Star & Shadow

  • Hale County This Morning, This Evening       RaMell Ross (USA: 2018;)

    Hale County This Morning, This Evening       RaMell Ross (USA: 2018;) Doc

    Viewed: Metrograph NYC,  3rd March 2019; ticket $15

    I woke up this morning…

    The material of RaMell Ross’s film takes as its content the lives of the black community in Hale County, Alabama. As a documentary film maker he’s not an outsider to Hale County but lives and works there as a college teacher, giving courses on photography and training young Basketball players.

    The title of Ross’s film, linking his location Hale County, with the phrase, ‘This Morning’ seems to point to the intention behind his decision to make this film.   ‘This Morning’ is a phrase which reverberates with the mordant irony of ‘the Blues’ and the capacity of Blues music to locate the black American experience. “I woke up this morning, feeling round for my shoes…’ A music that locates the condition of black life in instability and insecurity. The blues are a psycho-somatic wail of defiance at the nature of black experience. A physical and an emotional expression of the unsayable as the voices and guitars of all blues performers insist on telling it how it is in the here and now, in music that transcends the here and now.

    Time was when black people sang the blues. Not so much these days. Now, in terms of music, black expression is voiced by the attitude of Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop and its various developed modes, incessant urban beat overscored by lyrics of assertion and self proclamation, declaring opposition in the face to the face of the white man. But perhaps there are limits to the extent that identity can be based on opposition, however necessary opposition may be. But the blues were always a sentient state, not self pitying, which expressed an actual black dilemma of being. The place that you were in. Where you were at.  I woke up this morning…

    Ross appears to be saying that he’s making his film in Hale County in the Evening of the black people in America. Perhaps for some there is opposition, but the blacks in Hale County Alabama come across more as a disoriented people. A people increasingly not just cut off from any hope of renewal but increasingly cut off from themselves, both in body and in mind. In this evening of the ‘blues’ they have mutated into a life style that alienates them from themselves. A people destroyed by the twisted commercialised individualistic social culture onto which they have been grafted.

    The form Ross chooses for his film is intercut strips of action. Strips of action comprising, mostly single long durational shots, both discrete and sequenced chronologically, descriptive openings into the lives of the Hale people. The clips stand for themselves, without commentary, accompanied only by their own discrete sound.

    The diachronic filming documents episodes in the lives of Ross’ subjects which include a young married couple having twins, and a young guy at college on a basket ball scholarship. Both these subjects have an intermittent narrative, but it is not story that impresses but the scenes, the moments which the dynamic of Ross’ camera work folds into his sequences. The scenes Ross captures point in different ways to the idea of the dislocation of his subjects.

    Item one: captured in one clip, in which we see the young black woman giving birth to her twins. As the shot opens we see that a capacious tent like structure has been erected over the woman’s loins as she gives birth. As the hospital technicians aid the birth, they are shielded off from presence of the woman by this tent like structure. From the point of view of the birth technicians, she is absent from the birth. Perhaps this is normal American practice. Immediately after the delivery of the first of her twins, Ross’ camera pans to the other side of the tent, to film the mother. At this point we see that not only is the woman heavily sedated, but that where her neck meets her chest, another huge screen has been hung, so she is completely disconnected, in body in mind, from the act of giving birth. This mother has been totally disembodied, delivered into a state of disengagement with life.

    Item two: the young basket ball player with the college basketball scholarship. We hear him talk about his hopes for the future, his yearning for success. We see the psychic fixation that drives his endless practice, the unending repetitions of the same moves. And through these strips of action Ross conveys the idea of a youth who has given his body over, sold his body to a sports dream. It feels like containment; the whole of the youth’s life queezed into a little box called sport (basketball). An impoverishment of a being who for want of anything else has embraced the chimera of athletic success. And when this chimera reveals itself for what it is, there will be nothing to take its place. No social matrix, not community, only a vacuum of being, a disenfranchised soul, ever more detached from life.

    The woman, the boy, both seem trapped in a psycho-social machine that drains them of life and vitality, leaves them few resources to cope with the demands of survival in a society in which they are the underclass.

    This detachment is what Moss films. Detachment from the being, the detachment of children from parents. Some of Moss’ most disturbing strips are shots of manically disoriented children desperately seeking attention from parents who are not there for them. In the evening of their enslavement, they are an abandoned and abandoning people.

    It might be said that Ross depicts a distorted picture of the black community in Hale County. But he is not an outsider, just the opposite. As a teacher and basketball coach to young black kids, he is up close to what he has filmed and in a position to witness and come to a judgement about what he witnesses. I think we have to allow that Moss has seen something in the world about him and has made a report about what he has seen.   What he has seen is that there are no blues now for Mr Charlie, no blues, no waking up in the morning, only slow descent into the twilight of being.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

  • 3 Women      Robert Altman (1977; USA)

    3 Women      Robert Altman (1977; USA)   Shelley Duvalle; Sissy Spacek; Janice Rule

    Viewed on dvd 2nd March 2019

    Malice in Wonderland

    In Robert Altman’s opening shot we see in big close up the wrinkled skin of the thigh of an elderly women pass slowly down through frame. The camera tracks back to reveal that the woman, in a bathing suit, is descending into a remedial exercise pool in which other elderly clients are being helped to move slowly through the knee high water by young female assistants.   This bizarre setting immediately locates Altman’s focus on the existence of parallel worlds that operate at least one remove from the humdrum logic of everyday life. The camera pans from the pool to an overlooking observation booth where Pinkie sits staring out in blank incomprehension at the aqueous therapy taking place in front of her. Both she and the pool alien modes of existence.

    With her long blond hair and girlish innocent looks Sissy Spacek is a shoe-in for Alice of Wonderland fame. Her performance as Pinkie has much of Alice’s wide eyed engagement with the successive situations after the pool, in which she finds herself: the Dodge City Bar and Millie’s Spanish style courtyard apartment built round a swimming pool. This in not to say that Pinkie represents in any way re-telling of the Wonderland story, but only that there are critical elements in the movie suggesting that within its scripting there are transposed elements of Carroll’s perception about disparate logics abroad in the world.

    Like Alice, Pinkie finds herself in a series of worlds whose logical constructs confound her. She struggles to make sense of what is happening around her, most of the time responding reactively rather than actively. Whereas Alice’s momentary discomfiture is assuaged by her being able to reference the comforting dictum’s of a stolid middle class upbringing, Pinkie has none such to fall back on. She is a sort of repository of emptiness, a product of an impoverished social environment, the desolation of America, where life is drowned out in the jingle of a commercialised culture. Unlike Alice, Spacek can’t oppose her situation with the resources of a culture. She has to survive and to survive she has to make full use of attributes she possesses: a certain native cunning and an amoral compass of desires. And Pinkie’s desire latches onto Millie as an object of emulation.

    In relation to the second Alice book ‘Through the Looking Glass’, Carroll’s characters were almost all playing cards, that is to say beings comprised wholly of ‘surfaces’. And Duvalle’s Millie is all surface. As if on a roll of wallpaper all the slogans shibboleths and beliefs of vacuous Americana have been pasted over her being.   As much in persona, appearance look and dress as in her speech Millie presents herself as a sort of replicant, a product of a society based on mass production. She is an assemblage of the American Beauty Production line compleat with belief system that has stamped upon the female form the attributes of charm poise and decorum. With the which accomplishments Millie broadcasts an incessant daisy chain monologue directed at some one and no one but which signals both her self armour and her vulnerability. Like one of Carroll’s playing cards Duvalle looks out at a world which she sees only in terms of one dimension into which she wants to fit almost sequentially as part of the pack.   She fails to see that nobody is playing cards any longer.

    Pinkie follows Millie through the worlds Altman portrays: the geriatric remedial centre, the Dodge City complex of bar, shooting range and dirt track and her residential gated community.   As Millie navigates through these portals, Pinkie understands that to survive in settings where no one talks and no one listens, she herself has to become like Millie, a replicant. Becoming a replicant is perhaps the only answer to her question, who am I? In the land that invented mass replication in infinite sets, Ford motor cars, coke bottles and baby doll faces, this is the natural course of reaction for Pinkie.   But whereas it seems that Millie has absorbed the ethos of replication through magazines, through movies, through adverts etc., Pinkie’s survival plan to replicate Millie, is a conscious decision, and undertaken as a stratagem. In the USA replication is to survival what the dream is to success: the means to conform to life’s expectations.   Unashamedly with cunning and within her own limitations she tries to become Millie, a replication attempt that is foredoomed even before Pinkie starts to understand that Millie’s life is based on self delusion.

    Underlying Altman’s psychic probing of the surfaces of the feminine anima in 3 Women, is the presence of the third woman (Janice Rule). The 3rd woman is the artist. The woman who responds to the primal urges of pregnancy not by replication of form, but by instinct. The 3rd woman paints surfaces, covering the swimming pool walls with paintings of figurative monsters that leer out threaten and disturb the waters of the conscious mind. She transforms surfaces so that they suggest a sort of depth psychology. Surfaces that unconsciously depict motifs of archaic memories, repressed desire and carnal fears. As Altman’s camera glides over the painted images it calls up a symbolic matrix of experience before the time of replication. It is Altman’s counterbalancing force, set in play to oppose the worlds where the young lead the old through the water of life, where the men dress as cowboys, and time is idled away in display mode sitting round condo pool drinking.

    With a script that has all the marks of improvisation (Shelley Duvall fills out her character with consummate knowledge and skill) 3 Women stumbles into obfuscation as it moves towards its finale. Nevertheless the ending of the movie is comparatively insignificant when considered in relation to the what Altman and his actors carry through in the body of the film. As in Nashville, so in 3 Women Altman opens up America in the manner of few other directors. A culture of isolated souls abroad in worlds where there is little depth but plenty of surface. America as a series of disconnections. America as a land of defined by mass production of experience. What Duvalle and Spacek do is to locate these traits in their performances as women. As women their beings are warped and twisted by cultural imperative that turns them into commodities. But their responses are located in the female key. Unlike most of today’s movies they do not switch to the masculine key in order to come to some sort of reckoning.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

  • Green Book Peter Farelly (USA:2018)

    Green Book     Peter Farelly (USA:2018)  Vigo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali

    Viewed 13 Feb 2019 Tyneside Cinema; ticket: £10.75

     

    a kiss is just a kiss

     

    Viewing Norman Jewison’s ‘In the heat of the Night’ James Baldwin wrote that the point of the film was to make white people feel good about themselves.  The role of Rod Steiger’s police chief was a device through which whites could preen themselves on their acceptance of blacks. Baldwin notes the final scene in the film ends with Steiger seeing off Sidney Poitier (Virgil Tibbs) at the station, calling out out to him  in folksy emotionally charged voice: ‘You take care of yourself, y’hear!’ For Baldwin this fond farewell is a typical Hollywood closure device; like a kiss, but not necessarily a kiss, that betokens reconciliation: that all will be well.

     

    Viewing Peter Farelly’s Green Book, it seems to me that all is not well. Hollywood movies still occupy the same psychic space a propos white attitude towards blacks. In the relations between whites and blacks, as played out by Hollywood, the object of the movies is to enhance and protect white self image.  But by 2018, Steiger’s 1967 sign off verbal reconciliation, has, in this touchy-feely era become a ‘hug’. In Green Book Dolores, Nick’s wife, embraces Don Shirley in the contemporary preferred feelgood gesture, as she welcomes him into the bosom of her somewhat uncertain white working class tribal Christmas gathering.  The point of course that this hug, this act of physicality, is a phantom gesture of reconciliation to blacks, an empty promise of that which is not possible.

    But Farelly’s nod at reconciliation does draw attention to the degree to which his film mimics some of the psychic workings of ‘In the Heat of the Night’. The job of Nick, Don Shirley’s driver/ minder, like Tibb’s  Sherriff before him, is to take the white audience through the process of his conversion. Nick changes from being a working class Italian with pronounced racist outlook, into a man who is able to accept a black person as an equal.  This education process carries the audience along with it as Nick’s prejudices, like the Sheriff’s before him, are exposed to ridicule and necessary correction. Both Nick and the Sheriff are crude exemplars of their type, but redeemed in the script by their innate decency and their capacity to change the way they think.  As if racism were simply a matter of thinking; rather than the engrained white response to the living history of the USA, and the place of the degradation of blacks in that history.

    It is interesting that Dream Works (which is a  Disney production company) has acquired Green Book and used it as a vehicle to locate a strain of endemic racism in a white working class population.  Whilst this may have been part of the allure of the Green Book story to Disney, it is also true that racism is as much a part of the make up of corporate America as it is of the white working class.  The critical differences are that in Middle America racism tends to be covert, something hidden, a hate that dare not speak its name. White racial attitudes are the more overt, but white and black working classes share some of the same structural conditions in relation to power and compete in opposition for some of the same resources.  But the middle class control the gateways to advancement and wealth. Middle class racism is not only unspoken and more hidden but the more pernicious for being a critical part of the apparatus of power. But movies about Middle Class relations with blacks are thin on the ground.

    There are striking resemblances in representation of blacks in Heat of the Night and Green  Book in particular as regards their lead protagonists. Both Poitier and Ali play their parts  as exercises in the consummate expression of being a ‘class act’, of being impeccable’. The respective scripts kit them out with a Medieval chivalrous code from which they never truly deviate.  Both these exemplars bring to their words and deeds, the rectification of moral supremacy. They are both noble beings. As shining examples lacking in human frailty, their behaviour is drawn not from the code of man, but the code of angels.  The trouble is that this very exceptionalism makes it possible to avoid seeing as blacks, as men of a particular ethnic group. Rather they present as otherworldly men, drawn from outside space and time. Don and Virgil might even be viewed as sort of ‘honoury whites’, welcomed into the tribe with the thought:  ‘…If only all blacks were like you, we wouldn’t be having these problems. ‘ And of course staying true to the the knightly code, neither Virgin nor Don mess with White women, so that particular avenue of courtly love doesn’t have to be roamed. It’s easy to play off perfection. Ordinary folk are as rule messier and often fallible in the conduct of life.

     

    But that said there is one confusing scene in Green Book that sticks out even though it is underplayed for value.  In this scene (which is used to demonstrate Nick’s skills at cop management) is called to a YMCA bath house where two local cops are in process of arresting  Don Shirley for being caught in the buff in a shower with a white boy. There is a homoerotic suggestion, the implication of a tryst. But after NIck has handed over the hush money, Farelly’s scripts leaps foreword with never a glance back, leaving the faint imprint of a muffled supressed event passed over in silence. Virgil Tibbs was never caught in a bath house, so perhaps Don’s YMCA adventure has some sort of compensatory recognition that Blacks can be gay.  However the way it is handled bespeaks more of ‘shame’ than ‘pride’.

    In a way Green Book is a lazy movie.  The cinematography is unexceptional and the script comes across as something that might have been produced by a final year student at Cooper Union.  It is predictable, replaying the same jokes time and again, and has all those little tricks they teach in script writing classes about dropping in salient little details early in the timeline in order that they can resurface pertinently later.  The trick is so flagged up that it feels like an exercise. But in this at least it is at one with the whole production which feels like an exercise in the Disneyification of race relations.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

  • Driver Walter Hill (USA; 1978)

     

    Driver Walter Hill (USA; 1978) Ryan O’Neil, Bruce Dern, Isabelle Adjani

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 8th Feb 2019; ticket; £6.00

    the wonder of emptiness

    The last few years has seen the release of a large number of films designed as emotional hooks to bait the viewer. It’s the zeitgeist. Films whose objective is primarily manipulation of emotions and empathic response. Characters are kitted out with heart wrenching back stories, secret sorrows, and ennobled by their relations with their family, in the main their children for whom they are prepared to fight and to make any necessary sacrifices.

    Hill’s ‘Driver’ is a product of another era: a seventies Hollywood before it had been infected by virus of scripts inbuilt schmaltz, when film or at least Hollywood film kept on track by means of a straight narrative line, developing character through the medium of the enfolding of situation, the transforming of situation and energised shifts in situation. Bob Rafelson in a couple of films through situation investigated the psycho-political–dynamics endemic in intrapersonal relations, as did Barbara Loden and even Dennis Hopper.   In this era, many directors and script writers of genre movies often had recourse to the game model to give structure to their films.   Given the ‘game’ there was little need of extraneous sub-plots, back stories or locating the protagonists in a world of personal familial relations. The dynamics of the game once out of the blocks stayed in play until some form of end resolution was achieved, usually the creation of a new situation.

    The game model implies a world bounded in space and time which is sustained and closed off by its own rules; a world where in a loose sense there are players agents and pawns and where the outcome involves one of the players coming out or at least seeming to come out on top. Winning of course might not be without cost. As in chess within the parameters of the game there is the possibility of an endless richness and variation in play. A possibility, that is not always realised because as in chess, there is a tendency for games to resemble each other. People have a fondness for the same moves.

    Of course even game grounded structure still permitted the introduction of other desires on the part of protagonists. Desires, mostly but not necessarily romantic, that filled out the characters, but never removed them from the game. Desires that created the scripted tensions that intensified the demands made on the individuals playing the game, but could never be resolved outside the logic of the game.

    Hill’s ‘Driver’ stands out because he has stripped out of the scenario anything that is extraneous to the game. Everything that doesn’t relate to theme or action is pared away so that the film becomes clear in its simplicity.  It is game ‘pure’ played by two parties: Ryan O’Neil and Bruce Dern. The form is so abstracted that none of the players or pawns are given personal name identities. They are presented as pure types: the driver (AKA he cowboy) the detective, the player.   There are no personal relationships only agonistic ones: the contest between the driver and the detective, which is presented as zero sum game.   Stripping out other ‘desires’ gives the film a sparse mythical resonance. The game between the men has the dimension of the primal agonistic competition between the old ruler and this heir apparent who must slay the incumbent before taking his place. And relieved of any scripted romantic obligation, Isabelle Adjani’s dark presence as ‘the player’ suggests a Sybil type feminine force, a shadowy agent of fate prescient of the outcome of the game.

    No sex, no family, no romance. Driver is like a emptied of everything bar the forces set in play by the game. All the better for it as it allows Hill to concentrate his direction not on character development but on the action and dynamics of the play.  Hill’s direction and script, in particular with Adjani on the pay roll, owes something to French Nouvelle Vague, being crisp and to the point. There is nothing superfluous, the dialogue develops the action, the camera is points directly to what is pertinent.

    Such emptiness allows the viewer to take possession of the film and its relations. There is no heavily scored soundtrack designed to make the viewer submit to the script’s emotional tyranny.   At the end, after the contemporary spectacle of titles that last twenty seconds you have seen a film that is not selling you anything you didn’t want to buy, because you have been responsible for the content, Hill has simply given you a form.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • Destroyer Karyn Kusama (USA 2018)

    Destroyer        Karyn Kusama (USA 2018) Nicole Kidman

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 29 Jan 2019; ticket £10.75

    not ‘noir’ but ‘see through’

     

    When fitting up big female Stars to front its movies it seems that the best Hollywood can come up with are retreads of tired old scripts. Destroyer’s plot design is lifted from one of the oldest motifs in the ‘tec litany: drummed out suspended cop pursues personal revenge. A replay of the Big Heat idea (and many another ‘noir’ film), but whereas Lang’s movie with its tightly scripted tensions, sharp cinematography and edgy playing (in particular Gloria Graham) still views as something fresh, Destroyer feels old and played and with few of the attributes to justify its proclaimed ‘noir’ provenance.

    Hollywood mainly offers to its women stars the chance to play men. Because that is what Nicole Kidman is asked to do. Perhaps it’s what she wants to do. But the consequence is that Kasuma’s movie just goes through the usual motions, the usual gestures calling up familiar scenes familiar characters familiar coping mechanisms playing on the deluded premise that because there’s a a female lead, ‘Destroyer’ is somehow different. It’s not.

    As if to affirm the hackneyed nature of this male grounded scenario, a scene in a toilet stall is de rigeur. (There is also the obligatory ‘handjob’ scene, not so much a sort of endorsement of Kindman’s traits as a woman, rather a female rite de passage in Hollywood movies these days). Having avoided lavatories for most of its history, Hollywood is bent of making amends big time; whether or not the toilet has any relevance or meaning to anything happening in the script. (Likewise the handjob scenes).

    Of course giving the females the chance to play men, saves anyone the trouble of actually thinking about writing scripting or working out a scenario in which a woman would be a movie cop without having to be play the role as if a man. At this point of realisation there would be the possibility of developing different kinds of role models. But this is highly unoriginal movie, without ambition. The Kusama’s script uses the old device of the investigator working her way through the lower echelons of the gangster hierarchy to extract the information that will lead to ‘the Big Cheese’. A Chandler plot stand-by, but in his case ennobled by his sense of pace, throw away philosophy and command of language.

    The same cannot be said of ‘Destroyer’. As directed by Kusama it is a monopaced stroll; her scenario and its consequent editing lack tensions; the cinematography is mundane barely work-a-day without a single moment of distinction.

    Destroyer’s script and characterisations simply replay the old cop tropes in an unoriginal fashion. Even the script’s flashback structure lacks conviction. This has something to do with the two faces of Kidman that the script separates by some 16 years. Although people today wear age comparitively lightly, in particular Westerners, for some reason the decision was taken to go over the top with the prosthetic skin job on Kidman’s face. When Kusama cuts to her in the film’s present tense, it’s as if we have shifted into another film with a scenario set in some hospital based drama involving patients from the severe burns unit. The skin seems to be sloughing off Kidman’s face. This radical change in appearance in fact creates a barrier to relating the two faces of Kidman as having the same identity.

    There seem to have been two attempts to rescue the movie. One scripted, with a bolt on subprime subplot about Kidman’s relationship with her daughter. An attempt to rescue Kidman’s gender by interposing into the script some scenes of her as mother. In the same way that ‘Destroyer’ (An unconvincing movie title pointing to an agent {Kidman?} in a way that is meaningless) is not a film noir, just a film that portends to mimic noir without understanding what it is, so the mother – daughter subplot is also attempt to import a little bit of Spielberg into the procedings. An attempt that is crassly scripted and ultimately does no more than stretch out the movie.

    The second attempt to rescue the film comes from the sound edit. The film is accompanied by an overwhelmingly oppressive electronic track. The purpose of the soundtrack seems to be to bludgeon the viewer into insensibility, to drown out any semblance of a critical faculty in the viewers, leaving them witless.

    Film Noir may have many diffferent understandings. I associate it with tensions that run along different dimensions, tensions: between dark and light; between male and female; between desire and ideals; between the truth and the lie. Destroyer has none of these attributes. It is a transparent product with a mechanical plot, a plodding vehicle for Kidman to assume a male tic.

    adrin neatrour

    adrin@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Minority Report and Burne-Jones at Tate Britain

    Spielberg and Burne Jones – a consideration after viewing Minority Report – Steven Spielberg (2002; USA) Tom Cruise

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 27 Jan 2019; ticket £6

    Image as an art form

    Seeing Tate Britain’s large exhibition of work by Edward Burne-Jones, followed a few days later by viewing Steven Spielberg’s ‘Minority Report’, triggered a consideration of the similarity of these two respective successful image moulders, whose working lives were separated from each other by about one hundred years.

    They are both selling something.

    Looking at paintings such as King Cophetua, the Golden Maid, Love leading the Pilgrim, it seems to me that Burne-Jones’ (B-J) must have produced these works to sustain and promote the self belief and interests of the powerful strata of high Victorian society that sponsored him. The form taken by B-J’s work is mostly his idealised gloss on classical Greek representation of themes drawn from mythology. The flowing vestments, the sensuous tresses, the dramatic gestures are integral to the appeal of B-J: that those who bought and gazed upon these paintings were direct descendants of the culture of classical Greece.

    The classical elements of form and content enabled B-J to direct his work at the explicit conceit of the British political class, that their legitimacy derived from their claim to be the inheritors of the inventors of Western civilisation.   They were the new civilising force.

    This self image of the civilising mission (also extending into versions of muscular Christianity) provided the British ruling social class with justification for the presumptuous power with which they exercised their superiority over women, the other classes, in particular the lower orders, and their colonial subjects. Although for the most part omitting to mention the institution of slavery in the Greek cities, the Victorians believed in a close imperial equivalence between Athens and Brittania. Both were sea bourne empires founded on stable civic ‘democratic’ governance, state religion and rule of law; both drew on a cultural provenance of philosophy letters and art. Both cultures held themselves in high regard, and foreigners in low esteem. The Greeks did invent the word: ‘barbarian’.

    B-J’s work locates the Victorian male at the heart of his classical project, validating the confident claim made on the world by a small ruling elite.   It seems to me that B-J had little understanding of the relational undertones of Greek mythology. The myths, as he painted them, were simply a world of artistically beguiling backdrops into which the Victorian male psyche might heroically project itself. The works endorsed values of superiority and ownership of action and superiority, in particular of the male over the female.

    Overall B-J’s women are not only passive but often depicted as in a state of innocence, like children. And this representation of male-female relations as relations between adult to child, by extension provided a rationale for the Victorian male’s authority over the other social classes and the denizens of the burgeoning colonial empire.

    B-J is selling: idealised identity.

    Viewing Spielberg’s Minority Report, it is clear that sci-fi novella by Philip Dick has been re-purposed if not sabotaged by the Spielberg.   Dick’s original story revolved around notions of autonomy and free will. But in Spielberg’s adaptation of Minority Report, Dick’s core concerns are filleted out of the body of the film. Spielberg stitches into his script an alternative thread of relevance, which increasingly dominates both the behaviour of Tom Cruise and re-shapes the story. Minority Report is rendered as a saga of the family and its redemptive powers.

    As in B-J’s myth telling paintings, the role of Spielberg’s story is to provide a background to his prime purpose of validating the family as a source of identity. The ‘precogs’, the strange aqueous medium in which they float, the gadgets and futuristic paraphernalia exist in the Spielberg world only to offset the role of the family.

    Time was when the heroes of movies were loners, detached from society. As outsiders they were often acidic observers of the culture from which they were re-moved. From the lone male perspective the family was a trap.   The wife and two kids life was something that the mugs signed up for. For the outsider, seeing life as it was, the truth as a metaphysical concept, and winning were what counted.

    But as American cultural confidence declined, things changed. The certainty of truth eroded. The emptiness of winning in a society where the trophies were delusional became apparent.  America as a matrix of rural and inner city ethnic communities that had sustained people was transformed in a series of heterogeneous suburbs. As community faltered the family, both as consumption unit and psychic centre became the dominant ideological nexus. Now outsiders are more likely to be depicted as serial killers than Philip Marlow clones.

    As seen by Hollywood and reinforced by the advertising industry, the family is now the redemptive force. Spielberg’s scripts reflect this. His scenarios are built about the proposition of the family as an heroic unit. The family, both actual and virtual, real or lodged in memory, is something to fight for, something for which we have to overcome. And this overcoming maybe either internal, within ourselves, our fears inadequacies, or external, outside forces aimed at destroying our family. The scripts revolve about either fighting forces that would sunder the family unit, to to bring the sundered unit back together. The redemption is in the psycho-emotional pay off of completion.

    From both the political and consumerist field of perception, the idea of the complete family opens up the possibility of stratagems of interventions manipulations that exploit the concept of what is, outside of the movies, an unattainable ideal.

    Spielberg is selling the heroic.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • The Favourite Yorgos Lanthimos (UK 2018)

    The Favourite Yorgos Lanthimos (UK 2018) Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone Rachel Weisz

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 2nd Jan 2019; ticket £9.75

    fable for the times

    Lanthimos’ script weaves its narrative as a web of relations between three women, Queen Anne, and her two favourites. Sarah and Abigail, transposing an eighteenth century event into the realm of contemporary filmic drama.   The problem with period settings is that often the backgrounds the costumes and appurtenances get to take centre stage. This can leave the content visually overwhelmed causing it to meld into inconsequentiality. A case of style taking precedence over substance.

    Lanthimos’s movie doesn’t fall into the latter category. But Lanthimos seems to have fallen foul of the English Country House Syndrome in as much as filmmakers have often found it difficult to connect to these artificially preserved domains that represent lives now alien to us.

    Lanthimos’ previous movie ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ was enjoyable for the way in which he conscripted the American settings, the hospital, the suburbs, into the film’s mythic structure. These settings, depicted as emptied out space culturally evacuated of human drama, were transformed into satirised locations in which the black comedy of a ritual meaningful death was played out.

    This fusing of setting and theme is also remarkable in films like Petri’s ‘Property is No Longer a Theft’ and Resnais’ ‘Last Year in Marienbad’.   As in ‘The Favourite’ the settings of these films are of an historical provenance; the rich decoration of the interiors is given force by complex camera choreography lending to Petri and Resnais’ films another layer of cinematic immanence to their themes.

    “The Favourite’ for all Lanthimos’ tracks, long shots and fish-eye wide angle shots (ugly and distracting to my eye; but perhaps Lanthimos in using this lens wanted to point to artifice) he creates neither feelings of immersion nor possession; only the feeling that these long galleries, these wainscoted chambers, these high ceilinged salons, are ultimately nothing more than backdrops.   For all he tries Lanthimos just seems to be stuck with the space. Anne Sarah Abigail are all detached from the spaces in which they move, not enveloped.  The built structures and their embellishment play no actual part in psychic dynamic of the film. It is melodrama that envelopes the women.

    But whilst the script uses a classic melodrama engine to drive the scenario, ‘The Favourite’ is more about form than content, form that is based on opposition.   The opposition of the male and the female is the key proposition.   The melodramatic goings on, the power play between the three protagonists, takes second place to their relationship and confrontation with the male dominated world.

    The trio of woman are all anachronistically wig-free. Their freedom of expression and their modernity expressed by the free locks of their hair. Contrarily the men are grounded in the times, bewigged and emotionally straightened and symbolically condemned to immobility by the artificiality of their headwear. When Abigail asks Harley to remove his wig so that she can see who he is, he is abashed, reluctant to remove this totemic symbol of his male power.

    Sarah and Abigail (in particular) are represented as modern women ready to pick up the baton of power from men who are unable to move foreword into our times.     The women are self confident, through their own internal force they are the equal of men: they can shoot like men, ride a horse like men, take a tumble like a man, swear like men and fight.  And they are sexually self sufficient, able and able to satisfy their physical sexual needs by themselves or through the ministration of woman.

    The actual historical elements of The Favourite are unimportant. the film is a modern parable, a statement of today’s oppositional gender politics. A point concentrated in the ball room sequence where instead of moving to the restrained conventions of the baroque, the women launch into a wild unrestrained Greek taverna dance. It might be said that the the Favourite depicts a female zero sum competition, but it does so within a world where the power play is between women. It’s a film that points to a future that is governed by female not male humours.

    As far as I am aware this is the first movie Lanthimos has made that he has not himself co-scripted with Fillipou.   I think the film reflects his lack of ownership of the script. His difficulty handling the locations and sets, the reliance on a trite melodramatic device (similar to All about Eve but less effective), the use of the current directorial fad for dividing the script up into little chaptered sections that are meaningless, all add up to a film that is curiously vacuous. This contrasts with the impression left after seeing The Killing of a Sacred Deer, scripted by Lanthimos and Fillipou. Coming out of this movie the feeling was that this film conveyed something the director has seen, that there are forces at work beneath the surfaces of life. IN the Favourate there is only surface, and excepting its oppositional form there is little impression. But the Favourite plays out well to the taste and conceits of the day, and will probably be festooned with the appropriate garlands.

    Adrin Neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • The House that Jack Built Lars von Trier (Dmk, Europudding 2018)

    The House that Jack Built   Lars von Trier (Dmk, Europudding 2018) Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Bruno Ganz

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 23 Dec 2018; ticket £9.75

    it’s a wrap around

    Serial film maker Lars Von Trier wraps his gore fest around a dialogue with Verge (This character played by Bruno Ganz, representing the Virgil of Dante’s Inferno) as he guides eponymous Jack down through the caves towards the gates of hell.

    In fact most of the dialogue, spoken to Bruno Ganz by Dillon in a po-faced de-flected sort of monotone, is the obverse of the pseudo-philosophical twaddle that permeates the films of Terrence Mallick and his numerous imitators. During one sequence, Jack talks to Verge about Blake’s vision of a humanity divided into the Tygers and the Lambs, seeing the Tyger as the creative artist to whom all is permitted. But just because Jack’s lines veer towards a psychopathic demonic logic, this lends them no more than a specious authenticity comparible to the moronic insights dropped from the Tree of Life.

    In fact a lot of the dialogue between Jack and Verge (Their voices are given a synthetic deep bass treatment with heavy reverb) is densely expressed and difficult to decipher, but you get the general drift. Jack is smart, self satisfied but occassionaly mildly self critical, solipsistic and pleased with the logic he has contructed to justify his deeds.

    Jack’s character as a serial killer was apparently deeply researched by von Trier who as a result has come up with a movie-fit protagonist, an assembly line character who combines all the traits of out favourite movie killers. Jack doesn’t do empathy, in particular when he is on the job; he has OCD which not only lends a few moments of levity to the goings-on in particular in the penultimate section, but also gives him lines to feed to Verge about his need for meticulous order and attention to detail. Jack through killing discovers he is an Schlachtkunstler (slaughter artist) who expresses himself through the creativity of his chosen mode of expression. In particular he is driven to photographing and then freezing the people he has killed.

    With the bodies frozen, he takes to arranging the bodies in increasingly complex tableaux. This might be seen as a savage satire on the cancerous spread of the narcissistic art ethos through the social body of USA and Europe (and also beyond). But this insight into the theory and practice of contemporary art was better expressed in Ostlund’s ‘The Square’. Von Trier’s satire (if satire it is) is highly derivative. In relation to Jack’s scene of crime photographs (which he fashionably captures on an old camera with analogue film {though we are spared wtinessing the development and printing of the images} ) combined with the grotesque posing of his victims for the shots, the effect is that it is all too familiar: we have seen stuff like this before. The final coup de film the frozen house of corpses (a concept credited to Lars von Trier – how desperate is he for recognition?) IS anti-climatic because its appearance as a construct has been so OBVIOUSLY telegraphed.

    It might be Von Trier’s point that the House of Jack Built is intended as parody. His intention being to demonstrate the desensitising and distancing effects of this type of film.   As if we hadn’t noticed. But if so this is an inconsequential intention as by now movies made in this killer genre mode, can only be parodies. And you can’t parody a parody; you produce just another parody and there is no enlightenment or seeing from the light thrown by this type of candle.

    From the manner in which events develop by way of Jack’s film career, it appears at first that von Trier might be contriving a filmic vehicle that implies some moral coda governing Jack’s decisions.   Von Trier films have a muscular morality in the sense that many of his characters actions follow an unwavering and undeviating conceptual and behavioural logic, at whatever the cost. His character’s behaviour is moral according to their own code.   In the first incident, his victim incites her own demise by invoking the curse of Genet. In accusing Jack of being a serial killer, she opens the box and he becomes one. The greed of the second victim brings about her downfall and the third victim together with her two young boys is gunned down by the gun she had hoped the boys themselves would learn to use to kill. But when Von Trier gets to the point in his script where Jack mutilates and murders his prostitute girlfriend (who’s weakness is to be blind to the warning signs), and the final set up where Jack plans to kill half a dozen men with a single full metal jacket bullet, all we are left with as a source of moral justification is Jack’s narcissistic self importance as rattles off to Verge the sort of mumbo-jumbo you find in neo-Nietzschian self help manuals: that which does not kill me makes me stronger….etc.

    Who’s the little boy at the piano?

    The House that Jack Built has elements within it that suggested to me, a level of identification on Von Trier’s part with his material. One of von Trier’s structural devices (another is his now fashionable division of the movie into ‘incidents” or chapters. Hardly a film is made today without the director borrowing from this litterary device) is to insert into the scenario a series of flashbacks to Jack’s childhood. On what looks like 8mm footage, we see the image of an isolated talented boy obsessively practicing the piano; we see the same boy trapped like a prisoner in the clutches of a certain kind of bourgeois family bent on keeping up appearances. I wondered if this material was the director’s re-creation of a filmic substitute past for himself; Von Trier’s compensatory in-filling into the House that Jack Built, of his own re-imagined childhood. The fabrication of the missing past of the serial film maker as the serial killer he might have been.

    Just a thought.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

  • The Last Movie Dennis Hopper (USA 1971)

    The Last Movie     Dennis Hopper (USA 1971) Sam Fuller, Stella Garcia, Dennis Hopper

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 17 Dec 2018: ticket: £9.75

    acid vision

    The last scene of Hopper’s film is a superb condensing of the core strand of the thinking that energises ‘The Last Movie’. Seated in a darkness penetrated only by a paraffin lamp, Kansas (played by Hopper) and his gold prospector partner talk about the business at hand, finding gold. They talk and Kansas keeps asking his partner how he would recognise gold, how he can even imagine he can find gold if he can’t recognise it? The partner’s response justifies itself purely in terms of the formal logic of cinema precedent: the Treasure of Sierra Madre. In this film Walter Huston (note the transposing/confusing of the real actor Huston, for the character Howard) found gold. Huston just went into the hills, looked in a river and found it. Easy! Nothing to it, no problem.   You just do it like they do in the film and it will be OK. Despite Kansas’ insisting that it may not be so easy to recognise gold, it isn’t just shiny stuff glinting out at you saying ‘I’m gold’, the partner can’t be shifted. He doesn’t really listen and just repeats with conviction that the Treasure of Sierra Madre shows how prospecting works: the gold’s there; you just go out and find it. Simple. End of movie. Roll credits.

    Hopper’s movie penetrates deep into the actuality of what the movies are, how they are actually understood by their audiences.   Like the LSD scene in Easy Rider The Last Mover feels as if it were conceived written filmed and edited with the clear visceral seeing that acid sometimes lends to the trip. What Hopper sees and what is expressed in The Last Movie is that movies are folded into the way in which live in the world. Movies are now part of the way in which experience life. To put it in a fancy they they are as much part of our minds, as our language. Movies function as a conditioning factor shaping the way in which we are able to think.

    At one point, Sam Fuller thanks the caste and crew at the end of the film within a film shoot, booming out: “God bless you all, and I’ll see you back in Hollywood!”

    To the fabricators of dreams the end of the movie is another job done, another piece of carefully crafted fakery in which lines are remembered, takes crossed off the slate and no one gets hurt, physically or emotionally. But there is a movie within the movie, the movie that is released into the world. The movie in which a world is called up as a series of images that are in themselves complete representations of action and affect. The very reality of the situations depicted easily overrides any inclination of mind to differentiate between actual and fake. There is one image after another streaming into mind absorbed into consciousness.   Overwhelming us, the movie stream becomes the default reference and model for, ‘a life’.

    The form of The Last Movie, the Western shot by Sam Fuller as the movie within the movie, the people’s movie, the edit with its flashbacks and foreword flashes, its insertion of random inconsequential intertitles, the cuts to idyllic landscapes all reinforce the Hopper’s thematic vision of the movies as a state of mind that creates its own magico-religious imperatives.

    And The Last Movie is structured around two spectacles: the spectacle of the Western shoot which has to do with the fabrication of reality and the magico-religious shoot which has to do with realisaton, film making as a ritual to bring about a changed state.

    Both spectacles share organisational features. They both have high priests whose proclamations must be obeyed, and both are hierarchic in the their power structure. Otherwise they are in an inverse relationship to each other.

    When Sam Fuller’s Western has wrapped and the caste and crew go back to Hollywood, the local people, fascinated by the process of film making and its relationship to changing the real, want to make their own films. At this point Hopper’s scenario expands out into a grandiose parody. The populace construct fake filmmaking equipment out of bamboo: bamboo cameras, dollies, booms, mics, brutes, spots, key lights. With this equipment with its voodoo power, they proceed not to fake the action and situations, but to ‘film’ real actions with real consequences. The Hollywood movie used real equipment to simulate reality, the people simulate the equipment to create their own reality. Hopper’s perfect analogous bamboo inversion of life to craft.

    Interspersed between the spectacles are Kansas’s relationship with Maria and the gold prospector. Both relationships are satires on the American illusions of gaining wealth and notions suburban bliss, swimming pools jacuzzis etc. But located within the tread of the movie is a strata of deep misogyny, that I think emanates from Hopper’s nature. This misogyny may pose as satire but this doesn’t feel convincing. There are two times in The Last Movie when Kansas quite viciously and with little provocation strikes Maria. These arre moments of shock. In a film which plays on the idea of the movie within the movie, on the intermix of fabrication and actual, Hopper suddenly produces a moment that feels real.

    These two scenes of Hopper’s male violence feel like Hopper making a statement about himself. He is saying; for better or worse I am real; this is me. I am what I am and I am not a good guy or a nice guy. I am an ugly man, don’t fuck with me. I hit women.

    “The Last Movie’, why did Hopper chose this title? I don’t know if he ever commented on this. Perhaps it points to his moment of insight about the nature of the movie business:  this was The Last Movie he could make in a state of innocence.

     

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

  • The Image Book ( Le Livre d’image) Jean-Luc Godard (Swi 2018)

    The Image Book ( Le Livre d’image)   Jean-Luc Godard (Swi 2018) J-L Godard (narrator)

    Viewed: Tyneside Cinema 2nd Dec 2018; ticket: £9.75

    consciousness is an old movie

    There is the cliché that when you die your life passes before your like the unravelling images from a film. So is Godard dying? He talks about the film as his testament (and there is a clip in the film from Cocteau’s Testament of Orphee in which Cocteau himself is pierced through the body by a huge spear thrown by a God). Or is Livre’d’image a testament of a civilisation that is now dying, moribund asphyxiated swamped by its own images?

    What does J-P want to make us conscious of…?

    Does Godard ask questions to which there are no answers?

    Questions are sometimes more pertinent than answers.

    As the fate of Narcissus tells, what started off as a mirror image in pool of water was never an innocent moment. Once the image is released from the bounds of the psyche, immobility follows. Death follows immobility.

    The last clip in The Image Book: we see a French open air dance hall where formally dressed men in top hats sport with some Can Can dancers. It is a long clip almost as long as a couple of the train clips. As the camera tracks and circles with one of the couples the man collapses onto the dance floor, falling prone as if dead. The last image in the ‘Book’.

    Godard’s last dance…

    The sound track has all the hallmarks of a Godard movie. The mix comprises: voice over, music and sound effects. Much of the voicing is done by J-L himself adopting different pitches and timbres, but the most characteristic of his voicings revisits the voice from Alphaville, a voice that comes from the depths of the time, lending to Godard’s text a faux prophetic absurdist quality. The tracks retake Godard’s play with music: ironic counterpoint, his overlaying of images a sudden overwhelming sample from a full orchestral arrangement, which dies back as quickly as it unexpectedly appears. A score that underlines, undermines, undercuts overwhelms underplays, the images.   Likewise Godard’s use of sound effects: the rap of the gun, the piercing whistle of the train, the sound of the ocean.   Viewed mutely the train is a powerful image, departing or arriving like Chiron’s boat. But married to the sound image of the whistle, the effect of the train image deepens, draws in the viewer, leaves us vulnerable and opened up or startles us awake. Likewise the sea as image captivates. Our eyes focus on its surface whether in stillness or in violent motion. Add sound to the image of the sea, and we are connected to creation and thanatos. The gun is the sign of power, when we hear it bark, we know everything is changed.

    The use of sound image by Godard teases us: picture + sound = film image. But this revisiting of sound a la Godard in Le Livre d’image, suggests that Godard’s intention is to make us the audience conscious that the film image is first of all, manipulation. And consciousness is the only protection against those things that would be done to us in the name of Cinema.   A celebration and a warning about Cinema.   In the name of being conscious we can love those things that would distort and twist what we see.

    Godard quotes Brecht: Only fragments have the mark of authenticity. What’s it mean?

    Today a whole section of the film industry is dedicated to ‘mining’ archive film in the name of presenting us with authenticity. In Jackson’s ‘They shall not grow old…’ First World War archive is not only colourised and restored but rendered in 3D to ‘give’ us the ‘real’ experience of being there in the trenches. But what is this ‘give’? Is anything more ‘given’ than the rendering up to us of archive as spectacle?

    In this type of restoration archive becomes a double spectacle: a spectacle both in itself and of itself, of both means and ends.   Seeing spectacle as spectacle restored to us as spanking new, the viewer is overwhelmed by the technological wonder that this material represents. New film for old. The transformation of this old stock by heroic feats of digital engineering and manipulation. This technological achievement in itself almost outdoes the content it presents: the trenches, the dead, the wounded, the tanks, the artillery, the scenes behind the lines.  After the digital rebirthing of all this material, what we see is the shiny surface of an alien time and place, a war and its appurtanences now long gone. A seductive spectacle of detail that persuades us we have looked on the face of war: the bad teeth of soldiers, the grin on the face of the man about to go over the top. A spectacle that draws us into a specious familiarity with content, as witnesses to what we did not witness; as objective observers to that which is not objective.

    The fragment in its very incompleteness pulls us closer to ourselves, focuses our consciousness.  There is no pretence that the fragment is anything other than fragment. The fragment is all that is left of a whole that is not there. The fragment calls upon not just the eyes but the mind to penetrate and complete what have before us. Through fragment we are directed into an engagement with ourselves to complete imaginatively that which is absent, to bring what is latent into presence. We are conscious that we ourselves are the instruments of this process of recreation. Ourselves as an agent, not another. The fragment and the glimpse authenticate ourselves.   When we see what appears to be the whole, it is a surface pitted with the acts of bad faith in which we abdicate responsibility for our own instrumentality.

     

    Le Livre d’image is filled out with images that refuse to resolve. Images that are degraded distressed incomplete. Images that trigger responses in us but without clear object. Responses that are triggered as if by some precognitive emotional memory. But responses that are our own. Responses that are not directed to any end or purpose, responses not designed to manipulate us or to make us want to believe or disbelieve some story, to buy some consumerist junk, or to judge or to choose. A film of pure affect. Timeless.

    I can’t read Godard’s intention in making his last film. On his part it may be a sort of playful act of creation, a sorting through, an arranging of image clips for his pure joy in the material. A desire to bring together in one filmic steam all he knows and loves in Cinema. Be that as it may, Godard’s film and tv output has always been directed towards the idea of making the viewer aware of what is set before them. Put together like a filmic variation of one Gysin and Burroughs’ cut ups, the clips create a state of receptive affect which communicates a streamed sense of pure being, where our consciousness is allowed freedom to look to search to be affected but never to be controlled nor allow questions to be answered.

    PS a question to which there may be an answer.

    The (I)mage Book? Why have the UK distributors chosen to give the word image a capital letter? In Godard’s title ‘Le Livre d’image’, ‘image’ is caste in lower case.

    adrin neatrour

    adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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