, but this time avows with his own blood Ivan’s tie to Marichka.  

    So one sees things in Parayanov’s film, perhaps one sees nothing more than one’s own shadows.

    The way the film is put together, the fusion of camera work music and mis-en-scene creates a maelstrom of hallucinogenic effects that transpose the action into an otherworldly dimension.  Parajanov’s camera, whether filming in the suffocation of the candle lit interiors or in the exposed raw exteriors, becomes a rhythmic instrument exulting in the intensities of collective and organic life. Most of the music is played by the people, pipes reeds horns jews harps digs deep into the fabric of the images calling up apparitions of daemons spirits and wraiths. And the settings: the compressed churches and wakes and the natural settings in particular the river sequence, become portals to a parallel dimensions of existence. In his fusion of these filmic elements Parajonov projects a vision of a world balanced on an edge between substance and shadow.

    The Soviet film industry was mandated to produce films with narrative structures which could only be interpreted in one way: that is to say in support the state’s official ideology. Tarkovski and Parajanov (after 1965) were not interested in making films that led to one interpretation. Their films were diffuse, structured to exploit material and content that were intentionally malleable, designed to bring out into the light manifold inherent possibilities of human experience.   What viewers take away from their films depends on what they see in the shadows, what is brought into light by their own subjectivities.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

  • Une Femme est Une Femme J-L Godard (Fr 1961)

    Une Femme est Une Femme  J-L Godard (Fr 1961) J-P Belmondo, J-C Brialy, A Karena

    Mobi streamed – viewed 22 May 2020 during the great plague

    retro-crit;

    film as delerium

    Godard’s movie, Une Femme est Une Femme (‘Une Femme’) of course begins at the beginning.  He uses the opening title sequence to not only to anticipate the themes of the film but to flaunt its wit, provenance, and his mastery in deconstructing cinematic form.   In the opening captions, we see written out in huge block caps across the Cinemascope screen and spaced over two shots, the formula that traditionally leads us into the fairy tale:  IL ETAIT /cut / UNE FOIS…(once upon/cut/ a time).  This opening is followed by a series of words (all in the same huge screen filling block caps a la Godard) that are invocations of the wild promises we see every week in the cinema interjected into the manic film trailers.  But instead of flashed excitor words such as: sizzling – hot – teenage sex – explosive – true story etc in ‘Une Femme’ we are hit with such as : LUBISCH – 14 JUILLET – GUILLMOT – COMEDIE – FRANCAIS – GODDARD – and many more..before…

     …off camera Anna Karena (AK) calls out: Lights! Camera! Action! (usually the director’s call), and the title Une Femme est Une Femme fades up over an interior shot of a Parisian café, a familiar setting used by Godard in this era, and picks up Angela  (sic.; AK ) as she swings through the door.   

    So what is ‘Une Femme’ about?  It seems to me that it is about Godard as the playful lover, playful lover both of Cinema and lover of his star.  His movie is both an infatuation with AK and an infatuation with Cinema.   Une Femme est une Femme is a delirium of infatuation.

    Using the American musical comedy as a tongue in cheek reference or ‘Homage’ Godard strips out the Hollywood film making bible and employs every trick in the counter-culture guerrilla cinema book to deconstruct the genre.  Yet, through script, colourisation, editing, wit and the performances – above all his camera’s love affair with AK – Godard maintains the energy vitality and innocence of his original model.

    The narrative, such as it is, is written to give full weight to the woman’s perception of the situation.  As such the script moves well outside Hollywood’s comfort zone (certainly in 1961), with Angela’s insistence to Emile that she wants a baby.  Given Emile’s intransigence on this matter, Angela’s solution to go and make love with Alfred to effect conception, prioritises her biological imperative over romantic faithfulness.   This solution and  Emile’s relaxed response are both outcomes well outside ‘The Code’.    The acting style is ‘cool’, the actors don’t invest in emotive charge, and the interchanges even when not mediated by book titles, tend towards a logic in which the words are owned by the actors but not possessed by them.   The dialogue has its own dynamic, in turns ironic radical and left field, it creates its own tensions and resolutions, and is delivered with gestural self possession but without affected commitment.  

    ‘Une Femme’ is characterised by random breaks in the flow of the film’s soundtrack, discontinuities which then resume pick up and continue as if nothing had happened.  These edits break into the viewer’s cognitive processes, putting them on alert that they are the targets in a game of manipulation.  Take care! It’s just a movie, anything is possible.   The script also gives the caste a part to play in breaking through the hallowed conventions of Cinema.   With nods winks and little looks they cut through the screen and collude directly with the audience.  Seated in the dark (the traditional setting for ignorance) the audience know they are being guyed by the directors simple stunts – absurd undisguised spacial contractions –  stunts that point up their complicity in the illusion yet earns their intelligent indulgence and admiration for the director’s filmic delirium.   Because Godard loves Cinema as a way of thinking, as a way of life, as a way of saying something about the world. As a way of being: ‘In Love’.

    The second delirium that makes up the substance of ‘Une Femme’ is that it is Godard’s ode to Ana Karina.  It is his portrait his sonnet his love affair with his muse.  He found her in the Cinema (interestingly the full name of AK’s part in Une Femme is: Angela Recame – Reclame is French for an advert and Godard was first smitten with AK in a Palmolive Soap Advert), and he will make her a star of the Cinema.   In ‘Une Femme’  AK, wrapped in ‘Minnelli’ red colourisation, is the subject of Godard’s delirium, a series of fantasias – housewife – stripper – child  – music comedy star (There is a Gigi sequence. But interestingly Minnelli, director of Gigi, is not one of the names seen either in the opening credits,  nor is he mentioned in the script – but Bob Fosse is) .  In Godard’s vision AK radiates through Une Femme.  Brialy and Belmondo both play out downbeat performances, wandering through most of the takes like clouds on a sunny day.  AK is the sunshine.

    Bunuel  Parajonov, Tarksovski, Herzog  Rossellini Resnais are some directors who immediately spring to mind who have made films that constitute a state of delirium.     It is of course a subjective judgement.  I wonder how Godard came to view ‘Une Femme’ as he moved into a more cerebrally committed mode of film making?  In some respects ‘Une Femme’  appears as an indulgence, a film that verges on being self satisfied and over content with itself, but in the end I think its innocence overcomes, its playfulness overrides reservations.  Its thematic feminine line, its pricking of male pomposity wrapped up in the bubble of film making justify the final lines of the script, the terrible pun spoken by Angela in bed as a reposte to Emile: “Non une femme n’est pas infame, une femme est une femme”.  Much can be forgiven if much is attempted.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

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