Star & Shadow

  • Another Round       Thomas Vinterberg (2020; Den, Neth, Swe) 

    Another Round       Thomas Vinterberg (2020; Den, Neth, Swe)   Mads Mikkelson, Thomas bo Larson, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 14th Aug 2021; ticket £10.50

    Danish Pastry

    Vinterberg’s second feature ‘Festen’ worked as an uncompromising satire on the sacred shibboleths of family. Vinterberg’s script using the set piece of the celebratory occasion ripped into the image of the noble patriarch and the adoring family. OK so the idea is not dramatically new but the full frontal exposure of ‘the Daddy’ as a serial sexual molester of his children made for intense dramatic play given all the more edge by being wrapped in the black humour of Vinterberg’s scenario.

    ‘Another Round’ is made of gentler stuff. The satire’s softer and the scenario less focused than ‘Festen’. In this it does not belong in the company of those films that fill out the screen with a dominant monolithic obsession: La Grande Bouffe, Salo, Themroc, Empire of the Senses, Fitzcarraldo. Films that are magnificent in their unwavering moral commitment to play out their foundational logic. ‘Another Round’ instead starts from the perception of the intrinsically consumerist bourgeois nature of contemporary social relations, tinkers with the proposition of disrupting this state of affairs and signs off as a trite domestic drama, Vinterberg signalling the impossibility of escaping the moral and social relational webs endemic in Danish society today.

    The incompatibility of the values underlying contemporary living and the traditional nineteenth century ideas about life in general and sex roles in particular, is exemplified in the Danish National Anthem, which functions as a leitmotif rendered as a shared choral experience throughout the film. The Danish Anthem, which is almost as ridiculous as the embarrassing British National Anthem, is like its British cousin, a Nineteenth Century chauvinistic comforting confection which is noteworthy for its omissions. Whilst lacking the imperialist conceits of the UK anthem, the Danish version also harkens to a Warrior Culture: “The armour dressed fighters rested from the fight…” But what the Danish lyrics don’t mention is that their warrior culture was endemically founded upon an ethos of huge alcohol consumption.

    And alcohol consumption features as the core event in ‘Another Round’, the disrupting element. Vinterberg’s script points to a male identity problem in a society where Denmark is represented as a sort of sleepwalking clockwork world. Everyone has everything they need. In the interests of commerce, education and health, people get up have breakfast lunch dinner do their homework go to bed and get up again. There is no need for anything else. The protagonist Martin and his wife work different shifts so meet only in passing in the kitchen.   The reduction of life to lists and routine.   The Male, the Man Child, can become restless, then deadened. There is nothing for the warrior as represented in the National Anthem, and in Vinterberg’s scenario nothing to feed the spirit of his four teachers.

    The Vikings were a drink culture, in which drink was expressly used to excess. At the core of this warrior culture was the ritual systematic use of alcohol to come to important decisions, achieve particular states of mind, particular types of insights. Such insights might be deluded or irrational, but by their own lights they were nonetheless valued. Toasting and boasting drinking continued until no one was left on their feet. In organised rhythmic drinking, in the commitment to getting drunk, bonds of solidarity were forged and violence and death were concomitant events.   ‘Another Round’ opens with a celebration of the end of term exams involving the consumption of drink and leading to the expected outcome of overindulgence and events getting out of control.   A traditional student alcoholic fuelled experience, but unlike the Viking precedent, the students’ drinking is used to let of steam, not as a ritualised committed part of living.

    When the four male protagonists decide to take up the way of the bottle, their decision doesn’t stem from any cultural or literary imperative promoting alcohol as a means to escape from the constrictions of Middle Class Denmark; they are not inspired by a Muse, revelation an epiphany or a culture of excess . They take to drink at the suggestion of an academic psychiatrist who claims that a moderate amount of alcohol consumed daily will make them better workers more contented citizens.   Very modern Danish. They take to drink because they hope for positive effects at the level of performance. Vinterberg’s spoof is that the alcohol experiment to which they they subscribe is legitimised, like most things in their culture, by an academic expert.

    At this point Vinterberg has the possibility of developing a script with the sobering logic of the total destruction of self and others that alcohol can unleash. A logic that would have moral and social imperative of ripping apart the lives and bodies of the four teachers, but in this process perhaps revealing something deeper in the compact between individuals and society.

    Vinterberg does not take the lesser trod path of moral logic.  The alcohol experiment initially plays out fine for the protagonists. Life seems good, lived at an altered level of experiential reality. But things move into a darker register. After an extreme drinking episode the four protagonists get sober and realise that they do not have the bottle to continue with the alcohol experiment. One of the teachers dies. This is not seen as a good death in tune with the life experiment. Death, the ultimate fear of the bourgeoisie has a sobering effeect and Vinterberg’s script reverts to twee mode and like good little school boys the survivors eventually make up and return to their mechanical wives and kids.

    Whilst resting in the gentlest of satiric niche, the Vinterberg’s movie feels like has thrown a stone into still water, waited until the ripples have subsided then switched off the camera: an anti-climax.

    adrin neatrour


  • Under the Skin   Jonathan Glazer (2013; UK)

    Under the Skin   Jonathan Glazer (2013; UK) Scarlett Johansson

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema, Newcastle 21st July 2021: ticket: £7


    Under the gaze of the White Van Woman

    Jonathon Glazer’s ‘Under the Skin’ looks like a film project that started life as an installation and then stalled. As a realised film it never picks up steam. At the point where we see the third and last of the impassive male figures descend into the pool of gloup, all that’s left in the scenario is surrender to a formulaic plot and stylistic conceit.   Glazer’s film installation is no more than a one image-concept, constructed for the gaze.

    The ‘gaze’ renders its object as a pure spectacle of association.   The gaze does not so much understand or interpret spectacle as associate spectacle with something – in a way working something like an advert. The associative connection with what is witnessed might be provided by a socio-cultural explanation – these fireworks celebrate Bastille Day: or the spectator may draw on their own psychic associative resouces to explain what they witness – perhaps the water is a symbol of renewal or rebirth. Once the subject of gaze has an associative explanation, either given or hazarded, gaze is content. It has an objectified answer. The gaze tends to separate viewer and object, they are discrete and distanced from each other.

    ‘Seeing’ as a concept, is different. It connects the onlooker with immediate effect to what is witnessed.   Seeing involves subjective meaning, a direct connection with object; it is immanent; it is an extrapolation of the self into the experience. In seeing the distinction between the see-er and what is seen can lose its binery nature.

    Glazer’s movie is made for the ‘gaze’. The strategic underpinning of the script is that Glazer is coy about the associative signification of his imagery. Is the imagery put togather to invoke a proto-feminist satire or a neo sci-fi allegory…or what….?   The question of meaning is perhaps redundant. Mysterium. ‘Under the Skin’ like Bill Viola installations, such as ‘Ascension’or ‘Fire Woman’ exploit powerful imagery, invoking elemental forces, delinked from any context, detached from signification, devised so as to open out to the psychic resonance of the viewer. Like adverts they fill out the gaze, and press on the psyche of the viewer to construct their own relationship to the material.  There is no meaning, as such, rather, psychic association. Interesting to note that in most of these forms the images are all composite ‘tricks’. We are gazing on variegated visual stimulae drawn from dfferent sources which it has only been possible to bring togather, in spectacular effect, with the invention of sophisticated digital editing software.

    The opening sequence sees an incoming arrival event, that may be from outer space. It doesn’t matter. This event transposes into a woman (Scarlett Johanson – SJ) and an accompanying motor cyclist. This latter has a aetiological resemblance to the motorbike angels used by Jean Cocteau to create an appropriate and counterbalancing sense of menace in ‘Orphee’.   The woman quickly commandeers a house, finds herself a nice white van, and then proceeds from the interior of the van to look for her victims.   Her gaze is our gaze as she searches the crowd looking for a man to entice back to her place for a cup of coffee. Once trapped in her lair, our gaze follows them as they advance towards the receding figure of SJ, stepping down the long incline into a water like liquid that finally absorbs them in a pool of homogenous gloop.  And that’s their lot. They are victims of our gaze. There is no meaning, only association. They float before us, drowned probably dead, perhaps pickled.   In cool detachment we can only watch.

    And that’s all there is to Glazer’s ‘Under the Skin’. It’s a one trick pony with two types of camera work. In the van, the camera serves the role of analogous stand in for SJ. We see what she sees as her gaze seeks a victim out of the crowd of faces. We are rendered the vicarious thrill and accompaning tensions of the ‘fateful chase’ of the serial killer. The analogous camera is effective but derivitive, recalling similar sequences found in splat fests such as: Henry – Portrait of a Serial Killer. In the pool sections of the movie, there are three I think, the camera work reproduces the types of effects achieved by Bill Viola: the camera is caste to reproduce the effect of pure gaze. It is an abstracted ajudgemental mechanism with which we collude, that records the terminal events cooly without emotion. Without meaning or context it engages only our powers of association: as if….

    Glazer’s ‘Under the Skin’ would have been better served by maintaining its installation character, refusing to take any other form but the imperative of the gaze. Glazer seems not have understood that psychic association per se eludes signification and meaning, and that without some radical shift of frame, installation technology cannot be easily married to the idea of plot. Perhaps not understanding this or bowing to pressures from finance, Glazer’s scenario with a flick of scripting switch flips to a plot mechanism half way through. Unsurprisingly, he is unable to find a structure that involves a paradigm shift, a line of development that intensifies, reveals, explicates, exposes, or radically shifts framing of his material. All he is able to produce is a piece of ‘bolt on’ formulaic plotting that exploits every worn out familiar trope of the feminist scifi genre: SJ falling for a ‘man’, realising she cannot do this, and finally in desperation resorting to a ‘chase’ scene where SJ is persued thorugh the woods by a wild mad rapist before finally self immolating. At its conclusion “Under the Skin” becomes completely silly.

    As it was in the beginning so it is at the end of ‘Under the Skin’   Failing to understand the nature or the form of his core materail, Glazer has taken us on a trip to nowhere. Under the gaze of SJ his film might be a sci-fi caper, a feminist allegory or an idea in the eye of the beholder. Watching through the last long 40 minutes it seemed simply an enigma wrapped in a stylistic banality.

    adrin neatrour










  • Night of the Kings   Philippe Lacote (Cote d’Ivoire, Fr, Can; 2021) Bakary Kone, Steve Tientcheu, Jean Digbeu, Rasame Ouedraogo.

    viewed: Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle; 24 July 2021; ticket: £7

    If God say ‘Yes!’ then no one can say ‘No!’

    MACA, a prison secreted and secured in the middle of the jungle of Cote d’Ivoire. Night of the Kings opens with the transport of a new inmate into this forest redoubt. The gates of MACA open and the new prisoner enters; immediately the whole joint explodes into life in a deafening cacophony of indescribable intensity: metal shell wood cracked together in a crescending visceral overwhelming of being. Both audience and the new inmate know that they have arrived in another world.

    Maca is a open prison, run by the inmates who control the day to day regime.   Ultimate authority over the inmates resides in the King Rat, Black Beard. It’s an enclosed self referential world that is of course in some significant ways analogous to the condition of many African states. Black Beard may be the titular bossman, but his authority only runs to the internal relations of the gaol, and only so far and so long as the place stays in good order. The King Rat is in effect only an agent of the hidden powers, who are always present, observing what is happening in Maca, ready to intervene if their interests are threatened. And when they decide to make themselves known, they do so with the gun, the instrument of decisive force, crushing the innocent and the guilty, without compunction. Their objective is always to restore the prison to its natural ‘order’, to bring ‘peace’ to their land.

    From Maca, as from most African countries, there is no escape.   Surrounded by the impenetrable forest, once you are shut up in this prison you are doomed both to live and probably to die there. And as there are no direct lines of escape, the human psyche, with its imperative need to always see a way out, perforce finds its own internalised line of escape in the form of collective delirium. ‘Night of the Kings’ is Philippe Lacote’s visionary mapping of an Africa where for many men there is no escape, they are trapped and no one needs them. The consequence is a collective abandonment into the frenzied transcendence of ritual, a transposed political response to a situation that has become intolerable.  

    Maca is a delirious world and as such it faithfully replicates the salient features of the world in which it is contained. What is Africa if not a prison? Al Shabab, the Janjaweed, the Lord’s Resistance Army, Boko Haram these movements are the collective psychotic lines of escape that find their cathectic outlet in the delirium of violence: ritual beheadings and rape.

    A mood of violence transgression and despair underlies ‘Night of the Kings’, but until its finale, Lacote’s script sublimates the violent compression of male energy and desperation into ecstatic ritualised dance and percussive response to the ‘story’ told by Roman.

    It is this story that structures the scenario giving the film a mythic resonance and depth. The new boy on the block, whose entrance into Maca we see in the first sequence of the film, is transformed into ‘Roman’, the griot, the storyteller. But like Sheherahazard, story telling comes with a twist in the tale. Roman is charged with telling a story to the prisoners on Red Moon night, and like Sheherahazard if he finishes his story before day break his life is forfeit. The use of a time limited device brilliantly energises the action and heightens the tensions that Lacote uses to actualise his film.

    And the story that Roman tells is a contemporary African story. In the West the word ‘story’ has been appropriated by the quasi ideological idea of self determination. Stories are justifying instruments for individuals and groupings that allow them to make sense of their lives and validate their existence.   Stories are always fabrications. They are often shaped moulded rigged, untidy bits omitted, to fit a specifically desired framing. But stories can also be chaotic discontinuities characterised by lacuna and multiplying series of alternative tellings. These perhaps are African stories, without clear beginning or end, an eternity of being now in the middle of hallucination, a story that is a schizo state of mind, not a end state. And this is the story Roman tells to the blood flesh and sweat of the prisoners on the Night of the Kings. An African Story, an incoherence that reflects the reality of these lands.

    There is a burgeoning output from African film makers, with many outstanding filmmakers such as Sissako, Sembene. But Lacote’s movie is one of the very few that tackles straight on the reality of post colonial male dislocation and its consequences. We see generations deracinated, generations of deterritorialised broken male psyches left in chaos with only the delirium of belief systems as a line of escape, belief systems that justify maleness and the force of the male. This is not the only reality in Africa but it is becoming increasingly familiar across the Continent and can now be seen as one of the defining features of the post colonial era. The issue remains what of the voices of women in this time. At the moment they are mute and muted, and we need to hear them.

    adrin neatrour



  • The Swimmer     Frank Perry (USA 1968; script Eleanor Perry)

    The Swimmer     Frank Perry (USA 1968; script Eleanor Perry) Burt Lancaster, Janice Rule

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 11 July 2021; ticket £7

    Penelope and Odysseus

    The naked male body as an actual physical presence has been (as far as I am aware) limited as a type of mainstream cultural expression. What comes to mind when I think of the male body as pure form is the sculptural presentation of the male in Ancient Greece, Eaweard Muybridge and Morrissey and Riefenstahl’s films. In nineteenth century painting and also much photography of the male body, the bodies seem to either to be representational images, icons, or to have been realised as objects of gaze. In this sense when viewing these sorts of images I am not confronted by the proximity of male physicality in the same sense that I am in the presence of those Greek sculptures.

    But then emerging out of the waters of East Coast suburban swimming pools comes ‘The Swimmer’. It’s a movie starring Burt Lancaster as the protagonist, Ned.   Lancaster stripped down to the buff, an actual male body: he is not selling anything, he doesn’t represent anything other than himself, he is not an object. He is a presence, a body moving across the manicured lawns of American suburbia. Lancaster, a presence that is vulnerable and defines and delimits the world on his own terms of naked physicality.

    The Swimmer is an act of homage that Lancaster chose to pay to his own body. The part of Ned was one that Lancaster was desperate to play, so much so that as the Swimmer ran out of money at the end of production, Lancaster contributed to paying for the final days of the shoot.  

    John Cheever wrote his original short story ‘The Swimmer’ for the New Yorker magazine.   A wry commentator on life in the commuter hinterlands of New York City, Cheever’s eye was sensitised to the faintest of ripples disturbing the surface of the immaculately kept suburban swimming pools.

    Cheever’s short story is an account of an all American suburbanite, Ned, who decides one fine day in the summer to swim the County. That is to say to leap frog his way home from an early morning drinks party using the many swimming pools of ‘friends’ and neighbours to create an aquatic pathway back to his house. Cheever’s story feels like a draft rather than the finished article. Ideas and possibilities are suggested not developed. It is script writer Eleanor Perry’s interpretation of the Swimmer’s potential that transforms Cheever’s writing into a compelling moral lesson, taking the material and fashioning it into a feminist retort to misogyny and male arrogance. Perry’s writing grounds the male body in a mythic structure, maintaining the story’s natatorial structure but recalibrating its content.

    Under Cheever’s pen, Ned’s body is almost an abstraction. Through the lens of Frank Perry’s camera, Ned’s Body is a demanding vibrant physical phenomenon. The subject of the Swimmer is the stripped male body, both its vulnerability in general but in particular its power in relation to the female. Eleanor Perry’s scenario, realised with her husband’s direction subjects the male form to a scrutiny totally foreign to the symbolic posing that is Hollywood’s (and most of cinema’s) habitual default setting.  .  

    From one of the film’s first lines (taken directly from Cheever), “ I drank too much last night!”, Ned, naked except trunks (no shoes), barrels his way across the gardens lawns terraces patios and tiled arbours of his wealthy ‘friends’ and neighbours.   As he progresses down the valley from one pool side setting to another we see that Ned’s body is increasingly out of place, out of time. Ned, dripping water is an undisguised primal man long overtaken by the forces of civilisation. The body of today is marked by its outer mantel of dress denoting power status fashion and wealth. The bared body, in particular the bared male body feels like an anachronism, belonging to a primitive past or to a child.

    And the notion of the man/male /child is a parallel theme energising Perry’s vision of Ned’s Odyssey. The closer Ned approaches his home the more the forces of disintegration and regression overtake him. The man becomes teenager becomes little boy becomes child becomes foetus; the waters of the pools become retro-amniotic fluids unmaking Ned, stripping the man back to his infancy.

    Lancaster’s body dominates the film as pure physique, both as primal statement and sexual imperative.   And it is the sexual imperative of the male body, its weight its press and presence in relation to the female, to which Perry’s script gives fullest attention. This aspect of male presence runs through ‘the Swimmer’s ’ script but reaches its climax in Ned’s visit to his old flame Shirley. He finds her lounging poolside in the sun.   As Lancaster sits next to her body, touching her, as he stalks her then closes in on her in the waters of the pool, you feel the animal magnetism of the male body as it draws and drains the power of Shirley’s resistance. Shirley, at the point where she seems overwhelmed by the physical forces both within herself within the man, finds the inner strength to break the insistence of male attraction. She chokes off her yielding; cuts off Ned’s power takes control of herself. She frees herself from the past, from physical memory, frees herself from the press of the male body, both the man and the child.

    The Swimmer is a film of a mythic negative resonance. It is a phantom contemporary retelling of the Odyssey, in particular in its intimate recesses. Like Ned, Odysseus too has to find his way home across the waters; but in The Swimmer, this story refashioned by Eleanor Perry, is retold as if when Odysseus after all his tribulations finally gets to Ithaca and stands naked before Penelope demanding to possess her, she breaks off, denies him and leaves. Before the man’s body, the woman must see the child, because that is what Western culture/society has produced: children in men’s bodies. A modern myth.

    adrin neatrour





  • Playing Away   Horace Ove (UK; 1987)  

    Playing Away   Horace Ove (UK; 1987)   Norman Beaton; Nicolas Farrell

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 4th July 2021; ticket £7

    We won’t be back

    The final sequence of Horace Ove’s ‘Playing Away’ sees the black cricket team pile into their minibus, leaving the leafy white suburban village to return to the streets of Brixton from whence they came. The last shot is an impressionistic shot taken from the front seat of their vehicle: back in Brixton, driving under Brixton Road railway bridge. They are home. And that is where they’ll stay. As the two teams say their respective ‘goodby’s’ there’s been no indication, either from the black cricket team or from their white hosts that there will be a return fixture. Held together by the force of convention, the interaction between the two groups has remained mostly polite and amicable; but the underlying fissures and tensions experienced by both parties mean there will be no repeat event: no return invitation.   And that’s not cricket.

    ‘Playing Away’ is often described as a ‘comedy of manners’. This description does little justice to Ove’s film.   It’s not a comedy. Yes it has humour, but it is a polished insightful probe into race and class interaction. To my knowledge it is one of the very few films that take on the subject of everyday race interaction. ‘Playing Away’ is not set up as the usual oppositional police/gangs sort of context; but as its obverse; the ordinary, race in the everyday flow of life. Ove’s scenario plots the interactions between people which are governed by the informal social rules and norms which have of purpose of easing day to day business between people and nullifying potential sources of conflict.   These rules are typified by but not exclusive to the interactions in White Middle Class society. Using the device of the cricket match ( Cricket is an oppositional game but it is grounded in etiquette) ‘Playing Away’ tests out the boundaries of race and class. Cricket with its rules and protocols, is an arch exemplifier of a ‘bounded world’, participation in which is mediated by agreed standards of behaviour.   As one character in the film points out: its not the game that is important, nor how well you can play the game. What’s important are the rules, the rules of the game.   Shades of Renoir here, as the rules of class and cricket collude to provide a micro study in how these different groups relate, and who actually obeys the rules.

    ‘The rules of the game’ are designed to create the conditions that put all players on an equal footing; this might apply to cricket but not to the processes of life as ‘Playing Away’ itself testifies.

    One of strengths of Caryl Phillips’ and Ove’s script is that it is a collective piece.   The opening sequence of ‘Playing Away’ is set in Brixton, presenting the West Indians as a community, with shared values, shared understanding of a way of life and the hostile conditions their life style must endure because of their colour. This generates a film that has a strong ensemble feel with each of the cricket team members, both the men and women, representing something more than themselves, the particular ethos of their culture, understood not so much from what they say, but from the manner and style of their being ‘present’.

    The structure of the main body of the film is built on a series of intercut vignettes. Individual members of the team split off and take up with various of the white villagers, engendering narratives that interweave and intersect as strips of action on the eve of the match. This splitting of attention allows ‘Playing Away’ to untangle some of the different threads represented in the script: class race gender sex. Phillips’ script defines both the White and Black communities as natural populations, each with their own gender sexual generational and class tensions. Although all the West Indians experience racist attitudes, whether from the condescension of the upper middle class toffs or the aggro of the country boys, race prejudice is overlaid by class prejudice. The West Indians are not only black they are also working class, foreign bodies who are doubly different from their hosts. The exception is one member of the Brixton team, who as a race relations officer, has taken a significant step into the bourgeoisie. He’s still black, that is where his roots lie, but his movement into white collar world sets up significant raw areas of distrust and concomitant tension between himself and his team mates.

    In the interactions between the races there is little overt violence in ‘Playing Away’. What Ove does communicate is an underlying feeling of a repressed violence in the psychic make up of the teams.  But this submerged current has quite different roots in the whites and blacks and violence and aggressive assertion whilst mostly under control is provoked in quite different ways. Amongst the white population the unrestrained psychic and actual violence of racism is mostly, but not certainly not exclusively coming from the poor whites, the rural underclass. It is important for their white self image to be able to assert racial superiority to denigrate blacks as inferior degenerate types.   The poorer or more insecure the greater the need to pull racial rank, culminating in ‘Playing Away’ in the attempted assault on one of the black accompanying women; and at the climax of the ‘match’ itself when a group of the white village players walk off the pitch, breaking the very rules of the game rather than lose to the Brixton team.

    The underlying violence of the black team comes from a different place. As Baldwin once commented the blacks don’t really care about the whites. What they would like is just to be left alone by them. But they are not left alone. They are derided, subject to white prejudice, judged and hounded blocked and frustrated by the white man. And as recipients of all this abuse, they have to stay in control of themselves, or risk vicious retaliation. But it’s life lived on the edge of an eruption of resentment. And at certain points a relatively trivial incident will set the fuse for an explosion of emotional rage that that will rip the lid off the situation. And it is this feeling of living with suppressed anger that Ove and Phillips represent in ‘Playing Away’ that connects the characters to the real challenge of surviving as a black in a white world. The idea embedded in the title of their film, its script and scenario is that ‘the black team’ is always in the situation of ‘Playing Away’.

    adrin neatrour

  • Mandabi Ousmane Sembele (1968; Fr)

    Mandabi      Ousmane Sembele (1968; Fr)   Makhouredia Gueye

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle   20 June 2021; ticket: £7

    …and they will be bearded…

    Sembele’s ‘Mandabi’ set in Dakar, in post colonial Senegal, offers a perspective into the lives of its inhabitants, the conditions under which they live, and hints as to how these conditions will come to haunt us all.   Sembele’s script penetrates into the ordinary through a simple device that opens up the ambiguities of this society: the need to cash a postal order. Particular to Sembele as an African film maker is his intimate understanding of the richness of his subject. He doesn’t need the pretext of murder or robbery, he just needs a postal order and the situation unfolds.

    The opening sequence of Mandabi sees the protagonist Ibrahim sitting in one of the town’s squares receiving the attentions of a barber, who’s using an open razor to depilate Ibrahim’s nose and to apply the finishing touches to his coiffure. Ibrahim is immediately represented as a man who is vain proud and clean shaven, from head to chin: he faces the world on these terms. But it’s a front, and the sequence introduces the interwoven purpose of Sembele’s film: to satirise the distorted claims of male gender supremacy, but also to communicate to the audience that Ibraham’s situation in this satire, has roots and consequences.

    Sembele’s intention is to move beyond Western imagery of African representation. To expose a Western ‘Africanism’ in the same way that Edward Said was exposing and attacking ‘Orientalism’.   Both Western thought modes developed to systematically define and control their human objects. When Africa is filmed by Western filmmakers, what we usually see are the ‘successful’ black intermediaries, the powerful inheritors of Western systems, who in their imitative behaviour collude with the values of their paymasters. Otherwise Africans play walk on parts: cheating shop keepers, cheerful workers, happy-go–lucky street vendors. As cardboard cut outs they are summoned into scenarios to accommodate the need for local atmosphere and colour. When sat in front of his barber, Ibrahim is an image of male vanity. It’s an image that Ibrahim himself would like to claim, but Sembele cuts through Ibrahim’s skin into the grain of his life. Behind his image, Ibrahim is another unemployed man, with nothing more than his maleness and formulaic religious enunciations of his Islamic faith upholding his dignity and self worth. The more his situation deteriorates, the more important to Ibrahim become assertion of both his maleness and his Islam. Without work, without identity papers, with a large family, two wives and five children, Ibrahim in effect is a non- person in his own land.

    Lacking a formal identity, in the eyes of the state you don’t exist. One particular consequence of colonial rule was the creation and extension of control systems deep into the fabric of civil society. In particular this was important in relation to land ownership where European systems of registration of property ownership were introduced in many colonised lands. Firstly enabling the occupying powers to tax and claim land for themselves; and secondly allowing their local proxy rulers similar rights: to enjoy both privileged work/ careers and manipulation and access to the new civil laws imported form the Mother country. Ibrahim and his extended family are in the situation of being in double jeopardy in the post-colonial situation. First exploited by the French occupation of their country and at ‘Independence’ handed over to the privileged local elite that the colonial power had selected to be the inheritors of their system.   The ordinary folk like Ibrahim remained locked out from participation the economic and political spheres of life. Their fate was and still is be disinherited, the impoverished reliquaries of the system designed to benefit the local elite and their ‘ex-masters.’

    ‘Mandabi’ uses the remittance culture to highlight all these problems.   Remittance culture is of course familiar to us from its recent vast extension into the Gulf States, where whole cities, stadia and islands in the ocean have been built on labour of temporary immigrants lured to the Gulf by the prospect of able to earn money that can be remitted back home. With no work for them in their own countries, these workers, labouring under slave like conditions, work in order to send their wages back home so that their families can eat. Sembele’s script gives social substance to the remittance culture – the complexity of life at the comsuming end of the money chain. There is also the moot point that this economic arrangement provides cheap labour for the host; and in the donor country it acts as a sort of safety net for the poor, preventing conditions of poverty becoming so grave that the system would be forced to change.

    For the most part remittance people, as in ‘Mandabi’, are non people. They have no access to education, work or privilege. There are barely any state systems to support income, only the hope of money from abroad. In ‘Mandabi’ the only recourse in times of need is to the collectivity, that network of extended family to sustain individuals. It is kith and kin networks that in their complex reciprocity both sustain life and engender tension. There is no escape from these opposing conditions.

    As Ibrahim, ever more a lost soul, wanders across Dakar on his futile mission to cash the mandate, the lives of those counting on this money also start to crumble in despair. His wives, his sisters, nieces and nephews face hunger and ruin. And outside Ibrahim’s house lurks the real estate Shark with his eye on purchasing Ibrahim’s house, at a distressed knock down price. It’s Ibrahim’s one tangible asset. When he is forced to sell his house in order to eat, as certainly he will have to, he will be destitute. His destitution will the further undermine his fragile self esteem. Ibrahim will then have resort to ever more extreme claims on male privilege and the certainties of Islam to maintain his fragile sense of self. A destitute Ibrahim will no longer be a subject of gentle satire, his behaviour will have moved beyond parody.

    Completely dispossessed with his wives and children dependent on him and remittances, Ibrahim will soldier on until his death. But Sembele’s film provides a haunting look at the phantom that will materialise in the future: Boko Haram. Ibrahim did not rise up against the forces that conditioned and defined his life. Perhaps his sons did not. But his grandsons and thousands like them with only their gender and Islam as the props of their identity are now the soldiers of Boko Haram. They are no longer non-persons. Under Boko Haram they are the ones shaping the future and riding the storm of change – both personal and collective.   At this point 50 years on from ‘Mandabi’, Ibrahim’s male descendants see no other choice. They are not clean shaven like their grandfather, they are bearded. They are the spectres haunting Mandabi.

    Adrin Neatrour

  • Burning Lee Chang-dong (Korea;2018;)

    Burning           Lee Chang-dong (Korea;2018;) Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo.

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 6th June 2021; ticket £7

    No where land; nowhere man

    There’s a Beetles Song written by John Lennon that features on ‘Rubber Soul’ called Nowhere Man. After viewing Chang-dong’s Burning, I thought of this song. It seemed a perfect fit for ‘Burning’, a film representing S Korea as a nowhere land, full of no-where people.

    Early in the film, after Shin and Lee meet up again (they have sort of known each other as children, though nothing in Chang-dong’s film is ever certain) Lee takes her out for a meal. At the table she talks to Lee about hunger, asking him if he has Big Hunger or ‘Great Hunger’. He looks at her. He doesn’t get what she means by ‘Great Hunger’. In response she throws her arms wide open, swings them round in gesticulation. ‘Great Hunger’ is Hunger for Life itself. She says she has ‘Great Hunger’. It doesn’t seem as if Lee shares this, but Shin understands something about herself and as a way of honouring her ‘Great Hunger’ she decides to visit Africa: perhaps this continent will feed her need for meaning in life.   ‘Big Hunger’ isn’t fed in Korea.

    In ‘Burning’ S Korea is a land of the dead, a land voided of meaning. As Chang-dong surveys S Korea he represents it as a bottomless chasm, an emptied vacuous culture. When you look and try to see what’s there, there’s nothing to see: it’s a land of indeterminacy.   Neither one thing nor another, a land that has had its heritage, its past stripped out, and overlaid with the thin veneer of an American consumerist ethos. A two dimensional place made up of surfaces.

    The script develops the idea that Korean society is suspended in a state of superposition, in a quantum state of indeterminacy where existence and inexistence depend on interaction with an observer.   The characters come and go without making any impression on life: Lee’s mother, Lee’s father, Shin herself, and even Ben. The characters exist in the same condition as Schrodinger’s cat shut up in its box: no one knows if they’re alive or dead. Without an observer their status is indeterminate, and Korea is a place where no one looks.   There are no observers.

    The direct reference to this state of superposition in Chang-dong’s film is Shin’s cat called Boil, whom Lee agrees to feed whilst Shin is away in Africa. But Lee never sees Boil: no matter how much he looks for the cat in Shin’s tiny room he can’t find it. Later at a point where he is not looking for it, Boil appears, and at this moment when observed, its significance can be measured in terms of Shin’s life and death.   Up until this moment Shin’s existence is indeterminate. When she ceases to be present, no one is aware of her ‘not being’, no one looks in the box: her friends, the people she works with, her church community. They observe no box: she has registered no imprint of her existence with an observer. Except Lee: Lee looks into the box, finds Boil and understands that Shin is dead, murdered.

    ‘Burning’ presents the vistas and interiors of contemporary Korea as nondescript zones, through which the population is in transit. Shin’s room and the view from her window, Ben’s apartment and neighbourhood, the clubs and restaurants the street scene that opens the film: all any spaces whatsoever.

    There is one location of Chang-dongs that is different: his father’s farm which he moves back to when his father is imprisoned for being angry and abusive to a state official. (His father registers as a throwback to another era because in Burning no one evinces emotion. Emotions and expressed feelings are alien states in the new Korea) Lee’s family farm reeks of the past. It’s not a part of the shiny new Korea. It is dilapidated run down, has the look of neglect. But it is real. It is in this setting, the country where the land is still real that Chang-dong introduces the leitmotif of his sound track: the shamanist drum and pipes of an old Korea. This is music that comes up out of the earth.. It calls on anyone who may hear it, to dance, to touch the rhythms of life and death, fire and water. Anything but indeterminacy, the music is real, and response to it immediate.

    Shin is a lost soul, her search to honour her ‘Big Hunger’ leads her to Africa, where even as a tourist she finds something of the energised rhythms of life she seeks.  But her Big Hunger cannot be fed. Corrupted and impoverished she drifts to her death, in the homicidal arms of Ben. And Ben’s is also a twisted being driven by an obsessive invocation of forces of fire and death. Ben’s is mesmerised with setting fire to abandoned greenhouses. His arson creates a series of disturbing images, as when on fire these skeletal structures call to mind the idea of the sacrificial victims trapped in the Wicker Man.   Although not specifically suggested by Burning, the thought occurs that Shin’s body was immolated by Ben, reduced to ashes, in one of these primordial sacrificial fires, whose ribbed frames have a strong anthropomorphic resonance.

    Chang-dong’s movie is slow and oblique building connections and links between script and images. The ancient grounds of Korea have been obliterated overbuilt, but the phantom emanations leak into the culture causing strange aberrations and distortions both to collective and to individual life in this country of modernity.

    adrin neatrour

  • Blade Runner The Final Cut Ridley Scott (USA, 1982)

    Blade Runner  The Final Cut       Ridley Scott (USA, 1982) Harrison Ford; Rutger Hauer; Mary Sean Young.

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle UK; ticket: £7

    passing good

    Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ is a virtuoso statement of filmic style; it’s a style that is underpinned by a strong conceptual vision of not only how the film should look but why it looks as it does.  Ridley Scott’s movie is driven by a number of conceptual and moral imperatives.

    ‘Blade Runner’ opens with a text that establishes simply and immediately the world which the script and scenario will explore and develop.  We read: there is a population of entities, called replicants who are manufactured automata; in look and intelligence they have become indistinguishable from humans. They are used as slave labour to do the dirty work off-earth in other galaxies. It is illegal for these non-persons to be on Earth. Should they be discovered here they are dispatched (retired). The task of Blade Runners is to track down and retire these creatures, who when going amongst us, look no different from us.

    This short prefatory text sets up the framework for the design of Blade Runner: the concept of the vilified dehumanised other, the alien; and the embedded developmental idea of ‘passing’.   Blade Runner is often called dystopian, which may be so but these days it’s an overused term.   What grabs the attention in Syd Mead’s visual design are the polar extremes represented: the dilapidated burnt out shantytown of LA, the rococo antique interiors of the private apartments, the stripped functionality of the offices laboratories and dwellings of the state’s apparatniks. Looking at the development of American cities in the ‘80s, Blade Runner’s richly embroidered high key lighting set, anticipates the development of an urban architectural mode that increasingly favoured the impoverishment and abandonment of public spaces in favour of the enhancement of private space.   The design setting of the movie complements in its polarity the scripts posited existence of two populations: the authentic native earth born and the despised inhuman and dangerous replicants.

    Looking at the economies of most Western developed states, there is a familiar pattern.   The immigrants do the hard repetitive work: agricultural toil, unskilled dangerous construction and demolition, and scrubbing and scraping deep in the steam addled kitchens of the big cities. Mostly ignored and despised, the immigrant is an analogous stand-in for the replicant. Denied by the mainstream population as having the capacity to ‘feel’, denied recognition of their co-existent humanity, this state of mind is basis for our callous even murderous exploitation of immigrants who are seen as little more than our ‘replicants.’ And of course this isn’t some dystopian future, this is our society now and in its post 1945 past.

    For a class of people to be considered in a general way to be sub-human, their voice needs to be suppressed. Because voice provides immediate phenomenological evidence that ‘sub-humans’ have: feelings, emotions, personal and shared histories, memories; that they share these critical attributes of being human with ourselves and employ the same expressive signs as those by which we define ourselves.  And it is the elemental human voices of the replicants that Fancher and Peoples develop in the script: memories personal histories and emotions. Roy’s anger that replicants lives have been exploited twisted and determined by the techno- economic system that created them; Rachael’s ‘love’ her aroused emotional involvement with Deckard. Of course, in terms of a determinist argument that wants to deny the replicant’s humanity, some might argue that the expressive signifiers used by the replicants are simply designs installed and activated by deep programming.   But at this point, the very concept of consciousness starts to become problematic, because are we not all deeply conditioned entities?

    At the opening of the film Scott establishes a familiar stereotypical format: the ennoblement of Deckard the Blade Runner, and the demonization of the replicants who like all revolutionaries take on an aggessive confrontational stance towards the authority that would destroy them (but not of course Rachael who has a sort of honorary white status). The replicants are labeled as dangerous and ruthless. But as the scenario develops we start to see that their response to their situation is all too human They want revenge and its personal, but something more as well. In the plot’s denouement when replicant Roy has Deckard at his mercy there is the moment of absolute truth. Roy’s internal clock is winding down to the preordained time of his death, but he choses not to deliver Deckard the coup de grace. At this moment, Roy realises something about life: that life is precious. And at this moment of life and death, this realisation creates an empathic bond with Deckard: Roy understands that although he must die, Deckard can live; he Roy can give Deckard the gift of life. No one wants to die before their time. The script’s probing of the psycho-social collision of the human and the replicant completes its circuit of logic. The machine returns to the human their own humanity.

    And this same circuitry is part of our contemporary experience.  A logic that poses questions for us through the current rapid development of AI. AI entities in conversations with humans have already passed the ‘Turing Test.’ We can’t necessarily tell if we are speaking to a human or to ‘a machine’. Perhaps some time soon we the humans are going to have to make a decision: to take the direct route and dismantle ‘HAL’ to save ourselves; or to forge another human type relationship with these human-created entities.

    The other dynamic concept driving the script engine is the idea of ‘passing’. Passing refers to regular involvement in social interactions on the basis of a false identity. Good examples are drawn from the world of spying where men such as Philby, Blunt, Mclean, Burgess all working at the heart of MI5 for some 20 years plus, were in fact Soviet Agents regularly reporting back to the KGB. They passed themselves off as loyal Brits. ‘Passing’ in temporarily limited situations is common.   But many individuals who were Gay or Jews or members of many other discriminated groups, whose identity in itself assured vicious social and even murderous discrimination, learnt to pass as straight, Christian etc as a way of living/surviving. The idea of ‘passing’ lies at the core of Blade Runner. It’s embedded in the opening section in which the suspect male replicant is subjected to interrogation using a lie detector type machine that focuses mainly on his involuntary iris dilation.   As this interrogation proceeds, and we understand the process better as Rachael undergoes the same testing, we see that only with the use absurdly complicated equipment can we tell the difference between the replicants and ourselves. We can see them in the street, we can drink with them, make love to them, and we wouldn’t know they were different. Only they know.   We can be fooled as to who they really are. I am reminded of the intensity of the Jewish legislation in Nazi Germany which burrowed back two generations into the heredity of suspected Jews, to validate that they were the Aryans they claimed to be.

    Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ pulls together the insecurities of a new emergent age: issues of identity, issues of the increasing power and claims of machine intelligence. When the movie was made these were ‘ideas of potential’ but clearly seen (by writers such as W. Burroughs) on the event horizon. Blade Runner’s achievement, even today is to frame these emergent realities in a script that is dedicated to the purely filmic, which economically without digression uses film to explore ideas.

    adrin neatrour



  • Nomadland Chloe Zhao (2020; USA)

    Nomadland                  Chloe Zhao (2020; USA) Frances McDermand, David Strathairn, Linda May

    Viewed: Everyman Cinema Newcastle 21 May 2021; ticket: £13:50 (with booking fee)

    Woodstock generation finale

    Nomadland feels as if it would have better realised as a documentary. Apparently many of the parts were played by people living mobile life styles, and Frances McDermand, as Fern, plays a role that is often close to being a stand in reporter / interviewer. But this hybrid form doesn’t cut into this subject area in the same way as a piece of actual reportage. Without the dramatic bookending of the film around Fern there would be more space for seeing and hearing the lost and hidden voices of the American dream.

    Lee Issac Chung’s recently released Disneyesque celebration of the America, Minari, tells what happens when you go embrace the Dream full on: you overcome all obstacles. Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland tells what it’s like when you wake up from ‘the dream’: when the factory goes bust, when they repossess the farm or debts take your house. Then you are alone. The stark picture in Nomadland is America as a society of isolated individuation. In this situation many choose to climb into their cars or vans or mobile homes and roam the country, finding work and solace, disappearing in the vastness of the continent. Chloe Zhao shows the various communal initiatives, the attempts at forming collectivities out of this diverse crew, but more compelling are the images and stories that emphasise people’s aloneness. No surprise: this is a culture that has created the economic and social conditions where communities – economic – social – local – can no longer survive the onslaught of monetising capitalism. Only money has value, this is the logic of the global economy as it folds over the lives of working people.

    Chloe Zhao’s scenario works best as it documents the casual work cycle of road existence and probes the psychic base upon which people weave their present reality. Nomadland opens with the closure of the Gyproc plant that pushes Fern out of the village of Empire onto the conveyor belt world of temp jobs: Amazon, theme parks, fast food outlets, where the rule is: use your body and leave your mind behind. ‘Papa Bob’ a kind of spokesman for the Nomads, talks in an early section of the film about the freedom endemic in being a American nomad. But Fern and those like her although not anchored in the financial system’s mortgage racket, they are still totally dependent on the macjob economy to pay fuel repair bills and parking/overstay fees.   They may not be anchored but as the script shows, they are tethered to the system: Fern needs money: gas, repair work, food and overnights.

    The film starts in a strong suit: the reality of surviving on the margins of a fractured and broken state. But Chloe Zhao’s scenario at a point about half way through the film slips into image fascination. ‘Nomadland’ starts to look like another Disney Production, the screen filling out with chocolate box pictures of National Geographic America. We are shown tourist board images of rock mountain river gorge and desert. Compounding this imagery we have Frances McDermand plonked in the middle of a couple of these images, dancing and bathing, as if selling soap or freedom bras. Image dissonance: a message that somehow in adopting these advertising tropes and stereotypical poses, Fern is liberated.

    As the film winds to conclusion it descends into sentimentality and the dishonesty that is surely part of the price it Chloe Zhao pays for choosing the dramatic rather than the documentary form. Drama, in particular Hollywood’s version, seems to demand (not all directors yield to this demand) some sort of emotional closure. The route taken by Chloe Zhao accedes to this demand, which is encapsulated by ‘Papa Bob’s’ encomium as he talks to Fern, denying the finality of endings: “We don’t die, we don’t say goodbye, we just say: “See you down the road!”.

    James Baldwin makes a telling observation in relation to the Sherriff’s last words to Mr Tibbs in ‘The Heat of the Night’. The Southern white Sherriff who has at one point come close to lynching Mr Tibbs, the black detective, finally says goodby to him on the station platform with the words: “You take good care of yourself, you hear?” Hollywood loves to end a movie with a metaphorical ‘kiss’ meaning a faked reconciliatory gesture that makes everything all right. “ See you down the road!”

    As the film descends into its Disneyesque ending, it becomes dull, devoid of the life and reality that sustains the opening sections. I also became more aware of the incongruity of the drone footage that Chloe Zhao mandates in her shooting script. Drone footage can be problematic. The ‘role of the camera’ in a film shoot can take on many guises, from ‘Point of View’, ‘privileged observer’, ‘analogous protagonist’ often cutting between these ‘persona’ as well as incorporating many other types of shot. There’s no rules. But drone shots usually have a suprahuman quality that can make them problematic as to what they represent and how they are incorporated into the structure of the story. Used as high shots, looking down on a situation or scene, they have an omniscient, God like quality that can take them outside the scenario. Used at ground level drone shots often have a detached quality that can take them outside the subject’s domain: they have an non-human quality. Used creatively drone shots reveal something to the audience that could not be seen by other means. They are a resource for filmic communication. Used as shots to fill a hole in the scenario, or as a piece of visual novelty instead of a tracking shot, used repetitively without a creative understanding of what they are contributing, drone shots are a device that can figuratively reveal the lack of any ethos guiding a film.

    ‘Nomadland’ is built upon the performance of Frances McDermand as a representative of a ‘type’, a woman dumped by society. ‘Nomadland’ is grounded in people and their experience of life. To resort, with increasing frequency to drone shots as a tracking device, detaches the image from its grounding within the human domain. The camera instead of being an observer or a companion to Fern’s life, becomes an ethereal detached stalker. But who’s the stalker? I don’t think Chloe Zhao knows but her drone camera work contains within itself a contradictory element: it’s smooth alien like motion, it’s stealth in following behind Fern is analogous to the very forces that are destroying her: the indifferent relentless smooth anonymous powers of banks and government that track and prey on the powerless. The camera as a drone becomes de facto an emanation of deterritorialised powers that are stalking America.

    In one cameo we see Fern having a shit in her van. The imperative to both to shoot and include this shot in the film, would seem to derive from a commitment to a pedantic literalist realism. Of course the actual problem is not shitting in cramped confines. The problem is how/where to get rid of your shit once it’s in the bucket. Somehow the failure to grasp this basic issue sums up Chloe Zhao’s movie. For all its intentions Nomadland doesn’t get that it’s not about the shit, it’s the question behind the question, how you get rid of the shit.

    adrin neatrour












  • Beware a Holy Whore (Warnung vor einer heilige Nutte) R W Fassbinder (1971; FDR)

    Beware a Holy Whore (Warnung vor einer heilige Nutte) R W Fassbinder (1971; FDR) Lou Castel, Hanna Schygulla, Eddie Constantine, R W Fassbinder.

    viewed: BFI streaming 16 May 2021

    An echo of Auschwitz

    Fassbinder’s movie, ‘Beware a Holy Whore (BHW)’ was made in a year of frenzied film making. In 1971 five movies are credited to Fassbinder as writer/director, plus he had acting roles in four of them. And 1970 and 1972 were as busy as 1971. This is a director with something to say, but as in other films I’ve seen of his, his way of speaking is usually indirect. Contemporary film making is dominated by messaging movies, identity affirmation movies. They’re films targeted at audiences primed to hear particular messages or films designed to manipulate emotions in particular directions. Fassbinder doesn’t engage with this type of affirmationist intention.

    Fassbinder’s films are grounded in that which is raw in human nature. Underneath the surface, whosoever you may be, whoever you are, whatever your sexuality, whatever your political/social beliefs, underneath are the raw drives of human nature. Bourgeois society, in particular German post war society, with its imperative need to cover up the monstrosities of the Fascist years, was a carefully manicured façade. An amnesiac society on autodrive contrived and designed if possible, to forget or at least cover up truth and replace it with a anodyne fantasial lie.  

    Situation: Fassbinder often takes situations as the starting point for his scripts. Situations have a theatrical pedigree as places of beginnings where the writer can nurse the developmental vectors of ideas, giving the audience a route to follow into the scenario enabling the audience to start to think about things. In this Fassbinder carries within his scripts the dialectics of theatre of this time: Pinter, Durrenmatt, Sartre, Jellico . Create situations and let the psycho-social dynamic of the age play out. Allow the audience to assimilate the engine of the design and put their own readings on the material.

    Fassbinder’s situation in ‘BHW’ is a film production, centred around the relations between the people involved in making a film on location in Spain. It is mostly set in the hotel where the caste and crew are holed up for the duration of the shoot. In many of Fassbinder’s films the presence of a Phantom Fuhrer seems integral to the manner in which he develops his scenarios. The old Diktator blew his brains out in the bunker of the Reich’s Chancellery. But for Fassbinder his spirit lives on in Germany, absorbing and permeating the social matrix. ‘BHW’ is divided in two parts: like the history of Germany from 1919 to 1945.   In the first section the film crew indulge in all manner of sybaritic indulgences, sensual, sexual, interpersonal, alcoholic. The film opens with a title card that reads: Pride comes before a Fall.   The motley crew are seen hanging around waiting for the director to turn up. They are aimless pursuing their own personal desire and need. The producer, Sasha (played by R W F) his ear screwed onto his phone tries to raise money for the enterprise. He keeps some sort of discipline but is mostly ineffectual. We are watching in analogy, a play out of the Weimar years, 1919 -1933.

    But then the big Director Arrives.  Suddenly it’s 30th January 1933: Hitler becomes Reich’s Chancellor. The time of dissolution and sybaritic play is gone. Everything changes, the phantom Fuhrer is come and filming must commence. And at once his acts of violence, his vicious assaults on his wife to be rid of her, and his hysterical energy become the focus of the scenario.   His will is centre stage. The Pride of the Crew is ‘fallen’; they are beholden to the one man. Even if he is a maniac, bent on the destruction of the world. The crew and caste adapt to the ways of the director, becoming by the the way casually racist, regarding the Spanish as non German speaking Untermensch. And the strange morbid drive of the director unravels as he reveals conceptual outlines of his film: Murder – you have to understand what a murder really means as a physical act – it is a film against the brutality of the state, what else would you make films about? – the title of the film is ‘Patria and Death.’

    At last we move into: ‘Real Film Making’.

    Fassbinder ends ‘BHW’ with a referential quote from Thomas Mann: “I am weary to death of depicting human nature without partaking of human nature.”   In ‘BHW’ Fassbinder delivers human nature on picture and on sound. Mordantly underplaying the film are the Songs of Leonard Cohen. Mostly drawn from the eponymous 1968 album and seemingly edited randomly onto the sound track (if there was a sequential logic I didn’t get it), Cohen classics such as: Sisters of Mercy, So Long Marian, Suzanne, Master Song. It was probably important to Fassbinder that Cohen was a Jewish singer/songwriter. It’s an essential part of Fassbinder’s filmic counterpoising to use the Cohen tracks, with their intense lyrical humanism, to sardonically, ironically, offset the brutality of the represented Germanic Hitler culture. The tender side of human nature smashed up by brutality.  The German and Jew playing out an old story. Although the Cohen tracks are diegetic, often selected by the caste and crew from the hotel lounge juke box, no one ever looks like they are listening to the music. Perhaps that is also something of Fassbinder’s insight: in Germany and by extension fascist capitalism: they play the music but they don’t listen to it.

    The effect of Fassbinder’s opposition of image and sound, German and Jew, in ‘BHW’ is disturbing even painful. I found it difficult to hold the two together. In the face of the action I wanted to disattend the powerful songs of Cohen with their assertion of the primacy of the human spirit. In confronting this strange combination (perhaps it is the key element of the ‘BHW’) I recalled the Sunday afternoon concerts of classical music given by the inmates of Birkenau death camp for the pleasure and delight of the SS Commandant and his wife.

    The film works as an affect through the medium of the acting. Fassbinder could call on an ensemble of actors with whom he had both developed and worked over a period of years. ‘BHW’ is an ensemble piece where all the players understand their roles and are disciplined in a quasi Brechtian mode of representation. The part is always understood as subservient to the whole. The acting does not involve internalising emotions and relations, rather externalising them and representing them.  The object is not manipulation of audience rather to enable the audience to see relations.

    And Beware a Holy Whore, as a title is I think Fassbinder’s admonition to the audience to look in askance at all that attracts by promising to satiate desire – including movies – a holy whore.

    adrin neatrour

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