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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Two types of female emotion in Eon-hie Lee's Missing (Sarajin Yeoja) (2016) (work in progress)

This is a review of Missing (2016) (London Korean Film Festival screening) (work in progress)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


24 April


This is a review of Missing (Sarajin Yeoja) (2016), as screened as the second ‘teaser’ for London Korean Film Festival, in conjunction with Cambridge Film Festival, at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, at 6.30 on Monday 24 April 2017 (work in progress)

Note : Chan-wook Park’s The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi) (2016) is significantly mentioned in this review (as David Lynch will be), not because both are Korean films, but because, in Missing (2016), Eon-hie Lee has something to say to him (judged, as yet, by not having seen the director’s cut) : just as Prevenge (2016) and Free Fire (2016) were actually reviewed together, not just as having been seen within days of each other, but because their writer / directors Alice Lowe and Ben Wheatley, respectively, had made Sightseers (2012) together.



The distinct impression gained, when watching The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi) (2016) during Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (@camfilmfest), was that more than an influence of Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White could be detected – not unreasonably, as it turns out, since director Chan-wook Park is credited, in having co-written the film with Seo-kyeong Jeong, to have been ‘inspired by’ Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, which is set in the latter half of the nineteenth century. (Collins published his novel in 1959, and The Moonstone in 1868.)


If we know nothing from The Moonstone itself, we will be aware that Collins is considered the father of detective fiction in the English language*. However, whereas Missing knows that a crime-writer who challenges his or her reader, by saying Look, I led you up the garden path, and this is not the story that you thought, can only do so once, The Handmaiden fails to realize this fact – as if unaware that the reader is on notice not to be trusting of the writer again – and so reveals flaws in the plotting**, or makes evident what is meant to be a further surprise to us**.

That said, when a film is called Missing*** (2016), one can hardly be creating a spoiler to say that it features a disappearance : whether a film is The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), or The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), its essence is that, with the passing of time, it concerns what is [believed to be] known, and to whom, about the disappearance – it proceeds by (some of) its characters considering what may have been concealed, and if so, why, and what that then also suggests has been done and / or concealed.


When the morning came, your language and conduct showed that you were absolutely ignorant of what you had said and done overnight. At the same time, Miss Verinder’s language and conduct showed that she was resolved to say nothing (in mercy to you) on her side. If Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite chose to keep the Diamond, he might do so with perfect impunity. The Moonstone stood between him and ruin. He put the Moonstone into his pocket.

The Moonstone (Second Period, Sixth Narrative, Part IV, concluding paragraph)


Of course, in those films, the nature of the disappearance does not actually relate, per se, to someone's safety. With Blue Velvet (1986), when such concerns come to be an issue, Lynch has it played so matter-of-factly that, although Jeffrey's father is seriously unwell, he naturally loses any sight, when he finds the severed ear, of his purpose for being back home (and we barely see him visit the hospital again). Instead, he does all that we see unfold – ruses, suspicions, and downright hunches – because he wants to know more (and not be put off by Sandy's policeman father) : in this respect, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) somewhat resembles the Pevensie children, needing adventure when evacuated from The Blitz to stay in their uncle’s forbidding house. However, those hunches, and Jeffrey's resourcefulness, are also there - and with more reason - in Ji-sun (Ji-won Uhm) in Missing...


We see, from the start, the familial and professional pressure that Ji-sun receives, but we likewise gather much about how the boss and her in-laws disparage / discredit her and her abilities (irrespective of its likelihood to impact even more negatively on them – no doubt, she is considered dispensable) : maybe we even believe (and so she surprises us the more) that they are not wholly wrong, when we hear her grovel (having - in the circumstances - to grovel), and execute formal bows to show her humility and contrition (a societal motif played with in A Quiet Dream (2016), the previous London Korean Film Festival ‘teaser’) ?


Those elements in the initial presentation of Ji-sun’s character may make her feel stylized, and even a little too much to the fore, but she starts to show that she is a true force of nature – with her sixth sense and intuition, she becomes not some superhero figure, but a human tour de force (and one did wonder whether even Doona Bae could have risen to this challenge). The pace and frenetic extent of twenty-first century existence is located in often incessant calls to her mobile phone, and we sometimes almost want her to have respite from them so that we can have peace. Yet, tool or nuisance, the phone is what informs and assists her quest, whether in the dubious recesses of an establishment called Heavenly Woman, or navigating her way out of town to where someone had been - ignoring all good feeling - cruelly treated (please see below).

Her hidden energy and intellect, her investigative ability to see back in time and to understand what must have happened (shown to us either as flashbacks, or as pure flashes of insight – as against the relatively flat-footed enquiries that, in The Moonstone’s Sergeant Cuff, too, Wilkie Collins shows us) make Ji-sun one sort of embodiment of female emotion. She is not always rational, because of the vicious spiral of divorce / custody proceedings having sought to portray her as unstable (and such attack can get to anyone, probably not least in her country’s culture), but we sense her courage, and we feel for her at moments of anxiety, tension, or sheer fear in and through Ja wan Koo’s excellent score, which, for the other female lead**** and her trauma, makes prominent use of the cello..


Hyo-jin Kong (as Han-mae)


[...]






End-notes :

* South of the border with Scotland, at least, whereas they claim a different tradition, north of it, via Robert Louis Stevenson : at least, Val McDiarmid did (when asked by #UCFF whether she considered herself primarily a writer, or a Scottish writer).

** For those who have not seen the film, the clues to what is adrift are, respectively, trees and opiates, and smoking. (And, as both Jin-woong Jo and Jung-woo Ha are not averse to causing others harm, why might they not have poisoned the closing moments... ?)

*** Whereas, on IMDb (@IMDb), perhaps the web-page for the film more accurately reflects the film’s title in Korean (but it causes difficulty in finding the film at all) ?

**** Another point of contact with The Handmaiden, as well as that there are again two female leads, is that one woman is an emigrée (and so under economic constraints).




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Tweets from Easter at King's 2017

Tweets from Easter at King's 2017 (and a night at Cambridge Modern Jazz)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


Tweets from Easter at King's 2017 (and a night at Cambridge Modern Jazz)





Tuesday 11 April :








Wednesday 12 April :










Maundy Thursday [at Cambridge Modern Jazz, with Arnie Somogy's 'Jump Monk' Quintet] ~ 13 April :



Not in any formally aleatoric way, but just because that was how pieces had fallen from, and been restored to, his music-stand, leader Arnie Somogyi (double-bass) deviated from the set-list, and so there was an uneven spread between what Thelonius Sphere Monk and Charles Mingus had written :

This went well, because we knew that we were in for an evening of Monk and Mingus staples – the latter had even written ‘Jump Monk’ for the former (even if most of Monk’s puns or wordplay remained just as obscure). When frontmen, Tony Kofi (alto) and Jeremy Price (trombone) stepped aside, we reduced to the cohesive form of the classic trio, with Mark Edwards (piano) and Clark Tracey (drums) playing tightly with Somogyi, and not even averse to a solo, all of which rarely did not have us nodding along to what these exponents of their art were devising.

Price and Kofi are very different players, so they did not try to compete with each other’s style, and Price’s playing complemented the improvisation that we had heard from Kofi : they each listened with care to the other, and, whereas Kofi’s is a more right-ahead sound, Price played with an inward-out manner that focused on a rounded tone-quality. As the audience did, who were really getting into these developmental lines, Somogyi must have liked long-form solos, and he would only sparingly call in any of the players, when he wanted to shape where the number was going. All in all, a very full and good night’s jazz !



* * *








Good Friday ~ 14 April :







Holy Saturday ~ 15 April :













Easter Monday ~ 17 April :










Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 14 April 2017

Tennant as Laing : True to the notion of his practice, even if playing fast and loose with history ? (uncorrected proof)

This is a review of Mad to be Normal (2017) (uncorrected proof)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


10 April

This is a review of Mad to be Normal (2017) (uncorrected proof)


NB Even before having started this review, the decades were getting confused - as could be apt for the 1960s... ? - and the days of operation of the therapeutic community, at Kingsley Hall, then kept being placed in the handful of years up to 1960 (rather than in 1965-1970)...


In making an account of someone’s life as a cinematic endeavour (if not as strict documentary, e.g. Jackie (2016), which is nonetheless powerful), it would be normal enough (to choose) to make a film that is set in, say, the period 1965 to 1970, and then wilfully incorporate artefacts and events from outside it - such as having a character read from a book not published in the format shown before 1965¹ (and why - except so that we will recognize it - would the author not have the original edition¹, from 1960, to hand ?) : however, unless one expects one’s audience to know so little that they will not be in a position to doubt when the book had appeared (and check the date of publication later), or one has some other motive, why make that period the time of the film anyway, into which to import other things, which are even more extraneous to it… ?


Searching for images of Kingsley Hall (below), one finds that films about Laing are hardly rare : doubtless, director Robert Mullan has also been influenced, in what to say, by what has already been said ?


As well as Asylum (1972) (pictured above), Laing’s life had certainly already given rise to Mike Maran's one-man stage-play (and its associated CD [please see image below]), a film by Luke Fowler as a nominee for The Turner Prize [All Divided Selves (2011)], and two biographies (one by Adrian Laing, one of his sons), so why not David Tennant as Ronnie Laing ? One reason why Tennant works as Laing is his undeniable charisma, which Laing had in quantity, as witness television and film appearances, and his style as a writer (talking about psychiatry for the wider public¹) ; another, apart from the obvious link of Scottishness, is that Tennant brings a sense of conviction to the role, without pretending to resemble Laing point for point (although there is a good physical likeness). Even so (as shown below), it is a convenient fiction (one of several fictions) to let us infer that the community at Kingsley Hall (which existed between 1965 and 1970) had been established just because of Laing² (and that its day-to-day operation devolved - however improbably - on just Laing himself and a colleague called Paul Zemmell (Adam Paul Harvey)).


As to director Robert Mullan’s ascription to his selected era – the time when Kingley Hall was operational as a psychiatric community² – of such matters as the death of Laing’s daughter (with Laing's insisting that he would not conceal from her that she was terminally ill), or, on the visit to the States³ that we see, signing copies of Knots [a book that was not even published in the UK until 1970 (or 1971 ?)], Mullan must know, from his other projects on Ronnie Laing, all too well otherwise (i.e. Susan did not die until March 1976, at the age of 21, as a review in Scotland’s The Sunday Herald (by Brian Beacom) confirms, but, however, without pointing out this anachronism (or any of the others) [as we are told, The Sunday Herald is the Glasgow Film Festival's media partner]).

With what Mullan is doing, then, we are unable to think that these errors are just mistakes : but perhaps they arise, quite normally, from the influence of producers (or funders), who want certain things of a pitch or a script (as the comments that Beacom elicits from Mullan suggest, as well as the fact that the film has taken nine years to make...) ? However, maybe he also wills that we conflate the mad and the normal, and so we are meant to see what actually happened later in Laing’s life as having its roots in this time. If so, is Mullan then expecting too much of his audience : will they see Laing signing books, but just take at face value that Vintage had actually published them in the States by the mid- to late 1960s (not 1972) ?


Our having been given parts played by such as Michael Gambon (Sydney) and Gabriel Byrne (Jim) for those who lived at Kingsley Hall, one not only fears that the latter, certainly, tends to confirm the public’s lightly-based belief that those with a diagnosis of schizophrenia connote dangerousness, but also suspects that selective recourse may have been had to material in Dominic Harris' The Residents (a work of photo-portraiture and recorded memory / interview, on which The Guardian reported in 2012) [available from dominicharris.co.uk]. On wholly another level, there is also a celebrity element to the activities of Kingsley Hall : we know that, with the distortions of Laing’s childhood and his doubtless related capacity and propensity for drink (very much a part of Maran's one-man play about him), he likes to party, but the connection to the environment in which we several times see him hold court (and where Angela (Elisabeth Moss) performs a song), is opaque. Just as we are not really told how the community there came about, this side of things is not explained - not even by some throwaway lines in the dialogue - so we can only suppose that it is a fund-raiser and / or support-group for the work of the Hall.


Upper : Gabriel Byrne, Michael Gambon and David Tennant in Mad to be Normal
Lower : David Tennant and Elisabeth Moss


Going to the end of the film (towards which, the film sags somewhat), and if we did credit what we are shown about the circumstances in which the closure of Kingsley Hall came about, not only is there a purported abduction (which, if it happened, would have had criminal and professional consequences - however kindly it was meant), but also an external factor that is closely tied to the person abducted. In fact (having researched whether this episode is licence, or has any basis in truth), one finds that John Clay prosaically reports, in his biography of Laing⁴, 'Kingsley Hall closed in 1970 after five years, when the lease ran out and was not renewed'. (A significant reason may also have been that, as we see (and as Clay tells us⁴ (op. cit., pp. 132-133), there was antagonism and aggression towards those who lived there, from the residents of the area (the Hall is located in Powis Road, Bromley by Bow, London Borough of Tower Hamlets).) By contrast with what the film shows, Adrian Laing tells us (op. cit., pp. 126-127) that his father had moved out years before the Hall closed :

By the end of 1966 Ronnie was getting tired of Kingsley Hall. Having lived there full time for nearly twelve months during the latter part of 1965 and late 1966 (and for a good time thereafter on an ad hoc basis), he had had enough. It was time to hand over the baton. There was no shortage of people to take over the running of the place in Ronnie's absence. [Laing goes on to say who]


As Mullan must be aware (which is where, before the action, a title with a sweepingly wide disclaimer comes in⁵), closing Kingsley Hall was far more mundane than Mad to be Normal portrays, and - just as the relationship with someone called Angela is fiction per se⁵ - so is the suggestion that the abduction torpedoes it : in reality (as Adrian Laing, foreshadowing the above, had told us (op. cit., p. 114)), Ronnie moved into Kingsley Hall on a permanent basis in December 1965 and stayed there for a year before moving into a four-roomed flat with Jutta […] where the couple lived for almost ten years.

By all means, we do appreciate that Mullan has made a dramatic film, and is wanting to give us a man who makes a heroic act (out of faith in his therapeutic method - shades of Awakenings (1990) ?), but it really has as little to do with Laing as Benedict Cumberbatch does, in The Imitation Game (2014), with Alan Turing : Mike Maran dramatizes Laing on stage, but does not find the same need to invent material that a remarkable life and career contain anyway (the excesses of Laing's personal and professional life that the film features, such as alcohol, envy / aggression, or the experiments with LSD, are well documented and known from elsewhere)...


The film is intent on providing a take on Laing where he hits Angela (and hits her in public, and likewise with Paul), swears at and challenges fellow psychiatrists (British and American ones), and generally acts the gifted (and so unpredictable) maverick : this may not be untrue of Laing’s life as a whole, but – if one wishes to base that impression in Mad to be Normal – there seems to be relatively little reason to locate it in the days of Kingsley Hall.



End-notes :

¹ The Divided Self by R. D. Laing, Tavistock Institute, London (1960) ; Penguin Books [Pelican, then Penguin Classics], London (1965).


The latter is not stated to be a new, or revised, edition - it is just part of popularizing the thought and thinkers of the day. (One early established, in reading R. D. Laing, that one cannot read a book of his without being informed that it is not 'Lang', but that (as he puts it) his name rhymes with 'angel' : there, at least, Mad to be Normal (2017) is spot on….)


² In a film that features [part of] a real person’s life, one expects an element of conflation. However, if one wanted a biography of R. D. Laing, and expects to be told about how his time, from 1956, at The Tavistock Institute led to the establishment of Kingsley Hall, one will be disappointed. Likewise, rather than making in any way clear that Laing is a member, even if also its founder, of The Philadelphia Association - according to its web-page on Wikipedia® :

The Philadelphia Association is a UK charity concerned with the understanding and relief of mental suffering. It was founded in 1965 by the radical psychiatrist and psychoanalyst R. D. Laing along with fellow psychiatrists David Cooper, Joseph Berke, Aaron Esterson, writer Clancy Sigal as well as John Heaton, Joan Cunnold and Sid Briskin.

The Philadelphia Association (PA) came into being to challenge and to widen the discourse around the teaching and practice of psychotherapy and continues to offer a training, an affordable therapy service and two community houses for those seeking retreat. Kingsley Hall, the first of a number of community houses, was founded in 1965 (a building dating from 1928).



³ As Adrian Laing tells us about the trip [R. D. Laing : A Life (HarperCollins (London), 1997, pp. 128-130)], it was not as Mad to be Normal would have us believe (nor is there any reason whatever to locate then the much-told story [Adrian Laing tells it in this piece in The Guardian (@guardian)] of how Laing took extreme steps to engage with a female patient who had not spoken in months, where it is placed as a 'breakthrough' demonstration, to those who received him rather differently than seems so) :


Although the institute [William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology in New York] was fascinated to hear Ronnie's account of LSD therapy in the UK, the clinical use of LSD was nothing new to this audience. [...] Perhaps it was because Ronnie was in front of such seasoned characters that his talks were relatively passive. There was no desire to shock, no intention to rock the boat. [...] Ronnie conducted himself impeccably throughout his stay in New York [9-21 January 1967]



R. D. Laing : A Divided Self by John Clay. Sceptre (Hodder & Stoughton (London)), 1997, p. 137.

⁵ When the film was seen to be preceded by this widely drawn disclaimer, it caused a number of the audience to laugh. (This was an ourscreen event (@ourscreenuk), rather than a regular Picturehouse screening (@CamPicturehouse), i.e. where, provided that sufficient people subscribe in advance at ourscreen.com, it takes place.) Not the least of the fabrications of the film is that of Angela (Angie), an American (played by Elisabeth Moss), who effectively stands in the place of the real Jutta Werner (a German), who did live at Kingsley Hall for a while, and became Laing's second wife.




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Friday, 31 March 2017

Films of former collaborators, with Q&As within 48 hours of each other

Responding together to Free Fire (2016) and Prevenge (2016) as food for thought

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


31 March


The mental collision of Free Fire (2016) (plus Q&A with director Ben Wheatley), at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, on Wednesday 29 March 2017 at 8.50 p.m., and Prevenge (2016) (plus Q&A with actor Jo Hartley), at Saffron Screen, Saffron Walden, on Friday 31 March 2017 at 8.00 p.m., gives food for thought


Babou Ceesay (Martin), Brie Larson (Justine), Armie Hammer (Ord), Sharlto Copley (Vern), Noah Taylor (Gordon) – confusing being brightily with well dressed (even if handily differentiating them…) ?


When Kevin Spacey (@KevinSpacey) talked – on the Wogan t.v. show ? – about K-PAX (2001), in which Jeff Bridges and he starred, the indications were that the film was going to be one from which one would derive much more than from his account of it¹.

Ben Wheatley (at an event for High-Rise (2015)

Were it not that one has the practice of seeking to go ‘blind’ into films, and letting them speak for themselves, hearing the interesting and excellent Q&A at The Arts Picturehouse with Ben Wheatley (@mr_wheatley), director and co-writer of Free Fire (2016) (@FreeFireFilm), and well hosted by Evie Salmon (@eviesalmon), might nonetheless have persuaded one that the film itself, even if it would not just seem like a technical exercise¹, was one in whose outfolding one would find relatively little more of interest.


Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, and Michael Smiley in Free Fire (2016)

Maybe a title at the top of the film, which said that it had been inspired by a report into what had happened in a real-life gun-battle, would have given one a different perspective from which to watch ? Since, despite the script’s origins, the actions and motivations of the characters are principally fictitious (e.g. we learnt that there had been a sincere expression of interest from Cillian Murphy in appearing in a Wheatley film, and so the question had arisen what business could Michael Smiley and he be about together), one doubts that something such as the step of having an image inset into the frame of where they all were, so that one could much better follow who was shooting at whom (at any time), and from where, would have made much difference to engaging some viewers (others may, of course, have been able to understand that very much more easily - and so also do not find battle-scenes boggling).

Self-confessed fan Ben Johnston writes thus, in a review for TAKE ONE (www.takeonecff.com, @TakeOneCinema), and for whom he also interviewed Ben Wheatley² [surely 'a Ben thing' going on... ?] :

While the tenuous unions form the basis for a lot of the character motivations and a fair bit of the plot, it is the rivalries that bring the most laughs, with plenty of insults flying in between the bullets. This razor sharp banter makes it extremely difficult to figure out who to root for at any given time, especially since nobody seems to be taking the whole situation very seriously. One minute a guy is shouting out that he’s forgotten whose side he’s on, the next someone is taking a quick headcount of who’s still alive – there’s a distinct element of cartoonish slapstick that helps keep the extended gun battle from feeling too monotonous [my emphasis].


Sienna Miller, as Charlotte, in High-Rise (2015)

Having watched the film, one found that, in the event, it had had an essentially similar effect to Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s novel High-Rise (2015) (@HighRise_movie), in that one largely, and to an equivalent degree, really did not give a damn about what happened to any of the characters (Laing’s being so naively self-deceived about his importance (and other things) did not help³), or so tend to maintain much active awareness of where one was (obvious exceptions were for the swimming-pool, or Royal’s (Jeremy Irons’) penthouse), because the script could be used to draw one’s attention to it. In fact (unless one can generate enthusiasm and / or concentration), whichever happens first, the law of diminishing returns is likely to apply, because of a feedback loop in which the other is undermined, and then in turn undermines the first. In High-Rise, the issues started early, with what had brought Laing (Tom Hiddleston) to be where, and as, he was shown at the opening of the film.


Elisabeth Moss (Helen) and Tom Hiddleston (Laing) in High Rise

Yet Laing’s matter-of-fact observation about the dog being barbequed rather said it all in a nutshell (or as with Wheatley’s account of how he saw the report that had documented a shoot-out) : the act of saying it presupposes another state of affairs, and who necessarily can maintain interest in what then led up to that point - even though some films work perfectly well so (such as American Beauty (1999), or Sunset Blvd. (1950)) ? When Wheatley spoke to The Arts Picturehouse audience (Screen 1), he made quite clear that he rebels against the portrayal of ‘good guys and bad guys’ per se, but one supposes that it depends what reaction a director hopes to gain for his or her work, if everyone is seen to be flawed. As it is, the presenting reason for everyone to be there at all in Free Fire, initially or later, is illegal activity – quite apart (please see comments above) from the double-dealing between the two groups that constitute the parties, or, as it emerges, the tensions between individuals in the same group, and the other group (a continuing theme since A Field in England (2012)). (In High-Rise, an additional element of more moral illegality / dishonesty is also in play.)


By contrast, with Prevenge, the quality of Alice Lowe’s self-direction, acting and editing [at the latter of which activities, as Jo Hartley (@MissJoHartley) told us at Saffron Screen (@SaffronScreen), Lowe’s baby Della Moon Synott was, as by then fully present, able to be there] is such that her wicked jokes are both amusing and feel truly transgressive⁴ (about the word ‘cut’ after, say, her character Ruth has used a knife on someone : on reflection, one recalls that tone in Roger Moore as Bond, speaking chummily to someone who is, at least, unconscious).


Roger Moore in Live and Let Die (1973)

Whereas, except for those members of the Free Fire audience (who also found every injury or wounding a source of great amusement), the bickering and next bad behaviour that cause matters to unravel felt fairly functional, if arbitrary⁵ – could one even locate this at the level of Tarantino’s successful black humour in Pulp Fiction (1994), or did it just feel awkward when, for example, an actor is trying to be off hand with some doubt whether a character has really been killed ? As predictively Tweeted, Michael Palin and Terry Jones seem to hit the mark well with an episode from the first series of Ripping Yarns (Murder at Moorstones Manor (1976) [the link is to IMDb's web-page])...




Saffron Screen's Q&A guest, Jo Hartley (not in character)

At Saffron Screen (@SaffronScreen), Jo Hartley (@MissJoHartley), who plays the midwife in Prevenge (2016), deliberately used the word 'gestation' to refer to the timescale (as confirmed by IMDb, @IMDb) within which the film was both written and shot (very quickly, and yet with no compromise in values !) :



No time, there, for 22,000 storyboards, etc., of which Wheatley spoke, or mapping the interior terrain (such an amazing space !) and plotting all the movements out on it, or six weeks with actors such as Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley, 'lying in shit' (as Wheatley put it). (As for Ripping Yarns, one can hear Michael Palin commenting on the quality effect that director Terry Hughes and he were aiming to achieve : the shoot for 'Murder at Moorstones Manor' (in 1976), just a thirty-minute episode, was Friday 15, Monday 25 to Friday 29 and Sunday 31 October, and (on set, for the final shoot-out in the hall) Wednesday 3 to Friday 5 November.)

'Murder at Moorstones Manor' (Ripping Yarns), with Harold Innocent as Manners


Despite the time-pressures on her to get the film made, Alice Lowe lets dawn on us, at our own pace, what we see happening (or why), but we certainly have no idea of it when her character Ruth has an opening encounter with Mr. Zabek (Dan Renton Skinner), a fruitily-suggestive-cum-titillatingly-menacing proprietor of an emporium of exotic creatures : we ask what it means, and what perversion he committed that – by a voice from which we will be hearing more fully⁶ – is being 'called in' (Ruth arrives with a prepared weapon, and we also see clothes being destroyed) ?



We hear and enjoy how Alice Lowe (@alicelowe) has scripted her own role to give us a person with immense verbal and social facility, fully as much as Dennis Price’s ready charm as Louis Mazzini in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and an equal, in her personas / accents, for Alec Guinness’ celebrated cameos as members of the D'Ascoyne family (even though, properly seen, he is not the star of the show anyway, but Price’s impressive adjunct – i.e. when not seduced by novelty and the wonders of make-up, as by Linklater's gimmick in Boyhood) (2014)). For Len (Gemma Whelan), shown confronted here by Ruth (feigning to sound Welsh), Lowe has created someone who has the presence of mind to don gloves to try to box her assailant into submission, but who cannot quite help simultaneously believing - to Ruth's incredulity - the presenting story that all this is part of Ruth’s trying to sign her up to donate to a children’s charity !


Likewise, we are not only amused by DJ Dan (Tom Davis), when he casually takes his hair off, but also by the added grotesquery – here, more reminiscent of Steve Oram, with Lowe, in Sightseers (2012) (@SightseersMovie) than of Mr. Zabek’s particular qualities – of what happens to it later. Irrespective of Ruth’s motives in meeting someone such as Dan, and going through with everything necessary to be invited back, we can also – if we try – glimpse our own faiblesse in who he is happy to think that he is, as against where he turns out to live : as Ruth, Lowe does not allow herself to see her own banality (does, also, Louis Mazzini ?), but she roundly presents to us the people whom Ruth can only denigrate into prey (who disparages what someone would do on account of being called Josh - although she did try to relate to him, and, having humorously tried one, called him Dr Anchovy).


The manner of filming, and the intense look of some shots or scenes, working in conjunction with the score⁶, evoke moods and emotions in a very cinematic way : because cinematographer Ryan Eddleston seems to have free rein to make dramatic adjustments to focus and depth of feel within a shot, one experiences more than viewing what is literally depicted, so as to include being aware as a participant that (and how) one does so. There are also other moments, which are more expressionistic than suggestive, but, of course, still vocal, such as when the tables are turned on Ella (Kate Dickie), at the other end of a long, corporate table - in that Ruth is the one who gets Ella talking about her interests and activities outside work, as if she were a candidate for employment at interview. Meanwhile, at some level, we may notice that Ella’s end of the room is blue, in a cool way, whereas Ruth’s lipstick and skin-colour are alive, and fresh...

Alice Lowe (not as Ruth)

In cinema, which principal characters, and / or their relations to others (without our necessarily needing to like them, or their behaviour), will happen to interest us, but perhaps not someone else (and vice versa), may vary greatly (such as in our response to Free Free). Our reaction may be partly, but signicantly, influenced in the manner of the telling, e.g. when Stanley Kubrick decides (amongst other changes) to employ a narrator (Michael Hordern) in adapting Thackeray’s novel as Barry Lyndon (1975) [discussed in reviewing Further Beyond (2016)]). Without an obvious device (such as the inset location, mentioned above, as if the film were a crime construction), Free Fire would be different, say, with the guidance of a sardonic narrator's words, making comments such as To hammer home the offence of having been shot, Justine did not resist expressing a lot of pain, or Vernon really was more affronted at the damage to his jacket than to his shoulder.

At which point, and excused by the fact that Ben Wheatley shows what can happen to gas-cylinders, it is apt to slip in the funniest reference (in context) to people in a building and bullets, with Mia Farrow (Tina Vitale) and Woody Allen (Danny Rose) : this link is to YouTube, of Danny and Tina being shot at in Broadway Danny Rose (1984) [the scene in the hangar for the Macy's Day Parade].


Equally, a perfectly good film may build to a conclusion, as The Rocket (2013) does, but only give a pay-out that leaves one satisfied just then, rather than thinking about (the world of) the film afterwards : for some, this would be a deficit in a film, that the story’s end is co-terminous with the ending of our active satisfaction in it. In a way, A Quiet Dream (2016) falls into that category [(whether it tries, it does not achieve the effect that concludes The Hairdresser's Husband (Le mari de la coiffeuse) (1990)), whereas one almost defies anyone to be left in that place by the latter two on this list :




In the Saffron Screen Q&A, Jo Hartley referred to how, as the midwife and during one of Ruth’s appointments with her, she tells Ruth, You have to decide what's right, what's wrong - clearly, the midwife is not exactly a conscience personified (as Jiminy Cricket, in Pinocchio (1940)), or an angelic character (such as Clarence, from It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)), as both of those know what, respectively, Pinocchio and George Bailey have been doing / going through. Still, as with any prophecy, whether that inherent in a pronouncement of the oracle at Delphi or otherwise sibylline in nature, the effect is dependent – and incalculably so – on the attitude(s) of the hearer to what he or she is hearing : Jocasta and Laius, by trying to avoid what is said of Œdipus, as surely more bring it about that it does happen than as if they had ignored it. At any rate, Jo Hartley’s character is kind enough to shield Ruth from enquiry about how and where she is living, given that the story of Prevenge is inevitably heading towards a birth.


Talking, in The Arts Picturehouse Q&A, about Free Fire's ending, Ben Wheatley (without naming any films) effectively confirmed a suspicion, when watching, that there is a resemblance to one for which, around the time of Reservoir Dogs (1992), Quentin Tarantino was an executive producer. Contained in a derelict factory (which nevertheless has more resources and working utilities than one would expect ?), the film speaks of the world outside, which continues to exist, even if the warfare of person against person makes it seem remote.

In Prevenge, if we even take none of what we have seen on the level of phantasy, the question What happens next ? is not asking to be answered at the end of the film : what we have seen has been so full that we do not need to project into a future.



Spoiler alert for the following images...



Some film-references, for Prevenge (by Tweet) :






End-notes :

¹ As one did, and so went on to read the novels by Gene Brewer, of which the first (K-PAX) was the only one adapted for the screen. Twenty years on, do films, etc., still get this sort of exposure on a chat-show (probably only later at night, with the likes of Graham Norton – though he is perhaps more interested in increasing the quotient of dubious double entendre than any real form of culture ?) ?

Having said which, the documentation that Wheatley reported originally having seen, and which had been a springboard for the film, did sound to show potential at the level of forensic documentary : in the case of this film, it was just that hearing him talk about it for a short time, as against what had ‘panned out’ in ninety minutes, gave rise to a disparity in what the two time-frames had communicated. Whereas - presumably by the real Wheatley fans in the house - the opportunity was being taken to laugh deeply and fully at every moment of comedy, and not a joke, of any kind, went unbidden.


² Here are some #UCFF Tweets, which give a link to the interview (and suggest perils in being too impressed by one's interviewee) :



³ Blue paint aside, though, this is not a Godard film, and so Laing’s disintegration does not have the weight of Jean-Paul Belmondo (as Ferdinand Griffon) in Pierrot le Fou (1965).



⁴ We know that, when someone says something – it may be us, tickled by how our words have come out – or something happens, there is a difference between registering humour, because what was said or done takes a comic form, and actually smiling because of it, or finding oneself laughing – the latter is mainly involuntary (although one can, of course, set out to have a good time). With Alice Lowe's performance, we laugh despite ourselves (and not even with a groan) - for which a close correlate, as argued further down in the main text, is Dennis Price in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).

⁵ Ben Wheatley said, in the Q&A, that he dislikes genre, but Free Fire belongs to one that comprises plots that are dependent on animosity going beyond antagonism to propel behaviour, and which then tend to be located in some types or circumstances of human interaction : the Bond films, already just mentioned, for one are where we often see competitiveness in the line of some sort of spy duty take on an aspect of personal rivalry (obviously, unto death – or apparent death).

⁶ Some of us may be reminded by it of Oskar, in Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) (1979). (An odd coincidence, since IMDb credits the music to Toydrum, along with, first, to Pablo Clements and James Griffith (because it does not seem to appreciate that the latter are Toydrum).)




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)