Star & Shadow

  • Vagabond (Ni Toit ni Loi)   Agnes Varda

    Vagabond (Ni Toit ni Loi)   Agnes Varda (1985; Fr) Sandrine Bonnaire

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 12 June 22; ticket: £7

    La France profonde

    As at the end so it is at the beginning. Agnes Varda’s script for Vagabond starts with the death of ‘Mona’ her vagrant drifter, frozen to death in a ditch. The movie then re-calls fragments of her life and the episodes immediately leading up to her demise, the demise of a woman. As the picture of her life is assembled, the various characters she’s met comment straight to camera both on Mona and their impression of her, creating an effect that has both a reflective and judgemental quality.

    Thinking about Varda’s choice of nomenclature for ‘Mona’. The name was surely chosen to stand in ironic counterpoise to the most famous ‘Mona’ of all, Mona Lisa.

    This portrait is Da Vinci’s depiction of an eternalised perfect woman, who in her smile concentrates an essence of femininity. Varda’s ‘Mona’ is otherwise: her behaviour is in complete contrast to any traditional ideas of female behaviour and demeanour, she is smelly and dirty, her facial expression often characterised by an aggressive or dismissive scowl. She does not court either the approval or the adoration of the male.

    As in ‘Happiness’, in which the sound track is the ‘critical’ part of the scenario, used to deconstruct/re-conceptualise Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in C, so in Vagabond, the name ‘Mona’ is used to oppose the symbolic female nature of Leonardo’s portrait. Varda having fun employing film to combat both film industry use of art as a sanitising device and Bourgeois appropriation of cultural interpretations and related imputed significations. The ‘Monas’ of the type portrayed in Vagabond, women hardened bull whipped and fucked by life are equally due representation as the standard idealisations.  

    One question is why did Varda chose to end Mona’s career in death? Vagabond might have well have ended on a final shot of Mona hitching a ride, getting into a car and disappearing down the road becoming a dot on the horizon. But the idea of a finality is built into the script. Varda uses Mona’s boots as signage, as, through the final third of the film, they gradually fall apart exposing her to physical jeopardy. Varda in her scenario determined that her protagonist had to die. Her death as with her life indicating an existential freedom to live as herself on her own terms, as the new ‘Mona’.   For the new ‘Mona’ to take on responsibility for a transitory life means accepting violence rape death. The pact is total. It is a core trait of Varda’s thinking that if women want to move to free themselves from male dominance, it’s not easy work. It has to be work that takes on both life and death, work that Varda also probes in ‘Cléo 5-7’.

    Mona is a construct of pure immanence. One of Varda’s themes seems to be that for people to develop, or rather to rebuild a ruptured or false self, they don’t need a new image, they need to live immanently, to occupy their lives in the present. Existence precedes essence. Homeless people, wanderers have to do this. They live without a home, without the law (ni toit ni loi) reliant on and needing to develop their own inner knowledge and resources rather than to be an object or the creation of social forces. Vagabond is a film of such an existence; a film of the movement towards essence, as Mona rejects the life of a female functionary in an office, and strips out all the outer vestiges of her previous way of life to take to the road.

    Vagabond is sits in the saddle of rural France. Varda’s scenario is designed as a series of episodic sometimes linked vignettes comprising the different types of relationships that Mona enters into as she moves through and about the countryside. We see how people interact and then comment upon Mona. Everyone sees that Mona, as a lone woman vagabond is usual, and that challenges them in one way or another: they expose their different attitudes towards her: some judgemental, some sympathetic, some manipulative, some evincing a simple acceptance of her as a being. And the relationships she has with men she enters into as an equal: on her own terms in her own time for her own ends.

    But throughout the myriad of incidents and events, some trivial some engaging, what stands out is the manner in which Varda has filmed the rural world’s response to and engagement with Mona. Varda worked with a mix of non-actors and professionals but there is more going on in the making of the film than Varda just working and filming with ordinary people. There is something in the manner of her ability as director to work with situations and people as they are, enfolding them into a scenario without compromising the key elements of their natural responses. The result is that ‘Vagabond’ has an authentic resonance unusual in film, as Varda opens up wide the lens of her camera to allow us a glimpse of this hidden rural environment: its industrialisation of production, its newcomers, its diseased underbelly, its people materially changing but yet still often locked into inheritance of their forbears and the new youth culture spawned about the small country towns and revolving about drug use.

    In this ability to bring her films to ‘life’ she shares some of the same talents as Kairostami who often worked in a similar way and who must have enjoyed ‘Vagabond’. Kairostami’s work, like Varda’s also often employed in his dramas an admixed documentary style.

    There are certainly those who find ‘Vagabond’ a depressing viewing experience. I don’t share this feeling, as I feel that Varda through her creating of Mona, ultimately honours the spirit. And ‘spirit’ does not die.

    adrin neatrour

  • Vampyr   Carl Theodore Dreyer

    Vampyr   Carl Theodore Dreyer (1932; Fr/Ger) Nicolas de Gunzburg

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 2nd June 22; ticket £10.75

    film robotix

    Seeing Dreyer’s main character Alan Gray walking thorough ‘Vampyr’, treading the the line between the real and the imagined, he called to mind Bunuel’s protagonist in L’Age d’Or. Both men were middle aged ordinary men of the cinema and sported the same ‘30’s era look: costumed in suit tie sensible shoes and carefully parted hair, though Bunuel’s ‘hero’ is in evening dress with bow tie, and he ends up rather dishevelled. As ‘Vampyr’ develops after Gray’s arrival at the ‘Inn’ it feels in some respects as if Dreyer’ film is a continuation of L’Age d’Or.   Both protagonists work their way through the respective scenarios as if they were automatons, like mechanically driven dummies that are presented with increasingly strange and outrageous situations which demand an imperturbable but mechanistic robotic capability to get through to the end. Like bulldozers they either shunt aside or plough over all that crosses their paths. Like clowns and other types robots, dummies, mummies et al, they are all strong filmic devices for breaking through the walls of the convention, a feature also useful in horror movies.

    Both Bunuel and Dreyer commit to using the full resources of the cinema to express thought as cinematic imagery. Both film makers make extensive use of non linear impossible cuts, but whereas Bunuel uses fragmentation to break up the structure of his film Dreyer uses cinematic techniques to create the feeling of another world of intention and desire existing right beside us if only we knew where and how to look.

    The thought modes underlying Bunuel and Dreyer are distinct. They point in different directions. Bunuel’s automaton points to what cannot be seen: ‘The man’ in L’Age d’Or’ is sent out to undermine the solid world of the Bourgeoisie to reveal its pretence hypocrisy and dishonesty, to lift the lid on forbidden desire that underlies the surface of ‘politesse’ and good manners. Dreyer’s character points to what can be seen but which is hiding in plain view, if only you know how to look, for instance with a certain squinting of the eyes. Alan does not probe underneath the surface of reality but sensitised to its existence, is able to see the parallel world, a shadow world that exists co-terminous with the things we can see. It is a flickering world just like the world of cinema.

    The line between the real and the imagined becomes blurred. And this is the stunning visual feature of ‘Vampyr’, Dreyer’s cinematic ability to create the images the signs that indicate that the Vampyr is at work in the world of the living. Dreyer mostly utilises the technical potential inherent in the operation of the camera: gauze, lens stocking, exaggerated shadow, matts, double exposures, over and under exposures. But he also exploits the faciality of his players. In one particular scene, a young woman is confined to her bed by a mystery illness (caused by the Vampyr) and we see cued by the arrival of the evil doctor, the young woman’s face transform itself.   As she draws back her mouth to reveal a set of bared threatening animal teeth, her face changes from an expression of resigned suffering to a mask of pure evil intent. Dreyer conjures up the world that is hovering at our shoulder but which we try not to see. And of course there is very good reason why we don’t want to acknowledge it. We prefer not to read the signs that are right in front of our noses; we want to look away from the shadow world, we want to continue to carry on as normal.

    Interspersed throughout the film’s duration is the text of the history of Vampyrs. It is returned to with increasing insistence.

    ‘Vampyr’ was made between 1930 -1 when Dreyer was moving all round Europe. As a European observer Dreyer will have been very aware of the revolutionary atmosphere in Germany, where Nazi’s and Communists were contesting the streets and had developed simple ideological formulae to attract votes. In 1930 elections the Nazi’s made their first significant electoral gains in Berlin with their anti-Semitic racist propaganda, their remilitarisation proposals and their trumpeting of German nationalism. As a filmmaker aligned to seeking out the salvatory and spiritual in life (The Passion of Jenne’d’Arc) it feels that Dreyer’s choice of the Vampyr motif must have been guided by his perception that at this time there was a diabolic force abroad in the world. But no one could see that this force was right in their midst, people weren’t reading the signs. Returned to again and again the words of the film’s text intensify. It explains how the Vampyr takes over control of people’s soul as people fall under its sway; the Vampyr is like a plague on the innocent; it seeks to colonise whole villages; to drive the whole population to suicide; it….it fills their veins with poison. Vampyr is not so much, one entity, it is a fog a mist that penetrates through our world, and like the air we breath we are blind to it.

    What reverberates for me after seeing ‘Vampry’ is not so much the specificity of Dreyer’s film, but the underlying idea of reading the signs, reading the runes, understanding what is happening in the shadow world right beside you.

    adrin neatrour

  • Top Gun Maverick Review

    Tales from the vault of unpopular views – ‘Not my Top Gun’

    I recognise this is a pro military, nationalist propaganda tool and I planned on ending my virtue signalling here as I did not want to get political about the film.  Unfortunately this will not be the case.

    It was 1986.  I had just turned 16 and there was this American fighter plane film at the cinema.  ‘Top Gun’  was a film that I can’t deny had a massive impact on me.  I had a super hard crush on Kelly McGillis and the soundtrack was tailor made for a white boy teenager.   I had the soundtrack which I wore to the nub on my chunky Walkman with fat buttons.  Berlin’s ‘Take my Breath Away’ still scratches a caveman part of my brain that had yearnings for Kelly McGinnis’s character, Charlie.  I even had the VHS tape.  By 1995 I was at Uni.  I had a new love, ecstasy and speed and ‘Top Gun’ was way back in the rear view mirror.  Today I can barely remember the characters and the plot.  The knowledge they were making a sequel interested me in no way at all.  Then all the reviews from all across the spectrum of reviewers started coming out and they dragged me back in.

    ‘Top Gun Maverick’ is not my ‘Top Gun’. It starts with the Paramount logo and the chime from the ‘Top Gun’ anthem before the uplifting electric guitar solo and I thought this is ‘Top Gun’.  There was this piece with this experimental stealth plane, with Tom Cruise as Maverick flying it and Ed Harris playing some sort of military brass and I thought, ‘interesting, some kind of homage to ‘The Right Stuff’.  We get a remix of Kenny Login’s ‘Danger Zone’ which was cool.  As I said my ‘Top Gun’ is ‘Take My Breath Away’ but this is not my ‘Top Gun’.   It then goes in to the film proper.  There is plenty of reviews and synopsis around for this film and I’m not really interested in doing that here.  I mostly want to analyse it and to give my totally biased, selfish reasons why this is not my ‘Top Gun’.

    The demographic of people who went to the cinema to view this film on the opening weekend were mostly around my age, maybe a decade younger.  It was all about the nostalgia.  Right from that first chime at the introduction with  the Paramount logo.  I have no problem with that.  I don’t think it did it bad.  Unfortunately I had forgotten most of the 1986 film and have no intention of going back to see it, which kind of blunted the nostalgia for me.  Also the most important elements for ‘ME’ from the original were missing from this film.  Kelly McGillis’s Charlie, or at least a character like her.  Kelly Mcgillis had  equal billing in the original ‘Top Gun’.  Charlie was a well-developed character, who stood toe to toe in the power dynamic with Maverick.  In this film Jennifer Connelly was fine as Penny Benjamin, bar owner, mother who sails and had, had a past relationship with Maverick.  Penny the love interest.  Not my ‘Top Gun’.  To be honest this is quite symbolic of the difference in most trajectories for careers depending on gender within the Hollywood machine.

    ‘Top Gun Maverick’ had all the tropes you would expect from a film like this, competitive characters, one’s an arrogant hot shot.  A higher up person who doesn’t like the protagonist and puts up obstacles to interfere with their goals.  The journey from failure to success, blah, blah, blah.  Which is fine.  They are tropes for a reason.  They work.  They press the right buttons in our reactionary brain.  This ain’t high art. I did however have a problem with the emotional beats.  Reviewers were saying how it brought them to tears.  Unfortunately I forgot most of what the 1986 ‘Top Gun’ was about and again, had no intention of re-watching it.  Rather than invest in developing these new characters, this film more relied on the nostalgia  of characters from the 1986 film which I mostly forgot and so when something feely happened it just didn’t impact me.  They even did the offspring of the  tragic character in the original trope, ‘Goose’ who I had mostly forgot.  Mainly because he wasn’t played by Kelly Mcgillis.   This is not my ‘Top Gun’

    The other thing is the soundtrack.  1986 ‘Top Gun’, my ‘Top Gun’ had some really strong music.  There was the ‘Top Gun’ theme, Kenny Logins ‘Danger Zone’ and ‘Playing with the Boys’ and of course the chart topping ‘Take My Breath Away’.  ‘Top Gun Maverick’ seemed to rely on the nostalgia of the theme, it threw in ‘Danger Zone’ and the stuff for this movie just wasn’t memorable.  I’m probably biased because it isn’t my ‘Top Gun’.

    The mission itself was a bit computer game like.  It was fine.  The ariel stunts were fine.  The last act was the most fun for me.  It fed the action hungry part of my brain and gave me some thrills.  I don’t think it’s a bad movie it’s just not my ‘Top Gun’

    I’m going to end with the villains.  The film carefully avoids stating any country, or group are the villains and avoids specific geographic locations.  The only differences between the heroes and the villains is, the machinery, the villains use is all black stuff and we are told it’s more advanced than the American machinery (Hand over mouth laughing.).  Even though the American machinery is not as advanced, the Americans have pluck and beat the villains through sheer skill.  The villains are faceless, just fodder to be killed and sploded.  The Americans have cool names and colourful equipment and we see their faces.  There is even a part with Maverick and Penny riding a motorbike without a helmet.  I was a bit fuming.  Brain injury is real, wear a helmet unless you’re Nathan Hunt and you have to make a quick getaway.  The villains did not attack these American heroes or America, or anywhere.  The Americans made a pre-emptive attack on the villains who used their black equipment to defend themselves.  What did the villains do wrong?  They were building a facility to store Uranium.  Something the American Heroes with inferior equipment would never do.  It seems just being American makes you the hero and justifies any offensive action. 

    Anyway on that note back to ‘Stranger Things’ season 4 which I’m enjoying a lot more because…  that was not my ‘Top Gun’

    Until next time this is Whakapai signing off.

  • Stalker

    Stalker   Adrei Tarkovsky   (USSR 1979) Alexander Kaidanovski Alisa Freindlich

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 26 May 2022

    Retrocrit: Sliding into this watery domain did you get wet…?

    The response to Stalker, as to most of Tarkovsky’s (T) work is in a subjectivity.

    What T achieves in Stalker is to create the filmic conditions where it is the viewer who moves, who is on the journey into the Zone. In one sense the viewer is the star of the film. The defining features of the way Stalker has been filmed: the length of its shots and the shot composition, the tracking shots either over the shoulder or composed through the wreckage of the Zone, create spacio-temporal conditions for the audience to have to define and understand what is going on for themselves and world of meaning in which they locate themselves.

    The film is constructed to work dynamically with the viewer. It is the viewer who is the affected. To view is to engage. It is only possible to view Stalker if you are able to attune consciousness to the visual and temporal stimulae expressed in the film.   Stalker is about state of mind: your state of mind. Dream – allegory – hallucination.

    Stalker creates possible worlds with which we have to engage and enter. If we can’t do this, we either leave the movie or the movie will leave us.

    The world of ‘Stalker’ is built on a few simple precepts, like the rules of a simple game. There is a forbidden area called the Zone; in the Zone is a room which if you enter you will be granted what you desire. You need the stalker to enter and to traverse the Zone. The Zone is not constant in form, but changes in response to human presence. Only the stalker knows how to find the room. These elements are rich enough to sustain and enrich a number of different orders of allegorical readings and priorities.

    In ‘Stalker’ the eponymous guide is the Holy Fool. Like one blessed by God whose vision penetrates into and beyond the myriad manifestations that present on the surface of existence. In the Zone, the Holy Fool is our guide to ‘seeing’; but in accepting the Holy Fool as guide we enter unknowingly into a epistemological compact which becomes increasingly difficult for us to accept.  Like the viewers, the Writer and the Scientist are slaves to Reason. The seeing and the utterances of the Holy Fool aren’t grounded in the rationality that defines the life and identity of 21st century citizen. Like John of Patmos (author of the Book of Revelation – the Apocalypse) Holy Fool speaks revelation, vision and intuition, a language that casts reason to the dogs, undermining the foundation of our being in the world. The Holy Fool is mad and dangerous. After initial infatuation with his novelty, the Writer and the Scientists block him off, their aggrieved egos reject him and all he stands for. The mechanics of Marx’ dialectic may be dead; but we are not able to follow the Holy Fool . That is our dilemma: we live in a world without meaning, neither within nor without time. ‘Stalker’ is a mystical statement directed at the deadness of the ideology that sustained the USSR.

    Cuckoo Cuckoo! The eidetic sound of the cuckoo is interspersed throughout T’s soundtrack. The emblematic bird call that mocks man and all his designs, bids him harken to the natural world, which is of course here to be found in the devastation of the ‘Zone’.

    The characteristic natural element of ‘Stalker’ is water. Water is everywhere: seen – heard – experienced. Like life it is never still. It flows falls ripples spreads covers, often disturbed and perturbed by man.   The Zone is world of wetness where boundaries are not mediated by definite form but by a liquid soluble contiguousness. A world where things merge rather than separate. A world mostly covered in a unifying aqueous layering. A world where the viewer gets wet, slips into a primordial wetness. A toxic baptism.

    T’s camera probes beneath the surface of the world. We pass through cosmological miracles of light and dark, snow rain and broken surfaces. As the camera glides through the water a gold fish appears from nowhere, and we notice colours transmitted in the details of submerged objects that are as intense as any Russian icon. A world that is poisoned yet like Russia still reveals traces of an overwhelming aesthetic imperative. A trace of faith in the middle of the dead environment. The journey to the room has no end. The Stalker will not enter the room, he is beyond desire; his need is to approach to guide: nothing more – an act of obeisance to another higher order. The writer seeks renewal, the scientist destruction. Neither finds what they desire; neither as far as we know enters the room.

    The Stalker exhausted returns home lies down as if to die. His wife testifies that he is a good man, a worthwhile man. His daughter, crippled, sits before a table. In front of on the table there are a number of vessels. They start to move of their own accord, sliding across the surface until one drops of its edge. We read into it what we will: chance – telekinetic powers – a final parable.

    “….and he showed me a pure river of water of life as clear as crystal and proceeding out of the throne of God…” (The Revelation of John the Devine)

    As I progressed into Stalker the notion arose that I was being led into a sort of inverted twisted Book of Revelations. A negative vision of Jerusalem cruelly stripped of God and the yearning for the kingdom of heaven. The apocalypse had happened but it was man made: not the creation of the demiurge. All that remains are our desires and they will not save us from ourselves. The film invokes subjectivity in the viewer (for which it was forcefully attacked by Soviet critics) but for me ‘Stalker’ points to the fact that subjectivities are of little use on the journey to understand ourselves.

    Stalker was the last movie T made in the Soviet Union. It is a fateful marker. T left during the last days of the Soviet Empire to explore the psychic detritus of the West. Some think that the filming of Stalker on location in the polluted poisoned water of an abandoned chemical plant in Estonia caused the bronchial cancers that cost him, his wife, Larissa and the actor Anatoly Solonitsyn, their lives. Another school of thought imagines him killed by the KGB as a dangerous cultural renegade.

    adrin neatrour


  • Stories from outside the cerebral zone.

    Quick bitesize views of the films of cinema auteurs and classic masterpieces that played at the ‘Star and Shadow’ from someone who….  ‘Will fill this part in later when they can think of something witty?  Ideas would be appreciated.

    26/5/22 – ‘Stalker’  1979 – Andrei Tarkovsky

    One of my closest friends has been trying to get me to watch this for years.  I did not fancy it at all.  I even watched a documentary about the film and still never watched it.  Unfortunately it was playing on Thursday at the S&S and I could not avoid it any longer.  I have not got the imagination to come up with an excuse to not watch it.  THANKS SEAN.

    Firstly the film is over 2 and a half hours long.  So long.  I thought the film was beautifully shot.  There is no escaping that.  Tarkovsky is obviously a very exacting director.  Every shot gorgeous and meticulous in detail.  Tarkovsky makes sure you are aware of this with extremely long takes that push in really slowly and occasionally pulls out really slowly.  The other thing to catch my attention was the over the top Foley/sound affects which were obviously added after the fact.  They were all so over the top. This is what a foot in a puddle sounds like, this is what a train sounds like, this is what a wheel turning sounds like.  Early where there was the sound of a car coming to a screeching halt whilst on screen the car was braking from a 5mph speed.  It got a chuckle out of me.  Occasionally there was music which I quite liked, it was haunting.  There wasn’t much of it and it felt like it was unsure if it was supposed to be in this movie.

    The movie itself….  Jesus Christ.  It promised so much and delivered nothing.  Every time a character was told not to do something because it was dangerous they did it anyway and nothing happened.  At one point a character, ‘The Scientist’ decided he was going to blow up the ‘zone’ with a home-made explosive device, he fiddled with it for 10 minutes, then just dismantled it and threw the parts away.  Oh my god do something.  Talk, talk, talk.  For over 2 and a half hours I felt like I was visiting 3 blokes who were tripping balls and they were having a grand old time, whilst I was frustrated and bored as they talked and talked about their trippy insights in to reality. 

    I’ve watched it Ade.  I even wrote this piece about it for no one to read, I never want to hear about this films again.

    Until next time this has been a story from outside the cerebral zone.


  • Vortex   Gaspar Noé     (2021; Fr)

    Vortex   Gaspar Noé     (2021; Fr)   Dario Argento; Francoise Lebrun; Alex Lutz

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 17 May 2022; ticket £10.75


    For my next trick…

    ‘Vortex’ re-enforces my feeling that Gaspar Noé is the master of pedantic literalism. Vortex is nothing more than a continuation of his stylistic cinematic rampage through different subject areas. The fluent shot accretion characterising his movies is put to the service of spectacle, and like most contemporary spectacle it’s empty amounting only to the creation of form without meaning.

    It is noteworthy how so many contemporary directors have recently turned to old age as a source of material for their scripts. Old age and its physical and mental concomitants are not in themselves necessarily interesting. What’s interesting are the relations or ‘non relations’ that are part of old age: its inclusions and the exclusions.

    Filmmaker Michael Haneka has made two films with old age central to their scenarios: ‘L’Amour’ and ‘Happy Ending’. In ‘L’Amour’ Haneka’s script locks onto the relationship of an elderly married couple, the wife in a terminal condition after a stroke. ‘L’Amour’ is a vehicle completely reliant of the expressive affect of its two protagonists (Anne and George) which ultimately defines the movie as an art house soap opera, worthy in intent, barren in execution. ‘L’Amour’ plays out the clichés and tropes of ‘old age’: the walking, shuffling round an apartment that is full of the bric-a-brac photos and art works that define the couple’s life – the sense of an end approaching – the faciality of old age, the wrinkles and self doubt and – finally the ‘end’ in itself. (all of which are featured by Noé in ‘Vortex’) L’Amour is a dull movie that does no more than play out the mechanics of its script.

    In contrast ‘Happy Ending’ folds the painful final days of the disabled pater familias into the personal and business relations of his family. This situation has a dynamic that exposes the audience to both the hard unpredictable elements of ageing and the issues of falling out of synch with the times. ‘Happy Ending’ demands the viewer to give some thought to the critical issues and the dilemmas that can absorb destroy define a life as it moves into that time of the end of the body.

    Ageing used to be considered unpromising film subject matter. But with ‘Alzheimers’ and other long term chronic conditions afflicting the old, the debate about the right to die, and increasing popular sociological and anthological interest in mortality, dying itself has been re-evaluated as having dramatic potential. It is a potential that largely remains unrealised in ‘Vortex’ which is no more than a transposed Victorian melodrama with a French high bourgeois setting that exploits old age and its concomitant vulnerability for dramatic impact. Squeezing the situation for its emotional value rather than understanding, ‘Vortex’ like ‘L’Amour’ is heavily dependent on its actors graphic simulation. The realist acting of its lead players milks the audience for sympathy. Noé’s objective is to emotionally manipulate the viewers, marginalising them as of spectators, directing their gaze upon the road to death.

    I think there is something of bad faith in this. My feeling of ‘bad faith’ stems from the fact that Noé’s script is a one dimensional construct, a trap for his characters. The trap comprises old age in itself and to some extent he’s a conman exploiting the end conditions of life to deliver a fake experience to the audience that is capped off in the finality of death. Why does the script have to end in death? Because that accords with the mechanistic design of the drama. Death’s the easy ending, the conman’s ending because it is the cheap way out that gives nothing to the integrity of life and its unending demands on the spirit. ‘Vortex’ is a fake simulated stylised docu-drama which tries to justify itself in the name of realist literalist representation and poetic philosophical utterance.

    Noé delivers ‘Vortex’ coddled up in a little psychology philosophy and metaphysics. Noé wants to say something about life: its illusionary quality, the vapidity of time, ‘The Man’, the husband is writing a book about Cinema and Dream, called ‘Psyche’. At the start of the film Francois Hardy sings ‘Mon Amie la Rose’ telling us life is beautiful but short. There are a number of blog like sequences, emanating from the TV or radio, spoken by psychologists referencing memory and old age. And throughout the film there’s reference to Poe’s poem ‘A Dream within a Dream’. But Noé’s trysts at poetico-litterary relevance connect only as contrivances introduced into the script to overlay the jejune monodirectional movement of ‘Vortex’. These literary /didactic references possibly indicate the existence of a phantom film lurking behind ‘Vortex’ pointing to an original idea that was more inventive more expansive in ambition. But this idea was abandoned to the simplicity of spectacle, surviving only as subtext. Perhaps it is glimpsed in the final sequence in the depository for the ashes of the deceased. where ‘the Woman’s’ life is relived in a series of photographs for her mourners. It’s too little too late.

    ‘Vortex’ is mostly presented in split screen format. Many of the origination shots are divided in half and presented side by side. The use of this projection device does something to accentuate the ideas of the isolation of the the couple from each other, and perhaps the world, suggests schizo relationships. But deployed more or less for the duration of the film, the splitting becomes simply a gimmick. It is exploited as a means of distracting the audience from Noé’s stunted dramatics and to disattend the banality of spectacle. Likewise ‘Vortex’ is frequently intercut with interstitial black frames breaking up the action momentarily. Perhaps these insertions that are meant structurally to denote….. something or other? Who knows? Perhaps even Noé doesn’t know?  Perhaps it’s just another distraction device?

    Ultimately Noé has nothing to say; he simply knows how to exploit a situation.

    adrin neatrour

  • Review for ‘Everything, everywhere all of the time.’

    Review for ‘Everything, everywhere all of the time.’

    A film of opposites in harmony.

    Last night a group of members of the S&S and their friends went to see ‘Everything, everywhere all of the time.’, the latest A24 film and the latest film that uses the idea of parallel universes to tell its story.  It has been lauded on the festival circuit and film reviewers from all over the spectrum have sung its praises.  I’m pleased to say it lived up to the hype. 

    I had watched quite a few reviews on the film before going to see it and it still was not what I expected.  The film does a great job of making sense overall, although you have to be patient to wait to receive more information as the story progresses, at the same time the film itself is difficult to explain.  With that in mind I am not really going to try to explain the film in this review.  The film is about family, relationships, living, the future and the past told through many lenses including 2 rocks and a world where everyone has hot dogs for fingers.  End of explanation.  Go.  Enjoy.

    Sitting watching the film I was impressed with a story that tackled the very large expressed in the very small and the very small expressed through the very large.  Relationships and life struggles expressed as saving the multiverse and preventing cosmic catastrophe’s and at the same time preventing this through changing the interaction you have with those closest to you and those you love.  Just writing this it seems like an impossible idea.  The success of much of this has to go to the actors themselves which were just top notch. 

    Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn is the core that keeps it all together, both holding the very small emotional centre with her husband, her father, her daughter and her business.  At the same time reacting to the unbelievable and absurd with those she knows changing in to other people all around her at the press of some over the top hands free ear pieces.  She does this with believable responses which you could imagine you doing yourself and eventually she accepts what is happening and you explore these absurd realities with her.

    Ke Huy Quan was the exposition machine.  His character had access to all the knowledge we needed to understand what was going and he dealt it out sparingly as and when we needed it.  James Hong as Gong Gong who has had a long, illustrious career in Hollywood plays a small but memorable role as the family patriarch, also got one of the biggest laughs out of me.  He really made me think of Lo Pan in this.  Jamie Lee Curtis was great as the civil servant slash villain (Villain used loosely.  Not that time of film.) like character.  The best role I’ve seen her in in a long time and she looked like she really enjoyed hamming up her performance as much as I enjoyed watching it.

    For me the stand out performance was from Stephanie Hsu as Joy Wang.  The word fabulous comes to mind.  In so many of the scenes she looked fabulous.  Her performance was full of pathos.   I could relate to her character in so many ways.  I’ve smoked a lot of marijuana in my life and you are often drawn in to some naval gazing on the nature/ futility of reality and Joy’s responses to her insight in to reality rang true from me.  I’m not saying she was right, which the film clarifies also but I’ve gone down those paths myself which are quite narrow.  I loved every moment of her on screen.


    The look of the film was great.  There was a clarity to the cinematography, with very little fancy camera work to take you out of what was happening on screen.  The set design was detailed and great.  The costumes were amazing.  This deserves awards for costume.  I’ve never said anything about costumes in a film in my life but I just loved the look of people in this film.  Again Joys looks were so good.

    The film is not perfect and I won’t say that, but the weak elements of the film are forgivable and I don’t want to talk about them here.  Overall it was logical and emotional and authentically funny in its absurdity. 

    I do want to watch this film again sometime because it is complicated and there is much I missed and need to think about again. Finally the film has many references and homages to other films but the film I kept thinking about whilst watching it, especially in its humour was ‘Kung Fu Hustle’.  There’s another film to add to your list Laura.


  • Cleo 5 to 7     Agnes Varda (1962; France)

    Cleo 5 to 7     Agnes Varda (1962; France) Corinne Marchard

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 8th May 2022;ticket: £7

    If the hat fits

    I came out of Varda’s movie ‘Cleo 5-7’ with feeling of joy. It’s a film that works by following protagonist Cleo as she moves from a state of fear about her cancer, to discovering how to embrace the life in her body.

    As with many of Varda’s scripts her film implies a moral statement pointing to the ways in which women have to take on responsibility for themselves if they are to control of their own lives in the maelstrom of the social and sexual revolutions characterising the latter part of the 20th century.

    At the core of Varda’s thinking is the perception that some women (certainly not all women) are conditioned to be passive. This feeling of ‘in-built fear’ is the emotional starting point for ‘Cleo 5-7’. The type of fear Varda points to in Cleo is not actual primal physical fear. It is fear as: ‘state of mind’. Fear as a default condition. It is   ‘fear of’ a learned inhibitory device that stops pro-action and initiative  If women were to change their position in relation to men they would have to find ways to undo/recaste their conditioning. If women are to break the mould of passivity first they have to break the mould of fear.

    What is significant in ‘Cleo 5 to 7’ is that Varda’s script suggests that being able move out of ‘fear’ is not necessarily a conscious cognitive process, rather it can be the ability to listen to the unconscious, to trust one’s instincts.

    Varda’s feminist moral tales are strongest when the subjects of her scripts are not feminists or proto-feminists but women in situations (such as waiting for the result of a cancer test) that pose new questions about who they are. Even though she is a professional singer/entertainer, Cleo is a woman who from the outset of the movie exhibits the ordinary range of behaviours and responses of someone of her class and sex.   In ‘Cleo 5-7’ there isn’t one moment of epiphany, a key realisation which causes her to question how she is living. Naturalistically there are a series of small moments which push Cleo into finding something within herself by trusting to her own actions.

    In the opening sequence of ‘Cleo 5-7’, Cleo is sitting across the table from a psychic who is reading the Tarot Cards for her. She is there out of fear, a fear of cancer that she has projected into her future and is taking over control of her psyche. The Tarot reading is filmed as an exercise in pure terror. In the main it is covered by an overhead shot with short sharp cutaways: the anxious face of Cleo; the hardened face of the reader. The ‘overhead’ places the audience in a privileged position to see for themselves what is happening, rather than viewing the table filmed as from Cleo’s point of view. This is not a point of view movie: it’s about seeing. The turning over of the oracular cards is a psychic assault hammering out the design of fate itself. Like a conjuror, the hands of the reader move swiftly deftly with practiced familiarity as she shuffles spreads turns deals Cleo the cards which snap and crackle like shots to the heart finally revealing the image of ‘the hanged man’. The death card. Cancer; no future no life only an intensification of fear and confusion in Cleo.

    But after the reading something shifts inside Cleo. On her way back home with her companion a sudden whim leads her to stop at a hat shop and buy herself a black hat. It’s a purchase only explicable as an impulse rising up out of her unconscious mind. It’s a comedic scene that leads to the totemic purchase of a ridiculous hat that sits on top of her head like a black flag. Her openness to the promptings of her unconscious is a sign that at some level Cleo is hearing something.

    As the scenario unfolds Cleo and her cancer appear ever more enmeshed in the manipulations of those concerned not with her, but with her image: her factotum, her boyfriend, her song writers. But somehow, perhaps it is the black hat and the incessant press upon her to conform to the needs of others, she takes a radical course of action: to say, “No!” To all of them, to get away, find a line of flight out and away, anywhere, to be alone. She puts on a black dress, ditches her blond wig, takes the black hat and quits the house.

    Cleo starts to walk; to arbitrarily allow random moments to lead her.  Walking, going about, meeting others are the enabling mediators of her release.   She allows herself to experience an immanent life, an immediacy of life, to live without anticipation, engrained expectation or history, to be alive on her own terms to be at one with her life and her death. The strength of Varda’s script and direction is that there are no statements no analyses no explanations. Varda structures ‘Cleo 5-7’ so that we can see the change in Cleo unfolding and understand something of what is happening.

    The defining structure of ‘Cleo 5-7’ is that it is a film about the audience ‘seeing’. . In this seeing the audience are not so much spectators but active witnesses to the events in Cleo’s life. As she changes and moves to engage with life and finding joy, we as witnesses we are still with her as we leave the cinema

    adrin neatrour


  • Barton Fink                 Joel and Ethan Coen

    Barton Fink                 Joel and Ethan Coen (1991; USA) John Turturro, John Goodman; Judy Davis


    viewed: Star and Shadow Cinema 1st May 2022; ticket £7

    wrong shoes

    There is a sequence midway through Coens’ ‘Barton Fink’ (BF) in which Barton realises the hotel shoe shine service have given him back the wrong shoes. This feels like a moment that sums up the whole movie. ‘Barton Fink’ is ill shod. As the film progresses, John Turturro’s character, Barton, reminded me of the earlier Woody Allen films, to the extent that ‘Barton Fink’ feels increasingly like a Woody Allen manqué production. But the Coen brothers lack Allen’s scripting talent, his ability to turn situations on their head by way of satirical parody, the stunning mocking self awareness built into the dialogue and of course Allen’s ability to deliver his material. However hard Turturro (and the Coens) try, you can’t escape the feeling that ‘Barton Fink’ is trying to step out in Woody Allens pumps and they don’t fit.

    In relation to the psychic undertow of ‘Barton Fink’, it slots into the currents of the times. The contemporary mode.

    I feel that both the Coens and Lynch pull the same kind of audience and exploit some similar thematic material in their movies. Their films fall into a genre I call ‘American Weird’, whose characteristic visual features are sets and props designed to have an otherworldly gothic horror look; whose scripts actualise the notion that nothing is what it appears to be, and whose characters are designed and cast so as to have a quasi biblical/mythic larger than life presence.

    Drawing on the visual tropes of Hollywood and German Expressionist inspired horror movies both Lynch and the Coens like to exploit sets that sustain an implicit menace: sinister stairwells and epic hotel / apartment block corridors whose vanishing perspectives recede into the darkness of infinity.   The interiors of domestic space are bedecked with strangely patterned wallpaper and props – lamps prints paintings and other interior decorations and furnishings – that are designed to suggest a feeling of ambiguous otherness. An otherness of space that is highlighted by camera operation which employs very big close shots, often at the end of track and zoom ins, and disorienting angles such as overhead, to create feelings of disturbance/dislocation.

    The question is to what psychic need does the ‘Weird Genre’ cater that is so in step with the audiences of the times?

    In Coens’ and Lynch scripts in general nothing is quite as it seems. Key characters have: pasts desires intentions that are hidden from view, and sometimes layered so that a number of possible revelations are spring loaded into the scenarios, positioned at the appropriate time to be triggered as series of gradated revelations. This folding in of multiple layerings of individual motivation is something that has now been taken up and developed in extremis by mutliple TV series.

    In a world where traditional origination beliefs no longer give meaning to existence for many people, people feel that they simply caught up in or are spectators of, ‘the machinations’ of unseen forces.

    But as with metaphysical beliefs many continue to need the belief that they can see behind the veil of the apparent, to be able to claim to understand ‘what’s going on’, ‘what’s happening babe”. Metaphysical beliefs provide an all encompassing purpose to existence, providing adherents with the keys to their relationship to the world: an empowering key.   Conspiracy theories dramatised in multitudinous TV series are based on scripted uncoverings, scripted moments when the veil of the apparent is removed. Likewise filmmakers such as the Coens and Lynch offer a viewing of the world in which individuals are enabled to see through the surface of what is experienced into the ‘real’ which usually comprioses the corruption of institutions and /or the twisted corrupted nature of individuals who run them. The process of ‘seeing into’ to an extent empowers, providing a ‘clear’ vision of how a particular relation is ordered. But whereas metaphysical beliefs affirm a collective unitary story, conspiracy theories take strength from denial of what is seen, take strength from an individuated state of mind comprising a decision to say “No” to the apparent: a thought process based on existential negation.  

    Origination metaphysics is an telelogically adaptable to all circumstances of life and death, achievement and disaster – the complex transforms into the simple. Conspiracy motifs are in a sense the opposite, the simple is transformed into the complex.

    There are branches of conspiracy that posit an underlying cause for all that happens in the world: Aliens – Super Rich – Large Corporations – it is adduced that these each have a meta plan to which history and events conform.  But Lynch and the Coens produce discrete productions with scripts that ‘stand alone’. Knarled Biblical figures, disconcerting landscapes and urban vistas, warped interiors all the expressive signage of the strange and weird are delivered in the unitary output of a script and its realisation.

    The problem is that they are locked into cycles of repetition of the same ideas replication of the same signifiers and signage. There is an appetite for this material but at some point the scripts move into cycles of replication. At some point the message is delivered that America is a weird strange place where social relations, comprising all manner of forces, twist the mortal coil savagely to create dangerous and dysfunctional conditons for life. But in effect once this is said, once this is plotted out in a scenario, there is nothing more to say, only rituals to be dutifully performed.

    adrin neatrour

  • Tangerine   Sean Baker (USA 2015)

    Tangerine   Sean Baker (USA 2015) Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, James Ransone, Karren Karagulian

    Viewed: Star and Shadow Cinema, 21 April 22   Ticket: £7

    It’s Christmas Eve and time to eat and rejoice and to suck cock

    Sean Baker’s movie Tangerine is about desire. Specifically the streets of LA or any large city as portals of desire giving onto open spaces where desires are embodied and satisfied in forms outside the censorious morals of ‘normal’ society.

    Tangerine, so called presumably because of the fake tan colouring of the ladymen hustlers, comes up from the streets, with a sassy ‘know it’ voice.   A movie with a voice that says I want. It wraps the audience up in the gladiatorial defiance of the transsexual street whores locating the action on the LA Boulevards that are the points of intersection between the transgender hustlers and their clients from the straight world. The structure of the film comprises a series of cameos from the two worlds that finally lead to the collision of the two cultures in the local doughnut store.

    Sean Baker’s Tangerine fronts up the street persona of its two leads hustlers. Sin-dee and Alexandra are the axies around which the film whirls as they strut across their Sunset Boulevard turf, a zone characterised by the fractured architecture of retail and commerce. Baker’s movie is driven by iPhone cameras that track and trace the enraged war dance of betrayed Sin-dee, playing out her theatrics of vengeance. The iPhone the chosen tool of the street workers: drugs gangs prostitutes and cabbies, brings immediacy to the volatility of mood and light that are part of the film. The iPhone as a tool of the selfie, everyone is playing out to themselves. That’s the scene.

    Mechanised sex, women paid and used as ‘come’ machines has always been a recourse for men either as pimps and exploiters or as clients for distraction entertainment or frustration. Hence the inherent vulnerability of women in the trade: they got to be both ends facing.   The issues of the ladymen seem to me to be different. Sin-dee and Alex realise their desire to be ladymen makes them social pariahs. Being street whores, dangerous as it may be, has possibilities. It enables them not only to flaunt what they are but also gives them a certain type of discreet power. Their work is a vindication of a life.

    Sin-dee and Alex are comic book gothic characters. Like Superman Spiderman and the rest, Sin-dee and Alex are superheroes (‘superheroes have feelings too’ as Batman once said), with their own costumes and their own special powers. Powers of attraction and repulsion. As the iPhone follows Sin-dee with her power walk, her huge fake mop of flowing locks (like a WWF fighter), her scaly hose and tight hot pants, we get the message: this girl can fight.

    At the core of the expressive game of adopting the persona of the female but retaining the physiognomy of the male, is a claim on personal power. Immediate power. Power based on being different from appearances, being ambiguous, being knowing, being potentially dangerous. It’s a personal power generally confined to particular situations: entertainment, brothels, certain types of streets and perhaps the home. Spaces where the persona is protected from institutional hostility and assault. However vulnerable and inadequate the cross dressing whore may be there is something in the choice that involves integrity, and integrity is a source of inner belief.    

    In Tangerine, the power of the ladymen is on the streets. At the other end of the spectrum lies the conforming power of the home.   Conversely the power of the home is often weakened out on the streets where it is overwhelmed by a culturally engendered overflowing sexuality that can no longer be contained by conventional strictures.

    Baker’s script cleverly takes the two worlds of objective and subjective desire and sets them into momentary interpenetration. Baker selects for his ‘home’ subject an Armenian immigrant (Razmik), married and part of a large (and probably unwanted) extended family. Razmik is a cabby.

    Christmas Eve: Here are the streets; here is the home…I want cock…


    Baker chose not to depict an American. American’s these days in big cities never drive the cabs. Only immigrants drive cabs: long hours and usually treated like the nobody they are. So Razmic is a cabbie, an Armenian, part of a close knit newly arrived immigrant family. So it is a real traditional family and the script is set on Christmas Eve when all the values of the family, its love its consideration, are set to full display mode. But Razmik, after plying the cab trade all day, likes to take time out sucking cock of ladymen.   The desire for ladycock overwhelms him when confronted on Christmas Eve by his family who want him be part of their embrace: the wife the mother in law the kid the cousins and aunts. But he is possessed by the image of Alex.   Her image her power reaches out to him, overwhelms him . He makes his excuses (gotta work!) and abandons the family at their Christmas Eve party, to seek out Alex and suck her dick.

    And so it comes to pass that in the doughnut store where the film begins the stories reach their climax. The two worlds collide in a finale of ‘scandal’.   It’s very funny, but the script doesn’t simply exploit the humour of the situation. It stays responsive to the human factors in play, and this is the defining feature of Baker’s scenario. Both in the doughnut store and in the final street and launderette scene, the characters affirm both their dignity and humanity. Both worlds, the street ladymen and the family world understand something: they have to look after each other’s vulnerability.

    adrin neatrour


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